Stackbarrel 16s for the uplands
by Greg McReynolds
The season started hot and muggy in the high-altitude blue-grouse country that divides Idaho and Montana. Shotgun in hand, I chased the big bombers until the dogs were too hot and I wanted a cold beer more than another chance at a grouse. That same season ended in New Mexico, dusty and sated by three species of quail I’d killed during my week there. In between there had been Kansas prairie chickens, Oklahoma bobwhites, Idaho pheasants, Nevada chukars and Montana sharptails. And in what may have been my bird hunting year of a lifetime, I hunted with one gun exclusively: a 16-gauge Citori Superlight, shooting mostly one load that never made me feel over- or under-gunned.
Without intending to, I have turned into a one-gauge, one-gun upland hunter. I have guns in other gauges, but I have settled into a long-term relationship with the 16, mostly because it does everything well. It will knock down wild prairie roosters, but it’s not too much for a covey of bobwhites or a flight of woodcock. It is a gauge built for the field and nothing else.
The near demise of the 16 gauge is what helped it become the perfect upland gun. When it fell out of favor during the second half of the 20th Century, it became just unpopular enough that no one tried to turn it into something it wasn’t.
The fact that it never became a popular target round meant that the 16 remained light and ready for the field. Its unpopularity during the rise of steel shot meant that no one bothered to lengthen its chambers. The 12 bore was lengthened to 3″, then to 3½”. The 12 that the English designed is gone for the most part, replaced by a suitable substitute for the 10 bore. The standard 20 bore has been lengthened to 3″, and there are people determined to make 3″ the standard in 28 gauge as well.
For many, the word they associate with the 16 is even more basic: “sweet.”
Because the decline of the 16 preceded the rise of the over/under, 16-bore O/Us were fairly rare until about 10 years ago. John (and Val) Browning’s Superposed didn’t come along and change the over/under from a bespoke gun to a mass-produced option until 1931. By then, interest in the 16 was waning for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with the useful nature of the gauge. Of course, the 16 was always at home in the hands of hunters following dogs through grouse coverts or pheasant fields.
Fortunately, the 16 gauge currently is experiencing a renaissance. It’s difficult to attribute the resurgence to any one person or company, though I am certain that Doug Oliver, founder of the 16ga Society (16ga.com), played a significant role. Oliver passed away in 2014, but the forum he started in 2004 is still one of the busiest shotgun forums on the Internet. It always has been a visible demonstration of public interest in the 16, and that likely encouraged manufacturers to take a chance on production.
It’s also likely that modern CNC manufacturing has made it easier to turn out another gauge without having to reconfigure an entire plant. This has led to more guns being built on scaled receivers, which is great news for all gauges. In 2019 there are more manufacturers producing over/under 16s than ever before, and the vast majority of them—as they should be—are upland guns.
Some love the 16 because it was their father’s or grandfather’s gauge or because of a Parker or Fox or Model 12 that they lusted after as young hunters. For some the 16 satisfies an attraction to the unusual. Others love it because, as the old saying goes: “It carries like a 20 and hits like a 12.”
The mystique of the 16 is sometimes explained in mathematical terms, like “square load,” which is the idea that the diameter of the bore is roughly equal to the height of one ounce of shot inside that bore. In theory this creates better patterns, though I think most people agree that a smaller payload at a lower velocity tends to give better patterns in all gauges. It does seem that some loads—like three-quarters of an ounce in a 28-gauge or one ounce in a 16—work a special kind of magic.
For many, the word they associate with the 16 is even more basic: “sweet.”
For me, what makes 16s truly special is that they haven’t been beefed up for hot loads or weighed down for volume shooting. The majority of 16s are hunting guns. Walk into a gun store, shoulder a 16-gauge double and chances are you will find it to be a trim, balanced gun tipping the scales around six pounds and begging to be taken afield.
The well heeled always have been able to order custom 16-bore guns from bespoke makers in the UK and the Continent. These days you can walk into your local shop or peruse the Internet for a variety of 16-gauge options. The following are light, well-balanced over/unders that are built to be queens of the uplands . . . and nothing less.
Browning has shown a strong commitment to the 16 dating back to the post-WWII A5 Sweet Sixteen and continuing through the current-production A5 16-gauge. While Browning never cataloged the Superposed in a 16, the company has reliably made runs of the Citori in 16 bore, coming out with different variations in different years.
For 2019 Browning is producing a Citori 525 Field 16-gauge as well as a rerun of the Citori Superlight Feather 16. Both are built on scaled receivers and come with Grade II oil-finished stocks, choke tubes and 26- or 28-inch barrels. The 525 Field has a steel receiver, Schnabel forend and pistol grip. The Superlight Feather has a straight stock and an aluminum-alloy receiver.
While they are no longer in production, you also can find new guns for sale from Browning’s 2018 run of 16s: the Citori White Lightning and the Citori Gran Lightning with engraving and Grade V walnut.
• Browning Citori 525 Field: 6 pounds 11 ounces, MSRP $2,340.
• Browning Citori Superlight Feather: 6 pounds 2 ounces, MSRP $2,470.
