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The Return of the 16 Gauge? September 2004
Dan Martinez  

Dad’s old Remington Wingmaster on the right,
my new Remington 1100 Classic Field on the left,
both in 16 gauge.

When I was a lad, my Dad, much more a dedicated trout fisherman than he was a hunter, owned only three hunting tools: a 45 pound draw weight recurve bow, a sporterized 1903 Springfield in .30-06 (naturally), and a Remington Wingmaster in 16 gauge. I think he sold off the Springfield when I was in my teens, but I am now the owner of his Red Wing recurve and his Wingmaster. I’ve recently found a Springfield that’s a spittin’ image of his old one, but that’s a story for another time.

I keep telling you guys that I started hunting much later in life than most hunters. I used Dad’s Wingmaster to take my very first wild game on the opening day of dove season in 1993. Hunting with co-workers Brad Birdsell and Mike Hodge at Powers Butte down near Buckeye, I knocked only 3 doves out of the sky that day. But I won the contest for style points when I caught my last bird of the day, an incomer, in my hand before it hit the ground! Yes, in front of witnesses!

I’ve dallied with other shotguns over the years, several have come and gone. I played a little at the sporting clays game for awhile, only attaining C class status though. The closest I’ve come to owning a real sporting clays gun, was a couple of over/unders. I owned and loved a trim and lightweight Marocchi Avanza in 20 gauge for a couple of years. I got pretty deadly with that little gun. Up until this season, my only full limit of 10 doves was taken with the Avanza. It always had some nagging little mechanical problems though. I decided that it had to go when I snapped the breech closed one day, and it fired! I was safely pointed at the ground, so no harm done, but to me, that was an unforgivable sin. Bye bye Avanza.

Then I picked up a Beretta over/under in 12 gauge. I had drooled over Beretta O/Us for many years never thinking that I could afford one, when a large local sporting goods store decided to go out of business and was selling off stock at deep discounts. It was the plain-jane Beretta, the “Essential”, but still, it was all Beretta. I wasn’t quite as deadly with that Italian stallion, as I was with the Avanza, but it served me well for a number of years.

The big problem I had with the Beretta was that it hurt me! As the cheapest in the line, the Essential had no recoil pad, just a plastic butt plate. But it wasn’t my shoulder that was complaining, it was my cheekbone. I tried to solve the problem with a stick-on comb pad, and that certainly helped, but it didn’t fix the problem. By the end of a regulation 100 bird sporting clays shoot, my cheek was in so much pain, that if I hit any of my last 20 birds, it was pure luck.

That’s when I first started thinking seriously about going back to a good old Remington repeater, but an autoloader, as my designated sporting clays gun. Dad’s old Wingmaster always seemed to fit me just right. When I bring the butt of the Wingmaster into my shoulder, my eye is naturally looking straight over the barrel. No need to mash my cheek into the comb of the stock to get a good view. There’s just something right about the way a Remington fits me.

Fortunately, I was able to get every penny out of the Beretta that I had into it. My immediate replacement for the Beretta was yet another Italian! – but a pump gun. I brought home a Benelli Nova. Though it only has a 24” barrel, since it’s a 3½” chambered 12 gauge, and because of its unique plastic overmolded construction, it’s still a big, thick gun.

It’s primary purpose in my stable was for waterfowl and turkey hunting. Not long after bringing it home, I took it out one Thursday evening to the Ben Avery trap fields to see what it could do. Picture this: the gun is covered muzzle to toe in green camoflage, it’s a pump, and I show up in jeans and a t-shirt. So basically, I look like Average Hunter Joe. I take the field next to a guy with a fine Belgian Browning Superposed. He’s nattily attired in slacks and an expensive shotgun vest. I swear I heard the guy sniff as I walked up to the line. Long story short, I hit 24 out of 25, my best-ever trap score. He hit 19 or so. He looked at me a little differently after the set than he had regarded me before.

Sporting clays requires a quick second shot, but it’s so easy to short-stroke a pump and jam up the gun. After I got rid of the over/unders, the most suitable shotgun for sporting clays left in my armory was another Remington, a Model 1100 LT-20 autoloader. I bought it for my wife, hoping to get her interested in shotgunning, but it didn’t work. She’s never fired it. But it’s a beautiful little gun that I could never see parting with. I’ve taken a number of dove with it, and I’ve shot it in competition in HSC club shoots and in 100 bird official sporting clays shoots. But I can never get away from the feeling that I’m giving away too much by shooting a 20 gauge against 12 gauge competitors. Now my youngest son Sammy has latched onto it as his favorite dove and clays gun. I’m afraid I won’t get to shoot it much anymore!

So basically that’s where I’ve stood with shotguns for the past couple of years: That big fat pickup truck of a shotgun, the Benelli Nova, the delightfully trim Remington 1100 20 gauge, or Dad’s old 16 gauge Wingmaster. These three will certainly carry the water for any type of Arizona bird hunting imaginable. Still, none was especially suitable for the sporting clays game.

In 2002, Remington decided to finally bring the 16 gauge back to the model 870 lineup in four variations. Remington discontinued the 16 gauge back in the late seventies. Since I have such a soft spot for the 16, I was naturally delighted, though at the same time disappointed that I couldn’t do my part to assure Remington that they made a good move. I already had mine!

