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The Ultimate Guide to 12 vs 20 Gauge Shotguns: How to Pick the Right One for You preview image
Jul 31 2023
10 min read

The Ultimate Guide to 12 vs 20 Gauge Shotguns: How to Pick the Right One for You


Two of the most popular gauges on a shotgun are the 12 and 20 gauge. If you’re having trouble picking between the two, you are not alone.

Overall, the 12-gauge is better than the 20-gauge, thanks to its volume, permitting longer distance traveled per shot. It’s the winner for most people due to the power and versatility.

Although the 12-gauge tends to be the more popular choice, there are still benefits to investing in a 20-gauge shotgun for your needs.

We’ve searched the market and tested many options to determine what sets each option apart, whether looking at the defensive ability or overall size.

Whether you want a semi-automatic shotgun or a pump action, investing in the right gauge is critical.

We will discuss each option to determine the right one for you. We will also dive into a few frequently asked questions to solve any other issues you might have.

20-Gauge Shotgun

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20-Gauge Information

If you’re new to the world of shotguns, a 20-gauge is a great place to start! With a smaller caliber shell than its 12-gauge counterpart, this smooth bore weapon is a popular choice for beginners.

Plus, it’s perfect for taking down small game like birds and critters without being too powerful for the job.

But that’s not all! A 20-gauge shotgun can also come in handy in self-defense situations, especially in close-to-mid-range scenarios.

While it may not pack as much of a punch as lower gauge weapons, it’s still a reliable choice for times when you don’t need to take down targets from a long distance.

So whether you’re looking to take up hunting or want a shotgun for home defense, a 20-gauge might just be the versatile weapon you need. Just keep in mind that it’s not the most powerful option on the market. But if that’s not a concern, check it out.

12-Gauge Shotgun

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12-Gauge Information

If you’re looking for a shotgun that packs a punch, then the 12-gauge is the way to go. With a larger-caliber shell than the 20-gauge, this smooth-bore firearm is perfect for hunting bigger game like turkey, waterfowl, and other small animals.

It’s a great choice for both beginners and experts alike!

A 12-gauge shotgun is also a popular option for self-defense, especially for those in military and law enforcement positions. While it can definitely hold its own in a home defense situation, the 20-gauge is a better pick for close-range engagements. But when it comes to defending higher fields, the 12-gauge reigns supreme.

If you’re ready to step up your game and take on bigger prey or want a reliable weapon for self-defense, a 12-gauge shotgun is definitely worth considering. Just be sure to educate yourself on proper handling techniques and safety measures before you get trigger happy!

Specification Chart for 20 And 12-Gauge

Power Less Power More Power
 Shootability Gentler Gentle to Harsh
 Versatility Excels at Targeting, Not Shooting Over a Long Distance Versatile for Many Animals, More Than Targeting
 Cost Pricier Shells, Similar Firearm Cost Cheaper Shells, Similar Firearm Cost
 Recoil Light Recoil for Benefit of the User Medium Recoil Due To More Power in Shooting
 Performance Lighter Performance Powerful Performance
 Applications Small game, close-proximity home defense Large game hunting, home, and law enforcement defense
 Home Defense Ideal For Close Range in the Home Ideal For Mid-Range in the Home, Military, and Law
Bullet Diameter 15.62 mm 18.5 mm
 Muzzle Velocity 1,200 fps 1,560 fps
 Range 40 yards 65 yards

Key Differences Between 20-Gauge and 12-Gauge

Bore Diameter

The diameter of the bore can make a huge difference in the power and appearance of a shotgun. And when it comes to comparing a 20 and 12-gauge, it’s the most significant difference between the two.

The bore diameter of a 20-gauge shotgun is .615 inches, while a 12-gauge measures at .729 inches. This difference in diameter allows the 12 gauge to fire a larger payload with a higher muzzle velocity than the 20 gauge.

However, this also means that there is a higher recoil in the 12 gauge.

Moreover, the bore diameter also plays a significant role in determining the shot you can load into each shotgun.

The 12-gauge can accommodate larger shots, which makes it perfect for taking on big game and aiming at targets from a longer distance. On the other hand, the 20-gauge is ideal for smaller game and close-range engagements.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hunter, understanding the bore diameter of each shotgun is crucial in determining what you can aim at when you go hunting.

