Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
The 16 Gauge-- It is Deja Vu All Over Again, Baby! by Bill Hanus
Don Zitz had it right when he said: "If we started from scratch to reinvent the ideal shotgun shell - - it would end up looking a lot like the 16 gauge." Phoenix-like, the 16 gauge has risen above 50 years of benign neglect and corporate rejection to regain its rightful place as America's premier upland game gun.
The Shot String Secret
This knowledge of shot string science has been artfully concealed from you by a generation of rifle-shooting writers who would have you believe that rifle marksmanship technology is transferable to shotgun use. It isn't. Rifle and pistol marksmanship are two-dimensional, static activities. The target stands still.
Shotgun marksmanship is three-dimensional. The target moves. It changes direction and dips and climbs and dives. The shot string that emerges from your 12 or 20 gauge shotgun when you pull the trigger is a column 12 or l4 feet long. You take targets by positioning this column where the target is most likely to fly into it.
The 16 gauge has a shorter shot string -- maybe 33% shorter -- so that its typical 1 ounce load has the same pellet density as a 1-1/4 ounce load in a 12 gauge gun!
Yes, the 16 does "carry like a 20 and hit like a 12," just like the old advertising slogan said. Or, as Jack O'Connor, another shooting legend, described the 16: "the gauge that shoots like a 12 and kicks like a 20."
Look Who's Bragging About the 16….
Don Zutz reminds us in Shotgunning -- Trends in Transition (1989) that ". . two of the most famous ruffed grouse hunters of all time -- William Harden Foster and Burton L. Spiller -- focused in their books on the 16. Perhaps the most famous shotgun in all upland writing is the 16 gauge Parker hammer gun . . . `The Little Gun' of Foster's New England Grouse Hunting. And when Burton L. Spiller narrated the ordering and purchase of his first custom bird gun in More Grouse Feathers (1938), it turned out to be a 16 gauge."
Annie Oakley set a world's record by breaking 4,772 out of 5,000 thrown targets in nine hours in February, 1885 (The American Rifleman, October 1998 issue). She chose a couple of 16 gauge doubles for the job -- she knew the secret of the 16's reputation for superb patterns and modest recoil.
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John Haviland who writes lyrically of the 16 gauge, put it this way in "Of The Sixteen" in Petersen's Shotguns, March 1998. ". . plenty of 16 gauge guns and loads remain for the hunter who wants to revisit his youth when grouse flushed at easy angles."
The 16 Gauge is Hot Again Now That There's Ammunition For It
A couple of years ago I did a SHOT Show report and mentioned that Bashieri & Pellegri had a dynamite 29 gram (about 1-1/32 oz) 16 gauge load that went out the door at 1,325 fps and that if readers wanted some to call Mike Dotson, and "tell him you were a friend of Bill Hanus." Mike told me later that friends of mine had ordered over 30,000 rounds of 16 ammunition from him. All from one squibby little mention! There is a pent-up demand for quality 16 gauge loads -- and that demand has not diminished. It's growing.
More shotshell makers are offering more good 16 gauge loads -- you can even get #9 and #10 shot if you look around. Bismuth and Kent Cartridge offer non-toxic loads -- both available from mail order catalog houses -- that can be used in some of those older 16's that were retired when the only non-toxic choice was steel.
And Great New Guns That Make the Most of the 16 Gauge
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There's the New Bill Hanus Birdgun by AyA of course; Browning Citoris (special ordered in 16 gauge by Bill Hicks & Co. -- including a handful of the all new Superlight Feathers which tip the scales in 16 gauge at only 6 lb 2 oz.) . . . the Ithaca Gun Featherlight pump gun where sales of their 16 gauge models are right behind the 20 gauge. . . Merkel just introduced a 16 gauge gun built on a 20 gauge frame, said to weigh only 5 lb. 15 or . . . the F.A.I.R. (I. Rizzini) 16 gauge over/under is imported by New England Arms. . . and Remington re-introduced the 16 gauge on their M870 (on a 12 gauge frame, however).
“Love is wonderful, the second time around'
If Don Zutz and Jack O'connor, along with William Harden Foster and Burton L. Spiller, were right about the 16 gauge being the perfect shotshell -- and there are those who think they were -- and with the immense selection of 16 gauge ammunition at our disposal -- and 16 gauge guns for every budget -- perhaps the idea of a shotgun, marriage has occurred to you. Maybe the idea of a "sweet sixteen" on your arm this fall isn't all that farfetched.
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