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.