A legendary early 20th century shotgun, the 16-gauge dropped off the map in 1989 when skeet shooting rules were finalized by the newly formed National Sporting Clays Association, and the gauge didn’t make the cut. As much as field shooters favored the shotgun’s lightweight, functional, easy-on-the-shoulder nature, skeet shooters press the trigger more than upland and waterfowl hunters combined, and ammo manufacturers couldn’t justify the cost of production.
Today, however, this near-perfect gauge is making a remarkable comeback. Why? Efficiency. Not only do 16-gauge loads hit with a wallop, especially with modern-day tungsten and bismuth, the guns are simply a joy to tote. Weighing less than most 12-gauge options and comparable to 20-gauge models, a quality 16-gauge makes a tremendous all-day field gun for any shooter.
I’m a Browning fan, and my 12-gauge A5 has been my waterfowl go-to for over five years. The gun is a shooter, and I’m deadly with it in my hands. I was elated when Browning’s all-new A5 Wicked Wing Sweet Sixteen arrived at my local gun shop. My grandfather had an old, beat-up 16—I couldn’t tell you the make and model—and I loved that shotgun. I was excited to put Browning’s new-for-2022 beauty through the paces.
The shotgun is a showstopper. The composite stock and forearm on the tested model were cloaked in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Habitat camo, and the humpback receiver and 28-inch (26-inch barrel available) barrel sport a Cerakote Burnt Bronze camo finish. The camo pattern is continued onto the receiver, laser etched onto the Cerakote finish giving the Wicked Wing some extra eye appeal.
Of course, the legendary gold Browning trigger stands out, and I loved the over-sized bolt release that mimics the look of a shotshell head. The two-bead sight system is back, and shooters will appreciate the red front fiber-optic, visible in nearly any lighting condition. Another sweet, no-pun-intended addition is the extended Invector-DS Goose Band choke tube. Browning went to great lengths to ensure that when consumers look at this shotgun, they know it was designed to be a waterfowl wrecker. Metal parts adorned in Cerakote, the A5 Sweet Sixteen passed all of my scratch tests and should be able to withstand even the nastiest ducking weather.
Assembly of the A5 is about the easiest I’ve come across. There’s a pleasant lack of tricks and jostling required to seat the barrel and action correctly.
The shotgun shoulders brilliantly at just 6-plus pounds, and the slim, ergonomic forearm only sweetens the build. Chalk up this slim forearm to the recoil-operated Kinematic Drive system, as opposed to a gas-operating system with springs and buffers usually located around the magazine tube. Cheek weld on the composite stock feels natural—no raising, lowering or canting of my head was necessary to look down the barrel and line up the sights. More on this later.
The action is smooth, and the Cerakoted operating handle is perfectly curved and gridded for increased purchase. The action lock is located on the bottom of the shotgun just in front of the trigger guard, and the oversized bolt release will be appreciated when Mother Nature is being cruel and hands are covered with monstrous gloves. The push-button safety, though not huge, sits outside the trigger guard, above and behind. Black is cold, and red is hot; you know the drill. The Sweet Sixteen is fitted for a sling, and two attachment points are found, one at the rear and the other on the fore-end cap.
Built to accept 2¾-inch 16-gauge loads, shells glide into the chamber gently and create an audible click once seated. Browning’s effort to create an uber-balanced gun shines when you shoulder the Sweet Sixteen; Browning dubs this Ergo Balance. This technology blends the shotgun’s zero point of impact (50 percent of the pattern above the target and 50 percent below the target) with the legendary humpback receiver and flat-rib barrel design to give the shooter a larger sight plane. A larger sight plane means less opportunity for shooter error. While duck and goose seasons had ended by the time I got my hands on the Sweet Sixteen, I crushed trap, skeet and sporting clays for days using popular duck and goose loads. The shotgun swings effortlessly and fits me like a glove. I laid flat in my layout and had my son launch clays over my head to add additional in-the-field realism. I could rave about the balance and shootability of this gun forever, but all that ink will do you no good. You need to shoot this new A5 Sweet Sixteen for yourself.
Recoil is another place where the A5 Sweet Sixteen ranks high. The Kinematic Drive system robs kinetic energy that would be transferred into the shooter’s shoulder and utilizes that power to eject spent shells cleanly and chamber the next. Of course, Browning’s Inflex recoil pad works like a wonder, and less recoil means quicker target acquisition and more accurate shooting on second and third shots. Over two weeks, my family and I put more than 300 rounds through the shotgun and experienced zero issues. Make no mistake: This 16-gauge is a shotgun that can be used successfully by a wide range of shooters because of its light weight, slim build and lack of recoil. My wife and 16-year-old son fell in love with it, meaning I see yet another Browning purchase in my future.
I’m an Invector-DS fan, and three tubes come with the gun: full, modified and improved cylinder. I tested each at various ranges, and the modified and improved are what you’d expect. The full, though, was extra impressive. My 50-yard pattern shooting Hevi-Bismuth No. 4 was remarkable, and for grins—and because I planned to jelly a turkey head with the gun in the coming weeks—I put numerous pellets in the head of a Birchwood Casey Reactive Paper Turkey target at 60 yards with Hevi-Bismuth No. 6. Both tests were conducted from shooting sticks using the shotgun’s standard ivory mid-bead sight and front fiber-optic sight. Impressive.
My son is a snow-goose killer, and while we were taking apart the gun and putting it back together for cleaning purposes, he pointed out the TurnKey Magazine Plug. It’s a win. Use your truck key (or just about anything else), and in seconds, you can remove the shotgun’s plug, which is handy for springtime snow goose pursuits.
If you’re a serious waterfowler looking to tote a light-recoiling yet plenty powerful shotgun that performs flawlessly and swings beautifully on even the fastest flying teal, the A5 Wicked Wing Sweet Sixteen is the shotgun for you.
• Type: semi-auto shotgun
• Gauge/Chamber: 16/2¾"
• Capacity: 4 rnds.
• Barrel: 26"; vent rib; interchangeable choke tubes
• Trigger: 6-lb. pull weight
• Sights: mid-bead; red fiber-optic front sight
• Safety: cross-bolt
• Stock: synthetic; multiple camo options available (Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Habitat shown); 14¼" LOP; 2" drop at heel; 1¾" drop at comb
• Metal Finish: Burnt Bronze Cerakote
• Overall Length: 47⅝”
• Weight: 6 lbs., 1 oz.
• Accessories: Invector-DS choke tubes (M, IC, F)
• MSRP: $2,379.99; browning.com