20 vs 12 gauge


When do you prefer 12 gauge and when do you prefer 20 gauge?

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20 is perfect for small game, rabbit, partridge, quail etc.
12 is for larger game and self defense.
Both come with bird shot so you won’t completely destroy a bird or rabbit, then there is the heavier stuff. If you want something truly multipurpose then a 12 gauge is perfect for that.

My humble opinion of course.


I prefer the twelve for everything for me. For smaller stature people, the 20 will do most of what the 12 can do, with less recoil.


Do I understand correctly that the 20 gauge does not have as much kick as the 12 gauge? If so, can someone tell me why? I am curious. I have an Ascending Aortic Aneurysm and I don’t shoot shotguns because I am afraid that the recoil might disrupt the aneurysm. However, if I did want to try a shotgun, the one that I should try first is the 20 gauge?

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Never shot a 20, tried a friends break action 410 that was fun.

12 is nice, also depends on what your shooting…

If your shooting 00 Buck, Slugs, heavy loads, etc… Its going to kick a good big more even if your gun weighs 10lbs. They pack a nice punch in my AR 12ga. Birdshot on the other hand. Can shoot it all day long…

I have a single shot Midland Backpack. That bugger is so light, even bird shot has a solid kick…


12Ga only for me, I only have owned defensive configured pump action Mossbergs.

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The lower the number/gauge the bigger the bore. 12Ga is a bigger bore than 20 gauge so it kicks harder. Go try a .410 gauge shotgun that may be a good option if 20Ga is still a bit much.


I have shot 410 (fun little thing) 20 (dad had a double barrel I learned on) 16 (a cousin owned one) 12 (my go to) and a 10 gauge (ouch). I have seen an 8 gauge anti aircraft shotgun (ok just kidding I think) but never fired it myself. The 8 gauge barrel was so long and heavy I had a had time holding it straight out (this is when I was 16 and part of the reason I never fired it). Over all length was over 5 feet.

I own a couple of 12s and a 20. In the right hands and with the right load any of them will do what you want them to as far as self defense although I would not recommend the 10 or the 8 for that purpose.


I’d start with a .410, then a 20 gauge gas operated semiautomatic. The mechanics of the gas operation take a lot of the “punch” out of the recoil. I can fire fire a 20 one handed. The 12 has a substantial kick, but, I’ve seen 11-12 year olds use a gas operated 12 for competition skeet shooting.


Just for people that don’t know, from smallest to largest,
28 gauge
20 gauge
16 gauge
12 gauge
10 gauge
8 gauge
They all have their place, I like all of them. My favorite is the Ithaca #37 featherlight 12 gauge, but I do have others.


I want to thank you all. You have opened my eyes to the world of Shotguns! This is why I like the USCCA Community @Dawn. Everyone is so kind and helpful.

Thank You @Orpackrat, @KenM, @DBrogue, @45IPAC, @Steve-G.

I will look into these options and see if my Gun Club has any of the Lightweights that I can start with. :wink:


I’d recommend trying a heavy shotgun with a light load like birdshot.

First Shotgun I used was my grandfather’s Winchester 1897, big and heavy, very little recoil and fun to shoot.

The little Midland Backpack I have, a light weigh single shot break action emergency/survival shotgun, had I started with that, I likely would not have been as interested in Shoguns as even light loads kick you good.

They say good beginner shotgun. It’s simple and nice but if you dont like recoil, it’s not a beginner shotgun.

Price tag on this is not beginner friendly but recoil wise. Its nice, even with heavier shells.


I live in an apartment so probably would not want to shoot birdshot or pellets so as not to have too many walls to patch up. Was thinking more about slugs that would take down a person breaking in. Also, since I am vegan I would not need it for hunting.

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If you miss with a 12 or 20 gauge slug you will go through the walls of your apartment. I shot through a solid core exterior wood door with a 12 gauge 2 3/4 shell with number 8 shot. After the door it went thought a glass window 20 feet away, across my one car garage and took out another window there. I was about 30 feet from the door inside my house. The hole in the door was big enough for me to put my hand through it.

I am guessing a slug would do even more damage depending on the type of slug you were using.


A slug will go through a 4x4 post, and keep on trucking. In an apartment, I would look at an AR, using some kind of low penetration/fragmenting ammo. Even birdshot will go through interior walls/doors at close range.


Thanks @DBrogue, Yes I think my superintendent would not be happy with all of the walls needing repair.

@45IPAC, I just ordered and it’s coming friday via UPS, Interceptor Frangibles for my 9mm, .40 and AR .223. The 9mm and .40 are fluted as well.

I just want to take out the threat… not my neighbor’s neighbors. :blush:


It really makes no difference. I shoot 1oz loads out of my .28g, and 1 1/8 or 1 1/4oz loads out of the 16, 20, and 12g all at about the same relative velocity.or pretty close to it.

The main difference is in the size of the reciever and weight therefore of the shotgun.

Most 16’s and 20’s are built on a much smaller and lighter frame than 12g’s making them easier to handle for smaller framed men, women and kids.

Recoil for all of them is about the same with similar weights of shot and velocity on the same frame with equal barrel lengths.

For self defense I’m extremely partial to the Remington 870 tactical as I grew up shooting 870’s from about 1970 until present. It is the most dependable and proven repeating firearm ever produced.

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A shotgun loaded with light {powder charge) #9 or #11 and open chokes is extremely effective and has minimal risk of over penetration or crating substantial collateral damages due to a miss.


I’ve got .410, 20 ga, 16 ga. 12 ga, 10 ga… of the lot I prefer the 12ga benelli semiauto - fits me perfect and has the adjustable rake (stock angle) I need to be able to get both a cheek-weld and a view of the sight on the front of the barrel. Sweetly accurate, it is :grin:
@NJStraightShooter Generally the increasing kick corresponds to increasing gauge, but there are other factors too. Semi-auto kicks less than a pump or break-open breach loader. Recoil pads matter and can significantly reduce recoil. You can port the barrel to act as a muzzle brake and take up some of the recoil energy.
My 16ga used to hurt a whole lot more than the 12ga benelli, but my hubby added a better recoil pad and ported the barrel and now it’s quite nice to shoot.
When I was training in sporting clays. My coach offered to sell me one of his double barreled breach loader 12ga… shooting with that was kinda like cheating, you almost had to try to miss, but man oh man I’d feel like I’d been beat with a bat the next day. That sucker kicked HARD. Same gauge, same shells as my benelli, but a WHOLE different recoil experience.

@Dawn why all the different gauges? My very first gun was a 12ga. My ex and I bought it after a home burglary. I cant say it was an awesome first shooting experience choice, but the guy at the gun store “little lady’d” me and said 20ga would be a better choice for a girl. :angry: Ticked me off, so we bought the 12ga. Magnum.
In retrospect, he might have been right… but because of my inexperience, not my gender. Nonetheless I did learn to shoot the 12 Just Fine.
I have all the different gauges because I teach… and inexperienced and small stature both do better starting on a smaller gauge.

BTW, the 10ga is AWESOME. But it is definitely a noteworthy kick.


Why all the different gauges? Good question - goes along with why all the different calibers for handguns? Variety helps people find the size and fit for them.

The “little lady” attitude doesn’t help anyone. Someone’s experience and build are much more important than their sex.