In my last post we looked at choke in relation to range and effectiveness. Now I'd like to address choke from another aspect, and that is pattern size. Often I hear people, generally new hunters, equate choke to the size of the pattern down range; an open choke shoots a larger pattern, a tighter choke thrown a smaller pattern. This is true, but only in the most basis sense. The reality is, it's not that simple.
I think part of this results from people not understanding how a shotgun pattern is distributed. If a choke were to throw an evenly spaced pattern over the entire height and width of its pattern, then it would be true that the more open the choke the larger the pattern. A choke does not throw a uniformed pattern however, rather it has a compact core, with sporadic, widely spaced pellets further from the core. Remember, choke is a measured by the percentage of pellets inside a 30" circle at 40 yards. It is the inside the 30" circle part that matters the most. The core of a shot pattern is essentially the size of a road racing bicycle tire. I like to think of choke like the spokes on a bicycle wheel: closer to the hub, the spokes are closer to each other. The further from the hub, the more space between spokes. If the spokes extended outward past the tire the space between them would be even greater.
Let's relate this to a shot pattern, in generalities of course. I believe the only portion of a pattern one should consider is the 30" core. I consider pellets outside the 30" circle, the spokes extended past the tire, to be "lucky pellets", though depending on the choke and the range, some are luckier than others.
I have begun to look at choke, and decide which choke to shoot based on what I call a sliding scale of degradation. It works on the very basic principle that a given choke, throws a given pattern, at a given range, and after that range the pattern begins to degrade and become less efficient. Any choke will lose roughly 10% of it's core pattern every 5 yards it travels under 50 yards. I decide what is an acceptable amount of pattern degradation within the ranges I expect to shoot, and hope to put appropriately dense 30" circle where it belongs.
A few personal note as a follow up; My shooting is primarily done with a 20g O/U. I shoot lots of skeet, low gun only. I hunt primarily Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock, but occasionally driven Pheasant, Partridge, Woodcock, and ducks. Once in a while I hunt waterfowl. It is rare that I am not using a skeet and a Lt Modified choke, either hunting or shooting clays, but I/C and Mod have found their way in to my gun when conditions have warranted, and I'd even use Lt. Mod and Imp. Mod if I felt it were appropriate.