Small Gauges Scaled Right for Doves

Shooting doves is an economy of scale.

A mourning dove weighs about 4 ounces. A Eurasian collared dove weighs about 5.3 ounces, and a white-winged dove weighs about 5.4 ounces. Hurling 1½ ounce of lead out one end, coupled with the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun on the other end, is way out of scale for the task.

image 2Jeff Henry, left, and Brett Morgan put on a small-gauge wingshooting clinic on opening day of the Arkansas dove season. Henry is using a Beretta A400 28-gauge, and Morgan is shooting a Krieghoff K-20 with .410 barrels.

Given the fact that a lighter shot charge from a 28-gauge and .410-bore travels at roughly the same speed as a heavier charge from a 12-gauge while transferring less kinetic energy to the shooter’s shoulder, small bore shotguns are more efficient.

Efficiency aside, shooting doves with small bores is more fun and a lot more pleasant than with 12 gauge. The discipline it demands will also make you a better wingshooter.


For the last reason, Brett Morgan of Little Rock, Arkansas, a former member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, prescribed small bores for opening day of the 2021 Arkansas dove season.

You might remember Morgan’s father, the late Joe Morgan, whom we featured in a December 2019 Shotgun Life article titled, “Why Older and Younger Hunters Are Turning to 20-Gauge Shotguns.” In it, Joe argued that 20 gauges are more appropriate than twelves in many duck hunting situations. Brett Morgan applies the same logic to hunting doves.

image 7The author’s 28-gauge Remington 1100 and Brett Morgan’s Krieghoff K-20 each accounted for limits on opening day of Arkansas’s dove season.

Brett opened the season with a Krieghoff K-20 mated to .410 barrels. Jeff Henry of Little Rock brought a Beretta A400 28-gauge. I brought a Remington 1100 28-gauge with a skeet barrel. A fourth guy brought a Browning Wild Wings 12-gauge over/under, but we like him, anyway.

Initially, I feared that my skeet barrel would be a liability. The first doves of the morning dropped over a wall of hardwoods at the end of the field and followed an invisible line over the center. That was a 45-yard shot, too far for doves with ¾-ounce of No. 7½ lead through a skeet choke.

Shotgunning is essentially a numbers game. Although a 12 gauge is not appreciably faster than a 28-gauge, a 1⅛-ounce, 12-gauge dove load contains 394 No. 7½ pellets. A ¾-ounce, 28-gauge dove load contains 262 pellets. A ⅞-ounce load contains 306 pellets, and a 1-ounce load contains 350.

image 6With his Krieghoff K-20, Brett Morgan demonstrated that a .410-bore is sufficient for doves.

Choke factors heavily in that equation, too, but it requires a separate article to explain it thoroughly. Simplified, a percentage of 394 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards is more than an equal percentage of 262 pellets. A .410 cartridge holds even fewer pellets, and .410 patterns are calculated at 25 yards.

Clearly, a 12-gauge dove load has a better chance of hitting than a 28 gauge or .410. On the other hand, a 28-gauge and .410-bore with open chokes shatter clay targets at about 20 yards on a skeet range. That’s their benchmark on a dove field, too.

Morgan and Henry were at a pinch point at the lower end of the field. The doves flying the middle of the field passed them almost at point blank range. That setup is ideal for small gauges, and doves tumbled from the sky.

image 1Jeff Henry fires on a dove with his Beretta A400 in 28 gauge.

It was easy to distinguish their shots. A 28 gauge makes a booming report. A .410 makes a sharp pop. Though I enjoyed the distant call-and-response routine between Morgan’s 28 gauge and Henry’s .410, my dearth of opportunities was starting to make me anxious.

Patience, Grasshopper! Doves aren’t like ants, all following the same path. Relax and wait for the kind of shots you need. They’ll come.

image 3Jeff Henry’s Labrador Retriever returns to his station after retrieving a dove taken with a 28 gauge.

And they did. Eventually, doves started flying in from behind. Some presented close crossing shots, but many flew low over my head. Soon, my Remington joined the conversation, and doves rained down at my end of the field, as well.

The Remington’s heavy weight dampened the 28-gauge’s already negligible recoil to near nothing, eliminating muzzle jump and enabling me to fold two doubles. The key to it all was shot selection. I only shot at birds flying through the narrow window of my gun’s ability. My shot-to-hit ratio was 3:1. Early misses at doves that were too far away inflated the misses. In that light, a modified-choke barrel would be more versatile.

Newer models like the Beretta A400 semi-automatic eliminate that issue with screw-in chokes. It is even less a consideration for a double barrel. An older model will have different fixed chokes. Newer doubles have choke tubes, enabling you to customize your gun to any situation.

The morning ended quickly. All three small-gauge guys got limits by 8 a.m. The brute that brought the 12-gauge over/under, ironically, limited out last. He also used the most shells.

Bryan Hendricks, an avid shotgunner, is the Outdoors Editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also served eight years with Missouri Department of Conservation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. He has credits in more than 1,000 articles in nearly 80 publications worldwide.



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