Ammunition

Throwback Thursday: The 20 Gauge for Defense

12 and 20 gauge shotshells

I’ve had several experiences during the past few months that have impacted my ideas about shotguns. One was the research and shooting tests involved in firing more than two dozen shotguns while writing “The Preppers Guide to Shotguns” for Skyhorse Publishing. Another was seeing my oldest granddaughter embrace the shooting sports. At 14, she is slightly built, but is serious about shooting. A 12-gauge shotgun would beat her up and get her off to a bad start in shotgunning.

Another experience was breaking out and firing an old Browning Automatic Shotgun. The 21-inch barrel 12 gauge has been modified into what was easily one of the finest combat shotguns of its day — and one I trust completely. I had forgotten how much recoil-operated shotguns kick and didn’t fire it very much. Perhaps there is something to the 20-gauge shotgun for defense. I took a hard look at the 20 over the past six months and learned a lot about the smaller gauge.

12 gauge shotshell left, 20 gauge shotshell right 20-gauge for defense
A yellow 20-gauge shell stacked up to a 2¾-inch 12-gauge shell.

12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge

I have deployed the 12 gauge for service use and now as a civilian for personal and home defense. While the 12 gauge hits hard and demonstrates greater wound potential, there is some merit in the lighter gauges. I don’t think the .410 Bore is that useful, but the 20 gauge has many good points. The primary advantage is low recoil.

If you do not have a problem using the 12 gauge, by all means do so. With the proper technique, most folks can handle a 12-gauge shotgun. However, no matter how good you are, the 12-gauge shotgun kicks and kicks hard with some loads, while the 20 gauge kicks less. Some pretty hard-bitten cops in big cities were once issued 20-gauge shotguns. So, there is some precedent for using the 20 gauge operationally — for those who simply do not get enough practice. As far as terminal ballistics, wound potential, payload, and effectiveness, the 20 doesn’t equal the 12, but it is a good gauge for many uses.

Gauge is determined by bore diameter. A 12-gauge shotgun has a bore of .729 inches and 12 lead balls of this diameter would weigh one pound. The 20 gauge .615 bore would require 20 balls to weigh one pound. That is how gauge is measured. The payload of the larger bore is heavier.

The pattern, which is set by the choke, is also a factor in terminal effect. Buckshot tends to travel in pairs and this may be verified by firing the shotgun load at a large piece of paper at seven yards. 12-gauge shells typically hold about 1⅛ ounce of shot, while the 20 gauge deploys a ⅞ ounce of shot. There are slightly heavier loads in each gauge. The smaller payload of the 20 gauge results in less felt recoil.

The weight of the shotgun itself is lighter in most 20-gauge shotguns. The Remington 870 Express Youth Model is a very fast-handling shotgun. While 12-gauge riot guns with 18 to 20-inch barrels handle quickly, they also kick hard due to their light weight. A 20-gauge pump with a 21-inch barrel is well-balanced and offers excellent hit probability. The H&R Pardner full-size sporting shotgun is docile.

10-yard shotgun pattern
At 10 yards we have a fair pattern.

20-Gauge Loads

Load selection is important. The shotgun isn’t a death ray or Thor’s hammer, it isn’t infallible. Birdshot uses a cloud of tiny pellets intended to humanely take a small fowl with a few pellets. In ballistic testing, #7½ or #8 pellets penetrate perhaps three inches in gelatin. These pellets could be stopped by a heavy jacket or outer clothing.

I once investigated a suicide in which the victim placed a 12-gauge shotgun under his jawbone and pulled the trigger. The jawbone was pulverized and the palate was dented by birdshot. A single pellet made it into the brain cavity and ended up causing brain death. The victim lived for several hours. Examining this data seems to indicate birdshot would not penetrate the cranium.

Buckshot, depending on the type and whether it is copper-plated, will penetrate 12 to 16 inches. The 12 and 20 penetrate the same, but the size of the total load is greater with the 12 gauge. With the 12 gauge, buckshot has greater recoil than birdshot, but in the 20 gauge, the difference is less pronounced.

buckshot pattern in a silhouette target
Two loads of buckshot at close range. Note that the wadding traveled to the right. While it may not be deadly, this makes shotguns unsuited to hostage rescue!

