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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 The demand for purpose-built shotguns seems to have largely been replaced by a single gun shooting purpose-built ammo selections.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!

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  1. Can’t recall the last time I saw a new 10 gauge for sale or any ammo for one sitting on shelf. That’s probably the biggest discouragement for people buying one. If you want one you are gonna have to do the Google fu to find one.

  2. 10? You guys are just precious.

    If you’re serious about clearing the skies with something (semi) commercially available, 8ga is a good start.

    • I can’t speak to the rest of the countries laws. But here in good old CA we can’t hunt with bigger than a 10 ga.

      Bofors guns for dove is right out.

  3. But can one hunt gophers with a .375 H&H magnum? Yup, I’ve done it. Its great fun too. Put the bullet just under them and it’ll blow them feet up into the air, only to hit the ground running frantically. Wondering what the hell just happened, and which way to go to avoid whatever it was, I would imagine…

  4. Shotguns larger than 10 gauge, including 8 gauge, were outlawed for waterfowl
    hunting in the United States in 1918. The large gauges, including 8 gauge on up, were
    primarily utilized by market hunters. The modern 10 gauge Magnum appeared in 1932.
    This was the Roman candle 3.5″ inch shell containing 2 oz. of shot. Parker Bros. of
    Meriden, Connecticut and Ithaca Gun Company of Ithaca, New York each produced 1000 double-barrel shotguns chambered in 10 gauge Magnum, prior to World War II (1939-1945). In the decades following both Spanish and Italian imports (especially Beretta), along with a remnant of Belgian imports, were produced. Elmer Keith’s 10
    Gauge Ithaca No. 5 was produced in 1932, the first year of manufacture for both
    shotgun and Roman candle shell. Keith advocated 2 oz. of No. 3 shot, thus claiming
    93% patterns. Of course this was made only possible I understand by reaming out the
    forcing cones or perhaps some other modification. The late Don Zutz even patterned
    10 Gauge Magnum double-barrel shotguns. I would certainly welcome a big 10 gauge
    Magnum weighing 11 lbs. Reason: to reduce the substantial recoil. I have in fact fired
    these shotguns offhand standing up. And yes, while the recoil is substantial, it wasn’t
    punishing as I expected. It’s sort of like a heavy push, vs. a nasty sharp jab I experienced
    firing a .338 Winchester Magnum! Even a .375 Holland and Holland Magnum bolt action
    Winchester Model 70 rifle I fired offhand didn’t have the nasty sharp jab as did the .338.

    • Great info Jim.
      I found recoil the same. A heavy push rather than the hit from my .416 or .375.
      I was surprised.

  5. A good friend has a custom 10.
    It’s a pleasure to shoot.
    Haven’t thought about hunting with it. Now I am!

  6. Had the families sxs 10 guage went snow goose in Iowa one year had guys in the next blind over yelling at me “camouflage that howitzer!”

  7. 10 gauge loads were once commonly available with shot sizes for everything from hummingbirds to pterodactyls. My grandfather used one on everything with ammunition he had bought in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

    The only reason I passed on a nice Ithaca side by side years ago was because companies had quit manufacturing the 2 7/8″ 10 ga loads, and I refuse to load shotshells….

  8. Man,that’s my new favorite 10 bore article! I have 3 tens I handload for everything from quail to deer.dove and such you might try a spreader device in your shot charge, it will open those full chokes to mod or ice also I believe 1 ounce and 5 eights is more than adequate for birds even past 40yrds.anyway, have fun,I know I am!

  9. 2oz of 7-1/2 is a lot of pellets, and I would dare say a waste of materials on dove. My personal 10 bore target/field and small game loads are 2-7/8” hulls and loaded with 1oz to 1-1/2oz of 7’s, 6’s, or 4’s. You can achieve the same or greater velocities per shot charge than a 12, and on the heavier side of things, you get much better velocity and patterns. You also eliminate the muzzle rise detailed in the article with the 2-7/8” loads.

    Granted, your pattern will not be as dense, but a properly developed load will provide very even and more than adequate pattern density, with equal shot to shot control as a 12ga with field loads.

    Good article.

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