ALOOF Looks at skeet chokes for the .410

By Marshall Williams.


It was a hot July Saturday, and the religiously scrupulous members of the Order were enjoying the liturgical evolutions expected of the membership. In spite of the heat, they had gathered for a full service, two rounds of Skeet, a round of five stand, and a round of trap singles.

The old men had come well prepared as usual. The weather was good for shooting, albeit hot. but there was no wind and several of the members thought it would be a great day for Skeet with small bores. Accordingly, for Skeet, the Judge had a little .410 over and under with a cylinder tube in the bottom barrel and a Skeet tube in the top. He was very traditional and always put the open choke in the lower barrel. The Major also had a .410 double for Skeet, but his was a tiny straight-gripped, side-by-side, a bird gun with fixed improved cylinder and modified chokes. He, too, had bigger guns for the other games.

Naturally Topper would shoot Skeet and five stand with one of his splendid little 28 gauge over and unders. He would replace its Skeet choke tubes with improved cylinder and modified for the five stand and use a bigger gun for trap. Sunny had a very old 20 gauge Model 12 for Skeet. It was a recent acquisition and he considered it sort of a small bore. The choke marking was “cylinder,” and he used it with number nine shot for Skeet and number eights for rabbits and quail during the hunting season.

As always, Grundoon probably was the best equipped of the lot. His entire battery of shotgun consisted of an old Remington 11-87 with two choke tubes. He had the Skeet choke in place for Skeet and five-stand and would change to modified when the Order shot trap.

If anyone had taken and kept roll, it would have contained the information that Tully was excused in order to treat his good wife to a long weekend on their boat. Such an absence was considered entirely excusable under the Order‘s accepted rules and protocols. All members had been married at least once, and sometimes The Judge claimed that he had been married twice, his first and last time.

The Skeet shooting went tolerably well, as it should have. With clear blue skies for a background and no particular wind to concern a Skeet shooter, everyone scored in the mid to upper 40s for the two rounds. Topper was high gun with a 49, missing high house station one on his first round. The Judge had done well enough, a 48. His nemesis today was station six low house, and he had missed it once on each round.

The others had spread their misses around a little more, and The Major had gotten an entirely creditable 45 using his delightful little side-by-side. As everyone was happy with these results, it was Skeet that occupied their conversation as they gathered at the ALOOF round table for strong ALOOF coffee and heavy masculine restoratives, bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches for Topper and The Major, and donuts for the others.

Except the Judge. He was still dieting, but had come along far enough that not only did he allow himself to cast a mournful eye on the glazed jelly donuts, he even permitted himself to stand down wind as Sunny lifted the cover. That put him in a position to sniff the delicious, forbidden, and fattening glazed jelly donut aroma as he helped himself to a fresh fruit cup. Then, carefully calculating the number of calories his body would absorb from the forbidden delicious sniff, the Judge offset it by choosing the fruit cup with the most melon balls and the least pineapple.

As the plates emptied and feeding slowed, the good ALOOF coffee began to have its effect, and conversation became significant. The Major said, “Judge, I notice that a lot of Skeet shooters use cylinder chokes or very close to it for the bigger Skeet guns. For instance, Sunny’s old 20 gauge gun is choked cylinder and Topper’s and Grundoon’s Skeet choke tubes are practically cylinder, but some .410 shooters use tighter chokes. You seem to be one of the few skeet shooters who use a cylinder choked .410.

“My gun is improved cylinder and modified, I have patterned it and both barrels give patterns with lots of holes, especially nearer the edges. Don’t .410s need more choke to avoid holes in the pattern?“

“First off,” said the Judge, “all patterns have holes in them, even tight full choke patterns. All patterns develop in the same way within ‘normal distribution.’ That means the pellets are distributed like the famous bell-shaped curve. Tight patterns have just as many holes as the open patterns, and that means that every clay target that breaks is broken by a pattern with holes in it. It just is easier to see holes in a pattern that is 40 inches wide than in a pattern that is 30 inches wide. And it also is a lot easier to see them in a pattern made with half an ounce of shot than in a pattern with an ounce and an eighth of shot.

