Talking with George Trulock, the Trulock Chokemaster
George Trulock is the friendly proprietor of the well-known Trulock Choke Company. Patterning your gun and finding the choke that prints the best results for your specific hunting conditions is a mandatory task for those who want to get the most birds in the bag. Meaning more clean drops, less shells fired when wing shooting, and more broken birds on the clays courses.
George and team have been at it for a lot longer than two weeks next Tuesday. He is extremely qualified with years of pattern testing to make some observations about a reasonable path to find the best results.
RW: George, for starters, welcome and thank you for taking the time to "choke talk" with us. How long has Trulock chokes been in the business, and why did you decide to get into it in the first place?
GT: I had been gunsmithing on a part time basis for several years and had sort of drifted into manufacturing several special gunsmithing tools. Sometime in 1981 Ralph Walker (Walker Arms in Selma, AL) got us to make some Winchoke style tubes that he was selling through his shop. After looking at the problems that gunsmiths were encountering while retrofitting chokes I designed the Tru-Choke and the installation tooling to try and simplify the process. We started full time in 1982 and went from there.
RW: George, in your opinion, what makes for a quality choke tube? Some gun-makers brag a bit about their chokes, some just say, "Hey, we have screw-in chokes." None that I am aware of touch on choke design fundamentals. I won't say all factory chokes should be tossed out, some have given me excellent patterns, but I haven't met a pattern that couldn't be improved upon. Some by a small amount and some I've been able to improve to an amazing degree with just a choke tube change. Are there things about the conical choke tube that we don't understand, or are just ignored?
GT: One, we need a high quality steel that has been properly heat-treated. Some of the chokes we have seen were made from steel that did not have the strength to stand up to commonly used lead loads, not to mention steel or the newer tungsten/nickel shot. We use 17-4 PH stainless on most of our chokes but there are a number of chrome-moly alloy steels that are suitable.
Two, we need a controlled manufacturing process. This enables you to make chokes that actually match the blueprint instead of being just "close enough."
Three, we need to produce a very smooth bore. It will give us less flyers and not have as much buildup.
Four, we want a known exit diameter. It is much easier to select a choke either tighter or more open if you know your starting point of constriction.
There is a lot that I don't understand. I have done experiments with chokes where I thought I knew what the results were going to be prior to the start. Was I ever wrong! There are certain design changes we made to the basic conical parallel choke that were proven through trial and error. Sometimes we know why certain things work and sometimes we simply take the results and run with them.
RW: I'm a big believer in the approach that says if you want an excellent pattern, you really need to start with a shell that is worth shooting. If a game bird is worth pulling the trigger on, he ought to be given the benefit of a quality shell. The promo loads with the duckies and assorted feathery line art have been, in large measure, very poor performers for me. As far as lead shot shells go, there seems to be a fairly clear hierarchy to their performance: soft shot by far the worst, hard (high-antimony) shot far better, plated shot a notch better patterning, with plated and buffered loads better yet. Is that a reasonable way to look at shot shell payload types?
GT: Amen Brother! If you are looking for decent, repeatable patterns, and especially long range patterns, you will need to use a shell with the highest quality components. The best gun with the best choke will throw poor patterns with cheap loads. I have never seen a promo type shell pattern better than a premium shell with any choke tube. Think of it as a team; a quality choke needs a quality shell to get a quality pattern.
RW: I'll confess to grimacing a bit when someone recommends a "so-called" Improved Cylinder, Modified, or Full choke for any particular application. Just because a factory choke has a certain mark on it means nothing as far as the patterns it may or may not produce with a certain load. In fact, I've had factory chokes marked "modified" that give lower percentage patterns than "improved cylinder chokes usually do, and also "full" chokes that give lower percentage patterns than "modified" chokes. It is, or at least can be, a mess. What do you advise your clients regarding a reasonable path to respectable pattern performance from an individual shotgun?
GT: I start by picking a choke and a shell and patterning these at the distance that I intend to shoot. Take quail for example. It would be reasonable to expect to take shots from 20 to about 30 yards. I would start with a skeet choke and check the pattern at 25 yards. I look for a pattern that will give me at least 70% with no holes. If the choke doesn't give me what I want then I just continue to change chokes until I get it, regardless of what the constriction may actually turn out to be.
Generally you will find that a quality choke and shell together will give you a pattern at least reasonably close to what it should be. Having said that, don't get upset if your modified choke gives you improved cylinder type patterns with a certain shell. If it is the pattern you want, then use it. If you don't pattern you just don't know!
