What Happened to the 16 Gauge Shotgun?

What Happened to the 16 Gauge Shotgun?

This is a question that has been pondered by many shotgun enthusiasts. A century ago the 16-gauge was one of the more popular shotgun gauges, so what happened? Why aren’t more manufacturers building 16-gauge guns nowadays? Why isn’t there more readily available ammunition for these shotguns?

We don’t know if there is a simple answer to these questions. It is more likely that it is a combination of events that happened over time that led to the downward spiral of the 16-gauge. Although, we do have reason to believe that this might be isolated to the American sportsman, as many shooters from other parts of the world still claim to regularly use the 16-gauge shotgun. However, here in the U.S. we have seen an obvious decline from a century ago.

The first thing that could have contributed to their loss in popularity might be that they were primarily used for upland bird hunting. A sport that reached its peak during the early part of the 20th century, which turned out to be detrimental to both the birds and the 16-gauge shotgun. Early on when the conservation of wildlife was truly lacking in this country, many of these bird populations were wiped out in areas where the sport was most popular. So, as a result, shotgun owners began opting for the more powerful and versatile 12-gauge for their other hunting and shooting activities.

Slowly through the years, the 12-gauge continued to grow more popular. This was thanks in part to the top selling brands like Mossberg and Remington that were pumping out (pun intended) 12-gauge versions of their guns for both commercial use and for several war efforts.

Then came the increase of popularity of skeet and clay shooting. When the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) was officially established back in 1989, their rulebook conspicuously left out the 16-gauge. They classify the acceptable shooting categories as 12, 20, 28, and .410, that left anyone choosing to shoot with a 16-gauge to compete against a field of more powerful 12-gauge shotguns. This exclusion is also likely the reason why there has been a lack of commercially available target loads made for the 16 gauge. Those looking to shoot target loads or compete in shooting sports would have most likely had to hand load their 16-gauge ammunition.

Well, with all that said, there is some good news for those of us that still love the 16-gauge shotgun. Someone at Browning felt our pain, and did something about it. After resurrecting their Auto-5 without a 16-gauge offering a few years back, Browning realized their error in judgment, and in 2016 brought back their awesome Sweet Sixteen model.

Browning has also introduced a line of 16-gauge target ammunition. So, it is reassuring that there is at least one gun company that has every intention of helping this great shotgun gauge survive for future generations to enjoy. 

Some might say, who cares! What makes the 16-gauge special? For those that may see it that way, please allow us to point out one little fact about these guns. The barrel of a 16-gauge shotgun creates the most ideal shot pattern for upland bird hunting and knocking a clay pigeon from the sky. This is not just a personal opinion either. It is a fact that the bore diameter of the 16-gauge is a near perfect 2/3” in diameter and when loaded with a 1oz or even a 1-1/8 oz load, it will throw an ideal pattern of shot that can’t be replicated by any other gauge.

If you are still not buying into the hype, I guess we just gave you another reason to head out to the range. We are sure you’ll find someone that still owns one of these great shotguns that would be willing to help prove our point. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and make your own comparisons, and feel free to let us know what you think on social media. We are sure it will only create more fans of this almost forgotten shotgun. Until next time, stay safe and shoot straight.