Competitive Shooting

Shotgun Choke Tubes Explained

hunter with shotgun

The inside bore constriction at the muzzle end of a shotgun’s barrel is known as the “choke.” When a shotshell is fired, shot travels down the bore, exits the muzzle, and begins to “spread out.” Just as a nozzle on the end of a garden hose controls the spray of water, the choke controls the spread of the shot, making it narrower or wider.

Background on Choke Tubes

The three basic chokes for a shotgun are known as full (tight constriction and delivers a narrow, dense spread), modified (less constriction and delivers a medium-width spread), and improved cylinder (even less constriction and delivers a wide, open spread). A gun with no choke is called a cylinder bore and delivers the widest spread. There are also a number of specialty chokes that provide narrower or wider spreads — some of the most popular are for skeet shooting and turkey hunting.

A shotgun’s choke also determines its effective range. The tighter the constriction, the farther the effective range. For instance, a full choke is most effective at 40 to 50 yards. An improved cylinder is most effective from 20 to 35 yards.

Shotgun barrels come with either fixed (non-removable) chokes or today’s more popular interchangeable screw-in choke tubes that let hunters quickly and easily change chokes to match changing shooting conditions.

Trulock Choke Tubes Logo

Most Commonly Used Choke Tubes:

Super-Full and Extra-Full Chokes

Known as gobbler getters, these are ideally suited for the headshots necessary in turkey hunting. They have extra-tight constrictions and the densest patterns.

Full Choke

A full choke has tight constriction and a dense pattern, delivering approximately 70 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30″ circle at 40 yards. It’s best for trap shooting, waterfowl pass shooting, turkey hunting, and buckshot loads.

Modified Choke

The modified is characterized by less constriction than full choke, delivering approximately 60 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30″ circle at 40 yards. Excellent for all-around hunting of waterfowl, long-range flushing of upland birds (such as late-season pheasant and sharptail grouse) as well as other small game. It’s also used for trap shooting.

Improved Cylinder Choke

Even less constricted than modified, the improved cylinder distributes approximately 50 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30″ circle at 40 yards. Ideal for close-in small-game shooting, upland bird hunting (such as quail, grouse, and pheasant) as well as hunting waterfowl close over decoys. Rifled slugs also perform very well with this choke.

Cylinder Bore

A cylinder bore provides no constriction and distributes approximately 40 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30″ circle at 40 yards. It’s most often used by law enforcement for service shotguns.

Skeet Choke

A skeet choke is a specialty choke that sends approximately 50 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30″ circle at 25 yards. This type is designed to deliver optimum patterns for close-range skeet shooting.

case with Choke Tubes for sportive or hunting gun

Conclusion: Choke Tubes

Selecting the right choke tubes can help you customize your shotgun pattern to tailor it to your specific purpose, whether that be for self-defense, hunting, or sport shooting. This can ensure that you deliver the perfect shot on target to achieve the best results. Shotgun chokes are truly a versatile and useful accessory to have on hand.

What choke tubes do you use and what do you use them for? Let us know in the comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May of 2011. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. I recently won a camo pump shotgun in a raffle. The shotgun handles up to 3 1/2 mag loads. It came with 5 different chokes. One is about 8 inches long. I had never seen a choke tub like this. My guess is it’s purpose is to extend the barrel length for longer effective shots.

  2. I have a choke that came with my 870 wingmaster that isn’t mentioned – it says “Improved Modified” – is that better than Modified? I also inherited a double barreled gun from my uncle, with a whole case full of chokes that just have numbers on them, like 10 and 15 and such all the way up to 45. The hole in the bigger ones is smaller if you try to put a dime in it. My dad always said if a dime goes through its a grouse choke but if it doesn’t it’s a duck or pheasant choke. That doesn’t work on a 20 gage though. That doubled barrel gun is really fancy, with really fancy wood and gold birds on it and stuff – I’d think they would have labelled the chokes better.

  3. I don’t see any mention of the Polychoke, which is adjustable but adds weight at the muzzle. The best info source is an old-time gunsmith. I know one in TX who’s a country classic; his customers include everyone from good ole boys to suburban SWAT teams. Find one of these legends before he dies!

  4. Hello, I have a Browning Pump Shotgun with a 32 inch full choke barrel (no screw in chokes) and it will shoot 1moa at 75 yards every day. I don’t think any manufacturer would make a gun that wouldn’t safety shoot any shotshell for what gauge it is made. Thanks

  5. I’ve fired lead slugs from full and modified chokes without issue however the best smoothbore accuracy comes from the improved cylinder choke. The best thing (most accurate) are sabot slugs from a rifled barrel. Easily 2-4 MOA accuracy.

    1. No. Do not fire slugs through a choke or you will ruin the choke. Don’t quote me on this next part but I think it would technically be “safe” to do so in an emergency, but I wouldn’t expect that choke to ever properly work again.

    2. It is not recommended to shoot slugs through a modified choke. Cylinder and Improved Cylinder are acceptable for rifled slugs, as they have the least constriction. Additionally, you can purchase a rifled choke, which will allow you to shoot sabot slugs (at what level of accuracy, I am not sure).

  6. I just bought a Mossberg 500 combo with Improved cylinder, modified and full choke tubes as well as a rifled slug barrel with rigle sights. It looks like I am good to go unless I decide to get a turkey choke tube rather than using a full choke.

  7. Hello. Very well written blog. I really enjoy reading your blog. I am also a Master shooter (Sporting Clays/FITASC) and an aerospace manufacturing professional. our choke tubes produce optimal pellet patterns, one Muller Choke Tube does the job of two “traditional” tubes

  8. I have shot slugs through a full choke for 15 years. Needless to say it is no longer a full choke. Also note that i was using sabot slugs so the plastic compressed.definitely do not shoot slugs through full choke, or it won’t be full very long

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  10. Not only can shooting a slug through a full choke be potentially hazardous to the barrel (and in very extreme cases the shooter), accuracy will typically be poor since the slug is heavily compressed as it passes through the choke. I typically recommend cylinder bore or improved cylinder for shooting rifled slugs, though I know some old timers that swore by their modified chokes for slug shooting.

  11. @ USCitizen

    uhhh yeah…thats a good way to blow up your barrel and seriously injure yourself…please nobody reading this try it!!!

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