In a few short weeks the opening salvo of the 2022 / 2023 hunting season will thunder as dove hunters across the country draw a bead on the most acrobatic game bird of the American sky. Will you be the one with a vest full of feathers, or just spent hulls? Dove hunting is actually more of a social shooting event than it is hunting, in many ways, and no one goes to a social event to be shamed or laughed at for a negative reason.
Clean your gun.
The first step to being a good shooter is to actually have a clean and well-functioning gun. You will see this again, so pay attention: A shooter who has confidence in their gun will shoot better. If your gun goes “bang” every time you pull the trigger and the action works without jamming, you can focus on getting the proper sight picture and lead instead of worrying about whether your gun will go off properly or if it will cycle the next shell.
Pattern your gun.
Dove shells are relatively inexpensive compared to non-toxic waterfowl loads or specialty turkey loads. Therefore there is absolutely no excuse not to fire a few at a piece of paper to see if you have holes in your pattern, or if that particular brand of shell is not patterning well in your shotgun. If your gun acts like it has indigestion with a certain brand of shell, switch brands. If you have never patterned your shotgun with dove loads, get one box of several brands of shells initially, and fire a few from each box at 30 to 40 yards. Examine the patterns closely to determine which one is the best for your shotgun. Remember to use the best choke for the job. Most of the time an improved or modified choke is best for dove hunting.
Remember: A shooter who has confidence in their gun will shoot better!
Why not make this a social event too, and split the cost of the shells with friends? You may find your friends’ guns will prefer different brands and it will work out. If not, at least the cost of the patterning session is cheaper and you’ll have some fun with friends!
Practice, practice, practice.
Yes, we all know that practice makes perfect. Yes, shells can be expensive. But again, the dove loads are probably the least expensive of the lot.
“But it is hot out!”
Yep! And it will be hot on opening day most likely, so you will be practicing in the hunting conditions. I prefer to dove hunt in shady spots or wait until the last few hours of the day to set up my dove spot anyway, so you can choose when you go shoot. Be sure to wear some electronic hearing protection so you can talk with your buddies and protect that hearing!
Change up the speed and angles.
Some people think of practicing with clays as a lazy affair of throwing them straight away. I would urge readers to have the clays thrown incoming and crossways to mimic dove flights. Sure, you can get shots outgoing, but most will be incoming or cross directional. Those are the harder shots to hit anyway, so spend a few bucks now to practice those shots and shoot better in the field and make your friends envious.
The same goes with the speed of the clays thrown. Start out slow, but don’t hesitate to have the speed cranked up to the speed of a dove. Various sources state that mourning doves fly along at 35-40 mph on average, but can crank that up to 55 mph! So, practice shooting at fast clays so you can get a good feel for the amount of lead you need on the birds when out hunting in the field.
Clean your gun one more time and gather your gear.
After a few pattern and practice sessions, you’ll definitely want to clean that gun one more time. Then get your gear together. Don’t wait until the day before, or worse yet, the morning of, to be waking up the house looking for gear. Get your HIP number/permit ahead of time and find that dove-hunting vest, shooting glasses and make sure your license is up to date too. If you use decoys or a dove stool, add that to the truck the night before. Last, don’t forget water to stay hydrated.