Previous Post
Next Post


For a hunter, dove season is the appetizer before the waterfowl and deer main course. And summer’s the time to start prepping for the dove season. The last time most hunters used their shotguns: spring turkey season during which we replaced our regular shotgun shells with the mini-grenades called turkey loads. My arm and my ego are still recovering . . .

Dove hunting is the perfect intro into the outdoor world. This year, I invited female colleague and Texas Firearms Festival Marketing Manager Devon Joyce [above, right] to partake in this rewarding ritual. This will be Devon’s first hunt, so practice will play a big part in her confidence level and, ultimately, her success in the field.

Throughout the years, I have found that there are five critical steps to preparing for dove season. Here’s what I shared with Devon:

1. Shotgun selection

To harvest migratory birds, a semi-automatic shotgun is the obvious choice, for both its additional on-board ammo and lower recoil. However, be sure you’re not compromising reliability for an additional shot — chances are you won’t need it. With birds, your first shot is your best shot. If you’re lucky you’ll get a double.

Some auto-loading shotguns (especially gas-operated) are prone to failure due to the amount of stress on the gun between cleanings. Regular maintenance is a must. If you’re not into servicing your shotgun, consider something simpler and more reliable.

Note: many hunters buy a semi-auto for the presumed recoil reduction — only to find that the selected gun doesn’t manage recoil to the degree they expected. More reasons to try before you buy (did I mention the wide selection of shotguns at the Texas Firearms Festival?) and buy the right gun. The Benelli Super Black Eagle II [above] is my favorite field gun because of its virtually non-existent recoil and rock solid reliability.

Because of the large number of doves you’re likely to shoot at — and hopefully harvest — recoil management is a critical consideration for a successful season. If your shotgun is a punishing provider, this is the time to equip your gun with recoil pads and/or get the protective clothing necessary to make it a great experience. And practice with the new set-up.

Although, a semi-automatic shotgun is my choice of firearm for dove hunting I fully understand the practical and emotional appeal of a traditional over-under or side-by-side shotgun. Some suggest that the patterns created by side-by-sides are wider and thus more conducive for bird hunting. I find it’s easier to track the doves’ irregular flight with an over-and-under; it gives me full view of the birds’ atypical high and low flight patterns. YMMV.

The O/U Beretta Silver Pigeon 20-gauge is one of my favorite dove-hunting shotguns.  It’s lighter shooting than its 12-gauge cousins, ammo is relatively cheap and readily available, and the gun’s wonderfully light/more maneuverable. Sharing a Beretta Silver Pigeon with guys sporting 12-gauge shotguns, nine out of 10 end up preferring my 20 gauge. But if you’re limited to one shotgun for year-round bird hunting, a 12-gauge is the way to go.

Untitled-1 copy

That said, I dislike training women on a lower-caliber smoothbore. They become partial to the lesser recoil and smoother shooting 20-gauge — which forever prejudices them against any other shotgun. So Devon and I headed out to the Capitol City Trap & Skeet in Austin, Texas with a Browning Citori O/U [above left].


The Citori is a heavier gun. Its longer barrels were a definite challenge to my petite 5’3″ friend. Still, it’s best to present a new shooter with all the options and then, once their style has been developed, let him or her find their desired platform. Despite a less-than-ideal fit, Devon started killing clay pigeons straight away, falling in love with shotguns, generally speaking.

Just for fun, we tried out a Stoeger P-350 12-gauge shotgun. While I don’t consider a pump an ideal field gun, you can buy a very reliable example of the genre for as little as $300 that will serve you well for both hunting and home protection. Also, shooting a pump can be fun — if you have the upper arm strength and stamina for repeated shots and long days in the field.

2. Ammo Selection 

The biggest challenge with doves: staying on top of the bird. With their erratic flight pattern you need to be right in front of a bird to down it. The kill zone for a dove is within two inches in diameter and they’re usually shot from a distance between 20 and 40 yards.

With a proper pattern, all you need to take down a dove are #7 ½, 8, or 9 loads. A #7 ½ or #8 round contains roughly 345 – 410 pellets, which is plenty to stop your target.

When patterning your gun, shoot between these distances, marking on your target an area the size of your doves’ vital organs. Remember: the heavier the shot, the farther you can shoot. But without proper recoil management you’ll be paying the price for “extra” range before the day ends. Not to mention the fact that your accuracy will decline as your tired and achy shoulder says hello.


3. Choke selection

A shotgun choke patterns your shot, helping you place the pellets within a desired radius at a given distance. For example, if I estimate that I’ll be firing at doves from about 40 yards, I’ll choose a choke that ensures the pellets will be placed within a given radius at my chosen range.

For doves, I prefer an improved cylinder or modified choke. That puts 50 to 60 percent of the pellets within a 30-inch circle at about 40 yards. Either choke will do well. With doves, we’re talking about a bird with a two-inch kill zone flapping around erratically. You’ll need a relatively generous pattern.

4. Practice!

I hated geometry in school. Just when I thought I would never need it, here I am using it all the time during dove and waterfowl seasons. Be warned: trying to figure out the cosine of an angle to determine your shot placement — using distance, speed and yards — can easily blow your mind.

You have to lead your bird about one inch from the perspective of your sights, which translates into a certain number of feet in front of your bird, depending on the distance to target. Simply put, you need to to spray pellets ahead of your bird so that your dove will fly into them. As a general rule, you should fire about [what appears to be] one inch in front of your bird. If you miss, adjust accordingly.

To maximize your dove harvest, practice leading your birds. Shooting clay pigeons isn’t even close to shooting doves, but it’s an effective way to practice firing a shotgun at a moving target. Another easy way to practice: step outside, put your eyes to the sky and practice following birds. Don’t wait until the season opens to go out and observe your enemy.

