View Full Version : Why is 12 gauge the standard in shotguns?

February 22, 2008, 11:53 AM
How and why is the 12 gauge the most common gauge throughout the world?

Why didn't the 10 gauge or 8 gauge become the norm?

I really would love to have an 8 gauge shotgun if shells were easily availible.

Also how did the 2.75" shell become the norm?

Why wasn't the 3" or 3.5" the norm?

February 22, 2008, 12:03 PM
Good question. I'm guessing that the 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge is the "middle ground" that most people have found to be the best balance of utility and shootability. Enough power and payload for most applications with relatively moderate recoil. Plus 12 gauge has a pretty broad range of power and loads and shot size, etc from light target loads through 3 1/2 heavy loads. Seems like you can do most anything with some kind of 12 gauge load. Just a guess.

February 22, 2008, 12:06 PM
hmm, interesting question...i have never really thought about it.

I guess its because its powerful, yet easy to handle. A full power 10 gauge hurts like a b**** to shoot.

I think i would go back a long way to the coach guns first used on stagecoaches. Why they chose 12 over others.


February 22, 2008, 06:54 PM
IIRC the .44/45 became the standard caliber for BP revolvers due to a military requirement for "50 round balls to the pound" back when the amount of lead needed for bullet casting was a big part of logistical planning. Later the US military insisted on .45 caliber handguns after bad experiences with the 38 Long Colt in the Moro Insurrection. And while I am certainly not an expert on shotguns, it seems to me that the 12
Gauge is the best "all around" gauge, combing reach, hitting power and controlability. Also-and this is just speculation on my part, I have not researched it, I note the 12 gauge is the same bore diameter as the .69
caliber muskets that were US military standard up to the Civil War, hence many shooters may have been familiar with it and manufacturers were set up
to manufacture barrels in that caliber/gauge.

February 22, 2008, 07:41 PM
It wasn't that long ago that the 16 Gauge was as or more popular than the 20 gauge. I remember the 28 and 10 gauges being quite common but the public made the choice as the 12 just gave a better all around value than the others is size and load. Now the only ones I see commonly are the 20 and 12. People just didin't see any advantage of the 10 or 16 over the 12 which was a good compromise and if they were going smaller would drop to a 20.

The public decided not the manufacturers. You say you would like an 8 gauge but I have no desire for one. A 12 will do about anythig I need it to and I have no desire to lug anything that large around trying to hunt. Remember the vast majority of shotguns are used for hunting, not home defense or target shooting.

February 22, 2008, 07:52 PM
2 3/4" shells are the standard in "target guns" not "field guns". 3" has been the common standard in "field" guns for at least 35 years.

A 12ga is so common because balistically it will do anything a 10ga - down to a 28ga can do by varying the shells ( 1 1/8 oz up to 1400 fps, commonly 1 oz from 1150 fps - 1300 fps, 7/8 oz loads like a 20ga, 3/4 oz loads like a 28ga - or what a 16ga would do - especially since screw in chokes became real common in the 80's ).

But don't tell my wife a 12ga will do everything - ( I have at least 8 shotguns in 20ga, 28ga and .410 )........and I love them all / and shoot them all at skeet, sporting clays and in the field. A man can't live with just one shotgun .....

February 23, 2008, 02:28 AM
"2 3/4" shells are the standard in "target guns" not "field guns"."

Oh, I don't know, my (old) 12-gauge field double only has 2-3/4" chambers, and it's worked quite well. OTOH, that was back when we could use lead shot for duck hunting. Now that steel shot is the norm, I'd probably go with 3" or 3-1/2" chamber, and probably not a double gun.

12-gauge just strikes me as the most versatile, and standard on the trap range. I've seen some really nice 20 and 28-gauge that I wouldn't mind having. 16s just fell out of the main-stream for whatever reason, and 10-gauge and .410 bore just never interested me.

February 23, 2008, 10:45 AM
"Standard"? 3inch? Readily availabe yes but I wouldn't go so far as to claim 3" are THE standard field round. Heck I ain't never bought 3 inch 'cept in .410. Look at your ammo suppliers shelves... Well more 2 3/4 than 3 inch even during hunting season... But I am gonna git me sum and see how bad they recoil in 20 gauge...

February 23, 2008, 11:09 AM
The decline of the bigger bores was more likely do to the invention of smokeless powder. Their size was necessary in order to get enough umph from the bulky black powder. Because now you had the ability to duplicate the performance (pretty much) of the a larger bore in a more size friendly package. This trend was already underway before the law of 1917? that banned the use of anything larger then a 10 ga for migratory birds which finished off the 8 and 4 here in the US. Darn shame if you ask me.

February 23, 2008, 12:48 PM
i use 12 gauge. some of the shotguns my father, grandfather and uncles have are 2 and 3/4" shells only. browning auto 5 , ithaca 37. the only 3" chambered shotgun my father had until he bought me a wingmaster mag. was an ithaca 66 single. he still has it, i carried it in the field my first few years of shotgun hunting then moved up to the wingmaster. his 1100 is 2 and 3/4" only. he has a few 20 ga. singles and a 20 ga. pump they have a 3". i use 2 and 3/4" shells for small game and targets for deer 2 and 3/4" slugs and 2 and 3/4" buckshot. i carry and sometimes load up with 3" buckshot. it depends on the type of cover i may encounter. for waterfowl and turkey i'll load up with 3" shells. i am guessing more range and pellets should do the task. i haven't patterend everything in my box yet. i am still trying to find out what load is going to the best. i guess if i was only waterfowl hunting and buckshoting it for deer i would maybe go for a 10 ga auto.

February 23, 2008, 12:57 PM
The first 12 ga shotgun I remember seeing chambered for 3" shells was a 1100 magnum in about 1980 and the fellow traded it on a standard model chambered for 2-3/4". Most of the shell I still see in stores are the 2-3/4", even the buckshot loads. But I may just be looking in the wrong places.

February 23, 2008, 03:02 PM
It does make some sense to me. The "when in Rome" kind of thing. It wasn't too long ago the 16 ga. was the most popular in Europe. Not sure if that's still the case. A whole lot of high dollar Drillings were in 16 ga.

February 24, 2008, 10:52 AM
I've never bought a 3 inch 12 gauge shell or a gun they would fit but I'm kind of old fashioned. I mean after all smokeless is just a passing fad.:D

Jeff Mulliken
February 24, 2008, 08:33 PM
12 gauge evolved into the "standard" because the bore diameter was ideal for the most often used guantity of lead shot 1 1/8 oz. This provides what is known as a "square load" that patterns well and provides short shot strings.

Also the 12 ga cases allow the latitude to load a good range of lighter and heavier shells, easily accomodating 1oz to 1 1/4 oz without compromising performance much.

You can load far heavier shells in 12 gauge but it is less effective as you make a longer shell. The shot set back, barrel scrub on pellets and longer shot strings start to be an issue.

Other "ideal" loads are 7/8 oz in a 20 ga and 1 oz in a 16 ga.


February 24, 2008, 11:28 PM
Many years ago the 2 7/8" 10ga was actually considered to be the "all around" gauge. With the improvements is shells such as smokeless powder and plastic cup wadding, the 12ga was able to achieve performance once only attainable with a 10ga or larger. Meanwhile the 2 7/8 10ga gave way to the 3 1/2" magnum (which replaced the now obsolescent 8ga) as the choice for Waterfowl. At this time, the only factory loaded 2 7/8" 10ga shells available are blanks.