The 16 Gauge, an inconvenient truth

Discussion in 'Shooting - Reloading Forum' started by JP, Nov 10, 2017.

  1. JP

    JP Elite Refuge Member

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    Scotty,

    Back in the day (before steel shot) the 16 gauge was the dominant bird gun because it simply shot (patterns) better than the 20 gauge and (i.e., Sweet Sixteen) carried well in the field.

    The steel shot mandate did several things:

    Manufacturers initially (late 1980's) offered loads that (what's a polite word for crap) woefully underperformed, across the board, regardless of gauge.

    The 10 gauge was rising in popularity as it and it alone offered a viable solution to this situation as it furnished the heaviest payload (at that time) and largest bore (best patterns) option.

    Mossberg in covert collaboration with Federal Cartridge Corp. rolled out the model 835 & 3 1/2" cartridge in 12 gauge ~09/1989 as the panacea to the situation as long-time waterfowlers were either dropping out of the pursuit altogether or going outlaw (sticking with lead) rather than deal with the commercial steelshot loads that were in use at the time.

    This shotgun (yep, I got one in 10/1989) coupled with the Federal roman candle loads were brutal to shoot and really didn't work a lot better than the other options already in play as pattern work with these loads soon revealed. Handloaders soon discovered the redeeming virtue of the Mossberg 835 was it's ~10 gauge bore in delivering awesome patterns with short(er) shotshells.

    Then, Benelli trotted out the (Breda built) messiah known as SBE and the assault on anything less than 3 1/2" cartridges in 12 gauge flavor began in earnest.

    The marketing of this cartridge escalated faster than politicians running to their cars at Christmas break (which is a pretty good clip) when other shotgun manufacturers jumped onto the bandwagon. As many soon found out, simply stretching a 3" chambered S/A to 3 1/2" chambering could be problematic as (i.e.) Browning found out (receiver stress fractures) with the BGH and Remington (bolt yoke failures) with the 11-87 did as well, to name a few.

    We are a nation of magnumitis (if a little bit is good, then a whole lot more has to be better) but even that mantra has proven problematic with the 12 gauge in 3 1/2" chambered as evidenced by the plethora of "recoil reduction" (felt and otherwise) gimmicks rolled out with each succeeding hunting season. Heck, we even have a used car salesman (masquerading as a shotgun expert) claiming shotgun stocks are contorting like political promises when the trigger is pulled as a result of these gimmicks.

    The salvation of all other gauges, for waterfowling purposes was Alliant making their STEEL powder available to handloaders in the late 1990's which (due to it's burn curve characteristics) allowed for higher velocity, sans over pressuring in basically most all steel shot loadings. That's when the return to sanity began and as commercial cartridge companies slowly took notice, followed suite.

    Now, due to several factors, including the aging of the male waterfowler population base, increase of women's participation and the fact most 12YO's won't tolerate the felt recoil of a 3 1/2" twelve gauge, the other gauges are slowly but surely coming into their own.

    Manufacturers appear to have made economies of scale decisions and tried to promote the 3" magnum 20 gauge as the best alternative leaving the 16 gauge relegated to "red-headed stepchild" status. However, the few, the proud, the ultimate bird gunners stuck to their (16 gauge) guns and a resurgence appears to have germinated as the offerings for this gauge in both shotgun and shotshell are slowly regaining ground ceded during the 3 1/2" magnum 12 gauge blitzkrieg.

    Am in no way stating the 16 gauge is a be all, end all option rather, it has it's rightful place in any serious wingshooter's battery and should never be viewed as that "ba$tard gauge" as it's detractors would try and con us into believing.

    A Merry Christmas to all, and to all, good shooting!
     
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  2. Steelshot Scott

    Steelshot Scott Senior Refuge Member

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    I can agree that a 16 ga is a legitimate cartridge and a viable choice if you want to use it.

    The main market for 3 inch 20 ga is in the youth gun/female gun market(more so for youth guns). Conventional wisdom when I was young was to start a young hunter on a .410 ga. That was what I started on at age 8. I shot at I don't know how many ducks with it an NEVER brought one down(I did shoot a few squirrels and rabbits with it). When I was 11, I got a 20 ga Winchester 1200. I still have that gun, it is one of my most prized possessions. I got up at 3 am and opened up the box under the tree(I knew it was a gun by the size and weight of the box), put it together and went hunting. I climbed on our John Deere tractor and rode it down to a swamp that was nearby and took down a wood duck drake with my first shot. I was so excited I went straight home and my grandmother cleaned it and cooked it with dressing with the Christmas turkey. When I started my son out shooting, I did so with a 20 ga. My grandson is learning to hunt this year with the same SA-20 Mossberg my son started on.

