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Carry’s Like a 20 – Shoots like a 12


“Carry’s like a 20, shoots like a 12.” Is an advertisement I saw as a young lad in the window of Hageman’s 5 & 10 in Cheraw, SC when I was twelve years old and that slogan has stuck with me ever since. My first experience in shooting shotguns was a 16 gauge single barrel my brother and I bought for our dad for Christmas. This was back when children could buy guns for their dad’s and no one batted an eye.

That single barrel 16 gauge ushered me into the realm of hunter. I killed my first animal with that gun. I shot squirrels, doves, rabbits and anything else I could muster with that gun. As I have grown, both in age and as a hunter, the slogan seems more true today than it was in the 1970’s. Oh to find a good gun that would carry like a 20 gauge and shoot like a 12 gauge. To find a gun that would do it all – and we had it in our hands only to let it fade away.

Yes there are still some companies making the sixteen gauge. Some in the four and five figures. Pristine doubles, matching pairs, or sets. And an occasional auto or pump will emerge every few years only to die the death of poor marketing. It seems that for a gun caliber or gauge to really take off, ammunition manufactures have to embrace it as well and make a variety of rounds for it.

Yes you can still find shells for the 16 gauge, they will run you 20% more than the 12 gauge or 20 gauge shells but not near as much as the .410. They can be hard to find, but I have seen that if you ask the manager of a specific store, they will get them for you.

While there are a lot of theories of why the sixteen seemed to fall away in popularity, I would like to submit mine here and then offer a solution to revive the best shotgun gauge ever devised for hunting all game in North America.

To begin with, the demise of quail, and upland hunting in general had to be a catalyst for the dwindling of the popularity of the sixteen gauge. Why would you need a smaller gauge gun when there are few things to hunt with it? Shotgunning has been regulated to doves, waterfowl, and turkeys. The smaller gauges are not as popular here. While a good argument can be made for using the 16 gauge for doves and even ducks (If you can find steel shot in 16 gauge) it just doesn’t get the press. As for using the 16 for turkeys, well as one said recently, “The only reason I don’t shoot 4” shells at turkeys is because no one makes them.” Turkey hunting has become a sport of big bores, big gauges and big shells. Why, I even spent three full days traveling all across the upstate of South Carolina last March looking for some # 4’s in 2 ¾” shells. I figured that before the creation of 3” or 3 ½” shells, many a turkey fell to the good ole 2 ¾” and wanted to give it a try. But alas, there were none to be had.

The argument here is that the 16 will do everything the 12 will do – – well almost. It does shoot like a 12 gauge, with less recoil.  According to the Winchester ballistics chart, the 16 gauge shooting 2 ¾” shells sized #6 1 1/8 ounce of shot at 1295 fps. That is as fast or faster than most 12 gauge shooting the same load.

The advantage of the 16 is the gun itself. As the slogan said, it carry’s like a 20 gauge. Smaller guns weigh less and are smaller to handle. They just feel better in the arms and are quicker to shoulder. For the upland hunter, the 16 is a great gun, for the rabbit hunter behind a group of hounds, the 16 is a great choice.

Those looking for a good 16 is best to look in the used market. I have found that pawn shops tend to have a decent selection of good sixteen gauge shotguns. The Browning Sweet sixteen is one of the best ever made – the light version is even better. Most will cost you around $750 and up depending on condition. Other good 16 gauge guns are the Ithaca Model 37 pump gun is a great work horse and will cost closer to $500 and up. The Winchester model 12 is one of the most collectible of the 16 gauge shotguns and will be several thousand dollars in poor condition.

Regardless of which model you decide on, getting your first, second or twentieth – shouldering a good ole sixteen gauge will put a smile on your face and make converts of one and all. Now to get the non-toxic shot companies to make some waterfowl loads for snow geese and I will be in business! But one thing is for sure, the good ole sixteen does indeed carry like a 20 and shoot like a 12 gauge.