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A Conversation with Rob Roberts

A Conversation with...

Rob Roberts Custom Gunworks
Gobbler Guns
771 Kyler Road
Batesville, AR 72501

Rob Roberts is one of those men that you just want to spend some time with talking about shooting and of course, turkey hunting but I suspect that no matter what the subject, it would be enjoyable just having a conversation with him about it.

Rob and I have been able to visit several times over the last few years and I always come away feeling like I've learned something new and that I'd like to go back for more.

Recently, I was able to have another conversation with Rob and I think you'll be interested in what he has to say about shotguns, shotgun barrels, choke tubes and patterning.

CB: Rob, Thank you. I know you're a busy fellow and I appreciate your taking some time to answer a few questions and tell my readers and me more about Rob Roberts Custom Gunworks and Gobbler Guns.

There may be some folks out there who are not familiar with you or your businesses, so would you tell us a little about yourself, how long you've been in the gun business and what it was that made you decide to do what it is that you're doing?

RR: Well Clark, I have been around guns my whole life. As a kid growing up in Arkansas, I would come home from school and go through my dad's ammo box and pick out any type shell or bullets (that he had the most of !!) grab a gun and head out in the woods  My favorite gun was the one that had the most ammo to go with it.  My dad was a gun "nut", but did not hunt, so I pretty much learned to shoot and hunt on my own.  I have always had a passion for guns and curiosity for all the things that you could do with one.

Our company is a little different than a lot of the "Choke Tube" companies, because we not only have custom choke tubes available. We make turkey chokes, waterfowl chokes, sporting Clays and trap chokes but we are a "One Stop Shop".

We offer a full line of custom gunsmithing services, such as barrel work like EDM Porting, forcing cone work, trigger work, camo dipping and pattern testing. We are also building custom rifles and do full line of services to rifles.

CB: I like the message on the home page of the Gunworks site."...combining cutting edge technology with tried and proven products and services."

Would you tell us just a bit about how you use cutting edge technology to enhance the products and services you offer?

RR:  Probably the most "cutting edge" technology that we have is experience. We have been doing custom work for over 15 years. During this time, we have patterned thousands of guns of every make and model. We have seen and used different type and styles of chokes, from ported to non-ported, from those with no parallel sections to those with 2.5" parallel sections. This experience and the ease of having a computerized patterning board allows us to be able to take a shotgun and find out exactly what load/choke combination that it likes. This is probably the most "cutting edge" technology that we have. We are just a bunch of "Hillbillies" from Arkansas, that have always had a passion for hunting and shooting. We don't believe in the "Gimmicks" that are out there today. We want to keep it REAL!

CB:  As you certainly know, there are many companies out there that make choke tubes for all kinds of hunters and shooters. We see different designs in most of them and each choke maker seems to have his own idea of what works best. Would you, without giving away any of your trade secrets, discuss your thoughts on the internal geometry of shotgun choke tubes?

RR:  In my opinion, there are 6 or 7 companies out there that build good stuff. Then there are a bunch of companies that have a cool looking design or name and are selling, what we refer to as "Shotgun Bushings" instead of choke tubes.

That being said, we have found that the "parallel section" is a very important part of the construction of the choke tube. We built some "test chokes" that had parallel sections varying from a straight taper, 1/8"parallel, 1/4" parallel, 3/8"parallel and so on till 2 1/2"parallel sections. (For readers that do not know what this "Parallel Section" is, it is the constriction for the last, let's say 1" of the choke tube.) What we have found is that we obtained best results in the 1"- 1 1/8" range. As the parallel got longer, we found the choke performance started to go down.

Another interesting subject is the performance of "ported vs. non-ported chokes". I discovered a few years back, when I was patterning turkey guns, that certain guns were obtaining good patterns but the point of impact was moving around. What I found was that when I switched to a non-ported choke, the point of impact became more consistent.

What is happening is that in a ported choke tube the ports or "wad strippers" keep the wad from "blowing" through the center of your pattern and is great for closer targets but with some of the new wad designs, the wad is "catching" the ports causing the point of impact to move around.

CB:  One very interesting subject that we've discussed previously is the effect of harmonics in shotgun barrels. Would you give us your thoughts on that subject, what it really means and how it effects patterns, etc.

RR: I do believe in harmonics on a shotguns but unfortunately, I am not smart enough to prove it!! Did I mention that I was a Hillbilly from Arkansas?? haha..

What I do know is that I have had many situations when I have patterned 2 identical guns, with the same barrel lengths, same bore diameters and same exact work done to them and find a choke tube and load works great in one gun and horrible in the other! This is not a daily thing by any means, but it does happen.