The 12-gauge shotgun generates 25 to 30 pounds of recoil energy. The 20 gauge averages 20 pounds with buckshot. That is a considerable difference, but that doesn’t rule out the 20-gauge shotgun for defense. This isn’t the whole story, the weight of the shotgun matters as well.

The 20-gauge shotshell is a bit small for 00 buckshot, so the typical 2¾-inch long 20 gauge shell contains 20 #3 buckshot balls, versus 8 or 9 #00 in the 12 gauge. The 12 gauge may be loaded with single 0 and #4 as well. A three-inch magnum 20-gauge shell may carry 18 #2 buckshot. The three-inch magnums are a little hard to find, but worth the search for an added edge in personal defense. These loads have given excellent results in water and gelatin testing, and they are good choices for home defense, with greater wound potential than any handgun. The 20-gauge shotgun is also lighter and handles quickly.

Bob Campbell shooting a 20 gauge Remington 870 shotgun 20-gauge for defense
The author found the Remington 870 smooth and reliable.

Conclusion: 20-Gauge Shotguns

Not long ago, I fired my old Remington 870 riot gun loaded with reduced-recoil Federal Cartridge Company buckshot against the Remington 870 Express 20 gauge loaded with standard 2¾-inch buckshot. The goal was to fire four shells as rapidly as possible at seven yards and destroy the center of the target. I did so with each shotgun. I fired four 20-gauge shells into the target in the time it took to fire three 12-gauge shells, and I am pretty good with the 12 gauge after 40 years of training. The 20-gauge shotgun has a place in personal defense and just may be the best choice for the majority of homeowners.

What do you think of the 12-gauge versus 20-gauge shotgun for defense? Have you done any testing of your own? Share your answers or results in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2018. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (61)

  1. Many years ago, (late 60’s), a family friend was hunting rabbits in York County Maine. It was mid-February, and he was using a 12 gauge with #7 1/2 shot, paper shells. Kicking a blow down, hoping to flush a rabbit, instead woke up a bear. At a distance measured in INCHES, he shot the bear, and killed it. (Wardens took the bear but didn’t charge him.) So – #7 1/2 birdshot can kill. Would I use birdshot? NO! As pointed out, with so many DAs out to “get” every legal firearm owner, using bird shot could lead to a jail term, instead of a brief mention in the local newspaper.

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… at one point I “inherited” a Winchester 1300 Speedpump youth model in 20ga from my younger brother. I’m a former state LEO, was on the ERT, a 2nd armorer, range master, and instructor. Our issued shotguns were 20″ bbl Rem 870s in 12ga. I’m well aware of how to handle and shoot effectively a 12ga. That Winchester 1300 in 20ga beat the everliving s*** out of my shoulder. It was light and fast handling but it was TOO light. Even with #7 1/2 birdshot it was rather miserable. Slugs out of it hit my shoulder just as or possibly harder than 00 buck out of my break action single 12ga. I’ve got two titanium screws in my right shoulder and if my shoulder is going to take a beating from a shotgun I’m sticking with my H&R Pardner pump in 12ga. 18″ bbl, 6 position AR style stock. Yes, it’s heavy, but that soaks some of the recoil up. That Winchester 1300 20ga with its aluminum receiver was just TOO LIGHT. I probably should’ve kept it for HD only but I just did not enjoy shooting it. Same amount of recoil as my heavier 12ga with potentially less effective shells… no thanks.

  3. I have a double barrel 20 Ga. coach gun with dog ear hammers and I load it with #6 or #4 shot it is 19 inches in the barrels and really tears up a target, I also have a Remington 870 LH in 20 GA and I can work that pump as fast as a semi auto and still be on target.

  4. @Donald, listen to Bob on this. I looked up the weapon you mention because as Bob said, a shotgun with a barrel under 18 will get you time in a federal facility or stalked by the ATF a la Ruby Ridge. If that means nothing to you search for the name Randy Weaver, a classic example of the Feds breaking their own laws and other laws to entrap and murder people and get away with it.

