Shooting Dove

Dear Technoid,

I hunt doves with a 20 gauge browning 425, and i want to ask your opinion about the best loads for long shots. Will magnum loads perform well in relatively hot weather ?

Congratulations for the nice site!!


Dear Mak,

Everyone has their own theories on dove loads. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot dove in large numbers numerous times in Honduras, Colombia and Argentina. Here’s the secret- by far the best load for dove is the one you can hit them with. There, I let that cat out of the bag.

I’m not a big fan of heavy loads for dove. One year in the Cauca Valley in Colombia, the only shells available for our 12 gauge guns were “Indumil” brand 3-1/4 dram 1-1/4 oz #7-1/2 pigeon loads. One afternoon I had a hot corner shot over 2300 of them straight up at dove. The bird boys had to dig me out of a hole in the ground. Fortunately, I was using a sturdy steel receivered B-80 Browning auto, but the gun got hot enough to start the forend smoking. By the end of the afternoon, I found the recoil tiring and would have appreciated (and shot better with) nice light one ounce loads.

It was hot that day too. The larger the load, the more heat it generates. If you are just shooting a few dove, it won’t matter. But if it’s volume dove shooting where you go through flat after flat of ammo, it’s best to bring a second gun. The heavier the load, the faster your gun will heat up and the faster you will wear down. The last time I was down in Entre Rios, Argentina, I used a 20 gauge Beretta 391 on dove. The outfitter supplied us with 7/8 oz loads and I found the combination to be perfect. A light load in a light, gas operated gun. No recoil and no heavy gun to slow the swing after a couple of hours of hot shooting. It was a good combination.

Dove are “soft” birds and can’t take much shot if you can get it in the right place. That’s the secret. Even at long range, you don’t need heavy pellets the way you would on a pheasant or waterfowl. Because dove are such a small target, I found that when I used #7-1/2s at longer range, I would get a high percentage of “gliders” where the birds were hit, but not killed immediately because a pellet hadn’t found exactly the right place. They could glide several hundred yards before falling. When I used smaller shot, I had a better percentage chance of getting one pellet in exactly the right spot and had many more “spinners”, or birds that were dead in the air and locked their wings spinning to earth like a maple seed. It wasn’t power. It was placement.

The best shooter I ever saw on dove was in Colombia. He was killing birds at very long distance (all dove seem further away than they really are due to their small size) and the majority of his birds were dead in the air. He was using a full choke 12 gauge Beretta 302 with 1-1/8 oz of #9s. He had his choice of any shell he wanted, and that’s what he had the outfitter get for him. When I switched from the #7-1/2s I was using to #9s, I also killed more birds dead in the air. I switched back and forth between shot sizes and became convinced that the smaller shot worked better for me. Remember too, this is the kind of shooting where you can experiment with a full case of each kind of shell on the same day. This isn’t just a few shots taken on opening day with a 12 bird limit.

That said, most people don’t seem to use #9s for dove. That’s their business. If a man finds that #8s work best for him, then that’s what he should use. One thing’s for sure, it’s a pellet count game. You need enough pellets and choke to hit something vital on that very small and very agile bird. Magnum loads will certainly increase your pellet count and probably wouldn’t kill you if you are shooting small dove limits. Personally, I wouldn’t use them for dove as I don’t think that they are necessary. Just go to a smaller pellet size.

Your 425 20 gauge is heavy enough at about 7 pounds to nicely absorb most of the recoil of a standard 7/8 oz load. You are going to start to feel the recoil if you are into volume dove shooting and decide to use 1 oz or 1-1/8 oz loads in that gun. Up to you. The smaller pellet size makes particular sense with the 20 because the standard load has 25% fewer pellets to begin with (1-1/8 12 vs 7/8 o 20). I would definitely start by experimenting with #9s. Then try #8s. Then go back to #9s for a bit. And so on. Form your own opinion, but I think you’ll be surprised by #9s. I’m not a fan of #7-1/2s in the 20 for dove as I prefer a standard 7/8 oz load and don’t want to give up the pellet count.

A lot of beginning dove shooters see that puff of feathers and watch the dove keep flying on. They just assume that they hit the bird hard, but didn’t have enough pellet energy to bring it down. This makes them want a larger pellet. Not so. What happened was that they hit the bird too far aft. I don’t know how such a little bird can carry so many feathers on its rump, but it can. A rear shot on a dove can release an entire pillow of feathers and not really hurt the bird. Remember, it’s not power, it’s placement. The same shot further forward would kill the bird cleanly.

One thing’s for sure. Dove are hard to hit. It’s all too easy to blame a miss on a shell rather than on our aim.

Best regards,

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

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