September is right around the corner, which means dove hunting season will be here soon.
You may be surprised to hear it, but dove hunting has grown to be at least as popular as waterfowl hunting in terms of the number of participants and the number of birds taken each year. Dove hunting is legal in 42 states and it is a huge part of American hunting culture, especially in southern states from Arizona to the Carolinas.
Only Michigan, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine do not allow the hunting of doves.
The reason dove hunting is so popular is that it officially kicks off the start of hunting season. In most states, dove hunting season opens on September 1st or shortly thereafter. The dove opener signifies the unofficial start of fall, and given that it coincides with the start of college football season, it’s easy to see why the first Saturday in September is so celebrated… especially in the south.
Dove hunting is as much a social event as it is an outdoor adventure. You can hunt in groups and you don’t need to worry about staying silent or concealing your movements like with other forms of hunting. Plus most state have wildlife management areas with public dove fields that are cultivated with hunting in mind, just check with your state’s fish and wildlife agency or department of natural resources.
It is an extremely interactive and fast paced form of hunting. Doves are quick flying birds that sharply dip and dive in the air. Dove hunters generally set up on the edges of sunflower patches, agricultural fields, or other food sources with their eyes glued to the sky for incoming birds. Plus doves are one of the tastiest birds on the planet.
In most states, you’re allowed shoot a limit of 12-15 birds per hunt, and most of the time it takes way more shots than that to down that many birds. That means you’re pulling the trigger a lot on most dove hunts, which is what makes it so fun. By comparison, you may spend weeks deer hunting just to pull the trigger once, if at all.
Mourning Doves are the kings of the dove hunting world, and considered migratory game birds in the 42 states you’re allowed to hunt them. Dove hunters also shoot White Winged Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves in many states. Those two species are considered agricultural pests so there is no limit on them.
According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more than 183 million Mourning Doves in the U.S. and it’s estimated that roughly 1 million dove hunters harvest only 15 – 20 million birds each year, so the sustainability of the species is not in question.
The social elements of dove hunting, the fast paced nature, and the high success rates make dove hunting one of the best ways to introduce a new hunter to their first experience afield.
If you’re an experienced dove hunter, I challenge you to invite someone new this year. Or if you’re interested in dove hunting but have never done it, I challenge you to ask a friend that hunts if they’ll take you.
But as you prepare for your first dove hunt, you’re going to need a shotgun.
Here are 5 of the best entry level scatter guns for new dove hunters:
Going to the counter at a gun shop can be intimidating if you don’t know much about guns, but you can actually purchase guns online from Bass Pro Shops and pick them up at your local store to make the process less daunting.
Most of these guns will come with the choke tubes you need to bust doves already in the gun. Improved Cylinder or Modified chokes will serve you well in any dove hunting scenario. Those tubes will usually come already installed in most shotguns, though they can be swapped out for more specific turkey and waterfowl hunting trips.
Choke tubes restrict or expand the diameter that the pellets from a shotgun flare out to. For something like a turkey you want all your pellets packed tightly into a pattern about the size of a basketball. For something like doves, you want your pellets spread out more like a hula hoop to improve your accuracy. Plus it only takes a few pellets to knock down a dove, but way more to drop a turkey.
All of the shotguns on this list provide great bang for your buck, and while you do get what you pay for in terms of quality firearms, all of these options are solid entry level choices for your first shotgun.
Remington is America’s oldest gunmaker so you can never go wrong with one of their firearms.
Semi-automatic shotguns are fantastic for dove hunting because they allow you to fire off three quick shots as fast you can pull the trigger. Semi-auto shotguns also have less recoil than other types of shotguns, so you don’t have to worry about the kick making your shoulder hurt after blowing through two boxes of shells on the dove field.
This is a do-it-all shotgun that can handle the responsibility or turkey or waterfowl hunting too plus its great on the trap and skeet field or for shooting sporting clays. For a little more money you can get it with a wooden stock or in camouflage.
There is just something special about a double barrel shotgun.
While side-by-side barrels were historically popular, most double barreled guns these days are over-unders like this one, and Mossberg has been making quality and affordable guns for over 100 years. This style of shotgun will kick a little more than a semi-auto, and since it only holds 2 shells you don’t have the benefit of a 3rd shot like with other styles of shotguns.
However, double barrel guns still drop a ton of doves all over the country every year. The ability to use different choke tubes in each barrel to adjust the spread of your shotgun patterns means you can adjust the second shot for further targets as the birds fly away.
