View Full Version : Newbie Shotgun Questions: 12GA vs. 20GA & 2.75" vs 3" vs 3.5" Chamber Options?

June 27, 2002, 10:46 AM
I'm looking for my first shotgun and this forum's been great. I've read alot of posts, but I would like to get some opinion in my choices based on what I want to do with my SG. Basically I want a "generalist" shotgun, one that I can enjoy and practice in leisure, defend the house if needed, hunt variety of games, and do trap shootings too. I dont' have any strong interest toward any one of these activities but I want to try them all so I may develop an affinity for one or more. I'm not looking for a particular brand or model here. I just want to weigh the different options so I can make a more informed decision. Thanks.

First I'm torn between a 20GA and a 12GA. I'm not too big, 5'8", 180lb, and my last experience with a friend's Rem870 12GA wasnt' too pleasant. (Thank god I declined his invitation to shoot slugs). I've shot a 20GA and it seemed to have less kick. If 20GA can perform all my requirements well then I'd rather go with a more nimble 20GA. I've read that 20GA performs as well as 12GA in HD situations, <25yd. My main concern is its ability to get turkeys, geese or other larger fowls. I'd also like to know what gauge's functional (doesn't have to be ideal) for shooting trap/skeet?

The other choice is the chamber size. There are some that's limited to certain chambers, while others are more versatile. I wonder if 2.75" (in 20GA) is sufficient for the things I want to do. Or should I get a 3" chamber for more options? It should be able to handle 2.75" shells right? What's to be gained with 3" than 2.75" other than more kick in practicality? And there's the 3.5" option, for shooting elephants? Since it's only available in 12GA I'm not going to worry too much about it if 20GA could do most of the things 12GA can do.

Anyhow, thank you for your insights and opinions. Hopefully this thread will be beneficial to future newbies in search for consolidated "1st SG" info as well.

June 27, 2002, 11:14 AM
Shotguns, like any tool, are made for specific applications. My opinion is that it is unrealistic for you to expect so many functions like you list from one SG.

With that said, a Remington 870 in 12ga. would be your best 'first SG', because it can form the foundation of your shotgunning needs. Prepare to have at least 2 barrels for your SG, one 18" for home defense use, and one up to 28" for birding or trap. Later on, you may wish to add a rifled barrel for slug hunting. I recommend Remington pump, because it is a good gun from which you can add or take-away options from dozens of manufacturers. It also will be easy to sell if you decide to move on to something else.

Most modern SG will be able to take both 2.75" & 3" magnum loads, the difference is how many you can load in the feed tube (and for hunting, you may be limited to how many rounds carried anyway).

The 12ga is by far the easiest gauge to buy various ammunition for and will have the right power for hunting applications.

Btw, the magnum rounds 3" & 3.5" are more used for turkey hunting than "elephant hunting". As you yourself have already noticed, these rounds can hurt. Your generalist SG will probably be fine if you feed it standard 2.75" shells, or even reduced power shells for home protection.

Al Thompson
June 27, 2002, 11:40 AM
So factor that in to your equation.. :)

Excluding geese, (mainly as I've never shot one) the twenty can do everything a 12 can, it just requires better shot placement. (thinking deer and turkey here) I've shot my 20s in skeet and sporting clays and never had a problem that was related to the choice of guage.

Lots of the 12 v. 20 debate needs to center around what your anticipated use will be. If you are thinking of doing the geese thing, the 12 may indeed be the way to go. Excluding that, get a 20.

BTW, I've found that outside of very specific tasks, the 2 3/4 shells do just fine.

Just had a stray thought - iff it's in your budget (which is?) the 11-87 with a 26 inch barrel would give you the advantages of accepting 3 inch shells, choke tubes and softer recoil.

June 27, 2002, 01:29 PM
I think it would be foolish for you to get a 20 gauge.

Especially since you are newbie it's difficult enough as it is to start hitting clays. You are at a significant disadvantage if you use a 20 gauge because there is less stuff coming out and hence less chance of hitting something.

I suggest that you got the Mossberg Persuader with the extended magazine. It has a 20" barrel. You can buy separately a 28" barrel that you can use for the games.


Dave McC
June 27, 2002, 03:03 PM
First, any generalist shotgun will not be as good
at any form of shotgunning as a dedicated and specialized tool. That's the price for a compromise.

You shot one 12 gauge and one 20 gauge. The next 12 and 20 you shoot, you may find the 12's a creampuff and the 20 hurts and lowers your testosterone levels. Fit, weight, and muzzle energy are the determinants of felt recoil,not gauge.

If I had no shotguns(Oh,the horror!) and needed to get ONE GP tool, I'd look for a short bbled used 870. One of the turkey models would do fine, with either the 21 or 23" bbl. A coupla choke tubes, some ammo, and you'll be ready to hit the range and have fun. An aftermarket bbl of 26-30" for the clay games and wingshooting is a good way to improve performance there.