Home Defense

When it comes to home defense, shotguns can be an excellent choice. And while the 12-gauge shotgun is a more popular option for keeping the house safe, the 20-gauge can also get the job done if you know how to use it properly.

Now let’s talk about the 12 gauge. It’s a powerful tool that requires a bit of muscle to handle. If you can manage the larger shot required of this firearm, it’s an excellent option for a big guy looking to defend his home and keep the weapon steady. But it’s not for everyone – those with less strength might struggle to handle the recoil and maintain accuracy.

On the other hand, the 20-gauge shotgun is a bit easier to carry around and fire, making it a great choice for those with less strength. However, it’s not as powerful as the 12 gauge and requires you to be at a closer range to hit your target.

Ultimately, both shotguns are great for home defense, but it’s up to you to decide which one is right for you.

If you feel confident using a 12-gauge, go for it! But if you’re not comfortable with the recoil or prefer something a bit easier to handle, a 20-gauge shotgun might be the better choice for you.


Alright, let’s talk hunting! Both the 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns have their own unique purposes when it comes to hunting, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you make a decision.

The 12-gauge firearm is ideal for taking down larger birds like geese, turkeys, and larger mammals. It’s even great for sporting clays! If you want power behind every pull, then the 12 gauge is the way to go.

However, if you’re after smaller game like pheasants and quail, then the 20-gauge is your best bet.

A 12 gauge would be overkill in this case, so the 20 gauge provides just the right amount of power without going too far. It’s also suitable for sporting clays, though some hunters prefer the larger bore of the 12 gauge for this purpose.

And let’s not forget about recoil. The 12 gauge can be quite challenging to handle, so not everyone can handle it. But the 20-gauge is a bit more forgiving in that regard, making it an excellent choice for hunters of all experience levels.


Last but not least, let’s talk about recoil—the final key difference between 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns. Because of its larger payload, the 12-gauge firearm packs a serious punch and provides a much stronger recoil than its smaller counterpart.

Now, let’s be real—recoil is no joke. It’s essential to consider this factor before investing in a shotgun. While some hunters can handle the intense kickback with ease, others might find it unbearable and avoid shooting altogether.

But fear not, my friends! There are ways to mitigate recoil. Investing in a silencer is one option, or you can simply opt for a 20-gauge shotgun, which has less recoil than the 12-gauge. So, if you’re worried about the recoil, consider these options before making a final decision.

Ultimately, the choice between a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun comes down to your personal preferences and needs. But remember, always consider the recoil and how it might affect your shooting experience before making an investment.

20-Gauge Pros & Cons

  • Lighter recoil, easier shooting
  • Versatile for various game
  • Lightweight, easy to handle
  • Less intimidating for beginners
  • Limited shotshell options
  • Less power than 12-gauge
  • Potentially reduced range
  • Might struggle with larger game

12-Gauge Pros & Cons

  • Wide variety of shells
  • Suitable for many game types
  • Powerful, effective range
  • Popular, easy-to-find ammunition
  • Heavier recoil, tougher handling
  • More weight to carry
  • Can be intimidating for beginners
  • Overkill for small game

Other Alternative Shotgun Gauges to Consider


If you’re craving something with a bit more oomph in your shooting arsenal, why not give the 10-gauge shotgun a go?

Sporting a bore diameter of .775 inches, this bad boy harks back to the Revolutionary War era – now that’s some serious firepower! One squeeze of the trigger, and you’ll feel the raw power at your fingertips.

Sure, the 10-gauge might not be the belle of the ball anymore, but it’s still got some tricks up its sleeve. If you’re a hunter with a hankering for taking down traditional birds like turkeys and geese, the 10-gauge offers extra space for those hefty shells you’ll need.

Before you dash off to snag one of these increasingly rare beauties, though, make sure to do your homework.

Some states have restrictions on owning a 10-gauge shotgun, so you’ll want to double-check the laws in your area. But if you get the green light, the 10-gauge promises to deliver a unique and exhilarating shooting experience that’s perfect for the right occasions.


