Is a Full Choke Good for Duck Hunting?


If you’re considering duck hunting with a full choke, it’s important to know how it can affect your pattern and your shotgun. Knowing what choke size to pick for the distance you’ll be hunting is key to bagging more birds.

Avoid using full chokes with steel shot because the tight constriction can cause barrel damage with large pellets, especially on older guns. This is due to the shot column not being able to compress when it leaves the barrel. Instead, use a more open choke such as Improved Cylinder or Modified.

In this review, we’ll discuss in more detail the issues with using a full choke for ducks and how to make sure your shotgun performs at its best. If you want to see the leading choke tubes for waterfowl hunting, be sure to check out the Patternmaster Code Black and Carlson’s Long Range Cremator.

Wood duck hunting in timber means close shots and open choke tubes. Cylinder and Improved Cylinder are the top choices.

Is a full choke good for duck hunting?

A full choke isn’t ideal for most duck hunting situations. Full chokes can be used with most modern shotguns paired with small steel shot (#2 shot or smaller) and can hold pattern density together for longer ranges which can be great for shots over 40 yards. However, a full choke is too tight for decoying shots inside 40 yards on ducks and geese.

The typical constriction for a 12 gauge full choke is 0.685”. A choke this tight shouldn’t be used with large steel shot (BB, BBB, and T) due to the inability for steel shot to compress as it passes through the choke. An over-choked shotgun usually produces poor patterns with many flyer pellets and holes.

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The majority of duck hunting is conducted over decoys which reduces the need for using a full choke. A Modified choke or Light Modified is ideal for close shots since the pattern opens up quicker and it’s easier to hit ducks flying fast through the air.

Consider these chokes instead

Can you shoot steel shot through a full choke?

Steel shot should not be used in chokes that are not designed for it. With the advent of steel shot for waterfowl in the 1980’s and 90’s, many hunters tried to shoot large steel shot (BB, BBB, T) through older shotguns with fixed full barrels. This resulted in barrel bulging as the shot column passed through the choke and forced the barrel wall outward.

While barrel bulging happens less frequently now, it’s still a concern with shooting large steel shot through a full choke tube. Most modern shotguns are equipped with interchangeable choke systems with stronger barrels which can be customized for hunting with large steel shot.

For duck hunting with small steel shot (#6 – #2), barrel bulging is not a great concern with a full choke, but it should be examined frequently for signs of damage. Premium aftermarket full chokes are even less of a concern with small steel shot since it’s designed for it.

Always consult with the appropriate manufacturer website or contact their customer service if you’re unsure about the compatibility of a choke tube with the ammo you are shooting.

Full or Modified Choke for Duck Hunting?

A Modified choke tube (0.705”) is the best choke size for duck hunting. It allows for all-around performance for both decoying and passing shots. All types of shot and pellet sizes for waterfowl can be put through a modified choke tube with no issues.

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Full chokes are specialized chokes for long distance shots only. The pattern through a full choke is so tight that decoying ducks are hard to hit. And even if you do hit them, their meat is often ruined. The only reason to shoot a full choke at ducks is if you are pass shooting or you own a fixed full gun that can’t be opened up.

As with all shotguns and chokes, it’s best to pattern them with the ammo you will be using at the distances you plan to shoot before you head out into the field. This will let you see just how tight a full choke is and why it may hurt your success compared to a modified choke tube.

Unsure what a good pattern looks like? See this guide for examples.

When to use a full choke for duck hunting

  • Shotgun barrel is rated for steel shot
  • Choke tube is designed to handle steel pellet sizes
  • Choke meets manufacturers recommended use
  • Small pellets are being used (#6, #3, #4)
  • Long range shots or passing shots

What is the best choke for duck hunting?

One of the best chokes for duck hunting is the Patternmaster Code Black choke tube. This ported choke can deliver consistent downrange patterns with a shorter shot string at up to 60 yards. The ports help reduce felt recoil and muzzle jump for quick follow up shots.

Carlson’s Cremator choke offers a close range (CR) and a long range (LR) option at an affordable price. If you need to ditch your full choke and open it up a bit, this is your budget option. The close range is similar to a light modified (LM) and the long range is improved modified (IM).

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Is a Full Choke Good for Duck Hunting?
Mallard hunting over decoys requires an open choke size of Improved Cylinder or Light Modified.

Tips for Using a Full Choke for Duck Hunting

  • Inspect your choke and barrel after each hunt to look for signs of bulging or swelling.
  • When in doubt, open the choke to a modified or light modified for better results in the field.
  • Never use a choke with ammo or shot sizes it wasn’t designed for.
  • Never shoot large shot sizes (BB, BBB, T) through a fixed full choke tube.
  • Always pattern your shotgun with the choke and ammo you plan to use to identify any issues before you go hunting.
  • Using a full choke for decoying ducks will result in more misses and inedible ducks if you do manage to hit them.
  • Stick to small shot sizes like #6, #4, and #2 if you must hunt ducks with a full choke.
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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>