Time to practice for dove season
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.