Getting all chocked up

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

ALGOMA – The art of gunsmithing and the science of shot ballistics have long been a part of Richey Crew’s personal brand of magic, two things he combines to give turkey hunters the very best possible tools for the spring woods.
“Chokes and shotgun patterns aren’t all that complicated,” Crew, of Richey’s Gun Shop, says modestly before describing a far longer list of factors than most shooters might have ever considered. “It takes some trial and error, but getting the perfect pattern from any shotgun involves matching the right load and shot size with the right angle of forcing cones, length of parallels and degrees of restriction in the choke and firing chamber. The key is finding all the elements to match.”
Turkey hunters, as well as trap and skeet enthusiasts, often rely on aftermarket or third party companies for screw-in shotgun choke tubes, combinations that may or may not solve the problem of creating the best-possible pattern at the expected range.
For turkey hunters, the goal is to create the tightest effective pattern possible to be able to ethically shoot at the longest reasonable range. Too little constriction lets the shot spread too rapidly. Too much constriction damages the shot itself, causing the individual bits of lead to plane and flare erratically. At any distance measured in yards rather than feet, a turkey’s vital area is comprised of his head and neck only, however, which means turkey shotguns must be very well tuned.
When a shotgun shell is fired, as the shot leaves the shell it is immediately constricted via forcing cone into the main run of the barrel. The slope of the sides of this first forcing cone is one of the things Crew is able to address that no aftermarket part can touch.
Next to affect the shot column is the forcing cone of the choke, followed by the length of the parallel sides at the choke’s ultimate constriction. How abruptly the forcing cone does its job and how long the shot column runs at maximum constriction both affect the ultimate pattern a great deal.
“I’ve seen the length of the choke’s forcing cone and length of parallels make a big difference and arrive at the same ultimate constriction to a thousandth of an inch,” Crew said, noting a recent project that increased one gun’s pattern density from 69 percent at 40 yards to 78 percent at 40 yards by adjusting nothing else. In other guns, finite adjustments in one or a specific combination of parameters make the difference.
Experience, Crew says, make the task a simple one for him.
“It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, but through experience I can usually arrive at the right solution pretty quickly,” he said. Crew’s custom turkey chokes are part of an overall gunsmithing package that includes the choke tube, firing chamber work and turkey load matching, all for $95.
“If you buy a choke tube off the shelf just to try, that’s around $50,” Crew said, “and there’s no guarantee it’ll help.”