More On Choke Percentages

Hi Bruce.

I’m happy to report I’m over my tight wad stage, spent the money and had my gun properly serviced and the wedge replaced. I know my gun loves me all the more for it too. After all, what sort of technoid could I ever hope to be if I was to be dictated to by my wallet.

OK, you know you wanted it now that you have stuck you’re neck out and all.

I also happen to like the number 7. It’s very pleasant, minds it’s own business and can be found associating with other mutually beneficial numbers as in .729, 7 1/2’s etc. and 77% sounds equally harmonious.

You’ve mentioned or alluded to it many times before, so we know you have the opinion that “most people under choke for the clay target games”. But in all seriousness, and with the utmost respect, what do you base this view on?

Firstly, what chokes do you suppose are the average or norm for most users and in which games? On what evidence? Secondly, most trap shooters I know compete with fixed choke guns, so are the manufacturers therefore producing substandard equipment? (Apart from the obvious flaws.)

Is this view based on derivatives of mathematical models and technoidal wisdom only, or in combination with your own extensive and illustrious “real world” competitive experience?

Are we really just talking about sporting variants here where choke choice and choke changing is more widely practised? In answering many of your novitiate reader’s questions as to a gun’s suitability to a given application, you usually reply that observation of the champion’s choice of gun in their preferred discipline is often the best guide. ie look around at all the 391’s in use and in the winners circle, ipso facto it’s a pretty good sporting clays gun, get one, you’ll be a legend in no time. Shouldn’t this anecdotal modelling method also hold true for choke choice v’s results? “Fred Smackem won the Turkey Cup using skeet and 1/4 and we all know how good a shot he is, therefore I’m going to use skeet and 1/4.”

This would have to be as good a guide as any wouldn’t it? If the points are on the board, surely the kill and a win rather than the amount of smoke drawn from the crumbling clay is what’s more important. I’ll take a chip any day over soot or nothing because your pattern went whistling past in a fist.

What chokes do the regular winners in your neck of the woods use? We all know some of the world’s best FITASC shooters have produced exceptional results, ie: Smoker Smith, using very open fixed choke guns. Surely that’s justification enough to open up and have at ’em?

Or, does that lead us to the real solution? You need to become a good shot and learn where to put the pellets rather than be overly concerned with how many get there? The blending of art with science.

So, are most people underchoked to see soot from 95% of their targets, or underchoked to win a shoot?

Having said all that, due in part to your earlier dissertations on the matter, I personally pretty much shoot 1/2 and 3/4 for most stuff in sporting these days after having shot 1/4 and 1/2 for years. Stronger breaks do instill a certain amount of confidence in what you’re doing, which once again plays just as important a role in successful shooting as the pure science of it all.

I’m really just nit-picking and hoping for a better justification of your opinion other than what sounds like “the numbers said so”. They’re better than tea leaves granted but neither actually wins you a shoot in the real world, not even a fifth : )


Dear Peter,

You like the number 7? Do you know why number 6 fears number 7? Because 7 8 9. Gotcha! (Thank you, Sesame Street.)

It’s always tough to discuss chokes, especially for sporting. The reason is that sporting shots vary so widely that there is no reliable data base on a particular shot. That’s why I like to use trap and skeet as the best comparisons. These have ample databases with millions of iterations for the same distance and angle of shot.

As I state (and magnificently defend, I might add) in another bit of Technoid drivel recently or about to be posted, you are generally best off with about a 77% or bit more pattern in the 30″ circle AT THE DISTANCE at which you take the target. I won’t go into all the logic yet again, but I base my observations on the far more informed observations of Winchester ballistican Ed Lowry and SR’s own ballistic math wiz Warren Johnson. That 77% depends somewhat on the size of shot, hence pellet count, but it’s a pretty good general rule.

So, what choke produces 77% patterns of the correct sized pellet for your distance at your distance? It obviously depends on the distance. If it’s 23 yard handicap ATA trap where the average bird is taken at about 40 yards, then you are talking Full choke. If It is skeet, shot at 21 yards with #9s, you are talking Skeet choke (Surprise!). In between is, well, in between.