At your size, you're perfectly capable of handling a 12 gauge, if your form and fit are good.

One thing about the 12 vs 20 debate. There's no 20 gauge version of the 12 gauge target loads like the AA Heavy Target or the STS equivalent. These are very good upland and target loads.

There's also easily twice the slugs to try and buck comes in 000 to #4. 20 gauge buck seems limited to #3 only.

I suggest you try out a few more shotguns in varied gauges and see what feels and shoots good for you.


June 27, 2002, 05:15 PM
My first shotgun was an 870 and I've always owned at least one. But mine has a set purpose -- deer hunting and varmint control. It would not be my first choice if I were restricted to one gun.

Odds are you will never use your shotgun for HD or any other "social" purposes. You will however shoot it regularly at targets and game.

Get a longer barrel with choke tubes, 28" to 30". An 870 is a good gun right up until you want to learn skeet, double trap or sporting clays which involves double targets. In these situations the pump which must be cycled manually and gives up an advantage to the semi-auto. The other advantage to a semi is reduced recoil making 12 gauge shooting less onerous.

The longer barrel might be a handicap in the unlikely event of a social encounter. The option of a second, shorter barrel is always open.

My advice is to get a Remington 1100 or 11/87 with two barrels -- 28 to 30" for fun, and 21" smoothbore with rifle sights in the event you need it for times that are not fun. Next choice, and the one I'd make, is a Beretta 391, 30" sporting clays and I'd buy an aftermarket slug barrel. The gun only holds three shells but I can live with that for HD purposes.

Make it a 12 gauge for variety of shells. Most guns come with a 3" chamber but I am quite happy shooting 2-3/4 for just about everything.


Andrew Wyatt
June 27, 2002, 06:29 PM
since you don't need large capacity for birds, perhaps you should buy an NEF or H&R in 20 gauge with a long barrel and use that for your bird gun. you can pick those up for less than the cost of an 870 barrel. it's lifht, points well, and is plenty acceptable everywhere a shotgun is going to be needed in public.

for your "surface to surface" shotgun, you should buy an 870,1300 or 500 with an 18 or 20 inch barrel, put on a butt cuff(with slug in it), stoke it with either low recoil buckshot or trap loads(if you're worried about overpenetration), and make sure it fits you.

this way, you have both a low recoil, light bird gun, and a proper weapon for ventilating two and four legged predators.

If you're bird hunting in places where there are things that eat people, a butt cuff with slug on your 20 gauge wouldn't be a bad idea.

June 27, 2002, 06:55 PM
I think Dave and others have it pretty well covered.
IE....no simple answers.
Try a variety and see what likes you.
Fit, mount and load count....not guage.

Personal experience. Started shotgunning with a small frame Parker 20. It wasn't till a few years later that I got a decent 12 Superposed and learned that shotguns don't have to hurt. That 20 was a killer on both ends.

I don't like pumps....oops, seem to have, er, ah, more than some.

Sam...........Never over 150lbs....or 10 stone 10.

June 27, 2002, 07:26 PM
Thanks for the great response. I think i'll try a couple of different shotguns with different loads before I buy one. :)

Al Thompson
June 27, 2002, 10:08 PM
Dang Andrew, that's a classic line.. That'll go in my lexicon! :D

June 28, 2002, 07:04 AM
Read Dave McC's words. He has good insight.

I would recommend a 12. The guy who said a twenty will do anything a twelve will is RIGHT to a degree but only so far. Where the twenty leaves off, the twelve is just beginning. Your larger fowls will dictate a 12 gauge minimum 3" chamber. A twenty is like a scalpel for a skilled hand doing fine work. The twelve will be more like a meat cleaver, to take care of the heavy work. ;) A generalist needs the meat cleaver.

As Dave said, the KICK is highly subjective. A good fitting 12 with a recoil pad will kick less than a 20 firing a similar weight of shot load. But with the twelve the payload arrives sooner than the 20 for a given shot weight. The twenty payload necessarily needs to be strung out more due to the smaller bore.

June 28, 2002, 10:58 PM
Your main concerns, trap and larger fowl, would lead to the 12 Ga. as the option of choice. Being a resident of the Evergreen State as well, the situations where the 20 ga. shines is on eastside quail and early season chuckar. Unless you are really devoted to the latter hunting situation, I would suggest the 12 GA. with 3" chamber. Once you discover the joy of quail and chuckar hunting, you will then buy a quality 20 GA. (probably 26" O/Uwith IC and Mod.) These two options should cover what I would guess you are after. Practice with the 12 GA. on trap or skeet, get proficent and hunt with it, then if you develop the niche hunting of quail (which are fairly abundant on eastside public hunting grounds) go for the 20 GA.