View Full Version : 12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge for Home Defense

April 17, 2009, 01:30 PM
In the next week or so I'm planning on purchasing a shotgun for home defense. I've only recently become active in this community with my first purchase being a Glock 19. I had originally intended on using the 19 for home defense purposes, but after reading so many different posts here and talking with others have decided that a shotgun is the way to go.

I've never fired a shotgun and have heard some say that the 12 Gauge has too much kick and that a 20 Gauge is the way to go for home defense. I'll even go out on a limb and say that I believe that I read somewhere on here that some law enforcement agencies arm their officers with 20 Gauge.

Any suggestions/tips that you have are appreciated.

April 17, 2009, 01:35 PM
You can get reduced recoil loads for the 12 gauge but you cannot buy 00 buck in a 20...
So that said my main HD gun is a Mossberg 500 20 gauge loaded with #3 buck which is the largest shot I can find locally.
Still pretty formidable but not a 12 gauge with 00 buck..

April 17, 2009, 01:37 PM
The recoil on a 12 guage is not bad at all. Unless you are shootin 3 inch magnums. 12 vs. 20, I would go with the 12ga. The ammo is cheaper, and there is more of an ubundance and variety of different loads. I keep mine loaded with no.4 turkey loads for self defense when my kids are home. Less likley to go through walls as 00buck.

April 17, 2009, 01:53 PM
Either the 12 or 20ga is more that adequate for keeping the riff raff at bay. In a home defense situation you are talking 10yds or less. A small shot size is safer as far as over penetration goes, and at close range will vaporize flesh at those distances. I would buy a pump, the noise of the action working will deter most, not to mention the firepower of a quick follow up shot.

April 17, 2009, 02:18 PM
Either will do the job but I think 12ga with reduced recoil loads is a better way to go. It's also lots easier to find 12ga defensive loads.

trigger happy
April 17, 2009, 02:24 PM
but you cannot buy 00 buck in a 20

you can use triple ought or number 1 through 4 buckshot, nobody said you have to use double ought exclusively, the shotgun world does not end at double ought :rolleyes:

April 17, 2009, 02:33 PM
I have never seen anything but #4 or #3 locally in buckshot size. How many 000 are you gonna get in the dinky 20 gauge 2 3/4 shell?

April 17, 2009, 02:33 PM
Recoil is "primarily" a function of :

weight of the gun
weight of the projectile in the shell ( 1 oz, 1 1/4 oz etc ) ( including the wad..)
velocity of the load

The single best way to reduce recoil is to go to a little heavier gun ( unless you have a physical reason why that isn't feasible ). So go to an 8lb gun instead of a 7lb gun, etc.

A 12ga will give you a lot more options on guns, shells, etc - for defense, general shotgunning, etc. Lots of pros and cons - but a semi-auto will absorb some of the recoil, as the action cycles, so if you're recoil sensitive, it may be the way to go.

In my mind, there are "fighting" shotguns with short barrels / there are general purpose shotguns with 26" or 28" barrels that will work pretty well for "defensive" situations. Compromise on a gun or get 2 guns - a "fighting" shotgun / and a general shotgun for clay targets, etc. But no matter what - if you have not fired many shotguns - spend some time with the gun at the range ( not just 8 or 10 shells a year ) / a few boxes a month at least. Shoot it, practice with it - so its operation and its feel and action become 2nd nature - or its worthless in any defensive situation.

April 17, 2009, 03:46 PM

My friend, let's not forget the other ejecta (gas and wad) that contribute, to a lesser extend, but still significantly, to the energy equation.


April 17, 2009, 04:07 PM
You're right Zippy - I was trying to keep it simple / since this person admitted he had never fired a shotgun .....

(not everybody dreams ballistics stuff like you and I do ...) unfortunately for them ...of course... ( so I went back and edited my note, a little ). Don't want you to think I'm slacking off ....(but good that you're watching and keeping me honest).

April 17, 2009, 07:06 PM
The SD appropriate ammo in 20 gauge will be harder to find, but it is available. Just stock up and practice with the more readily available birdshot loads

The general rule with buckshot is don't go smaller than #4 because anything smaller risks not enough penetration. In 12 gauge #1 buckshot is supposedly the best all around performer in penetration and pellets. 00 buckshot is the most available.

As for over penetration, it's a Catch-22. Almost anything that gives the proper amount of penetration in a bad guy is going to go through several walls. Anything that won't go through several walls risks not giving enough penetration on a bad guy.

