If you’re interested in improving the ratio of doves in the game vest to spent shotgun shell hulls lying on the ground next weekend, as was mentioned in this space last Friday, the time is now for some scattergun tune-up work.


But keep in mind that there is a little more to it than just heading outside to bust a few clay pigeons.


First, ask what kind of shotgun you should be shooting come September 1. Since it doesn’t take much to impress or kill a dove, the lighter and quicker pointing a shotgun is the better.


But that doesn’t necessarily hold true when it comes to the gauge that a hunter is shooting.


While expert shots can make it look easy with a .410 or 28-gauge scattergun, the opinion here is that most hunters will be better served by shooting a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun in the field.


Once you choose your weapon, make sure that the plug is in the gun if it is capable of holding more than two shells.


Now I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, since many of you reading this know that doves are migratory game birds and must be hunted with shotguns that hold no more than three shells.


But I also know how easy it is to “forget” this important detail until it is too late.


That’s because every year, hunters who removed their plug for a pheasant hunt or spring turkey outing “forget” to reinsert their plugs before heading out for a September dove shoot.


Until, that is, they suddenly “remember” as the game warden checks their gun in a dove field.


The moral of this wingshooting story is to go ahead and make sure that your plug is in place now so that you will not learn an expensive lesson later.


After you’ve selected your dove gun and ensured that the plug is in place, the next question to be answered is what’s the best dove-hunting load for that particular gun?


For the most part, a 7/8-ounce load is good for a 20-gauge shell, but a 1-ounce load of shot is even better. For a 12-gauge, make sure that the shot shell you choose yields at least a 1 1/8-ounces of shot.


As for proper shot sizes, doves are not difficult birds to bring down if you hit them squarely, so concentrate on smaller shot sizes that create dense patterns.


No. 8 shot — or even No. 9 shot, if you can find it — is perhaps the best all-around dove load for any gauge. Save the 7 1/2 shot sizes for your third shot or when hunting later in the year, as doves carry thicker, late-season insulating feathers.


The next question to answer: What’s the best choke for your shotgun?


Remember, the wider and denser a pattern that a dove has to fly through, the better the odds of adding that bird to your game vest.


As a general rule, the more open the choke that is used for doves, the better. Most hunters will be well served by shooting modified, improved or even skeet chokes.


With those questions answered correctly, now it’s time to get out into the field and actually go out to powder a few clay pigeons like I suggested last week.


So grab a hunting buddy, a target thrower of some sort and a box of clay pigeons and head outside.


Because the season is coming fast, ready or not.


And from where I sit, it doesn’t take anything more than a little sweat equity right now to be ready on September 1st.


So why not pay the price now, enjoying the sweet rewards of an opening day limit as your hunting buddies wonder where in the world you learned to shoot like that.


As you smile big, knowing full well the answer — on the back 40 in the dog days of August.