    I will agree that the 3 inch 20 ga put the kabosh on the 16 ga. My old 1200 was a 2 3/4 inch gun only. Almost no one shot 3 inch shells in my youth(mostly goose hunters). When everyone shot 2 3/4 inch shells, there was a legitimate progression from 12 to 16 to 20 gauge. When the 3 inch 20 approx to the 16 and the 3 in 12 ga superior to it as far as knockdown, it kind of made it not as a cut and dried progression as before. It blurred the lines so to speak.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2017
  3. JP

    JP Elite Refuge Member

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    The 3" magnum 20 gauge was rolled out (1950's) an attempt to compete with the 16 gauge. It suffers the same problematic issues as the 3 1/2" magnum 12 gauge loadings.

    I never noticed any "progression" from the 20 to the 16 gauge as it stood on its own rather than a stepping stone to other gauges.

    BTW, as I own and shoot 20 gauges, there is no animus toward it rather, there are no illusions the 20 gauge is in any way the better of the 16.
     
  4. Steelshot Scott

    Steelshot Scott Senior Refuge Member

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    You never noticed the 12 was bigger than the 16 that was bigger than the 20?
     
  5. 10GAGENUT

    10GAGENUT Elite Refuge Member Sponsor Flyway Manager

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    Yes Sir and the 10 gauge is bigger than the 12 gauge, not to mention every 12 gauge 3 1/2" gun I've ever shot beats the tar out of me with 3 1/2" loads a whole lot more than my 10 gauge guns do.
    Think what JP is trying to convey is you get or can get equal performance from a 16 gauge or 3" 20 gauge, the larger bore of the 16 will give you much better patterning in most instances than a 20 gauge bore will.
    The main reason you can buy factory ammunition in 3" 20 gauge with heavier payloads and higher velocities isn't that it can't be done in a 16 gauge, it's that no effort has been made in years by the factories to improve 16 gauge loads while every effort has been made with the 3" 20 gauge.
    The other problem being with some R&D by manufacturers, some improvement in wad design and some newer guns marketed , the 16 could surpass anything the 3" 20 gauge does and compete more on a level with the 2 3/4" 12 gauge.
    That IMO opinion is never going to happen mainly because there would be little need or interest in competing with the well established and entrenched 12 gauge.
     
  6. Tuleman

    Tuleman Elite Refuge Member

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    Not in my experience.
    I've been carrying a shotgun in the field since about 1958, and even back then the 16 gage guns were far outnumbered by the 12 gage guns being carried by almost everyone I hunted with (except me, of course, I was relegated to my dad's old .410 bolt-action for about 4 years). Even the 15-year olds had twelves.
    There were a few 16 gage guns, of course; I remember in particular an OLD guy who carried a 16 SxS for doves....and he was good with it.
    Around this part of the country, a bird gun meant pheasant and duck....not woodcock or quail or grouse....so that may have had some influence on the choice of guns.
     
  7. stephen brown

    stephen brown Senior Refuge Member

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  8. ALMODUX

    ALMODUX Elite Refuge Member

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    Exaggeration instead of comprehension is rampant these days. Some of us are merely saying what the manufacturers themselves, the facts, and the numbers say: there was a choice to focus on specific gauges and shells and product lines. Others were ignored. This isn’t really an issue to debate anymore than IF the sky is blue. The WHY is the real topic where differences can logically abound. The ‘why’ can be you don’t like the 16. Some people don’t like labs or the constitution or pretty women, either. ;)
     
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  9. markd

    markd Elite Refuge Member

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    ...probably the same guys that like 16 gauges...:dv
     
  10. ALMODUX

    ALMODUX Elite Refuge Member

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    Nice try. LOL

    I love labs, live under a sworn oath, love my woman, and shoot 16s.

    To not like a 16, you have to really hunt an excuse (can’t find ammo at Walmart, my dog ate it, etc) or just not know them well. :nutz
     

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