Patterning a shotgun choke tube isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming and is often overlooked by shooters until it is evident that something is wrong with the setup. Choke tube patterns can be finicky and finding the right combination of shotgun, choke tube, and ammunition is usually the key.
In this review we will discuss the top tips for getting choke tubes to pattern better with greater pellet density and uniformity. If you are finally getting around to patterning your shotgun, this guide will help you narrow down what the focus should be on and what patterning success looks like with a well performing choke tube.
Below are the top 7 tips for patterning a shotgun:
1) Practice Makes Perfect. Pattern Your Choke Tube – A lot.
The best choke tube patterns come from countless hours practicing tweaking ammo, shotguns and choke tubes. If any one of these is off, the rest can suffer. Taking a personal interest in ballistics, especially when waterfowl hunting, means better performance in the field and cleaner harvest methods.
Choke tube patterning can be completed in under an hour as it is mainly just firing at a paper target and analyzing the results. You can even just snap a quick photo of the patterning result and analyze it at a later time. Pellet distribution and density are key elements to focus on while patterning a choke tube.
Tip: Try to pattern as many choke/ammo/shotgun combinations you can at one time to maximize your time.
2) Pick a Choke Tube That is the Right Size for the Distance
One of the biggest reasons choke tubes pattern poorly is the wrong size choke tube is being used. Open choke tubes won’t perform well at long ranges and tight choke tubes are too compact for close ranges.
Patterning a choke tube at the ranges you will be hunting in the field and at the ranges the choke tube is designed for is always the best practice. 40 yards is the standard for decoy hunting with a modified choke. 50 and even 60 yards is the norm for long range choke tubes since the pattern will finally start to open up at longer ranges.
The effectiveness of your choke tube is largely based on the capable distance that the ammo and choke were designed for. Knowing the distance is always the first step to better choke performance.
Choke Tube Recommendations per range
- Improved Cylinder – Decoying Inside 20 yards
- Modified – Decoying 30 to 40 yards
- Full – Pass Shooting and Long Range Shots to 60 yards
3) Ammunition is Just as Important as the Choke Tube Itself
You wouldn’t run 80 octane fuel in a race car, so why would you expect the cheapest and low quality ammo to pattern well through a premium choke tube? In patterning, repetition is always the most sought-after result. Being able to replicate patterns with ammunition that is similar for every load helps to achieve this goal.
Additionally, choosing the right pellet size and payload for the ranges you’ll be hunting should be taken to account. For example, a 1 ¼ oz. load of #4 steel shot is a dense load for shots over decoys between 30 and 40 yards.
Tip: Stick to the premium ammo manufacturers like Federal, Winchester, and Kent for better choke tube patterning results.
4) Understand What Successful Patterning Is
What determines a success choke tube pattern is sufficient density and pellet distribution in a 30-inch circle at range. The pattern should not be blotchy or have gaps that waterfowl can fly through.
Successful patterns should be able to be replicated on follow up shots. A three-shot average is the standard to determine if a certain waterfowl load pattern is acceptable and will work well in the field.
How to perform a 3 shot average patterning test:
- Pattern three of the same loads through the same shotgun, choke, and ammo at the same distance.
- Count the number of pellets in a 30-inch circle for each of the three loads.
- Divide each result by the number of pellets in the load before fired.
- Average the three results. If the number is 80% or above, the choke tube patterns sufficiently.
5) Start Reloading Your Own Loads to Fine Tune Ammo
Reloading ammo is a hidden gem of getting choke tubes to pattern better since it allows you to customize basically every component of a shotshell. You have complete control over the hull, primer, wad, and shot which can all be tweaked depending on what you see in your patterning results.
Certain plastic wads can be modified for petal length to keep the shot in the shotcup longer, spacers and buffers can be used to eliminate empty shot column space that tends to blow patterns out. If you have the time, reloading and gradually working to a choke tube and ammo combination that work well together is ballistically superior to what you can purchase off the shelves.
6) Pattern and Test as Many Choke Tubes as Possible
Settling on just one choke tube may not always be the best method for finding the choke that works the best. Sometimes patterning can be finicky and what may work out of one shotgun, may not work out of the same model even if ammo and choke remain the same.
The factory choke tubes that come with a shotgun are a good baseline to start gauging where you choke tubes stand. Pattern them first and if the results are unacceptable, get a premium choke like a Patternmaster Code Black and compare the results. You may even need a Carlson decoying choke for close in hunts in the timber.
7) Find Out What Choke Tubes Have Worked for Others and Build Off of It
The last tip to get your choke tube to pattern better is to join communities of likeminded people that also pattern and build loads for waterfowl hunting. These communities are a wealth of information from years of the patterning a wide range of ammo, choke tubes and shotguns. This can give you a head start from starting from scratch or wasting effort on things that have proven unsuccessful.
Choke tube patterns can vary widely based on a whole host of factors including shotguns, choke tubes, ammo, and distance. Each of these factors must be working together to result in uniform and dense patterns for waterfowl.
The best tips for getting a choke tube to pattern better are to practice patterning as much as you can. Test as many chokes and ammo combinations as possible to find something that works well together. Patterning at the distance you hunt in the field will help fine tune the choke tube pattern to your needs.
Reloading your own ammo lets you tailor your own loads to pattern best out of each choke tube. Joining reloading communities are a wealth of knowledge and can cut out most of the guesswork when narrowing down the search for good choke patterns.
Wondering what choke tube size you need?
Check out this table for most shotgun choke diameters