By Chris Batha
Images courtesy of Kirby Hoyt/www.vintagedoubles.com
For any shotgun gauge to realize and maintain reputation, it wants to supply good ballistic efficiency, be provided in reasonably priced weapons and be available in cartridges. By these requirements, the 16 gauge has had a protracted and considerably checkered historical past.
It’s usually mentioned 16-gauge carries like a 20 and hits like a 12. This stability of lighter-weight weapons and strong hitting energy is commonly credited to the truth that the 16 is a “sq. load”—a time period developed by muzzleloaders for a load during which the shot, powder and wad are the identical size because the nominal boring.
The fashionable 16-gauge cartridge doesn’t conform to the muzzleloading axiom in general size, however the depth of the shot column of a 1-ounce load does nonetheless intently match the nominal boring of .662″. (As a fast evaluation: It takes 16 lead balls of .662″ to make one pound, and there are 16 ounces in a single pound.) The logic holds sq. load maximizes the shot cost with the least pellet deformation from shot-column depth, thus leading to an optimally highly effective and even sample for the gauge.
I’m no ballistic professional and can’t clarify why the 16 gauge patterns so nicely, however I discover myself within the wonderful firm of the three Bs of ballistic consultants—(Bob) Brister, (Maj. Sir Gerald) Burrard and (John) Brindle—who all agreed on its wonderful patterns however couldn’t clarify it totally both. The very best rationalization I can supply is: As a result of the strain contained in the barrel at detonation causes probably the most shot harm, the longer the shot column, the extra pellets are deformed. The longer from sq. the shot column, the extra pellets are broken, leading to extra flyers and poorer patterns.
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A Transient Historical past of the 16
In Europe within the late 1800s and early 1900s, the 16-gauge was a well-liked selection amongst wingshooters—actually, it was the popular gauge in France and Germany. Due to the kind of looking on the Continent, which often included each fur and feather, Europeans most popular mixture (shotgun-rifle) weapons. The commonest variation advanced right into a break-action, double-barreled, side-by-side shotgun with a rifle barrel beneath. These versatile mixture weapons are generally generally known as Drillings, the German phrase for triplets. Weight was a problem due to the distances hunters traveled, so the 16 gauge grew to become a well-liked wingshooting selection—and the lighter barrels made for better-balanced weapons.
In Britain the 16 gauge loved a robust following as much as World Battle II. Judging from the document books of the gunmakers for whom I’ve labored and the businesses that I personal, it’s clear that the 16 was a very fashionable selection, second solely to the 12. The 20 and 28 gauges truly have been thought of girls’ weapons.
Within the US within the late 1800s and early 1900s, the most well-liked gauges have been the 20, 16 and 12. The 20, due to its lighter weight, was a favourite for close-in upland capturing. However the mild, dynamic-handling 16 could possibly be thought of the Swiss Military knife of upland looking and an ideal gun for your entire vary of upland birds, from woodcock to pheasants.
Maybe not coincidentally, this additionally was the golden age of American shotgun manufacturing. Makers resembling L.C. Smith, Parker, Ithaca and A.H. Fox have been crafting stunning 16-gauge side-by-sides. Smooth, balanced and weighing little greater than 6 kilos, these weapons have been nicely suited to prolonged carry and the snap capturing required for grouse, woodcock and quail.
Pump-action weapons additionally got here into vogue round this time—most notably the Remington Mannequin 31, the Winchester Mannequin 12 and the bottom-ejection Ithaca Mannequin 37. With the introduction of multi-shot pumps and semi-autos, the 12 gauge was utilized by market hunters to shoot bigger numbers of geese.
Nonetheless, the 16 gauge was thought of extra sporting. Within the South the 16 was the gauge of selection for these looking “the gentleman’s quarry”: bobwhite quail. A visitor arriving to hunt quail with a 12 gauge usually was handled politely however with refined disdain.
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The Fall and Return of the 16
So what modified? The 16’s preliminary fall from grace started with the introduction of skeet. In 1926 the official guidelines of skeet included solely the .410, 28 gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge for competitors. The 16 was thought of to be so near the 12 that the 20-gauge was included as a substitute. As skeet grew in reputation together with lure (a 12-gauge-only affair), the 16 took a backseat in producers’ analysis and improvement. Accordingly, 16-gauge shells noticed much less innovation, and hulls and reloading elements likewise lagged behind.
Merely put: The 16 fell sufferer to the small hole left between light-weight 12-gauge weapons and high-performance 20s. And with the gauge thought of “candy” no extra, ammo makers quietly stopped growing 16-gauge hundreds.
Maybe the actual nail within the coffin got here in 1954, when Winchester launched a Mannequin 21 side-by-side chambered for its new three″, 20-gauge Western Tremendous-X Magnum shotshells. Now the 20-gauge was able to 1¼-oz.payloads, which customers—rightly or wrongly—perceived to be a bonus over 2¾”, 1-oz 16-gauge shells. So the 16 gauge basically was dethroned because the light-weight different to the 12.
Consequently, cartridge producers centered on the 20 gauge, which advanced into at present’s full vary of three″, 20-gauge cartridges. (I take into account this a “bastard” load, as a result of it produces probably the most deformed pellets and flyers of all 20-gauge hundreds because of the lengthy shot column.) The cartridge decisions and availability for 16s tailed off quickly, providing fewer and fewer choices to 16-gauge house owners. So besides amongst a small group of loyal followers, the 16 grew to become a little-considered gauge for a number of a long time.
Historical past, nevertheless, has a behavior of repeating itself. Right now the 16 gauge is experiencing a renaissance of kinds amongst shooters and gunmakers alike. Remington, Ithaca and Browning all have introduced again the 16. The Continentals at all times have liked the gauge, and now Italian, Spanish, Belgian, German and French gunmakers supply 16-bores. In Nice Britain all the “greatest” makers are taking orders for 16s.
This resurgence is being seen within the public sale homes and by gun sellers alike. There’s a demand and even a shortage of fine 16-gauges. This has had a “rooster and egg” impact: Because the older 16s have been rediscovered, extra orders for bespoke 16-gauge weapons are being positioned and new, trendy 16s are getting into the market.
This rise in reputation has created a requirement for cartridges, and ammunition producers have begun supplying a larger selection, additional fueling curiosity and the expansion in reputation of the gauge. Although you could have to organize them to get full benefit of the variability out there, you should buy 16-gauge shells in lead, metal, HEVI-Shot, bismuth and copper and in 2½” and 2¾”. Domestically, the Massive Three—Winchester, Remington and Federal—every have a couple of 16-gauge hundreds, whereas RST and Polywad supply specialty shells for older weapons. Most different shotshell corporations supply some 16-gauge hundreds, together with B&P, Ely, Environ-Steel, Property, Fiocchi, Gamebore, Hull, Kent and Rio.
The 16 Gauge Society affords recommendation and perception and is a wonderful supply of data on the 16 gauge.
I’ve made a number of 16-gauge weapons—each side-by-sides and over/unders—below the Charles Boswell title and have had the chance to shoot them at a number of species of birds in several international locations. I totally perceive the place the title “Candy Sixteen” obtained its inspiration. Regardless of the ups and downs, the 16 gauge is solely ballistically higher than the 20 gauge and handles higher than the 12. It patterns superbly and could be helpful for any upland chicken—from woodcock to quail to chukar and pheasant.
Chris Batha’s most up-to-date ebook, The Instinctive Shot, could be ordered by visiting chrisbatha.com, which additionally contains schedules of shoots and clinics with the writer.
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