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Why would you choose a 16 bore

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The 16 bore shotgun has come back into the fore as an alternative to a 12 and 20 bore. The claimed benefit is a lighter gun, improved pattern and easier handling. It boils down to a multitude of reasons. However, after a little bit of reading it seems clear that this may be an overlooked choice by a lot of guns. Lighter than a 12 and more powerful than a 20 this may be the ultimate compromise without actually having to make a compromise.

Traditional 16 bore shotgun


The 16 bore has been around for a long time. Traditionally sat in a side by side action, the lighter recoil suited the SXS template with its sleek proportions. In the same way a 20 bore looks dainty, the 16 looks sleek and purposeful. Their decline can be attributed to the demand for higher birds and the rise of the over and under action. The 12 bore was already established and the step between 12 & 20 bores felt adequate without needing a middle ground. While in the 1950’s the 16 bore was a quarter of all sales this was reduced to a negligible portion in modern times. As the trend move away from side by sides and towards heavy over and unders produced en mass the 16 bores fell into decline. To read more about the history please click Here.

16 bore hull cartridge

Bigger is better or is it?

Naturally, most people would look at 16 bores and quickly assert that its smaller than a 12 and doesn’t have the knockdown power or the punch that comes with it. However, this isn’t quite the case and boils down to the principle of “square load”. Put simply a square load is the perfect balance between the weight of shot and its velocity. For 12 bore a square load is a 30g and for 16 its 28 grams. 28 grams of 5 through 16 bores pattern consistently and in a pleasant manner. While this seems counter intuitive, by pumping up a 12 bore beyond its square load you deform the pattern by forcing it down the barrels at a high velocity. To shoot consistently at extended ranges pattern is essential to good shooting. To read more about square load please click Here.

Side by Side 16 bore with pheasant


Unfortunately, the availability of cartridges is the Achilles heel of the 16 bore. Most of us will have been into a shop to get 20 or 12 bore cartridges without too much hassle but this won’t be the case here. While they’re easily attainable from Just Cartridges without too much issue you wont have the options you would in other bores. While this may not be a deal breaker it will require further planning and good stock more so than others. You will struggle to find the super heavy or light load options you can in other bores which may put of some people. To choose the 16 you’ll have to be committed to the pros and not be too fussy about the cons.

Cross section of a 16 bore cartridge square load


At the moment should you want to buy a 16 bore your choices are limited. Even second hand there are only 1% of the 16 bores available compared to 12 bores. Most of these are in a side by side with a few in over and under. There are guns available from new but not from all the manufacturers you may be used too. Most if not all the British gun makers will build you one but this isn’t applicable to most consumers. At an auction, the scope widens to a whole array of wonderful side by side from the golden era of game shooting. As long as it has been well looked after you may find yourself a gem!

Holts auctioneers day


Whether you are looking for something brand new, bespoke or something older from an auction the 16 bore is a great choice. The 16 bore is all about balance and this is something it excels at. Neither too big nor too small the 16 bore offers the ultimate compromise between 12 & 20. For shooting all day its lighter than a 12 while providing more knock down power than a 20. If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd the 16 will offer something completely different. You will also be forever answering questions about why you chose one. Although, this question may answer itself when you consistently hit the targets reserved for the big 12 bore. If you’re looking for something a little different and surprisingly excellent then a 16 bore may be your best bet.

To read more about 16 bore shotguns click Here.

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