Browning’s Sweet 16By Craig Maylam
- 19th Nov, 2019 Nov 19, 2019, 12:00 AM
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I was a self-confessed appalling shot with a shotgun and my answer was to continually trade in guns in the hope I would find the magic combo. For whatever reason Larry (Larry Brolly, who some of you might remember was years ago the manager of Gun City in Christchurch) decided to take me under his wing and teach me how to get the best out of my shotgun(s).
Larry was no mean shot and if memory serves me correctly had been an exhibition shooter for Browning back in the UK. Whatever his past, he could shoot and he made me into a passable shot with patience and perseverance. A large part of the spring and summer fun in this district is pigeon shooting and Larry and I shared a lot of afternoons in pursuit of this noble quarry. Larry possessed a Thomas Bland 16 gauge hammer gun that had twist steel barrels and he shot it.
Sometimes he would acquire some ammo that he decided was too hot for his gun and he ended up with 400 or 500 rounds of 16 gauge ammo that he had no use for. I purchased my first 16 gauge to use up the ammo and ended up gifting the gun to a mate. My second gun was a Sauer side by side which I still use to this day.
The 16 gauge is a funny old round, the English and Americans love it and we kiwis almost completely ignore it. The bore size is slightly smaller than 12 gauge (12 gauge is .729 inch and the 16 gauge is .662inch). A normal shot charge for a 16 gauge is 1 ounce, but loads are available right up to 1 ¼ ounces. The 16 gauge has been left behind a little in the last 40 years while the 20 gauge has surged ahead.
Probably the main reason for this is that the 16 gauge has never been offered in 3-inch, the normal shell length is 2 ¾ inch. The 16 gauge never stretching to 3-inch has undoubtedly damped its popularity. The 16 does however excel at one thing – it is viewed as a classic upland game gauge. This is probably because most 16 gauge guns are built on scaled down actions that are much trimmer and lighter than their 12 gauge cousins.
We have all heard of the Browning Auto 5 shotgun, originally made in several gauges 12, 20 and 16. The high grade Browning Auto 5 in 16 gauge was called the Sweet 16 and engraved examples in mint condition still command heavy price tags. In fact I was in the Cabela’s store in Burlington (New York State) and there was a Sweet 16 for sale for close to US$5000.
Right now I have on test a brand new Sweet 16, having had the privilege of its company for the duration of the 2018 game bird season.
The gun is a 5-shot semi-auto and there’s a supplied magazine plug that restricts the magazine to three shots. The magazine plug can be fitted or removed with almost any screwdriver. The Browning has an aluminium action and follows the basic outline of the original A5, known as a humpback or a hogback.
The action shows no machining marks and it is so well finished I can’t decide if it is forged or machined from a billet. The action has a gloss black anodized finish which has proven to be very durable during the course of the three month testfire. On the sides of the action “A5 Sweet 16” is etched in a contrasting shade of anodizing.
The trigger group is also made from aluminium with Browning’s usual wide, gold-plated trigger shoe. The let-off on the trigger is exactly 5lbs but because of the wide shoe it feels much lighter. The safety is a push-through type located behind the trigger in the rear of the trigger guard, which is large enough to be used with a gloved finger.
“The action has a gloss black anodized finish which has proven to be very durable during the course of the three month testfire.”
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The bolt/carrier group more resembles a Benelli than that of a traditional Auto 5. The bolt has a rotating head and is plated in a matte silver finish. The Browning action is described as kinematic, in that the kinetic energy of the recoil operates the action. If you do not hold the gun tightly to your shoulder you may experience some failures to feed as the gun needs to be firmly shouldered to operate correctly. The beauty of the kinematic drive is that there is no gas tapped into the action so the gun runs cleaner for longer. Another real benefit is that virtually all loads will operate the action without adjustment.
The Browning failed to feed once with some light target ammunition, but maybe with the passage of more rounds that particular brand will cycle okay. In any case all the field 1-ounce loads worked just fine. The contrast of colours and finishes on the action makes for a striking and attractive gun and it was sure admired by all who saw it. The gun carries a 100,000 round or five year “come hell or high water” warranty which should cover most eventualities.
