Dove season is upon us. The fields will be full of hunters spaced intermittently throughout. The skies will be blotted with fast moving birds looking for places to roost or feed.
In a continuing focus on safety, especially during a time when many young hunters, well, cut their teeth on not only hunting but participating in shooting sports, I think it is important to share some of the basics.
I have been asked many times on which firearm is the best for different types of hunts. If you were to poll each hunter as they entered the field on opening day, the overwhelming consensus would be the 12 gauge. However, it may not be the best choice.
There are other factors that need to be taken into account. For instance, the choke, the shot, the bird patterns all will determine the best setup for a particular hunt. Even the hunter’s technique will be important.
My dad is the best wing shooter I have ever witnessed. There is a reason for it. He is very patient during the hunt. If there is a bird that is borderline out of range, he simply does not shoot.
Think of a center in basketball. His odds of making a basket at the rim are much higher than having him shoot three pointers. Dad simply waits for his shot. And by doing so his shot to kill ratio is much greater. He rarely needed more than a box of shells to get a limit during a hunt.
One of my favorite guns is an old Ithaca 20 gauge my granddad passed down to me. Papa used it to quail hunt back when he was young. The old side-by-side had a shortened barrel and an open choke. He made it that way so when the quail erupted from the brush the shot expanded quickly making a large hit area.
As I was learning how to hunt, that Ithaca was always with me. I was a decent shot, but for some reason that I didn’t understand at the time, I had trouble bringing down birds with it. You see, I would shoot way too far for the range of that sawed-off double barrel.
A few years ago, my oldest son was going through the same issues. He handed me the shotgun and the next five birds that flew by were all dropped. My son was shooting too far effectively opening up too large of a pattern to either hit the dove or place enough shot in the bird to bring it down. This is the same son who I watched shoot a perfect 25 for 25 in trap with a 12 gauge a couple years later.
Just as the choke of the shotgun can determine efficiency, the size shot also matters in whether you walk away with a bird or not. The 7 ½ shot is now a popular shot and is found readily in many box stores. I always preferred the 9 shot. Why? Because there are more total shot in the 9 even though the shot are smaller.
With my style of shooting, I am able to hit and bring down a bird easier with the smaller shot. Shooting long distance, which you see a lot during opening day of dove season, especially if the birds are flying high, the larger shot is more effective though.
It is up to the hunter to determine what is the best fit. If you are patient enough to wait for the bird to be on top of you, the 20 gauge with as open a choke as possible is a fine choice. If you prefer to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more while stretching your distance, the 12 gauge with a tighter choke may work out best.
But that is part of the fun in hunting. Learning, shooting, understanding bird patterns as well as how your firearm and you work together all adds up to the complete experience.
Just remember to keep that muzzle aimed in a safe direction.