REVIEW: 2016 Browning Sweet Sixteen 16 gauge Autoloading Shotgun, Part Two
Browning does deserve great credit for keeping the 16 gauge alive, where no other major brand name manufacturer has particularly tried. The Citori 16 gauge O/U is available in numerous configurations. Browning runs them to satisfy consumer demand and reruns them when supplies start to dwindle. The Browning BPS pump, introduced as a “Shot Show Special,” has become a regularly cataloged item. With this Sweet Sixteen autoloader, Browning offers two repeaters and a vertical double in 16 gauge, something no other brand can claim.
Browning certainly can offer quality triggers on firearms, when they want to whether it is an X-Bolt model or the 725 Citori. With their repeaters, they apparently just don't want to. In the case of the 2016 A5 Sweet Sixteen, history repeats itself for the same issues were present in the A5 12 gauge Hunter models: http://www.randywakeman.com/TheNewBrowningA5AdventurePartIII.htm . However, for the sixteen gauge enthusiast, most of the issues are fixable. Most current production Browning autoloaders do need trigger work, aftermarket choke tubes, and the A5 12 gauge Hunter models need a center bead extraction as well. By no means is Browning alone in this, for several guns are “Great guns. Eventually.” http://www.randywakeman.com/ItisaGreatShotgunEventually.htm is a specific example. Regardless, my feeling is that a $1700 sticker price autoloader should come with a reasonable trigger, you should be able to see the front bead, and choke tubes should remotely perform as designated.
Olin-Winchester is licensing the Browning name to sell their ammo. It would seem an ideal time for Winchester to offer some better 16 gauge ammo. Such is not the case, for there is no 16 gauge shell in the Browning BXD Waterfowl line, only one shell in the BPT target load line (1 oz. #8 shot), and only one load in the BXD Upland line, 1-1/8 oz. of #6 lead only.
Going through my cache of 16 gauge ammo, there are some Federal Classic 1-1/8 oz. #7-1/2 loads, a “2-3/4 dram equiv.” (1145 fps) load now discontinued (at least non-cataloged) but excellent for dove, Fiocchi Golden Pheasant 1-1/8 oz. #5 1310 fps (still available, a good pheasant load), and the truly excellent Kent Tungsten-Matrix 1-1/4 oz. #5 @1265 fps, also discontinued. Perhaps Kent will bring it back? On a more positive note, the new Kent Bismuth is loaded in #5 and #6, 1 oz. @ 1300 fps, so so-called “no-tox” afflicted areas aren't totally left out of the picture. A quality 1-1/4 oz. buffered 16 gauge lead load is currently available, from Federal, but in #4 or #6 shot only.
THE INVECTOR-DS CHOKE TUBE SAGA
As far as the Invector-DS choke tube saga, The barrel of the first 12 gauge A5 tested measures .740 in. via Skeet's bore gauge. The Full choke tube (lead only) is .701 for an aggressive 39 thousandths constriction. The IC choke is .736 in. for a puny 4 thousandths constriction, the MOD choke is .731 for only a 9 thousandths constriction. The Invector-DS choke idea is good, but the performance is not as marked. Not even remotely close. What actually comes with the gun is a Skeet choke, an IC choke, and an Extra-Full "lead-only" choke. It is the same hot mess already covered in the previous Citori 725 reviews.
In the case of the 725 Citori Field 20 gauge with Invector-DS tubes, the situation improved. Only three chokes are supplied with the 725 20 gauge field, but all three (IC, MOD, FULL) throw patterns in line with their markings. The constrictions on the DS 20 gauge tubes are far heavier than the 12 gauge DS attempt, running .007 and .015 inches for IC/MOD based on the upper barrel bore, and it is no great surprise that constriction works. In 20 gauge, the IC tube has 700% of the 12 gauge constriction, and the Mod in 20 gauge has fully double the constriction of the DS 12 gauge. In fact, the 20 gauge Invector DS uses more constriction than the old 20 gauge standard Invector: a twenty standard Invector used .023 inch for a "Full" pattern, but the new Invector DS uses more: .029 inch.
