Browning’s introduction of the A5 semiauto in Sweet 16 should, I hope, raise the 16 gauge’s profile a little. With the Sweet 16, Browning did it right. Rather than put a 16-gauge barrel on a 12-gauge gun, they built the Sweet 16 on its own scaled-down frame. At a little under 6 pounds with a 28-inch barrel, it’s a wonderful gun to carry, and, because it’s long, it’s not too hard to shoot, either.
The 16 gauge shotshell is just about right for all upland hunting. You can load it up to 1 ¼ ounces of shot, or down to 7/8, although with an ounce or 1 1/8 ounces of shot, the 16 can handle almost any upland bird hunting situation. Interestingly enough, a couple of years ago I had a chance to run a number of pattern tests at Federal’s underground tunnel, and in one test, we compared the 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410 for pattern efficiency with typical loads: 9/16 ounces with the .410; ¾ ounces with the 28; an ounce in 20; 1 1/8 ounces in 16 and 1 ¼ ounces in 12 gauge. In theory, the larger the bore, the more efficiently it patterns, and that theory held totally true – almost. We saw an improvement in efficiency as bore size increased and it plotted a neat line on a graph of bore diameter vs pattern efficiency. The only outlier was the 16 gauge, which outperformed the 12 gauge.
Now, that was one test, with one load per shell, and I doubt the 16 beats the 12 gauge every time, but the test does suggest there may be something to the 16 gauge’s mystique after all, and that it does, when made up in the right gun, live up to the “carries like a 20, hits like a 12” reputation.
With steel shot, the 16 is limited to 15/16 ounces, putting it slightly below the 3-inch 20 gauge, but I am guessing any duck you shoot with a 16 won’t notice there’s 1/16 ounces less shot in the pattern. It might even pattern better. That would be a good test to run next time.
And, while it’s nice to see the Sweet 16 again, I don’t think we can talk about a full-scale 16 gauge comeback right now. There aren’t many factory 16s available these days outside of the Sweet 16, the Ithaca 37, the very nice Turkish Dickinson doubles or, at a huge step up in price, Merkel’s wonderful 1620. There are plenty of used 16s on the market, though, Model 12s and original Sweet 16s and the like, and there’s no reason not to pick one up if you’re a bird hunter.