For the most part, the home defense shotgun category is dominated by a 12-gauge shotgun. It is the gold standard of shotgun versatility and what everyone uses. Thus, all the R&D goes, and new technology is applied, especially concerning defensive use. Because of this, the 20-gauge has some pretty significant problems when it comes to using them for defensive purposes. Wait, what? You heard me right. Hear me out.
20-Gauge Load Choice
We have talked about load selection for shotguns before. Regardless of what gets bandied about on the forums, YouTube, or whatever your favorite flavor of social media is, 00 buckshot is the king of defensive shotgun loads. It is where all the juice is. An argument can be made for #1 buckshot, and maybe even #4 buckshot, but the International Wound Ballistics Association had something to say about this over 20 years ago. It isn’t new info, and any shotgun instructor worth listening to pretty much says to use 00 buckshot because that is where the best performance is in terms of pattern size, reliability, and recoil.
If you are familiar with 20-gauge, you will know that there are not 00 buck loads in 20-gauge from the more reputable manufacturers. There are one or two #1 buck loads, but they are not very good. The pattern about like you would expect bottom shelf buckshot loads to the pattern. The usual buckshot loads for 20 gauge are either #2, #3, or #4 buckshot. We can get some decent loads with those shot sizes, with plated and buffered shots at least. The wad technology available in 12-gauge still isn’t there, but maybe for home defense ranges, we can go without. Careful choke selection will help us out a little too. However, even though they are still buckshot, all of those shot sizes are at best marginal options per the IWBA.
What About Lighter Recoil
Maybe we can do with just marginal performance from our load options if we can get enough of something else to justify the 20-gauge. The usual argument for the 20-gauge is that it is a smaller, lighter shotgun with less recoil. It sounds excellent. We could probably be okay with lackluster load options if we get a handier gun that works for more people. Unfortunately, the math on smaller + lighter does not equal less recoil. The 20-gauge gun still pushes close to the same payload at about the same muzzle velocity as a 12-gauge. The forces involved are close to the same. With the gun being lighter to boot, it ends up pretty much even in terms of recoil. Factor in that there are some really light, incredibly low recoil 12-gauge loads that don’t exist in 20-gauge, and the 12-gauge still ends up being the better choice for the recoil adverse.
So, what does the 20-gauge shotgun have going for it in the home defense role? Well, really nothing. That is ultimately the problem. It sounds like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work out that way. Load options are marginal; the less recoil thing doesn’t really pan out well enough to matter; the only thing left is just that it is a little smaller. The cost just isn’t worth the reward. In fact, there is an answer to the smaller, lighter, less recoil home defense shotgun question, but we will save that for another day.
If one is to use the 20 gauge (and I have a real nice Shockwave 20) Get high powered buckshot for the 20. If no choke, get it vang’ed. Inside houses it will do fine. Real fine!
But if you want a general purpose shotgun, good for slugs up to 100 yards and yet buckshot for close in… yes a 12 gauge (and I have real nice 12 gauge guns to!)
You can get 20 gauge magnum autoloaders that weigh well under 6 lbs. and are easily manageable by smaller or weaker people. 12 gauge not so much. I myself can hit literally twice as many moving targets with a light 20 than with any 12 I’ve ever used. All those missed targets don’t much care what magic 12 gauge load passed them by. The recoil is not a factor to me (I also shoot 3.5″, 2 oz. 12 gauge loads from a 7 lb. gun), but the ability to get on and stay on target is.
I would like the author to permit someone to shoot him with my 20 gauge shotgun with a magnum 3″ 2 buck load and see how he makes out? How ridiculous can you get with articles like this. Even a 20 gauge shotgun generates more foot lbs. of energy than a 44 magnum handgun.
I guess you missed the part where I didn’t say 20 gauge wasn’t powerful enough?
“So, what does the 20-gauge shotgun have going for it in the home defense role? Well, really nothing.” I suppose you forgot you made that statement. Any self-defense weapon needs to fit well with the user regardless of caliber. Well placed shots with a 22lr can put someone down. If you want to compare 12 and 20-gauge shotguns and indicate 12 gauge is superior that is fine. However, that statement you made is absolutely ridiculous and not true at all. The best self-defense weapon for anyone is the one they have with them at the time they need to use it. There are many more factors operating in a self-defense situation than simply the caliber of the weapon you have available. People go on and on about which is the best self-defense caliber, 45, 40, 9mm. Let’s be realistic any of them handled by someone who is reasonably competent with a firearm can put someone down with any of those rounds.
That isn’t what you were accusing me of. Your initial contention was that I stated the 20ga didn’t have enough juice to solve the problem. That isn’t at all what I wrote.
While I understand what you are saying that anything will work if it is what you have, that is really missing point. The article specifically addresses arguments for intentionally choosing a 20ga over other options, specifically other gauge shotguns. I am not arguing that the 20ga is useless, I am arguing that the 20ga generally doesn’t do all the things people typically assert that it does better than the other options.
A 20 gauge shotgun with a 3″ 2 buck load can generate more foot lbs of energy than a 44 magnum revolver. I think that would do the job.