RW: George, I guess the devil really is in the details. For example, when speaking of a "hole" in the pattern, don't we have to define what a hole really is? If pass-shooting at geese we can tolerate a fairly large hole and still predict 100% lethality. On the other end of the spectrum, sporting clays for example, shooting at an edge-on presentation of a Midi (90 mm) or Mini (60 mm) target we need one terrifically dense pattern to be assured of a "98% chance at a two-pellet hit," or however we want to characterize effective spread. What do you consider a problematic hole in a pattern to be?
GT: A perfect pattern would have all of the pellets spaced the exact same distance apart. That said, I would then have to say that I have never seen a "perfect" pattern. As you have already noted, hole size is relative. In my opinion a problem hole is one that is about 3/4 the size of or larger than the target profile.
RW: I had to chuckle a bit reading your interchange guide on the Trulock Chokes web site. Sooner or later, it seems to me, the gun makers are going to finally run out of proprietary choke tube lengths and goofy thread variations. Do you think that there ever will be some type of standardization in choke tubes, or will things just continue as they are?
With Franchi, Benelli, Stoeger, Beretta (and perhaps a few others) all under the umbrella of "Beretta Holdings," for example, it seems reasonable that if one factory choke style was clearly better, the parent company would use it for everything. Maybe they just enjoy giving you a variety of "choking, wheezing inventory control fun" to play with?
GT: While certain designs are more common than others, I do not think that you will ever see any industry standard in choke design. The temptation to change "something" to make it "different" or "better" is too great to resist. Without actually looking in the catalog I counted 19 different designs.
RW: Whoever said that the only thing consistent about shotgun patterns is that they are inconsistent had it just about right. Maybe it was you, George? My impression as far as quality replacement chokes tubes vs. factory choke tubes is this: you are always, invariably, better off with an extended tube (with a longer parallel section) than a flush mount tube.
This is not to suggest that all factory screw-chokes are garbage, for some have given me very good patterns. Also, I won't propose that all extended choke tubes outperform flush tubes with every load combination that there is. But, I've never seen a quality extended tube that did worse than a flush mount tube of the same constriction, so worst case you get at least as good a performance.
With heavier payloads, larger shot, faster muzzle velocities, and tighter constrictions extended tubes almost always do better. Combine all four of those components, and the pattern (groan) of extended tubes giving you better performance becomes increasingly obvious. Does that coincide with your results?
GT: I certainly don't know if I said it first but we do preach that. What I am trying to get across to the shooter is don't take anything for granted. Check the pattern! In general I agree with your statements. Extended chokes, most of the time, do give better patterns than flush. You normally see the most improvements with heavier loads and or at longer distances.
RW: I'm also a big believer that physics cannot easily be overcome. Appertaining to wing shooting, there is only so much that can be achieved out of a finite amount of pellets. When the payload goes down, so does the effective spread. If I'm dove hunting with a 12 gauge, for example, I'm going to shoot 1-1/8 ounces of shot (or more). To not do that will reduce my effective spread by 10% or so if I drop to 1 oz. loads.
Your quail example is a good one, but I might want to take a dove at 20 yards, or get one spinning at 55 yards. To use light loads really cuts down on effective spread, and the preciously small margin for error as ranges increase. I won't kid you that I come back from the field with as many doves as empty hulls. Nor would I be so extreme as to hunt doves with 3 in. shells.
But, it is not entirely a coincidence that I can do better with 1-1/8 oz. 12 or 16 ga. loads, or 1 oz. 20 ga. loads of quality shells with high-antimony shot combined with a quality extended choke tube than I can with 7/8 or 3/4 oz. shells and a factory flush type choke tube. The pattern board proves that it is not because I'm a better shot; I've just got more pellets to work with. Your 70% pattern at the range you expect is as good as any. I'd just rather have 70% of 389 pellets (1-1/8 oz. # 7-1/2 shot) to work with as opposed to 70% of 259 pellets (3/4 oz. # 7-1/2 shot). Who wouldn't?
GT: I agree. However there are a number of reasons that people use light loads. At very close range they may feel that it is not enough of a handicap to worry about. Recoil is another, when a large amount of shots are fired on a steady basis most of us will want to do anything possible to reduce recoil. Then there are those folks who can take a .410 bore and make incredible shots. The last group could probably limit out with an air rifle.
RW: George, you are one of the few people that bother to discuss proper screw-choke care. Would you share your thoughts on this?
GT: While some people may feel I go into more detail than is necessary, when you have pulled as many chokes that were rusted in place as we have you really want to educate your customers on proper care. I have seen people drop chokes in dirt, pick them up and attempt to screw them in a barrel without any cleaning at all. Most of the shotgun companies do not give detailed instructions on cleaning chokes, so we try to give as much info as possible on our web site. I really do not like to pull a choke and find several years worth of crud packed in the threads. We have found chokes in this condition on an otherwise spotless shotgun. Please clean them on a regular basis.
