Nothing says fair chase like a mourning dove flying 45mph in a headwind as you’re crouched beside a hay bale with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 7 ½ birdshot. As that dove gets closer, there are quite a few things to take into consideration while trying to shoot dove in flight. The distance and speed of the dove, the wind speed and direction, where the other hunters are located are just a few factors that play into your two, maybe three, shots at a dove in flight.
Folks love to talk about the shot they put on that fast-flying dove that folded into the cut cornfield, but rarely ever do they discuss the pre-shot. Arguably the most important decision when selecting your hunting equipment is which choke tube to bring. Your gauge choice and even the shell shot selection (within reason) all fly out the window if you select the wrong choke for these upland bird hunts.
Shotgun Choke for Dove Hunting
Let’s take a look at the most common chokes. First, we have an open bore. While this is not technically a choke, it does affect your shot pattern. An open bore will spread the bb’s out in a wider pattern from a short distance. You will mainly find that older shotguns are open bore due to the popularity of quail hunting.
Next up, is the improved cylinder. This choke will have a tighter pattern and will allow you to increase your shot distance greatly. While not the optimal choke for doves, it is a great choke for new hunters.
By far the most popular choke is the modified choke. This choke will give you the best ratio of distance and spread. I would argue 8 of 10 hunters in a dove field will be sporting a modified choke.
Finally, the full choke. While this choke has the tightest pattern, it maximizes the distance that you can effectively shoot. You will find a full choke in experienced dove hunters’ guns. One downfall to using this choke is the fact some of the doves you hit will be damaged beyond edibility.
Recommended Shot for Doves
Once you’ve selected your choke, don’t take too much time to decide which shells are better to use. You will be shooting plenty and there’s no reason to break the bank on a five-ounce bird. You will find that the most experienced dove hunters will be equipped with the cheaper 7 1⁄2 option of shells. Go this route and you won’t lose sleep over the 3 boxes of shells you blew through in two hours. When it comes to learning how to shoot dove, don’t get hung up on the shotgun shot.
What to Do In the Field
Once you’re in the field, look over your surroundings and make sure you’re aware of anywhere other hunters, houses, or livestock are. This way you can mentally prepare yourself and know for certain your shot will not injure anyone or anything. As your hunt progresses, keep observing your surroundings. Hunters will move around to adjust to the flyway of the birds. So always predetermine where you can and can not shoot.
How to Shoot Flying Dove
Finally, it’s time to take a few birds. When doves are flying in, make sure to be still and wait for the optimal time to shoulder your shotgun. Dove can see well and will spot movement and flair away if you aren’t too careful. Even if your gun can hold three shells, prepare yourself to take two quality shots. By the time you have fired off two rounds, your target will most likely be too far to hit. Therefore, take into consideration which angle the dove is coming in and how fast they are flying.
Leading a moving target is the beauty of wing shooting. You don’t have to be a master of physics to know that hitting a moving object will take a little projection analysis. When doves are flying roughly 30 yards from you, use the ½ inch lead method. This means for every ½ inch you lead a bird from the end of your gun, you are leading it a foot overall. 1 inch = 2 feet, so on and so forth. This will vary depending on choke, shell, and gun selection but undoubtedly gives you a great reference point.
When you miss (trust me you will) it is hard to determine if you shot in the front or behind the dove. Until you hit the first dove, try different lead lengths until you have dialed in your lead on the bird.
Lastly, don’t get discouraged when trying to shoot dove in flight. Even the best wing shooters out there will be doing plenty of missing. So try new things until you’re comfortable. Change chokes, shoot different shells and play around with your lead distances and before you know it, you’ll be folding birds out of the sky. Knowing how to shoot dove is a real skill that takes time and practice to perfect. Find out more information about dove hunting season at the California Dept. of Fishing and Wildlife.