The Rebirth of the Sweet Sixteen

Long a favorite among Southern hunters, a classic shotgun returns to the field

The reintroduced Browning A5 16-gauge ($1,700) retains its classic silhouette but, inside, a new inertia-driven operating system allows the gun to cycle much more quickly and efficiently than its predecessor.

Chances are, if you spent any time in Southern dove fields, rabbit thickets, or snipe marshes in the 1950s and ’60s, you brushed up against someone shouldering a Browning A5 shotgun. The A5 established itself as one of the most popular autoloading shotguns in history. Though available in 12- and 20-gauge, it was the 16-gauge middle sister that hunters truly coveted, earning it the sobriquet Sweet Sixteen. The 16-gauge A5 remains so popular that it brings hundreds of dollars more on the used market than its 12- and 20-gauge siblings.

First produced in 1902, the A5 line had a long run that finally succumbed to the times in 1998, when the antiquated operating system became too expensive to manufacture. Such a classic design could not stay gone long, however, and in 2012 Browning reanimated the A5, though in a somewhat different incarnation. While hunters familiar with the old A5s rejoiced, a 16-gauge was conspicuously absent from the new line. That changed this past January, when Browning announced the reintroduction of a 16-gauge to its A5 line, and if early reports are any indication, the Sweet Sixteen will find its way into many a gun case.

The current A5 retains its precursor’s profile, with the distinctive squared-off receiver that’s sometimes disparaged as a humpback. The unique design takes a bit of getting used to, but many hunters find it helps in target acquisition by lengthening the sight plane. When placed beside an older A5, the new walnut stock is a little glossier, and the bluing has been replaced with a polished black. But the lines are very similar and so too goes the handling. Browning upgraded the receiver from steel to aluminum and built the shotgun on a true 16-gauge frame rather than a scaled 12-gauge. This creates a lighter-weight package that shoulders quickly, yet retains just the right balance. The new Sweet Sixteen still swings like your old high-school sweetheart.

The real differences are inside, however, with an inertia-driven operating system Browning calls the Kinematic Drive. Gone is the long back-and-forth slide of the barrel and bolt, replaced by a short-throw that cycles much faster and more reliably than the original, plus puts the shooter back on target faster for follow-ups on speedy doubles. It’s also easier on the shoulder, as an improperly tuned A5 original delivered a serious whack that scared many shooters off the gun entirely.

No doubt those who came of age shooting the original A5 will have some quibbles with the new model. But for many this reintroduced classic will hit a long-vacant sweet spot.