It gets even muddier in that the 77% figure is based on a full edge on bird. Any turning exposes more target area and thus permits a more open choke. But it’s also interesting (see referred to Technoid column) that, while you often lose effective pattern diameter by opening the choke, you less often lose it by tightening the choke. In many instances, the killing circle of a 77% pattern does not decrease when it goes all the way up to 90+%. Depends on pellet count in the load. Instead of fixating on 77%, I might be best just saying 70~90%, but it doesn’t sound as neat.

In a trap situation, I see many of the best ATA trap shooters (our “Down the Line”) using Full choke for everything, including 16 yard where the bird is taken at about 32 yards. They obviously don’t feel that they are handicapping themselves or these money shooters wouldn’t use that choke. Their patterns at that distance from Full choked guns have to be 90+%.

Smoker Smith really shouldn’t be associated with open chokes. He often said that he used them, but there’s more to it. First of all, how do you think he got the name “Smoker”? I can guarantee you that it wasn’t with open chokes. If he went to open chokes later in his career, you can’t prove it by me. When he came over to the US to shoot some years ago, he told everyone that he used “almost no choke” and “just a bit more” in his Miroku or Classic Double (I seem to remember). He also said he used #8s for everything. He loved to fish. One day he was invited fishing and left his gun with a pal of mine. My pal is a curious type and miked Schmoker’s bores. I forget what the exact numbers were, but he had a bunch of choke. Definitely not “almost no choke and a little bit more”. Apparently Smoker knew the advantage of smoke in a number of ways.

I also hear that Digweed, uses heavily choked guns. 1/2 and 3/4 come to mind. I suppose I could call Perazzi up to find out. Doesn’t he also carry an even more heavily choked 3/4 and 1/1 longer second barrel? Does or did anyway.

I know that Andy Duffy in the US won our Nationals one year using .015 Light Mod for the entire shoot. His gun had some barrel work and probably shot more like a pure Modified though. Front end constriction doesn’t tell the whole story all the time.

Most people feel that solid fixed chokes are more efficient than screw chokes because they allow more gradual tapers in the tighter chokes. All fixed chokes, unless they are extended like the FABARM “In/Out” chokes, are the same length. Fixed chokes tend to be shorter in the open chokes and much longer, up to 6″ or 7″ in the tight chokes. The theory is that length provides a smoother transition where a lot of constriction is called for. Screw chokes also usually (except the excellent Teagues) have a disruptive “skirt relief”, often up to .020″ or more. This can’t help patterns and bumps the shot about. When I want the best pattern possible, I stick with solid fixed chokes too.

Is it always right to copy the gun and choke that the winners use? Dunno, but many people think so. That’s why people who win are given guns by sponsors, while you and I (well, me at least) have to buy our own. I don’t believe that it is wise to slavishly copy what each month’s top gun is shooting, but it is smart to keep an eye on trends. Having the correct shotgun and choke may account for as much a 5% or 10% of your score. When you are at the top, every little bit matters. When you are a weekend hacker, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. Since none of us admit to being hackers, and all of us are potential World Champions, there is always a line to buy the gun that the winners use. And the manufacturers know that.

As to open chokes vs tight chokes, that also depends on your skill level. Do you shoot in a way that a larger, but unreliable, pattern is better than a smaller, reliable one? The Pros come very close to centering a high percentage of their birds. They want it to break every time they do their job. The weekender misses a far higher percentage of his birds. He may be willing to trade more holes in his pattern for a more forgiving fringe and more chances at a lucky hit.

The nice thing about shooting is that Cylinder Bore and #9s will break a 50~60 yard sporting clays target. I’ve done it occasionally and seen my betters do it fairly consistently. Does that mean Cyl/#9s is the best choke for that bird? Not hardly. But it works just often enough so that some idiot will tout it as the be all and end all of choke shot combinations suitable for every possible shot. And people will believe him because it works occasionally. That’s how that stuff gets started. If you made registered sport out of shooting 60 yard crossers only, after a million billion rounds had been shot at that bird, the averages would show that XFull and all the #7-1/2s the law allows would be the way to go.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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