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Dove hunting is a testament to your skill as a hunter. Dove are notorious for being fast flyers. Their small size and random flight pattern can make them difficult to hit. If you want to brag about being a good dove hunter, there are some things you need to know.

What Size Gun Do I Need for Hunting Doves?

 The gun you pick can make or break your hunt. There are a few different gauge options you can use for dove hunting. But what matters more than the gauge is the proper choke. Your needs should change as the season progresses. 

Overall, the best size gun is a 20 gauge. These guns are lighter so you won’t get as exhausted from repeated shooting. A 20 gauge also has less recoil than smaller gauges, making it the perfect choice for younger hunters.

However, some dove hunters prefer a 16 or 12 gauge. Even fewer hunters prefer the use of a 28 gauge or .410. A 12 gauge is the second most popular choice for dove. The most common dove shot is a 1 to 1 ⅛ once, 7 ½ shot 12 gauge shell.

What Type of Gun is Best for Dove Hunting?

When you’re dove hunting, you need to have quick reflexes. It only takes a few hits to kill a dove, so it’s important to have as many pellets on target as possible. Being able to fire multiple shells at your target is a benefit you want to take advantage of.

That’s why most dove hunters use a semi-automatic shotgun or a double barrel. A semi-auto allows you to shoot multiple shells at your target back to back,  rather than having to take a quick pause to put another shell into the chamber, as you would have to do using a pump action.

Double barrels and over-and-under guns can provide the benefit of having separate chokes, which allow for better control of your spread pattern. Different chokes are better for different times of years, and different size shells. 

Follow the Law

It is illegal to have an unplugged gun. What this means is that your gun should not be able to hold more than three shells at a time. It is against federal regulations and can carry a hefty punishment if caught. 

What Choke is the Best Option for Doves?

The choke you pick is the most important tool in your arsenal. If possible, you want to use a screw-in choke tube, as this makes it easier to change your chokes in the middle of a hunt without too much complication. 

Your choke controls the pattern of your pellet spread, as well as the distance your shot will travel before separating. The longer your shot travels, the wider the spread it will have. An open pattern choke will hit more than a tight full choke. 

Here’s a breakdown of the best choke options, determined by range.

  • 20-25 yards – Cylinder (C) (.000) choke allows you to have a pattern that spreads immediately upon firing. There is no constriction of the barrel.
  • 22.5 yards – Skeet (.005) (SK) choke is good for skeet shooting and dove hunting. This type of choke has a wide opening, which allows for a large spread of pellets. This is your best option for early-season hunting. 
  • 25-30 yards – Improved cylinder (IC) (.010) choke has a slight constriction towards the tip of the barrel so that the shot takes longer to spread out. The IC is the second-best choke option.
  • 30 to 35 yards – Modified (M) (.020) choke has moderate constriction so that the shot holds together longer. This gives you enough power to pull off a long-distance shot. An improved modified choke will give you a bit more tightness than the modified.
  • 45 yards – A Full (F) (.035) choke is best for when you start testing your gun’s power by pushing further out in distance. With this choke, the shot stays together the longest amount of time and reaches the furthest lengths. 

Remember that doves are harder to hit once they get into the 40 to 45-yard range. In the early season, stick with an IC (improved cylinder) or M (modified) choke, in the range of 20 to 32 yards. As the season progresses, switch to a modified or improved modified. 

Best of Both Worlds

If you’re using a double-barrel or an over-and-under, you have the opportunity to use two different chokes to really maximize the efficiency of your hunt. Use a skeet choke for your first barrel and an Improved Cylinder for your second, or bottom, barrel. 

What Shot Do I Need for Hunting Doves?

The shot you pick for dove hunting is going to play a huge factor in your success rate. You want a smaller load shot, as these contain more pellets. It only takes a few pellets to bring a dove down. There are multiple shot sizes available.

For dove hunting, you want to stick with small shot numbers like 7 ½, 8, or 9. Your shot size will change as the season progresses, and as your range gets longer. The further away you shoot, the higher the number shot you want. 

In the early season, number 7 ½ and 8 are good for long shots. And no 8 and 9 shots are good for early September hunts and for when going after mourning doves. Use no 6, 7, and 7 ½ in the late season while you’re hunting for white-winged and Eurasian collared doves. 

Watch Your Weight

The weight of your shell can play a factor in your accuracy. For dove hunting, the best weight for your shell, based on a 16 or 20 gauge, should be between ⅞ and 1-ounce lead shot. The best shot for a 20 gauge is 1 to 1 ⅛ ounce weight. The heavier your shell, the more recoil you’ll experience.

Dove Hunting Tips

Here are some hunting tips you should use for your next dove hunt. First off, make sure you keep your range in balance with the choke you’re using. Different chokes will be better for different distance ranges. 

When you’re in the blind waiting for doves to approach, you should remain motionless. Doves are easily spooked and you can make them change course before they get close enough to be in range. If you try and shoot too far away, you’re likely not going to get any doves.

When you’re preparing to shoot at your target, shoulder your gun quickly. Keep your head pressed against the stock and swing your gun through the bird. Once you’ve swept past your target, squeeze the trigger and swing the shotgun in one solid, smooth motion back towards the bird’s flight path. 

Always carry extra shells. I know you may think you’re going to hit on point every time but the sad truth is you can expect to get three doves for every 25 shots. This isn’t to say that you aren’t hitting your targets. But you might not have enough pellets hitting the bird to do enough damage with just one shot. 

Check with your state laws regarding the use of lead versus non-toxic metals like steel, Tungsten, or Bismuth. Lead is harmful to birds and small wildlife and it is a federal crime to use lead shot in most locations. 

Stay Safe While Dove Hunting

Dove hunting can be difficult for beginners because you are aiming at a small, moving target. Each state might have a different limit on how many doves you can harvest a day so you need to be aware of the rules and regulations in your state.

But above all else, you should always be safe while hunting. Many hunters have started to use safety measures like wearing protective eyewear, such as safety goggles and protecting their ears using ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones.

You can suffer from permanent hearing loss from exposure to 140-165 decibel sound levels, which is the range of a shotgun shot. Repeated exposure to over 110 decibels for longer than one minute can also cause permanent hearing damage. Ear protection is crucial for young children.

Dove Hunting Can Be Fun and Challenging

Due to the small size and quick speed of doves, it can be difficult to hit a lot of birds. It takes practice and the right equipment to ensure you have a successful hunt. To sum up, we recommend using a semi-automatic 20 gauge shotgun with a screw-in improved cylinder barrel. The best shot is 1 ounce, 7 ½ steel.