Dove loads can make a lot of difference in shooting success, but one can find almost all types of shotgun shells on the dove field. The hunter who worries that he might cripple birds at the limit of his gun’s range or who wants to take birds farther away than anyone else often loads up with skybusting shells for doves. This fellow may or may not kill a lot of doves with these high brass shells, but he almost always will nurse a sore shoulder after the hunt.

Conversely, a casual hunter might buy a box of discount store “dove loads” for shooting passing birds on a December north wind. Often these shells are loaded with just one ounce of shot in 12 gauge, which is a bit light for high flyers, especially in the more open chokes. Their powder charge is usually on the light side as well. These are shells for close in shots.

But if I had to choose between the two for doves, I would opt for the light loads rather than the heavy ones. I believe more dove shooters err on the side of overkill shells than choose those that are a little light for the job. I make this observation from years of experience that have suggested the following reasons. High base shells push more shot with a powder charge inflated to move the heavier loads at higher velocities. What this means is kick.



Immune to the 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 and missing means you will have to shoot more and shooting more means more color to the shoulder bruise.

On the other hand, the dove load that is too light for the job can be ineffective as well and consequently lead to more shooting. But, in the absence of flinching, one’s shooting is better and doves are not difficult birds to kill if you hit them. Too, the light loads, like the one ounce loads in 12 gauge, have a shorter shot string, throw fewer deformed shot, and utilize lower velocity, all of which make for better patterns. And trust me, consistent and uniform shot distribution in the pattern will down a lot of birds. And the range at which the light loads will drop a dove is surprising.

Nevertheless 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.” But without question, the load selected should be matched to the gun’s gauge and choke. For instance, the ounce and an eighth load could be considered a bit light for high flyers in my skeet or an improved cylinder barrel. Here, an ounce and a quarter of shot would likely be best. And I still prefer staying with the medium, or “field” powder charge.

Likewise the ounce and an eighth load could be overkill in a modified choke for birds fluttering in to a water hole. Go back to the one ounce shells here, or even the lighter shot charges used for some skeet or hand thrown shooting.



Shot Size



What about shot size? Number 8 shot is a good, all around size for dove shooting, and I use it even for some pretty long shots. But go to 7 1/2 shot in larger doses for high flying doves. I have killed plenty of doves with number 9 shot in my skeet barrels but I can’t discern an advantage over number 8s. Again, consider the gauge and choke. Wider patterns need a few more shot to avoid “holes” that can cause misses, so be sure the shot size is small enough to provide the number of pellets needed.

The ideal combination for doves then would begin with a 12, 16 or 20 gauge gun. Doubles would have 28 inch barrels with screw-in chokes. Autoloaders and pumps would have 26 or 28 inch barrels with screw-in chokes. Shotshells would be a few boxes each of light loads and medium velocity, medium shot charge loads in number 8 shot size, and number 7 1/2 shot in medium and high velocity loadings.

But even if you find the ideal gun and load in your hands, you will shoot it with confidence only after patterning it on paper at 40 yards to see how it shoots. And that means shooting several times with each type shell you will be taking to the field.

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