View Full Version : 20 Gauge vs 12 gauge

Master Blaster
November 27, 2001, 09:12 AM
I'm sure that this has been discussed before but I could not do a search due to 20 gauge being too short for the search function (20 is not allowed due to the fact that it only has two characters).
I am trying to decide the best shotgun for my purposes and it has come down to the 1100 or the 870 remington, uses trap, sporting clays, and hunting, as well as home defense.

Which is better 20 gauge or 12 and why?


November 27, 2001, 11:22 AM
Although you can easily accomplish all of the duties you listed with the 20 gauge, the 12 is much more ubiquitous. Every single person in the world should own one and know how to use it.

My advice is to get the 12 and then after you are hooked go back for a 20 and then a .410.

November 27, 2001, 12:28 PM
Agree with ENC, unless recoil/fit concerns force you to use the 20 gauge, go with the 12 gauge. Reasons:

1. Hunting: you didn't say what you were hunting, but in general the 12 will have more reach for bird hunting and provide a bit more power on deer. If hunting waterfowl and required to use non-toxic shot, the 12 will make up more of the lost range from lead shot when you're using steel, bismuth or whatever.

2. Defense: more defensive ammo choices. For example, Federal and Remington make reduced recoil "tactical" buck and slugs in 12 bore but I don't believe they make it in 20.


November 27, 2001, 12:36 PM
However, Massad Ayoob once made a convincing (to me anyway) argument why 20 gauge makes more sense for a defensive shotgun.

If I recall, the main thing was the ability to generate much quicker follow-up shots more accurately.

He made a mathematical calculation to show that one can actually "output" more shot per minute with a 20 gauge than with a 12.


Dave R
November 27, 2001, 12:58 PM
The 20 ga and 12 ga can be made to overlap pretty significanlty.

A hot 20ga. 3" shell has pretty much the same load as a regular 12ga. shell. Of course, it is coming from a narrower barrel, so I think it would not pattern quite as well. I believe the pattern would be "longer" and not as wide.

The 12ga. can use light loads that recoil like a 20 ga. But then there are 3" loads that are significantly bigger than either 20 ga. or regular 12 ga.

So I believe the most versatile overall is the 12 ga. Lite loads for practice or for smaller shooters. Heavier loads for hunting.

November 27, 2001, 02:55 PM
The 12 is more versatile but the 20 is more fun to shoot. For home defense the 12 wins. It depends on what you do with it. I like hunting small birds(dove, quail) with the 20 since it is a little harder. Ducks and Turkey I use the 12. I have a 1100 in 20ga and it is a great gun.

Captain Bligh
November 28, 2001, 12:22 AM
You pays your money and you takes your choice. I was pheasant hunting this weekend and had to choose between using my 20 ga. Browning A-5 (auto loader) or my 12 ga. 870. I chose the Browning because it points more naturally for me and I shoot it better. I filled out my bag limit. When the hunt was finished, we shot clays with both guns. I dusted more with the 20 gauge than the 12. Again, because of the gun and which one I shoot better, not the gauge. I know hunters who take deer with a 20 gauge slug. It's your choice.

As for home defense, I think it makes not a whit of difference. I wouldn't particularly care to get shot with either of them.

Like the pheasants, it would be very unimportant to me which gun I was shot with.


Dave McC
November 28, 2001, 07:48 AM
For HD, there seems to be no real difference in effect re gauge.

For hunting,with exceptions like waterfowl and Turkey, the 20 does a good job. I'd want a 12 for late season pheasants, but Pop busted them just as well with a 20 as he had with his old 12.

The top clays shooters use 12s. The folks that are not obsessed with getting their names in the books use whatever gauge they want to and have a blast doing it.I fall into the second category and use 12s because I have them.

One advantage the 12 has is the incredible selection of ammo. No equivalent exists for the 20 for the trap load of 7 1/2 shot that makes a great upland load for critters up to pheasant size, for instance. Slug and buck choices are more limited also. No big thing...

And, all else equal, SLIGHTLY better patterns are typical for the 12 ga. The 20 oft has more stray pellets when one gets into the 1 oz range. I regard this as more theoretical than real for practical purposes.

Get what you like, shoot it often and have fun.


November 29, 2001, 12:36 AM
I've got a Benelli SBE in 12 gauge and a Franchi O/U in 20 gauge. The Benelli will primarily be my turkey gun. The Franchi for everything else!! I've even hunted ducks before with a 20 gauge and had no problems bagging my limit. I used 3 inch mags in it then. Of course, that was before the non-toxic shot crap came out.

Judging from your uses, I'd break it down to what you'll do more of. If it's for upland game and rabbit hunting, the 20 will be fine. If it's for clay shooting, again, the 20 won't beat ya to death with alot of shooting. If you're hunting anything bigger than pheasant or taking long shots, go with the 12. For home defense? I use a pistol. But if I had to grab my shotgun, I'd probably grab the O/U. Two shots with no function on my part except pulling the trigger and only a minor mechanical function on the part of the gun to shoot the second shot.

November 30, 2001, 05:52 AM
Follow up shots? we don't need no stinkin follow up shots!! Not with a 12 gauge within 15 feet.

December 1, 2001, 02:21 AM
Yeah you should be able to pop off multiple shots, but being hit with 3" 00buck should probably take BG out or
at least allow you time to aim for a follow up. Don't ya think? Personally I would go with the 12 gauge for all
of the aforementioned reasons.

December 1, 2001, 11:24 PM
So, I have a wife, 5' and about 115#.
We want to get a shotgun for the house, but I don't think she'd practice with "real" 12ga loads.

Are low-recoil 12ga loads similar in effectiveness to the 20ga;
is there an easy way to measure this?

I'm sure there are a ton of variables - gun, for one.
But if I can convince myself that she's as well-off with light 12ga as with full-power 20's, then I'll get myself a 12 guage.

Know what I'm saying?

The other way to look at it is to get the 20ga youth for her, decide I need a real one, then get "His" & "Hers" engraved on them.

We'd still be under the price of ONE of my handguns!

December 2, 2001, 03:37 AM
5' 115 lb ? Probably cute, but don't give her a 12 gauge. Go 20. I just forget about that stuff being a big dude.

December 2, 2001, 03:54 AM
The 12 gauge...............

chris :cool:

Al Thompson
December 2, 2001, 06:34 AM
Youngun, fit and comfort plus recoil tolerance are very much an individual thing. The ex is about the same size and a 12 was too much. Never went to a 20 as she was recoil sensitive. After much searching we went to a .357 lever gun.

Get her to a range and see if a 20 is tolerable. The Youth guns (Remington and Winchester) do fit the ladies nicely.

If your home situation (backstop and probable engagement area) allow, think about an M1 Carbine or other light rifle.


December 2, 2001, 06:42 AM
For all the uses you describe (mostly sporting), 12-gauge. Better reach, wider selection of loads. For strictly home defense, 20-gauge. BTW, when doing your search, did you include an asterisk after the 20, like this? --20* gauge-- That might help.

December 3, 2001, 02:39 PM
Others have suggested that a 12 gauge CAN be made to be less harsh in terms of recoil for smaller folks (including many women). This is true. However, the main problem that my wife had with a 12 was not so much recoil, but weight.

Her shotgun is a Remington 870 in 20 gauge with the barrel cut to 18 1/4 inches and the length of pull reduced by about 1 1/2 inches.

The gun is light, handy and low recoiling. She likes it. So do I, actually. It's really easy to point that thing around and shuck off 5 shells quickly and accurately (though the length of pull is too short for my 6'1" frame).