16 Gauge Shells

16 Gauge Shotgun Ammo: In Depth

The 16 gauge shotgun shell is a versatile and balanced ammunition option, offering a middle ground between the power of the 12 gauge and the lighter recoil of the 20 gauge. Often referred to as the "sweet sixteen," the 16 gauge is appreciated for its effective performance in hunting and sport shooting. Though not as popular as its 12 and 20 gauge counterparts, it remains a favorite among enthusiasts who value its unique blend of characteristics. This article delves into the history, performance, applications, available firearms, ammunition options, and comparisons to provide a comprehensive understanding of the 16 gauge shotgun shell.

History and Development

The 16 gauge shotgun shell has a storied history that dates back to the late 19th century. Initially popular in Europe, the 16 gauge made its way to North America, where it gained a dedicated following among hunters and sport shooters. Its popularity peaked in the early to mid-20th century, especially among upland bird hunters who appreciated its balance of power and recoil.

The 16 gauge’s decline began in the latter half of the 20th century as the 12 gauge grew more dominant. Despite this, the 16 gauge has seen a resurgence in recent years, driven by a renewed interest in its unique attributes and the nostalgic appeal among shotgun enthusiasts.


The 16 gauge shotgun shell offers a well-rounded performance profile, balancing power, recoil, and versatility. Key characteristics include:

  • Velocity: The muzzle velocity typically ranges from 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second (fps), depending on the specific load and shot size.
  • Payload: The 16 gauge can handle shot loads ranging from 7/8 ounce to 1 1/4 ounces, providing a versatile spread for various hunting and shooting scenarios.
  • Recoil: The 16 gauge generates moderate recoil, less than the 12 gauge but more than the 20 gauge, making it manageable for most shooters.
  • Effective Range: Effective out to 40-50 yards for hunting applications, with consistent patterns and sufficient energy.


The 16 gauge shotgun shell excels in a variety of applications, including:

  • Upland Bird Hunting: Ideal for hunting pheasants, grouse, quail, and other upland game birds due to its balanced power and shot pattern.
  • Small Game Hunting: Suitable for rabbits, squirrels, and other small game, offering a good combination of reach and knockdown power.
  • Sport Shooting: Popular in skeet, trap, and sporting clays, where shooters appreciate its lighter recoil and effective patterns.
  • Youth and Beginners: The moderate recoil and balanced performance make the 16 gauge a good choice for younger shooters or those new to shotgunning.

Available Firearms

Several manufacturers produce firearms chambered in 16 gauge, catering to various preferences and needs:

  • Browning A5: A classic semi-automatic shotgun known for its reliability and smooth operation, available in 16 gauge configurations.
  • Remington 870: A versatile and durable pump-action shotgun, popular among hunters and sport shooters for its performance and affordability.
  • Ithaca Model 37: A pump-action shotgun renowned for its lightweight design and smooth action, favored by upland bird hunters.
  • CZ Drake: An over/under shotgun that combines quality and value, ideal for both hunting and clay shooting.

Available Ammunition

A variety of 16 gauge ammunition is available, catering to different applications and preferences:

  • Lead Shot: Traditional lead shot is effective for hunting and offers various shot sizes from #6 to #9, suitable for different game birds and small game.
  • Steel Shot: Required for waterfowl hunting in many regions, steel shot provides an environmentally friendly alternative with good performance.
  • Bismuth and Tungsten: Non-toxic alternatives to lead and steel, offering higher density and improved ballistic performance for specialized hunting needs.
  • Slugs: Solid projectiles designed for big game hunting, delivering significant energy and accuracy at medium ranges.

Popular brands like Federal, Winchester, and Remington produce a range of 16 gauge ammunition, ensuring availability for various needs and preferences.


Comparing the 16 gauge with other shotgun gauges highlights its unique attributes:

  • 12 Gauge: The 12 gauge is more versatile and widely used, offering a broader range of ammunition and firearm options. However, the 16 gauge provides a good balance of power and recoil, making it more comfortable for extended use.
  • 20 Gauge: The 20 gauge is lighter and produces less recoil, making it suitable for smaller game and younger shooters. The 16 gauge offers more power and a denser shot pattern, making it a better choice for larger game birds and small game.
  • 28 Gauge: The 28 gauge is known for its light recoil and is popular in upland bird hunting and skeet shooting. However, the 16 gauge offers greater versatility and power, making it suitable for a wider range of applications.

16 Gauge Shells: FAQ

The effective range varies by load and target but generally extends to 40-50 yards for most hunting applications.

Yes, its moderate recoil and balanced performance make it a good choice for beginners and younger shooters.

The 16 gauge generates moderate recoil, less than the 12 gauge but more than the 20 gauge, making it manageable for most shooters.

Yes, provided non-toxic shot such as steel or bismuth is used, as required by law in many regions.

While not as common as other gauges, 16 gauge shotguns and ammunition are available from various manufacturers and retailers, particularly those catering to hunting and shooting enthusiasts.