Open Choke Patterns

Dear Technoid,

Several famous shotgun experts (B.Brister,G.T.Garwood) have written that open chokes (cylinder, i.c.) often do not perform well with high velocity shells. I want to ask “THE” shotgun expert,why does that happen and what’s the cure? Is it better to use heavier hunting loads (32,34gr) with less velocity, instead off high velocity trap shells?

Thanks a lot,


Dear Mak,

If memory serves Mak is writing from Greece. That’s why I put thing in grams and describe shot sizes in inches.

I’ll have to root through my Brister and Garwood to find those sections on the open chokes not doing so well with hot loads. I’m not so sure myself.

I competed in International Skeet from 1972 to 1988 and ended up coaching at the US Olympic Training Center for two summers. In the ’70s the Russians had many good shooters. They used those open “Tula” choked Baikals and extremely hot loads. Real whackers. For quite a while the US Army team (Matt Dryke, Dan Carlisle- both of whom won ISU skeet World Championships) used the Federal T123 shell. This was also a very heavy load being used in skeet choked guns. As you remember, Dryke won the skeet gold in Los Angeles in ’84. Certainly, those open chokes worked very well with high velocity loads.

It is also very possible that high velocity was necessary to generate enough energy to break the harder International type clay targets. Standard American type clay targets are softer and break more easily.

Admittedly, skeet shells use fine shot, not bird shot, but I think that the success of the hot shells in open choked skeet guns brings into question Garwood’s and Brister’s comments

It stands to reason that a high velocity load will distort more shot than a slower load if all other things are kept equal. Higher velocity means more initial shot setback and distortion. Squashed pellets tend to wander out of the pattern. Has to be. Got to be. Then again, a heavy load of shot also causes increased setback due to crushing. I don’t know where the pellet damage curves cross when you compare a fast, light load to a slower, heavier load. I’m sure that it depends on how fast or how heavy. If more shot is distorted by high velocity loads, than it stands to reason that a bit more choke would be needed to control the pattern. The exception may be the skeet shell, as noted above, because it has so many pellets that it can actually use a little spreading out no matter what the choke.

Many hunters fall into the “small, fast” camp or the “big, slow” camp as to load selection. I belong to the latter, preferring the hammer to the scalpel. It’s my Neanderthal nature. In hunting loads, I generally tend to look for slower, heavier loads of large pellets. For example, my favorite pheasant load is 36 grams (1-1/4 oz) of #4s (.013″ dia) at a US spec of 1220 feet per second. When I use my light 12 ga, I’ll use 28 grams (1 oz) of #5s (.012″). In my 20 gauge I use 3″ magnums with 1-1/4 oz of #4 buffered shot at about 1165 fps. Many hunters prefer fast loads of #6 (.011″) on pheasant, but I’ve had better luck with the larger shot. I also use #6 shot on the American Ruffed Grouse. Most American hunters use #7-1/2 or #8 on this bird, but in my personal experience the larger shot has been more reliable for me. My one exception to the large shot theory is dove hunting, where I like #9s (.008″). I’ve written about my reasons for this selection in the archives.

Needless to say, most of my bird guns have at least the first barrel open choked. I have found cylinder bore in the 12 gauge to be a very useful first barrel. In the 20 I use skeet as my first barrel. So, in spite of me saying that I can’t fully agree with Brister/Garwood on open chokes not performing well with high velocity shells due to my International skeet experience, when it comes to hunting, I do indeed hunt with open chokes using relatively large, slow loads of heavy shot.

Hunting is always so hard to analyze due to the unlimited numbers of presentations and situations possible. I’m not saying that my big pellet theory is the best for everyone, or even most people, but it works for me and I have confidence in it. Hunting is really more a case of where you place the shot, not what the shot contains. We all tend to blame a missed or wounded bird on the cartridge, not on our shot placement. I sure do anyway. I mean, how could I possibly have missed?

Maybe all this ballistics stuff doesn’t matter that much. A few weeks ago I was doing a mixed bag (quail, chukar and pheasant) hunt on a preserve in Texas. They supplied me with a one ounce shell with #7-1/2s. After a while, I forgot all about the shell and just shot. Those pheasant fell down dead just fine within 30 yards. On the other hand, I’ve shot wild cock pheasant in South Dakota. One of the men I was shooting with was using a 20 with #6 shot. Several times I saw him hit the bird twice, but not knock the bird down. Maybe it was poor pellet placement, maybe not. When I shot the birds with 1-1/4 oz of #4s, I didn’t have to shoot twice, even on going-away birds at 35 yards. The big pellet was able to penetrate the length of the bird.

The only advice I can give you is to try alternating slow, heavy shells with light, fast ones for an entire season and see how you do. That’s always the bottom line. So called experts sitting at their desks can’t possibly know what your exact hunting situation is. Heck, if we actually knew anything at all, we’d be out hunting, not writing.

That said, remember the Technoid blunt axe approach: More is always better! Might makes right! Too much is not enough! Long live the Neanderthal! (Oops. A bit late for that one.)

Best regards,

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

This entry was posted in Shotgun related and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.