As waterfowl hunters we sacrifice time, money, and sleep every year in pursuit of gunning for ducks and geese. We brave some of the roughest weather conditions and many times do this on only a few hours of sleep. We do all this because of a fire burning deep inside us, driving us to spend every waking minute possible in the duck blinds during those few short months we get to hunt waterfowl. With that said I want you to consider if you’re getting the most out of your shotgun every season. You may have some of the “top gear” but is it the best gear for waterfowl hunting?
When it comes to gear, we go all out on our waders, blinds, and shotguns. When spending all that money the last thing you want to neglect is your ammunition or choke tube. Sure, your shotgun probably comes with some sort of improved cylinder choke, especially if it was geared toward duck hunting like my Stoeger M3500. But what if I told you most factory choke tubes are generic, and many don’t perform as stated. Meaning your improved cylinder may be shooting more like a full choke and so on. For this reason, I dove deep into the world of aftermarket choke tubes to answer a few questions. I will break down these questions as well as let you know what the best chokes on the market are in my opinion, and why.
- The best choke for hunting over decoys at a medium range: Muller Chokes Decoy Choke (Click to Shop)
- The best duck choke for the money: Carlson’s Cremator Series Chokes (Click to Shop)
- Duck Choke with the tightest pattern: Patternmaster Code Black (Click to Shop)
- Best Duck Choke for Pass shooting: Muller Chokes Passing Choke (Click to Shop)
Ported vs Smooth Chokes
Which is better? This was the first question I wanted to answer for myself as I am sure many of you are as curious as I was. After talking to several different choke manufacturers and doing some in-the-field research, the main reason ported chokes are made is to help reduce recoil and produce less muzzle jump. They work the same as a muzzle brake on a rifle to help reduce recoil. I have no scientific method to prove that they do or don’t help in a small way, but there was no noticeable difference in recoil or muzzle jump that I could tell with my shotgun. The two observations I did have that I think are worth noting are that almost every ported choke patterned worse than its corresponding smooth choke counterpart each time I tested them. I also noticed they needed to be cleaned about every 10 shots because the ports would get gummed up from the plastic of the wadding passing through them. For these two reasons alone, I have decided to stick to smooth chokes for my duck hunts. Who wants to worry about cleaning out a choke tube in the middle of a good hunt.
Do aftermarket chokes really make a difference?
This was the next question I set out to answer. After shooting several of the top choke tube companies on the market I can honestly say yes, they do make a difference. Every aftermarket choke tube I shot through the different shotguns I tested performed better than the factory chokes provided from the shotgun manufacturers. The main thing I learned that makes a huge difference is that the bore diameter of shotgun barrels varies slightly from company to company. This is why when looking to purchase aftermarket chokes it is so gun model specific. For some reason I always thought it had to do with the threads in the barrel. The companies with tighter tolerances when making tubes really stood out as stars for this reason. I also learned not only do the chokes make a difference but so does the ammunition used. For this reason, I suggest you pick up a few boxes from different companies to see what patterns best for your setup. Lastly, I learned that most aftermarket chokes do work as described whether it be for long range or medium range and so on, but some clearly stood out as the best. With those two questions answered let’s get to the main point of the article and cover what I feel are the best chokes on the market and why.
The best choke for hunting over decoys at a medium range: Muller Chokes Decoy Choke (Click to Shop)
Hunting over decoys means most all of your shots are going to be at a close to medium distance, and for that reason several of the chokes performed notably well. When counting holes in paper from shots taken at 30 yards, most of the top end chokes had over a 60 percent on target range, meaning that 60 percent of the shot was in the kill zone. But the top performer time and time again was the Muller Chokes decoy choke. With over 85 percent of the shot in the kill zone every time I pulled the trigger, I felt this was the best choke. While it held that well at 30 yards consistently, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a passing shot a little farther out beyond 30 yards if needed. They are priced on the higher end of the chokes, but I believe you get what you pay for. And these performed consistently better than any other choke regardless of the type of ammunition I chose to put through it. Speaking of ammunition, some companies make you purchase different chokes for bismuth or steel shot, but not Muller. Their choke can shoot anything you can put through it.
