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Deadly Dove Loads

by Scott E. Mayer   |  July 12th, 2011 35

Dove hunting in sunflowers.It will be dove season soon, and with the season will come a bounty of misses. Missing doves is legendary–so much so that I’ve seen hunters fire as much as a box of dove loads for each bird bagged. But there is a “magic bullet” to help you bag more doves that I’m going to share with you.  It’s steel shot.

Before you get agitated about steel shot, hear me out. Killing a dove is easy–hitting a dove is not. So to bag more doves, you have to increase your probability of hitting one. The easiest way to increase your probability of hitting one, is to put as many pellets at the highest velocity possible in the air.  More pellets in the air mean more chances of a hit, and higher velocity means shorter leads. When you’re dealing with a bird as swift as a dove, anything you can do to shorten the lead is going to help.  No one misses in front of a dove. The loads that best combine high pellet count and velocity are steel shot loads and here’s why.

Steel weighs less than lead.  That gives you a higher pellet count for a given shot charge weight.  For example, an ounce of #7 1/2 lead contains approximately 345 pellets. The same one ounce of #7 steel contains approximately 422 pellets–and that’s a hell of a lot more pellets. To get nearly the same pellet count as an ounce of #7 steel shot, you need to use 1 1/4 ounce of #7 1/2 lead. When it comes to velocity, you can drive a one ounce load at a higher velocity than a 1 1/4 ounce load.  See how nicely steel balances out pellet count and velocity?

I’ve listed my favorite 20-gauge dove handload below. It’s one I found in the many steel shot recipes at Ballistic Products and is one I like to call the “Dove Swatter.” I’m a garden-variety shotgunner, but with Dove Swatters, I’ve bagged as many as 12 doves with 20 shots. You don’t have to be a shotshell handloader to try steel shot on doves.  All of the major manufacturers load steel target loads that will work just fine.

Gauge Hull Primer Powder Charge Wad Shot PSI Velocity
20 Fiocchi Fio 616 Steel 24.5 grs. CSD20 3/4 os. #7 steel 9,600 1,500

Warning: The load shown here is safe only in the gun in which it was developed.  Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors assumes any liability for injury or damage that occurs from the use or misuse of this information.

  • Rod Miller

    If you don't take shots longer than 25 yds maybe. I've dealt with steel waterfowl loads with poor performance for years and hate it. I'll take 1 oz or 7/8s oz of #7 1/2 lead at 1300 fps or so way over this load. I'm sure the day of banning lead for doves is coming though.

    • Scott E. Mayer

      Rod, have you tried high velocity steel waterfowl loads? I agree the so-called "magnum" loads that belch 1 3/8 ounce steel loads at 1,300 fps are dreadful. This season, give some of the 1,700 fps loads a try. The difference is like night and day.

    • adam

      I think the heavier slower steel loads work best on waterfowl, took 58 ducks and 12 Canadas with 3 boxs of shells 1 9/16 3.5" and 1 3/8 3" Kent Fasteel, kills better than Fed or Rem, will let you know about the new hex shot after this year.

  • Kevin Calongne

    Energy is what kills birds, and steel just doesn't compare to lead with regard to energy and penetration. I'll stick to my 11/8 lead 8's thank you. They work just fine when you make a good shot, and isn't that what we should be striving for anyway?

    • Scott E. Mayer

      Give it a try. A #7 steel pellet and a #8 lead pellet weigh the same. Whichever is going faster will have more energy.

    • Dan Wirth

      We're talking about doves here aren't we?

      • Scott E. Mayer


  • Army of Dad

    I was hunting teal so I had steel 6s in my shotgun when a dove comes screaming by. One shot stoned him, to be fair, this shot was around 25 yards. Since then I have no qualms with taking a shot at doves with steel loads.

  • JDS

    Steel has less energy, period.

    Lead is better at any discipline, you have made statements about steel shot and velocity that is not true. And just because you can't hit doves or your poor precentage that you have shared is because of your load and ability.

    • Scott E. Mayer

      JDS, "steel has less energy, period" is a patently false statement, and your personal attack is not appreciated. If you think 12 doves out of 20 shots is a poor percentage then I want you on my skeet team.

      You comment that I've made statements about steel shot and velocity that are not true. Please say which statements.