I really don’t know when Dad’s Wingmaster was made. I’m pretty sure it dates from around the mid-1960’s. There were no choke tubes back then. Dad’s came with a full choked 28” plain barrel. When it became mine, I made a couple of changes. First, I replaced the buttstock. I don’t know if Dad had it done, or if he got it that way, but it had a youth-sized buttstock on it. I easily found a used standard-length Remington 870 walnut buttstock at the gun show. Remington’s 16s are not made on a special 16-gauge frame size. They share the same frame with the 12 gauges.

Then I sent the Wingmaster’s barrel off to Briley in Texas to have a couple of inches chopped off, and to have a choke tube system installed. While full-choked, the gun was essentially useless to me. I see the role of the 16 gauge as a perfect upland bird gun. I specified that Briley send it back to me with cylinder, improved cylinder, and modified chokes – no full.

Then last year, 2003, Remington announced that they were also bringing back the 16 gauge Model 1100. For various reasons, I didn’t jump on it last year, but this year, for various other reasons, I decided that now was the time to buy myself a birthday present.

My birthday happens to coincide with the opening of dove season. Since I was not drawn for any Arizona big game hunts, I had already decided that this was going to be a big bird hunting year for me. My little brother came out from Florida for a visit this summer and was amazed at how many doves he saw flying around here. And there have been many bunnies and some large coveys of quail in my neighborhood, several times hanging out in my front yard! Apparently, the timing of the winter and spring rains has been very good to the small game populations this year.

The experts say that there’s somewhat of a magical relationship between shot column width and height in a 16 gauge. This has to do with the standard 1 oz. to 1¼ oz. bird load for the 16 gauge having “square” dimensions – just as high as it is wide. This is supposed to create in the 16 gauge, an unsurpassed, evenly distributed shot pattern. Think back a moment to the definition of shotgun gauge – it’s the number of pure lead balls of the gun’s bore diameter needed to equal one pound. Therefore, the theoretical 16 gauge bore sized lead ball weighs exactly one ounce – since there are 16 ounces to the pound.

Well, I don’t know how true this theory about perfect shot patterns really is. All I know is that I like the gauge, and I figured that a 16 gauge Remington 1100 would be the perfect medicine both for upland bird hunting and for sporting clays up to the level of my modest abilities. I expect that the Remington stock shape and the reduced level of recoil due to the smaller standard pellet charge and the autoloading action would be kind to both my shoulder and to my cheek bone over the course of 100 clays.

So I went down to Sportsman’s Warehouse and placed my special order for a 16 gauge Model 1100. Of course I expected that I would have to have it ordered. What surprised me was that Sportsman’s Warehouse doesn’t normally stock any variation of the Model 1100. They seem to otherwise have a pretty good selection of shotguns.

My new Remington arrived in less than a week. There is only one variation of the Model 1100 in 16 gauge. Remington calls it the “Classic Field”. None of this matte finish, black synthetic stock crap. The metal work is highly polished blue and the furniture is semi-gloss American walnut. White line spacers set off both the grip cap and the solid plastic buttplate. There is no rolled-in pseudo-engraving on the metal, only the words “Classic Field” in a script-type font. The barrel sports a vent rib and choke tubes, both of which were not available the last time Remington cataloged a 16 gauge Model 1100.

Yes, it is built on the 12 gauge Model 1100 frame size. Many shotgun pundits will argue that a 16 gauge isn’t worth doing if it’s nothing more than a down-bored 12 gauge. A 16 gauge built on a specifically downsized frame will be lighter and livelier than one created from a 12 gauge. Well, that’s a certainty. For this individual, that was less of a consideration.

Two barrel lengths are offered for the 16 gauge Classic Field, 26 and 28 inches. I opted for the 28 inch which is spec’ed at 7¼ pounds. I was disappointed though, when my specimen weighed-in a whole pound more at 8¼ pounds. On the other hand, its better to soak up the recoil over a long day of sporting clays. Though heavier, it’s still slimmer and trimmer than my workhorse Benelli 12 gauge.

The gun’s arrival came about a week-and-a-half before the dove opener. The kids and I got up early on September 1st to head down to a new spot we wanted to try near Arlington, on the other side of the river from Powers Butte. The mosquitos attacked us last year at Powers, and the normal crowds and competition for the hot spot caused us to look for happier hunting grounds this year.

This would be Sam’s third year as a shooter, and Ben’s first year. Sam was shooting the LT-20, and Ben was shooting his Mossberg 20 gauge Model 500. You know what I was shooting.

Ben knocked two out the air this year, and Sam made a new personal best of five – a half limit. As for myself, for only the second time in my hunting career, I got a full limit of 10 birds with my new Classic Field. Alright, I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to do it within only one box of 25 – I had to dip into a second box. Nevertheless, I think the new gun acquitted itself quite admirably in the field.

The title of this piece is a question for good reason. Apparently Remington believes enough in the Return of the 16 Gauge to have re-introduced five model variations in the last couple of years. Also today, 16 gauge shotguns are available from a number of makers of imported break action guns. The loads available may have dwindled over the years, but today they have reached a steady state – no recent introductions, but no recent discontinuations either. So the fate of the 16 gauge rests in your hands, my fellow sportsmen. I’ve done my part to help keep the noble 16 gauge alive and well in the 21st century.

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