Taking the lead on a dove hunt


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Jun 27, 2023

Taking the lead on a dove hunt

Hunters who ignore their shotguns before dove season are about to be humbled. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the average hunter kills one dove per three shots. That means it takes

Hunters who ignore their shotguns before dove season are about to be humbled.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the average hunter kills one dove per three shots. That means it takes about two boxes of shotgun shells to kill a limit of 15 doves. Casual hunters or hunters who are out of practice shoot less economically.

A dove flying fast in a straight path is not hard to hit. However, doves rarely fly a straight, leisurely path amid the pandemonium of a dove field. They dart, dive and juke through a hail of pellets. Sudden movement, like that of a hunter abruptly shouldering a gun, will cause a dove to take evasive action.

Basic shotgunning discipline will help you bag doves with fewer shots. Doves often enter a field in groups. Resist the temptation to shoot into a group because you will probably miss. Instead, target one bird, preferably the lead bird. If you hit the lead bird, there's a good chance your shot pattern will hit a second bird and earn yourself a double.

First, limit your shots to a consistent and comfortable range. A standard dove load contains 7 1/2 shot. The effective range of 7 1/2 shot is 50 yards, but you will kill more birds with fewer shots if you limit your range to about 35 yards.

At 35 yards, 1 inch of barrel movement equals about 1 foot of lead for a dove. If you aim 6-8 feet in front of a dove, it will fly squarely into your shot pattern for a lethal strike.

The greater the distance, the farther you will have to lead a dove. At greater range, your shot pattern will also disperse, which reduces the chances for multiple pellet strikes.

It is common for a dove to alter its course and speed just as you are about to shoot. If that happens, your first shot will probably miss. Maintain your discipline. Stay with your first target, keep your eyes in front of the barrel and maintain your lead. You will probably get the bird on the second shot. When it tumbles, direct your barrel to a different bird. If you miss the second shot, a third shot is probably a wasted shot.

That is for doves that fly the length of a field. You have a better chance of shooting birds that enter a field from behind. These birds catch everybody unaware, and they generally escape unscathed. If you watch for these birds, they are often snap shots that occur directly overhead at 10-15 yards. You can scratch out a limit on these birds alone, and you can do it with fewer than 20 shots.

If you hunt dove fields on wildlife management areas or national wildlife refuges, you must use non-toxic shot. Your options are steel, tungsten/tin/steel alloys, HeviShot or Tungsten Super Shot. Non-toxic shot is much more expensive than lead, and the additional cost makes most hunters more selective about their shots.

Steel is the cheapest non-toxic option, but it is tricky for doves. A steel pellet is much lighter than a lead pellet of the same size, so it strikes a target with a lot less energy. Steel also does not expand, so it has even less terminal energy.

I once bought a case of No. 7 1/2 steel dove loads. I used them on one hunt. Most of my hits produced a puff of feathers from doves that shuddered before hitting the jets and escaping in otherwise fine health. The few doves that fell were cripples that I had to run down. From this experience, I would say No. 6 is the smallest size steel shot you should use for dove.

Any of the tungsten or tungsten allow loads are suitable in small sizes. Tungsten is heavier and harder than lead but again, they are expensive. A box of five TSS shells packed with 7 1/2 or 9 shot costs about $10 per shell.

If you gun has been idle since the end of duck season, a few rounds of skeet, trap or sporting clays will sharpen your skills considerably and improve your chances of success when the doves fly on Sept. 2.

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