      • Tom

        I think he's shootin em off the power line.

    • Joe Six-pack

      Energy is .5 X Mass X (Velocity squared)…… the square of the velocity is the overriding component. I have shot and killed doves with steel as well as with lead….with me, six of one half-dozen of the other. My fifteen year average on doves is 20 doves per box (25 shells). Some days I cannot miss…some days I only get a dozen birds per box. If I'm shooting lead, I like 1 1/8 ounce #7 1/2 shot for birds out to 30 yards or so and 1 1/4 ounce #6 out to about 45 yards. If shooting steel, 1 1/8 ounce of #7 shot and I don't take any shots beyond about 35 yards. 99% of the birds are dead before they hit the ground. (I hate having to pull off heads!) Just my experience……and opinion……

      • Toad

        If this is true, Joe Six-pack is a world class shotgunner. Personally, I don't believe it for a second. But that's me.

  • george doby

    i laugh at y'all. 3 yrs ago i found some #12 shot, 2300 pellets per oz. i have made shots a ranges that i would never have thought i would hit or even try now with 7,5, 8 or 9's and not missed many of them either. i hate steel shot since its inception, does not do the job

    i agree with your bacsic principle of more shot bigger cloud better chance to make a hit but you can' talk me off of the #12

  • Paul

    I have a tendency to agree with George D…. my father was a big fan of "high brass" 12 ga peters shells with # 9 shot…. he could bag a dove a 45 55 yards with his old win model 12 12ga full choke ! And not those little "cripple" shots… full blown "fold em up" clean kills. I don't know what the pattern density count is at 50 yrs with full choke and #9s, but out of his gun and with his skills, it had plenty of velocity and it was a Nailer !

  • G.W. Fackler, BPI

    Energy is a factor of velocity AND mass. While lead is denser than steel shot (iron), a steel pellet will deliver the same amount of enery as a lead pellet of the same given mass will deliver identical amounts of energy. Since the steel pellet is larger, resistance will slow the pellet at a higher rate, but this difference is nominal. Because steel does not deform as much as lead, it generally will pattern tighter. Our ballistic laboratory has yielded hundreds of steel shot loads similar to the descriptions in this article. These loads are proven in electronic Piezo labs and field tested for effectiveness. If you like shooting nearly perfect spheres, then steel might be a great option for you.

  • george d

    been shooting an older J C Higgens DblBbl(stevens 311) mod & full in near new shape for cpl yrs and it really makes 'em come 'ere. purchased a Stevens 235 last fall in damn near NIB conditon and looking fwd to using it in dove fields this sept. before y'all jump me over using it i have taken it to several gunshows but best anyone would offer me was $200(like i was an idiot) already used it to takesome duck last fall and it shoots most excelent

  • D.Vaughn

    The fact is., steel shot is not and never will be as good as

    lead. We have had it rammed down our thoats with abunch

    of lies backing it up, we should have fought it harder and not folded. Anybody ever wonder why the ammo and gun companies didn't help us out more, need new guns for steel

    shot, steel shot price Vs lead shot, sold their customers out for the dollar. I have yet to see any proof that a duck died from

    ingesting lead shot. Next on the agenda is lead bullets, because they are causing lead deposits in the ground, well

    were in the hell do they think lead comes from. You better

    fight this thing folks, they get your ammo, they don't need your guns.

  • BobDog

    Use hi-brass #9 or trap loads, lead shot. Solid kills out to 55 yards.

  • Tom Jozef Van de Pol

    I live in Belgium and since a few years we also are limited to hunting with steel. At close ranges we use n 4 and at longer ranges n 2's. The doves here are a bit heavier than in the States but the larger shot will do the trick. The most important thing is hitting you target of course. n 7 is for skeet distances and it will destroy all the meat if you intend eating your prey… Steel shot is a dissaster ballisticly and for your teeth if you bite the shot while eating. Lead or thungsten is the way to go with n7.5

  • Ken

    There are two truths at play here. First, is the basic law of physics shown as F=MA (force equal mass times acceleration). With this in mind, steel shot and lead shot have different mass; i.e., lead is more dense than steel with the effect being that when we look at a lead pellet and a steel pellet each having the same external size (volume), the lead has a greater mass. This said, a greater mass will require more "powder" in order to reach the same acceleration as the lower mass steel. This is all the author was attempting to say, with the added overlay of a bigger shot cloud means better probability of a kill. Does it take all that much to kill a dove? NO, unless you can't hit one, and that has nothing to do with your shotgun load. . .it is all about your shooting ability.

