12 GA vs 20 GA: The Important of Choosing the Right Shotgun Caliber

20 vs 12

Choosing the right shotgun caliber is more than just “picking a shell size.” To find that, first, you need to step back and pick the right shotgun. Shotguns come in 10, 12, 16, 20 and 28, and .410 bore. For most practical purposes, however, the two main candidates usually come down to 12 GA vs. 20 GA.

Not all calibers are created equal. Power. Purpose. Strength. Recoil. These are all important factors to consider when deciding which shotgun to invest in. Do you want versatility? Do you want power? Is your plan to use it for home defense, hunting or skeet shooting? Answering these questions will make it easier to narrow down which shotgun, and its respective caliber, is right for you.

Advantages and Limitations of a 12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge


Shooters often mistake a 12GA for being more powerful than a 20GA because it shoots pellets more slowly. That’s not true. In fact, while a 12GA can be loaded to higher velocities at the top end, most 20GA shells push as fast as most 12GA shells. The major difference is that a 12GA can fit more and sometimes larger pellets in its shell.

20GA shells have a smaller diameter, so they can’t hold as many pellets as the 12GA. The pellets can fly at a similar velocity, but because there are fewer fired, the shot patterns will be smaller making it harder to hit an animal. In short, a 20GA can do everything a 12GA can, but it requires a little more practice.

Enthusiast and firearms expert Alex Green breaks down which shotgun is better for home defense in this short video.


While larger shotguns like the 28GA can throw more lead down the range, the cost is that they're heavier to handle, with a harder – more painful recoil. The 12GA walks the line between powerful and painful. However, we’re talking about shootability – not comfortability. With a 20GA, recoil is lighter in hunting shells due to smaller payloads. They can also be designed to be lighter and more packable.


The 12 GA shotgun is the biggest, most practical shotgun. 12GA guns and ammo are incredibly versatile.  You can load very light loads of small shot in a 12GA hull for targets and game birds like doves and quail, and you can load it up with buckshot and slugs for big game, home defense, and law enforcement use.

The 20-gauge gun also offers versatility, but it doesn’t match the 12 in terms of the heaviest payloads it can handle. 20GA guns come with either 2¾- or 3-inch chambers. 20GA guns are slimmer and often lighter than 12s. Due to its size and weight, they don’t kick as hard as 12s. This makes them popular with younger shooters.

Which Shotgun Do I Pick?

Now that we’ve broken down each gauge, their strengths, and weaknesses, it all comes down to which one you feel fits your needs. If you’re looking for something light with plenty of versatility – for either hunting or home defense purposes, it sounds like the 12GA might be the shotgun of your dreams. Or, if you’re looking for more accuracy when trying to bag game, or just make a name for yourself in competitive shooting, the 20GA is your right-hand man.

Armscor and Rock Island Armory have some of the finest, quality shotguns on the market. We recommend taking a look at our 12GA and 20GA catalogs, and finding one that stacks up to your caliber.

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