Top shooter Becky McKenzie provides a five-minute overview of what chokes are for, and which ones you should use.
In simple terms, choke is a constriction near the muzzle end of a shotgun barrel, which affects how the shot spreads out as it flies towards the target. The more open the choke, the larger the diameter of the shot cloud or pattern; and the tighter the choke, the smaller the pattern at a given distance.
You need to remember that as the shot cloud leaves the barrel it spreads out, reducing in density the farther it goes from the muzzle. As a general rule, you’d want less choke for a close range target, and a tighter choke for a further away target – although there are other factors to consider too.
Most modern clay shotguns use interchangeable ‘multichokes’ which screw into the end of the barrel, like the tubes shown in the picture here. This allows you to change your chokes to suit the target – and you’ll often see shooters weigh up a stand and then change their choke tubes depending on the type of target presented.
Screw-in or multi chokes can be either ‘flush fitting’ or ‘extended’ – like it sounds, this means they either fit flush with the end of the barrel, or protrude. Fixed chokes are already engineered into the muzzles and so are not adjustable.
Chokes are measured by the constriction of the bore, which is usually expressed in thousandths of an inch. Typically they come in steps of five thousands of an inch between choke sizes.
Different countries have their own way of describing the various chokes, but in the UK they are usually expressed as: True Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Quarter, Half, Three Quarters and Full.
Which choke to use?
Some believe that the bigger the pattern the more chance they have of hitting the target, so they can vaguely point in the general direction of the target to get a good result. Sadly for them, that couldn’t be further from reality!
Shooting clays at average distances I tend to use what I would consider an ‘average’ choke, ie Half Choke which is, of course, in the middle of the choke spectrum – not too open and not too tight. Some targets may be longer and some closer, but on balance I find this to be the best compromise.
I generally use Half and Three Quarters choke. I have Half in the lower barrel for the first shot, as you get less muzzle flip. Then I have the tighter Three Quarters choke in my top barrel, for the emergency second shot. Arguably I should use Quarter and Half Choke, but Half and Three Quarters are my Happy chokes!
And what should you use? My advice would be Improved Cylinder and Quarter Choke while you are learning. Then when you move up to slightly harder targets, you can switch to the slightly tighter combination of Quarter and Half Choke.
More guides for clay shooting
- Essential guide to clay gun barrels
- Gun mount technique: beginners guide to clay shooting
- Buying your first shotgun: a beginners guide
- Beginners guide to getting your shotgun licence
- The essential guide to boxlocks, sidelocks and sideplates