5. Strengthen

Bird hunting is sometimes portrayed as an old fat white guy’s game. Success actually requires a fairly high level of physical fitness; standing in a shooter’s position for hours at a time can be brutal on your shoulders, mid-back, neck, and arms. Strength training helps prepare your body for the ballistic burden. Remember: your glutes and legs support your upper body, so don’t skip leg day at the gym.

Devon and I will be headed on a dove hunt this fall. I look forward to updating you with our results.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. I have dove hunted with #7 1/2 shot for many years. I switched to a # 6 shot this year. I was sick of seeing feathers fly and watching my meal just keep on flying.

    I hope the 6 shot will help.

    Good luck out there folks and enjoy your hunt.

    • Have you patterned you gun? That should not happen unless you are shooting out of your range or your not hitting with the sweet spot of your pattern. Going to 6 will not help if you bird is not meeting the sweet spot of your shot.

    • I have always used #9 for dove with an improved cylinder choke (same as I use for skeet)
      Hint – you can never over-lead a bird.
      I use #6 for ducks over decoys with same barrel.
      Thinking you’ll get Swiss cheese dove with #6
      Good luck hunting.

  2. I use 6 and 7 steel shot and usually a pump gun. I have a beretta auto loader but I just can’t get to like it. We have 2 dove seasons in CA. The first season 7 shot seems to work fine. Second season is time for 6.

    Don’t forget your decoys. I don’t duck hunt but I have dove and crow decoys.

  3. For us ofwg’s dove hunting is not as strenous, at least here in CA, as other forms of hunting. Sure, you might spend hours on a stand and it’s a high volume shooting game. But you don’t have to have a go at every bird. And once you get to your spot it’s pretty stationary.

    Quail hunting or deer hunting here is up and down steep hills, choked gullies full of brush, etc. You hump a long way and if you’re successful you gotta drag bambi’s dead self back to your vehicle.

    Hell, just rabbit hunting i cover miles, often thru heavy brush, for a crack at thumper.

    Kudo’s to the author for bringing back the concept of gun bearers, tho.

      • I’m a stubborn old bastard. And when I’m bunny busting I take a single shot H&R with maybe 12 shells. Throw in some water and a couple of power bars and it’s a light enough loadout.

    • In Texas you may get covered in doves and you are shooting like crazy dropping birds.. Shooting and reloading sure does get to your back

  4. dove season is my favorite hunting season. I just got my second cutting of hay rolled up and in the barn. Next week I will take the disc to the back pasture. I will go over it two or three times before the first Saturday of semptember. I have 500 lbs of winter wheat I’m planning on sowing a few days before that.

  5. Really, TTAG. Suddenly I’m getting blitzed by takeover pop ups at this site only?

    I’ll watch for a couple of days. Things don’t get better, I’m gone.

    • We are aware of the issue and the increasingly salacious ads on the right side of the page. We’re addressing them urgently even as I type. Meanwhile, our apologies.

      • You said it!! I run both. Adblock is showing 13 ads blocked, and Ghostery shows 18 trackers. Ain’t got nothing on the 130+ ads blocked on each YouTube page though!!

        • I’ve been running a relatively new browser called Brave that has built-in blocking/filtering – haven’t seen a thing…but, you say there was a gal in a white bikini…damn…..

  6. I used to be horrible at dove hunting. Really, I was averaging 3 birds for every hundred shells fired.
    Then I learned, let them get closer. Turns out I’m not hitting those birds at 80 yards out. So I pick a spot within 35 to 40 yards and mark it. The birds outside that mark don’t get shot at. Inside they do. All of a sudden I hit most of what I shoot at.

    • Yep. Doves need a denser pattern, and the best way to get a denser pattern is to allow them to get closer.

    • This was true for me too.. I don’t shoot if they’re far.. I’ve had guides pressure me on taking shots I knew where impossible and it just messed with my confidence. Now I know it’s a result of my tools and leading the bird that makes a diff… Best to know what your ammo and gun can do and take shots based on that

  7. Dove hunting is no place to scrimp on ammunition, buy top of the line trap or sporting clays loads. The Federal Gold Medal, Remington STS or Winchester AA shotshell lines are the ammo chosen when big money or gold medals are on the line.
    These contain the most uniform and highest antimony content shot to get the most out of the entire pattern delivered by your chosen choke constriction.

  8. 20 Gauge is not just for kids and girls until they get used to a 12. I’m 6’1 and I switched over to 20 gauge about 10 years ago. The plate in my neck thanks me for it every time I shoot. I can shoot more and more accurately with the 20.

  9. Gas operated semi autos tend to have less recoil but need more cleaning. I shot trap for years with a beretta 391 and used hand loads to manage recoil and pattern well.
    My load was 16.8 gr Green dot with figure 8 wad and 209 primer pushing 1 Oz.
    YMMV so it’s important to try different loads against a splashboard.

  10. Some of these dang ringneck dove need slugs to bring their big selves down LOL. Remember your 3 shot limit so you don’t get hassled or worse.
    Good luck and enjoy opening day!

  11. “Some suggest that the patterns created by side-by-sides are wider and thus more conducive for bird hunting.”

    Say what????

    A dove is only 4 oz. or so. You don’t need a 12. In fact, I use a 20 for everything short of deer and waterfowl.

  12. Great post! One thing though: You mentioned a semi-auto for more capacity, but watch that three round limit (at least in TX). Game wardens can creep up like a phantom.

  13. I’m going dove shooting this weekend for my first time. I’d like to take my semi auto but not for capacity. Why do you mention capacity when you have to plug the magazine to limit to 2+1?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here