By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star
Okay, you are within a couple days of traipsing off to the dove fields and showing off your wingshooting skills to your fellow shooters. This year you will be the one all the others will oooh and aahhh over as the doves fall from the sky like confetti at a national political party convention. Many will seek perfection but few will walk away from the fields satisfied. “Why,” we should all ask ourselves.
The answer can be hiding among a raft of possibilities. First, the darn birds are hard to hit. The casual observer will belittle this fact because the birds of peace seem to float innocently along with an occasional wingbeat to keep them aloft. But subtle changes in direction make us miss, something like four times out of five on average.
The shooters who seem to hit every shot are the rare few who are blessed with shooting knowledge, good reflexes and calm nerves all honed to perfection by quality practice. And, oh yes, they have good equipment. Take note. The perfect September shot is fruitless if your shotgun and load are for December bucks or January ducks.
First, the shotgun.
Twelve and twenty gauges will kill doves effectively. Sixteen and 28 gauges are fine but rare. The .410 bore is okay for experts who want to show off. But the ordinary Joe and Jane shoot 12s or 20s.
Older shotguns that don’t have interchangeable choke tubes and are bored full (F) or modified (M) should do nicely on high flying, late season birds. Opt for improved cylinder (IC) bores when the birds are close, such as over feeding fields or at water holes. Double barrels are the berries for dove shooting because you can pull the trigger or switch the barrel selector to the barrel that fits the situation; (M) or (IC) for close-ups and (M) or (F) for the long shots.
For my single barrel guns, pumps or autoloaders, it would be hard to catch me in a dove field without an (IC) bore or a screw-in tube of that designation. Even if you give up a bit of range, this boring throws wide patterns with evenly distributed shot. Of course screw in the (F) or (M) tubes if your gun has the option and if you must skybust high flyers. But if you can choose only one choke for all of dove season and someone is going to drive splinters under your fingernails if you don’t limit out, screw in the IC tube and go to work.
Now for the fodder. If the you have your 12 or 20 fitted with the IC tube and you shoot number 6 shot in a chain store discount target load you are casting for minnows with a mackerel net. The holes in your pattern at 40 yards will be big enough for even the fattest corn fed dove to fly happily through.
Most doves are killed with number seven and one half or eight shot. Number nines work well in the most open bores at moderate ranges. In 12 gauge, an ounce and one eighth of number 8 shot in a field load with a three to three and one quarter dram equivalent powder charge is a good all around load to take to the dove field. If the birds are at maximum range and wild as the wind you might consider a three and three quarter dram equivalent shell with an ounce and a quarter of number seven and one half shot. If I run upon doves that require this much power, I load up, drive home and watch an old Bogart movie. And my shoulder is quite grateful.
The 20 gauge is a little less punishing in its heavy loads. However the three inch shell loaded with an ounce and a quarter of shot will let you know it is serious when you fire one off. The ounce and an eighth load would make more sense for heavy dove work.
In the two and three quarter inch 20s the one ounce loads are considered good dove getters and the ounce and an eighth of shot turns the shorter shell into a “short magnum” and is potent enough for the high flyers. The seven eighths ounce loads are common in the dove fields along with the one ounce ones.
Is it ever okay to buy the low priced target loads for doves? Yes. These are fine for incoming birds seeking feed, water or gravel offering close in shots. The lighter the loads the better for these easy targets. But stay with 7 and a halfs or number 8s.
Remember this general rule. Opt for the lower power and the smaller shot in your shells over the lightening bolt blazers with heavy shot when it comes to collecting mourning doves. And given a choice, select the gun with the more open choked barrel like IC.