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Breaking in a Choke Tube

Advice for the Shooter

This article was first published here in 2009. Due to several requests, I'm publishing it again in 2011. I hope you find it helpful.
Many shotgunners are also pistol shooters and riflemen who are very familiar with breaking-in barrels in those guns. Break-in is a much debated subject but most shooters that I know would not consider taking a rifle or pistol out of the box and hunting with it or seriously shooting targets at the range, without first performing some type of break-in procedure with it.

We’ve learned over the years that the bore of a firearm needs to be “seasoned”, much like your grandmother’s iron skillet, before it yields maximum performance. Again, the procedure that is used may be debatable but few long-time shooters would deny that some process is required.

A choke tube is somewhat like a barrel in that it has a break-in period. Much has been written about how to break-in a rifle barrel but little has been written about breaking-in a shotgun barrel, much less a choke tube.

Why is a break-in period necessary and what does that really mean? For the purpose of this article, I’ll confine my remarks to shotgun barrels and shotgun choke tubes.

We tend to think of steel as a solid but of course when we think about it, we understand that even solids, like steel, have microscopic pores, kind of like our skin. I know that a metallurgist will cringe at this analogy but think of the bore on a new barrel as having “beard stubble”. The process of boring out the barrel has left microscopic stubble “growing” from the pores of the bore.

When we send a load of shot contained, more or less, in a plastic wad with a fiery gas cloud behind it, under pressure, it starts to smooth that stubble. Each round sent down the bore helps to smooth the stubble and eventually the bore more closely resembles a smoothly shaved cheek, than the 5 o’clock shadow of a once famous politician.

As the bore heats and the pores expand, small amounts of unburned powder and melted plastic make their way into them. Those deposits of residue remain on (and in) the barrel/choke until we remove them.

When we clean only the surface, we leave part of that residue in those microscopic pores of the barrel/choke.  Some of that residue will come to the surface as the bore cools and can be removed with a simple brushing or a few  passes with a clean patch but some will remain in the pores unless some chemical action is introduced.

That's my reason for recommending "deep cleaning" in the article "Cleaning a Shotgun Barrel" at A good cleaning solvent, when allowed to do its work, will penetrate into pores of the bore, dissolving or lifting the “gunk” to the surface and that chemical action along with the agitation recommended in the procedure, will remove the residue that has become trapped.

Each time we shoot, we continue to smooth the barrel and choke tube  from the friction of the wad and shot. It is  very minor and may not even be measurable with a micrometer but there is some improvement to the surface each time we shoot.

So, what happens when we introduce a new choke tube into the mix? A new choke tube will normally not shoot as well as one that has been broken-in over time. Okay, how do you break-in a choke tube, without breaking the bank on expensive shotshells?

There simply is no substitute for an initial “deep cleaning” of the bore of the choke tube.
You will not over clean your choke or your barrel. Before proceeding to break-in your choke tube, it should be “squeaky clean”.

Your choke tube will not know the difference between high-end turkey loads and the most inexpensive promotional shotshell loads sold at your local big box store. It will however respond to being shot as many times as possible and to periodic cleaning. You’ll be smoothing out the “beard stubble” and each shot will bring it closer to the smooth surface that allows the shotshell to do its job better.

You like to shoot don’t you? Take that turkey choke to the shooting range and shoot some trap, skeet, sporting clays or just take in to the back 40 and blast away. No matter where you shoot, if you’ll send a box or so of inexpensive shells down your barrel and “deep clean” that choke tube, you’ll see better patterns each time you shoot.
This article was first published on this site on Saturday 23 May, 2009.
This article was published on Friday 09 April, 2010

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