    I am assuming you are talking about the American Tactical Bulldog .410 Gauge Bullpup 16″ Semi-Auto Shotgun. Because it is a Bullpup style, it has a barrel that is actually 18½” per its website (https://dist.americantactical.us/product/ati-bulldog-sga-410ga-bullpup-shotgun-black-5-rnd-mag)

    One problem with a .410, particularly if you are not using buckshot or one of the ammos for The Judge, et.al, (e.g. Winchester PDX1 410 Defender 3″ Shell) is if you do shoot someone with birdshot, they possibly could be severely injured and if any pellets strike their face, they could sustain injuries to their eyes and lose their vision, as opposed to being dead. I have seen people shot in the face with birdshot who were blinded by the incident. Most of those were by “accident” meaning careless gun handling. It was not pretty, as these injuries can leave the victim with significant disfigurement.

    Before you say “Good!”, be aware that this could open you to charges of intentional maiming, even if this was in self-defense. More than one homeowner has gone to prison for situations like this. Juries, as a rule, do not look kindly on anyone who, intentionally or not, maims an attacker. There are too many DAs across the country who would be more willing to charge you, as the true victim in this case, rather than the miscreant who broke into your house. If you don’t believe me about the DAs, check out the story on Daniel Penny.

    Shooting someone with birdshot in a .410 could easily lead to your case being presented to a jury, with the DA claiming you shot the “victim” with the intended purpose of causing disability, and that is more likely to get you prison time than shooting someone and killing them in defense of your life, even if it can be shown that using the weapon was warranted. It will be incumbent on you to prove you were not intentionally trying to maim, disfigure, etc. the “victim.” You cannot prove your innocence and it will be easy for the DA to allege your malevolent, downright evil intent, when the victim is paraded in front of the jury. You could also face litigation and lose everything in subsequent trials.

    Just saying…

  5. Donald

    That might be OK but a shotgun with a barrel length below 18 inches is illegal.

    Also, an automatic would not function well with a wide variety of shells, usually only three inch buckshot. Buckshot is the only shot size suitable for personal defense.

    Bob

  6. Yet again, the issue of 12 versus 20, or 45 versus 9mm. The real issue should be (gun) weight versus recoil versus the physical status of the shooter. As to Buckshot, every 12 gauge “OO” load is no match for the 10 gauge – 3 1/2″ shell version. What worked for me 40- 50 years ago no longer works now. With that said, for nearly everyone, within the average home, a 20 gauge is superior to a handgun. Now I have switched my 12-gauge Mossy for a 410 Mossy, with the multi ball handgun style ammo, as I don’t have a 20. At ~25 feet, the difference between (9) 36 caliber balls versus (3) 36 caliber balls in a center mass strike, doesn’t leave me feeling under gunned. I will concede that the 410 slug is a waste of time however.

  7. I have had a Mossberg 20 gauge with a pistol grip for several years and love it. It is what we use for a “truck gun” and travelling. I can see no reason why a 20 gauge shotgun would not be an effective home defense weapon. I don’t know anyone who would not be afraid of being shot with any load in a 20 gauge shotgun — and no one it would not be effective upon.

  8. The Knoxx recoil reducing grip/stock or breachers grip work great with a 12 gauge you can even shoot one handed no problem with one(repeatedly even). Also the Brenneke Tactical Home Defense 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells work great and are low recoil, Brenneke also have many other shells for many other purposes. Check em out

  9. Just my 2 cents worth, the ideal home defense shotgun is a .410 bullpup semi auto with a 16 inch barrel and a magazine of a minimum of 10 rounds with a weapons light attached.

    One can pick whichever .410 shells that meet his/her tactical situation. For example, lives in a thin walled apartment complex or has kids to account for.

    Why this setup, simple just try to clear a room with a 18+ inch barrel without exposing yourself. Secondly, a semi is an important option due to the fact under stress some folks brain goes bye bye especially if he/she encounters more than 1 bad guy.

  10. I agree with what you say in your article. However anyone considering a 20 gauge shotgun gun for home defense needs to be aware of the fact that ammunition intended for such purposes is far more difficult to source than similar ammunition for a 12 gauge. I found that to be the case as I was looking for 20 gauge home defense ammo to feed one that I have for that intended purpose.

  11. I decided on 20 gauge for the house since my wife is only 5 foot and 110 lbs and I know a 12 gauge would scare, and probably hurt, her. I load all the 20s in the house with #3 buckshot and the last one in the tube is a slug. I’ve seen many soldiers shot and I don’t know anyone who would keep being the aggressor after being shot repeatedly with #3 buckshot from the 20.