RW: George, there are a couple things seldom if ever mentioned, which is why I'll mention them right now. Using an extended choke tube increases muzzle velocity with the same shell and constriction. It is small, but real, and naturally varies with the type of load being used. A 12 ga. 1-1/8 oz. load propelled by "Clays" or "Red Dot" will not increase quite as much when using a slower burning powder, and the effect is more pronounced when using a very short barrel (22 - 24 inch) versus a 30 or 32 inch barrel.
Effectively, an extended choke tube gives you the same muzzle velocities consistent with a 3/4 inch longer barrel, or whatever the exact difference may be between a factory flush tube and the added length of an extended tube. Have you noticed the same?
Also, the more constriction the higher the muzzle velocity (Venturi effect). This is most pronounced when going from a cylinder bore to a full choke (.035 in constriction, for example). Have you noticed the same?
GT: We do not check the velocity when we pattern so I can't say from personal experience. However it does make sense that it would be so. I do remember reading an article in The American Riflemen, which noted that the tighter the choke the more velocity.
RW: I'd like to compliment the Trulock Team on a few things. The information presented in your current catalog (pp. 8-12, "Basic Choke Information") is concise, clear, and more helpful than anything I've ever read from a shotgun or shot shell manufacturer. It is an amplified version of the information found on the Trulock WebSite. For those without having John Brindle, Bob Brister, Don Zutz, and Ed Lowry material at arm's reach, this is fabulous information.
I'd also like to compliment you on the black oxide finish found on your Precision Hunter chokes; it looks great. There is a time and a place to make a fashion statement with brightly colored or tinted extended chokes, but the field or blind is not one of them. Even my dogs seem to laugh a bit at the sight of taffy apple red tubes coming out of shotgun.
Also, I was delighted to learn that you have 16 ga. Invector extended Precision Hunter chokes. My Miroku A-5 Sweet Sixteen never had it so good. Shouldn't those also screw right into the 16 gauge Winchester 1200s and 1400s that are still floating around as well?
GT: Thank you for the kind words. The information section was something we felt would give a good basic knowledge of choke tubes. I hope to add some additional info on several topics later this year. The Browning Invector's will work in the Winchester 1200 and 1400 series.
RW: George, I'd like to ask you about a few assorted bits and bobs. Where did your Choke Shine come from, and what does it do that other solvents don't? Also, since you don't offer custom barrel work, you seem like the perfect person to ask about recommended establishments for threading a fixed choke barrel to accept after market tubes, and the like. Who does good work these days for shotgun barrel modifications?
GT: Choke Shine is made here in Georgia by G.E.M. Products. We had been looking for a really good choke cleaner and this was suggested to us by a friend of mine. I don't know for sure what it is made from but I do know it really removes all of the gunk that builds up inside the choke better than anything we have ever used. Please Note: while it will not hurt the blued metal finish it will remove the finish on gun stocks.
The two folks listed below are noted for high quality barrel work:
R and D Gunsmithing in Pico Rivera, CA.
Mike Orlen in Amherst, MA.
RW: The pattern improvements shown in your catalog, going from a 64% pattern with #2 steel (factory full) to 91% with just a choke change to a Trulock Precision Hunter Modified, and moving from 41% with #8 lead (factory modified) to 67% with a Trulock Precision Hunter Modified should shock almost anyone out of their complacency. A 42% improvement with steel and a better than 63% pattern improvement with lead with just a choke change should get a lot of people pretty darned excited. It is not every day that you can go from "modified" tube that gives about "cylinder choke" performance to another "modified tube" that gives nearly "full choke" performance. Surely, eye-opening improvements like that must impress even you from time to time. What were the specifics of that testing?
GT: One of our sales reps kept telling me we needed some pattern comparisons for the catalog. We decided to use our Browning BPS with Invector Plus chokes because of the popularity of this style of choke tube. The patterning was done at a measured 40 yards. The chokes used were factory flush along with our Precision Hunter style.
Browning makes a "full for steel" choke that we felt would be a good comparison for our mod choke for the steel portion (Kent shells) of the test. We selected their standard modified tube for the lead shot shell patterning (using Winchester AA's) because we felt that it would be a commonly used constriction.
We shot a string of 10 patterns with each choke. We selected 10 shots so that we could get 20 shots out of the same box of shells. We used premium quality shells and needless to say we would not have had these results with cheap shells. We had less than a 5% shot to shot change in patterns through the complete test. We have since then repeated this using different chokes of the same style in another gun with almost the same results.
