Little Appreciated Today, Our Once Popular
Do-All “Middle Gauge” Just Got Sweeter
By Holt Bodinson
If you’re old enough to remember the lyrics to Only Sixteen by Sam Cooke, you probably remember an era when you saw a lot more 16 gauges in the field. When I began hunting, 16 gauges were common—Winchester Model 12’s, Ithaca pumps, Browning “Sweet Sixteen” A5’s and assorted single shots predominated with a scattering of Fox, Parker and L.C. Smith doubles. Then in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, the 20 gauge shooting the 3-inch magnum shell simply buried the 16.
Stuck in between the standard 12 gauge and 3-inch magnum 20 gauge, the 16 has been a stepchild of the American upland shotgun scene now for decades. We shouldn’t have let it happen. What the 16 gauge offers is a gun with the racy lines and weight of a 20 gauge with a standard shot load of 1-1/8 ounces equaling the performance of equivalent 12-gauge loads.
Browning is about to change it all (I hope) with the re-introduction of the A5 Sweet Sixteen and even some new Browning-branded 16-gauge ammunition.
If you loved the old humpback A5, you will definitely like the new sculptured, streamlined version. When John Browning created the first successful autoloading shotgun in 1898, he gave it that distinctive, squared-off receiver and a capacity of five shells—4 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber. It was known then as the “Auto 5” and later as simply the “A5.”
The so-called “humpback” receiver appealed to a lot of shooters. It extended the sighting plane of the gun several inches while the squared-off rear of the receiver functioned like a rear sight. While we talk about “pointing”—not “sighting”—a shotgun, I expect a lot of rifle shooters found the transition from their rifle to a shotgun a lot easier because of the defined humpback sighting plane of the A5.
The three leading semi-auto shotgun operating systems are gas, Benelli’s inertia drive, and Browning’s long-and-short-recoil systems. Surprise! When Browning redesigned their Sweet Sixteen, they gave it an inertia drive system called the Kinematic Drive System.
There’s a lot to be said in favor of an inertia drive. It’s simple since there are only five primary parts. Four are contained in the slide assembly—the rotating bolt, inertia spring, firing pin and strut or slidelink. The fourth rides inside the butt as the bolt return recoil spring.
Completely redesigned with an inertia drive, the new Sweet Sixteen (above)
is the best ever. The famous humpback increases the length of the sighting
plane and centers the eye. Clean, fast, reliable, versatile, light and compact,
the A5’s inertia drive is a real plus. Here is the rotating bolt (below) which
locks up securely and cycles fast.
The inertia system is noted for its speed—no shotgun action is faster; for its cleanliness—it’s not tapping off gas and accumulating carbon; for its versatility—it can handle, without adjustment, everything from light field loads to heavy magnums; for its reliability—it keeps functioning under a variety of weather and temperature conditions. It’s also light and compact—adding minimal weight to the gun and permitting the forearm to be smaller and mounted closer to the bore line for improved hand-eye coordination and pointing qualities.
In fact, it’s so good, Browning is offering a 100,000-round/5 year guarantee on the Sweet Sixteen.
The action of the Sweet Sixteen features a reversible safety and retains the original John Browning designed “speed-feed” feature unique to the A5. Let’s say you’ve retracted the bolt and unloaded your gun to safely cross a barbed wire fence. As soon as you clear the fence, a pheasant flushes at your feet.
With the A5 speed-feed system, all you have to do to is stuff a shell in the magazine. The action instantaneously and automatically feeds the shell into the chamber, and you’re ready to fire after taking off the safety. The speed-feed system has proven to be a real asset in the hunting field in a variety of scenarios.
Using an aluminum receiver, a light contour barrel and the Kinematic Drive System, Browning has been able to keep the weight of the new Sweet Sixteen down to 5 pounds, 12 ounces with a 26-inch barrel and only an ounce more with a 28-inch tube. The Sweet Sixteen actually feels lighter in my hands, and I think it’s because of its excellent balance.
What about recoil in a gun weighing less than 6 pounds firing 1-1/8-ounce loads at 1,295 fps? Browning has pulled out all the stops to moderate it, starting with the barrel. To move the shot column smoothly down the barrel and through the choke with minimal resistance and shot deformation, Browning has incorporated a lengthened forcing cone, a back-bored barrel and a new Invector-DS choke tube in the Sweet Sixteen.
