Understanding Shotgun Chokes

When a shotgun is fired, the column of pellets in the shell leaves the barrel and spreads into a pattern, which widens as the shot gets farther from the muzzle. To control this and produce patterns matched to various types of shooting, firearms designers constrict, or “choke,” the shotgun at the muzzle. Simply put, the tighter the choke, the more the shot column is squeezed, and the longer its effective range.

Before the 1980s, chokes were typically built into the barrel and couldn’t be changed, but most modern shotguns feature interchangeable systems. The barrel is threaded on the inside, and the shotgun is supplied with a set of screw-in chokes. Interchangeable chokes allow you to use a single gun for everything from home defense and skeet, to hunting for upland birds, waterfowl and turkeys. To help shooters choose the choke that’s best suited for their intended use, chokes are divided into several standard constrictions.

Cylinder Choke

A cylinder choke has no added constriction; its dimensions are the same as those of the barrel and it throws the widest pattern. This choke is good for close shots on clay birds, game birds, and is also best for using buckshot in a defensive situation.

Improved Cylinder

An improved cylinder choke tightens up the shot column by 0.010 inch, giving minimal restriction, but maintaining a good, wide pattern for fast flushing birds.


A modified choke reduces the bore 0.020 inch and makes a good all-around choice. It works well on clays at all distances, and can handle most flushing game birds.


Full chokes provide bore reduction of about 0.035 inch, making them a sound choice for longer shots on upland birds and turkeys, as well as for predator hunting with larger shot.

Extra Full

The extra full choke is a turkey hunter’s ally, giving a bore restriction of 0.040 inch and delivering extremely tight patterns to hit toms at 40-plus yards. But it’s important to remember that same tight pattern can work against you when a gobbler steps into view at 10 to 15 yards. At those ranges, the pattern is so small that it’s easy to miss.

Get The Most From Them

In between the major choke types are boutique chokes. For example, a skeet choke falls midway between improved cylinder and modified, while improved modified and light full fill the gaps between modified and full.

Regardless of the choke you choose, it’s vital to pattern it with the loads you intend to use. Patterning involves shooting the gun at a large sheet of paper at to determine the size of the pattern at different distances, its maximum effective range and where the center of the pattern falls in relation to your point of aim. This ensures you’ll get the results you’re after.