RW: George, let me ask you the specifics of your "satisfaction guarantee." I want to make sure I get this right. If a customer orders a choke tube from you and isn't happy (let's say he ordered the wrong tube, wrong constriction, or just does not like one tube out of a set) he can, within 60 days, exchange his used choke tube for a new one of a different constriction, or just get his money back if he so chooses. In addition to that, there is a lifetime guarantee on the chokes, meaning that he will get a replacement if a chock tube develops problems years down the road. I don't know if this is your lifetime or the customer's lifetime, but this is an extremely strong warranty. Is this correct?
GT: You are 100% correct. We do require that you send in a copy of the purchase invoice and start the process within 60 days from the invoice date. We will exchange or refund whether you purchased it from one of our dealers or direct from us. It doesn't matter. But no invoice, then no exchange or refund.
As to the lifetime warranty it means just what it says. If it fails for any reason we will replace the choke tube. No invoice is necessary for that.
RW: As you might be able to tell from other articles, I believe that changing choke tubes and using high-quality shells (verified by patterning) are the two things that can most improve any shotgun. No shotgun manufacturer (or shot shell manufacturer) could possibly know what an individual's personal usage is going to be with his scattergun. But we know, so with a little time at the patterning board we can tailor our patterns to our individual needs and preferences.
This is opposed to a lot of the more esoteric approaches of back-boring that just doesn't work, and forcing cone lengthening that is dubious at best. The problem with both is that it is really hard to grind metal back on, and while altered barrels certainly may produce good patterns, they also may not.
A rough forcing cone can create a bunch of problems. Not just immediate patterning problems, but a rough, improperly polished forcing cone can grab plastic wadding and can corrode easily. On top of all that, if we have a shotgun with hard-chrome lined bores, boring it out takes away the easy-cleaning and corrosion resistance.
If there is such as thing as common sense, it should tell us that our shot mass is moving very slowly through the forcing cone, starting at exactly 0 fps. Funneling into the other (more important) constriction, the choke, it can be 1100 - 1500 fps or so. That is one very dramatic speed bump to hit vs. the comparatively leisurely pace at the breech end.
With a bad choke, or a choke that does not give me a pattern I like, it is just screw in a new choke. If one specific shell does not do well, or one shot size, it is just change shells. When they come out with "screw-in forcing cones," perhaps I'll be a bit more enthusiastic.
What I've heard for years is, "I had my barrel backbored, forcing cones lengthened, ported, and everything was polished like crazy. I get good patterns!" Naturally, I ask how it patterned before the myriad modifications, and the answer is normally dead silence. Anything to avoid actually patterning a shotgun, I suppose?
GT: If you don't pattern to get a baseline prior to any modifications how can you tell if they made an improvement? My advice is to see what you can do with chokes and shells before making any other changes to the gun. Very short chamber forcing cones barrels can be a handicap, but I am not sure that six inch long cones offer any significant improvement over a two or three inch version. As to bore diameter, we have always been able to get a satisfactory pattern with any size that we have worked with. Period.
RW: If there is any message that I'd like to convey, it would be that you absolutely must pattern to establish a baseline, there is no substitute for it. You can get better patterns, more easily, with 1200 fps velocity shells than you can with 1500 fps shells. You need a quality shell to start, otherwise you are just making noise. Naturally, a quality choke of constriction compatible with the results you want are also mandatory.
It is a one time process, and the benefits are huge. Your confidence goes way up, as you now know the pattern you have achieved. It means more broken birds when shooting clays, it means less shells fired in the field. It means cleaner kills, pheasants that drop dead or are immobilized rather than with just a broken wing or feathers in the air. It makes hunting and shooting more fun, more satisfying, and more efficient.
Investing in a good choke, combined with a top-notch shell can form a system that gives clear, meaningful, sometimes dramatic performance increases from most shotguns. Fair enough?
GT: I would like to say one additional thing on patterning. Once you have what you are looking for do not change anything. Don't substitute brands of shells. If you reload don't substitute brands of shot, wads, powder or primers. Changing any one of them even if it is a suitable substitute MAY CHANGE THE PATTERN. If you do you need to verify that the pattern has not changed. While a few shots on the patterning board won't give you the most reliable information it is much, much better than no shot on the board.
RW: With that, George, I'd like to say thank you for all the time you've given to this conversation. It has been a pleasure, and we did it all in less than 5000 words! I hope that the observations expressed here help those who want something better to start in a reasonable direction, with a plan in mind. A lot of folks are far better shots than they might think they are, they just need an effective pattern on their side.
The good news is that it only really needs to be a one time task for a specific shotgun and application. I'd rather spend my time hunting birds than hunting for a load. The load of the week seldom satisfies, and as you mentioned, once you find the load that gets you where you want to be, changing nothing is fine advice. No reason to try to unfix an effective pattern. I look forward to testing Trulock chokes with a variety of new guns and loads that are coming in this year, and I'll keep everyone informed as to what happens. Thanks again, George!
Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.