Steven Model 555

This sweet Sixteen is perfect for upland hunters

Stevens Model 555 Enhanced by Savage packs 12-gauge ballistics in a 20-gauge
frame and features comprehensive engraving, great walnut and superb “pointability.”

The Sixteen gauge is a sleeper but the “forgotten gauge” may be clawing its way back from undeserved exile in a number of shotgun production lines. The latest example is the Savage/Stevens Model 555 O/U.

The Upland Gun

When I began hunting, there were a lot of 16-gauge shotguns being carried in the fields and ponds around the neighborhood. Many a young hunter was started afield with a single-barreled 16-gauge. Winchester Model 12s, Ithaca pumps and Browning Sweet Sixteen A-5’s dominated the local adult market alongside a smattering of Fox, Parker and L.C. Smith doubles. My next-door neighbor, who grew up in Oklahoma bobwhite country, agrees as he and all of his family carried a 16-gauge. Just last night I was rereading Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy. You guessed it, when Ruark turned 11, the Old Man gave him a 16-gauge double. “There were engravings of quail and dogs in silver on the sides and my name on the silver butt plate,” Ruark wrote.

Then, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the 20-gauge 3″ magnum simply buried the Sixteen, although the 16-gauge continued to be the dominant all-around chambering in Europe.

The slightly smaller 16-gauge shell (bottom) can be adapted to 20-gauge frames
but it still delivers 12-gauge, 3-dram performance with 1-1/8 oz. of shot.

Still A Winner

The sterling quality of the 16-gauge is it can be built on a 20-gauge-sized frame. A classic example is the much-loved 16-gauge Winchester Model 12, constructed on the trim 20-gauge frame. The result in all shotgun styles is a lithe, racy gun with strong ballistics, a joy to carry afield.

Sixteens mount as fast as a 20-gauge, aren’t punishing in the recoil department and throw the same weight — or heavier weight — shoot charges faster and often more evenly from a standard 2 3/4″ hull. In short, the standard 16-gauge delivers classic 12-gauge field performance in a livelier, lighter gun.

So, with the recent reappearance of Browning’s “Sweet Sixteen” A5 and now Savage/Stevens’s new, Turkish-made Model 555 O/U, there’s just the possibility hunters are again appreciating the forgotten qualities of the 16-gauge shell.

The gun features eye-catching, full-coverage laser-cut floral scroll engraving.

To control weight, the receiver is machined from aluminum with steel trunnions
and a steel-reinforced standing breech face.

Savage Quality

The Model 555 pictured is Steven’s “enhanced” model displaying full-coverage, laser cut, scroll engraving on its silver receiver and high-quality pieces of nicely figured, oil-finished, Turkish walnut for the buttstock and forearm. It also differs from a standard grade 555 in having auto ejectors rather than manual extractors. The standard blued grade carries an MSRP of $705 while the enhanced model is listed at $879.

Competitive street prices will be lower for both models, and I think the price differential between the standard and enhanced models is well worth the small extra cost for the full-coverage engraving, figured stocks and auto ejectors.

My first impression of the 555 in 16-gauge was how light and how well-balanced it is. With its 28″, chrome-lined, stack barrels featuring ventilated top and side ribs, it tips the scales at only 6.45 lbs. The weight savings are made possible by scaling the receiver to 20-gauge proportions, using trunnions rather than a full hinge-pin and machining the action from aluminum. The trunnions are steel inserts as is the face plate in the standing breech, and there’s a solid steel under-locking lug.

It’s a smart, modern and durable design, precision machined and well fitted. There’s no slop in the action, but neither is it stiff.

The shallow frame of the Model 555 plus the upswept line of the Schnabel fore-end minimizes the distance from the bore axis to the palm of your leading hand. This all-important hand-to-barrel relationship is the mark of all fine game guns. We call this quality “pointability,” and the Stevens has it.

Sweet Stock

The richly grained, Turkish walnut stock is eye-pleasing with good lines and fine checkering patterns. The stocks are oil finished, and if you bring them up your nose, you can still catch just a hint of the wonderful aroma of linseed oil. Length-of-pull is 14.57 and when measured with Brownells’ LOP and Drop Gauge, drop-at-the-comb is 1-1/4″, 2-3/8″ at the heel with zero cast. The butt is capped with a solid pad.

The Stevens features a single-selective, mechanical trigger controlled by an easy-to-thumb tang safety and comes factory supplied with five choke tubes (C, IC, M, IM, F), a cable lock and ear plugs.

The Stevens produced sensational 30-yard patterns with 1-1/8 oz. of 7-1/2 shot.
The X’d clays all have at least 2 pellets in them.

The Only Drawback

The only aspect lacking in the 16-gauge is the need for a better selection of shells at competitive prices, along with dealers who will stock them. For testing purposes, I chose Federal’s “High-Brass”, 3-1/4 dram equivalent load featuring 1-1/8 oz. of lead 7-1/2s. It’s a great upland load.

For point-of-impact and patterning analysis, I used Hunter-John clay targets consisting of 126 life-size clays, roughly the core body size of a small game bird.

Selecting a modified tube for the lower barrel, I backed off 30 yards, a good upland yardage and let fly. The resulting six patterning sheets were all similar to the one pictured here with well-centered patterns, excellent core densities and no patchy holes. I was impressed.

A Real Revival?

Will the Sixteen make a comeback? Without a better selection of shells on local dealers’ shelves, it will be a tough uphill battle. On the other hand, packing the classic 12-gauge, 3-dram 1 1/8 oz loading in a shotgun crafted on a 20-gauge frame, the Sixteen will certainly live on in the hands of knowledgeable upland hunters.

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