Merits of Chokes and Cylinders - Part II

Shotguns and Shotshells

By Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, 1892



It is an error to imagine that long shots cannot be killed with a cylinder-gun. I have often seen cylinders kill at as long a distance as any choke.

It may be said that a good cylinder, throwing a regularly-spread pattern of 130 to 135, will kill almost every time, if held straight, up to 40 yards; and that is a long distance if paced in the open, and farther than one in a thousand rocketing pheasants pass overhead.

En passant I will remark there is no commoner mistake made among shooters than the height of rocketing pheasants. When these birds are seen to fly at an unusual altitude, they are imagined to be in the clouds; and I have often heard on such occasions the exclamation, after a miss, 'That bird must have been quite 50 yards up; I couldn't touch him.'

A pheasant 150 ft. above ground would appear so small and far that few shooters of experience would fire at him at all, especially if lower birds were on the wing or expected.

If you see an overhead pheasant against the open sky at, we will say, only 105ft., he will seem almost any height—40 yards in your imagination at least; but supposing this wonderfully high bird passes by or just over a tall tree, you will be surprised how much lower his distance above ground really is, and how much nearer to the top of the tree his flight takes him than you could have fancied possible. I have but taken a pheasant at 35 yards high as an example. A bird flying at an elevation nearly half as high again, as they are often said to attain, would indeed be a ' teaser ' to tumble down!

The height good sporting pheasants fly when driven overhead (unless, of course, the shooter is posted in a deep valley) may be set down at 25 yards to 30 yards, high birds at 30 yards to 35 yards, and exceptionally tall ones at 35 yards to 40 yards; the latter height being very rarely attained.

From this we can easily realize how it is a cylinder should bring down 'rocketers' at any reasonable height, and how such birds are well within its reach, though people may consider a full-choke would alone be effective at the longer ranges. It is curious that though a pheasant flying low appears within easy range at 30 yards, yet the same bird travelling 30 yards above ground seems so much more distant as a perpendicular shot.

I have seen shooters—good shots, too—purposely armed with full-chokes, blazing away at rocketing pheasants said to be too high for cylinders, and have heard them say on missing, 'That bird was too high for even my full-choke'; and I have on the same occasion seen a man, certainly a first-class shot, stand well behind and pull down bird after bird as dead as need be, after they had been feathered by the guns in front, his gun being nothing but an ordinary cylinder making a pattern, as I afterwards tested myself, of 130 at 40 yards!

I am aware these remarks concerning cylinders and chokes will rouse the ire of those few gunmakers who are still behind the age concerning the practical uses of a gun in the field, and who advertise and recommend a full-choke as perfection for everybody; but then, they take their arguments from the target, which is in this case a decidedly unreliable mentor.

An enthusiast on chokes will tell you that cylinder 12-bores which put 130 pellets or so on a round target of 30 in. diameter at 40 yards are quite useless for killing game with certainty at over 35 yards. They will also impress upon you that cylinder barrels which are capable of placing 130 pellets on the 30 in. circle are not cylinders at all, but are in reality barrels with a slight amount of choke in them. This is certainly an incorrect idea. It is true that what is termed a cylinder-gun may not be a cylinder pure and simple; but, on the other hand, it may not have a vestige of choke about it. However, to appease these skeptics, let us suppose a so-called cylinder has an infinitesimal tightening towards the muzzle, or recess choke in its barrel, and makes in consequence a pattern of 130 to 135—it is this pattern, I maintain, that will kill, and, for the ordinary marksman to use on all-round game, is best adapted to kill, whatever the boring of the gun be, if the shot is regularly spread over the target. The advocates of chokes declare that a pattern of even 140 is too low a one for the shooter to kill well with, save at a very moderate range.

I have seen many cylinder-guns make a pattern of 130 to 135 with great regularity; guns without a symptom of choke in their boring— rather the reverse, as can easily be ascertained by the use of a gunmaker's gauge.

The fact is, really good cylinder barrels are difficult to make, and, to get them up to a high standard of shooting, they require most careful boring. On the other hand, a choked barrel is simplicity itself in comparison, and can easily be regulated to bunch its shot up to the target in a thick cluster.

A cheap cylinder-gun that will constantly make a regular pattern of even 120 on the 30 in. circle at 40 yards is a rara avis; but a cheap gun can be choked to place 180 to 200 pellets with ease, as the latter attainment requires far less care and expense to produce. And the dealer in inferior guns will generally avoid, if he possibly can, selling a cylinder-gun, especially to a shooter who wishes to see its performance at a target before purchase. The would-be buyer will usually be told: 'Don't have a cylinder, sir; all good shots use chokes now, as they kill much farther.'


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