  12. While this is an older article, it does stand up to being repeated from time to time. A shotgun is a “hunting” firearm, but the history of warfare is that “buck & ball” type loads have been in common usage since firearms were created. The 12 versus 20 versus .410 discussion has become even harder to settle because of the modern “handgun” type .410 loads. Throw in the “Shockwave” style non shotguns, and we now have a perfect storm of choices. But, for most folks, and most home defense applications, (<7 yards), even the ,410 and modern .410 loads will work. Like any other firearm, the main issue is to practice and more practice. Another old saying is that a solid hit with a .25 acp is better than a miss with a .45 acp. So – a solid hit with a .410 "handgun" load is better than a miss with a 12 gauge buckshot load.

  13. With a full shoulder replacement, my Dr said 12ga should be off the table. I shoot 20ga sporting clays and the only things that keeps me from good scores are my bad habits.

  14. thanks for the heads up/correction on 410/45Colt.the rim on both is the same.
    That said,I’d rather have a 45Colt with Speer shot capsules,or multiple pieces of buckshot. Remington used to make multiple round ball loads for some calibers.You can handload/replicate those loads.

  15. Please don’t try using a 45 colt in a .410 shotgun unless you are trying to commit suicide ! >410 shotgun Is =410 inside barrel diameter while .45 colt is .452 inside barrel diameter.
    The Revolvers that shoot both are 45 caliber.

    As far as 20ga- they do make a #1 buck shell with 9 pellets that is perfect for defense.
    Also a 410 shells can be had with 5 pellets of 000 buck that will do just fine 000=36 caliber pellets, so it’s like shooting a perp 5 times with a 38 special all at one time

  16. “IF” you become skilled shooting a 12 gauge, and can handle the recoil. then it is an option. The question is how many persons can? Same as .45 caliber vs. 9mm. I would start with a lower gauge
    to determine which I could handle safely. I shot the 12 gauge in the military, and if I never shoot one again it will be Ok by me, I do not feel that way about my 20 gauge shooting experience. A 28 gauge may be the best choice for some persons. Hitting the target is paramont.

  17. Great article and comments full of good ideas. When choosing the shell you will use, be realistic about what it will do in your weapon of choice and where you live.

    We spend a lot of time on the physical survival of a self defense scenario but seldom on the legal implications. Shotguns were largely designed for hunting and the spread of the pellets is counted on to get hits on fast moving targets. Of course, only a few usually hit the bird with the majority going downrange. This becomes a disadvantage in the realm of self defense. As with any handgun or rifle, you are legally responsible for every projectile that leaves the weapon so be sure about penetration and spread from a shotgun.

    Measure the longest distance you are likely to shoot a shotgun in your home and then go pattern the shotgun on a large piece of paper for that distance. Try different loads. As one person has already stated, if you are close, under stress, you can actually miss. If you are too far, the spread can impact unintended targets beyond the threat.

    A 12 ga 00 buck pellet is a .33 caliber bullet traveling over 1000 fps. One flyer can be a problem you will have to account for. At the typical rate of one inch per yard, and a human torso target of an 8-10 inch circle, your max distance is 8-10 yards. Fine for most bedrooms but what about a long hallway? And if you are outside, you had better be good at estimating distance and know what is behind your target.

    A slug, on the other hand, is a .50 caliber bullet traveling at over 1000 fps. With the right sights, it is a 75-100 yard rifle. If you miss, it can go a long way. Live in an apartment? Slugs may penetrate several layers of drywall. Hard cast defense rounds should be tested for penetration. Check youtube.

    With ALL weapons, get real training and practice. Combat shotgun training is not the same as hunting.

    Take a class and train with your shotgun of choice. Find the shell that patterns well in your weapon and buy several boxes. A shotgun can be one of the more effective, versatile and reliable home defense weapons if you really know the capabilities and limitations of YOURSELF, with that weapon and the shells you put in it.

  18. 20 gauge in pump due to lighter recoil.
    12 gauge in semi auto due to action absorbing some of the recoil.