The checkering pattern on the A5 fore-end (above) is stylish, functional and
crisp. Browning’s Invector-DS tube (below) is longer than a standard tube,
seals off gases better and improves patterns.
1-1/8-ounce loads at 1,295 fps? Browning has pulled out all the stops to moderate it, starting with the barrel. To move the shot column smoothly down the barrel and through the choke with minimal resistance and shot deformation, Browning has incorporated a lengthened forcing cone, a back-bored barrel and a new Invector-DS choke tube in the Sweet Sixteen.
Long forcing cones and back-bored barrels are old stuff. The Invector-DS (Double Sealed) choke tube is relatively new. The flush mounted DS tube is long, almost 3 inches in 16 gauge. The extra length allows the choke to very gradually restrict the shot column, thereby minimizing deformation of the shot and improving patterns. The extra length also enables Browning to retain a slim profile of the barrel at the muzzle—eliminating the flared muzzle contour common with other choke tube systems.
The “Double Sealed” designation refers to the tube which features a bronze bushing at one end and familiar muzzle threads at the other. The bronze alloy bushing seals off gases that otherwise tend to flow between the tube and the barrel—a common malady.
Finally, Browning has put quite a bit of technology and built-in geometry in their proprietary Inflex II recoil pad which functions to direct recoil down and away from your face.
Browning’s done a nice job of checkering and finishing the A5 stock. With spacers and shims, it’s completely adjustable for length-of-pull, drop and cast.
The only aspect lacking is a better selection of 16-gauge shotgun shells at competitive prices and dealers who will stock them. Looking at a company like Federal, you will find a standard upland load of 1-1/8-ounces of No. 4, 6, 7-1/2 and 8 at 1,295 fps. There is a high-speed upland load of No. 4, 5 and 6 at 1,425 fps, and a steel waterfowl load of No. 2 and 4 at 1,350 fps. Finally, there is a 7/8-ounce rifled slug and a 12 pellet No. 1 buckshot load. Typically you won’t find anywhere near the full selection of loads at a local dealer. Browning is licensing their name for ammunition production, and I found a box of Browning 1-1/8-ounce of No. 6’s at a local sporting goods store marked “Made in Australia.” It was a standard upland load and pricey at $17. Typically, 16-gauge loads can be found priced below $10 a box, but 20- and 12-gauge ammo will always be much cheaper.
She likes it! (Note the shot column on its way to the clay.)
The Sweet Sixteen produced sensational 30-yard patterns with 1-1/8 ounces
of No. 7-1/2 shot. The “X’d” clays all have at least 2 pellets through them.
On The Range
Checking out the Sweet Sixteen, I decided to shoot Federal’s GameShok loading featuring 1-1/8 ounces of No. 7-1/2 at 1,295 fps. Browning supplies the gun with three Invector-DS tubes in Full, Modified and Improved Cylinder. I tend to favor a Modified choke for upland hunting to really hammer the 20-inch core of a 30-inch pattern.
For point-of-impact and patterning analysis, I recommend the HunterJohn clays target, consisting of 126 life-size clays which are roughly the body size of a small game bird. In the middle of the target is a bright red 4-inch aiming point.
First, to see if the point-of-impact coincided with the point-of-aim, I shot the Sweet Sixteen from a rest at a target 15 feet distant, paying particular attention to line up the mid-rib and front beads on the center of the red aiming point. At that distance the shot charge acts like a unified projectile and gives you an immediate reading whether the gun shoots to the point-of-aim with the choke tube, ammunition and comb height being used. The A5 registered just a bit high for me with the factory-set comb height.
Backing off to 30 yards, a good upland yardage, and shooting from a rest, I again held for the red center and let fly. As you can see, the core area of the pattern is filled with killed birds. Every clay “X’d” contains two pieces of shot or more, and more importantly, there’s no patchiness. That’s a great modified pattern, especially with a promotional quality shell. As I suspected from the point-of-impact results, the placement of the pattern fell approximately 75/25—75 percent above the point-of-aim and 25 below. It would be a great pattern as-is for rising birds.
Retiring to the range to shoot some clays, I turned the gun over to the distaff side of the family to give me a second opinion. She liked it. She liked its light weight, balance and the way it smoked clays in her hands. There may be one in her future.
It’s good to see a Sweet Sixteen back in the Browning stable. With its inertia drive and scaling less than 6 pounds, it’s the best Sweet Sixteen yet.
P.O. Box 477
St. Louis, MO 63166