The best duck choke for the money: Carlson’s Cremator Series Chokes (Click to Shop)
When I first started out hunting, I was on a budget. I was trying to start a family, raise little kids, buy a house, and so on. It didn’t leave much money to spend on hunting, and for that reason I understand that a good budget choke has its place in the market. For this reason, I think Carlson’s Cremator Series Chokes are the perfect fit. You may not be able to buy multiple chokes at top dollar price, but you still want to hunt every scenario possible. Some days you will be hunting tight to decoys with all your shots being at a close to medium range and other days you will be shooting over big water at longer distances as the birds move through the area in large flocks. For this reason, I think Carlson’s Cremator Series Chokes are a must have. They come in a 2-pack giving you a midrange and long-range choke for the price that some companies charge for a single choke tube. I have been shooting a Carlson’s Cremator choke since I first started waterfowl hunting with my old Mossberg 500 pump gun. These chokes were designed to kill waterfowl and that is exactly what I did. Both chokes put over 70 percent of their shot in the kill zone with several different types of ammunition at both mid-range shots of 30 yards and long-range shots at 50 yards.
Best Choke with the tightest pattern: Patternmaster Code Black (Click to Shop)
When it comes to waterfowl hunting, we all want that choke that has the tightest pattern, especially at longer distances. This gives you more shot in the kill zone, enabling you to take down your waterfowl more consistently without wounding the bird. The Patternmaster Code Black full choke offered the tightest pattern of all the chokes I tested. As a matter of fact, it almost seemed like it could have been a little too tight for a less experienced waterfowl hunter. Sure, this is the perfect choke for someone that has been around shotguns and waterfowl hunting for several years but it definitely takes some time getting used to how it shoots. The tight pattern leaves little room for error, and I found it somewhat of a challenge to lead a duck and make a successful shot while it was on the move. With that said, when you hit a duck shooting this choke, it’s a dead duck, there is no doubt about that.
Best Choke for Pass shooting: Muller Chokes Passing Choke (Click to Shop)
When shooting at a moving target, it can be difficult to get on target. You want to find that sweet spot where your pattern is not too tight that you miss completely with a fast-moving duck, but in the same thought you don’t want it spread out too far either and not put a solid hit on the bird. It was difficult to find the best choke for this scenario because shooting at paper and shooting at a moving target are completely different things. For that reason, I can’t give you any factual data, but what I can give you is firsthand experience. On 3 different hunts this year we had 5 hunters with 5 different shotguns, each with different chokes on the end. With 5 different shooters, we took turns each day passing around the shotguns after each group of passing birds. One choke stood out above the rest. The Muller Chokes Passing Choke was by far the favorite of everyone in the blind. It seemed like it was knocking down every bird that was in front of it. We had a well-rounded group of hunters from well experienced to guys that are still learning. The hunters didn’t know what choke was in each gun to keep things as non-biased as possible. At the end of testing all chokes, the one question I got from them was what choke was in this one particular gun, and it was the Muller Choke. For this reason, I think you can gather why this choke made the list. Muller chokes also offers a long-range choke for shots out past 50 yards called the UFO/ Turkey choke. If distance is what you are looking for, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase this choke.
In closing, remember to always pattern your gun to your choke and ammunition. Treat this like you would in selecting a particular cartridge for a rifle. Take it to the range and verify it performs the way you expect it to perform. If not, make changes until you get the result you desire. Not everything is created equal and the last thing you want to do is buy a choke, screw it into the end of your gun, and head out to hunt. If you do, I’m sure you will be the guy blaming your gun on why you’re missing the birds. With the right choke, the right ammunition, and a little practice you will hit almost every bird that shows up out in front of your barrel.