On my first dove hunt as a kid I carried a now-rare 16-gauge shotgun. A double-barrel. It kicked like the proverbial mule. Maybe it was the lack of not only a recoil pad, but any butt plate at all. Maybe it was that pocket full of paper shells I was handed was a bit much for either doves or me. Most likely I just wasn’t big enough for the gun
In 1968 I graduated to a 12-gauge. A fine Remington 870 Wingmaster that sold new for $68 at my local Gibson’s store. In the early days I determined the quality of the hunt by the bruise on my bicep caused by the recoil and not quite shouldering the gun properly. If it was a good year it would be bruised for much of September.
I hunted with that gun for over 20 years until it was stolen in a home burglary, and I replaced it with another 12-gauge 870 that I used for years until I could not take the beating anymore. That is when I went the opposite direction dropping to a 28 gauge. It was love at first painless shot.
Since then I have added more 28s and a couple of 20s. I still own 12-gauge shotguns, but those are reserved for the biggest birds, turkeys, geese and on occasion ducks, but I have also waterfowl hunted with both 28s and 20s.
What I learned was that one ounce of shot was one ounce of shot no matter what size shell it was packed into. That may sound a little simplistic, but remember with dove I am talking about hunting a four-ounce bird that does not have particularly dense feathers like a turkey or duck. I have said, only partially jokingly, that you could probably pack a shell with peppercorn to preseason the dove and still be able to bring it down.
So how do you know what shotgun shell to buy? For many the main criteria is on sale. For others shotgun shells are like fishing lure colors. They have had success with one and stick with it. And then there are those who just like all the power they can get or have an older semi-automatic shotgun and go for maximum power to make it operate.
“What is important to me, after all my years, is the quality of the ammunition. There is no sense in overkill,” said Steve Brown, owner of Prairie Creek Sporting Clays, a shotgun instructor and lifelong dove hunter.
Brown, who has helped with a lead shot lethality study on doves, said he has found that No. 7.5 shot resulted in less wound loss than No. 8.
“The 7.5s carry more mass. There are not as many of (the pellets), but it doesn’t take as many 7.5s to kill a dove as it does No. 8s,” Brown explained.
Here is the breakdown. A shell with 7.5 pellets and a three-quarter ounce load will have about 260 pellets. There are 305 in a seven-eighths load, 350 in a one-ounce, about 394 in an ounce and one-eighth and 437 in an ounce and a quarter.
In comparison No. 8 lead shot in a three-quarters load has about 310 pellets. There are about 360 in a seven-eighths load, 410 in a one-ounce, 460 in 1 1/8 and 510 in 1 1/4 loads.
As for the amount of powder, Brown said only those shooting semi-automatics need a heavy load just to operate it properly, but recommends a shot that will propel downrange at least 1200 feet per second.
Texas dove hunters annually kill about 10 million mourning dove and whitewings combined, and the majority still shoot a 12 gauge. As a whole, we are not very good shots. It is estimated hunters shoot between five and seven rounds for every dove that hits the ground. Of course that means some use 16 shells a day while others use, let’s just say, considerably more.
Once they get their ammo dialed in, there are other things hunters can do to improve their accuracy. One of the first is to remember the limitations of shotgun shells. Dove loads can kill out to 50 yards, but hunters would be better to limit shots to no more than 30 or 40 yards.
It probably would help to pattern a gun to see how it shoots certain ammo through different choke tubes, but dove hunters are not going to do that.
Most hunters can do the most to help themselves with one style correction. Probably the most common mistake when wing shooting is not following through with the swing, leaving their shot string behind the target.
The dove season in the North Zone will run Sept. 1-Nov. 12 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5. The Central Zone will be open Sept. 1-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5. The Special White-winged Dove Days in the South Zone are Sept. 1-2 and 7-8, while the regular South Zone seasons are Sept. 14-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 23.