Many years ago my grandfather used to hunt quail religiously. He had an Ithaca side-by-side double barrel 20 gauge shotgun in which he sawed much of the end of the barrels off.
When I began hunting, my first experiences with real firearms were with that Ithaca. My father always warned me in the dove field to “stay down until they are right up on you and then pull up and fire.” I always thought it was because he was unsure of my newly developing abilities and a close shot would give me the best chance of downing the game bird.
It was not until I was well into my twenties that I finally realized why. The sawed off barrels would not hold a tight pattern for the shot very far. This was the reason my grandfather modified the shotgun. The quail would usually wait and fly after being marked his dog when he was right upon them. They would flush in a loud whoosh of flapping wings and he would throw the shotgun up and pull the trigger. He was not trying to aim. He was trying to get the shot out of the gun and into the bird.
I find many people never really grasp what type of choke to use. As a quick lesson, the choke is the amount of constriction of the barrel. The tighter the choke, the more focused the shot are as they exit the muzzle (end) of the barrel.
Think of the sprayer on your water hose when picturing the choke patterns. When you are spraying your flowers or grass you want an open spray that covers a large area. However, when you are trying to wash bugs off the headlamps of your vehicle you want a focused stream to attack the leftover mush of a bug.
The choke works the same way. There are many combinations of a choke, but there are four main ones.
The open or cylinder choke is basically a straight barrel with no constriction. This is what my grandfather accomplished by sawing off the end of the Ithaca. It is used for tight quarters and close shots. This is great for that quail hunt when you want to just throw the shotgun up and fire.
An improved cylinder begins to alter the constriction of the choke. Again, this is used in situations where you think the game will be close by for the shot. Personally, I have used this for hunting wood ducks in swamps where they come in fast and close between the many trees.
A modified choke constricts the muzzle more tightly than the improved cylinder, therefore it offers a tighter pattern and the ability to focus the shot pattern at a greater distance. In many cases, this will be an ideal choke for open field hunts, such as for the coming dove season. This choke also is widely used for duck and goose hunting on open lakes and reservoirs as the goal is to draw the waterfowl towards your decoys which may be positioned several dozen yards away from the blind or boat.
The last of the four primary chokes is the full choke. This is the most focused and constricted of the basic chokes. It allows for shots of greater distances but the pattern is very small on close shots.
Discussing a dove hunt with a fellow hunter several years ago he mentioned how he always missed on his first shot but rarely missed as the bird was flying away and he fired his second shell. He could bring down a bird from above the trees but for the life of him he could not hit one that would nearly land on top of him. After talking about and laughing at the way hunts go sometimes we checked his shotgun and sure enough, he had a full choke screwed into the muzzle. It was not his lack of ability, but rather the equipment he was using.
So before you head out to the dove fields in the coming weekends, know your ability and know your equipment. After all, you don’t want to choke when you get the shot.