Choosing dove guns and loads
By By Otha Barham / outdoors writer
Aug. 30, 2002
There probably isn't another wingshooting sport where hunters use the variety of shotguns, shells and chokes that one finds in the dove fields. The thinking that most any shotgun of any gauge and any shell that can be poked into it will be okay for dove shooting is widespread and to some extent is true. But a lot of shells are expended in dove fields that are less than ideal in part because of this casual approach to the sport.
If a wingshooter is to avoid sloppy and wasteful shotgunning, he or she should use efficient shotguns and shotshells for doves the same as for game preserve quail or decoyed ducks.
What makes a good dove gun? One that can be fired a lot during the day without inflicting too much pain to the shoulder and that brings down doves consistently if the shooter does his or her part.
The gauge? Any gauge gun is fine for doves if the limitations of the smaller gauges are considered. A .410 is a dove gun only for a good wingshot who knows its limitations and perhaps for youngsters too small even for a 20-gauge. Many single shot .410 guns are full choke and thus a poor choice for doves because of the tight pattern. The 20-gauge is better because the larger bore throws a more even pattern. The 16- and 12-gauge shotguns are excellent dove guns.
Autoloading guns probably are the most popular in dove fields. Shotshell manufacturers really like them because doves are easy to miss and few shooters can resist throwing a second and third shot at a disappearing dove. Likewise pumps are popular dove guns. Few hunters go afield with single shot guns in pursuit of doves, but many use double barrels.
The double, particularly the over/under, is my favorite for several reasons. Most importantly to me is that I have a choice of chokes when I shoulder the gun to make my shot. I can either slide the barrel selector to choose the barrel or, on double trigger guns, pull the front trigger for close in shots or the rear trigger (top barrel on over/unders and right barrel on side by sides) for the long shots.
Next is safety. A double gun, broken where everyone can see the empty chambers, can be carried into groups of hunters that often gather around dove fields without companions wondering if the gun is loaded.
Because my arms are short, a double gun shoulders and points better than autoloaders and pumps, that necessarily must be longer in order to accommodate their loading and ejection chambers. Also I handload my ammunition, and the occasional shell with a poor crimp that could jam a pump or semi-auto can be crammed into a double and fired with no problem.
High flying doves that have been hunted and are spooky can best be taken with the tighter chokes like modified and full. But most dove hunting is done during the first few days of the season, and, especially on the first day when the doves are flying close in, the more open chokes are deadly on these tricky flyers.
So what is the ideal dove gun? The double 12-gauge over/under with improved cylinder and modified would be ideal for all around shooting. Of course screw-in chokes would make for convenient diversity. I would choose 28 inch barrels for the ideal double gun. Barrels shorter than 28 inches don't swing quite as smoothly and have a shorter sighting plane than the longer barrels. A 16- or 20-gauge would be fine as well.
Autoloader and pump fans should consider any gauge from 12 to 20 and choke the gun full or modified for high flyers and improved cylinder for opening day feeders and doves coming to water. I would choose a 26-inch barrel for the repeating guns because I am shorter than average. Tall hunters would do quite well with a 28-inch tube.
Effective dove loads
I would opt for light loads rather than the heavy ones for doves. I believe more dove shooters err on the side of overkill shells than choose those that are a little light for the job. High base shells push more shot with a bigger powder charge. What this means is kick.
Many will scoff at the additional recoil, but the majority of the scoffers will flinch after being belted hard a few times with the big loads. Flinching yields misses.
In the absence of flinching, one's shooting is better and doves are not difficult birds to kill if you hit them. The ideal load for doves in 12-gauge is probably the ounce and an eighth shell that moves the shot at medium velocity. These loadings are sometimes sold as "field loads."
What about shot size? No. 8 shot is a good, all-around size for dove shooting. And don't forget to pattern your gun so you can correct ineffective loads before the season opens.