It is now officially fall, because we’ve had the Sept. 1 dove-hunting opener. I trust everyone had good dove hunts this year. Mine was okay, but nothing particularly noteworthy since the area I chose saw most of the doves move out two days before the opener. That’s why they call it hunting.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time, and did some blasting, so all is well with the world. Speaking of blasting, I tried something new for me this season: I used steel shot for doves.
I had no particular doubt that things would turn out as they did, but I learned a long time ago that in this industry, it is unwise to extrapolate. Much better to actually do it, so I did.
Oh, I’ve been shooting unleaded ammo at birds for decades – since the whole lead thing reached critical mass for waterfowling years ago. And lead-free ammo has come a long way since those early days.
Increasingly, there are areas around the country where non-toxic ammo must be used for bird hunting, and some dove spots fall into that category. So, I thought I would give it a spin, just to see what might sort out.
I obtained some of Federal’s Steel Game & Target 2 ¾-inch 12-gauge loads that feature one-ounce of No. 7 shot at 1,375 feet per second. Remember, when it comes to steel, speed kills.
Anyway, I used a Remington Model 870 pump with Improved Skeet choke (0.005-inch restriction). It was a great combo, as would an Improved Cylinder (0.010-inch restriction) have been. You don’t want too much choke, but there needs to be enough to “form” a pattern.
Normally, my dove gun is a Remington 870 in .410, and usually I shoot 2 ½-inch reloads with ½-ounce of No. 7 ½ lead shot. From a hit percentage standpoint on doves, I couldn’t tell much difference – high percentages with either rig, and interestingly, the effective distance seemed to be quite similar.
The primary difference I detected with the steel was what happened immediately following impact on the bird. The steel shot load performed almost identically on doves as steel loads do on waterfowl.
So, the bottom line is that steel can work. And, the Federal loads were great, as one expects from Federal. Federal has been on the leading edge of non-toxic shotshell load development and manufacture, right from the get-go.
From a hunter perspective, however, steel ammo is more expensive than lead. For example, the steel loads from Federal are more expensive than Federal’s own lead shot dove loads.
There is another thing to keep in mind when eating birds that have been taken with steel shot. It is more important not to bite down on a steel pellet. Lead pellets can be pesky, but steel pellets can cause dental problems. Something to think about.
The bottom line is that good ammo can bag birds, and bagging birds means fun when dove hunting.
Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at email@example.com.
Top: Steel shot worked fine on this white-winged dove as the author opened the ’09 season.
Bottom: Federal steel shot and Remington shotgun were used by author for this year’s dove opener.