View Full Version : 20ga vs 12ga for HD....

Dave McC
March 15, 2001, 06:33 AM
This keeps coming up, and the E mail box has been humming on same, so here it goes. These ARE opinions, and I'd like to hear what y'all think....

The typical query about the 20 ga is either from a novice at shotgunning who got slammed by a 12 ga, or from a small statured individual who may or may not be a shotgunner. It runs something like:

"What do you think about using a 20 ga for HD, for use protecting a small business, or for working up to a 12 ga?".

The LEO grapevine here in Md tells me that some Baltimore cops have gone to short bbled/stocked 20 ga repeaters for raid guns instead of 12s. The premise seems to be faster handling in tight quarters,and faster recovery between shots. Same guys also favor Para-Ordnance 45 multi shot handguns with tritium sights,FYI.

Admittedly, a decent 20 ga pump or semi handles like an M-1 Carbine, and that's not faint praise. OTOH, the benefits of shooting a 20 are slightly overated.

Felt Recoil is what you feel when shooting, obviously. It's not Free Recoil, where all you have to know is the energy produced by the load divided by the gun weight. Felt Recoil is what hurts, or not. Obviously, fit,form, and all the other stuff I bore you with are factors.

The 870 Youth Express 20 ga here weighs right at 7 lbs. A heavy load produces as much Felt Recoil in this piece as a same weight/velocity load does in a 7 lb 12 ga.Maybe more, since the oft smaller butt means less surface area to spread the push out. Lessened Felt Recoil comes with reducing the load weight,or speed, or increasing the gun weight, or improving gun fit.

So, when is a 20 ga a better idea for HD than a 12?

When the shooter is of small stature, of less than good health, or otherwise not too good with the 12 ga. When the shooter is more comfortable with the 20, confidence is a factor here also. And when a shooter is more comfortable with a shotgun, they're more likely to practice and thus improve the human end of the security equation. And that's the most important.

Also, since there's lots of 20 ga shooters out there, using a variety of ammo, I'd like to mention what I think would be a great HD round for the 20 ga.

A real simple load, two 50 cal round balls made of pure lead, in a sleeve, loaded to about 1100 FPS. This would be an easy kicking, controllable round, with more than enough ME to cause those round balls to transfer energy on impact.Actual projectile weight would be around 3/4 oz, a moderate load for the 20.

A minor downside to the 20 is the limited number of addons available. Anyone have a source for a mag extension, for instance? Load choice is also less with the 20s, try to find some buck load other than #3. However, addons can add maybe 10% to effectiveness, less than regular practice, confidence and familiarity.

Questions, comments, donations?....

March 15, 2001, 11:30 AM

I recently bought a 20ga 870 Youth Express, not for HD (home defense) but for hunting, though I think most of the analogies are still valid. A 2 3/4" 12ga and a 3" 20ga are essentially equivalent. They both throw 1 1/8 to 1 1/4oz of lead at comparable velocities. Some shooters think the 20ga patterns better since, all things being equal, the shot starts out in a tighter column. The 12ga 3" comes into it's own when hunting waterfowl, turkey, or shooting deer slugs, otherwise 3" 12ga shells are not needed for upland hunting nor are they optimal for civilian home defense.

So given that 12ga and 20ga are equal in performance the difference comes down to the guns themselves. As you stated there is virtually no aftermarket 20ga goodies - folding stocks, pistol grips, extended magazines, etc. - if they're out there I haven't seen them yet. So that's a minus for the 20ga, if you think you need that stuff.

And as you stated there is far more HD appropriate ammo for the 12ga, when it comes to upland hunting ammo it's not an issue, but for HD the 20ga gets another minus. If you look around you can find 20ga buckshot and slug loads, but the selection is far more limited.

Typically a 20 ga is about 1lb lighter than a 12ga. My 870 Youth w/21" barrel weights just a hair under 6 lbs unloaded. That one pound is noticeable when your walking around all day in the field, in a HD scenario who'd notice? Plus, all things being equal, lighter guns "kick" harder, but again, in a HD scenario who'd notice? So the weight thing is toss up - a lighter, handier gun..... that kicks harder.

So bottom line, while IMO 20ga is a better choice for upland hunting, I think the 12ga is a better HD shotgun, but the advantage is not in power - it's in hardware. -- Kernel

[Edited by Kernel on 03-15-2001 at 02:56 PM]

Dave McC
March 15, 2001, 01:25 PM
Thanks, Kernel....

One of the all time effective deer slugs has been the Rottweil Brenneke,and whether it's 12, 16 or 20 ga doesn't seem to matter, all leave short blood trails that Ray Charles could follow at a fast walk. Same would apply to those rare HD/AS scenarios where using a slug makes sense.

