At one time, 16-gauge shotguns enjoyed a fair amount of popularity. Many said the “Sweet 16” came close to perfection in terms of gun weight and shot pattern. While a some folks still own 16-gauges today, and Browning added one to their lineup recently, fewer use them. Is it just nostalgia that keeps them around? Or something else?

I have a confession to make.

At about age 7, I shot my first shotgun: my dad’s 16-gauge. A year or so later, I found a pair of loaded 16-gauge magnum shells while walking the railroad tracks outside Taylorville, Illinois with my grandfather. Thinking I was “man enough” to shoot a magnum shotgun shell, I asked my dad if I could shoot them. He laughed and said no.

After pleading with the old man for weeks, he relented. That experience pretty much ruined me on shotguns for several years.

My paternal grandfather, though, had higher hopes for me. He gave me his 16-gauge Remington Model 11 humpback for my 15th birthday. You know, the one that looks like a Browning Auto 5. To this day, it still has the “Polychoke” on the end of the barrel.

In high school, with field loads, that gun shot a lot of birds, squirrels and bunny rabbits. It also dispatched its share of opossums and a ground hog or three. I even shot my first rounds of trap with it, missing more than I hit. I blamed the gun for the misses at the time, of course.

Sadly, I haven’t shot that gun in 30 years. I really need to fix that. One 16 I have shot recently brought a big grin to my face.

Guns Save Life continually collects junkers and clunkers for the next big Chicago gun buyback. The last time we went up, we didn’t have the right skin color to participate.

But the time before that, we brought back $6200. We gave them mostly broken-assed junk, and they gave us perfectly good money.

We used that money to send kids to the nation’s longest running NRA Youth Shooting Camp and we bought a few guns to give away to some of the luckiest attendees. The mainstream media picked up the story, giving Chicago’s do-gooders a major black eye.

Anyway, I found an ugly old Riverside Arms (of Chicopee Falls, Mass) 16-gauge single-shot amongst the unwanted junk we’re accumulating. It had seen better days — and then some. Someone who owned it took a hacksaw to it, front and back, and applied a generous amount of friction tape. But when I test-fired it, it worked.

Then my friends wanted to shoot it. Pretty soon, we all wore grins from ear to ear and ran about 50 rounds through the thing.

Just for giggles, I’ve pressed the Riverside into service as a “hideout” gun loaded with a round of #1 Buck in the pipe and two more banded to the stock. Because I can.

My friends and I affectionately call the taped-up tool my “Mad Max” gun. They loved shooting it as much as I did.

We know it makes no sense as a self-defense gun. And we all agree other boomsticks would make better hideout guns. Something like a Mossberg Shockwave or any double-barrel coach gun would do a better job, but something about this gun makes it special to all of us. It’s almost like I rescued an old dog from the local animal shelter and now everyone wants to play with it.

My love of this piece seems nonsensical and borderline irrational. I know it will never be one of Nick Leghorn’s obscure objects of desire, but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter to me or my friends.

Plenty of shooters hang on to their Sweet 16’s for nostalgia or sentimental reasons. Twelve gauge guns continue to get lighter and modern 20-gauge ammo can effectively duplicate 16-gauge payloads.

Finding 16-gauge ammo can pose its own difficulties for casual users. The Internet helps, but you’ll pay for it. One can find reloading gear for 12s or 20s almost anywhere. What to roll your own 16s? Good luck with that.

There’s just something about a Sweet 16 that’s right. Is there a 16-gauge lingering in your safe?

38 Responses to The Sweetness of 16 Gauge: Nostalgia, Nonsense or Something More?

  1. My grandfather got a J.C. Higgins bolt action 16 gauge in exchange for work when he was a teenager. Its been passed down the generations as solid deer harvester. Not worth any money, but I hope my son will be able to take a deer or grouse with it.

  2. The 16 is a fine round. A bit like the .40 though. There’s bigger and smaller and the middle ground just doesn’t hold the same appeal.