    I own two 870s in 20 gauge
    My two 12 gauges are a Beretta 1301 tactical and a FNH SLP 12 gauge

    All exhibit similar recoil. Do NOT buy a cheap Turkish semi auto. If you buy semi auto, spend the $ if you want reliability. Otherwise, buy a pump in 20 gauge.

    My 2 cents.

  19. 20 ga. is light and fast. Pull the plug for home defense, and don’t stop punching until it’s settled. Shells are lighter, and it is faster to reload.

  20. I dunno about reduced felt recoil from the 20ga… obviously the lighter weight and shorter barrel makes for an easy and fast handling shotgun… and fit matters… however I received a Winchester 1300 Youth model in 20ga from my younger brother… for him we he had it I had shortened the barrel to 18.5″ and taken one inch out of the stock’s length to better fit him. He’s 5’7″ and 200+… worked fine for him. I however am around 6’2″ and 165…
    Then I wound up with it once I finished building his DDM4V7… Let me tell you… that Winchester was super light, super fast, and super manuveurable in close quarters… but even with just #7 1/2 birdshot that thing beat the everliving s*** out of my shoulder.
    #4 buck and 3/4oz slugs out of that thing thumped me way harder than my H&R NORINCO 870 clone with AR style 6 position stock and 18.5″ bbl using high brass #00 buck or 1oz Brennke slugs.
    As much as I wanted to like that Winchester 1300… even with fitting a fullsized adult stock and a Limb Saver pad… I just couldn’t bring myself to. Hated to get rid of it because my brother had given it to me but I knew it would just sit around and never be used. I figured if I was going to have my shoulder beat to death by a shotgun then I at least was going to have the extra oomph downrange that the 12ga provides.
    Granted, the 1300 weighs WAY less than my 870 clone (which could easily double as a bludgeoning weapon after being emptied. Haha) but that extreme light weight of the 1300 made for terrible recoil and what’s worse, horrible fast follow up shots.
    Maybe one day I’ll try a different 20ga but for now, my 12’s still do the job.

  21. Many years ago, to show my Mother and sisters that they too could fire a shotgun, my father fired
    3 rounds of 20 ga skeet from his Rem1100 with the butt against his groin. No damage, fears removed.

  22. I acquired a 20 gauge H&R Pardner Pump last year, and it replaced my 870 12 gauge as the bedroom closet gun. I have it loaded with #1 buckshot (hard to find, but eventually I got some) and I am perfectly confident in this as an indoor, hallway, intruder gun. It handles so much easier than my 870 even though I have an 18.5 inch barrel on it. Nice to have both options though, especially in this ammunition desert we find ourselves in.

  23. THE ONLY advantage of a 410,is in a pinch you can chamber/use 45Colt cartridges.
    12ga and 20ga ammo is commonly available[despite the democrats] but you really need to test what brand and styles of ammo for functioning.40 years ago I had Ithaca 37s and they were highly selective as to cycling.A 1-7/8 or 2 ounce load of #4,2,bb’s -might be an alternative to buckshot.For buckshot. I got with #4s or #1s in 12ga,#3 in 20ga.Be sure the shotgun fits you,including the safety.Mossbergs”are instantly ambidextrous” with their tang safeties-important for us southpaws.

  24. After having both shoulders reconstructed and my right replaced, and rulptured discs in my neck. i had to switch to a lighter recoiling shotgun. I use a browning semiauto for birds. A remington 870 tactical for home defense in 20 gauge 6+1. And an SA 20 on the range i really like the SA 20. Even with slugs and 3″ buck the auto absorbs a lot of recoil.

  25. The perfect balance, the old 16 ga. 1 oz. load, #1 buck, 12 pellets, (30 cal). Remington 11 Auto loader and Mossberg 190 KB bolt action 2 shot box mag. Both with twist adjustable choke. I think a tactical, police, home defense 16ga 20″ would be perfect. Recoil is moderate with more power and reach than a 20 ga.

  26. You MUST aim the shotgun.Pattern opens up only 1″diameter per yard traveled[e.g.5″diameter at 5 yards].Shotguns are NOT”Star Trek Phazers .As others have noted,fit is also critical.Test the shotgun with whatever [or no ]clothing you”!l be wearing.A slightly bruised shoulder during testing is a lot cheaper than a missed target/ assaillent

  27. Also, keep in mind that at defensive distances particularly in a house you are not going to get much of a spread and that is why some “experts” recommend that you aim the shotgun rather than shoot from the hip.

