Selecting the right shotgun for hunting

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Sunday, Sept. 1, marks the opening day of dove hunting season, providing most gunners a two-day shoot without taking a vacation day, as Monday is a holiday.

If you haven’t been into gunning for long, you may be asking, “What’s the best gun for dove?”

Most of us, myself included, use the single, primary shotgun that is used for pheasant, quail, ducks, geese and other game birds. Most hunters have shells with a variety of shot loads for the various birds. While No. 8 is a common shot load for doves, something like a No. 2, a much larger BB, would be needed for geese. A No. 6 is favored for pheasant.

And what about the gun? Is it the best gun for the job? There are different gauges and several styles: single shot, side-by double barrels, over-and-unders, pump, 265 and autoloaders.

Ideally, you should have a shotgun for different birds. In reality, few of us have the money so we find one all-around gun that will do the job.

Let’s say you have a youngster who wants to start hunting. To break in that youngster, single-shot shotguns in any gauge can be purchased reasonably and will provide plenty of field experience until eye-trigger control is learned.

Autoloaders should be discouraged for everybody until absolute control is learned, and the only way that is done is through a great deal of field practice. I use an autoloader and am effective with it. Where most shooters err is in utilizing the third shot. If you’ve taken two shots at a bird, the chance of hitting with the third is practically nil. By that time, the bird has turned on the afterburners and should be out of range.

The autoloader is best when you’re retrieving a downed bird and another sweeps in before you have a chance to slip new shells into the tube.

In trained hands, a pump gun forces a shooter to utilize control and can be shot almost as quickly as an autoloader. Once control is learned, the third shot is much less utilized than with those using autoloaders.

Now, what gauge is best?

A 4-10 is fine for most youngsters, but there are folks who say that caliber cripples more birds than it drops and a 20-gauge is much more effective. What most shooters don’t realize is the 4-10 will shoot just as far as the 12-gauge with the same knock-down power. The difference is the 4-10 has fewer BBs to reach the target.

For that reason alone, I strongly suggest the 12-gauge. Only the most experienced shooters should shoot the lighter-gauge guns. Unless you can almost guarantee you’re going to drop a bird with the smaller loads in the lighter-gauge shotguns, you need all the help you can get, which is provided in a heavier loaded shot shell like the 12-gauge.

Now, the choke: Nobody can say an improved choke, modified or full, is the only choke you’ll need. Many guns have fixed chokes while others may have screw-in chokes.

The improved choke is for close shots for birds like quail, which provides a wide shot pattern, while the full choke keeps the shot closer together for when you need to reach out a little farther. The modified choke is in between.

The trouble is, you can never guarantee any shot for any bird. While a couple flights of ducks may stay just on the inside of a long shot where a full choke is best, the rest may work in close and you find yourself “smokin’ ’em” in pieces and you’ll wish you had an improved choke.

Screw-in chokes are fine, but you usually don’t have time to change for the variety of shots necessary at the time.

Most shooters, on a single-barrel gun, will stick with the modified to maintain the average shot, a little tighter than desired for the close shot and a little wide for the long shot.

With over-and-unders, most stick with the modified on the first barrel and a full for the second; the first shot for the average range while the second shot can be kept tighter together as the bird hauls to get out of range.


Current fishing


Local salmon: While there’s a halfway decent bite at the confluence of the Sacramento-Feather rivers and upriver of each, in the Sacramento area, the bite is tough for trollers, those anchored and those slinging spinners on a drift from shore. A good rainstorm that would cool the water is needed to increase fishing success.

Jackson Meadows: It’s worth the drive from the turn-off on Highway 89. The lake is three-quarters full, and the trout catching has been good for those soaking bait from shore and trolling, all around the dam. From shore, a pumped-up crawler has been working. Boaters have been hauling small Rapalas, a variety of spoons and threaded crawlers.

Eagle Lake: The boat ramps are non-usable at Spaulding. Forget about any fishing north of Spaulding. Launch at the new low-water ramp at the south end of the lake. Fish the deep water around Eagle’s Nest with a threaded crawler. If you get there at the crack of dawn, you’re going to hammer some great rainbows, some running to four pounds. Trollers are hauling grubs, flies and, of course, the great standby, a threaded crawler.

San Francisco Bay region: If you’ve ever thought you might like to give rock cod fishing a try, you won’t find a better time than right now. Loads of the bottom fish are being hauled in on a short run outside the gate. Best news is the lingcod bite is phenomenal with some boats recording a good 50 being netted each trip, and some are running more than 30 pounds.

Contact George deVilbiss at