In Defense of the 20 Gauge


Blame me, I am the first to advocate the use of the perennial 12 gauge shotgun when it comes to home and personal defense where a smoothbore is chosen for the task. Outdoor adventurer, veteran, and worldwide hunter, Gary Starkey has finally beat me down. After numerous campfire debates Starkey has shown me the light on the value of the 20 gauge.

As a young hunter of small game, I cut my teeth on a 20 gauge Mossberg bolt action shotgun that my dad confiscated from a crop dusting pilot that left out owing him money. I wish the guy had taken that gun with him. I could not hit the broadside of a barn with that thing, much less swiftly recycle those yellow hulls with a bolt action. I was never endeared to the 20.

Starkey’s argument for the 20 gauge was a relatively easy one to make, especially for his own personal circumstances, which also applies widely to many others. He has a wife at home who cannot handle the 12 gauge, so the only serviceable option was to go to the 20 gauge. She manages that Remington 870 pump quite well, which is just the ticket for them.

How does the power of the 20 gauge compare to a typical, similar loading in the 12 gauge? Let’s compare two common loads for each. Just for comparison I picked a lead game load in No. 6 shot. For the 12 gauge the load in 2 ¾ inch shells with 1 ounce of shot has a velocity of about 1290 fps. A 20 gauge load, 2 ¾ inch shells has 7/8 ounce of shot with a velocity of 1225 fps. These are both Remington budget minded loads so they might not be optimal, but for inside the house defense loads at close ranges, they are both going to have quite a sting.

Buckshot loads might be appropriate if care is used in the targeting of an intruder in an occupied dwelling. A 12 gauge load of buckshot could launch nine 00 pellets at 1325 fps. A 20 gauge load of #3 buckshot has 20 pellets sailing at 1220 fps. Both pretty formidable.

Okay, okay, I can see where the 20 gauge could be an effective self-defense shotgun under certain circumstances and for certain shooters. If the 12 gauge cannot be handled, then certainly train them on the 20 gauge.

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