  3. i’ve always felt that 16ga fell somewhere between 12 and 20.
    very recently i picked up a near perfect ithaca 37 in 16ga. for a few hondo. always wanted one. the (now) ohio company will still build you one.
    it fills a niche between the police special and the model 32.

      • This gave me a chuckle too . I’ve always felt the 22LR fell somewhere between the 22 short and the 22 WMR , but that’s just me .
        As far as the 16 gauge is concerned ………………. love mine , never disappoints , I know what it is and it delivers the goods . Used it quite often in the day .

  4. I ended up with an AJ Aubrey 16ga Damascus barreled SxS after a little horse trading once. It was sure a well balanced little thing, but I didn’t dare shoot out of those old Damascus barrels

    • My late father had one of those in 12 ga. He shot low base out of it, on the rare occasions he used it during my time. I’ve heard Damascus barreled guns are only dangerous if they’ve been used around salt water as the salt can get into the filigree and cause unseen damage. Then again, I’ve heard, like everybody else, they’ll blow up with modern smokeless ammo. In any case, one of the firing pins broke and I gave it to a buddy for a wall hanger.
      I the primary shotgun of my youth was a Stevens 20 ga. double. The thing was so quick I could knock down pheasant(s) before guys with heavier 12s even got them shouldered. There’s a lot to be said for quick.

      • I’m in Florida, so the saltwater thing was a definite possibility. I’m also a welder and occasionally blacksmith who’s forged Damascus before, and knowing how these barrels were made I chose not to trust them. Had it been a higher end gun, I would have trusted it, but the AJ Aubreys were made for Sears.

        But, I traded it straight for a first year production Colt Commander, so all’s well that ends well.

        • Thanks for the response. I didn’t realize the Aubry was a Sears brand. I was never able to find out much about it (this was pre-internet).

  5. The BPS in 16 ga looks really nice.

    I apparently have a thing against being able to find readily available ammo for my guns, so I’m considering skipping the 12 ga and just getting a 16 and 10 for no practical reason at all.

    I’ve always wanted a 10 gauge.

    California is going to be effectively handloaders only come January, so in-store ammo availability will be a moot point.

    • Re: 10 gauge . . . .

      My old goose hunting buddy in high school always took two guns into the field — a 12 gauge pump for most shooting, and a Marlin “Super Goose” bolt action 10 gauge for knocking down geese at long range. Sucker was a real cannon . . . .

  6. I have a Winchester model 12 in 16 gauge that was my grandfather’s. He bought it after coming home from WWII and used it for years hunting and putting food on the table.
    I still shoot it on occasion for clays. Has a polychoke barrel with a nickel barrel. No magazine discounter is a lot of fun, I wish newer pump guns didn’t have them.
    My local Big Rs carries 16 gauge ammo which is nice as it is definitely not easy to find in stores.

  7. I shoot the daylights out of some clays with a 16ga Remingtom 1100. It’s what fits me and is wonderful to shoot all afternoon.

    My Dad horse traded for it many yeas ago then eventually gave it to me. Cabellas had a pallet of #7 1/2 shot some time ago and I bought a considerable amount of it. I’m not “recoil sensitive” but I don’t really want to shoot any other shotgun in the safe. I’ll keep my sweet 16 for as long as it keeps busting clay.

  8. My dad had a single shot 16ga just like that when I was growing up. I never got to shoot it since it also had a similar hacksaw treatment and was definitely not legal.

  9. I grew up with Model 12, 16 ga, with polychoke. Wonderful gun. In the past 2 years I have picked up a Browning O/U in 16 and a new A5 Sweet 16. Both are sweet and so easy to shoot. It is a bit troublesome to find shells and when you do, purchase a bunch. A couple of years ago I had the Model 12 restored at Wright’s in Pinckneyville, IL. It is over 90 years old and shoot like a new one. It was a bit pricey but worth keeping the memories.

    • Me too. I acquired my father’s about 25 year ago. As a youth I shot many dove with it. Until about two weeks ago it had not been shot for 20 years. My son brought it along to the range with us one day. He was salivating over it. A great shooter.