I have also taken a gun that is not patterning as well as we think it should be and change chokes that are the same constriction, built at the same time, with the same tolerances, using the same box of ammo and for no reason than "harmonics" it jumps up in pellet counts (as much as 20-30 pellets in the 10" circle) and there it is!

When we are performing a pattern analysis on a customer's gun and find the combination that is working best, it is a rule here, to LEAVE THAT CHOKE IN THAT GUN!

CB:  We hear various definitions of core pattern. When you're working on a turkey hunter's shotgun, what are you looking for as far as a core pattern, in terms of size, etc.

RR: There can always be an argument on this subject but we prefer to look at the 10" circle for a core size. We also make note of evenness of the pattern over 15", 20" and 30". My perfect world would be to have all the pellets evenly spread over a 20" circle with at least 30% of the pellets in the load in the 10" core.

Our main goal when working on a customer's gun is to get a minimum of 30% of the total pellets of that particular load in the 10" circle. Many hunters today, still shoot the "turkey head" targets that show vitals of the brain and vertebrae. That is all good, but what if he moves at the same time you pull the trigger? If you are shooting a solid (EVEN) pattern, he can move a couple inches in and he still hits the ground.

CB: When you work with turkey hunters is there a particular size shot that you normally recommend to use?

RR: The years have gone by and with the technology of the new loads available now, my whole thought process on shot size has changed.

Five years ago, there was no way that I would use a #6 or smaller size shot. My preferred load was #4's and if my gun would not pattern them well, I would buy another gun that would! Today, I recommend #6's and #7's, if you are using the heavier type loads.

We have been performing extensive tests of different type loads from different ammo manufacturers. Every year, I use a different load and sometimes a different shot size. I want to actually see what happens in a hunting situation.

I don't mean to sound like an un-sportsman type guy, but I actually prefer to take very long shots so that we can say that this load works or... do not try this because it doesn't work.

Due to a very busy schedule, I was very limited on hunting time this past season. I was trying out the Federal Premium Heavy Weight #7's in 3.5" 1 7/8oz. loads. Like I said earlier, there was no way that you could have gotten me to try this 5 years ago, but I killed a gobbler at 61 yards and another very nice gobbler at 52 yards. Stone cold dead! No flop!

The year before this, we were getting very long range kills with the Winchester Supreme Elite Xtended Range 3.5" 2oz #6's.

In the "old days" we were using copper plated lead and when you shot a bird and inspected it, there would be blood retention (bruising) around the holes in the meat areas of the turkey. This was caused by the pellets "flattening out" on impact and "shock" was killing the bird.

With the new heavier type loads, there is no bruising, instead of shock, because these pellets are not "flattening out", they are going through breaking bones. Size is not as important as weight, speed and pattern. We also find that if you compare patterns at 40 yards of lead loads and tungsten-based loads of the same manufacturer, you will find that the you get several more pellets in the "core" area with the heavier pellet than with the lead, even though there are fewer pellets in the heavier type loads because the weights of the pellets are greater.

CB: I know that you create the "Performance Shop" turkey shotguns for Benelli USA. Can you tell us a little about those guns and how they differ from and improve upon the standard, already excellent SBE II?

RR:  First off, my hat is off to Benelli USA for looking for additional help to improve an already fine product. You don't see this much in today's world and I was honored that they asked us to help.

We lengthen and polish the forcing cones, port the barrel, work the trigger down to 3.5 lb pull, remove the creep, we polish all the internal parts, install the Slammer Button (bolt closer), install the steady grip stock, install a base and Burris Fast Fire II red dot scope and then we analyze it with the Federal Heavy Weight #7 loads to match the choke tube that is performs the best. The customer also receives the Comfortech stock, Gel Comb and results of the testing.

These guns are performing extremely awesome! We are consistently getting up to and beyond 50% of the pellets in the load, into the 10" circle at 40 yards and there are 428 pellets in that load!

These guns are going to dramatically change the distance that you can cleanly kill turkeys.

What a lot of people don't realize is that this gun is already set up to be a perfect varmint shotgun.� We have tested it using our T3 (long range waterfowl) choke with #00 Buckshot and it was produced outstanding patterns at 40 yards!!

CB: Would you give our readers your impressions of the differences in performance in standard lead turkey shotshells and tungsten-based shot shells?

I'd appreciate it if you'd tell us when you'd choose to use or recommend one or the other and how each performs in your products.

RR:  With the work that we do to these guns and the results that we are getting, I feel that we can make most turkey guns have killing performance out to 50 yards with lead. However, with the heavier type loads, the core density is consistently more solid and the payload stays tight at greater distances.

