A trio of gauges dominated the American shotgunning scene through the 1960s, with most popular shotgun models of the day offered in 12, 20, and 16 gauges. Back then the 16 gauge was preferred for bobwhite quail in the South and almost on par with the 20 gauge nationally for most upland shooting. It was considered the optimum gauge available in fast-pointing, quick-handling guns for grouse, woodcock, and quail hunting with a payload substantial enough to deal with pheasants when required. But during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s the 20 gauge gained popularity, moving ahead of the 16 by an ever-increasing margin.
The narrowing of the gap between 12 and 20 gauges in effect squeezed the 16 out of position. Owing mostly to advancements in firearms technology, new metals, and better manufacturing, 12-gauge guns began approaching 20-gauge guns in weight. At the same time great strides in ammo manufacturing techniques found ways to place more shot into smaller hulls, which benefited the 20 gauge tremendously but did little for the 16 gauge.
Furthermore, the lack of a 16-gauge class in skeet shooting competition was a slap in the 16’s face and no doubt contributed to its increasing absence at gun clubs. Simply put, the 16 bore fell victim to the small gap left between lightweight 12-gauge guns and high-performance 20 gauges. Considered “sweet” no more, ammomakers quietly stopped developing 16-gauge loads, and by the mid-1990s most gun companies had dropped 16s from their catalog listings.
Last offered by Remington in 1980, the 16 gauge is once again available in an extensive line of Model 870 shotguns that gives first-timers and experienced shooters the opportunity to experience a classic. For many years thousands of hunters have enjoyed using Remington’s Model 870, one of the best selling shotguns ever made.
“Because of its ballistically balanced performance, and milder recoil, the 16 gauge was long a favorite of target and wingshooters,” Remington’s Linda Powell explained in a recent conversation. “We felt this was the right time to bring this great performer back to America’s hunters and target shooters in the form of Remington’s popular Model 870 series of shotguns.”
Linda also pointed out that for added versatility Remington’s complete line of Model 870 Rem Choke extra barrels will also fit older versions of the 16-gauge Model 870 shotguns. The reappearance of a 16 gauge in Remington’s 2002 catalog completes a full line up of Model 870 pump-action shotguns–sure to be a milestone in the 16’s history. Four variations of the Model 870 in 16 gauge include the highly popular Model 870 Wingmaster, the economically priced Model 870 Express, and synthetic stocked versions of the Express and Youth Models.
Remington’s Four New 16s
Remington’s classic Model 870 Wingmaster features a smooth-contour non-embellished receiver and deep-polished blueing on all metal surfaces. An American walnut buttstock is fitted with a rubber recoil pad and features clean cut checkering for a positive gripping surface at the wrist. A hard gloss finish on the buttstock and forend provides excellent stock protection for rough field conditions. The powder-coated black trigger guard frames an anodized gold trigger. The Wingmaster’s light-contour, vent-rib, twin-bead barrels come in either 26- or 28-inch lengths with three Rem Choke tubes in Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full. The new 16-gauge Wingmaster with a 28-inch barrel has an overall length of 48 1/2 inches and weighs right at 7 1/4 pounds. Being built on the same frame as the original 16-gauge Wingmaster allows for parts and barrels (including current Rem Choke barrels) to be interchanged with older guns.
Considered the workhorse of pump-action shotguns, the Model 870 Express combines a sturdy hardwood stock and forend with a rugged, durable black oxide metal finish. The 28-inch light-contour vent-rib barrel comes with a Modified Rem Choke tube and has a single front bead sight. Designed for easy handling and dependability, the Model 870 Express in 16 gauge is sure to be a favorite in the field.
When harsh conditions are the forecast for the day, the Model 870 Express Synthetic is the one to grab. Complete with all the standard features of the Express, this version adds a strong, weather-resistant black synthetic stock and forend.
With mild recoil and its performance capabilities, the 16 gauge is an ideal choice for youth or smaller stature shooters. The Model 870 Express Synthetic Youth in 16 gauge features a 23-inch, light-contour, vent-rib barrel with Modified Rem Choke and “youth” stock that is one inch shorter than the standard Model 870.
Available Factory Ammunition
Shotgun ballisticians will tell you that “square loads”–shot columns whose length matches the gauge’s bore diameter-pattern best. The 16 gauge has a bore diameter of .662 inch so by the square–load theory a one-ounce load should be the ideal performer.
The modern factory ammo currently available is neither great nor dismal. Fiocchi, Remington, and Winchester catalog 16-gauge loads but only offer game loads with either one or 1 1/8 ounces of shot. Federal offers the heaviest 16-gauge load in a Premium magnum with 1 1/4 ounces of No. 4 or 6 shot. Remington and Federal both offer waterfowlers steel shot in 1 5/16-ounce 16-gauge loads. As of now, no target loads are offered for the 16 gauge, but I’m guessing that will improve in the future considering that other gun manufacturers also announced new 16-gauge guns at last January’s SHOT Show. For instance, Ithaca announced an Ultra Featherlight Model 37, and Merkel introduced its Model 1620 side-by-side. This is certainly an encouraging sign for those who don’t remember how sweet shooting a slimmer, lighter version of a 12 gauge can be but would like to find out. Hopefully, a resurgence in popularity will bring about an increase in the variety of 16-gauge loads over those that are currently offered.
At Home On The Range Or In The Field
Remington recently sent Shooting Times a review sample Model 870 Wingmaster in 16 gauge. Editor Joel Hutchcroft phoned to say he was sending it to me for a hands-on evaluation. And Joel gave me advance notice that he intends to buy it. Apparently Joel had owned quite a few Remington Model 870s years ago but had sold most of them before joining the ST staff, and when he took this one out of the box he knew he had to have it. I suspect he’s had a fit of nostalgia in wanting to buy this new one, even though he explained away his desire to purchase it as a probable gift for his daughter. How did the new 16-gauge 870 handle? Well, all I can say is the Wingmaster handled like a champ. It was easy to swing, yet it stayed on target. The ballistically balanced performance and milder recoil made the 16-gauge gun a favorite of target and wingshooters decades ago, and it still does that today. It’s a gun that’s as much at home on a trap range as it is in dove fields or quail meadows.