“Second,” he continued, “how much choke you need for a .410 may depend on how good a shot you are. For us weekend shooters, I think open chokes always are desirable because we need a little help getting the pattern on the target. However, it is entirely possible that the really good shots, the shooters who set records, or at least expect to break a hundred straight with monotonous regularity, may need a little more choke.”

“I don’t understand.” interjected Grundoon. “You always tell beginners to do like the good shooters do. If the good shooters need more choke, shouldn’t we emulate them?”

“Like it or not,“ said the old man, “The difference is this; we are merely competent duffers. We shoot two rounds of Skeet most Saturdays and know we can do OK on quail or doves, but we hit a lot of targets with the edges of our patterns and, dare I say it, we miss some completely, even with the 12 gauge Skeet guns. We need the extra pattern diameter.

“In contrast, the really good shooters, and I mean champions and record setters, have practiced until they are so precise that the center of their patterns always is just about on the center the target.

“Now the trade off is this. The really good shooters expect to center all of their targets and want denser pattern coverage even if at the expense of a smaller diameter pattern. I might, and I emphasize the ‘might,’ miss an occasional target because of loose coverage near the edge of a larger pattern, but I definitely hit a lot more that I would miss completely with a smaller pattern.“

Throughout the explanation, the Major had been chewing his cud, or rather his cigar, in a contemplative way. Now he asked, “My 12 gauge Skeet gun shoots one and one-eighth ounces of number nine shot into a 33 inch pattern at 21 yards, and I am certain it always will break a Skeet target anywhere in the pattern. Since my .410 has just half an ounce of shot, just 4/9 as much, it needs to shoot a pattern just 4/9 as big, say about 14 or 15 inches? That really sounds tight.“

“No, no.” said the Judge. “Remember that your shot weight increases or decreases as a linear measure whereas your pattern area increases or decreases as a square measure.” The old man meant that one was arithmetical and the other was geometric, but the members understood.

“Right you are,” said the Major, “but what is the right answer?”

The old man cogitated on it a spell and said, “Lemme do some math.”

In the old days, at this point he would have gotten out his pocket calculator, his pencil, pad, and his old notebook, and figured it all out on paper, but he had become a man of the 21st. Century, and now he seated at the club’s computer, pulled up a calculator function, switched it to scientific mode, then he opened a word processing program so he could scribble notes. He soon said, “A 33 inch diameter circle contains about 855 square inches. Now an ounce of 9s has about 585 pellets so one and one-eighth ounces would have about 658 pellets. That means you have an average of about one pellet per 1.3 inches. Denser towards the middle and thinner towards the edges.”

“OK,“ said the Major, “How big a circle would give a .410 that density of coverage?”

“Hmm. A half ounce of 9s contains 293 pellets. Multiply that by 1.3 square inches per pellet says we can cover a circle with 381 square inches. Lemme see.” The Judge had muttered this more to himself than to his friends. With his back to the Order, he pecked away. Finally he said aloud, “A 22 inch circle.”

The Major‘s cigar had become quite soggy, and now he nearly swallowed it as he exclaimed, “That can’t be. We would be giving up 11 inches of pattern!” The others were murmuring disbelief as well.

“It can be and is,” replied the old man, “but our margin of error is how far we can be off and still hit the target, so it’s only half that. All it really means is that the expert has to stay five and one-half inches closer than we do to beat us. The expert expects to break 100% of his targets anyway. In contrast, our reasonable expectation is to break between 90% and 95%, so it seems perfectly reasonable.”

“So,” The Major quite reasonably asked, “Should I get a .410 with a tighter choke?”

To which the Judge quite reasonably replied, “Not till you are hitting a lot more than 90% of your targets.”


Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604.