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The Modern History of the 16 Gaugeby Bill Hanus
A modern history of the 16 gauge begins here ... with the story of how Bill Hicks & Co. brought an all new Browning 16 gauge over/under back to American birdgunners.
The Browning Story
Several years ago, Bill Hicks & Co. brought back the 16 gauge Browning in two production runs, totaling 1,500 over/unders. They were "non-catalog" guns made (but not sold) by Browning.
What makes these guns unique:
1. Name brand -- these are genuine, full-featured 16 gauge guns, built on 16 gauge frames, capitalizing on Browning's previous 16 gauge over/under experience and backed by Browning's warranties. The range of models offered by Bill Hicks goes well beyond what Browning originally marketed. They included:
Grade VI - Blue/Gray
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2. New technology -- by utilizing a lightweight alloy receiver reinforced with a dove-tailed steel breech face on a true 16 gauge frame the idea of a six pound 16 gauge over/under became a reality in the new Browning Superlight (straight grip, Schnabel forend, 150 produced) and Lightning Feather (semi-pistol, standard forend, 250 produced). Total production of these two models was about 400 pieces. They married the concept of "lightweight" to the legendary patterning characteristics of the 16 gauge -- and eliminated the engineering expense of manufacturing and fitting 16 gauge barrels to a 20 gauge frame. The net result is that the under six-pound Super Light and Lightning Feather models fit the old time description of a 16 gauge gun -- "It carries like a 20, but hits like a 12." This really changed everything. It's an upland bird hunters dream come true.
At the luxury end of the Hicks/Browning spectrum is the Gran Lightning, built on a steel receiver with satin-finished Grade VI wood and a perfectly executed Prince of Wales grip. It may be true that great wood on a gun "never grassed a bird yet," many bird hunters would argue the point. Only 100 Gran Lightnings were built in 16 gauge, 50 with 26" barrels, 50 with 28" barrels. Similar small production numbers exist for both Grade VI Blue and Gray models.
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Great mechanicals, as you would expect
The chambers are chromed and the barrels back-bored, enhancing the short shot string patterns inherent in the 16 gauge. Steel shot is okay, so it's a duck gun too. All models are offered with both 26" and 28" barrels. A neat set of bore locks are included. The "key" is an Allen wrench that activates a locking cam. Browning furnishes IC-M-F screw-in Vector chokes (NOT Vector-Plus) and other chokes -- including Skeet -- are widely available at low cost. This extends the use of these new model Brownings to sporting clays target games. The stock dimensions are: 1-5/8" x 2-3/8" x 14-1/4" with about 1/8" cast-off, so these guns will shoot where you look if you have a dominant right eye. The rule of thumb for judging acceptable recoil (in lightweight guns like the Superlight and Lightning Feather) is "to allow six pounds of gun for each ounce of shot you are going to put through the barrel." So with a one ounce load, in a six pound gun you are going to be right on the cusp of recoil comfort. That's okay for late season bird hunting where you expect to get five or six shots all day -- but if you go out to a sporting clays facility and shoot at 50 targets from a low-gun hold, you are going to wish you'd added a pad.
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