The start of dove hunting season is something of a holiday in many states. It is one of the simplest forms of bird hunting. It takes little more than a gun, a box of shotgun shells, and maybe a few decoys to bring home a limit of these tasty game birds. Dove hunting is an enjoyable, low-pressure hunt perfect for teaching beginners the ropes of gun safety and game cleaning and preparation. Early season doves don’t require a lot of extra preparation like pheasants or quail, but it’s always worth taking inventory of your gear to make sure you have the right tools for the job. When it comes to firearms, that means making sure you have the right choke size for the situation. Most seasoned dove hunters change their dove choke depending on a multitude of factors, including hunting pressure and time of year. It might not seem like too much, but these game birds are small and fast. Making sure you have the right shooting pattern for the situation will lead to you getting more birds on the floor and on the dinner table. Today we are going to tell you exactly how to choose the right choke depending on the hunting situation.
What are the best chokes for dove hunting?
As with any form of wing shooting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing a shotgun choke for doves. These game birds are extremely small and agile, which is one of the main reasons we don’t recommend a full choke. The tight constriction may give a better chance of hitting birds at longer ranges, but it could also cost you on closer shots. For doves, which are certainly smaller birds than other game birds, the dense pattern can completely destroy the bird, or at the very least ruin the meat, which no one wants. Most seasoned dove hunters base their choke selection on hunting pressure and time of year.
We’ll make some suggestions on the best choke tube size choices, but the most important thing with any choke is to make sure you’re looking for the right fit for your specific shotgun. There are a few styles and they have different thread types, so if you’re not sure which type you have, check your shotgun manufacturer’s manual.
Best Choice for Opening Day: An open choke or even a skeet choke meant for clay pigeons can work, but an improved cylinder (or IC) is a great choice for opening day. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply because birds are a little less wary early in the season, which translates to more close-range shooting opportunities, especially at popular dove fields. The second reason is that there are still tons of young birds in the air early in the season. These smaller birds are even harder to hit than the adults, and you’ll increase your chances of hooking up with minimal damage to the bird’s meat.
Best choice for public ground doves: If you hunt doves on public land, you may want to consider going for an upgraded cylinder choke tube again, even early in the season. It gives you that little bit of extra range without restricting your shooting pattern so tightly that you’ll miss any close opportunities. Some hunters prefer to hunt with an improved cylinder throughout the season.
Ideal for birds under pressure and the end of the season: For heavily rushed or late season birds that are not getting close, this is when you should start considering longer shots up to 30 yards or more. As noted earlier, some hunters use a full choke in this scenario, but a modified or improved choke is usually the best choice. These chokes are going to give you extra reach without sacrificing too much pattern size. We would go with the Modified for those who only seem to encounter long range birds up to 40 yards or more.
The advantage of most modern shotguns is that they allow you to quickly change the type of choke in just a few minutes. The new screw-on type allows you to switch to a different choke depending on the time of year and situation in minutes, allowing hunters to switch things up on the fly. More often than not, a new shotgun comes with several interchangeable chokes.
We’ve come a long way from the days when every shotgun had a fixed choke and you had to do a barrel swap if you wanted to change. If you’re looking to buy an older gun with a fixed choke, we’d go for the upgraded cylinder. This will give you the most versatility for doves, but you can also use it for upland birds and waterfowl if you want to do all your bird hunting with one gun.
Our top pick for the Dove Hunting choke tube
Carlson Beretta/Benelli Upgraded Cylinder Choke – Bass Pro Shops, $47.99
As long as your shotgun is compatible, we suggest Carlson’s improved Beretta/Benelli style cylinder choke tube, as it works with different types of shots and isn’t too expensive. Many chokes are marketed for waterfowl and turkey hunting, and sometimes they can go a little overboard in naming and claiming. Carlson makes a no-fuss, no-frills choke tube, and it can be trusted to do its job well.
What is the best shot size for dove hunting?
This is a more difficult question to answer, as not all shotguns will behave the same. A semi-automatic dove gun may not be as tight as a single shot and vice versa. It pays to head out to the range and put some shots down on paper to determine how tight your shotgun models are against different types of shots and choke tubes. If your pattern is too dense, you could destroy all the meat, defeating the whole purpose of the hunt in the first place.
That said, most seasoned dove hunters tend to use shot sizes between 7 and 8. Shot size 7 ½ seems to be the most popular. Again, check these shot patterns carefully. It’s usually the hunters who have done their homework in shaping their weapon properly that benefit from jalapeño dove poppers at the end of the day. Those who don’t take these steps find themselves making excuses for the pile of used cartridges that touch nothing but the air.
Doves are by no means tough creatures, but lead shot has the edge in effective range, penetration, and stopping power, which is why many hunters prefer it. However, if you’re hunting on public land, you’ll likely be limited to non-toxic alternatives like tungsten or steel shot. The big thing to remember with steel ammo is that it tends to be much tighter. The lighter shot density also means it doesn’t perform as well in the wind. These are things you will need to consider when modeling your gun on paper and choosing the best choke for the job.
If the pattern is too dense, there’s nothing wrong with using number 6. We’ve even heard of some hunters using number 5 because they were worried about losing meat.
Whether you plan to hunt mourning doves, larger white-winged doves, or other popular subspecies, it’s not too difficult to get your gun ready for these birds. Once you find your ideal setup, it should serve you well for years to come. Take a little more time to experiment with choke tubes and shot sizes on the range this year before your first dove hunt. You’ll be glad you did.
For more outside content from Travis Smolabe sure to follow him on Twitter and instagram For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outside with Travis YouTube Channels.