  28. I keep a Mossberg SA20 Tactical in the corner by my bed for self defense (photo attached). Weatherby SA08 Compact is what I use for sporting clays, I doubt you can beat it for the price. Browing Silver Micro Midas is good also, but they are impossible to find right now.

  29. Before getting a Mossberg 500 in 12GA I shopped, borrowed, tried different loads in 870’s and 500’s, singles and doubles. Across the board the 20GA guns recoiled with almost the same force, but at double the velocity into my shoulder. Some guns were 4 pounds lighter than their 12GA counterparts. The youth guns were all the worst offenders. 14.5″LOP being the “norm” doesn’t help either. If the gun doesn’t fit right it’s harder to control the recoil. a Talo Edition 12.75″ works well for a corn cob pump being 5ft 6. None of the post 2006 Remington 870’s were worth a look unless it was a Police or Wingmaster, burrs, rust, metal shavings left inside. My H&R/Norinco 870 from China has been much more reliable than a friend’s 870HD which doesn’t like to eject or feed from all the burrs.

  30. Which ever you use,know that 00 buck doesn’t pattern well.I would think #4 buck or even #2 or 4 bird shot a better choice close up[even the the 2 ounce lead turkey loads in #2,#1,BB shot or full caliber foster style slugs.

    1. Keep in mind that the size and count of buckshot in a shot shell is largely a function of the inside diameter of the shell and the diameter of the shot. #00 buck at .330 diameter fits exactly three in a triangular pattern inside a 12 ga shell at .729 outside diameter (slightly smaller inside diam.) Most 20 ga defense loads are #4 (.24 diam) or #3 (.25 diam) not because they are “inferior” but because they fit in layers better inside the shell. Two #00 won’t even fit side-by-side in a 20 ga shell at .615 diam. Not an issue with bird shot that has 200, 300 or 500+ tiny balls, they fit however they fit.
      My apologies for making this a geometry lesson, but that’s why you can’t find any size shot you want, in any size shell you want. Some fit better, and therefore pattern better, than others.

  31. This is a similar ‘discussion’ as the question of 9mm vs.45 ACP for an EDC pistol… Are you more interested in Stopping the assailant or ‘blowing them apart”? What if your Clint Eastwood Magnum carries parts of your assailant into your Neighbor’s home…and into your neighbor..?!! Or a round from my 887 Magnum with 3 1/2″ Magnum slug sends part of the home intruder across the street into my neighbor’s living room, and big-screen TV..?
    More controllable, and easier to get more shots ON TARGET in less time, just might be more important than how much of their internal parts you can scatter around your neighborhood.
    Unless Andre the Giant breaks into your home, wearing thick leather winter clothing, I think the impact of a good shot of 20 gauge will Stop the intruder from what they are doing! If needed, repeat as many times as necessary. ( I hope you are not using a side-by-side ) If they are ‘busy’ taking rounds of 20 gauge, they are not going to be able to aim and shoot in your direction…

  32. I have owned and shot both 12 gauge and 20 gauge shot guns for years. I have a 20 gauge pump Mossberg and a 12 gauge automatic Winchester. I can honestly say I love both guns.
    I first started to consider the 20 gauge for home defense when I noticed 2 things.
    1) When it came to having a gun with me to just walk my property. I quickly realized I was preferring the 20 over the 12. Mostly because it was much lighter.
    2) My wife and I love to stage clay targets. At various heights and distances.When we compete to see who can destroy all 6 faster. I would use the 12 where my wife always preferred the 20. It didn’t take long before my wife started consistently beating me. Until I switched over to the 20 gauge and reclaimed my status.
    Yes, the 12 gauge would pulverize the targets, where the 20 only broke them sometimes. Especially on the far away targets.
    But the 20’s lighter weight made it much easier to move from target to target.
    Not to mention I was usually done after a box of shells shooting the 12. Where with the 20 I could shoot three times longer.
    So I decided to perform my own tests on some plywood targets. Using #3 buck shot in both guns.
    At 10 feet the damage difference was negligible in my opinion. The 20 put a one inch hole, the 12 put about a an inch and 1/2 hole.
    As a backed up the difference between the guns became more obvious.
    Especially, once I got past 20 feet. The 12 gauges damage potential was much more obvious.
    So I stayed at 20 feet and put up 4 – 12 inch pieces of wood spaced 6 feet a part 5 feet off the ground.
    Yes, the 12 gauges hole was twice the size of the 20’s. But I was faster and much more accurate with the 20.
    Let’s face it tough, the 20 gauges 1 inch hole should be more than enough to kill some one.
    Then I went home and measured my house. To see what would be the farthest distance I would need to shot an intruder. The average was 13 feet, the farthest was 17 feet.
    It was then I modified my 20 gauge for home defense.
    I still love my 12 gauge and prefer it for hunting 90 percent of the time. But my 20 gauge will always be my preference for home defense.

