It"s a common debate, especially among first-time shotgun buyers. Must you go through a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge shotgun? In this article, let"s look in ~ the services of every caliber and why friend might select one over the other.

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When to compare shotguns and also shotgun ammunition, few topics room as complex as 12 gauge vs. 20 gauge.

Comparisons for rifle or handgun cartridges have actually a generally-universal collection of attributes to compare; yes, there space variables, however not together many. With shotgun ammunition, you have slugs, shot size, shell length, and also other variables that include complexities to an already facility subject.

Despite the complexities, you deserve to make fair comparisons in between 12-gauge and 20-gauge calibers and ammo. This should enable you to make a clear decision on your firearm choice.

Shotgun 101: expertise “Gauge”

In This Case, smaller sized is Bigger

The 20 gauge shotgun is a popular selection for little game hunters and sports shooters.

Hunters and also trap shooters recognize that the reduced the number, the larger the caliber in a gauge-designated shotgun. If it’s been a while because you’ve the review calibers, or if she simply new to firearms, it helps to easily review just how gauges space determined and why a smaller sized number method a larger shell.

Gauge in determined by the number of lead balls through the very same diameter together the barrel that it would take to weigh one pound.

In a 12-gauge, which has a diameter the .729 inches, it would take a dozen .729-diameter balls to reach a pound.

With 20 gauge, which as a .615-inch diameter, girlfriend would need 20 lead balls, each with with a .615-inch diameter, to sweet a pound.

Special Note: 20-gauge Shells are constantly Yellow

20 gauge shotgun shells are always yellow in color.

It’s likewise important to note that all 20-gauge shells, through mandate, room yellow. This is a precaution versus loading 20-gauge shells into a 12-gauge shotgun. If this happens and also a 12-gauge shell is invited behind the 20-gauge, the can cause both shells to fire, bring about serious injury. For this reason, you will see that every 20-gauge shells, regardless of the load, will certainly be yellow.

History that the Shotgun Shell

In the early on days of firearms, almost all guns might fire both solid-piece single projectiles (bullets or “balls”) and also “shot,” which in many instances could it is in just around any hard, solid thing that can be crammed down the barrel. As rifling to be developed and the bores of long guns became smaller, the shotgun ended up being its very own separate entity. Common guns might no much longer shoot both shot and bullets.

Shotguns came to be a popular tool in bird hunting, and also found use amongst guards and also law enforcement; it wasn’t until later in the 19th century that they began to end up being useful in the military. Although castle were provided by both sides throughout the polite War, the shotgun ended up being especially helpful in the trench warfare of people War I. It additionally saw company in the tight tropical combat of world War II’s Pacific Theater.

Today, shotguns are greatly a specialty weapon among the military. Their most usual purpose is a searching tool. However, plenty of of us count on shotguns for home defense and also many others are passionate around shotgun shooting sports choose trap and skeet.

The most popular shotgun caliber, through far, is the 12-gauge. Yet the 20-gauge, i beg your pardon is smaller and also lighter, absolutely has that is uses among hunters and also people concerned with home-defense. It’s apparent both calibers have a faithful fanbase all over the country.

12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge performance Comparison


You would certainly think that since 20-gauge ammunition has actually less material, it would certainly be cheaper, yet this is no necessarily the case. In many stores, friend will discover that 12-gauge ammunition is simply as affordable together 20-gauge; if yes sir a difference, the slight at best.

Price Winner: Draw



Winchester supervisor Target, 20 Gauge Round, 2-3/4 Inch, 1200 Velocity, 8 shooting fired at 25 feet.

By “spread,” we space referring to the width, height, and also length (commonly called the “string”) of the pellets fired native the shell. In most cases, girlfriend will uncover that 12-gauge shotguns have actually a more comprehensive and an ext dense spread, back this is heavily dependent on the choke you space using. However, if a wide (while still effective) spread out is important, a 12-gauge provides you better results.


Federal Target Load, 12 Gauge Shell, 2-3/4 Inch, 1145 Velocity, 8 Shot, fired from 25 feet.

When you compare the photos above, it’s clear over there are an ext pellets on target and also it’s a much much more dense pattern because that the 12 gauge.

Spread Winner: 12-gauge


As you can assume, the recoil native the smaller 20-gauge is much easier and an ext manageable. Proficient shooters, children, and also some smaller people may uncover that the 20-gauge is easier to handle. At the very least in theory, if you uncover the gun less complicated to manage your accuracy will certainly be better. No to cite you’ll be an ext confident which leads to a much more enjoyable time shooting.

So, in the 12 gauge vs. 20 gauge debate, if you’re a younger shooter the recoil benefit might be sufficient to have you leaning towards the smaller shotgun.

Recoil Winner: 20-gauge

Velocity and Energy

When it come to as whole power, consisting of velocity and energy, the 12-gauge wins virtually any fair comparison. The 12-gauge is just too huge for the 20-gauge to stand a possibility in this area, as the 12-gauge delivers much more speed and power come the target.

For example, the federal Premium’s 2.75-inch shells loaded with sabot slugs in 12-gauge and 20-gauge have actually noticeable distinctions in ballistics. The 12-gauge has actually a muzzle velocity of 1,500 feet per 2nd and power of 2,189 foot-pounds, while the 20-gauge has 1,450 feet per 2nd and power of 1,787 foot-pounds.

Federal’s third Degree turkey lots in 12-gauge and also 20-gauge have similar results. The 12-gauge has actually a muzzle velocity the 1,250 feet every second, when the 20 has only 1,100 feet every second.

Velocity/Energy Winner: 12-gauge


Because the 12-gauge, in general, is much faster in leave velocity than the 20-gauge, that will likewise have a much better effective range.

Because the that increased range, hunters deserve to place shots v confidence top top geese and ducks that might be out of selection for users of a 20-gauge shotgun. The exact same is true because that slug shells us referenced earlier; regardless of throwing a lighter slug, the 20-gauge has much more drop 보다 the 12-gauge.

Effective range Winner: 12-gauge


“Versatility” is a hard characteristic to recognize in any type of firearms comparison, however in a shotgun it can be almost impossible. (Because, fairly frankly, they room all versatile.)

While the 20-gauge is definitely a an excellent all-around gun, many would agree that the 12-gauge is the much more versatile that the two. With a 12-gauge shotgun, you can do a wide variety of activities, especially given the choke alternatives that are easily accessible with today’s firearms. Also, many ammo manufacturers have twice or three-times as numerous 12-gauge options than 20-gauge choices.

With a 12-gauge shotgun you can have more power for sports prefer deer and also turkey. You likewise have the range required to make much longer shots on fowl such as geese and migrating ducks. Girlfriend can likewise scale down the 12-gauge v shorter, smaller sized ammunition, permitting you to pursue smaller game. When the 20-gauge is undoubtably a versatile load, we think the 12-gauge has actually a slim edge.

Versatility Winner: 12-gauge (Slight advantage)

Bottomline that the 20 Ga vs. 12 Ga Debate:


The Remington 870 shotgun chambered in 12 gauge, is a popular an option for hunters and sports shooters.

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Either the 12-gauge or the 20-gauge can provide you superior performance in the field. Frankly, both room formidable home-defense tools. (A 20-gauge shooting can provide over twice as much energy as a .44 Remington Magnum, so lack of strength is not a concern.)

If you desire a versatile searching firearm, with practically unlimited ammunition choices, the 12-gauge will certainly suit you well. However, if you want a smaller sized firearm for little game or youth hunters or catch shooters, the 20-gauge might be your ideal option.

Have think on this good caliber debate? We’d love come hear lock in the comment below!