Game on! For many, the symbolic start of the fall hunting season begins in the lingering summer heat with the first pull of the trigger on wildly flying dove.
From lone hunters trying to post up near a favorite tree and claim a few of the birds as they transfer from limb to the feed below to large scale gatherings replete with barbecue and sweet tea feasts at the close of shooting, dove hunting is a tradition enjoyed by hunters across the United States. For those shooters who don’t spend abundant time on the clays course or pursuing other winged quarry, it can also be one of the most frustrating exercises in shotgun marksmanship. Don’t miss out on filling your brace this September.
Try the following tips to get more birds.
- Find the Hot Spot—A big part of successful dove shooting comes with simply being in the spot that puts you close enough to flying birds so you can shoot them. If you’re part of a large hunting party, you may get stuck where the huntmaster recommends, but if you have the opportunity, watch the field before you head to a specific location to watch where they will be trading back and forth between roosting trees, food and water. Check the field early to identify roost trees with open, unbrushy limbs—favorite haunts for doves to perch as they examine a field before heading out. A dead tree or even power lines in the middle of a field are great as well, as are points of forest that jut into the open and low spots or dips in the tree line where doves will fly close to the cover as they dart into the field. You want to be 40 yards or less from those aerial lanes doves seem to fly over and over on a given day.
- Practice Before You Go—Rounds of skeet or trap are a great way—no, the best way—to practice the shot presentations doves will offer. While the clay pigeons will glide on a predictably even path, not the herky-jerky, juking flight of a dove, perfecting your lead and getting used to the speed of launched targets will put you in the best shape to deal with the shots you’ll experience in the dove field. If the only time each year that you wingshoot is when you go dove hunting, you can’t expect a high percentage of success with your shots.
- Size Matters—The vital area of a flying dove is roughly the size of a golf ball. That means the name of the game is putting a good-sized cloud of pellets into the air for most shooters. For that simple reason, a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge is your best bet, plain and simple. The 12 simply carries the most payload and has the most available shell offerings. The 20 is great for female or younger shooters or if you simply want to lighten your load a little. The 16 gauge is awesome, if you have one, but they are also so rare in this day and age, most shops won’t have the loads even though Winchester makes two great offerings. As for the 28 gauge or that darling of parents thinking they are doing their recoil-concerned child a favor by giving them a .410, are best left to the experts. The payload is so narrow coming out of a .410, you are going to have one aggravated kid, or even grown up shooter for that matter, when most of the birds they take shots at just keep flying.
- Choose the Optimal Load—With the proper gauge shotgun in mind, now you want to choose a good load. Winchester boasts plenty of offerings with everything from high-brass field loads to economically priced AA target low-brass target loads that will most often perform flawlessly in the field on the fast-flying, yet light-feathered doves. Dove hunting is warm weather shooting, so you’ll likely be wearing little more than a t-shirt between your shoulder and the buttpad of the shotgun. Minimize recoil all you can for this typically high-volume shooting and go with 1-ounce light field or target loads in 7 ½ or 8 shot. If you simply feel more comfortable with the larger payload or need a high-brass shell to cycle an older semi-auto that hangs up when attempting to eject a spent low-brass load, go with what you must to keep the shooting hot, heavy and accurate.