Academy Sports + Outdoors

Over-Under vs. Semi-Auto Shotgun for Dove Hunting: Pros and Cons for Both

Dove hunting is something that every hunter should experience. It is one of the most commonly hunted birds and it's easy to see why. The hunt itself isn't necessarily difficult compared to other bird hunts such as grouse and quail. The most difficult aspect of dove hunting is scouting to find the best field, in which you're looking for a sunflower, corn, or millet crop. Once you have a good spot picked out, there isn't a whole lot of preparation to be done.

The great thing about dove hunts is that they are typically a social event, where groups of people come together, share some camaraderie, set up tents, socialize, and well, shoot birds. Aside from a nice game vest and some comfortable boots, your checklist for gear shouldn't be too long. However, there is one item on the list that seems to vary from hunter to hunter, and that is their shotgun.

While most shotguns have what it takes to knock down doves, some perform better than others. The 12-gauge semi-automatic is likely the most popular, as it is a universal, do-it-all gun that can be used for any bird hunt. However, some people are sentimental towards their granddaddy's 16-gauge, or appreciate the low recoil of a 20-gauge. There is room for all.

But what you'll be amazed to see, especially if this is your first season dove hunting, is the relatively even split between hunters who choose a semi-auto and an over-under shotgun. It's as if that choice in barrel number says a lot about the type of person shooting it. And maybe it does, who knows? There are infinite reasons why a hunter would choose one over the other, but I'll break down the pros and cons of each, and let you decide what to use this season.

Over-Under Shotguns for Dove

Academy Sports + Outdoors

The Over-Under shotgun isn't exactly a new thing. Popular gun manufacturers have been making them since the early 1930s, and their practicality and function essentially drove side-by-side shotguns out of business. What was once seen as only a gun for clay targets has now become a major staple in bird hunting, especially dove. With the two barrels, a hunter is able to utilize two different chokes, one for close range, one for longer range. The weight in the front as well as the stiffness allows for a lot better control and quicker follow up shots, which is important on a game bird such as doves.

While there are a lot of great characteristics of the over-under, the fact that you're limited to only two shots can push a lot of hunters away and sway them towards a semi-automatic. That, combined with their slow reloading time, isn't necessarily an ideal gun setup for a fast-action hunt such as doves in my opinion.

Semi-Auto Shotguns for Dove

Browning A5 Hunter receiver


The semi-auto has long been considered the staple for bird hunts such as duck, goose, and turkey. And yet, there is no doubt that it is a favorite for many hunters, as it offers some conveniences that you just can't get with an over-under shotgun.

For one, they are able to hold more shotgun shells. That's great, but most dove hunting states limit hunters to no more than three shells at once. Trust me, even that one extra shell can be a lifesaver in the dove fields. It's also important to note that it can be much easier to reload a semi-auto shotgun versus an over-under. Ejecting and reloading an over-under can take some time, definitely more than reloading a semi-auto. Also, it is commonly stated that semi-auto shotguns have much less recoil than that of an over-under due to their longer barrel, which allows for more absorption of the blow. However, with recoil pads, modern stock configurations, and new barrel technology, it's becoming harder to tell the difference between the two.

Whether you choose to go with a semi-auto or an over-under for your next dove hunt, odds are you will be well prepared. Both shotguns offer great handling, precise shooting, as well as multiple rounds for those fast flying doves.

I like to recommend new dove hunters try out both styles of shotguns on clay pigeons before their first dove hunt. Get a feel for how both handle, and see if one seems more comfortable and offers more advantages for your style of hunting.