    Now I started out by saying there are two truths at play here. The second truth is that no matter what you say. . .you can always count on way too many other people willing to step-up and tell you that you are wrong. . .often without empirical facts, but with mere unsubstantiated opinion.

  • Joe S.

    Steel vs Lead, I think if you hit what your shooting at with a good solid hit you will kill it, or break it (Clays). I started hunting Ducks after steel shot started, Some of my first loads we not as good, but now that's a whole nother stroy. I own a gun shop in a small SW Kansas Town and can shoot what I want. I do shoot lead for doves and Steel for ducks. I would have no problem with trying Steel for doves. I kill ducks grave yard dead out to 45 yard with 3in #2s and teal with #4, give it a chance what could it hurt. Over my 40+ years of hunting I've seen everything does not work for everyone. Don't argue just try it of not. Have a bless day and get out and enjoy what God has gave us.

    • Don

      Yes sir you are the only one I have seen on here make sense. Why is it all the same on message boards always downing each other. Everyone is different the man was only trying to help and all u ass holes want to bash him. It’s ok to disagree and be nice about it. Hell try it if u want or if your having trouble with what your using if u like what u use don’t try it how hard is that.

  • Wade

    Actually I just constructed a shell using paper pellets. Sure it's 6" long, but I got 1,211 #7 sized paper pellets in my ounce. Should I use that for dove?

  • Terry

    I like the shooting them off the power line comment.

    I have been using LEAD for years….so…..

    You get the idea….

  • NN

    I use 1&1/8 loads in a 12 ga for the fol reasons:

    1. The Rem mod 58 needs at least that much gas to work.

    2. 7.5 shot seems to pass through the bird better than smaller shot.

  • Doug

    In the words of the inimitable Mr. Jagger, "It's the singer, not the song".

    Works for you? Great!

    Myself, I like the idea of throwing more shot at anything I'm trying to hit. Surely try steel.

    And 60%? Day in, day out? Maybe you can best that, but most can't.

  • Devin S

    I personally have taken eight straight and then finished my limit with no more misses, so that is 15:16. I have witnesses. And yeah you would want me on your skeet team, medals there too. Part of my succes was using my Rem 32 with a faster lock time than my normal o/u. So I had a little more quickness than normal. Which amounts to about the same thing you are talking about on increasing your velocity on your load. My point is, sometimes we "try" something once and it doesn't work and we won't even consider giving anything like it a try. Maybe we can have a little humility, that is be trainable, and actually get better. From one that is already not bad, I appreciate your info and may try it too. And to all of the guys that talk about 25 yard limit on distance for steel, if you strive for those tighter flight zones and shorter shots you will sure see your hit ratio's go up too. And let's not hate the messenger, just be glad the ammo companies are listening to you.

  • Scott D.

    I've shot a lot of doves, both in Arizona and Mexico, and the number one issue is not the charge weight or shot size so much. You've got to hit'em. 1/2 Oz. 410. loads of #8 shot kill the hell out of them, but only if you hit them. if i was going to handload a 12 gauge shell for very high-flying doves it would be regular 1 1/8 trap loads at 1200 Fps. NN has it right on the 7 1/2's passing through. I generally use #8's, But #9's will kill any dove that flies, but you end up with lead in the breast.

  • JC

    I dropped out of engineering school over 36 years ago, and I was never good at physics. But it seems to me that if a lighter, faster load was the answer, you could shoot rice at the birds. If it didn't kill them outright, they might eat too much and die.

    • Scott E. Mayer

      If you launched the rice fast enough, yes, it would. Google up what NASA is doing with light-gas guns and plastic projectiles out at White Sands. It's absolutely amazing.

  • Timon

    Seriously steel rocks for doves and ducks, you are a poor hunter if you blame your equipment……. Remember it is the Indian not arrow. Get close, shoot less, bag more!

  • Steve Lathan

    What kills Dove is good shooting..period.

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