The Basics of Shotgun Shell Types & Chokes

So many different chokes and shotgun shell types can be overwhelming, especially when the wrong combination can damage your gun (e.g. firing large steel pellets though a full choke). Let's break it down!

Choke Types

A variety of aftermarket chokes can increase your effective pattern. They are made to fit specific shotguns and can be ordered for your favourite smoothbore.

  • Improved cylinder chokes are for close range.
  • Modified chokes are for mid-range and decoyed birds.
  • Full chokes are for long range pass shooting. The unique choke tubes allow pellets to provide optimum patterns of the proper density in most shotguns.

Troubleshooting Patterning

If you are patterning your shotgun and see the pellets are clustered and not spreading properly, you may have to go to a more open choke (close range).

Most steel will shoot well through a modified choke. If your patterns are inconsistent or not grouping properly, you'll want to try an improved cylinder or skeet choke.

Every gun patterns differently so try a variety of shotshell manufacturers. You can pattern guns with several friends so you can split up boxes of shells and try many different loads.

Steel Shot = More Pellets

Steel shot can make an impenetrable wall to birds when patterned properly. Steel loads have bigger wads than lead, allowing more pellets to be put in each shell. The extra room helps increase the total weight for the load.

Although steel is lighter than lead, you make up for it with bigger pellets and more of them. More pellets per shell mean better patterns in most guns that have been patterned for optimal performance.

Shot Size

Shot size matters big time in the density of your pattern. A 1 1/8-ounce load of steel BBs will contain about 70 pellets. The same load with No. 2 shot will have a total count of 141 pellets. If you were to go to No. 3 steel shot, the pellet count rises again to 178. If you could go any higher, you would be shooting dust-sized pellets. Balancing weight, energy and pellet size allows you to shoot the most efficient pellets, depending on what you're hunting.  

Looking for tips on how to pattern your shotgun? Check out our article


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