Shotgun Choke and Shot Pattern
When a shotshell is fired from a shotgun, the pellets leave the barrel and begin to spread or scatter. The farther the pellets travel, the greater the spread of shot. Shotgun barrels have a choke to control the spread or shot pattern. Read more about how to pattern a shotgun.
choke: The degree of narrowing at the muzzle end of the shotgun barrel
shot pattern: The spread of shot pellets after they hit a non-moving target
The choke of a shotgun acts like the nozzle of a garden hose. As the nozzle is tightened, water shoots out in a long, narrow stream, similar to the full choke on a shotgun. As the nozzle is opened, similar to the cylinder choke on a shotgun, water shoots out in a wider spray.
Your distance from the target determines the choke you need. The choke does not alter the shotgun’s power—it just controls how tight or spread out the shot pattern will be at a specific distance.
The spread effect of the most common chokes is illustrated below. The choke controls how much shot will hit in a certain area at different ranges.
- Cylinder choke is an unconstricted barrel. The shot pattern spreads quickly.
- Improved Cylinder choke has a slight constriction. It allows the shot pattern to spread fairly quickly. This is a good choice for quail, rabbits, and other upland game.
- Modified choke has moderate constriction. The shot stays together longer, making the pattern denser and more useful at longer ranges. This choke is used often for dove hunting and is the preferred choke when using steel shot to hunt for ducks or geese. There is also an Improved Modified choke that is slightly tighter than Modified.
- Full choke has tight constriction. The shot holds together even longer, so it’s good for squirrels, turkey, and other game shot at 35- to 40-yard ranges. Turkey hunters sometimes use Extra Full or Turkey choke for even denser patterns at long range.
Steel shot is slightly lighter than lead shot of the same size—reducing its velocity and distance (range). Also, steel shot is harder than lead, so the individual pellets stay round, keeping the pattern tighter.
Some hunters use steel shot one or two sizes larger to make up for the difference in weight from lead shot. Others use the same size steel shot or even smaller steel shot to get more shot into their patterns. You should pattern your shotgun with various loads of steel shot before hunting waterfowl with it.
Effective pattern density is the key. Maximum pellet counts spread evenly across a 30-inch circle are best. Full chokes generally produce poor patterns with steel shot.