(I scanned this from the August issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife)

Make sure your shotgun is in good shape for dove season.




It's almost unfair. The shotgunner's first shooting of fall features

that erratic little gray speedster, the dove. It's like a baseball player trying to hit

a 90-m.p.h. fastball the first time after a prolonged layoff.

Even though wing shooting is about 90 percent instinctive, it takes time and repetition to fine-tune these rusty instincts. The first time out the experience can be frustrating. Misses mount up. Lots of doves are missed because there are a lot of doves to miss.

A hunter, however, can improve his percentages by understanding wing shooting fundamentals and a knowledge of how a shotgun functions.

First things first.

If a dove is loafing along with in range and the shooter fires and misses, he probably is doing one of two things wrong -- ; or both. When a shotgun is raised to the shoulder, the stock snuggles in where the shooter is looking right down the barrel or ventilated rib. The bead at the end of the barrel is hardly noticed, just a blur tracking the flying target. As the shooter pulls the trigger, he tends to raise his head to watch the bird to see if it is going to fall. If he doesn't maintain his posture, keeping his head down, most of the time he's going to miss, shooting under the dove.

Or behind it. With most gunners, lead out front of the fast- flying bird is insufficient. They shoot at where a bird is, not where it will be.

Everything considered, it is a wonder that the success per-

percentage --; the number of birds downed in relation to total shots fired --; is as good as it is. Target distance, speed and angle play a role, as do the mechanical aspects of shotgun shooting. But the real test comes in the field, shooting at unpredictable live targets. There is more to it than simply pointing and firing.

We must lead any moving target. The snap-shooting method is the most elementary. The shooter picks out a spot forward of where he instinctively thinks the pattern of shot will intercept the dove's flight and fires. Success depends on an almost subconscious snap decision.

More popular is the swing-and- lead method. The shooter tracks the bird with his gun barrel, an accelerated swing that speeds along the dove's flight line and catches up and passes the bird. As the dove is passed by the muzzle, instinct tells the shooter to pull the trigger. He has built up correct lead by swinging through, by using his shotgun like a paint brush. A sweeping follow-through is vital to getting a proper lead. Should the shooter hesitate or stop the swing (follow-through) as he pulls the trigger, he is going to be tardy, shooting behind the bird.

And if he raises his head off the gun stock to look as he fires, the shot pattern not only will be behind the bird, but below, too.

Shotgun efficiency doesn't depend entirely on the instinct


The choke used on a shotgun determines how quickly the shot spreads. These three targets, shot at 40 yards, show the spread of 12-gauge NO.8 shot. These photos show shot spread on a stationery target. Fewer pellets would strike a flying bird because not all pellets in the shot swarm reach the target at the same time.

factor. There are other factors, such as shot size and pattern for any given situation, similar to using different clubs for different golf shots. Pattern density is controlled by the constriction of the barrel at the muzzle, or what is called the choke, which holds the shotshell pellets in formation and keeps them organized out to a certain range. This is why there are shotguns with different chokes. Shooting at doves coming in at close range to a waterhole or those flying away in a pass-shooting mode requires a different pattern. Since modern shotguns come with interchangeable screw-in choke tubes, it is easy to adapt to specific needs by switching tubes. For hunting, there basically are three choke options: improved cylinder, modified and full. Other specialty chokes, although sometimes used for hunting purposes, are designed for clay target shooting competitions such as skeet and sporting clays.

The generally accepted standards for degrees of choke are what percentage of the shot in a load (shell) will be placed in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. The percentage for improved cylinder is 40 to 50; for modified, 55 to 65; and full, 70 to 75.

Testing a choke involves patterning. Shoot at a mark on a large piece of cardboard, paper or a pattern target (avail able at some sporting goods stores) at measured distances, find the most dense part of a test pattern, and draw a 30- inch circle around it. Count the number of pellet holes in the circle and then subtract this number from the total amount of shot in the load used for test purposes. A quick look at a pattern will tell you how your shotgun is performing at different ranges; or specifically, how well the shot is distributed throughout the pattern. Shotgun efficiency is based on multiple hits or pattern density, not one large pellet striking a vital area.

Thus, if you are shooting at doves at a range of, say, 25 yards, you want the largest possible pattern with consistent density at this range; improved-cylinder choke for most shot-

guns. But a pattern of wide spread at this range will thin out faster than will a pattern that is small and dense at close range.

Many hunters compromise by using modified choke, since it delivers a fairly good pattern at intermediate ranges; 25 to 35 yards; where the highest percentage of shots at doves come.

Despite what you might have heard, a 12-gauge gun with full choke won't shoot farther than one with modified, nor will the full choke "shoot harder." The full choke downs birds at a longer range because it has a denser pattern at that distance and hits a bird with more pellets.

In addition to the choke there is something else to consider: the load or shotshell; the amount of powder in drains, and the size and number of shot. A 12-gauge load with 1'/8- ounce of shot will put more pellets in the pattern than will a one-ounce load, and there will be more No. 8 shot than No. 7'12.

Choice of shot is a compromise. Larger shot penetrate better at longer ranges, but being fewer in number, they thin out the pattern. For comparison, there are 585 No. 9 pellets in an ounce of shot; 409 No. 8s; 350 No. 7'12s; and 223 No. 6s. With doves, birds early in the season mostly are immature residents. They are not as skittish, so they fly closer at slower speeds and they are easier to bring down. By using small shot, 8 or 9, with improved cylinder choke, you are putting more shot in a larger pattern at closer ranges where most of your shots will be. There is less chance for error. Later in the season when the doves are spooky and may not come as close, modified choke with 7'/2 shot is the better choice, providing a tighter pattern with more penetration at longer ranges. *

RUSSELL TINSLEY of Mason has been writing about the Texas outdoors for 40 years.