AS A NATION OF DOVE HUNTERS, we take five to seven shots for every bird bagged. With the price of shotshells what it is, I can't afford to miss that much. I'm hoping to hit one out of three shots when the season starts; that's a good average if you shoot at everything that comes into range. Although doves zipping randomly around a field present a wide variety of shots, we can fit most of the toughest shots into five main categories. Here they are, and here's my advice for shooting them:
The Incomer You See Forever
A bird that comes all the way across the field to you is surprisingly easy to screw up. It's even worse if you announce (I've done this) to the person next to you: “I'm going to shoot this dove.” Avoid the temptation to mount the gun early and track this bird all the way in. Inevitably you'll look back at the bead to check your lead and stop the gun, or the dove will dip down below the muzzle and you'll have to scramble to find it again. Instead, wait for it with the gun ready, butt tucked loosely under your arm. As the bird comes into range, look at the beak and make a smooth mount and shoot the bird in the nostrils.
The Dove With Its Jets On
When you're in a crowded field, sometimes you have to root for a dove to get past other people so you can shoot it yourself. Problem is, when that bird reaches you, it's speeding and juking all over the sky. This one is a no-brain reaction shot'you have to trust your eye-to-hand coordination and get your conscious mind out of the way. I like an aggressive swing-through system for these birds, which can duck out from under a maintained lead-style swing. Sweep past the target from behind and shoot when the muzzle clears the beak. Keep a tight focus on the target and your eyes will send your hands to the right place.
The Long Crosser
The dove that loafs along unalarmed, crossing at 35 yards, requires a lot of forward allowance. The sustained lead system is the easiest way to connect on such shots. Keep your eye on the dove and mount the muzzle in front of the bird. Swing, matching the dove's speed. Trust your subconscious mind to tell you the instant the lead is right. If you try to measure the lead, or analyze it, or double-check, I promise you will miss. Remember, lead doesn't have to be precise'you've got a wide pattern on your side. Focus on the bird, let the blur of the muzzle drift ahead of it, and shoot.
The Dove That Comes Over Your Head From Behind
The bird that takes you by surprise requires a little lead underneath. If you're a skeet shooter, you've made this shot hundreds of times at High House 1. If not, here's what to do: Resist the temptation to rush. Before you begin your mount, raise the muzzle, keeping it just to the right of the bird (if you're right-handed). That way, you won't lose sight of the bird behind the gun. Move the muzzle down through the bird while raising the stock to your face. Shoot when you see the dove above your barrel. Instead of shooting right at the bird, try to miss it underneath, as if you wanted to graze its belly with your pellets. It'll hit the ground.
The High Overhead Dove
Birds coming into a field over the treetops look impossibly high. In reality they aren't as far up as they appear to be (it's a very tall oak or pine that measures 90 feet). That 30- to 35-yard shot is well within the capability of even an Improved Cylinder choke. Plus, a dove straight overhead is presenting all of its vitals. Start with the muzzle behind the bird as you raise the stock to your face and swing through the target. Your back leg should be straight, and your weight on your back foot. When you can't see the dove behind the muzzle, keep the gun moving and shoot. The dove will fall, apparently from the stratosphere.