Merits of Chokes and Cylinders - Part I

Shotguns and Shotshells

By Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, 1892

We will suppose that a shooter has now found a gun to suit him as regards weight, balance, and mechanism. He has, however, to decide on its boring; and this feature of his gun is the one of all others, next to a perfect fit and a suitable weight, that he will have to consider most: for the question of whether his gun should be bored a choke or a cylinder is a very interesting one to the shooter, and is at all times a subject of great importance in regard to his success as a game-shot.


I need scarcely explain that a choke, by compressing the charge of shot just before it leaves the muzzle, throws it closer than does a cylinder—the latter having no contraction of the barrels for this purpose. If the shooter decide on a choke, he will also have to determine how much choke his barrels are to contain; that is to say, how many pellets he wishes them to place on the regulation 30 in. in diameter circle at 40 yards. Shooters are apt to look upon all choked barrels as being full-chokes, and capable in the case of 12-bores (to which I here alone allude) of making a pattern of 200. This is a mistake, as a modified choke makes a pattern, for example, of about 150 on the 30 in. circle; and there is then little material difference between a gun that acts thus and a cylinder that makes a pattern of some score pellets less.

There is no doubt a choked gun shoots with more force than a cylinder, though only slightly; but I have never found this superiority exist to such an extent as to cause any noticeable effect on game at sporting-ranges, though at the target the full-choke will penetrate at 40 yards a couple more sheets of paper than the cylinder.

What a choke does is this: it carries its charge of shot closer, and so, of course, puts more pellets into the game than can a cylinder; and this attribute at a long distance naturally tells in favour of the choke, provided the aim is sufficiently correct to place its smaller shot-circle on the mark. Up to 35 or 40 yards (the latter being a long shot), a cylinder or a slightly choked gun is far easier to hit with, and therefore a more deadly gun to use, than a full-choke, and either of the former will place amply sufficient pellets in the game to stop it well and neatly without wounding, even at a longer distance. At 35 yards a full-choke will place in the game half as many more pellets than are required to kill, which not only spoils its flesh for the table, but prevents the bird being kept till fit for cooking, from its perforated condition.*

* I have seen driven partridges—birds which a shooter is often obliged to fire at within 18 to 20 yards or not at all—so shattered by the mass of shot plastered into them by a full-choke that nine to the dozen were best suited for ferret-meat! Last season, for the sake of experiment, I killed six driven partridges with a full-choke at the ordinary range at which these birds come over a high hedge in a level country, and on reaching home I counted the holes drilled through their skins, which were respectively, 37, 33, 32, 29, 21, 19. The next day I killed six more birds with a cylinder at the same stand, and at the same average distances; result in pellets to birds—17, 15, 12, 12, 9, 7. The latter six birds were brought down as clean as could be wished, and dropped without a flutter. These were, however, all fit to eat, the previous six being only fit to drink in the form of soup.

I have, over and over again, seen full-chokes and cylinders tried on game with a view to demonstrating the great advantages of the former; and, on my word, I cannot discover that any superiority exists. In the case of ninety-nine out of a hundred shooters I find that the chokes have more disadvantages than the reverse. An average marksman—such as nineteen people out of every twenty are—is certainly handicapped when using a full-choke; for his gun requires more accurate aim than if he were using a cylinder, as it throws its shot in so small a circle; and it stands to reason that, at the distance at which game is usually fired at, which is at a far shorter range than many people imagine, it is easier to hit a moving mark with a fairly large circle of shot, covering a good space, than it is to hit it with a small circle covering a small space.

If a shooter be a really first-class shot, he may do wonders with a full-choke, as he will generally strike his mark whether it is near or distant, and he will on occasions bring down his game at very long ranges, when with a cylinder, by reason of its wider-spreading pattern, he might not do so. Yet even a first-class shot, when using a full-choke, has to aim more accurately at game at moderate distances than would be required of him were he using a cylinder; and whether, for the sake of occasional long, brilliant shots, that not seldom entice a man into a habit of random shooting, it is worth while to carry a gun that is not so easy to kill with at an ordinary range, is more than doubtful.

