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12 bore vs 16 bore – the great debate

Ben Samuelson and Giles Catchpole argue the toss

Damascus steel barrels

Damascus barrels on a 16-bore shotgun

Which would be your choice in the 12-bore vs 16 bore conversation?

Ask some people why they use a 16-bore and they say they “stumbled across one by chance” but now wouldn’t use anything else. Here’s what our debates think …

16-bores are for rural hipsters says Ben Samuelson

A 16-bore is something of a smug calibre.  Twenty is fine if you’re not strong enough to carry a real gun; 28 is acceptable if you wish to invite universal derision every time you miss a bird and .410 is delightfully mad – but 16 bore is just plain smug.

Turning up with a 16 bore is tantamount to saying you’re slightly better than the rest of the world, without having any right to make that claim. The difference between it and a 12 is so slight as to not be noticeable but cartridge choice is limited and expensive. They are slightly less powerful without any real benefit so there isn’t really anything beyond pure snob value in their favour. It’s tantamount to announcing a load of awkward food allergies as you arrive at a dinner party, and being late because your car runs on slightly lower octane fuel that is only available in glass jars from an organic petrol station in Burford.

I’m all in favour in questioning the norm, of having lovely things that only I know about. For heaven’s sake, I have my suits lined in Cold War escape and evasion maps, but a 16 bore is a gun for folk who turn up in a fully-matching set of shooting togs, with a natty purple check in everything from their hat to their sock garters.

If you are a rural hipster who has a bicycle with only one gear, foolish facial hair and ankle brogues, a 16 bore is perfect for you. I’ll stick with my 12, thank you.

16 bore

The rise and rise of the 16 bore

A recent advertisement by ASI – the importer of AYA guns from Spain and, more recently, Rizzinis from Italy – bravely announced that “16 bore…

16-bores are elegant says Giles Catchpole

By Giles Catchpole

It is the elegance that clinches it for the 16 bore. Side-by-side or superposed the sweet 16 is pretty as you like. There is something about the proportions of these guns. Like a Georgian country house or a thoroughbred horse, they just look good. And they feel as good as they look. Once dismissed as guns for ladies and boys (by people who should know better, Ben) the 16s are now recognised as arms for the discerning. Probably because of the boys and ladies who are nailing their birds high, wide and handsome before the rest of the line have either winched their great 12 bores into position or extracted their cute little 20s from their pockets. Ha!

Time was when the ammunition selection for 16s was slender to say the least. I remember a period where I was really scratching about for quality shells. Actually, that is not fair, the quality is a given, but the variety and availability was really limited. But now that there are lots of us about there are all sorts and they are not extravagantly dear either. I bought 28gram No.6s in paper cases last season and never even shed a tear.

But the best part is the 16s are just a little bit different. Everybody has a 12 bore and 20 bores are run of the mills these days. But 16s still attract a comment and a look and more than occasional covetous glances. Except in the most elevated of company and on the most exclusive shoots, obviously; because we all have a 16 on those occasions.