  10. I’ve killed quite a few grouse with my great grandmothers Ithaca 16 gauge double barrel. It’s fun to shoot, but the ammo safe to shoot is getting old.

  11. The 16 was a popular bore back in the day. It was perfect for just about any type of hunting with the exception of waterfowl.

    The 16 had a 2 and 3/4 inch chamber. A lot of the 20’s and 12’s also had the shorter chamber. Those short chambered 20’s were considered boys and womens guns.

    And then the 20’s and 12’s started coming standard with the 3 inch chamber. And the 16 did not. It held to the old standard. That caused it’s downfall.

    Americans love their horsepower. And new and improved. The 16 couldn’t hold up to that Wall Street advert expectation we Muricans like so much.

    I still think the 16 is just about perfect.

  12. I grew up with a model 12 in 16 and a model 37 in 16 ga. For anything except ducks geese, the 16 is as good as a 12. but has the heft and balance of a 20. It shot deer slugs fine too. not much difference between a 16 and 12 ga foster slug.
    I miss that gauge. one of my sons friends picked up a model 12 in 16 a couple of years ago, he love is too.
    You can order the shells on line. they’re a little more money , but shotgun shells are cheap compared to rifle ammo anyway. They are cheaper than most 410 ammo too. which I don’t understand.

  13. I have several.

    The nicest is a French guild gun from the 30s. Weighs a little less than 6 lbs. Nice and light for a double.

    16s are often slightly lighter than their 12 ga brethren.

    I only hunt quail, dove, and squirrels with a 16. Squirrels with Winchester 37 in 16. Doves and quail with the guild gun or remington 1148 or 1100.

    I have an Ithaca 37 in 16 that I use as truck gun. #1 buck and Brenneke slugs attached. Dandy for defense and the joke is on the hoodlum that might steal it. Much harder to find ammo in brick and nd mortar stores.

  14. Ammo availability depends on where you live. Here in Czech Republic, many hunters, although mostly the older ones, still own 16 ga guns. New shooters regularly try out double-barreled 16s, because they’re dirt cheap. The result? My LGS offers like a dozen loads, from birdshot to slugs.

  15. Dad’s Browning ‘Sweet 16’ was part of him. Hunting small game, you only asked ‘did you get it?’ If he shot all 3….most of the time his answer was “of course’.

  16. HahaHa…story almost exactly mineat young age. Still have the SEARS RANGER pump (c. 1952) and still break clays with my own loads (as ammo was getting harder to find). Also have a neat SIMSON “Drilling” double 16 side by side over an 8 x 57JS that is a work of art from 1939 Germany that kept meat on the table.

  17. First pump shotgun I owned was a Remington 870 in 16 gauge, a gift from my dad. “Hah!” snorted the other hunters, “It shoots like a 20 but weighs as much as a 12!”

    I let them laugh. I loved that gun.

  18. I have a SxS in 16 gauge and my dad had (mom has now) a Browning A5 Sweet 16 with Polychoke on it. Loved shooting the Browning. 16 gauge was (still is?) very popular in Europe.

    Love comments like “16 is not a compromise between 12 and 20. It is lesser of both and a substitute for neither. More of a place holder really.” See http://www.guns.com/2015/10/28/the-16-gauge-shotgun-never-given-its-due/ and http://dailycaller.com/2013/08/20/what-happened-to-the-16-gauge-shotgun/ for the benefits compared to 12 and 20.

  19. Before WWII the 16 was the most popular gauge of shotgun sold in these United States. After the war, soldiers bought shotguns in the caliber they were familiar with, and military shotguns were 12 gauge.

    I knew plenty of folks who used the 20 and 16 gauge for duck hunting back in the 80’s, however, when the requirement for steel shot for waterfowl came out they all transitioned to the 12 gauge.

    I wouldn’t mind a nice 16 gauge double for upland bird hunting, especially after the first 2 days of dove season when the dove start flying higher and faster. And certainly it’s a fine choice for pheasant. However it really is a niche cartridge at this time.

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