The gun carried a 28-inch light contour barrel, but there is a 26-inch version available too which would be a tad handier in a small blind. The muzzle is machined to accept the flush-fitting Invector DS choke tubes which were much longer in overall length than I usually see. The choke tubes have a small bronze ring on the front end – my guess is its function is to keep the choke tight during firing which it does well.
“The gun carried a 28-inch light contour barrel, but there is a 26-inch version available too which would be a tad handier in a small blind.”
The gun was supplied with the usual three chokes; full, modified and improved cylinder, along with a nice functional choke spanner. The barrel also features a lengthened forcing cone which helps with patterning by making it easier for the shot column to make the transition from cartridge to bore. The barrel is topped with a 6.3mm wide ventilated rib, machined to reduce glare. Sighting is taken care of with a single red fibre optic bead. The barrel is polished and blued to perfection.
The stock is constructed from gloss finished walnut. The chequering is done at 18 lines per inch and is sharp and highly functional. There are no sling swivels fitted or supplied with this gun. The fore-end is of slim contour and chequered in all the places you will need it. The wood to metal fit is as you would expect, faultless.
The fore-end is retained by a knurled cap threaded onto the end of the mag tube. There is a cushioning spring between the fore-end and the retaining nut, and my guess is its purpose is to provide damping on the bolt’s return to battery at the end of the loading sequence.
The buttstock has the following general dimensions, but there are shims supplied to alter the fit should you require it. Drop at comb 1 ¾ inches, drop at heel 2 ¼ inches, length of pull 14 ¼ inches. The length of pull is adjustable with ¼ and ½ inch thick spacers that attach via screws.
The stock has small brass, threaded, inserts fitted to it so that the screws can be removed and replaced without losing their purchase in the timber. The Inflex recoil pad is shaped so as to not snag clothing, and while thin, it’s highly functional and does the job well. The pistol grip is not capped and is tight enough for junior shooters to easily access the trigger and safety catch. Overall this is a highly functional and striking stock.
The 16 gauge is hardly a common choice but nevertheless there is a good variety of ammunition available. I visited Gun City in Christchurch and counted no fewer than five different makes, and shot sizes are available to cover most every situation. Kilwell Sports kindly supplied me with an assortment of Gamebore cartridges for the testfire and these should be available in any good sports store near you. I also had on hand some ammunition from Fiocchi supplied by Target Products in Timaru.
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I patterned most of the loads I had samples of and all the tubes threw patterns that were even and well centered. The felt-wadded Gamebore cartridges threw a larger pattern than the plastic wadded shells I chose. For most of the bird shooting I chose #5 shot. I used the Gamebore Regal Game for pigeon shooting and they performed well.
Wads and reloading presses are available in 16 gauge should you wish to reload your spent cases, and ADI makes a suitable powder for the job (Ed: See Jeff Brown’s recent articles on shotshell reloading).
The gun arrived just prior to opening day so I split the morning’s duty between the Browning and my Benelli. I used the Browning from lunchtime on and was rewarded with many memorable shots. I had forgotten how well lead works on waterfowl even with light loads, and the balance and light weight of the gun came in really handy.
Our party shared the gun around a bit and all were convinced that they shot better with the Browning than they did with their own guns.
This year we had the inaugural North Canterbury game shooting competition and on the Saturday I hosted two young shooters for the day, hoping they might bag a few birds for the event. Unfortunately one of the shooters, Brandon, had a 20 gauge that broke down just prior to the night shoot on a local pond.
In desperation I opened my gunroom and tried to fit him to a gun. It was obvious that he didn’t have a huge amount of experience so in the end we chose the Browning. I left the young shooters with the pond owner after showing Brandon how to load the Sweet 16 and make it safe.
I had a little chuckle when we picked the kids up – Brandon could not stop talking about the shoot and the gun seemed to be the centre of attention. He was smitten! The host also had one last swing with it before we left and commented on what a cool piece it was. Brandon’s dad has since bought him a Sweet 16 all of his own.
I’d like to thank Cameron Sports for the loan of the gun and Kilwell for the ammunition. If you handle one of these guns you should notice the beautiful finish, perfect wood to metal fit, and the fine balance. Even with the lead ban eventually moving to sub gauges this gun could be used for a lifetime on upland game, pigeons and rabbits, then left for your grandchildren to enjoy. This was another gun I didn’t want to return, however I can’t keep them all!
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