As an aspiring curmudgeon (my wife might suggest that I’m already there), I frown disapprovingly when I hear that someone is remaking a classic. Be it a movie, a song or a ﬁrearm, some things are just so iconic that you simply shouldn’t mess with them. If you do, you’d better get it right, or you’ll catch hell from people whose hearts were captured by the original. Sadly, and all too often, “new and improved” translates into “new and cheapened and ugly.”
I recently had an opportunity to test one such newly made-over gun, the Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen shotgun, and I’m pleased to report that, in this instance, the manufacturer got it right. By right, I mean spectacularly right.
My opportunity to test this reborn 16-gauge classic came during a three-day pheasant hunt with R&R Pheasant Hunting, an 18,000-acre, family-owned farming and ranching operation near Seneca, S.D., with four other outdoor scribes. We were there, along with representatives from Browning, Winchester and the South Dakota Department of Tourism, to test three new shotguns and ammunition from Browning and Winchester.
I spent the ﬁrst day wringing out the newly announced Winchester SX4 shotgun in 12 gauge, and bagged my fair share of birds. I spent the second day happily shooting roosters with the Browning 725 Citori over-and-under shotgun chambered in 28 gauge. I held off on shooting the Sweet Sixteen until the ﬁnal day of the hunt, mainly because only two were on hand and everyone wanted to shoot them. As fellow outdoor writer “Uncle Bob” Matthews observed, “The Sweet Sixteen was the prettiest girl at the dance, and everyone wanted to dance with her.”
AND WHAT A DANCE IT WAS. On the second drive of the day, I took the left ﬂanker position, outside and ahead of Bob, who walked a few rows inside a ﬁeld of tall corn. We both carried the Sweet Sixteen, stoked with the new Browning BXD Upland Extra Distance 11/8-ounce load of No. 6 nickel-plated shot, and as luck would have it, most of the roosters that ﬂushed during that drive came our way. The sky was soon raining pheasants. I think only one rooster made it past us. By the time that drive was over, someone had nicknamed us “The Sixteen Dream Team,” and I already knew I would have to own this shotgun.
To understand what makes this new gun so special, it helps to know a bit about its history. Today’s A5 traces its lineage to the original Browning Automatic 5, designed by John Browning in 1898. It was one of the most inﬂuential shotgun designs of all time. First produced by FN in 1902, it was later made by Remington as the Model 11 and by Savage as the Model 720 and other variants.
The Auto 5 used a long-recoil operating system in which the bolt and the barrel recoiled together, and it had a friction piece and bevel ring to adjust recoil to the load. It was soft-shooting when set up properly, but could thump you soundly if it was improperly tuned. Production moved from Belgium to Japan in 1975, and the guns got heavier. By the 1990s, semiauto shotguns that were cheaper to produce and lighter, and with more modern designs, were gaining dominance. The writing was on the wall: Production ceased in 1998, after nearly 100 years of production, and the Auto 5 was no more.
That changed in 2013 when Browning stunned the shotgun world by bringing back the A5 in 12 gauge, albeit in much-changed form and manufactured in Portugal. The Sweet Sixteen followed in 2016. It’s built on a smaller, lighter alloy receiver with a polished black anodized ﬁnish, and weighs just 5 pounds, 13 ounces with a 28-inch barrel, and a bit less with a 26-inch barrel.
It’s one thing to ﬁnd a lightweight shotgun. It’s quite another to ﬁnd one this well-balanced that swings so smoothly. The gun simply painted birds from the sky for me, and I had difficulty believing I was swinging a 16-gauge shotgun with a 28-inch barrel.
Externally, this gun resembles the original Auto 5, retaining the distinctive “humpback” squared-off receiver. I like it because it affords a slightly longer sight plane, aligning naturally with my eye, and allowing me to shoot with my head up a bit more and beneﬁt from a more comfortable, less-punishing cheek weld.
INTERNALLY, THE SWEET SIXTEEN is an entirely different animal from its predecessor. The long-recoil system has been replaced by an inertia-driven system called Kinematic Drive by Browning. It’s fast-cycling, easy on the shoulder and highly reliable – so much so that Browning stands behind it with a 100,000-round or ﬁve-year guarantee that the shotgun will work “come hell or high water.” It’s a clean-running system, because all gasses go out the barrel and away from the action.
A look at the barrel reveals other reasons why this is not your grandfather’s Auto 5. It has a lengthened, tapered “Vector Pro” forcing cone to minimize shot deformation and enhance pattern uniformity. The barrel is also backbored to reduce friction between the shot cup and bore. I’m not convinced that this reduces recoil, as some claim, but I do believe it helps with pattern consistency, uniformity and density. The barrel sports a red ﬁber optic front sight and white midpoint bead.
The shotgun ships with full, modiﬁed and improved cylinder Invector DS choke tubes. These longer-than-usual tubes have a more gradual choke taper, again contributing to more uniform shot patterns. They also have a brass alloy band to help seal out residue, making the tubes easy to remove after a day of shooting.
Other nice touches include 18-lines-per-inch checkering on the glossy Turkish walnut buttstock and forearm. The stock has an Inﬂex II recoil pad, which directs recoil energy down and away from your face. With Speed Load Plus, you simply push the ﬁrst shell into the magazine, with the action open, and the gun automatically feeds the ﬁrst round into the chamber. The “plus” part of the equation is a handy little mechanism you can push with a ﬁnger, inside the bottom of the receiver, to unload shells from the magazine tube without having to cycle the action repeatedly.
The new Sweet Sixteen honors its proud legacy while enabling you to shoot the old “gentleman’s gauge” in a technologically updated package. The gun has little noticeable recoil. It is fast, yet swings smoothly. It is elegant, but utilitarian. It packs like a 20 gauge, but punches like a 12. With this one shotgun, a hunter would be wellequipped to handle most any type of wingshooting. As one of my fellow scribes observed during our hunt, “This might be the gun that saves the 16-gauge shotshell.”
As I sit here admiring the richly ﬁgured wood of the stock on the sample gun sent to me for testing, I suspect he may be right. I also suspect Browning may have a difficult time getting this one back. ASJ