Though the same DS “long taper” design touted by Browning is used throughout the gauges, the 12 gauge MOD is a mere .009 inch constriction. However, in 20 gauge, the MOD was .015 inch constriction. Here, with the 16 gauge Invector-DS, we are back to the same nonsense, as the 16 gauge MOD has a .011 inch constriction. The 12 gauge MOD throws wide-open skeet patterns, it was fixed in the 20 gauge with more constriction, but it is stuffed up again in the 16 gauge MOD, which has only about two-thirds the constriction of the 20 gauge MOD choke tube. Constriction works, apparently, but what Browning is doing here clearly does not. It is, by now, a longstanding issue, for it was of enough concern that I reported this directly to Browning back in 2011 prior to publishing the first 725 12 gauge review. Although I was promised that they would get back to me, that was five years ago, and Browning customers are still left wondering why factory DS tubes do not perform as marked.
As a practical matter, the Sweet Sixteen throws cylinder, improved cylinder, and X-X-Full patterns with the supplied chokes. Normally, this wouldn't be all that important to a prospective new owner, for there typically two ways to increase pattern efficiencies: better chokes or better shells. Ideally, you use both a quality shell and a quality choke. It is more of a problem with the Sweet Sixteen for no high-antimony shells, such as Remington STS or Winchester AA's are available. Nor can you just spin on a Trulock Precision Hunter extended choke, either. The consumer is left with the unsavory option of throwing Improved Cylinder patterns on the next hunt, regardless. That's fine, of course, if that is all you are looking for, but after patterning hundreds of shotguns over the years, a .022 in. - .025 inch constriction choke matched to a high-quality shell general nets the most useful upland patterns for me, and the most useful sporting clay pattern efficiencies as well. http://www.randywakeman.com/ShotgunPatterning2016.htm touches on patterning in a but more detail and of course, your mileage will vary.
Back to the Sweet Sixteen handling qualities. It is a superbly well-balanced shotgun, shouldering quickly, swinging smoothly, and carries effortlessly. The forearm is remarkably slim, and for such a remarkably lightweight gun, recoil is manageable. The “Speed Loading” works markedly better in the Sweet Sixteen than in the 12 gauge A5 and it is, in general, a very pleasant hunting gun.
It is also the only game in town, for there is no other option in a new 16 gauge autoloader. It embodies what most 16 gauge aficionados have always claimed they wanted: a lightweight model with a dedicated 16 gauge receiver and a true 16 gauge profile barrel. The Sweet Sixteen delivers on these areas and in the reliability department, there are no apparent issues. At 5 lbs. 14 oz. weight as measured, it shaves over half a pound as compared to the Benelli Ethos, for example, and as directly compared to an Ethos 12 gauge, and even the poor trigger of the Sweet Sixteen is better than the more expensive Ethos. The price of the Sweet Sixteen, while not bargain class, is quite understandable as Browning has to attempt to recover their significant design and tooling costs from the 16 gauge market alone.
The issues documented here are all fixable, one way or another, but are obvious deficiencies that just shouldn't be. Despite all this the Sweet Sixteen has a very active platform, good safety placement, very easy, smooth loading and smooth speed-loading, excellent balance, and it is after all a “true” sixteen gauge autoloader in every sense of the word.
Those of a more practical mindset will ignore the Sweet Sixteen in favor of the many competent twenty gauges out there that are far more versatile, have more and better ammunition choices, and are more potent as a result. Sixteen gauge enthusiasts will buy this gun, perhaps a couple of them, without hesitation.
Note: The "Improved Modified" and "Light Full" 16 gauge DS chokes have arrived: both are steel-shot approved. The Improved Modified has a substantially heavier constriction than the Modified, at .023 in., (.646 in. ID) so that should take care of the open patterns.
Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.