Feature Article

What About the 20 Gauge for Home and Personal Defense?

What About the 20 Gauge for Home and Personal Defense?
We found the 20-gauge Mossberg Cruiser to be controllable with attention paid to the grip.

When a shopper is browsing the gun shop for a home-defense shotgun, they are often led toward the 12 gauge rack. The 12 gauge is the universal military and police shotgun and has plenty of power. However, the 12 gauge also has plenty of kick, and in some cases, too much kick for many shooters. Even burly males who do not practice often will find the 12 gauge startling when fired with full-power defense loads. In contrast, the 20-gauge shotgun is usually lighter, easier to maneuver, and offers less recoil. The question is — is it effective?

We have previously tested the .410 bore for home defense and found it surprisingly capable, but the .410 is certainly not in the 12-gauge’s power category. The 20 gauge was expected to perform better than the .410 in this job, and it did so, we found. But we also wanted to gauge what happened to the shooter. While the 20 gauge has a greater payload than the .410, is the recoil acceptable for young shooters and female shooters who are smaller than most men. Your body shape, bone structure, and attitude affect how you perceive recoil.

When we discuss the 20 gauge, those who benefit the most are shooters who would not deploy a shotgun if they had to deal with 12-gauge recoil. And the 12 gauge is brutal to some individuals. We are not going to take anything away from the 12 gauge because it is arguably the better choice based on power, but not on practical use, at least not straight across the board. If you find the 12 is controllable, by all means stick with the 12 gauge. But the 20 gauge gives the recoil-shy shooter a good break and heightens the ability to deliver a respectable payload on target. That is the advantage of the 20 gauge.

However, there are practical disadvantages that must be discussed. As an example, when the primary rater was given the assignment to test the 20 gauge, it was several weeks before a suitable low-cost project gun could be located. Finally, a Mossberg Cruiser in 20 gauge was discovered at a small shop and was purchased at full retail because the shop owner would not budge on the price — because the 20 is in demand. By the same token, 20-gauge shells are not available in the wide range the 12 gauge is offered, and sometimes 20’s may be difficult to locate. Likewise, parts and accessories, particularly barrels, are more common for defense-related 12-gauge shotguns.

A standard 20-gauge load is the 2.75-inch No. 4 buckshot with 27 pellets. Each pellet is .24 caliber. At about 20 grains each, that is a 540-grain payload. The 20-gauge bore is about 0.61 inch wide, so this is a big payload that creates a serious effect on the target at moderate range. No. 3 buckshot is .25 caliber, and there are 20 pellets. With No. 2 buckshot, you have a 29-grain buckshot at about .27 caliber and 18 pellets in the charge.

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