Gratuitous Gun Pic: Browning Sweet Sixteen (16ga)

As something of an old-fashioned man with eccentric tastes, I have to confess that sometimes my innate sense of logic runs away and hides, leaving me with a fondness for something totally unfashionable.

Probably the most egregious of these is a love of the 16ga shotgun chambering.  [pause to allow the mocking laughter to subside]

I can probably blame John Moses Browning.  Why?  Because of this:

Yes, it’s the venerable Auto-5 (“A5”, as it’s now known), and in 16ga it is known as the “Sweet Sixteen”.  It was the first shotgun I ever owned, and countless rounds went down its barrel before I was finally forced to sell it during the Foul Time Of Poverty, some ten-odd years ago.

I am not the only one thus afflicted — I always found the 12ga shotguns, even the semi-auto ones, a little too much to handle, especially given the quantities of rounds I would fire at a single setting.  I also enjoy shooting the 20ga nowadays (e.g. the gun I keep at Free Market Towers, thankee Squire):

…but were it not for the ridicule and merciless teasing I would have to endure from Mr. Free Market (“not much less recoil, much less effective than the 12” etc. etc.), I would have held out for a 16ga side-by-side for my Britishland Shooting Adventures, such as they were.  Something like this gorgeous Arrieta:

Indeed, before the Tragic Canoeing Accident In The Brazos River, I used to keep a cheap Spanish 16ga side-by-side as a bedside gun.

But getting back to the Browning Sweet Sixteen:  I have to admit that the Auto-5 was not John Browning’s best design.  Even in the “weaker” 16ga chambering, it kicked the hell out of me, and as for the “Light” 12 variant — boy, talk about a misnomer.

Still, whenever I see one of the new Sweet Sixteens, I get a twitching in a familiar place:

…and it’s not in my shoulder, either.

All that said, the 16ga is not an optimal choice nowadays, practically speaking.

  • There aren’t a lot of them around — that Arietta is the only 16ga shotgun in four pages of shotguns at Collectors — and that means that there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to ammo.
  • The 16ga also fails Mr. Free Market’s “Availability” test — where if one’s gun is separated from its ammo, will there be a box or two lying around?  For 12ga, that would be a resounding “yes”, for 20ga, also a yes  albeit perhaps not so resounding.  For 16ga?  You’ll be lucky to find any  of it at Ye Localle Gunne Emporium in Nowhere, Idaho, let alone in the outfitter’s glove box.
  • While the 16ga cartridge does have less recoil than the 12ga, it’s not that  much less — and it’s lots  more than the 20ga.

Like I said, it’s an impractical choice for someone perhaps just beginning to shoot shotguns.

Just don’t shoot a Sweet Sixteen as your first, and you’ll probably be okay.


  1. My best friend, childhood buddy from kindergarten through high school retired a few years ago from the Pacific NW and now lives less than an hour away here in the Texas Hill Country. We get together to shoot skeet, rifle and pistol several times each month and recently he brought his old Browning Sweet Sixteen, left handed he bought when we were in high school. The gun is in excellent condition, shells are not cheap or easy to find and he shoots his 20 ga. o/u Beretta much better but there is something rather nice seeing him shoot his almost 60 year old gun and memories of hours and hours we spent as kids hunting, fishing and shooting together. Part of this old guy gun stuff is just enjoying the process and sharing the experience with a few good friends.

  2. A 12-gauge shotgun can be something of a bear for those of smaller stature; I recall a fellow Boy Scout who, while possessing the mental fortitude expected, had to be picked up off the ground every time he fired the 12 gauge while skeet shooting (to his credit, he did nail four out of five targets).

    My father and I routinely attended a ‘dove season opening’ event in the state hinterlands for several years. And invariably during the festivities, I would become excited, and forget to seat the stock against my shoulder properly. I’d never feel it then, of course; too much adrenaline and endorphins. But that evening as I undressed I would see a spiderweb-pattern bruise in my shoulder (from fabric folds pressed into the flesh) and I’d shake my head at my own folly.

  3. I learned that a 12 was not the only usable shotgun for Geese while hunting with my buddy’s dad’s buddy Linc Stephenson.

    Linc used a .410 pump to pick Canada geese out of the air at absurdly long ranges.

    After he died I bought that gun from his estate, but Linc must have busted something in it before his death because try as I might my success rate is maybe 5% of his.

  4. I’m a mostly Ithaca Model 37 in 20ga guy, but for some reason every time I open one of the gun closets it appears as if the 16ga doubles have been breeding. I think I’m up to five at the moment; although I believe I may have frightened them into abstinence by my threat to convert one of them into a .348 Win double rifle, heh, heh, heh. ( My ‘smith says it should be do-able by just sleeving the barrels; the hardest part would be modifying the extractors.)

    1. Yeah, I’ve experienced the “gun-breeding” phenomenon myself, more than once.
      But that was before the Great Canoeing Accident On The Brazos, off course.

  5. A 16ga. Winchester Model 12 was my birthday present when I was 10 (not a typo). Still have it. Dad worked for Olin and got it from the company store.

  6. Thanks for reminding me JLW, I forgot the model 97 in 16ga. A very nice older reblue that followed me home a while back…

  7. Just never seen much use for shotguns less than 12 gauge, plus it makes buying ammo simpler.
    To store clerk, “I wanna buy all your 12 ga ammo, please.”
    See? Easy.

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