Pump action shotguns are the most durable and dependable shotguns on the market.
They hold three shells like a semi-auto, but typically cost way less. You can’t fire off shots as quickly since you have to manually pump the action to reload, but they’re still quick enough to be great guns for fast flying doves and anything else you want to hunt. However, they’re not very effective for skeet shooting or sporting clays.
Benelli makes some of the very best shotguns in the world, and their Supernova series is a fantastic lineup of guns for new hunters. The guns come in a variety of camo patterns in addition to the black synthetic stocks and the wood gripped options.
Winchester’s recognition as one of the premiere gunmakers in the world is historically unmatched. You can’t help but feel like a cowboy when you’re shooting a Winchester.
As previously mentioned, the durability and dependability of pump action guns is also unmatched.
This gun is a great option for someone who only anticipates using their shotgun a few times a year. It can do everything you need a gun to do when it comes to hunting doves, turkey, waterfowl, rabbits, and more. But again, if you plan on shooting a lot of sporting clays or skeet then you may want to look at other options.
If you’re going to pick one shotgun to own, this just might be the one. It’s another great semi-auto from one of the world’s best gunmakers.
Semi-autos can do it all from dove hunting, to waterfowl hunting, to trap and skeet shooting and more. The do it all versatility of semi-auto shotguns is why they tend to run a little higher price tag than other models.
Beretta is known for making high quality guns and while some of their pieces do get up there in price, this one won’t break the bank. It comes in a variety of camo patterns and some wood stocked options too, if you’re willing to spend a little more.
If you love the idea of owning an over-under gun, but don’t want to pay typical over-under prices then the Stoeger Condor is a fantastic option.
This gun doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but its beauty is in its simplicity. It flat out gets the job done without putting a huge dent in your bank account. It might dent your shoulder up a little bit, but the kick is part of the experience.
Stoeger isn’t as well known as some of the other gunmakers on this list, but if you’re looking for your first shotgun then this is a solid choice.
Once you have a gun picked out, you’re going to need to pick out some shotgun shells.
12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns are preferred for dove hunting, and most bird hunting in general.
Despite the smaller number, 12-gauges are the larger of the two and will give you a little more distance on your shots and punch the birds a little harder. That does come with more kick to the gun though.
20-gauges are plenty powerful enough to be great dove hunting guns but with less recoil. 20-gauges are much preferred options for most women and children due to the lighter kick.
It’s imperative that you match the gauge of your shotgun shells with the gauge of your gun.
12-gauge shells won’t fit in a 20-gauge, but 20-gauge shells will fit in a 12-gauge. If you load a 20 into a 12, it could get stuck or cause your gun to dangerously malfunction.
Please keep in mind that you do not need to match the brand of the shotgun shells to the brand of the shotgun, only the gauge!
Shotgun shells come in a wide variety of sizes, the smaller the pellets in the gun the more of them you can fit into the shell. The more of them you can fit into the shell, the more they’ll fan out and give you a larger radius for knocking down a bird.
Doves are fragile birds so smaller sized pellets work best. Similar to the gauges, the numbers are inverse. So size 2 shotgun shells contain much larger pellets than size 8 shotgun shells for example while the size 8 shells contain way more pellets than the size 2 shells.
Size 6, 7, and 7.5 are the most common sized shotgun shells for dove hunters.
Below are a few great options to load your dove gun up with this September.
If you want to learn more about the versatility of shotguns and the cultural importance of dove hunting before buying a shotgun and some ammo then take a look at what a dove hunt looks like in live action and dive deeper into specific ways to cook dove breasts with this awesome Virginia dove hunt from Steven Rinella and Meateater.
Please keep in mind that you are legally required to purchase a hunting license to hunt doves on both private and public land. In most states you will need to purchase additional migratory bird or Wildlife Management Area permits as well. Always look up the rules and regulations in the state you’re hunting.
The sale of hunting licenses and permits directly funds the conservation of wildlife habitat and public land as well as the development of gun ranges in all 50 states.
Buying a hunting license protects you from potentially being fined, having your gear confiscated, and/or losing your hunting privileges. It’s important to remember that just because you have a hunting license in one state, that does not mean it is valid in another state.
Whiskey mixes well with a lot of things but firearms ain’t one of them. Please hunt responsibly and save the whiskey for the campfire at night.
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