It's kinda like throwing a ping pong ball and a golf ball with the same force. The golf ball is going to go further and hit harder. I recommend the "Heavier" type loads.  I also recommend, once you have tested a load and like it, that you buy a few boxes of that load at that time, so that there are no manufacturer's changes next year when the time comes to go hunting. We have seen changes in ammo performance that was bought a year or two later.

CB: This is one of those subjects that some in the business do not like to discuss openly but I'll ask the question anyway.

Would you give us your opinion on the performance of both 3" and 3.5" shotshells, in lead and/or tungsten-based shot, for turkeys? All things considered, which length shell do you normally recommend to your customers?

RR: I personally shoot 3.5" shells. I tell my customers that the reason that I shoot 3.5" is because they haven't come out with a 4" shell yet! The real reason is that you are getting more pellets in the air, with the same velocities and just one extra pellet may be the difference in getting a kill or crippling a turkey.

However, 3" shells do work!! We are in the business of "over kill" but I still believe that more pellets are better, especially at very long range where the patterns are breaking up badly.

If I am getting 190 pellets in a 10" circle at 40 yards with a 3.5" shell and I am getting 150 pellets in a 10" circle at 40 yards with the 3" shell and both are traveling at the same velocities, I am going with the 190 pellets!� It is one thing to miss a duck or dove but it is another thing when you have gone to the trouble of getting up at 4 a.m., taking your gun for a 3 mile walk, the time is right, the turkey is there, you pull the trigger, and he flies off!!

CB:  What is one thing that most customer's don't realize about their shotguns that hurts their turkey hunting situations?

RR: One of the most overlooked things is the Point of Impact of their shotguns. People don't always realize that shotguns don't always hit where they are aimed. We have a lot of customers who find that their patterns aren't as bad as they think once they find out that their gun is not hitting where it should.

The first thing that you need to do before starting the patterning process is to take the gun out and shoot it a large paper at 30 yards and see where the point of impact is. When we perform a pattern analysis on a customer's gun, we show where the point of impact is. If we see a problem, we call the customer and explain the results and also how to remedy the problem.

CB: I often hear from many people in business that there's just not enough time in the day to get done all that needs to be done.

Several folks seem to say that they could get a lot more done if it just weren't for the interruptions from the customers. I know that you spend a lot of time talking with folks who want to speak to you. How are you able to balance your time between customer service and production of product?

RR:  During the months prior to turkey season it is very busy! It is hard to talk with everybody and sometimes I have to call them back later in the evening. I do appreciate the customers that I have called back a day later and they were not upset.

It is also great to work with the guys here in the shop that have been doing this for a long time. They know what needs to happen so that we stay on top of getting things done. We work weekends and very long days during this time.

CB: Would you discuss your ideas, based upon your experience, on the relative effectiveness of different barrel lengths? In particular, would you discuss the differences, if any, in performance of 21" (or shorter) barrels and barrels 26" or longer?

RR: Longer barrels perform better than short barrels. If you and I are using identical make of guns, chokes and ammo, we are shooting at a target at 40 yards away and the only difference is that you are using a 30" barrel and I am using a 21" barrel, then you will have better patterns.

You have 9 more inches that the wad cup and shot is traveling through holding tight, where mine is already spreading. Yours is also gaining more back pressure and velocity, which is amplifying and holding a tighter pattern.

My personal preference is a 26" barrel. It gives me the mobility of a short barrel but also gives me the performance of a long barrel. This is not to say that you cannot get really good patterns with a short barrel, because you can. It will however take a lot more patterning to find out what it, the shorter barrel, likes compared to the longer barrels.

I don't recommend that anyone buy barrels shorter than 24". The 24" barrels on certain guns, such as the Benellis have been outstanding. I have also seen that longer barrels perform best with smaller shot sizes, such as #6s and the 24-26" barrels shoot #4s and #5s better.

CB: In evaluating the performance of a shotgun at a given distance, how do you determine when it's at its maximum effective range. I hear a lot from turkey hunters about the number of pellets in a 10" circle as a determining factor for turkey gun performance. Some say that you can determine you maximum effective range of a particular choke or shotshell by seeing how far you can get 100 pellets in a 10" circle.

When that number drops below the 100 hit mark, you've gone beyond the maximum effective range for that gun/shell/choke. Would you give us your thoughts on that method of evaluation?

RR: I would tend to agree somewhat with that evaluation if we were talking about #6 or #7 shot sizes. I have seen some patterns with unbelievable pellet counts in a 10" circle at 40, 50 and even 60 yards. If the velocity is not there, then the pellet count is not doing much good.

It would be nice if you could get 60+ yard performance from a 12 gauge with the recoil of 20 gauge but it doesn't always work that way.

