Reader David Parrish writes:
One of my closest friends was showing off his 10 gauge side-by-side, a beautiful AYA gun that he’d had for decades. He was looking forward to doing to some pond jumping for ducks with it. I went on one of his excursions a few seasons ago and admired as he touched off two 10 gauge duck shells, hammering the birds as they skimmed across the water. My own auto-jammer did well enough, but the morning’s events got me to thinking about these field cannons.
The 10 gauge and the 16 gauge (another favorite of mine) have largely been displaced by the 12 as the all-around shotgun because it uses loads from light skeet #8 shot all the way to 3.5-inch goose shells shooting BB-size steel. The demand for purpose-built shotguns seems to have largely been replaced by a single gun shooting purpose-built ammo selections. I’m sure that makes wives and wallets happy, but I like variety in my gun safe.
After shooting my friend’s 10 gauge a few times I realized its fearsome rep wasn’t really deserved. Most grown men shy away from the 10 bore because of its “harsh” recoil. I couldn’t disagree more. The gun was 11 lbs. and shooting the duck loads was no more harsh than any 12 gauge, though with maybe a little more muzzle rise.
I was hooked. I had to find my own 10 gauge and after months of searching, I did. Another side-by-side Spanish model that was looking for a new home. She is a beauty and, weighing in 11 lbs, she’s a sturdy gal that must be held just right.
I’ve taken her pheasant and duck hunting with spectacular success. I was impressed at how my reach on the pheasants was much further than any of my fellow 12 bore hunters. When a bird seemed to be too far for the 28’s, 20’s and 12’s, eyes turned to me as I let loose with the field artillery and smashed the fleeing bird from the sky.
In fact, as I’ve learned, it’s best to actually ensure the birds are a minimum of 25-30 yards out when opening up with the big 10. On two occasions, a pheasant turned into me. As it closed the distance, I fired the easy incoming shot and blew both wings off the birds. After the second time, I learned my lesson. Even at a distance of 20 to 25 yards the pattern is barely opening up.
That got my friend and me to thinking. Why not hunt dove with a 10 gauge? After you finish laughing and collect yourself, follow our logic.
All bore sizes have an optimum payload in shot sizes and count. Twelves seem to like 1 to 1 1/8 oz of shot regardless of shot size. There’s a host of reasons behind this and many people have researched and tested this to death, so I’ll assume its fact. The big 10 gauge loads, however, are loaded with nearly double that amount shot, from about 1 7/8 – 2 ¼ ounces. If an ounce of 7.5 shot is 340 pellets, that means two ounces is 680. That’s a lot of bird-stopping capability.
With that in mind I was on a mission. After a lot of research I found purpose-built 10 gauge dove shells, always seemed to be listed as “out of stock.” That meant I was going to be reloading. Since I had never hand-loaded shot shells (only pistol and rifle), I was off to research even more.
I finally settled on a Ponsness/Warren 875 Duo. The day finally came that I had everything I needed to start to start load development.
One thing I learned quickly is that shot shell reloading is more involved than I expected. There are more steps involved than pistol and rifle (more components involved and and more stations in the process). The amount of powder and shot…you guessed it, more. Lots more. If you’re new or experienced at reloading, I highly recommend Precision Reloading of South Dakota to test the velocity and pressures for your loads as I did.
To make a long story short(er) I did weeks of load development and arrived at this epiphany: 1 oz of shot is 1 oz of shot. Just as 1300 fps is 1300 fps. I had made some assumptions that I was going to be shooting birds at 80-100 yards with a 10 gauge, but the truth is, all velocity and energy transfer is the same regardless of bore.
Okay, I’ll wait for the snarky comments to clear. What this really comes down to is the amount of shot in a pattern at specific measured distances. My 12 gauge puts 1 1/8 oz of #7.5 shot in a decent pattern at 15-35 yards. Beyond that, it becomes anemic and accuracy abysmal.
I’m sure a few readers will tell me all about their miraculous 50 to 100-yard shots, but let me ask this; have you measured your loads and patterned them on a board?
The 10 gauge, pushing 2 oz of 7.5 shot at 1255 patterned extremely well at 30-50 yards. In fact, on a 48×48-inch board with five birds on it, they all had at least five shot holes.
Back to my original statement. An ounce is an ounce and 1300 fps is 1300 fps. All things being equal, if I increase the amount of shot and velocity remains the same, why does the pattern look so much better? I can only assume this has to do with radial pressures and optimum weights of shot. I found that 1 7/8 to 2¼ seem to be the optimum load for this gaugu. There are a lot of shot shell loaders out there who I’m sure will tell me the why, but the evidence is right there on my pattern boards.
So after I settled on a load I was off to the races. I hammered out 1000 shells, 500 for me and 500 for my good friend. We were about to set the dove hunting world on fire. To aid in this quest we put ShotKams on our shotguns to record the evidence.
David from shotkam was helpful with sizing the 10 gauges barrels and optimum placement for the camera on my SxS. I used the 12g SxS kit but I stretched its potential to the limit when fitting it on the massive barrels. Again, David from ShotKam was helpful in coming up with a simple solution.
Here the 12 gauge dings the dove before the 10 gauge knocks him out of the sky.
The aforementioned muzzle rise definitely comes into play. While holding on target with a 12 gauge is simple the 10 gauge just produces more. More is the best word to describe the 10 gauge IMO. I did however manage to work out a few shots and stay on target to witness the demise of the dove.
In the first dove season in Texas the birds weren’t what I would call optimal. I actually expected to get doubles all day but that wasn’t the case. I’m sure this is all me.
In fact, I only got one double and it was spectacular. I measured with a range finder from my shooting position to the spot in the tree the dove were flying towards – 39 yards at about 30 feet of height. Birds flew in left to right, which is not my best shot, the pair slowed and started to flare and I let loose one of my 10 gauge hand loads. The birds and a poof of feathers from both floated to the ground. I estimated the birds to be 2 feet apart. Pure joy.
I’m looking forward to the Texas December Dove Season to get back into the field and get more videos so look for a follow up to “Teaching old dogs new tricks” in January. Happing Hunting!