Why buy a budget dove gun? So you have more money to spend on ammunition, that’s why. More shotshells are expended at mourning doves than at any other game bird, at an average of five to seven per bird bagged, so every penny you can save for ammo means more chances to put a bird in the bag. Pick the right new gun, and your shooting might improve a little, too, making these deals that much sweeter.
Semi-automatic is my favorite action for doves. There’s no need for distracting pumping between shots with a semi-auto, and they’re never broken open at the wrong time the way O/Us can be. Weatherby’s Turkish-made gas gun is light, slender, and handles well. They are as reliable and trouble-free as an inexpensive semi-auto can be, and I have yet to talk to an SA-08 owner who has an unkind word for the gun. It’s low-tech for certain, coming with two interchangeable pistons, one for heavy loads and one for light dove and target loads, but switching them takes just a few seconds, and the design helps keep the price down. The SA-08 is available in 12 or 20 gauge, with a choice of 26-inch or 28-inch barrels, with a black synthetic-stock set.
It’s hard to go wrong with the most popular shotgun ever made. The low-cost Express model comes in 12 or 20 gauge. I have one in 20, and it makes for a perfect dove shooter, since it’s light but still substantial enough to swing well and absorb some recoil. Remington has invested time and effort in improving the Express line recently, too. They’re changing assembly-line tools for often and paying closer attention to the metal finish, so the newer versions are smoother and function better than Expresses of a few years ago.
Being a budget gun, the Express isn’t much to look at. It has a matte-finished hardwood stock and forend, and a bead-blasted steel receiver and barrel with a dull finish that won’t spook birds. The 870 comes with only one choke tube, a Modified, and you might hit a few more birds if you swap it out for an Improved Cylinder tube. You also might consider switching the recoil pad, for the factory version is as hard as a hockey puck (although I don’t find my gun’s recoil to be painful). Remington also produces a compact Express model for smaller shooters, and if you look around, you might find a used 28-gauge or .410 Express, which aren’t currently in the lineup.
Last year I shot a bunch of shells through some very inexpensive pump guns for a magazine story, and of the ones I tried, the Stoeger P3000 was the one I shot best. The P3000 is a 3-inch Turkish-made 12-gauge. It has a rotary bolt, giving it a slick action, which comes in handy when you are trying to make follow-up shots on fast-departing doves. I put 500 rounds through my test gun, and the pump stroke only got slicker as the gun wore in.
The P3000 has an alloy receiver that makes it light for a 12-gauge, at about 6¾ pounds. I found it hefty enough to swing well, and with light target or dove loads, the recoil wasn’t excessive. The safety button and bolt release are on the small side, which might prove frustrating if you use the gun for cold-weather waterfowling, but it’s no problem on a 90-degree day in the dove field. The gun’s drawback is a very heavy trigger; the one on my test gun broke at about 10 pounds. That didn’t bother me, since I am insensitive and mash shotgun triggers as hard as I can, but if you’re a more refined shooter than I, you might have problems. The good news about the P3000 is the price: $300 in black synthetic with a choice of a 26-inch or 28-inch barrel.
By and large, I don’t recommend inexpensive break-actions, for they’re often clunky, unreliable, and more trouble than they’re worth compared with a used name-brand O/U. CZ guns are the exception, and it’s little surprise that they’ve developed a reputation for being functional, reliable value shotguns. They are made by Huglu, one of Turkey’s better gunmakers, and there’s a service center in Kansas City. CZ’s new Drake is a bare-bones O/U at a price that will leave you plenty of money for shells and even a few rounds of pre-season sporting clays. As I mentioned, I prefer three-shot guns over break-actions for doves, but if I wanted an inexpensive dove O/U, I’d think hard about a Drake.
It comes in 12 or 20 gauge, and it’s stripped down to the essence: It has a plain walnut stock and forend, and black chrome barrels and metal receiver. The gun has extractors instead of ejectors, which will help you keep all your empties in a neat pile so that you can gather them at the end of the hunt, and a single-selective manual safety and a mechanical trigger. My test gun, a 20-gauge with 28-inch barrels, weighed just over 6½ pounds, with a distinctly muzzle-heavy balance, which I prefer for doves and targets. The Drake could use a better recoil pad, but that’s about the end of its shortcomings. It comes with five choke tubes and a hard case, all for the extremely reasonable price of $630.