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Generally, antenna gain can be determined two ways:

1) Mathematical modeling will give the "theoretical" gain.

2) Comparison of the test antenna's reception to the reception of a calibrated or characterized reference antenna using standard RF test equipment in a controlled environment.

4NEC2 will, if the antenna is properly modeled, give a "theoretical" gain values that should be "close enough for guv'ment work". Measurements at an antenna testing facility can be taken to validate the mathematical models.

Since antenna test ranges are both expensive and few and far between, that leaves modeling and "relative field testing" as the most common means available to the enthusiast.
 
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