12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge


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One of the first choices you have to make when choosing a shotgun is the gauge of the gun. Shotguns come in 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 gauge and .410 bore. For most people and for most purposes, the practical choice often becomes a battle of 12 gauge vs. 20 gauge. Twelve and 20 are the two most popular shotgun gauges and offer the widest selection of guns and ammunition. You can find 12 gauge shells anywhere shotgun ammo is sold, and there are more types of 12 gauge ammo than any other gauge. There is also a wide range of 20 gauge ammo and it is also easy to find. Both gauges are versatile and suitable for a variety of shotgun jobs, and you can find all kinds of shotguns for different purposes in 12 and 20 gauge. This is not the case with all shotgun gauges.

Shotgun gauge

shotguns (except the .410, which it’s a caliber) are measured by “gauge” which is derived from the number of lead balls of bore diameter required to make one pound. You can find a shotgun gauge chart online, but the list below includes all the major shotgun gauges:

10 gauge has 0.775 inches. It is the largest legal gauge in the United States and the most powerful rifle. It is mainly used for turkey and waterfowl hunting.

A 12-gauge shotgun measures .729 inches and is the most popular and versatile gauge worldwide. Some 12 can be loaded up to nearly 10 gauge levels.

As a rule, 16-gauge shotguns are .685 inches. It has recently made a slight comeback, but is mostly only popular among a small cult of upland bird hunters.

The 20 gauge measures .615 inches and is very popular among hunters and target shooters. It is one of four gauges used in competitive Skeet shooting.

28 gauge has 0.550 inches. Like the 16, it has a following among upland hunters, and new advances in 28-gauge ammunition make it suitable for hunting some waterfowl. Twenty-eight gauges are used in Skeet.

The .410 would be a 67 gauge if measured like other shotgun gauges. It’s very light load and very light recoil make it popular as a first gun. It is also the smallest and most challenging gauge for Skeet shooting competitions.

12 gauge vs 20 gauge

12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge: By the Numbers
Twelve-gauge shells have a larger diameter than their 20-gauge counterparts. Joseph Albanese

Although 10 gauge is the largest legal gauge, 10 gauge guns are heavy and difficult to carry. This leaves 12 as the largest practical gauge and, indeed, the only gauge we need. Twelve gauge guns and ammunition are extremely versatile. You can load very light loads of small shot in a 12 gauge case for targets and game birds like doves and partridges, and you can load it with buckshot and buckshot for big game, home defense and enforcement use. of the law. 12-inch guns come with 2 ¾-inch, 3-inch, and 3 ½-inch chambers, and the longer the shell, the more shot and powder it can hold. Also, because the 12-gauge bore is larger than any other (except the 10), it will shoot the best patterns, putting more rounds from a given load on the target than most bores will. small.

Gauge 20

The 20-gauge gun also offers versatility, though it doesn’t match the 12 in terms of the heavier shot loads it can handle. Twenty gauges come with 2 ¾ or 3 inch chambers. Twenty-gauge guns are thinner and often lighter than 12s. The size and weight and the perception that they don’t hit as hard as 12s makes them popular with smaller-framed, younger shooters.

Either gauge can suit you, depending on exactly what you need a shotgun for. Here’s how they compare for different purposes:

Deer hunting

Deer can be taken with heavy shots from shotguns, or with large pellets. A 12 gauge has the clear advantage with buckshot because its larger hull holds more heavy bullets. In fact, while a 12 gauge hull can hold buckshot as large as 000, 20 gauge is limited to 2 and smaller.

The 12 gauge also has an advantage with full bore slugs; either Foster style all lead or slugs with attached rods for greater stability and accuracy. The larger diameter of the 12-gauge slug creates larger wounds and better blood trails. With full-bore slugs, the 12 is the best choice, although they generate significantly more recoil than a 20-gauge slug.

When it comes to sabot bullets, which are bullets smaller than the bore diameter encased in a detachable plastic sleeve and intended for use in full-slide pistols, the gap between 12 and 20 narrows enough that the 20 becomes an excellent choice. Twenty-gauge sabot slugs have similar, flat trajectories (by low-velocity shooting standards), hit hard enough to perform well on deer-sized game, and have much less recoil in a cutting gun, lighter than 12 gauge sabots.

Turkey hunting

Turkey hunters should shoot a dense cluster of small shots at their bird in order to score hits in the head and neck for an instant kill. The 12 gauge easily beats the 20 in terms of pellet load. A 12-gauge with a 3 ½-inch chamber can hold up to 2 ¼ ounces of lead shot, while a 3-inch 20-gauge tops out at 1 5/16 ounces. Even when shooting 3-inch shells in the 12, the hull holds 1 ¾ ounces of impact, resulting in much denser patterns than the 3-inch 20 gauge.