Guns built by FAIR (Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini) have a long history in the US and have been imported by Savage (Milano), Cortona, Verona and New England Arms. In terms of volume, FAIR is the second-largest producer of double guns in the world behind Beretta; and the company often produces guns for other brands.
Current importer Italian Firearms Group has several FAIR models available in 16 bore, all on scaled receivers. The Pathos has a black rounded receiver, English stock, no engraving and a solid rib. The Jubilee is a boxlock with a silver receiver and a Prince of Wales stock. The Prestige lines offer optional sideplates and additional engraving. All of the guns come standard with 28-inch barrels, interchangeable choke tubes and single selective triggers. Other options and upgrades, including double triggers, 26- or 30-inch barrels and English or Prince of Wales stocks, are available on most models.
• FAIR Jubilee: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $2,475.
• FAIR Pathos: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $2,635.
• FAIR Jubilee Prestige: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $2,750.
• FAIR Jubilee Prestige Tartaruga Gold: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $2,865.
• FAIR Jubilee 902: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $5,590.
Fausti offers all of its production guns in 16 gauge, including the Caledon, Class and Magnificent Field. The company also builds a 16 in the Aphrodite, a boxlock over/under designed for women. All of the guns are built on gauge-specific actions. The Caledon is Fausti’s base model and comes with a coin-finished receiver, while the Class LX and Class come with case-colored receivers. The SL and SLX models have sideplates, and the RD and RDX models have rounded actions.
The Fausti guns all come standard with single triggers and Prince of Wales grips but can be ordered with double triggers and straight grips. Interchangeable choke tubes and ejectors are standard, and there is a choice of 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels. Fausti also offers numerous higher grades with options like different engraving, sideplates and round actions as well as custom 16-gauges.
• Fausti Caledon: 6 pounds 5 ounces, MSRP $2,569.
• Fausti Class: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $3,099.
• Fausti Class LX: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $3,840.
• Fausti Class SL: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $3,799.
• Fausti Class SLX: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $4,540.
• Fausti Magnificent Field: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $5,559.
• Fausti Class RD: 6 pounds 5 ounces, MSRP $4,789.
• Fausti Aphrodite: 6 pounds 6 ounces, MSRP $4,789.
• Fausti Class RDX: 6 pounds 5 ounces, MSRP $6,389.
Franchi may be best known as a semi-auto company, but it has been building over/unders for decades. Now under the Beretta umbrella, Franchi introduced the Instinct SL in 16 bore two years ago. The Instinct is built in Italy and has a gauge-specific aluminum-alloy receiver. It is one of the most affordable, extra-light 16-gauges around. The SL 16 comes in only one configuration, with 28-inch barrels, ejectors, a single trigger and a Prince of Wales stock.
• Franchi Instinct SL: 5 pounds 12 ounces, MSRP $1,729.
Batista Rizzini offers five models of O/Us in 16 bore ranging from the entry-level BR110 to the Regal and Round Body models, which come however you like them with price tags up to five digits.
The BR110 is an understated, sleek gun with no engraving, but it offers the same mechanics as the high-grade guns. It comes with a steel receiver or as the BR110 Light, which has an aluminum-alloy receiver. The BR110 and Artemis Light are built on 12-bore frames, while the Aurum, Aurum Light, Artemis, Roundy Body and Round Body Regal are built on scaled 16-bore frames.
Straight stocks and double triggers are available as upgrades for all models, while solid ribs are available on any gun except the BR110. Barrel-length options on all models are 26, 28, 29 and 30 inches.
• Rizzini BR110: 6 pounds 12 ounces, MSRP $2,179.
• Rizzini BR110 Light: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $2,335.
• Rizzini Aurum: 6 pounds 1 ounce, MSRP $3,425.
• Rizzini Round Body Regal: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $5,275.
• Rizzini Artemis Deluxe: 6 pounds 8 ounces, MSRP $7,050.
Savage Arms has imported shotguns from several manufacturers over the years. The company’s current over/under is the Stevens 555, which is built in Turkey and recently became available in 16 bore. The 555 is an extractor gun with an aluminum-alloy receiver, 28-inch barrels, a single selective trigger, a pistol grip and interchangeable chokes.
• Stevens 555: 6 pounds 3 ounces, MSRP $705.
• Stevens 555 Enhanced: 6 pounds 5 ounces, MSRP $879.
The TriStar Hunter EX is a Turkish-built, bargain-oriented shotgun. It is available in one configuration, with a selective single trigger, extractors, 28-inch barrels, pistol grip and interchangeable choke tubes.
• TriStar Hunter EX: 6 pounds, MSRP $655.
Whatever forces started the ball rolling, it seems clear that the 16—particularly the over/under game gun—is once again gathering steam and growing in popularity. It may not be a long-range duck gun or a target gun, but it is everything an upland hunter needs. The current bloom of stackbarrel 16s means that more people will get the chance to take these light, well-balanced guns into the uplands. I only hope that the 16 doesn’t become so popular that we try to turn it into something other than the perfect upland gun.
Greg McReynolds works in wildlife conservation for Trout Unlimited and spends his free time hunting and fishing across the West. He writes for a variety of magazines and blogs at mouthfuloffeathers.com. He lives in southeast Idaho with his family, a springer spaniel and two English setters.