Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
At the Southern Side by Side Championship and Exhibition we set out to answer the question: Can you find a good hammer gun for $2,500 or less?
There has never been a more closely guarded launch of a shotgun than Benelli's new Vinci, and once you see what finally came out of the black box at noon on March 31st the cloak-and-dagger secrecy is fully justified.
A proper fitting shotgun is so important that some folks are willing to spend $90,000 and more to get it. For that $90,000, you can take possession of a bespoke Purdey side-by-side custom fit to you much as the company did to the British landed gentry in the 19th century.
But for shooters who don’t have the money or the time to wait 12 long months for their shotguns, you can fit an off-the-shelf shotgun to your frame in ways that will enable you to hit plenty of targets -- consistently.
Ask the experts about purchasing a shotgun and the first thing they’ll advise is to make sure it fits. In this section you’ll find everything necessary to help you understand the dynamics of a well-fitting shotgun…
The components of a shotgun shell include the rim, primer, brass, shell case, powder, wad and shot — with the exception of shotgun slugs, which are like blunt bullets encased in a shotgun shell and used on larger game.
What’s the difference between a choke and a tube?
The choke controls the constriction at the muzzle. The tube (or subgauge insert) is a sleeve that fits inside the barrel in order for you to safely shoot different gauges from a single gun. Each tube is machined to a specific gauge -- like the gun barrel itself.
These tubes don’t work with pumps or semi-autos because the receivers are gauge-specific. For example, you can’t load a 20-gauge shell into a 12-gauge pump or semi-auto receiver under any circumstances. With your over/under or side-by-side, however, the shells are loaded directly into the chamber. Crack open the gun, and the proper set of tubes can turn your 12 gauge into a 20-, 28-gauge or .410 shotgun.
There are plenty of options when it comes to finding the perfect tube set for your shotgun.
Some shotgun manufacturers bundle tube sets with a new gun. For retrofitting, tube sets can be purchased over-the-counter while others have to be sent to the tube manufacturer where they are fit to your gun. You can go with a full-length set of tubes or shorter chamber-length tubes.
Your decision is usually based on price and weight.
Full-length tube sets can weigh 5-12 ounces, affecting the balance of your shotgun. But if you’re a nose-heavy kind of shooter who believes the extra weight improves your swing, then these tubes are for you. Other shooters balk at the extra up-front weight, and may opt for shorter tubes.
Into the Chamber
Chamber-length tubes let you reduce your gauge preference without going for a full-length version. When you fire, the subgauge shell then patterns with a 12-gauge barrel. How does that affect your shooting? Some manufacturers swear that there’s no penalty whatsoever -- or even go as far as to claim an improved pattern compared with an original subgauge shotgun.
Given their size, these chamber-length tubes are less expensive than the full-length alternatives and are obviously lighter (3-4 ounces).
Regardless of which tubes you ultimately use, there are a few cautionary measures to consider. Make sure your shells eject properly and your chokes still fit. If you’re using chamber-length tubes, you also have to examine if the ejectors start moving them out of the gun. Hunters will want to verify that their tube sets can accommodate 3-inch shells as well as steel shot.
Shooters who reload their own ammo may encounter ejector problems. Since reloaded shells tend to get distorted, their imperfections may contribute to persistent troubles when combined with auto ejectors and tubes.
And then there’s the triggers…
Your 12-gauge shotgun probably uses an inertia trigger, where the recoil from the first shot resets the trigger for the second shot. Since subgauge shells have less recoil, the second shot may not automatically reset. A quick trip to your gunsmith could fix the problem. For shotguns with a mechanical trigger (not recoil-dependant), shooting subgauge shells in your 12-gauge won’t impact trigger performance.
While tube sets are plenty of fun and open you to new shooting experiences, they are not to be trifled with. Remember, tube sets change the character of your shotgun, and there are always inherent risks with this kind of undertaking. So read the user manual carefully before installation.
Count yourself lucky that some genius invented the screw-in shotgun choke. Otherwise, you’d probably need five shotguns.
