Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Out-of-favor shotgun still a beauty in his eyesBy DICK PINNEY January 28. 2018 2:12AM
Going through some of the "rubble" that seems to take over my desk drawers, we came upon an empty 16-gauge shotgun shell. It was hard to make out what the contents were but my best guess was it was an upland bird load, probably with a load of seven and a half-size lead shot (which is not legal now as lead shot is not approved.)
What interested me about this shell was the size shot. This loading and the use of a 16-gauge shotgun was probably the most effective and most popular round for grouse and woodcock, and it did have enough power to take down a big cock pheasant at normal ranges.
"Back in the days" when we had wild pheasants, the Oct. 1 opener for game birds created quite a crowd of hunters in our southern covers, as a heavy stocking of pheasants from the state's own game farm in Brentwood supplemented what at times could be a considerable amount of wild pheasants.
Many of us in the coastal area were brought up hearing the "cawk, cawk" call of a local cock pheasants. These birds were often mistakenly called "natives" but we all knew that they originated in China and were brought over here to supplement our hard hunted real native game birds, the grouse and woodcock.
Here on the Seacoast, especially when we had a mild winter, we'd witness flocks of pheasants that had survived the winter. And in the late days of summer we'd take rides around our tried and true pheasant covers hoping to find some broods of home-grown pheasant chicks. Often we were quite successful in locating several local broods of which we kept tabs on so we could locate them come opening day of the bird season, which then was always set on Oct. 1.
In a year when we had mild winters, it was not unusual for us to have quite a few pheasant flocks to provide some great hunting, but some had been hit hard by predators, both wild and domestic.
One of the worst was big house cat pets, and the worst of those were cats that had turned completely feral and often would clean out a whole brood of pheasant chicks. Luckily, if the brood was hatched early enough in the summer, a second attempt would be made but unless the mother hen pheasant was easily identified, we often never knew if it was the same hen that had lost her first brood of chicks to predators.
So why did the 16-gauge, a perfectly fine upland bird hunting load, go out of favor? We think it was because of the limitations that were connected with that shell. The 16-gauge was a terrific upland game load but it lacked the choices of loads such as both the 20-gauge and 12-gauge offered.
Both the 12- and 20-gauge offered special waterfowl loads that were scarce in 16-gauge. And when non-toxic or steel shot became mandated for waterfowling, it just about put this great mid/power load out of business. The advent of the three-inch 20-gauge load also had a lot to do with it as 20-gauge shotguns became very fashionable and useful because those three-inch loads could equal or best the available 16- or 12-gauge loads and still function well as a regular 20-gauge.
Another killer for the 16-gauge was the fact that it was nearly impossible to get set up with that little-used gauge for reloading, and the components needed were also hard or impossible to purchase, where the same things needed to reload 12- and 20-gauge shot shells were often bought right off the counter.
We've never owned a 16-gauge shotgun. But someday if we find an old classic double 16-gauge in good, safe condition we'd probably mortgage our house to buy it. Why? Just because!
Drop us an email at DoDuckInn@aol.com and get out there and get you some.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com. and get you some!