While big game hunting has been a driving force in my life, bird hunting remains a passion, amped up every fall by those wily, ring-necked roosters.
There is just something magical about my four-legged hunting buddy unraveling a hot scent and busting that rooster into a ruckus flush. It tends to become immortalized in one’s memory bank, retrieval of which tenaciously draws you back into its addictive web year after year. My array of shoguns and bird dogs that have come and gone over the years reflect that. Quick and nimble 20 gauges for those tight-sitting, early season birds, and the extra fire power of a 12 for those spooky late-season birds. Right? Well, not as often as I would have liked. While the 20 proved ideal for those early birds, the slower-handling 12 frequently stretched my shot gunning prowess on those crafty, long-range, late-season flushes. But is there one gauge or shotgun that might just do it all? That question has been rumbling around in the back of my mind for decades. One might then ask, “Why not a 16 gauge?”
The 16 certainly isn’t a newbie, having reached its peak of popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, when a quarter of all shotguns sold were actually 16 gauges. While the 16 certainly hits that sweet spot between the 12 and 20, it never garnered sufficient hunter interest to outsell either. For me, it related to the comparative availability of ammunition. So, in 2016, when Browning reintroduced the A5 Sweet Sixteen, I admittedly wasn’t the first in line to evaluate its potential. In fact, I waited to ascertain if it would even survive its introductory year. Well, it did! But the question remained, would it garner a long-term place in the hearts of bird hunters? By the time 2020 rolled around, I decided I could wait no longer. I needed to find a quicker and lighter all-season, one-gun solution.
A5 Sweet Sixteen
For starters, let’s not confuse the 2016 reincarnation of the A5 Sweet Sixteen with the old Auto-Five Sweet Sixteen. While they may share that very identifiable humpback profile, they are different guns.
As Browning has developed its own unique nomenclature for many of the A5’s key features, I will delineate these with a brief description on performance.
Kinematic Drive: In short, it is an inertia-driven action that harnesses recoil energy to operate the action. It is one of the simplest designs that provides consistent and reliable performance with all loads and in any weather conditions, no matter how extreme. It also functions cleaner than a gas-driven semi-auto, as the gasses exit the barrel well removed from the action.
100,000 round guarantee: Browning is so confident in this gun that it guarantees 100,000 rounds or five years of trouble-free performance.
Ergo balanced: A slim forearm that places your hand closer to the bore for improved pointability.
Humpback acquisition advantage: A profile that seamlessly melds with the rib for a 30 per cent longer sight plane, offering quicker target acquisition.
Inflex ll recoil pad: This is designed with a softer material that is slippery to avoid any hang ups on shouldering and additionally directs recoil down and away from the comb.
Speed load plus: Automatically chambers the first round as soon as it is loaded in the magazine.
Vector Pro – This is a longer tapered forcing cone that reduces stress on the shot column for improved patterns.
Invector DS (double seal): These are flush-mount choke tubes with a brass band seal at the rear, which seals out gas and grit from gaining access between the choke tube and barrel. At two-and-seven-eighths inches in length, these choke tubes are longer than standard-length tubes, affording a more gradual taper for improved patterns. Browning also claims that they provide more consistent increments between choke constrictions than the competition.
Turnkey magazine plug: Makes the task of adding or removing the magazine plug a quick and simple process with a vehicle key.
Steel shot performance: The barrel is designed to handle steel shot.
Back-bored: Increases the bore diameter to its maximum specifications, thereby reducing friction on the shot column for improved velocity and patterns.
Other notables include shims for cast, drop and length of pull; smaller 16-gauge receiver; grade l Turkish walnut stock with 18 lines per inch checkering; fiber optic front sight; zero point of impact, which ensures 50 per cent above and 50 per cent below patterns; barrel length options of either 26 or 28 inches; chrome-plated chamber; and three Invector DC choke tubes in full, modified, improved cylinder.
Chamber: Two-and-three-quarter inches
Length: 47-and-one-quarter to 49 inches
Length of Pull: 14-and-aone-quarter inches
Drop at Comb: One-and-three-quarter inches
Drop at Heel: Two inches
Weight: Five pounds, 13 ounces
Magazine Capacity: Four
Chokes: Full, modified, improved cylinder
Barrel Length 26 to 28 inches
Before I delve into why I fell in love with this shotgun, I need to address the elephant in the room. And here it is: With all the 20-gauge options out there, one might ask why a 16-gauge shotgun when I can stoke up a 20 with three-inch, one-and-one-quarter-ounce loads that duplicate the heaviest 16-gauge loads. The simple answer is they just pattern heavier loads better than a 20. Those heavy 20-gauge loads that are stuffed beyond bore capacity can lead to less consistent shot strings and poorer patterns, whereas the larger bore size of the 16 handles those one-and-one-eighths and one-and-a-quarter ounce loads more consistently, resulting in cleaner and more consistent kills.
At five pounds, 12 ounces, this was one delightful shotgun to handle. It fit and balanced about as perfectly as I could have asked for and the longer sight line aided by the humpback profile provided extremely quick-on-target acquisition. Marvelous! My one and only negative comment about this gun was its trigger. At a pull weight of six pounds, two ounces, its pull weight was heavier than the gun. Knock a couple of pounds off that and problem solved. The only test problem I encountered was a lack of diversity in ammunition. Escalating demands in the US and COVID-19 no doubt played a role in this shortage, but I was able to acquire both target and game loads from Browning and Remington. For those who may worry about the general state of ammunition availability, here is a list of companies that are now making 16-gauge shotshells: Browning, Winchester, Federal, Remington, Fiocchi, Hevi Shot, Kent, Estate, Aguila and Nobelsport.
On the range, using an equal amount of ammunition from both companies, I divided my test into two components: First was a lengthy session on the trap range with one-ounce #8 target loads and, second, I patterned one-and-one-eighths ounce #6 game loads at 35 yards using Birchwood Casey Mallard Splatter targets.
On the trap range, my son, Brent, and I launched 100 clay birds, 50 each. For my 50, and in order to fully assess this shogun’s quickness, I did not shoulder the gun until the bird had left the trap. Using a modified choke, I missed a paltry four birds, with a goodly number of hits being dusters. I was some impressed. Brent may have missed a couple more, but in total we bust about 90 out of 100 clays.
I then moved to the 35-yard pattern board and patterned two Browning BXD Upland and two Remington Pheasant one-and-one-eighth-ounce loads. I then counted all the hits within each quarter section of the target’s 10-inch centre circle.
This shotgun was not only a joy to shoot, but it also performed beyond my expectations. The recoil was mild and its on-target acquisition was second to none. It also patterned well, providing consistent above, below, left and right shot dispersion. While the total number of hits were about the same, Browning BXD Upland tended to pattern just a bit more consistently than Remington Pheasant. Either would make excellent pheasant loads. No matter the season, there is no longer any doubt about which shotgun I would prefer to shoulder on my next pheasant hunt – the Sweet Sixteen definitely hit the sweet spot.
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