In these days, when driving the game is so much practiced, the shooter, good shot though he be, who handles a full-choked gun, is always at a disadvantage, especially in regard to comparatively small birds, such as partridges, and even grouse—birds that generally pass pretty close when driven towards him. It may readily be understood that it is more difficult to hit a bird flying directly towards you with a full-choke gun, that carries its charge of shot concentrated in a space you might almost cover with your hat at twenty paces, than with a gun that has a spread of half as much more, yet puts amply sufficient pellets on the mark to kill, and at the same time shoots practically as hard as any choke-bore.

At driven birds, such as pheasants, grouse or partridges, which are generally killed at under 30 yards' distance from the shooter, the cylinder-gun will kill as well as the full-choke, without the drawbacks in regard to the necessity of superior accuracy attending the smaller pattern of the latter. Firing with a full-choke at a driven partridge topping a hedge is almost like discharging a bullet at a cricket-ball whizzing past. Yet, in the hands of the exceptional performer, the choke certainly gives him a remarkable power of killing; though in the hands of the average shot it has an equally remarkable power of causing misses.

Putting on one side for the present the exceptional marksman, the only real advantages I can discover in favour of a full-choke are :—First, when it is in the hands of a slow shot, who habitually shoots his game over dogs or walks it up before him. In such case the game, in nine cases out of ten, goes directly away from the shooter, and he has often plenty of time to aim almost as with a rifle; and he is, by using a choke, enabled to take a surer and longer sight, as, from the choke carrying its shot fairly close at a long distance, the extra dozen yards the game has run or flown whilst the shooter hesitates over his aim is not of much consequence. Secondly, a full-choke is useful to any one for walking up game if wild, with or without dogs, as, when birds persistently rise at about 40 yards, there is no doubt a choke will put more pellets into them than a cylinder, and, of course, succeed in killing them better—as, provided the game is struck—which in such shooting is a comparatively simple matter—it is as easy to kill it with a choke at 45 to 50 yards as it is with a cylinder at 35 to 40, the pattern of the two guns being very similar in spread at these distances; though, if both are used at shorter and more usual sporting-ranges, the cylinder, whether in the hands of a moderate or a good shot, will be found the more successful weapon of the two.

I have always noticed, when experimenting at the target, that full-choke guns are more variable in their performances than cylinders, and are liable now and then—perhaps once in twenty shots—to shoot patchy, as well as to put the bulk of the shot in a cluster to the right or left; and then, however correct the aim, such irregularity may cause what appears an unaccountable miss at an easy bird. For example, if a full-choke shows, as the result of fifty shots (I never fire less to strike an average), that its pattern is 210, this average will be made up of shots that vary from 240 to as low as 120, with an occasional 100. If the same number of shots are fired from a cylinder or a medium choke, and the average in the former case is 130, and in the latter 150, the extremes will respectively not vary more than—cylinder, 120 to 135; medium choke, 135 to 160.

There is no doubt that, even in the hands of the fairly good shot, a cylinder is the most killing gun to use for all-round shooting at ordinary game at sporting-ranges; and a full-choked gun is the most unsuitable weapon for this purpose, and particularly so in regard to all driven birds.

A good shot may use a gun of modified choke that places 150 to 160 pellets on the 30 in. circle at 40 yards, and do well with it; but I do not believe there are five men in England who can drop their game, both driven and springing, as satisfactorily with a full-choke as they can with a cylinder or medium-choke; though, in the hands of the two or three who can do so, a full-choke is the most effective gun they can use. But then such first-class marksmen as I have in my mind would almost kill their game with a rifle-bullet, so accurate is their aim. To such shooters as these a close or well-spread pattern is a matter of small moment at a short range (though the close pattern will surely disgust the epicure and his cook), and at a long one the former is to them the most effective.


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