The 16 Gauge: The Shotgun that Carries like a 12, but Hits Like a 28 Gauge

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 various well-meaning but quite 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 gauges, the 16 gauge. The poor 16 gauge gets no love from the skeet world, a wide variety of loads isn't available, and there is scant little reloading support. It is low pressure gauge as well, lower than the .410 bore, 28 gauge, and 20 gauge.

The 20 gauge gets some attention with modern loads. Buffered 1-1/4 oz. 1-5/16 oz. lead loads are commonplace. Hornady offers a 1-3/8 oz. lead twenty gauge shell, and the Federal Heavyweight turkey load throws a devastating 1-1/2 oz. high density shot. Yet, if you shoot steel, you're stuck with a miserable 15/16 oz. of soft iron shot commonly referred to as steel. 28 gauge lead loads do indeed hit harder, throwning ¾ – 1 oz. of higher density lead.

The idea of “lightness” doesn't work well today, for you can carry a 6-1/2 lb. Browning 725 Feather 12 gauge, if you wish, with the same model in 20 gauge at about 5-3/4 lbs. The high recoil Benelli Ultra Light 12 gauge autoloader with a 24 inch barrel that I tested weighed 6 lbs., 3 oz. I've hunted with various 16 gauge shotguns for decades. I've hoped for a 16 gauge revival for years, as mentioned in a 2005 article named “16 Gauge Banter.” Yet, it 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 oz. loads in only #6 and #8 shot sizes. The Winchester Super-X “High Brass” 1-1/8 oz. load is no longer offered in #5 shot. Federal does offer a $25 a box 1-1/4 oz. 16 gauge buffered load, but still not in #5 shot.

As it stands today, the 16 gauge is the worst-patterning gauge you can buy. High-antimony loads, the Remington/ STS, Federal Gold Medal, and Winchester AA variety are simply not made 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, though only in #4 or #6 shot. It isn't because of the size of the hole in the tube at all, it is merely because 16 gauge load development has been almost completely ignored for the last forty years. 16 gauge and 10 gauge sales both carry essentially zero percent market share, so this unfortunate outcome is not hard to understand. Low-end ammo invariably means low-end pattern percentages.

Sixteen gauges can be fun, of course, but so were mopeds and 8-track tapes at one time. It isn't that the diameter of a smooth bore barrel has great meaning. The problem is that there are not reasonable choices for 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. It is a shame, it surely wasn't my idea, but it is reality.

Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



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