12 Gauge Vs. 20 Gauge

New hunters often say that cartridge nomenclature is the highly complicated aspect of firearms. Two questions top the list: what’s a shotgun “gauge,” and how does “12 gauge” differ from a “20 gauge?”

If you have similar questions–or questioning why does a large gauge use a smaller number, which one is great for waterfowl, or how shotguns are like pirate cannons–here are all your answers.

What are Shotgun Gauges?

When we talk about the “quality” of a rifle or pistol, we are referring to the diameter of the gun barrel and the size of the projectile that can be shot through it. This is commonly known as the “bore” size.
A 9mm Luger bullet typically measures 9 millimeters in width, and is designed to fit snugly down a 9mm bore. While this is a general guideline, there are certain exceptions to keep in mind that can affect the outcome.

In a comparable manner, a shotgun “gauge” describes the width of the bore, but it uses a special measuring persist to do it. In simpler terms, a shotgun gauge is defined as the size of a lead ball that would fit perfectly in the barrel of a shotgun, expressed as an inverse fraction of the ball’s weight in pounds.

It’s hard to wrap your head around, but consider this: a perfectly fitting lead sphere for a 12-gauge shotgun is a mere 1/twelfth of a pound in weight, while the ideal sphere for a 20-gauge shotgun is just 1/20th of a pound. Quite a difference, right?
To put it differently, if you were to gather lead balls of the same diameter as the shotgun’s bore, you would need to collect a total of these balls to reach a weight of one pound. This weight is equivalent to the gauge of the shotgun.

The origin of this measurement system dates back to the time when cannons fired eight-pound lead balls, giving it the name of “eight-pounder.” If you were to nickname your 12-gauge shotgun a “1/12th pounder,” you’d better be prepared to embrace your inner pirate complete with an eye patch and feathered companion.

What Are The Firearms Available For You

Since large lead balls weigh greater than smaller lead balls, they take in a larger fraction of a pound. This explains the larger bore size of 12-gauge shotguns compared to 20-gauge, and 20-gauge compared to 28-gauge.

The maximum common exception to this rule is the .410 bore. The inventor of the .410 became seemingly tired of the gauge gadget, and so followed the easier-to-recognize caliber gadget. Did you know that the diameter of a .410 shotgun is precisely 0.41 inches? Just think, the lead ball that fits flawlessly in the .410 bore weighs only 1/67th of a pound, making this a true sixty-seven gauge shotgun.

How Many Gauge Options Are There?

All in all you get six gauge options, you can make a shotgun in any gauge though:

  • 10 gauge – 0.775 inches
  • 12 gauge – 0.729 inches
  • 16 gauge – 0.685 inches
  • 20 gauge – 0.615 inches
  • 28 gauge – 0.550 inches
  • .410 – 0.410 inches
Type of gauges

You can locate shotguns in other gauges (24 and 32, as an instance), but these are a long way less commonplace.

Through their extensive experience, most hunters have come to recognize that 12 gauge and 20 gauge are the top choices, and this has been proven time and again at the gun counter. USA’s biggest online ammunition sellers give 487 12-gauge options and 157 20-gauge alternatives. The next three spots are crammed via .410, 28 gauge, and sixteen gauge, respectively, however they each have one-0.33 as many alternatives available as 20 gauge.

The unique historic motives for the recognition of those gauges are past the scope of this newsletter, but it’s easy to recognize why they continue to be popular nowadays. Both can be used for a big range of programs, including looking, goal taking pictures, and domestic defense. Both are extensively available from quite a few manufacturers, and each may be observed chambered in shotguns from every fundamental gun agency.

Either gauge can carry out correctly in nearly any hunting scenario, however each comes with its own fees and blessings. Here’s how they spoil down in terms of ballistics, shootability, and versatility.

Lets Get to The Ballistics

A 12-gauge shotgun holds power pro over a 20-gauge, however in contrast to most cartridge comparisons, faster projectiles aren’t the motive. A commonly held misconception is that a 20 gauge is inferior to a 12 gauge due to its slower pellet velocity. However, this is not necessarily true. While the 12 gauge can achieve higher velocities with certain loads, most 20-gauge shells actually propel pellets at the same speeds as 12-gauge shells. The key distinction is that the larger 12 gauge can hold more pellets, and sometimes even larger ones, within its shell.

A 12-gauge shell may be loaded with among 5/8 oz and 2 ½ oz. Of lead shot, and most masses fly among 1,2 hundred and 1,500 toes-according to-2d.

Here’s a great example: Federal offers a wide range of ammunition choices, such as their formidable 2 ½ ounce TSS turkey load and a powerful deer hunting shell packed with ten #000 buckshot pellets. They also offer a selection of Black Cloud waterfowl loads with up to 1 ½ oz. of payload. Choosing a 12 gauge from Federal guarantees you’ll have more than enough power to successfully take on any hunting situation.

Twenty-gauge shells have lesser diameter, so that it will’t maintain as many pellets as their 12-gauge buddy. Federal’s payload offerings include a substantial 1 5/8 ounce shot, while their #2 buckshot reigns supreme. And for maximum power, the Black Cloud payloads reach a peak of 1 ounce. The pellets continue at the same velocity, but considering there are fewer of them, the shot pattern is smaller, and it becomes quite difficult to shoot the animals.

Best Shooter

The 12 gauge’s ability to balance being powerful and painful to shoot can be used to explain why it is so popular. Larger-gauge shotguns can shoot more lead farther, but for the majority of people, those weapons are too heavy and have an uncomfortable recoil. Many shoulders have been damaged by twelve-gauge shells, but with practice and the right shotgun, you can shoot all day without feeling too bad.

Best Shooter

However, the 20 gauge is difficult to match in terms of shootability. Due to their smaller payloads, hunting shells have less recoil, and 20-gauge shotguns can be made to be lighter and more portable. For instance, the 20-gauge version of Weatherby’s 12-gauge Element Waterfowler weights 6.25 pounds whereas the 12-gauge version weighs 6.75 pounds. Choosing the 20-gauge Orion-I will save you 0.8 pounds, while the 18i Deluxe will save you a whole pound.


Any shotgun’s true strength is versatility. Hunters return to their trusty smoothbores because they can take down huge game, small animals, and birds with a single weapon. No matter how many high-speed, low-drag rifle cartridges are developed, there will always be room in every gun safe for a shotgun.

But which of our two most popular shotgun gauges is more versatile?
I’ll give away the ending by revealing that it’s a 12 gauge. You may shoot whitetail with bigger slugs and buckshot for more dependable kills thanks to the 12’s wider diameter. When it comes to upland birds, the 20-gauge offers a wider shot spread, improved patterns for waterfowl, and stronger pellets for turkeys. All of these species are targetable with the 20 gauge, but the 12 gauge is superior.


What makes someone choose to shoot a 20-gauge shotgun, then? Its versatility shines in situations where weight and recoil are key, as the shooter will have more skill and control.

A 20 gauge shotgun can be the best option for upland hunters that travel long distances with their firearms. Additionally, the majority of shots at upland birds are made at close ranges, which offsets the 12’s advantage in power, and the 20’s lighter recoil never hindered anyone’s accuracy. And with Federal’s TSS loads now filling the gap in the turkey woods, the 20-gauge is an excellent option for young or recoil-sensitive hunters. However, the 12’s superior ballistics enable it to more effectively target these species as well as others. It also receives the nod in this division.

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