Time to prac­tice for dove sea­son

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUTDOORS/COLLEGE FOOTBALL - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

Dove sea­son starts Sept. 2, and most hunters prob­a­bly won’t be ready.

Sure, we’ll be ready for the event and all it en­tails. Dove sea­son is like a farewell party for sum­mer and a wel­com­ing party for fall. We look for­ward to vis­it­ing with friends that we see in­fre­quently and kick­ing back for some good grub at noon, but if you haven’t shoul­dered a shotgun since the end of duck sea­son, you’re go­ing to be rusty for the ac­tual hunt.

On the other hand, a few brush-up ses­sions over the com­ing weeks will sharpen your eyes and re­flexes enough to ac­quaint your­selves well in the dove fields.

Mourn­ing doves are small, fast, highly aer­o­batic birds that can be hard enough to hit when they fly in a straight line. Mul­ti­ply the dif­fi­culty fac­tor by 10 when they juke, twist, turn and dive in ma­neu­vers that seem to defy kine­mat­ics.

Even the big­ger Eurasian collared dove moves de­cep­tively fast and is im­pres­sively ag­ile. There’s no limit on Eurasian collared doves. You can shoot as many as you want, and they make for much big­ger dove pop­pers than the diminu­tive mourn­ing dove, but we’re get­ting ahead of our­selves. Be­fore you can put them on the grill, you have to hit them.

You can prac­tice on clay tar­gets in a pas­ture or at your deer club. In fact, mem­bers of the Old Belfast Hunt­ing Club oc­ca­sion­ally hold a sum­mer wee­nie roast fol­lowed by a clay pi­geon shoot. We’ve been known to shoot clays af­ter our late sum­mer work day, too.

In­for­mal tar­get shoot­ing sharp­ens eye-hand co­or­di­na­tion and reac­quaints your men­tal com­puter to cal­cu­late the amount of dis­tance to lead your tar­get.

The most com­mon mis­take dove hunters make is not lead­ing birds far enough. We pick up and swing through birds prop­erly, but we usu­ally shoot be­hind birds. De­pend­ing on how far away a bird is, 5 to 10 bird lengths is usu­ally the sweet spot. I give birds a gen­er­ous lead so that I clip the head and neck area with the edge of my pat­tern. That en­sures clean, quick kills and does not dam­age the breasts.

Which leads us to the topic of shotgun se­lec­tion.

An old say­ing warns us never to bet against a man that owns only one shotgun, the as­sump­tion be­ing that he’s prob­a­bly an ex­pert.

It makes sense on one level to hunt doves with the same gun you use to hunt ducks and geese, but on an­other level, that’s like play­ing golf with one club. You might be the best 5-iron player on the planet, but you’ll be a bet­ter all-around player if you use a range of clubs.

It is the same with shot­gun­ning.

As men­tioned ear­lier, a dove is a small bird that is very easy to kill with just one or two pel­lets in the head. If a pat­tern-edge kill is your goal, shoot­ing a 12-gauge with 1 1/8 ounces of shot is waste­ful and in­ef­fi­cient.

You can get the same re­sults with a lot less waste and re­coil with a 20-gauge throw­ing 7/8 ounces, or with a 28-gauge throw­ing a 3/4-ounce charge. Both of those gauges have suf­fi­cient en­ergy at ex­tended ranges to kill doves as ef­fec­tively as a 12-gauge.

As with any shotgun, it is wise to pat­tern your dove gun with your choice load and choke so that there are no sur­prises or guess­work in the field.

The 28-gauge earns my ad­mi­ra­tion with its con­sis­tent pat­terns in all con­stric­tions, but the 28 is also a case where love hurts. Tar­get loads and light field loads for 12- and 20-gauge are cheap. Shells for 28-gauge are ex­pen­sive, and the only way to shoot enough 28 to be good with it is to load your own. Green Dot and Uni­ver­sal give me top re­sults in my reloads.

I also pre­fer open chokes for doves. For years, my fa­vorite dove gun was a Rem­ing­ton Model 300 over/un­der with im­proved cylin­der tubes. It was sur­pris­ingly lethal at long range, but not more so than the gun that re­placed it, a 20-gauge Rem­ing­ton 1100 Skeet B model with a skeet bar­rel.

In re­cent years I’ve fallen in love with the 16-gauge. It hurts to love the 16-gauge, too, so when I find a good deal on ammo, I buy in bulk and save the hulls to reload later.

Noth­ing cap­tures the magic of Amer­i­cana more than shoot­ing doves with a Brown­ing Auto-5 Sweet 16. Not the new model, but the old hump­back orig­i­nal.

I’ve been shoot­ing mine a fair amount lately, and I’ll be ready on Sept. 2.

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