What is a Poly Choke? Are They Worth it?

A poly choke can give you a great advantage when conditions change in the field. Instead of being stuck with just a single choke size in your shotgun, you can have the entire legal shot pattern in a few seconds with just the twist of a poly choke.

My dad took me hunting when I was eight years old in the Arkansas backwoods. He never seemed to miss quail or ducks. He shot a 20-gauge Remington 870, with a poly choke.

What Is a Poly Choke?

Many knowledgeable hunters have never heard of a poly choke. Almost every bird hunter knows the four varieties of chokes you can have on a shotgun. A choke determines how wide a pattern your shotgun will spread pellets.

A poly choke can create the shot pattern than single barrels, in the four popular choke sizes contain. A poly choke can edge between the four, creating sub groups of tighter or wider shot patterns as the need arises.

A full choke has the largest reach, or distance keeping the shot pattern to just 40 inches at 40-yards. The modified cylinder creates that same 40-inch pattern, but at 35-yards.

The next level choke, the improved cylinder has a 40-inch wide pattern at 30-yards, and the widest choke, the cylinder has the same 40-inch pattern at just 25-yards.

Bird hunters know that the pattern is everything in knocking down a fast, darting blue-winged teal, or a strong, high-flying goose.

I have a 12 gauge Remington 870 I purchased in 1980. It has the old-style round barrel, without the ventilated rib. I own two barrels, one a full-choke and the other an improved cylinder.

I take the full choke barrel goose hunting and when I’m hunting ducks over decoys.

I switch to the improved cylinder when dove hunting, jump shooting ducks or when pheasant hunting.

With a poly choke, I wouldn’t have to change barrels, I’d just twist the poly choke to the setting needed, and the pattern would adjust automatically. It would increase my shot pattern opportunities from just two, to a full range of 12-gauge patterns.

Do Poly Chokes Work?

A poly choke is screwed into the end of a shotgun barrel. It adds a couple of inches to the length of the barrel and changes the shot pattern dramatically.

Yes, they do work, but as with any device, whether it is a rifle scope, new shotgun barrel, or even a recoil pad, it is best to take it on the range before you take it to the field to hunt.

A poly choke works by opening or closing the aperture at the end of a shotgun barrel. When it is wide open you’ll have the widest pattern, when you crank it down past full choke to extra full you’ll have the tightest pattern.

But there is a caveat, don’t expect the pattern to exactly match the 40-inch spread you’d expect for cylinder, improved cylinder, modified or full just because you set the markings on the poly choke to one of those settings.

They will vary from a little to a lot from the setting on the poly choke depending on many variables, and on the level of wear and tear on the poly choke from using it.

The fingers in a poly choke are the devices that change the blast and the pellet pattern at the end of the barrel. If those fingers are damaged, as they often are, the pattern can vary greatly in diameter as well as shape.

A shotgun pattern from a standard barrel produces a relatively round pattern. It’s not a perfect circle on most shotguns, but you can tell in shooting against wide paper targets, or thin pieces of plywood that the pattern is primarily circular.

If you have damaged fingers in your poly choke, the pattern can begin to resemble those settings on the sprayer for a garden hose. They can fan left to right, fan up and down, or create a crescent pattern in either horizontal or vertical directions. If this happens, your shot pattern isn’t as you’d expect it to be and you’ll miss clay pigeons or live birds when you take aim and fire.

You wouldn’t expect outdoorsmen to complain about how pretty or ugly some hunting device is, since most of them aren’t exactly a box of chocolates, to begin with, but the biggest complaint is that it makes their shotgun look ugly.

The poly choke does look a little out of place on the end of a shotgun barrel. You have a smooth, straight barrel extending from 26 to 32 inches on most shotguns, and then there is this slightly wider adapter hanging on the end of your gun. It isn’t a pristine addition to any shotgun, but it is a functional one.

The second complaint is that it interferes when sighting the shotgun. There is some merit to this argument.

If you can’t sight straight down the barrel, your ability to track, and fire on a target can be impinged. Not hitting what you’re shooting at defeats the purpose of a poly choke.

You install a poly choke to improve your accuracy, not to just spread the pattern, and then not be able to hit the target.

Advantages of a poly choke

  • Change the shot pattern quickly
  • Shot patterns between the standard four sizes
  • Increases or decrease shot pattern quickly
  • Can be used on any gauge shotgun
  • Durable

Disadvantages of a poly choke

  • Can interfere with target sitting
  • Damaged fingers in poly choke can create odd patterns
  • Changes balance of the shotgun slightly
  • Aesthetics, many think they detract from the gun

There are alternatives to a poly choke. You can have choke tubes installed which change the original choke of your shotgun barrel to another style choke, or you can purchase additional barrels in a choke you wish to hunt with and change the barrel for your different needs.

The advantage to a poly choke is you just change the setting and change the pattern in the field, in just a few seconds without any tools.

While hunting doves one season on a foggy afternoon with my dad, the birds began to hold tight in the grass and low brush until we were almost on top of them. I was hunting with my over-under 16-gauge.

It has modified cylinders in both barrels. I kept missing birds, but he was dropping two or three at a time with his 20-gauge. He had the poly choke wide open and the pattern was perfect for those close-range doves.

Poly Choke Installation

The first step is to have a shotgun barrel that can have a poly choke attached to it. If your barrel is smooth, without a threaded end, you can’t attach a poly choke to it.

Your options might be contacting a gunsmith and having them thread the end of your shotgun barrel, but that is certainly an operation for a skilled professional and not something for the do-it-yourself weekend warrior.

If you do have a threaded end on your shotgun barrel the process of attaching a poly choke is a simple one.

Set the poly choke to its tightest choke pattern, extra full, if yours has that setting. The extra full setting moves the poly choke to its smallest diameter, creating the tightest shot pattern, it also creates the smallest diameter when installing the poly choke.

Take the poly choke and carefully thread it into the end of your shotgun barrel until it is as tight as you can twist it with your hand.

Some shotgun owners apply a little Loctite, thread adhesive. If you choose to use Loctite, don’t use red or green, stick with blue at the most. Blue is still removable, the higher end Loctite adhesive may never come loose and damage your barrel if you try to remove it.

Usually, hand tightening is more than enough, but if you need to add a little adhesive, be careful.

When the poly choke is fully tightened it is ready to use.

Don’t take it after pheasants or geese right away but spend a little time with targets and clays first, just to test the mechanism.

Yes, it’s ugly, but it is effective when used correctly.