Shotgun Patterning, Part 6: The Effects of Choke and the Vang Comp System

With the exception of my last post, almost all of my shotgun pattern testing to date has been done with my Remington 870P SBS. This post will mark a departure from that theme, as I exclusively used my old Winchester 1300 Defender that I’ve discussed previously. I again compared the effects of various interchangeable chokes, but this time, I actually patterned the gun with each choke tube and also with my Vang Comp modified barrel.

Just to reiterate for anyone that might not have read the previous editions of this shotgun patterning series, the results that I am going to share here are specific to my unique shotgun barrel and the ammo that I used. If you are going to rely on a shotgun for home defense or other social purposes, you really need to pattern your gun with your chosen ammo.

For this particular test, I wanted to revisit how interchangeable chokes performed as opposed to barrel modifications such as back-boring and lengthening the forcing cone. To accomplish that and remove as many variables as possible, I chose some basic buckshot ammo from a reputable manufacturer that I was able to find on the shelf at my local sporting goods store. Specifically, I chose a load that did not feature a wad designed to tighten the shot pattern. What I was able to find was Federal 9-pellet 00 buckshot. Not great ammo, but not bad either.

I followed the same protocol I used previously, firing one shot at 5 yards into the head box, a three shot pattern at 15 yards, and a final shot at 25 yards after taping any hits outside the “A” zone of the target. The big difference here is that I used USPSA/IPSC targets as opposed to IDPA targets. It’s just what I had available.

I started with my Vang Comp modified barrel. The results were consistent with my prior experience with the barrel and other ammunition.

All pellets hit within the head box at 5 yards (average room distance), 4 pellets hit outside the “A” zone at 15 yards (the mean distance in my pattern testing and the longest possible shot in my home), and there were pellets in both the “C” zone and “D” zone of the target at 25 yards (the longest shot I would probably attempt with buckshot). I’m not thrilled with the 25 yard performance of this ammunition, but I also recognize that 25 yards represents a long shot with buckshot where we are responsible for the impact of every pellet. Overall, however, I was pleased with these results from the Vang Comp barrel.

Next, I swapped to my FN Herstal Police barrel and used an improved cylinder choke tube. Here, my results were less confidence inspiring.

Again, all pellets were within the head box at 5 yards. (Note the horizontal spread.) At 15 yards, either my aim was off or I need to adjust my sights, because the pattern was all above my point of aim and I probably sent a fair number of pellets completely over the target. This pattern was noticeably larger than what I obtained with my Vang Comp barrel, and also seemed to have more of a horizontal spread. Finally, at 25 yards with a lower point of aim, I could only account for 6 of the 9 pellets striking the target. Note that the “D” zone on an USPSA/IPSC target represents the arms, and that there was at least one pellet strike there. Needless to say, I would not rely on the improved cylinder choke with this ammunition.

Next up, I screwed a modified choke into the barrel. This choke is particularly interesting to me, since my Remington 870P SBS has a fixed modified choke. Having said that, no direct correlation can be made between the two, since they are different barrels from different manufacturers that would no doubt measure differently and perform differently. In fact, this was documented in my last post, with the interchangeable modified choke in my FN barrel actually patterning better than my 870P barrel.

As before, all pellets were inside the head box at 5 yards. But, at 15 yards, the pattern had spread to include what I would consider peripheral hits. My 25 yard shot yielded similar results, with multiple hits in the “D” scoring zone of the target, in the “arms.” Some of this can be attributed to my aim, and some of it is just the pattern spread. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily want to rely on this ammunition, with this choke, out of this gun.

Lastly, I repeated the shot sequence with a full choke tube installed. You’ll notice a lot of tape on this target, as I was forced to reuse one of the previous targets. In my haste to pack the car before work the night before, I only grabbed three targets.

No surprise, all pellets inside the head box at 5 yards. However, even with a full choke, at 15 yards, I still had some pellets impact in the “D” zone of the target. My aim may not have been perfect, but neither was the pattern. Commensurate results were noted at 25 yards. If anything can be concluded from this patterning exercise, it’s that I probably wouldn’t want to rely on this particular ammunition choice in this particular gun, no matter what choke tube I use.

Finally, if we accept that the full choke yielded the “best” results out of all the interchangeable choke tubes, then it makes sense to compare that target to the target that I shot with my Vang Comp barrel installed.

Vang Comp (L) vs. full choke (R)

I’ll let the readers guess which barrel was installed on my shotgun when I left the range…

There are a few takeaways here. First, use good ammo. I’ve repeatedly obtained superior results with Federal FLITECONTROL® and Hornady Versatite® ammunition. I specifically chose ammo that didn’t have such a design for this patterning test, because I wanted to eliminate that variable. I think the results speak for themselves. Second, Tom Givens’ advice to use 8 pellet buckshot instead of 9 pellet buckshot to avoid flyers rings true here. Look closely at the targets, and flyers are obvious. That ninth pellet does truly seem to create a disturbance in the force. (Forgive the lame Sci-Fi reference, but it’s late, and I’m punchy.) Third, for me, this is a rather conclusive answer as to whether it’s better to thread a barrel for chokes or send a barrel off for other modifications. My 870P barrel will be getting the Vang Comp treatment as soon as I can budget to send it. In terms of performance, it costs me nothing, but offers some definite potential benefits.

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