I started hunting upland birds probably the same way that most of you did. That is, I got a modified or full-choked shotgun and loaded it up with high-brass shotgun shells. When I didn’t get what I thought was my fair share of the dove, quail, or whatever, I considered going to tighter chokes and more powerful shells. After all, it couldn’t be that I was missing the birds, could it?
Then came the day that I was invited on a dove hunt and showed up right after I got off work. Instead of going home for my hunting gun, I used the 870 riot gun that I carried in the trunk. Dang! I had my limit in half the time and shells. From them on, I generally always hunted upland birds with an Improved Cylinder barrel.
A bit later I began to study the British approach to upland bird hunting. For years, the favored British 12-gauge load featured a 2 1/2-inch shell that fired a 1-ounce shot load at between 1100 & 1200fps. They shoot it on just about everything—quail, pigeons, grouse, pheasant, and decoying ducks. It is a mild, pleasant load to shoot and will kill any bird that you center in its pattern.
Of course, you don’t see the 2 1/2-inch shotshell in this country very often. But the good news is that our shotshell manufacturers have begun to produce some very nice upland loads for hunters. In my 20-gauge Beretta double, I use a 7/8 oz load of #8, #7 1/2, or #6, depending upon the birds being hunted. In my Ruger Gold Label 12 gauge double, I reach for the same shot sizes in a 1-ounce loading. I get the best results using the target loads from Federal, Estate, and Winchester. I suggest you avoid the “dove & quail” promotional ammo that is offered each fall.
Folks, you simply don’t need a lot of power, or a bucket-full of shot to kill upland birds, even pheasant. What you do need to do is to center the bird in your pattern. My double shotguns are choked “Cylinder” and “Improved Cylinder.” They will kill birds cleanly out to 30-35 yards.
I mention all of this in the dead of winter so that you will have time to consider it and to try it out at your local skeet and sporting clays range. In fact, a skeet gun, with skeet loads, is just about right for all upland hunting. Or you could switch from a modified choke to a full choke, and go from high-brass ammo to 2 3/4” magnums. Hey, there’s even time to locate a 10 gauge, since the 12 doesn’t seem to be producing. In fact, now that I think of it, please do that. You’ll leave more birds for the rest of us!