Pop wacked the heck out of ringnecks and going to a 20 ga from his old 12 O/U didn't change a thing, except how tired he was that night.

But, we're talking HD here. Slugs and indeed heavy loads may be less than optimum.

It's been a couple of years since I could access the database the Govt keeps, but as I recall ANY shotgun, including the 410, had a one shot stop percentage of around 98%. No figures kept on gauge.

As for weight in a crisis, I like my "Serious" shotguns to be on the heavy side, my HD piece weighs over 9 1/2 lbs cruiser ready, with Side Saddle,etc.

Recoil may not be felt during a crisis, but it's still there, slowing up followup shots, and making things harder at a time when we really don't need things harder.

RE addons, they may possibly add 10% to one's opponents threat level, but a standard 870 in trained hands is an awesomely effective close range weapon. For a purely HD dedicated shotgun, the mods and addons would consist of:

A decent,clean breaking trigger of no more 4 lbs, no less than 2 1/2 or 3 lbs.

A mag extension, for recoil control as much as mo' ammo. Any situation that one or two rounds doesn't resolve probably aren't getting resolved w/o backup, like a Marine platoon or SWAT team.

A stock that fits.

And possibly a light, tho the quest for a light that works ALL the time and costs less than the weapon it's mounted on is still unfulfilled.

That's it. No big head safeties, no lazers, no trick stocks,no trick sights, no bayonet and no grenade launcher. No swivel studs because in the house, a sling is just something to get caught in something just when we most need to be unemcumbered.Keeping it simple....

One thing, patterns are not determined by gauge, tho theoretically the bigger the gauge, the more even the shot spread,but by choke, bore dimensions, and the more arcane and technical details of shotgunning.

Finally, 3 inch loads in either are,except for certain specialty loads like steel and turkey loads, rarely more effective than a 2 3/4 load of lesser payload weight, and oft inferior. Anyone disagreeing with that statement is welcome to prove me wrong, but please spend some time at the patterning board first.

Also, maybe 80%(wildeyed guess) of my upland hunting can be handled well with a 1 1/8 oz trap load, and that's certainly within the limits of the 20 ga. Exceptions,doves and late season pheasants.

March 16, 2001, 11:46 AM
Dave: Your HD SG weights around 10 lbs? Why do you like your HD SG's heavy? Just curious. I think there are situations were 1 or 2 rounds of ammo wouldn't be enough but could still be solved without aid of a platoon. They are rare I admit, but I can think of at least 2 or 3 actual cases that have seen print [think Ayoob has written about at least 2 such events, and Cirillo about another].

For HD I don't think the 12 has any advantage over the 20 except for greater load selection. But considering the number of people that pick bird shot for HD does that really matter?

My HD SG is Win 1300 Police Trade in, so it came with the 7 round mag tube & short barrel. I put sights on it and a butt cuff. The Mag tube is loaded with 5 rounds of Federal's Tac OO Buck, chamber empty. The butt cuff holds 5 Rem Slugs.

Reasons I went with a 12 vs a 20: Since I was buying used was easier & cheaper to get what I wanted in a 12. Since I am using a pump I can use low recoil loads [buck or slug] to bring recoil down to 20 gauge level if needed/wanted. I am a gun nut and like to try out new types of ammo [haven't seen 20 gauge Quick Shocks yet].

March 16, 2001, 12:41 PM
Dave, where should I go to have my stocks fit? Is it a gusmith thing? A stockmaker thing? Once measured, or fitted, can I do the alterations myself to an existing stock? What are the tolerances (1/4", 1/2"?)


Dave McC
March 18, 2001, 08:23 AM
Glamdring, my 870s run heavy for a couple of reasons. First, all the addons add weight, and mine's accessorized like Joan Rivers.

Second, the extra weight smooths out the recoil pulse so effective followups are fast.I'm a behemoth,and have no handling problems, even in my dotage. Chances are, I could shave at least a half second off my best time doing my old agency qualifier using this 870 vs a stock duty weapon.

Of course, there's situations where having more than one or two rounds available is crucial, but they're relatively few.
Note that my HD 870 has an extension and Side Saddle. The More Is Better Principle does apply, IMO.

Romulus, that question may be better answered in a new thread, so look for it.Briefly, Brister's book,"Shotgunning" has some great input on this for the clay games and hunting, but not "Serious" use.

Tolerances are generous, so relax.

March 18, 2001, 11:22 PM
FWIW, I ran across the Choate brochure that came with my 12 ga extension tube & made mention that they did have 'em for Rem 20s