For good informal information, check out the Box O' Truth (http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/theboxotruth.htm) They test different rounds against simulated interior walls. (and other things too.)

April 17, 2009, 07:58 PM
the idea is home "defense" not home "offense"... if some bad dude wants to enter my home uninvited then i would want to deter them from what they think they are going to do - not blow their head off in one shot while also taking out the neighbors cat and dog(although it has crossed my mind):)...one shot from a 12 or 20 would probably do it (anybody here ever fire these indoors?)... i would be more concerned about having enough loaded ammo, just in case something went bad... keep it light, simple, and utilize "wide patterns" at short distances...

good luck


Lee Lapin
April 17, 2009, 07:58 PM

Either one will do, if you will do.

Best advice I can offer is to shoot several makes and models of both gauges, if you can arrange to do that. If not, at least handle everything you can at various dealers' shops. Get a feel for what seems to work best for you and what fits you best- proper gun fit will do a lot to mitigate felt recoil. Learning proper form and a good gun mount will also help handle recoil.

Sometimes a 20 gauge will yield more felt recoil with the kind of heavy loads used for defensive purposes than a 12 gauge will with reduced recoil loads. It really is best to 'try before you buy' if you can.


April 17, 2009, 08:04 PM
Jammin, The best defense is a.... well anyway, I am in a split plan home so I need to make a forward moving fast approach to nip the situation in the bud.
I don't intend to aim for an intruder's head. I do not plan to kill the person either. I do fully plan on my COM shots to stop them and if needed we can with 2,3 or 4 to do the job but I ain't in the bidness of wounding anyone nor escalating the situation by makin' 'em mad either!

April 17, 2009, 08:37 PM
sorry hogdogs, i was just trying to get fender off to a good start, i dont have the luxury of being in a rural area... i live in a highly populated area where i have to be responsible for every action i make if using a firearm, collateral damage is a very important issue to me and i think it is important not "over extend my self defense rights" to include taking out my neighbors children ...

just a thought


Dave McC
April 17, 2009, 09:29 PM
What Lee said.

Nigh any shotgun is a terrific defensive weapon, IN TRAINED HANDS.

We are the weakest link.

Whatever you get, learn it until you can run it in low or no light, under tremendous stress, and with your family's lives at risk. You may have to.

April 19, 2009, 08:23 AM
I have always been of the opinion that a shorter barreled (18-20 inches) with standard 2 3/4 field loads and 7 1/2 or 8 shot would be best. For a couple of reasons:

1. 12 ga is by far the easiest to get ammo for
2. Close in < 20 feet the composition and pattern of the projectiles would be devastating.
3. Much less recoil than buckshot or slugs with mag loads.
4. You would be much less likely to over penetrate walls or building.


Lee Lapin
April 19, 2009, 09:51 AM

Birdshot is for birds. Some folks with the trigger time and downrange time to be entitled to an opinion won't even use buckshot for defensive purposes, but stick to slugs exclusively. Recoil as a debilitating problem is oft over-rated- there is no real reason a physically healthy person who is properly trained can't handle the recoil from a properly fitted shotgun with a good recoil pad. There are numerous providers of reduced recoil buckshot and slug loads available, and those can be as effective at in-house ranges as their full bore counterparts. Hitting what you shoot at pretty well takes care of worries re. overpenetration, preparing your home defense plan and your 'fatal funnels' before the need for them arises can take care of the rest.


April 19, 2009, 10:11 AM
I've never fired a shotgun and have heard some say that the 12 Gauge has too much kick and that a 20 Gauge is the way to go for home defense. I'll even go out on a limb and say that I believe that I read somewhere on here that some law enforcement agencies arm their officers with 20 Gauge. I'm not aware of any LE (or military) that use the 20g but that shouldn't really affect your consideration. Remember that many LE choose the 12g because of other considerations, like less than lethal rounds, flares, smoke, etc. And many use reduced recoil rounds these days.

12 g is more readily available and gives you more options if you will be hunting with it also.

As for recoil, it's all in the form. Hold that hawgleg solidly into your shoulder. It's counterintuitive but the more you pull it into the shoulder the less it kicks. You should also lean into the gun a bit. There have been many threads on this. Try searching shotgun stance or shotgun form.

I've seen 105lb small statured women or teenage boys handle the 12g with no problem. You will be able to also.

