Last summer, after over 90 years, my home state of Iowa finally joined the other 40 states that allow dove hunting. As we counted down to our first opening day, I read numerous hunting-forum posts to the effect of “Can’t wait to try out that old .410 single-shot” or “This is the excuse to buy that little 28-gauge SXS I’ve been wanting.” Having never hunted doves before, Iowans made the obvious assumption: Doves are small, light birds, so you shoot them with small, light guns.
On opening day, while most of us were learning—and I was relearning—that dove hunting is the most fun you can have in 90-degree heat, the hunters who brought Granddad’s .410 out of retirement learned something else: Little birds and little guns don’t always go together.
If we walked for miles between shots and tried to hit flushing doves darting through heavy cover, a short, light smallbore would be the answer. But dove hunting is a delightfully sedentary activity. You carry your gun from a car to the field, then sit, sipping a cold Coke, waiting for and taking shots at passing or decoying doves, sometimes scores of them. From a shotgunning standpoint, the dove field has a lot more in common with the marsh than it does the uplands. The perfect dove gun isn’t a single-shot .410. So what is?
The Dove Special
If I were to draw up a shotgun made specifically for dove hunting, it would be a trim and soft-kicking 20-gauge gas semiautomatic. It would weigh upwards of 7 pounds, further dampening recoil and making the gun hefty enough to swing smoothly but not too heavy to keep up with a dove’s evasive maneuvers. It would have choke tubes, although you’d leave the Improved Cylinder in 99 percent of the time. It could come in either a matte finish to help you hide from doves, or a nice walnut and shiny blue steel to give it a dressy look for the traditional opening-day dove hunt and barbecue.
I once mentioned to a friend who worked for Briley Manufacturing in Houston that someone should market such a dove gun.
“They already do,” he said. “It’s called a 20-gauge Remington 1100. Some of our customers keep 10 of them in their safes to loan to guests.”
Currently, Remington offers a 20-gauge 1100 sporting-clays gun with a 23⁄4-inch chamber ($1,211), and the nearly identical 3-inch 20-gauge 11-87 ($845 walnut; $804 synthetic). These are fine choices that will reach 30 to 35 yards with the standard 20-gauge load of 7⁄8 ounce of 8s. If you must shoot steel, they can take it, and a 3⁄4-ounce load of steel 7s reaches almost as far.
Benelli offers three guns—a 12- and a 20-gauge Cordoba ($2,099; benelliusa.com) and a 12-gauge Vinci Cordoba ($2,069)—decked out for doves. Cordobas are named after the high-volume dove capital of the world in Argentina, and rightly so; Benelli’s inertia guns and Beretta’s 390 series best withstand the abuse of high-volume dove hunting. Browning’s Gold and Silver and Winchester’s Super X3, all variations on essentially the same gun, run a close third.
Recently I had a chance to try the Vinci Cordoba, which is the newest of the three. The Vinci’s aesthetics remain an acquired taste, but I am doing my best to acquire it because I love shooting the gun. On the skeet field and sporting course, I found it to be one of those guns that are just easy to hit with. A 12-gauge available with a 28- or 30-inch barrel, it weighs 71⁄4 pounds and has the right balance and weight to be disciplined but responsive. With the interchangeable high target-style comb insert in place, you can keep the bird in view throughout the shot, a definite plus when a dove tries to juke out from under your gun barrel.
Along with the high comb insert, the Vinci Cordoba has interchangeable recoil pads to tailor length, stock shims for drop and cast, extended choke tubes and barrel ports, a target-style rib, and a bright orange bead. If those features add up to something that sounds suspiciously like a sporting-clays gun, it’s no coincidence: A lively sporting semiauto or o/u crosses over to make a great dove gun, too.
You can probably put more birds in the bag with a dove special, but the truth is, your waterfowl gun probably comes very close to the definition of a dove gun—if it handles light loads well and has choke tubes. For those who can cycle a pump and make effective follow-ups on doves (that would not be me), old Remington Wingmasters, Winchester Model 12s, and Ithaca Model 37s have the right dynamics. And the beauty of dove hunting is that the car carries your gun, so you can bring a backup or two or three if you please. Break out Granddad’s .410 if you want. Just keep your shots short and keep a bigger gun in the trunk in case frustration sets in, because above all else, dove hunting should be fun.
From the September 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.
Photo by Tosh Brown