Stuck between choosing a 12 GA & a 20 GA shotgun? They are the two most popular types of shotguns currently available on the market. Although you can hunt a range of game with them, each shotgun gauge has their own features and purposes to consider.
The term 'gauge' refers to the diameter of the shotgun's bore or barrel. A shotgun gauge is tied to the size of the shotgun shells: with a higher gauge number corresponding to a smaller shot size.
In a 12-gauge shell, 12 pellets would weigh the same as 1 pound of shot. In a 20-gauge shell, 20 pellets would be required. However, the .410 shotgun is actually a 67 gauge due to its unique bore size.
A 12-gauge shotgun has a larger bore diameter compared to a 20-gauge shotgun.
The gauge also influences the number of pellets of equal size and weight that are needed to make up one pound of shot.
Learn the key differences between a 20 GA vs 12 GA shotgun so you can make the best buying decision for your hunting needs:
|20 Gauge vs 12 Gauge: Overview|
|Factors||20 Gauge||12 Gauge|
|Versatility||Limited to #1 or smaller buck pellets||Can hold buckshot shells as big as #000|
|Recoil||Produces 11-31 lbs. of recoil energy||Produces 17-54 lbs. of recoil energy|
|Power||Smaller projectiles for less effective shooting power at close range||Bigger projectiles for more effective shooting power at longer distances|
|Shot Pattern||Looser, less effective patterns||Larger, more effective patterns|
|Use Cases||Mostly used for hunting upland birds||Best for waterfowlers, turkey (at far ranges), mid to big-sized game|
|Accuracy||Less accurate shot at greater distances||More accurate shot at greater distances|
|Shootability||More comfortable shootability||More painful shootability|
Overall, the 12-gauge shotgun offers more versatility than a 20-gauge shotgun because it has increased shell capacity and the ability to accommodate larger buckshot shells (up to a #000 size).
The 12 GA delivers a denser shot pattern and is better for longer distances.
The 20 gauge shotgun is more specialized. It’s limited to #1 or smaller buckshot pellets.
A 20-gauge shotgun has a lighter weight and reduced recoil — making it a suitable choice for certain shooting applications.
Various factors influence a shotgun’s recoil: projectile weight, projectile speed, and weapon weight.
Due to its larger powder charge and heavier projectiles, a 12-gauge shotgun generally produces more recoil compared to a 20-gauge shotgun.
The force generated by recoil can potentially lead to discomfort such as bruising, neck pain, headaches, and other related issues.
Purchase a recoil pad to protect your shoulder. Simply slip it over the stock of your shotgun for extra padding.
Factors like shot count and mass determine a shotgun’s power rather than solely by powder charge and velocity.
12-gauge shotgun shells generally contain more powder than 20-gauge shells. This translates to a greater shooting power for the 12 gauge since it provides a higher volume of ammunition with each shot.
A 20-gauge shotgun can satisfy your shooting needs, but it may not offer as much power for longer distances.
The shot pattern of a shotgun refers to the spread of the pellets upon leaving the barrel.
In general, a 12-gauge shotgun will produce a denser shot pattern than a 20-gauge shotgun due to its larger bore diameter.
When using steel pellets, the shot pattern tends to be tighter compared to lead pellets.
You can utilize shotgun chokes to constrict the ammunition — further controlling the shot pattern and tailoring it to specific shooting scenarios.
How you intend to use a shotgun determines which one you should buy. Each caters to hunting a specific type of game.
The 20-gauge shotgun is well-suited for upland bird hunting (like doves) and turkey at close distances because it’s lighter weight and has reduced recoil.
Hunters prefer a 12-gauge shotgun for hunting larger game like deer. This gauge also excels in hunting waterfowl, turkeys at longer distances, and geese due to its increased power and range.
A 12-gauge shotgun (with its larger shell capacity and more pellets) can send a greater number of projectiles downrange — thus increasing the likelihood of hitting the target.
A 20-gauge shotgun may provide faster, more accurate follow-up shots due to its lighter weight and reduced recoil. This can be helpful in scenarios that require multiple shots in rapid succession.
Compared to a 20-gauge shotgun, a 12-gauge shotgun tends to be heavier. This increase in weight can impact the overall shooting experience.
A 20-gauge shotgun is more comfortable to shoot. Its lighter weight and reduced recoil both result in less strain on the shooter's shoulder.
Be aware of the potential effects of recoil and take appropriate measures (such as proper firearm handling techniques and utilizing recoil-reducing accessories).
The same shotgun and bullets you use to hunt a squirrel will not work well on a buck. Learn which shotgun is best, depending on the type of game you like to pursue the most.
Buckshots are popular for their ability to deliver multiple smaller pellets: increasing the chances of hitting the target.
Alternatively, slugs offer a single, larger projectile that provides increased stopping power for larger game like deer.
Deer hunters usually prefer a 12-gauge shotgun due to its ability to accommodate larger pellets. It also generates higher velocity — which results in a denser shot pattern and improved accuracy.
Waterfowl hunting requires the use of non-toxic shells (like steel) to comply with regulations.
Many waterfowl hunters opt for a 12-gauge shotgun due to its ability to deliver greater power and range. Both work together to offer effective shots on waterfowl targets.
While steel is the preferred choice, it does lose momentum over longer distances: making shot placement crucial.
When it comes to turkey hunting, a 12-gauge shotgun is often preferred due to its ability to produce a tighter shot pattern.
This tight pattern is advantageous when aiming for a turkey’s vital areas (like the head and neck).
If you are hunting turkeys at close distances, a 20-gauge shotgun can still be effective.
Upland bird hunting requires careful consideration of the appropriate shotgun gauge. Overall, the lighter weight of a 20-gauge shotgun makes it better suited for upland bird hunting. Covering extensive distances is often necessary.
A 20-gauge shotgun is better suited for smaller birds. It provides sufficient power without the risk of overkill.
While 12-gauge shotguns are suitable for hunting larger game like geese, using them on smaller birds may risk damaging the meat.
As the season progresses and longer distance shots become more common, you might prefer a 12-gauge shotgun.
For home defense purposes, both 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns can be suitable options. The choice between the two may depend on personal preferences and/or other considerations.
The 20-gauge shotgun has a lighter weight and reduced recoil. Both make it easier to handle in high-stress situations.
A larger person may be more comfortable and better equipped to handle the higher recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun. However, a smaller person may find the 20-gauge more manageable.
Picking a shotgun for home defense should always prioritize comfort, control, and ease of use for the individual shooter.
For beginners, we recommend a 20-gauge shotgun because of the lighter weight and recoil. Beginner shooters can also benefit from its ability to take faster follow-up shots.
Overall, a 20 GA offers a more manageable shooting experience that allows beginners to focus on technique. But don’t be afraid to experiment with both 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns! Doing so can help you determine your own personal preferences.
While the 12 gauge shotgun may present more of a challenge, you might actually find it to be the better option as your skills develop over time.
Ready to purchase your first 12 GA or 20 GA shotgun? While 12 GA offer more versatility and power for deer and turkeys, 20 GA shotguns are more comfortable to shoot and better for targeting smaller game.