I currently have a fleet of 12g's but I'm thinking of switching to 20g as our primary guns. My wife is short and has small arms. Even though she can handle the recoil, the 12g is hard for her to handle. She can barely reach the pump even with a shorter stock installed. A smaller, more handy 20g superbantam should be just the ticket IMO.

20g buckshot is hard to find, but no more so than 12g reduced recoil stuff.

Maddad Ayoob has been one of the most famous gun-writers since I was a teen in the 80s and he recommends 20g. That's basically good enough for me. I think DMC is spot-on when he says we're the weak link, not the shotgun.

with standard 2 3/4 field loads and 7 1/2 or 8 shot would be best. That is exceedingly bad advice and is uniformly rejected by the leading instructors and LE departments. Search the archives for the weekly thread. Heck, 7 shot is iffy even on squirrels at very short range.

April 19, 2009, 10:11 AM
I have a 20 and a 12. The 20g is an OU the 12g a semi. I find the 20g quick and light. I have some #4 buck but I've read that at close range it really doesn't matter. I am not talking perimeter defense, but home intrusion. Plus the 20g is easier for the wife.

Now if we are talking about post catastrophe, I'm with the 12g.

I've been shopping the pawn stores looking for an "unloved" 12g pump that I can cut the barrel down to minimum size.


April 19, 2009, 10:25 AM
Unloved? The last 12g I bought was a new Mossberg for $209. I rarely see anything much cheaper than that. Winchesters, Ithacas, and High Standards seem to be considered vintage these days and are much higher even used.

I think a new 870 Express is only $250 on sale and the Maverick is about $20 less than a 500.

April 19, 2009, 10:39 AM
Mr Lapin is entitled to his opinion...

But, everyone has to agree that a .22 in the eye socket is more effective than the most powerful round that misses. Bottom line is that if people don't take the time to be at least semi-proficient in the use and employment of their self-defense tools, they are pretty much useless.

April 19, 2009, 11:26 AM
a 12 ga shotgun is THE definition of a home defense weapon. there is more of a choice of ammo in 12 guage. most are pumps, there is nothing more scary than the sound of a shotgun being cycled. having said that buy what you like. you might consider a shotgun in either guage in semi auto. the semi auto action takes up some of the recoil. if you get a chance shoot both a 12 and 20 guage gun and see what the difference is between them. it might help you make up your mind. good luck, their is really no wrong choice.

April 19, 2009, 11:36 AM
there is nothing more scary than the sound of a shotgun being cycled.
Dale, I will say the sound of a shotgun being cycled is an ominous sound. But the thunderous BOOM And flash is likely a bit more scary than the cycling of a pump action...:eek::D But if you did your job and there is only one intruder he won't have time to be scared off. If more than one intruder I expect BG #2 is gonna #2 in his drawers...:cool:

April 19, 2009, 12:29 PM
Go with the 12 gauge. There are recoil-reduced ammo available.

Nevertheless, one shot of 20ga is as effective in a short range (home) as the 12ga...so it's up to you my friend.

April 19, 2009, 12:30 PM

trigger treat
April 19, 2009, 12:33 PM
whichever one you get make sure it's a pump action. i've found the best thing for home defense is just the sound of a shotgun pump. only a man wanting to die enters a house or stays in one after hearing that sound. i'd still go for a 12gauge though theres more varied ammunition like bean bags, low recoil police 00bk, and flare rounds too.

April 19, 2009, 01:44 PM
Any suggestions/tips that you have are appreciated.

Either is fine. With the 12 you have a lot more choices in both gun and ammo selection.

mr kablammo
April 20, 2009, 10:44 PM
As many have said, either gauge will do. The 'measley' 20 gauge is still equal to .60 caliber or so. That is not a small hole at the end of the gun! I think that 12 gauge ammo is going to more available and versatile.

What has not been brought up is using the gun for multiple purposes. Look for a brand that sells different accessories, especially barrels. You can put lights, new sights, folding stocks, etc on some brands. If you want the HD model, check and see if 26" or 28" trap/skeet/hunting removable- choke barrels are available. You may not be thinking of it now, but if you try the shotgun sports then you will have a whole 'nother dimension of fun shooting to enjoy. Look for a club in your area and visit. Ask the experienced shooters if you can try their pumps.

April 21, 2009, 10:59 AM
Just wanted to thank everyone for the great advice that I've received so far. Hopefully this information will be found helpful by others who are "newbies" and looking for sound advice on how to help protect their family and home.

I believe that this weekend I'll be bringing home a 12ga Mossberg.

Thanks again!