It Works: Using Steel Shot for Dove Hunting No Big Change

Published on Wednesday, 9 October 2013 23:09 - Written by By Steve Knight Outdoor Writer

At about 1/170,000th of the price, I have done what Texas Parks and Wildlife Department set out to do in 2007.

I shot dove with steel shot.

It cost me $13 a box to find out what I wanted to know. TPWD spent about $2.2 million, and it still doesn’t have its results.

Well, it has the results. They just can’t show them to us because they haven’t been reviewed by a bunch of other science guys so they can be published in some sort of science journal.

Mine haven’t been reviewed either by experts. Only by mourning dove that flew into range earlier this season. They didn’t like the results.

There are those who believe non-toxic (I hate that term because if you hit the bird it seems pretty toxic) ammo is coming to dove fields somewhere in the future. Hoping to avoid the public relations fiasco that followed forced steel shot for duck hunting in 1991, TPWD decided to do a big time study on steel shot so it could show hunters that without a doubt non-toxic shot would work for dove.

Unfortunately when the study started about a half-dozen years ago it was plagued with faux pas that caused the department a lot of embarrassment. Worse yet it still has not received the peer review required to be published as gospel.

It is a good thing it wasn’t as tough to get the Bible in print. That just took Gutenberg inventing the printing press.

While waiting, I decided to take matters into my own hands and conduct my own survey. It started with the cheapest 28-gauge steel shot available online from Mack’s Prairie Wings. Turns out it was Winchester No. 7s with a one-ounce load at $129 a case. Sounds expensive, but shells are more expensive for 28s and .410s than the more standard 20- and 12-gauges.

Admittedly my study wasn’t very scientific. TPWD had a bunch of different loads that were unmarked so the shooters didn’t know if they were shooting steel or lead. They also had spotters to determine the birds’ range and if they were hit.

I just waited until a dove flew by and pulled the trigger. I just sort of guessed at the range the same way I do when I am using lead shot.

And to be honest, they were coming so fast I didn’t even think about whether I was shooting lead or steel.

The results? Those I hit well fell dead. Those I missed or maybe got with a single pellet or two flew off.

I compared those results with the morning before when I shot only lead shot. On that hunt those I hit well fell dead. Those I missed or maybe got with a single pellet or two flew off.

Not very exciting science.

Both hunts ended with limits. Just as an anecdote, it took a little longer to get the lead shot limit, but I think that had to do more with a lack of birds in the field than it did with the ammunition.

But that wasn’t the end of the study. That would have been too easy of a test. I needed a bigger test for the ammo, so I kicked it up a notch on an early teal hunt. I used the same shotgun, and to take any variables out of the study I took another box of same steel shells out of the case and used them.

My theory was if a 28-gauge No. 7 could bring down a blue-winged teal that weighs 8 to 20 ounces it has to work on a lightweight mourning dove that tops the scale at 6 ounces.

It worked. Well, sort of. What I determined was that on that hunt those birds I hit well fell dead. Those I missed or maybe got with a single pellet or two flew off.

Like TPWD I didn’t rush to publish the results. I wanted to double check my data, and that couldn’t be done until we ate the dove. Wrapped in bacon it was difficult to determine which were taken with lead and which with steel shot, but none flew off the grill, so I considered the findings to be pretty darn accurate.

It has been three long years since TPWD wrapped up its study. The offspring of the dove taken during the study are now gone, probably taken by hunters with lead shot, and their offspring are now flying the fields of Texas.

The department is promising the results again this winter. Again, I say, because that was the word last year.

All I know is that the evidence from my study will be history and we will be on to dessert by then.

So here are my findings. If Texas dove hunters are ever forced to go to steel shot, don’t sweat it. Most hunters use 12-gauge shotguns with an ounce of No. 8 shot. That means they are hurling about 410 pellets toward something that weighs about the same as your cell phone. Hit it well and it will fall dead. Miss or maybe get it with a single pellet or two and it will fly off.

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpa Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.