16 Gauge


I am thinking about purchasing a custom 16 ga SxS, with my primary question directed to you regarding the 16 bore itself. I hunt geese–and use my Benelli SBE. I also hunt sharptails, ruffed grouse, pheasants, and just occasionally sporting clay “birds.” Someone once told me that the 16 is a good compromise, having the handling qualities of a 20 and the killing power of a 12 (like all compromises, this cannot be completely true). I would use the 16 ga SxS for almost all shooting except when in the goose blind. What is your opinion of the 16 ga as a bore size for my purposes?


Dear Lowell,

Wow, this is my week for 16 gauge questions. Are all you 16 gauge fans getting together at the local bar and scheming to gang mail me?

I’m not real hot for the 16 gauge. There. I said it and I’m glad. I’m probably the only outdoor writer who isn’t simply mad for the gauge. Everyone else drools and simpers over the “light as a 20, powerful as a 12″ reputation. Don’t get me wrong. I do plenty of drooling and simpering, just not about the 16. Well, I do have to admit that most of the 16s I handled do feel good, especially in SxS. The 16 gauge barrels seems to add just a touch of weight to steady out the whippiness that many short 20 gauge SxS have. A pal of mine has a 16 gauge 28″ Webley & Scott boxlock that I would just kill for. Unfortunately, that is the only way I could get it from him.

Payload certainly isn’t the problem. The 16 will happily throw an ounce of shot. One ounce of shot is really all you need for most upland shooting. You can also easily bulk it up to 1-1/8 oz or even 1-1/4 oz if you insist. The 16’s capacity really isn’t an issue.

BUT- Buying or reloading the 16 gauge is a pain. Most of the majors (Rem, Win and Fed) do have a very limited selection of 16 gauge shells. Bismuth has 16s in 4s and 6s. Reloading components are also quite limited, but available. Where I run into problems is when I have to buy shells locally. The corner sporting good store often doesn’t have 16s or, if they do, they are invariably in a shot size or type you don’t want. Of course, one of my favorite guns is an English 2-1/2” 12, so you can see that I speak out of both sides of my mouth. Well, two faces made Janus famous.

Of course, these arguments are null and void if 1) you reload and plan ahead, or 2) if you buy new and plan ahead. Needless to say, planning ahead is not one of my great virtues. Blundering ahead is more my style.

Ballisticlly, I have no specific problem with the 16 at all. It’s better than the 20 and not as good as the 12, the laws of physics being as humorless as they are. Personally, I prefer a light 12 to a 16 as I find it more versatile. Remember too that the popularity of the 12 and 20 ensure that the ammo companies do most of their development work for those gauges. They get the new stuff first. The 16 is always last on the list, if at all, for new hulls, wads, powders.

I think that the main concern about the 16 is “selection”. Since it is sort of an orphan gauge, there are fewer guns to pick from. If you are buying a bespoke custom 16 from an American, Spanish or English maker, that isn’t a problem. If you want one off the shelf, it is. Selling a used 16 is also an issue. You have to find the right buyer. People who want 16s often really want them, but most people don’t. If you are buying used, 16s are rare. You’ll have far, far more choice in 12 and 20. A quick glance through the “English” and “European” used gun section of The Gun List will prove my point.

Bottom line: The 16 is an orphan for a reason. While it may well “hit like a 12 and carry like a 20″, a light 12 and a 3″ 20 will do what the 16 will do with a lot more versatility. (No, I don’t want to hear howls of hatred for the 3” 20. My B25 handles them great.) Perhaps it all boils down to the particular gun more than a particular gauge. Some of the 12 gauge SxS guns out there are so clunky that the 16 seems sweet. Others aren’t. Many 20 gauge SxS are far too whippy (particularly the English stuff) and the same gun in a 16 seems sweet. Others aren’t.

I think that I would base my decision more on the gun than the gauge. If you find a particular 16 SxS that exudes “the feel”, then by all means get it. Just be aware that you will have to plan ahead for your shells a bit more than for a more common gauge. The way a gun handles, feels and fits is far more important than the shell it shoots. Hunting is more about how you hit than what you hit with.

In some ways buying a 16 is like buying a necktie. (How’s that for a strained analogy?) When I want to replace a favorite necktie that is worn out or has a particularly pugnacious gravy stain, I can never, ever find an exact match. Yet sometimes, when shopping for something else, I stumble on a really nice tie that becomes one of my favorites. A used 16 SxS is like that. Finding exactly the right one is more serendipity than anything else. The selection is so small that you have to get lucky. Having one made is the way to go in the 16. I don’t recommend custom ties, but it is a great way to go in guns if you can do it.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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1 Response to 16 Gauge

  1. Sonny Baird says:

    I have always used 16’s for the size & weight I find fits me better .


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