.410 And Dove

Dear Technoid,

I want to ask you about ways off improving 410 performance, except buying a 28. I experimented lengthening and polishing the forcing cone off a single 410 with cylinder choke and this tightened an otherwise dispersing pattern considerably. Do the smaller gauges perform better with smaller shot size and can the 410 be a useful gun in the field?

Finally, what load and shot# do you suggest for 20 gauge in dove hunting?

Thanks a lot,


Dear Mak,

You are quite correct. By far the best way to improve the performance of the 410 is to convert it into a 28.

In theory (I haven’t done the work myself) if lengthening the forcing cone and backboring the barrel would help in any gauge, they would help in the 410 the most. The 410 generally has trouble with good patterns for two reasons: 1) it doesn’t have very much shot to begin with and, 2) due to its long shot column, a higher percentage of the shot gets damaged by setback on its trip up the barrel. Damaged pellets don’t fly true, so it’s hard to get a good pattern out of them.

If you kept notes on your 410 patterns before and after lengthening the forcing cones, I would be very interested in seeing the numbers. I don’t have any before and after data on this myself.

Generally, smaller gauges are used with finer shot in order to increase pellet count. Remember, the finer the shot, the less air space there is wasted between the pellets in the load. You can get 1/2 ounce of #9 shot (.008″) in a standard 2-1/2″ 410 load, but there won’t be enough room to get in 1/2 ounce of #3 pellets (.014″) because of the excess spaced between the pellets. Same weight, but not the same volume.

Is the 410 useful in the field? I really don’t like to use it. I have a Winchester Model 42 .410 that a shoot pretty well. I’ve used it on American quail. I see that you are emailing from Greece. Your quail are a bit bigger than ours are. The quail that I hunted were on a preserve and they weren’t very strong fliers. Even so, about half the quail the dog brought back to me were still alive. If those had been wild quail, I don’t think that the 410 would have been adequate in my hands. I was using #8 (.009″) shot and Modified (.010″) choke. I have friends who are better shots than I am who do better with the 410, but even they would not say that it was a proper field gun except in very special circumstances.

The 28 gauge is very different. I would feel very confident hunting preserve birds with a 28. Some of my friends hunt the extremely challenging American Ruffed Grouse with a 28 and do well. The 28 also makes a perfectly nice gun for our dove, but I like more gun when shooting pigeon.

For dove hunting in the 20 gauge, I like #9 (.008″) shot and full choke. Same in the 28 and in the 12- #9s and Full. Here’s why. Some years ago, when it was still safe to shoot there, I was shooting dove in the Cauca Valley of Colombia. You could literally shoot 2,000 shells per day at dove. I did that once or twice. It took a lot of beers that evening to restore my strength.

One of the shooters in our party was the best dove shot I have ever seen. He shot the birds at huge distance and generally killed them dead in the air. He obviously knew what he was doing. The outfitter told me that this particular shooter made three separate trips with him each year and on each trip he would stay and shoot for ten days. Most trips are just 3-1/2 days shooting. So, this guy shot a lot. A whole lot. He also made a point of shooting 2,000 shells a day. He would often shoot while we ate lunch. I can’t say that he shot 2,000 shells all ten days, but he did for the 3 days I was with him. He was as close to a dove professional as I have ever seen. He used a 12 gauge Beretta 302 gas gun with every recoil reducing gizmo ever made hanging on it. The thing must have weighed 10 pounds.

We got talking about the best shell to use on dove. He said that he used only Full choke and #9 shot. His reasoning was that the dove is a “soft” bird and easy to kill if you hit it in the right place. But, because it is small, the right place is hard to hit. The small shot and full choke gave him a better chance of getting a pellet where it counted.

Since we were all shooting so much, this was the perfect place to experiment. The next day I had the outfitter leave me a case of #9s, #8s and #7-1/2s. I shot all three cases that day and experimented with different chokes. I had mostly been using modified choke and #8 shot. I was pretty good at hitting the birds, but too many of my dove would set their wings and glide off to fall a couple of hundred yards away. Not all that many would be dead in the air or become “spinners” (where they lock their wings and spin down to earth like a broken helicopter). As I increased my choke and decreased my pellet size, I found that I had more and more birds dead right in the air, not gliding.

Since there were so many birds, it was no problem to start to experiment with long shots. If you are used to shooting pigeons, switching to doves is disorienting as the birds look sooooo far away. But after a while you get used to the distances and can do some good work. With Full choke and #9s I was able to kill dove cleanly in the air at a legitimate 45 yards, maybe a touch more. That’s about as far away as I can hit anything. The #9s had enough energy left to do the job on that soft bird at that distance. If you are going to use a 20 gauge, I think that it would be even more advantageous to use #9 shot due to the lower payload.

Like a lot of shooters, I tried larger pellets (#7-1/2s) on dove because I thought that I needed the pellet energy. I was hitting a lot of birds and just getting a cloud of feathers. I figured that the pellets weren’t doing their job. Wrong!!! I was just too far back on the dove. Dove have a lot of loose feathers in the tail region. When I pulled a pillow puff of feathers from the bird, I should have known that I was shooting too far back. I blamed lack of success on not enough pellet energy, when the problem was really my aim. Once I got the lead right, the #9s worked better than the #7-1/2s.

Normally, I’m a “big pellet guy”. I always pick the larger pellet over increased velocity when hunting birds. I hunt grouse with #6 and pheasant with #5s and sometimes #4s. Many hunters will go a size smaller. But on dove, I had the best results copying this dove “expert”.

So, that’s a long answer to a short question. That’s why I get paid by the word.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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