  33. May I suggest Brenneke Tactical Home Defense Reduced recoil 20 gauge 2 3/4″. I have been considering this scenario and believe the attached wad may solve the issue. However, I haven’t tested this out, yet. I’ve always had really good accuracy from Brenneke slugs.

  34. The mossberg is more reliable . The follower stays up until you rack the slide making it almost jam proof. The 870 follower stays down and if a shell jumps out of the magazine, the action is jammed and the gun must be disassembled to clear. I have seen this occur on an officers 20 gauge and my son has seen it on the range with another weapon. If a shell jumps out of the mossberg it hits the ground and can be picked up and reloaded.

  35. This is one of the more well thought out articles on weapons for home defense that I have read online in probably years. Not long ago, I got an email from some survivalist, spec-ops retired military who stated that he always recommended a Remington 870 and stated that was the gold standard for home protection. I quietly unsubscribed. Sometimes, ego gets in the way of rationality and people start believing their own press and lose sight of what they are saying.
    My background with weapons goes to my childhood but became real when I went into the Army and was a Medic on a Recon Team overseas. I carried a 1911A1 as a sidearm. (And before anyone says anything, the only medics who did not carry a weapon back then were conscientious objectors and I was anything but that.
    I became an ER nurse and saw a lot of gunshot wounds and was well-prepared for that. In talking to the many cops who frequented my ER, we spent a lot of time talking guns. More times than I can count, I heard different officers recommend to female nurses who asked them about home protection, a 20 gauge, because it is easier to handle as far as recoil. I have seen too many people pick up a 12 and never touch a gun again. Never saw that with a 20.
    I taught my wife and daughter to shoot a 20 and went with one officerÔÇÖs (also an army veteran from the same time I was in) recommendation for ammo and choke. He had seen a thug shot at across the room range with a Mossberg 20,loaded with #4shot and an improved cylinder choke. Guy was struck in the chest, center of mass, and the only movement he made was dictated by gravity. He was out like a light.
    The shooter was able to rechamber and approach him to see if another shot was needed; it wasnÔÇÖt. The officer told me that the person who shot the intruder would not have been able to shoot a 12 and he had recommended that for this woman.

  36. I made the switch to a 20 ga 20 years ago. 12 ga slugs can be brutal and I have killed 4 big bucks easily with the 20 ga. I made the switch 10 years before that on waterfowl. Love the 20 ga.

  37. I’m selling off my 12 ga pumps . I just can’t work the actions a fast as I’d like . Thought about going to 12 ga semis , but they don’t function with 1-3/4 shells nor 2.2 s that I perfer . Bought a Mossberg SA20 Tactical and an assortment of slugs and buck . Mostly the 18 pellet #3 , but I bought 50 rds of RIO 9 pellet #1 bucks to try . I’m betting I can shoot that fast and accurate .
    Chris

  38. My wife wanted a shotgun, so I bought her a Mossberg 12 gauge. After shoulder surgery (unrelated), she could not shoot it and I thought it would make me need shoulder surgery, too, so we sold it to a neighbor.

    My son-in-law inherited an unused Mossberg 20 gauge and I took him to the range so he could try it out. We both loved it! I could have shot it all day, but he didn’t inherit that many shells!

  39. I’m an extreme survivalist, and have been for 50 years. I prefer a Butler pistol with a side order of 12 gauge with 00 buckshot. You can find me in the National Forest most of the time…see you there.

