by David Hart
A limit of doves with a box of shells? You bet!
It’s been said that the average dove hunter knocks down just one bird for every five shots. There’s no telling who determined that statistic, but after 35 seasons on everything from over-crowded public lands to lightly hunted private fields, I have no doubt the average is considerably higher for many hunters.
They burn through box after box of shells with little more than tail feathers to show for their effort.
Those poor shots might simply be doing their part to keep ammo manufacturers in business. More than likely, they simply can’t shoot. Or they simply don’t choose wisely when to shoot.
There is a very good reason why some hunters don’t shoot well. It’s because they rarely practice. Hitting a moving object isn’t always easy, but it’s exponentially more difficult if you don’t shoot often. Just as professional athletes stay on top of their game through rigorous and regular practice, expert shooters break clay pigeons and live doves consistently by shooting often. You should do the same. Don’t, however, simply bang away at target after target moving in the same direction. Instead, practice on crossing birds, high birds, going-away birds and incoming birds.
In short, shoot at targets that closely mimic live doves. The best way to stay in tune is to shoot sporting clays, the shotgun game that most closely resembles real-life hunting situations. If that’s not an option, create real hunting situations with a box of clay pigeons, a hand thrower and a friend.
Know Your Limits
Shooting at clay pigeons can not only help you become a better shooter, it can help you understand your shotgun’s limits. Lots of shooters don’t necessarily miss because they shoot behind or under the target, they miss because the bird is simply too far away.
As the shot pattern moves away from the muzzle, it spreads out. The farther it travels, the wider the shot pattern gets. At greater range, a dove passes through the pellets, or a single pellet strikes without knocking the dove down.
In most cases, the effective range of a load of No. 8 shot through an Improved Cylinder choke is about 30 yards. The pellets spread out so much beyond that range that too few pellets actually hit the bird. The amount of lead—getting your barrel out in front of a moving target—that is necessary to hit a flying object also increases as distances increase.
Practice estimating yardage, and then stick to your known limits. Sixty, 50, even 40 yards is too far for most of us. Or at least practice those longer shots to learn how far you need to lead a moving object in order to hit it.
Choose Your Shots
Lots of hunters either don’t know how far away a bird is or they simply don’t care. They take shots at birds way out of range. When they miss, they shoot some more.
One of those pellets might strike a dove and break a wing tip, but the odds are slim. Instead of spraying and praying, shoot only at birds inside your effective range. And then shoot only at doves you are confident you can hit.
With enough practice, you’ll know your strengths and weaknesses. If the birds are abundant, wait for the easy shots and don’t hesitate to pass up shots you likely won’t make.
Shoot A Single-Shot
It’s probably a good thing federal law restricts migratory bird hunters to three shots. I’ve seen some dove hunters in action who I’m confident would squeeze the trigger four, five, even six or seven times at a single dove if they had a chance.
And they’d probably miss each time.
The best wing shots usually hit their target on the first shot, and they often don’t even take a second shot if the first one doesn’t connect. You certainly don’t have to limit yourself to one shot, but doing so forces discipline. Instead of unloading all three shells at a single bird, you’ll focus on making that first shot count.
Find Your Birds
Knocking down doves consistently is a feat to be admired, but it takes even more skill to find every bird you kill. You not only owe it to the doves, you owe it to yourself.
A game warden might be watching. According to federal regulations, every bird you knock down counts toward your limit, even if you don’t retrieve it. It also counts toward your average, so you might as well find them if you can.
A dead dove can disappear in even the sparsest cover, so make sure you follow it to the ground once you hit it. Find a landmark in the distance directly in line with where you think your bird fell, and then walk directly toward it.
Don’t look up, and never shoot another bird until you’ve found the first one.
If you don’t find your bird right away, drop a hat and then start walking in concentric circles, moving out a little from your mark after each circle. If you have trouble finding birds in thick cover, move to a different location.
Not only is leaving birds in the field unethical, it can put a dent in your shots-per-dove average.
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