OK, here’s the deal, straight up: Some of you people need to take some shooting lessons.
Already this season I have been pelted with pellets, though that’s no big deal. I’ve also watched people shoot at doves that were at least 100 yards away and far too high for a shotgun to reach them.
The worst part of this — not counting the staggering numbers of shells that some hunters run through every season — is that lots of the doves that are being shot at had a wonderful chance to fly right past me.
I’m not saying I’m the best shot in the world, but in two days of hunting early in the season, I killed every bird I shot at. That totaled 23 doves. That’s neither normal nor average, but it does illustrate just how bad some of the shooting is.
Back at the cleaning station during a hunt near Coleman, I heard people talking about killing limits of doves with four boxes of shells, even five boxes of shells.
Four boxes would be 100 rounds, which would be a bird for roughly every 16 shots. The sad part is that is just about average for the country, where estimates range from five to seven rounds fired.
And if all this is sounding familiar to you, then you’re exactly the person I’m preaching to. The pounding your shoulder is taking must be horrific. And I’ve seen people with bruised and pounded shoulders that looked as if someone had been beating them with a stick.
Since most hunters still are using 12-gauge shotguns to hunt doves, the toll on shoulders and jaws is brutal. And the toll on pocketbooks is tough, as well, with shells selling for $6 to $8 a box most of the time now.
So, to combat all the warfare, I’d like to offer a few simple suggestions for saving money and wear and tear on your body. They would include:
• Go to lighter shotguns. With heavy loads, a 20 gauge can still punish any hunter, but with 1 ounce of shot most of the time, it won’t hurt nearly as bad. Or you could switch to 28 or .410 shotguns if you have them. There is very little punishment, and you’ll most likely kill just as many birds.
• Spend some time at the shooting range. Not only will this help you learn to adjust your lead on birds to account for angles and speeds, but it will help you master a quicker, better mount of the gun to the shoulder. A few lessons can help, as well. They don’t cost much, and a good teacher can help you identify bad habits that can hold down your shooting success.
• Learn to judge distances. There’s really little reason to be shooting at doves out past 50 yards, much less at some of ranges I see people attempting. Most guns are good to around 40 yards, but that’s still too far. Hold back some to let birds get a little closer, and your shot-to-kill ratio will go up.
• Load just two shells. I know, your autoloader can hold three, but how many doves have you ever killed with that third shot? I’m betting the final shell in the magazine is almost always a desperation round fired in the hopes of salvaging something from a flight of birds. I prefer over/under or side-by-side shotguns, but not everybody owns one. So just load two, and the knowledge you don’t have a third round to throw at a bird will save you some money and pain.
• Leon Measures, a famed Texas shooting teacher, always says if you’re consistently missing doves, double your lead. He knows what he’s talking about. Increase the lead, swing the gun through the bird without stopping it, and you should find yourself creeping up over 50 percent success.
• Use more open chokes, and test fire your shotgun. It’s not unusual for factory chokes to be considerably tighter than they’re labeled. You could screw in a modified choke and trust that for hunting when in actuality it’s closer to full choke. That tighter choke can really knock down your shooting success.
And you should check your gun to find out where it’s shooting. They can be off considerably from where you think you’re shooting, and that’s not good, especially when you’re trying to hit a tiny bird going 40 miles an hour.
And the final tip is about chokes, as well. I use the most open chokes I can when hunting doves with a 28 gauge. Improved cylinder and skeet work to best advantage. The pattern is much more open, but doves don’t require many pellets to knock down.