October 16, 2020
On the surface, a smoking hot dove shoot seems like the perfect place to test a new shotgun like the Impala Plus Max 5 Synthetic 12 gauge.
But truth be told, a hot dove shoot is a rare and wonderful and fleeting thing. In Texas, the opener is the single biggest sporting outdoors event of the year across the state, a giant communal outpouring of activity. But that also means pressure and birds moving on and getting skittish really quickly, flying higher by the hour. And one puff of cool weather can end it quickly in many places. It is where the gun in your hand needs to be an old friend you can trust, not a new model you have never fired.
But this time, I would not have to worry.
If you haven't heard of this gun before you are forgiven. Zanders Sporting Goods is a distribution company that brought in the Impala Plus line of shotguns to offer great consumer value, now that guns made in places such as Turkey have come so far in terms of quality control. It has all the features we used to only find on high-end guns, like five adjustable shims and a twist-and-turn removable bolt, but more on the features in a bit.
I got to try the new gun on one of these best dove spots on earth, my brother-in-law Darren's backyard. It is a place where you can quickly bang out limits of mourning doves with a few bonus white wings thrown in, then continue to pile up the big gorgeous and good-eating invasive Eurasian collared doves, with no season or bag limit, so a few of us may shoot 70 birds on any evening or morning.
This spot typically has the kind of hunting where you are not sitting on a bucket sipping iced tea and waiting. The bucket is for all the dead doves and shotgun shells you can pick up with the MOJO Pick Sticks when the smoke clears. You stay on your feet, not bothering to hide, and your thumb is soon sore from jamming shells in the magazine.
I decided I would try the Impala before duck season on my sacred dove hunt. I had oiled it lightly, but it is a lot to ask of a semi-automatic duck gun to shoot light dove loads right out of the box without any kind of proper break-in, even if it is built around a reliable and clean inertia-style action. Most shotguns get a grace period for the first five to 10 boxes of shells and then you start to become concerned if they don't run smoothly after a good cleaning and oiling.
Some never will run light loads. I did hedge my bets a little though. Instead of normal light 7/8 ounce # 7 ½ dove loads, I grabbed a case of much snappier Hevi Shot's #7 Hevi Game 1 ¼ oz shotshells that I had laying around.
My brother-in-law's dove-hunting hole is a superb gun-test site because it is a hell of a challenging spot to shoot despite the great action. There are some directions you can't fire toward because of houses and it's a four-way intersection of ditches and tree lines. The birds come in from all directions at wildly different speeds, constantly surprising the shooters and calling for snap shots. I have seen pretty good wingshooters get flustered at this spot.
The only real easy birds are the very young dumb ones that will come and buzz right over the MOJO decoys.
We trucked across eastern Colorado to the Kansas border and my wife dropped me off in the field where my brother-in-law had been banging away with his kids. I only had about an hour of daylight left, but it would prove to be plenty.
I killed the first dove I shot at with the gun, the first time it had in fact ever been fired. I fanned a few more before I warmed up after the long drive and wiped out my mourning dove limit in less than 30 minutes before moving right on to the collared doves, which we had been banging away at all the while.
The gun comes with a full array of Invector Plus chokes, and I found the modified smashed up most of the birds a little more than I'd like – sign of good patterning – and I was missing a few again after the wind changed and many started flying in from under 15 yards. This caused a lot of snap shooting, which requires a nimble gun, and the Impala felt great, and when I switched to the skeet choke the birds paid heavily.
Darren is a spectacular wing shooter and has a real knack for calling you out on a bird and timing it exactly so he kills it a millisecond before you shoot, then laughing hysterically.
But he's the host and the one with access to this magic dove hole, so when a tall single came wafting in over his head from his blind spot, I went ahead and called him out and he killed it clean.
It landed with a clank. A banded dove! Dangit, why hadn't I just shot it and laughed at him for a change?
We tried to melt the barrel on this gun on that dove shoot, a hunt that also featured many bonus rock pigeons, which are big tough birds with a tiny vital zone for a target, making you glad you held a 12 gauge. The Impala simply never jammed even with lighter loads, a fine testimony to good engineering. It's a nice looking and well-balanced shotgun of average weight, with a 26-inch barrel and 3-inch chamber. It reminded one of our shooters of his Browning Maxus. High praise.
And the highest praise I can offer this gun is that my brother in law vowed to buy it for his kids if I didn't, and he's been a Benelli guy for decades, so he knows the good stuff.
Now, I can't say I have torture tested this gun for thousands of rounds, but it sure seems a winner out of the gate.
Impala Plus MAX 5 Synthetic Shotgun
A stylish shooter featuring a rotary locking lug bolt and high-pressure tested patented six-lug design barrel with chrome plating in all the right places, Impala Plus MAX 5 Synthetic gives waterfowlers plenty of bang for their duck. Requiring fewer greenbacks than other semi-autos in its class, this shotgun is fitted with TruGlo fiber-optic sights, a comb riser (removable upon request) and a turn-and-remove bolt handle. Yes, we took the cheekpiece off, (that's just our big heads not needing it) but it's a cool feature for many shooters and will help reduce recoil in the place your face plays the price. There are many iterations and camo patterns, including Bottomland, 35 total in the Impala Plus line of semi-autos, check them out.
MSRP of model shown: $695; impalaplusshotguns.com