Written by: Greg Ellifritz
After Monday’s guest post about the need to have a self defense shotgun, I received a few questions about the 20 gauge. Here is one:
“Nice article on the shotgun for defensive use. Good to see the old stand by’s discussed from time to time.
Question: what’s the 20 gauge equivalent of the 12 gauge Flite Control 00Buck round? I have used and like both the 8 and 9 pellet version of the 12 gauge round on deer (slight edge to the 8 pellet version in my 870).
The boys and my wife like the 20 gauge better, for many of the reasons you suspect. I’m becoming a fan as I get older just because the lighter frame is easier to carry afield.
We’ve been using #2 and #4 buckshot for the 20 gauge, but Flite Control wars aren’t offered by Federal in the 20.
Looking for some expert opinion or a lead In the right direction. We would use this round for small deer or the occasional bump in the night (which is usually a raccoon or feral dog trying to get into the poultry barn).”
The 20 gauge can be an excellent home defense weapon. The problem, as my reader noted, is the availability of really high quality defensive ammunition. Double aught buckshot doesn’t pack neatly into a 20 gauge shell. Most companies load their 20 gauge offerings with numbers two, three, or four buckshot instead. As far as I know, no company is currently using an improved wad like the Federal Flight Control or Hornady Tap. That means if you choose the 20 gauge, you will be limited to what is essentially 19th century ammunition technology.
As for terminal effects, at close range the 12 gauge and 20 gauge will both perform well. After all, there isn’t that much difference between a 7/8 ounce load of buckshot and a one ounce load. Where you will see a difference is as ranges increase. With a 20 gauge, the defensive loads aren’t as tightly patterning as the 12 gauge. Where the 12 gauge might keep all your pellets on a silhouette out to about 30 yards, you might be limited more like 20 or 25 yards with the 20 gauge before having pellets fly off the silhouette.
The longest shot I can get in my own house is 13 yards. Inside a normal sized home, the bad guy isn’t going to know the difference between 12 and 20 gauges. But if you have to take a longer shot, you will be hampered by the larger pattern size of the 20 gauge buck shot.
Take a look at this patterning test out of a short barreled Mossberg Shockwave. At 50 feet, the pattern was already at 15.5″ and had one pellet off of the silhouette. A good Federal or Hornady 12 gauge round would have all of the pellets in a group approximately 1/3 of this size.
One of the other issues with 20 gauge shotguns is that with heavy loads, they have about 90% the recoil impulse of a 12 gauge shotgun. But the 20 gauge guns are often lighter. The perceived difference in felt recoil often isn’t as great as many folks expect. Sometimes a heavier 12 gauge gun shooting reduced recoil shells actually recoils less than a 20 gauge in a light gun.
I have two 20 gauge defensive shotguns. One is a double barrel Savage/Stevens coach gun. The other is a short- barreled Remington 1100. Both are loaded with Remington #3 Buck cartridges. At any distance closer than 15 yards, I have confidence that the round will stop a bad guy just fine.