While 12 gauges can kill up to 50 yards with bullet shot, they do so at the cost of tremendous recoil. Twenty-gauge lead loads can take balls inside 40 yards and do so in a lighter, thinner shotgun, while giving the shooter a much softer hit.

The new premium Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) turkey loads extend the range of the 20s to 12 gauge distances if you want to pay up to $5 per shell. Super dense TSS pellets allow you to choose a shot as small as 9 and loads up to 1 ½ ounces in a 20 gauge.

Hunting in the mountains

12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge: By the Numbers
Both 12 and 20 gauge shotguns have a place in the mountains. Phil Bourjaily

Mountain hunters carry their guns far more than they shoot them, and it is in the mountains that hunters often choose a light 20 over a 12 gauge. And while the 20 is a great choice, there are light 12s on the market that combine 12-gauge ballistics with ease of carry.

A 12-gauge allows you to take advantage of loads up to 1 5/8 ounces and 4 shots for late-season pheasants, and 12-gauge shells can be loaded at velocities faster than 20 seconds. At the same time, it is possible to find 12-gauge shells as light as the lighter 20-gauge ammunition for close range shooting at quail and woodcock.

That said, a 20 gauge will always be sharper than a 12 gauge, and usually lighter. A 3-inch 20-gauge can shoot heavy loads up to 1 ¼ ounces at 1,300 feet per second (fps), which is more than enough for all but the longest range shots at large birds like pheasants. A 20 gauge makes an excellent choice in an elevation shotgun, and while 12s allow you to use heavier loads, you’re rarely undershooting the 20.

In mountain hunting, the question of 12 gauge vs. 20 gauge comes down to personal preference.

Waterfowl hunting

12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge: By the Numbers
With the right load, a 20 gauge can be a competent waterfowl gun. Phil Bourjaily

Although 20-gauge guns are becoming increasingly popular for waterfowl hunting, when it comes to steel shot, a 20 can’t touch a 12-gauge. Steel pellets are light and large, even a 3-inch 20-gauge shell holds only an ounce of shot and cannot accommodate large cartridges like the BBs often chosen by goose hunters. A 12 gauge, on the other hand, can carry loads of up to 1 ½ ounces of BB in a 3 ½-inch shell and 1 ¼ ounces in a 3-inch shell. Many hunters prefer high-velocity projectiles for waterfowl, believing that the extra velocity makes up for the low density of steel. Twelve gauge shells can be loaded up to 1600 fps and more. Increasing the velocity of 20 gauge loads to 1550 fps means dropping the load to just 7/8 ounce. A steel-loaded twenty-gauge shot works well at close range on decoys, but for all-around steelhead waterfowl, a 12-gauge is best.

Bismuth shot, a popular, more expensive alternative material, has superior ballistics to steel and has the ability to improve 20-gauge performance on ducks and geese. You can choose pellets one size smaller than steel when shooting bismuth, and because there will be more smaller pellets per ounce, you increase the pellet count. Although bismuth increases the effectiveness of 20, they do not make it equal to 12 at longer intervals. And the lighter weight 20’s themselves are harder to swing smoothly as the range increases.

Home protection

When it comes to the 12 gauge vs. 20 home defense question, remember that unlike law enforcement officers, who may need to engage targets at longer ranges with a shotgun, anyone who uses a shotgun for home defense it will shoot at a range of 10 yards or less. At those distances, any shotgun will stop a threat. It is certainly true that a 12-gauge can hold more larger cartridges than a 20-gauge can. Twelve-gauge bodies can hold up to $000 rounds, while 20-gauge can’t be loaded with anything more. greater than dollar #2 in reasonable amounts.

The smaller size and lower recoil of a 20 gauge can outweigh the ballistic advantages of a 12 when you are indoors where the extra power of the 12 doesn’t really matter. Additionally, a 20 gauge gun may be easier for smaller people to handle and shoot with ease. If, on the other hand, you live in a country where part of a home defense shotgun’s job might involve dealing with four-legged intruders outside, then a 12 gauge would be the best choice.

Target shooting

Twelve-gauge guns dominate target shooting for good reason: The larger bore produces the best patterns; you can fire heavier loads for dense target-breaking swarms; and the guns themselves are easier to shoot well. The extra weight of a 12-gauge gun helps it steer confidently and swing smoothly. Most people will achieve their best results with a 12 gauge for these reasons. In addition, heavy weapons absorb recoil more effectively than lighter weapons. You can load a 12 gauge to 20 gauge with 7/8 or even ¾ ounce target loads and shoot in virtually recoilless comfort.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t score well and enjoy a day at the range if you prefer to shoot a 20 gauge. Many people do, especially for Skeet, which is a fairly close game. and for sporting clays. And, there are Skeet events and sporting clays for the 20 gauge, so you can compete on an equal footing with everyone else while enjoying the smaller gun.





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