Looking for a shotgun that’s the perfect middle ground between the 12 and 20-gauge options? Give the 16-gauge a try! It’s got your back for those long days outdoors, providing a gentler recoil than its 12-gauge sibling, so you can enjoy some power without the jarring kick.

The 16-gauge boasts decent velocity and range, though it doesn’t quite match the 12-gauge champ. But it’s a dream when it comes to all-day target shooting, duck hunting, or any other activity that keeps your trusty firearm glued to your shoulder.

It’s easier on you and helps you stay in the game longer. Trust us, that reduced recoil can make all the difference!

Now, the catch: 16-gauge shotguns are becoming rarer than a blue moon. But if you can track one down, it’s a worthy addition to your collection. With less recoil and a comfy shooting experience, you’ll be glad you invested in this elusive gem.


If the 20-gauge shotgun feels like a bit too much for your hunting adventures, why not give the 28-gauge a shot? With a smaller bore diameter, this little dynamo makes way for more petite ammunition. Sure, it might not pack the same punch as the heavyweights, but it’ll still get the job done with finesse.

The 28-gauge is perfect for those who value precision in their shooting game. It’s the go-to choice for targeting smaller birds like quail and dainty whitetail doves. And with minimal recoil, even the most petite shooter can take aim without wrestling their weapon.

Not only is the 28-gauge a breeze to transport, but it’s also a gentle firearm that’s worth the extra effort. Keep in mind, though, finding the right ammo for this little wonder can be a bit of a treasure hunt. But hey, who doesn’t love a good challenge? With the 28-gauge, you’ll enjoy a more delicate shooting experience that’s worth the extra legwork.

.410 Bore

Finally, let’s talk about the .410 bore. This little firecracker stands out from the crowd as the only option identified by its bore diameter, giving it a certain flair. With its slender bore, the .410 demands a skilled hand to make those precise, close-range shots.

Ideal for small game hunting at close quarters, the .410 bore may not pack a ton of power, but it sure knows how to make a day of shooting small targets a hoot! It’s perfect for those who want a more laid-back experience with a firearm that’s not all about flexing its muscles.

So, if you’re looking for something a little different and a touch more thrilling than your standard 20 or 12-gauge, the .410 bore could be your new best friend. With a history that spans over a century, this trusty shotgun has been delighting shooters with its unique charm and capabilities.


What is a 20-gauge shotgun used for?

There are many uses for a 20-gauge shotgun, whether you want to keep it in your home or take it out into the world. The best uses for a 20-gauge shotgun include hunting game birds like grouse, quail, and mallards, as well as defending the home at a close range.

Can you hunt with a 20 gauge shotgun?

You can hunt with a 20-gauge shotgun, though it isn’t able to take on large game animals like bucks. You will have the best luck hunting game birds like grouse, quail, and mallards with a 20-gauge shotgun in the wild, nothing much larger.

What size shotgun should I get?

The size shotgun you purchase is up to you, but the 12-gauge and 20-gauge are the most popular selections for firearm enthusiasts. The 12-gauge is an ideal option for something versatile, while the 20-gauge is a better choice if you want a lighter firearm for your needs.


Both the 12 and 20-gauge shotguns have much to offer users, but the 12-gauge is the better option to have the ultimate firing experience.

It’s a better selection for defense, from keeping the home safe to those in law enforcement. It’s capable of taking down larger game, like deer and bigger birds. It’s more versatile.

Is there anything we didn’t mention in this piece? Whether you have something to say about short-barreled shotguns, high-capacity shotguns, or anything in between, we would love to hear it.

Write your comment below, and we will read it and get back to you as soon as possible! We would love to know what you have to say about 12 and 20-gauge shotguns.

Brady Kirkpatrick photo Brady Kirkpatrick is the founder of, the #1 online gun search engine. Recognizing the challenges of finding the right firearm at the right price, Brady built a platform to simplify the process, comparing prices across hundreds of online dealers and providing valuable content from trustworthy bloggers. His commitment to user-centricity and innovation has shaped into a comprehensive resource for gun enthusiasts. In addition to Gun Made, Brady has also lent his firearm expertise to an array of renowned publications, such as The Truth About Guns, CrossBreed Holsters, Cheaper than Dirt, 19FortyFive, We Are The Mighty, and many others.


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