You know you are old when the title sweet 16 no longer brings thought of a special birthday or a girly flick but instead brings out treasured memories of the super popular and almost legendary 16 gauge shotguns of the past — one of which was the 16 gauge “sweet 16” Browning semi-automatic shotgun, a coveted piece that not only did the job then but still serves as an attention-getter among collectors of sporting guns.
Hard to find
And although a few hunters and scattergun shooters still swing a mean sweet 16, it has been increasingly harder to find ammunition to feed it. That’s because this popular gauge of the mid-1900s isn’t so popular anymore. Why? Well, one might compare the 16 gauge to crank handles and swing-out window vents in cars, five-dollar pocket cameras, and Green Stamps with every purchase.
But like wide neckties and restaurant servers who don’t call everyone with a Buckeye card “Honey,” the 16 may someday return to its rightful seat between the king and the queen. But don’t hold your breath.
But let’s get back to the why thing.
History of gauges
Prior to the mid-1900s, almost all American-made shotguns were bored to 12, 16, 20, and 410 gauges. The 410 was more of a barnyard and pest gun but the 12 was an all-around shotgun at a simpler time in shooting history when most hunters had just one firearm. The 12 gauge was perhaps overpowered for some uses but no doubt the all-around, go-to winner. The 20 gauge was also popular with smaller shooters and 16 gauge found itself in a safe space between the 12 and the 20. Something for every taste it seemed.
But like the two-slice toasters of yesteryear which morphed into fashionable, multi-slot units that feature bagel and Texas toast size holes, stuff happens — meaning, of course, the 20 gauge shells got longer and the word magnum joined the conversation thus much making the 16 gauge obsolete rather quickly and understandably so.
None of the above is news to those of us who enjoy shotgun sports, small game hunting, and occasionally dusting off old firearms that can still perform the chores assigned to them.
Resurgence of the 16
But there is currently a resurgence of interest in the 16 gauge, not so much for a need but for a want. Leafing through current magazines and seeing articles about the 16 gauge is certainly refreshing, but I think more as a reflection of days gone by.
While the Sweet 16 may be one of the most iconic 16 gauge scatterguns, there were many others and there continues to be an offering or two from modern gun makers. However, it remains an effort to readily find ammunition.
My favorite 16 is an over/under Marlin model which was discontinued in the 1960s. I bought it some 40 years ago from an uncle who had inherited it from one of his close “rabbit hunting” friends.
My Marlin was probably made right after World War II, and by the time it reached my hands, it featured a badly broken butt stock and very little finish left on the barrels. Countless rabbits, crows, and mid-west pheasants have been taken with the Marlin and it is always ready for a road trip or local duty.
A couple of decades ago, I grew tired of re-taping the butt stock ever year or two and invested a few dozen winter evenings shaping a slab of seasoned walnut into a new stock. By now the new stock is anything but new and has its own collection of well-earned scratches and wear.
Indeed the Marlin is by far my favorite shotgun and the 16 gauge my favorite non-magnum gauge.
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