16 Gauge: The Shotgun that Carries like a 12, but Hits like a 20

By Randy Wakeman

Every year, I get the pleasure of listening to factory sales reps forced to spout and tout the company line. They tend to get a glassy-eyed look, something like the various well meaning, but delusional, religious groups that pound on my door from time to time and give out magazines. It is a lot like the Scientology Sect of firearms, with cheeky presentations based on science fiction.

Last year it was the 28 gauge, the ridiculously priced ammo fed little monster that I was informed "does a lot more than people think." Three-quarters of an ounce of lead does exactly what I think it does and unless a new branch of wounding ballistics is invented, it always will.

On to the red-headed stepchild of shotgun bores, the 16 gauge. The poor 16 gauge gets no love from the trap and skeet worlds, a wide variety of loads is no longer available and there is scant little reloading support.

The 20 gauge gets some attention with modern loads. Buffered 1-1/4 ounce lead loads are commonplace. Hornady offers a 1-3/8 ounce lead twenty gauge shell and the Federal Heavyweight turkey load throws a devastating 1-1/2 ounces of high density shot. Yet, if you must shoot steel, you are stuck with a miserable 15/16 ounce of the soft iron shot commonly referred to as steel.

The idea of the lightweight 16 gauge gun does not fly today, for you can carry a 6-1/2 pound Browning 725 Feather 12 gauge, if you wish, with the same model in 20 gauge at about 5-3/4 pounds. The Benelli Ultra Light 12 gauge autoloader with a 24 inch barrel that I tested weighed 6 pounds, 3 ounces.

I have hunted with various 16 gauge shotguns for decades and I have hoped for a 16 gauge revival for years, as mentioned in the 2005 article 16 Gauge Banter. However, the marketplace has gone the other way, for now even the excellent Kent Tungsten-Matrix loads are no longer offered in 16 gauge. Winchester has soft lead 1 ounce loads in only #6 and #8 shot sizes. The Winchester Super-X "High Brass" 1-1/8 ounce load is no longer offered in #5 shot. Federal offers a $25 a box 1-1/4 ounce 16 gauge buffered load, but not in #5 shot.

Due to inferior ammunition, the 16 is the worst patterning gauge you can buy. High antimony target loads, such as the Remington STS, Federal Gold Medal and Winchester AA, are simply not offered for the 16. There are no superlative turkey loads, there are no high-performance no-tox loads and just one quality buffered 1-1/4 oz lead load (available only in #4 or #6 shot).

This is not due to the size of the hole in the tube, it is because 16 gauge load development has been almost completely ignored for the last forty years. 16 gauge sales constitute a very small percentage of market share, so this unfortunate outcome is not hard to understand. Low end ammo invariably means low end pattern percentages.

Sixteen gauge guns can be fun, of course, but so were mopeds and 8-track tapes at one time. The problem with the 16 gauge is the lack of a reasonable selection of high performance 16 gauge ammo. Without high quality ammunition, the 16 gauge is destined to continue to fade further into the abyss with each passing year. This is a shame, but it is reality.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.