Open Chokes For Sporting Again

Hi Bruce,

I know that you say that it takes three pellet hits to consistently break a target. Do you have any idea what percentage of the time that a single hit would break a target?

The last two times that my son and I practiced we picked up the unbroken targets to reuse them. We found that half of the targets had a hit on them and a couple of them had two hits. We use the cheap high velocity 7/8 oz #8’s for practice with tight chokes.

Yesterday I happened to be using a Mod. choke and found that at 30 yards most of them failed to break but half of the unbroken targets had a hole in them. These were pure edge on crossing targets.

The answer to the first question brings me to my next question. Why do I see so many sporting clay shooters using chokes that are far more open than you or the “choke chooser” would suggest but yet they shoot pretty well. Yesterday I shot with an older gentleman who used a 20 ga Citori with Cylinder chokes & 7/8 oz #8’s. He broke 82 out of 100. I was really impressed that the targets at 30-35 yards would break with this combo. The few experienced target shooters that I have shot with mostly use very open chokes on all shots. They don’t change. They use SK on everything but even at 30-40 yards they break a lot of targets.

Could it be that a larger pattern, though not a completely effective pattern, could allow hits and some breaks while a tighter thus more effective pattern would result in complete misses with these shooters? This would give them the impression that a SK choke is good for 35 yard edge on shots. I wouldn’t even worry about it except that they always tell me that the Mod and Full chokes that I select on these longer edge on targets are too tight. They are better shooters than I so obviously there is no arguing with them.

I would appreciate your input on this subject.


Dear Jeff,

No, I don’t have a clue as to what percentage of the time a single pellet hit will break a bird. There are so many variables to consider. It’s easy enough to find the number of unbroken targets with one pellet hole in them, but that doesn’t really tell you how many did break with one pellet hits.

Maybe the best way to test would be to pick up a couple of thousand unbroken birds and count the ones with one, two and three pellet strikes. Draw up a kind of a ratio. That way you could say that a one pellet strike produces X times more lost birds than a three pellet strike. I’m not sure how meaningful that number would be anyhow.

Warren Johnson (inventor of the Choke Chooser, a neat slide-rule choke selector gizmo), says that mathematically a pattern that produces an 80% chance of a three pellet strike has a 95% chance of a one pellet strike. That means that if a certain choke/load can produce 3 hits or better on 80 out of 100 targets, 15 of those 100 targets will get only one hit and 5 will get no hits. These are the criteria he uses in Choke Chooser to determine an acceptable pattern fringe. Most people feel that he recommends slightly tighter chokes than are common, but when you do the math, he’s right. It’s really hard for a shooter to tell. When you miss, you just assume that it was pointing error, not a flaw in the pattern. Usually you are right, but not very time.

It’s always surprised me why sporting clays shooters refuse to pay attention to what skeet and trap shooters have learned over a million billion targets. Whereas some sporting shooters claim that they NEVER use Full choke and that there is no need for it on any sporting course, championship trap shooters have known for years that full choke is an absolute requirement at handicap distances from about 38 yards out. Trap shooters have been shooting exactly the same birds for many years. They know what works.

I also often hear that sporting clays shooters should never need #9s. Hooey. Fifty years of record setting skeet shooters have shown the efficiency of #9s and skeet chokes on 20 yard birds. Why is a edge on 110 mm 20 yard sport ing clays target any different?

I’m not saying that you can’t break good sporting clays scores with the wrong chokes and the wrong shot size. You certainly can. People do it all the time. That’s because how you point the gun is far, far more important than the shell or choke. But that doesn’t mean that the shell or choke don’t matter. You only win or lose that shoot by one bird. One Bird. That’s all. If the correct choke or correct shot selection could give you just that one bird, it would be worth considering. Of course, you may not consider that one bird matters in your score.

It’s just that most people don’t shoot enough sporting clays to build up the kind of data base that trap and skeet shooters have. Every sporting clays course is different so it’s hard to figure out exactly what the most efficient choke is at a certain station the way you can at trap and skeet. This means that a sporting clays shooter who is a highly skilled marksman, but a ballistic nightmare, can post a very good score compared to other shooters who may not have as much skill. It may seem as though his choices of choke and shot are correct because he posted a high score. Maybe so, but maybe he got the high score in spite of inferior ballistics.

When you go to Britain and look at the good guys shoot, you definitely, positively will see heavily choked guns. You won’t see one of the winning Brits using skeet choke on a 35 yard bird. He will be much more inclined to over choke than under choke. They have enough confidence in their ability to point the gun so that they want to eliminate all the pattern variables that they can. The average guy has little faith in his gun pointing skills and wants the largest pattern possible, even if it has holes in it occasionally, because he hopes for that lucky pellet.

Maybe they’re both right. Perhaps the open chokes give the weekend warrior the best chance to luck out, while the tighter chokes of the accomplished shooter take the luck out of it and put the onus on his skill.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC

(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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1 Response to Open Chokes For Sporting Again

  1. Doug kubosh says:

    If a size 9 pellet will break a clay….makes sense to have a many pellets in the pattern as possible. You do get some “must be a fool” looks on the SC course. However 9s at 30/35 yards in and IC choke will smoke em if you are in middle.


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