Sleek, fast handling, easy on the shoulder and great looks, this modern version of the classic Browning Sweet Sixteen will tempt you to relive those days as a kid hunting with your dadís 16 gauge.
Back in the 1950’s the 16 gauge was a very common shotgun used by upland game hunters. My mates and I shot several brands of the 16 gauge, with most of them being the department store brands of the day (Sears, Montgomery Ward, Western Auto, etc.). At the time, the 16 gauge was considered the middle ground between the 20 gauge and 12 gauge in terms of overall performance. The 20 gauge was a less effective gauge than what we see today. Now, some 40 years later it is old news that the 20-gauge magnum was the demise of the 16 gauge during the 1970s.
In those days, the king in 16-gauge shotguns was the famous Browning Arms Sweet Sixteen. While I never owned one, I can say when I bought my first Browning A5 12-gauge magnum waterfowl gun, it was partly because of my exposure to the humpback Sweet Sixteen.
A5’s have been in the mix for this hunter for 60 years in the business of shooting furred or feathered targets. Now with the re-introduction of the humpback in a very unique Sweet Sixteen by Browning Arms, it is like old home week around here, as one of the first test models of the new A5 was delivered.
In the January 2012 issue of Shotgun Sports I reviewed the first resurrection of the A5 in the 12- gauge magnum. I had always figured I would be writing the follow-up story centered on the introduction of the A5 in 20-gauge magnum but this was not to be. Instead, Browning decided to side step that gauge and offer the A5 in a 2¾” chambered 16-gauge version of the new A5 in the
The new Sweet Sixteen is not a 16-gauge pipe tacked onto the 12-gauge A5 receiver. This shotgun is a total redesign with the receiver and all other components made to scale for the 16 gauge. The Sweet Sixteen is a shotgun of a different order in that it comes in at a weight of 5¾ lbs., which makes it a full pound less than my 28” Browning BPS .410 bore shotgun. This gun is light and fast handling. The first day I fired my test sample I pulled the new Browning out of the truck, opened a box of Federal 1 oz. 16 gauge, 2¾” general purpose field/target loads and gave the Sweet Sixteen a go against some hand-trap thrown clays.
I had set the trap to throw birds at angles that simulated rising roosters or straight-away sharptails. With a tailwind and the trap cranked up as tight as possible, the clay birds were not hanging around much. Stated another way, they were vacating the area in a hurry. Since I was shooting by myself, it required I not only pull the trip line that released the clay bird but also produce a full, low-gun mount, sight, track and break the clay. After 17 shots of clays, I failed to miss a bird. In fact, most were hit so well all that was left was a black dust cloud. With no weight to speak of and balance that’s out of this world, my one-man clays shooting was not a problem.
I do not consider myself a clay shooting expert or competitive shooter at all. But even being a left-eye dominant, sustained lead shooter, I was impressed with the Sweet Sixteen’s agile yet precise handling. The bottom line, I really like this mid-size scattergun a lot. At one point, I looked into the deep, rich bluing of the receiver and stated out loud, “Where have you been all my life, little lady?”
The Sweet Sixteen retains the traditional humpback receiver as the old A5 but is a bit longer on the new version. This is because of the short-recoil “Kinematic Drive” system used within. This makes better use of the fired shell’s energy to function the bolt mechanism, but it necessitates a longer throw or travel of the bolt, thus the longer receiver dimension. The receiver is made of special, high-grade, ultra-light material, and Browning makes use of hardened steel rails in key friction and stress areas transforming the A5 Sweet Sixteen into a very quick handling and operating autoloader. Browning is so sure of the reliability of the new A5 in 16 gauge they back it with a 5-year/100,000 round guarantee.
Drop at Comb measures 1¾”, Length of Pull is 14¼”, Drop at Heel runs 2¼” with a four-shot magazine capacity. Overall length with the 28” barrel is 49¼”. The Turkish walnut stock and forearm are gloss finished and cut with 18 lines per inch of a classic point-style checkering. Mounted to the butt is a Large Inflex 2 black recoil pad. The chokes that come with the Sweet Sixteen are the Full, Modified and Improved Cylinder of the famous Browning Invector DS chokes. You may recall from my previous reviews of Browning guns these chokes incorporate a brass band near the base of the choke that seals out burning gases and residue (crud) and help maintain clean choke threads and a tight gas seal at the muzzle. MSRP for the new A5 Sweet Sixteen, as of this writing, is $1,699.