  40. I stoke my Remington 870 youth with #3 buck since I have nothing against my neighbors. A 20 with #4 might be a bit light but indoors will certainly be persuasive. I wish companies would make shell holders for 20 gauge though. And some extended mag tubes!

  41. Shoot one before you buy. I had both the Rem Tac 14 in 12 and 20 and did not like them – Sold them both and got a 870 with a stock. I am much more accurate with a stock and it is a lot hard for someone to “Take away” if I have something to grip.

  42. I bought a Mossberg 500 youth model in 20 gauge. My wife can shoot it comfortably from the hip and it has a nice little flashlight attached to it. ItÔÇÖs loaded with a round of birdshot followed by four of buckshot and it fires quickly. This makes sense to me for home defense.

  43. I have a good friend who was in desperate need of a “loaner” shotgun for deer season about 7 years ago, and I just happened to have an older Sears youth model 20 gauge pump, that I picked up cheap for my son, just sitting in the gun cabinet, not being used.
    My buddy “field tested” that lightweight 20 gauge for the entire season, and ended up successfully harvesting a pretty decent buck.
    His comments to me were, that compared to his previous experience with hunting with a 12 gauge, the 20 gauge was MUCH easier to carry in the field for a whole day,….and that when loaded with a good quality slug, it had no noticeable reduction in “knock down power” when shooting at short to medium range.
    He expressed to me a desire to “borrow” that little pump gun for next year’s deer season,…. and now after 7 successful years of hunting with it, my buddy is so impressed with it’s low recoil and light carry weight… I might have to physically go over to his house with a couple of big guys and a pry bar, just to get it back.

  44. Due to wear and tear and degenerative joint disease, I can no longer fire my 12 gauge or any of my hunting rifles without considerable discomfort. I’ve been toying with the idea of a 20 gauge, and appreciate the effort and opinions you’ve expressed in this article. Thank you, I believe I’ll go this route.

  45. “Two loads of buckshot at close range. Note that the wadding traveled to the right. While it may not be deadly this makes shotguns unsuited to hostage rescue!”

    I disagree. You’re just using the wrong ammunition.

  46. The .410 slug is a good home deffense shotgun caliber also I have filled up .20 gauge shells with high-density soft air pellets for a non-lethal round and they are very effective to scare off intruding dogs or whatever without killing them, it probably could kill something through the eye ball or the temple, just saying. 870 express is the best shotgun in my book all around reliable firearms.

  47. I’m not a wimp, but I’m only 5′-4″ and 155 lbs soaking wet, and now 64 years old. I traded in my 12 ga for a Mossberg SA20 Tactical, and I load it with Remington Ultimate Defense (17 pellets of #3 buck). I can control it well enough for follow-up shots if necessary. You hit it on the head with 4 shots of 20 ga in the same time as three shots in 12 ga. Overall, I don’t see that’s much of a drop in stopping power.

  48. I am 72 years old male and I traded my youngest son my 12 guage Ithaca pump for his Remington 870 20 guage Youth Shot Gun that I bought for him when he was a kid. While a very nice shotgun the 12 guage got to be too much for my shoulder and it had a massive kick if you shot slugs out of it.
    The 20 guage is excellent for me and I generally have 2 and 3 buck shells in both 2 3/4 and 3″ length. I read somewhere that a 20 guage slug has the equivalent energy of two 44 magnum shells. So I am very comfortable in a self defense situation using a 20 guage as I can handle it much better and it has far less recoil for an older fellow like myself.

    I have other firearms as well so suffice it to say I have an array of self defense weapons with which to handle multple types of threats in a satisfactory manner.

  49. I have been tempted to purchase the Mossberg Shockwave, the non-shotgun shotgun without a buttstock. It seems to be designed for home defense, and not much else. But in 12 gauge this would be a real handful.

    Now that Mossberg has come out with a 20 gauge version of the Shockwave, it’s back on the table. I think this is one application, where the lower recoil of the 20 gauge would really shine.

    1. Wait until mid October if you are thinking of purchasing one of these. I recently attended a small media event, there will be big news on the Shockwave… ~Dave Dolbee

  50. Why does no one ever mention the “Sweet 16” 16 Gauge shotgun in thinking about alternatives to the 12 Gauge?

    1. Very hard to find a 16 gauge.
      The ammo companies have not spent time upgrading 16 gauge shells as they have the others

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