5 Takeaways From My 28-Gauge Dove Opener

What the author learned from starting the season with a "more refined" dove gun, instead of the usual 12 gauge

rizzini gun and dead doves
The author killed his limit on the Iowa dove opener with a Rizzini 28 gauge.Phil Bourjaily

Having been deprived of a dove season for my entire adult life, the need to catch up drove my choice of dove guns when Iowa finally opened a season in 2011. Usually, in the name of efficiency, a 12-gauge semiauto got the call. And it still will at times in the future.

For opening day this year, however, I went with a 28-gauge o/u that I thought would make a more refined dove gun than the usual 12-gauge autoloader. Springerman3 and I opened the season together starting in a cut cornfield near SP3’s house at about 10:00 a.m.—once the thunderstorms stopped—and finishing our limits within a minute or two of one another at 3:30 in the afternoon on a public area.

Here are my observations, drawn from a sample of 15 doves:

  1. A 28-gauge hull holds 5/8 ounce of No. 7 steel shot, which counts out to 253 pellets. Based on one hunt, with Improved Cylinder/Improved Modified chokes in the gun, that is enough to kill doves cleanly. I didn't lose a bird, and every one I knocked down was dead when it hit the ground. Most of my shots were in the 15- to 25-yard range, but I made a couple of longer shots, too. Steel No. 7s have been my favorite dove pellet ever since I stocked up on them prior to Iowa's first dove season, when we were told steel would be required. We can use lead, but I've never felt the need to switch. And the steel pellets penetrate deeply enough that I rarely bite into one when we eat our doves.

  2. The 28 gauge isn't magic, as some will tell you. I just think it benefits from comparisons to the .410, which punches below its weight. But the 28 is definitely enough gun for short and mid-range wingshooting and it doesn't kick much. The late Gene Hill called the 28 "the thinking man's 20 gauge." I call it fun to shoot.

  1. A true 28-gauge gun, built on a scaled frame, is a wand. The Rizzini BR 110 I shot Saturday is a light and lively gun that feels every bit as good, and probably better, than the 28-gauge Red Label I foolishly sold many years ago. It will be a terrific quail and grouse gun.

  2. That said, a 5-pound, 14-ounce gun, even one with 30-inch barrels to give it a little more weight up front, is not the best choice for doves streaking downwind, especially if you've been shooting an 8-pound target gun at sporting clays all summer. Light guns can be a little flighty and aren't as easy to shoot well as are heavier guns. As much as we all like to dote on true 28s, there's nothing wrong with a 28 on a 20-gauge receiver for applications like dove hunting, where more gun weight helps.

  1. It took a few more shells than usual to finish up, which I attribute to the wind that picked up to 20 mph by the end of the hunt. I pointed out to SP3 that the doves coming from the south were very fast, while the doves coming from the north, into the wind, seemed scarcely to be moving, and they might present easier shots if we turned around and faced that direction. He said, "That's a brilliant observation. You should write a blog post about that." If you're concerned about your shells-to-birds average, shoot the doves flying into the wind. Who says you never learn anything here?