Kate Gatacre talks to Ivan Reid, manager of Teague Chokes, to discover what goes in to designing and developing the chokes they have become so famous for, and hears what’s next for the company
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It’s fair to say that Teague Chokes has become something of a household name on the clay circuit – not only in the UK, but the world over. And while it’s a brand you see and perhaps use on an almost daily basis if you are a clay shooter, you may not know how they came into being.
Ivan Reid, the manager, was just the person to talk to about the past, present and future of these small but powerful pieces of kit.
It’s unlikely that Nigel Teague realised quite what he was starting when he made himself a set of lightweight, interchangeable chokes. Nigel’s background was in British Aerospace; in 1980 he was one of the engineers responsible for quality within one of their Rolls Royce divisions, but was also a shooting coach at Lady’s Wood, near Bristol.
As a passionate shooter, Nigel knew he could do better than the rather basic chokes available on the market at the time. His first design was for a Remington shotgun, and was an instant hit. “The business just grew from there,” Ivan tells me.
“With his engineering knowledge, he was able to create a choke that had a very thin wall, but didn’t compromise on the threading.” The designs were broadened to fit any clay shooting gun, and refined to become even lighter and more accurate.
Nigel’s business flourished. To date, Ivan estimates that more than 27,000 guns have Teague chokes fitted. Five years ago, Nigel decided it was time to retire, and the business was sold to Westley Richards, the historic Birmingham gun maker.
“Which didn’t change how we operated, how we made the chokes,” Ivan explains. “The biggest change for us, in terms of procedure, was when we started using CNC machines, around 15 years ago.” CNC machines, for those who don’t know the lingo, are Computer Numerical Control machines.
“They’ve increased our output massively, but they are also incredibly accurate, so it means there is less finishing to do on the chokes.” With six full-time and one part-time employee, Teague’s output is incredibly variable because, as Ivan explains, “If we need to change the choke style, material or size, that takes time. We try to ‘save’ up to do a good run of the same chokes, but some days we are chopping and changing the tooling all day long.”
A choke typically takes just five to seven minutes to be machined from a solid bar of steel or titanium, Ivan says. “It’s more expensive as far as metal is concerned, but that is what gives you a seamless choke, and ensures that it will be incredibly hardwearing.”
As the tooling cuts away at the metal, coils of swath (waste metal) are produced, “Which we need to remove regularly, or the machines get choked up. We use a lot of coolant to keep the metal from heating up while it is being worked.
If the metal gets too hot, its properties change – it can become brittle or soft.” Once the tooling in the CNC machine is finished, each choke is checked and hand-finished.
All this sounds relatively simple, but Ivan says that’s because of months, even years of design work and refinement. The most recent development for Teague has been the use of titanium. Teague started producing titanium chokes in November of last year after two years of research, design and development.
“It is becoming incredibly popular, particularly among the top clay shooters,” Ivan says. “It’s 40 per cent lighter than steel, which makes a massive difference to the balance and weight of your gun. It’s particularly popular with those shooting quick targets, but also with disabled shooters.”
It might not seem much to save 40 per cent on such a small thing, but, says Ivan, “It’s 80 grams of weight. We’ve found that it patterns the same as the steel chokes, and it doesn’t corrode, which is also a huge benefit.”
As far as new developments go, Teague Chokes isn’t sitting on its laurels. “We’re working on quite a few projects,” Ivan tells me. “The most important is that we are working on chokes that will be able to cope with steel shot. We’ve developed a design, and are now on the testing phase – seeing what the limits are of this design.
We’re pretty sure that these will come into play in the next few years, so we want to be prepared.” They are working on pushing the limits of what’s possible with steel shot: “Currently, Half Choke is the maximum anyone has gone to, but we think we can take it further. It’s all about how compatible the choke is with the barrel, the expansion properties of the metal and the patterning.”
The variety of chokes that Teague produces is huge. Specific makes and models of guns can offer unique challenges, and even within each category there can be tremendous differences.
“There’s a constantly evolving change in trends, in what gives shooters from different disciplines the edge,” says Ivan. “It’s all part of the move towards professionalism in sport. The other major differences are between the way shooters buy and use their guns in different countries.”
A recent trip to the US to see what the American shooters were up to was revealing: “They tend to hang on to their guns for much longer than we do in this country. They’ll buy a gun, then spend ten years tweaking it to get it right.”
One of the biggest differences, Ivan discovered, was that the US market wanted longer chokes, “Many of them buy guns with 30 inch barrels, so they want to extend those using chokes. We’ve had to invest in making new tooling so that we can produce the longer chokes for that market, otherwise it would warp the metal.”
One of the services that Teague offers is to work with a shooter to find the perfect combination of choke and cartridge. “It’s surprising how much a choice of choke and cartridge can change the patterning of a gun.
“Of course, we produce a range of chokes for specific makes and models, but many clay shooters and game shooters are looking for something more attuned to their style of shooting,”
Ivan is pretty passionate about finding the perfect combination for individual shooters – but that is hardly surprising, given that he has shot for 30 years himself: “I used to do a lot of English Sporting and shot for Gloucestershire on numerous occasions.” These days he still does plenty of shooting.
“Going to shoots and shows like the British Shooting Show is always worthwhile for us. It gives us some real customer feedback, which is vital when it comes to knowing whether the chokes are performing as they should, but also for knowing what the next development is going to be.”
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