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The 16 gauge -- it's not dead yet!

I don't know how many essays the outdoor writers of the day wrote of the death of the 16 gauge. This was common following World War II. The sporting arms industry had the 12 and the 20, both with successful three-inch versions. So who would miss the 16 if we chose to mostly ignore it?

The 16 gauge had always been Europe's first choice, and in America and Canada it was second. Eliminating the tooling for the gauge was going to prove to be a money saving scheme, money that could be used for research and development such as chamberings as the .410 bore. For a few decades, American sportsman tolerated this. Then there was a resurgence of interest in the 16 when Beretta, Browning, Remington and others began to import or build here, over-under shotguns in 16 gauge. Both the 12 and the 20 gauge guns overlap the range of the 16 gauge, so sportsmen owned just the two.

But the 16 gauge had a reputation of carrying well in the uplands, taking pheasants at as far a range as any 12 gauge. The standard shell was a one-ounce load of #5 or #6 shot. Blue Peters or green Remingtons took their place on a ledge in many a pick up truck used as transportation from one grassy field to another. The revival was slow after the popularity of the 16 gauge hit rock bottom back in the 50s and 60s.

But knowledgeable shotgunners who pursued roosters, ruffed grouse, a cottontail occasionally or chukars and sharptails across mid and western America's uplands. New hunters who were blissfully unaware of the qualities of the 16 gauge were quick to see this. Some writers daringly began to advise readers that they should get on board and leave the 12 bore in the gun rack. Browning, Ithaca, and Remington were leaders in making shotguns for the relatively few who wanted to make the change. The Model 37 slide-action Ithaca pump was among these. They appeared in fancied up deluxe versions, and there was a revival of this centuries old manufacturer at Ithaca, N.Y. Marlin made a dandy field grade over-under in 16 gauge, plain barrel, with double triggers. It sold for $200 or so. Today, if you can find one, you'll pay $1,500 or better.

Will the 16 gauge regain its position second only to the 12? Probably not. The 3" 20 gauge steps into the 16 gauge's field, and is popular, made in all styles and is priced right. I had a field grade Winchester, which I used to great satisfaction for waterfowl and pheasants. For some reason it got traded. I wish I still owned it. It weighed less than seven pounds, had nice wood and was a joy to carry afield.

If you own, and probably use, an American side by side in 16 gauge, you have a treasure. Made in the first quarter of the 20th century, they sold for about $100 or less. Now they'll bring $3,000 or more. The manufacturers were L.C. Smith, Lefever, Ansley H. Fox or Ithaca Gun Company. They are the ultimate in 16 gauge side-bys, as so few were made.

The time is now for

Minnesota pheasants

The season closes on Jan. 3. And in the days in January you can legally take three roosters. The corn is gone, many of the fields have been plowed. This means the birds are in the grassy areas, including many state and federal tracts. No permission needed, and we have birds. Some of the best pheasant hunting in years is available right now. Pope, Meeker, and Kandiyohi Counties all have birds. And these places didn't get hunted very hard earlier, as there was a lot of unharvested corn and the land owners kept hunters out of the fields.

Duck hunting:

It wasn't great

Fewer duck stamps were sold in Minnesota this year. Perhaps waterfowlers knew something. Bluebills continued to be in short supply. On top of that comes a report that thousands of them died on Lake Winnibigoshish due to the birds ingesting parasite called trematodes. They probably got there because ocean traveling ships drop their ballast in the Great Lakes and natural movement of waters gets into our smaller lakes.

Goose hunters have been having a tough year at Lac qui Parle this year. Only 185 geese were taken in state blinds, the lowest on record. In the 1990s the kill was about 1,100 geese, but in recent years it has been down to 433 geese per year. Perhaps the past two months were just too nice. It is hard to take a goose in Minnesota when they've been loafing in Manitoba.