I had an interesting situation with a 10 gauge shotgun several years ago. This gun patterned exceptionally well at 40 yards with high pellet counts. I shot at a bird (in open field) at 55 yards and the pattern boiled the dirt 10 feet in front of the bird. He flew off!

I didn't realize till I returned to the shop that I had not noticed any recoil. One of the guys told me he had the same thing happen to him the year before and for me to try a different load. I did and there was the recoil! I'm not saying that you have to have recoil to kill a turkey but if it is not hitting hard on one end, then it probably is not hitting hard on the other.

I feel that you need an even pattern without holes and higher velocities in order to pull off these long shots.

We have seen that our thoughts of 30% of the load in a 10" circle does work at 50-60 yard range. I also like to know that the shell is hitting velocities of 1200 f.p.s. or better. If you are getting these type patterns out of your gun, you should never have to hesitate on a turkey at the 50 yard range.

CB: Rob, if I wanted to have one thing done to my shotgun to improve it the most, with the least expense, what would you recommend?

RR: Lengthen and polish the forcing cone! This is one thing that I do to every shotgun that I have. It is important to not only lengthen it, but it needs to be polished afterward so that it cuts down on wad build up and makes a smoother transition into the bore. This also helps the patterns if you use the gun for other hunting situations such as ducks, doves, crows or target sports like trap, skeet and sporting clays.

CB: Would you discuss the merits of barrel porting? When do you recommend it and how it effects the patterning of a shotgun?

RR: Porting is not going to help or hurt the patterns of your shotgun. Porting is going to help reduce the muzzle jump and keep your barrel lowered for second shot opportunities. It also keeps recoil off of your face and cheek bones. We recommend it for all target sports, but usually don't push it on waterfowl hunters because it does get louder. If you are hunting pit blinds and happen to swing the barrel in front of one of your hunting buddies, they find new hunting buddies.

As far as a turkey gun being ported, it helps recoil and since most turkey hunters are shooting "dynamite" out the end of their barrels, all recoil reduction is usually welcomed.

We have done extensive research and development on porting. What we do differently here is that we port using an EDM machine and we set our fixture to a degree of angle going into the barrel that causes the front end of the port to catch more of the pressure which causes it to clean out the port and actually take out more recoil than other porting systems out there.

We also set our ports in a straight line, on the top 45 degrees of the barrel. This causes more of a downward push when the gasses are released through the ports. You see a lot of "double stacked" porting on the market today. The downside to this is that it is pushing the barrel from the sides and not the top, which is not giving you the full effect on what it is actually supposed to do.

CB: Since most of my readers are turkey hunters, I've asked a lot of questions about turkey shotguns but I know you also work on shotguns for many types of hunters and shooters.

Is that the reason that you have both Gobbler Guns and Rob Roberts Custom Gunworks?

RR: When I started out, I was by myself and building business for one shotgun sport was easier than trying to keep an inventory of all the different variations of guns and choke sizes for all the shotguns sports.

When we started growing, we found that we were working on lots of waterfowl and trap guns also and� the name Gobbler Guns was basically saying that we only worked on turkey guns.

We found that a trap shooter with a $35,000.00 shotgun didn't want to send it to guys that only worked on turkey guns and since Rob Roberts Custom Gunworks was our legal name, we built another website showing all of our services. We also build custom rifles and do a lot of custom rifle work.

CB: We all know that no one can see into the future but when you're actively engaged in the gun business as you are, I'm sure you see trends and try to act so that you'll be prepared for those trends. What do you see coming down the pike?

RR: The biggest thing that I see coming is the scholastic programs for kids shooting trap. This is huge already and getting bigger all over the country. This is getting kids involved in a big way in shooting shotguns and not only are they shooting trap, these kids are hunting and helping to build the shooting industry.

Trap shooters are like turkey hunters. They want to know exactly what their patterns are doing at specific distances. For example, if a trap shooter is shooting from the 16 yard line, he will usually pattern his gun at 33 yards to see which choke is giving him the best performance.

CB: Rob, I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts on a few subjects.

If you could sit eye-to-eye with each of the readers of what would you like to say to them?

RR: I'd say that we want to be known as a company that not only wants to sell you custom choke tubes and services but we want to keep you as a customer.

If you are having a problem with something we did to your gun or a choke is not patterning like it should, we want to know about it. I understand that we can't make everybody happy but we want to try.

We also understand that every gun is different and what works in one gun may not work in another. That is where customer service comes in and we want to be known as having great customer service!

You can learn more about Rob Roberts Custom Gunworks and Gobbler Guns by visiting his sites listed above and you can read more "Conversations" like this one at

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