Those who know me know my first concern and interest when it comes to smoothbores is ballistics. A close second-place finisher is gathering hands-on performance knowledge of a shotgun by means of actual hunting conditions and knocking feathered critters out of the sky. That being said, I can state July in the great American West is not an ideal time of year to locate much in the way of live targets with which to test a new 16-gauge semiautomatic on. But coming to my aid was an old friend who is in the business of getting rid of aerial pests when and where they are not wanted. Todd Gifford, “The Crow Man” out of Minnesota, gave me a call. Upon hearing of the new Browning Sweet Sixteen, Todd suggested we turn this sleek, black beauty of a smoothbore loose on some flying pest birds that were totally un-welcome at a dairy farm.
Todd did not have to say it twice. I was on board with his idea at the first mention. In a matter of days one of my old partners, Tom Hanson of South Dakota, came on board to do some trigger pulling, as well as J.J. Reich of Federal Cartridge who brought along a generous supply of 2¾” 16-gauge game loads. Currently, the 16 gauge is not exactly among the common loads of smoothbore ammunition to be found on dealers’ shelves. A few ammo makers offer some 16-gauge light game and target loads, including Federal, Winchester, Browning and Herters. Not much beyond these currently exists in the 16 gauge. However, as a light small upland game gun the Sweet Sixteen seems to do just fine with what is available at the present time.
Our shoot location was Gifford’s “T.G. Black Bird’s” operation near Hastings, MN. This shoot would not only have me testing my Sweet Sixteen but a total of seven gunners would be putting several gunmakers’ new products through their paces on a large number of disease-ridden starlings and grackles that had infested two large cattle holding yards. This 12-hour marathon shoot would allow me to put several hundred rounds of 16 gauge 1 1/8 oz., high-brass ammo through the new Sweet Sixteen’s mechanism.
During the course of the day, I made sure every member of the team, Tom Hanson and other writers got the chance to spend some quality time with the new A5 dream gun.
With regard to reliability, the new A5 16 gauge did not misfeed or malfunction in any way on even a single round. With temperatures near 90 degrees and humid, thick, dead air greeting us on that late July day, Hanson and I holed up in the shade of a barn that was to be known as the “free safety” position. Birds would circle in on the bait grain piles Gifford had pre-set, but after being shot at by our five-man team who were housed in portable blinds, the birds would fall back to our location where they received a second volley from Hanson and his 12-round Mossberg and obviously me with the A5 Sweet Sixteen.
From the 8:00 a.m. clays warm-up through the day-long gunning of the darting and diving pest birds, the A5 16 gauge performed as well as and often times better than the other guns which were 12 gauges.
On location I became aware of noticeable increases in pattern effectiveness when chokes were changed out. At first, the Improved Cylinder was used on clays for fast out-of-the-gate shooting off of an electric Champion trap machine. The Full choke got the call to duty when 1 1/8 oz. game loads of 7½s were launched further downrange.
On live targets, it was obvious when I was shooting the Full choke versus the Modified or IC tube. At one point, I almost emulsified a downed but not dead pest bird. At an estimated 55 yards, perhaps a bit further, the Browning Sweet Sixteen put the bird out of its misery. This one shot more than illustrated the effectiveness of the modern 16-gauge shotshell versus the fodder that was prevalent in the days the 16 gauge fell out of favor with the American upland bird hunter. I am here to tell you, sir…this is not your daddy’s 16-gauge gun! Modern propellants, plastics as well as other internal components, have made the 16 gauge a whole new beast.
In the heat of battle, the Sweet Sixteen was a joy to load in a hurry. The cartridge-release button located just ahead of the trigger guard facilitated quick feeds of shells directly into the chamber with a quick and simple push of your thumb.
Maintenance was merely a matter of simple saturating of the receiver with Hoppe’s Number 9 “Gun Medic”. From the first shot to the last, the Sweet Sixteen never received any more than this in the way of maintenance. It never missed a beat nonetheless.
With 40-yard Full choke patterns indicating up to 94 percent, the A5 16 gauge has the right stuff to take on just about anything in the upland environments. This will be a deadly system when sharptail grouse, ruffed grouse or even timberdoodles and early season ringnecks are the quarry.
We have witnessed Browning reintroduce the 16 gauge in the year 2016 as the Sweet Sixteen and do it ahead of the 20 gauge in an A5 shotgun. Could this herald the second coming of the 16 gauge? Only time will tell. As it is now, these rare few first-run guns are still only in the hands of a select few writers and industry types. Stay tuned to Shotgun Sports for further developments. SS
L.P. Brezny has worked in research and development in the shooting industry for 36 years. He developed and marketed the first sub-sonic shotgun and shotshell — The Hastings Metro Gun™ System (www.metrogun.com or 605-787-6321) — and was the first to measure shotshell pellets in real time at target distances, building ballistic tables demonstrating shotshell load performance and chronographing systems that are still in use today. He also developed the Dead Ringer® high-performance waterfowl/upland choke-tube system. L.P. has been writing for various shooting publications for over 31 years.