The Forgotten Sweet 16 Gauge

By Chuck Hawks

The 16 gauge has a nominal bore diameter of .662 inch. This places it neatly between the very popular 20 gauge, and the top selling 12 gauge. A 16 gauge gun is trimmer than a 12 gauge, kicks less, and does pretty much the same job unless steel shot is required. However, for whatever reason, the 16 gauge is becoming the forgotten gauge.

It was very popular through the first half of the 20th Century and was not forced out of second place in sales by the 20 gauge until after WW II. Since then it has steadily declined in popularity. This is a shame, because the 16 is a very versatile gauge and handles 1 ounce of shot about as well as a 12 gauge.

The 16 has always been seen as an upland gun in the US, although in Europe it was favored as an all-around gun. This latter view makes pretty good sense as the 16 patterns very well with 1 or 1-1/8 ounces of shot, which makes an ideal upland game gun, and was available with 1-1/4 ounce of shot in 2-3/4 inch Magnum shells for gunning waterfowl and late season pheasant. This, of course, was before the advent of the US government's prohibition of lead shot for waterfowl.

The one and 1-1/8 ounce lead shot loads are still available for upland game and Federal still offers the 1-1/4 ounce lead shot Magnum shells, which make fine pheasant loads. There has never been a 3 inch Magnum 16 gauge shell, although these are common for the 12 and 20 gauges. This disparity allows the 3 inch 20 gauge shell to carry the same payload as the 2-3/4 inch 16 gauge Magnum shell.

Another drawback is the lack of a 16 gauge class in the clay target sports. In US trap and skeet shooting the 16 is lumped in with the 12 gauge, while the 20 gauge has its own class in skeet shooting. It is hard to under estimate the importance of this in the scheme of things. The 28 gauge was kept alive for years simply because it is legal for small bore skeet shooting. With no 3 inch shell to make it an all-around gauge in the US and no interest from clay target shooters, the Sweet 16 has had to make it strictly as an upland game gun.

Federal and Remington offer 16 gauge steel shot loads with 15/16 ounce of shot at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1300 fps. These can be had with steel shot sizes 2 and 4 only and are mainly useful for hunting where lead shot is prohibited.

Federal offers a 16 gauge 2-3/4 inch Magnum shell with 1-1/4 ounces of lead shot at a MV of 1260 fps. Shot sizes are 4 and 6.

Federal, Remington and Winchester all load 2-3/4 inch 16 gauge "high brass" shells with 1-1/8 ounces of shot. These have a MV of 1295 fps and are available in shot sizes 4, 6 and 7-1/2. These are the heavy upland game loads.

Federal also offers a Classic "low brass" or field load with 1-1/8 ounce of shot at a MV of 1185 fps in shot sizes 6, 7 1/2 and 8. The more or less equivalent field loads from Remington and Winchester propel one ounce of lead shot at a MV of 1165-1200 fps. Shot sizes are #6 from Remington and #6 or #8 from Winchester. These represent the traditional 16 gauge upland game loads.

Winchester and Federal offer buckshot loads with 12 pellets of #1 buck. For many years this was a popular deer hunting load in the Deep South. There is also a 4/5 ounce Foster type rifled slug load at a MV of 1600 fps from all three manufacturers. Naturally, there are no target loads in 16 gauge.

The 16 gauge has slipped in popularity, but some used guns, such as classic American doubles, are fairly plentiful in 16 gauge. These are usually a little cheaper than the same model and grade in either 12 or 20 gauge and can still be very useful upland guns.

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Copyright 2002, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.