At 10 years old, I trudged along the end row of a dried-out corn field taking my position on a dove hunt.

I was a bit perturbed because both my dad and my brother had better spots to hunt and much better guns to hunt with.

I got the hand-me-down, lousy little Stevens bolt-action shotgun in the diminutive 410-gauge.

Heck, even I knew from reading my much dog-eared copies of Boys Life magazine that the 410 wasn’t even a real shotgun gauge. It sure as heck was no damned dove gun. 

And to top off that insult, Dad only gave me six little, green, paper-hulled Remington shells to use. I don’t even recall what shot I had because it didn’t matter much: I couldn’t hit the broadside of a target-painted barn with that shotgun.

Did I mention it was a bolt-action? 

Well, I pretty quickly used up five of my shotshell reserves without so much as disturbing one dove feather.

So, completely disgusted, I headed back to the truck parked up by the levee. Well, on the way back — believe it or not — a covey of quail just sauntered out the end of the corn rows, and I cut down on them. 

I plead ignorance about both the quail season and the bag limit so many years ago, but I took some pride in the fact that Dad fried up those three quail breasts without much hesitation.

It was the topic of family discussion forthwith. I still say that 410 bolt-action was no dove gun.

What makes a dove gun?

“Well, the best answer to that is whatever shotgun a wingshot hunter can hit with,” Down Range Sporting Goods’ Chad Holifield said. “Mourning doves are hard enough to hit, anyway, so it certainly takes good shotgunning skills. Most shooters never quite get that good at it. Some dove hunters are just naturals at it. 

“A decent dove gun probably ought to be at least a 20-guage, but having taken dove field tallies of preferred dove guns several times, the most-popular clearly seems to the 12-gauge. The most-chosen barrel choke is the modified, since it throws out a wider pattern of shot.” 

Of course, other gauges are suitable too, as the challenge increases with the shooter’s abilities.

Some dove hunters prefer the 16-gauge as a balance between shot-throwing power and spread, and a more-tolerable recoil on the shoulder for a whole day of dove shooting. 

“I often used a 12-gauge in the past but wanted more of a challenge,” Vicksburg’s James Harper said. “I found a nice little 28-gauge in a pawn shop in Vicksburg, so I picked it up, cleaned it good, refurbished it a bit and put it to work taking on doves.

“The shells can be a bit of a problem finding in the proper shot sizes needed for dove hunting, but I always seem to manage to find a few boxes just in time for the fall dove seasons. I really like the handling of the little shotgun and, if I do my part, the 28 makes for good sport for dove shooting.”

Action types

Shotgun action type is pretty much a function of user preference.

Many seem to prefer the semi-auto, which allows the gun’s action to cycle in the next shell without thought of the process.

Others like a pump-action because these guns are strong, durable and highly reliable. With a quick change of choke tubes or even barrels, a reputable pump gun can be put into service for any type of shotgun hunting from quail to waterfowl to wild turkey. 

Side-by-sides are less popular today for dove hunting, but they are great guns for the sport if a bit too heavy in the metal.

The same goes for the stack-barrel or over-and-under shotguns. At least with these the shooter has a single plane of sight to contend with. 

Even though a single-shot might be thought of as a perfect youth shotgun to start dove hunting, it is in reality a really poor choice for new shooters.

Safety-wise they make a decent first gun training tool, but they kick like a mule and often don’t come with a choke tube barrel.

Most kids are better off trying a pump with a dual-stock capability that kids can grow into. Just hand them one shell at a time until they get some practical experience. 

As for bolt-actions, the guy who invented that idea should maybe get beaten with a whip.

A bolt-action shotgun is just worthless unless it’s a slug gun. They are difficult to cycle for small hands, and usually hang up when it is cycled.

And you have to come off the targets to ratchet the bolt for another shell.

A bolt-action is certainly no dove gun. But then again, they aren’t half bad on walking quail — at short ranges anyway.