Adjustable shotgun chokes give you the ability to change the pattern of your shot by tailoring the constriction. The baseline constriction is cylinder -- or the inner diameter of your barrel. From there, the designations grow tighter.
|12 Bore||.000||N/A||.005||N/A||.010||.015||.020||.025||.030||.035||.040||.005 and Rifled!|
|20 Bore||.000||.003||.005||.007||.009||.012||.015||.018||.021||.024||.027||.005 and Rifled!|
(Courtesy of Briley Mfg.)
CYL = Cylinder
LTSK = Light Skeet
SK = Skeet
IMK = Improved Skeet
IC = Improved Cylinder
LM = Light Modified
M = Modified
IM = Improved Modified
LF = Light Full
F = Full
XF = Extra Full
D = Diffusion
N/A = Not Applicable
Looking at the chart, you’ll see that SK (skeet) imposes a .005% constriction compared to cylinder. Full gives you a .035% constriction. Yes, that’s a 600% difference.
|Percentage of Constriction Based on Distance|
|Choke||20 Yards||30 Yards||40 Yards|
In this chart, you’ll notice that as the choke grows tighter (from cylinder to full) the density of the pattern increases based on distance.
That’s because tight chokes distribute the shot in a tight, dense pattern best for long shots. Open chokes give you a wider, diffused pattern intended for close shots.
If this sounds counter-intuitive, here’s the way it works.
You may be thinking that you want the wider pattern for longer shots because the target is further away. The longer the distance, logic dictates the wider the pattern giving you a better chance to hit the target.
But what you’re not taking into account are the laws of physics.
Smaller shot (which tends to be used for close shots of 16-20 yards) lacks the energy (momentum) to give you accuracy at longer range. The shot spreads willy-nilly and you lose accuracy.
So if you’re going for a long shot, you want to use a bigger pellet in a tighter shot string for an arrow-head effect. Hence, a tighter choke.
For close-range shots, as in skeet, physics dictates that the more pellets you shoot the greater the odds for hitting the target before the smaller (lighter) pellets lose their momentum. So you want to go for a wider choke that lets the smaller, lighter pellets actually swarm around the target while they’re still effective.
Basically, there are three types of chokes.
The fixed choke is already machined into the barrel of the shotgun. You’ll see guns that are designated with skeet chokes, or full and improved cylinder chokes for wingshooting. The type of chokes depends on its specialized use, and will often be accompanied by stock and sight complements.
When you buy a new shotgun, it will include a few screw-in chokes most appropriate for its design. You usually can purchase after-market chokes to fill out your inventory.
Screw in chokes come in two varieties: extended and flush mounted.
Extended chokes protrude above the muzzle and are generally clearly marked; they are designed to be screwed in by hand.
Flush-mounted chokes are screwed entirely into the barrel so that in the end the choke is flush with the muzzle. Newer flush-mounted chokes tend to also be clearly identified. But less expensive or older flush-mounted chokes rely on a notch system to identify their constriction.
Then there’s the adjustable choke. This is a single choke with multiple settings. Turn the selector to set the most appropriate constriction.
Once you have the choke installed, it’s best to pattern it on paper.
You’ll need a pattern target and something disposable to mount it on.
Typically, you’d want to be about 40 yards from your “pattern board.” Draw a 30-inch circle around the center of the pattern and then count the pellets as a means to determine the accuracy of your choke. A full choke should put 70% of its pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards. A modified choke should put 60% of its pellets in the circle. And an improved cylinder should give you 50%.
Perhaps the biggest risk with chokes is that they become a crutch.
For example, if you consistently missed the #3 station on skeet with a skeet choke, moving to a wider cylinder choke probably won’t help. After all, if you’re on the target, you’re on it. The same can be said of most other clays sports.
Missing shots is generally not a function of your choke selection. It’s a function of your skill, technique and body mechanics.
The worst mistake you can make with a choke is using it as an excuse for missed shots.
If you have a problem station, and you’re using the recommended choke, the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice.
If you’re accustomed to rifles or pistols, or simply a new shooter, you’ll be surprised to know that shotguns generally require both of your eyes to be open while shooting.