The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Best 20 Gauge Shotguns For Home Defense: Downsizing Doesn’t Mean Compromising

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

The 20 gauge is often overshadowed by its buffer, more famous cousin, the 12 gauge. Although most things in life are easier if you’re toting a 12-gauge, downsizing to a 20 might be in your best interest, especially when it comes to home defense. 

Most home defense engagements occur at close distance, usually about the length of the typical suburban hallway. When you’re within halitosis range of your target, a 20 gauge is just as effective as a 12 gauge. As a bonus, a 20-gauge gun usually delivers its destruction from a much lighter gun with much less recoil.

Depending on the load, those yellow-hulled 20-gauge shells can deliver around 80% of a 12-gauge payload with about 50% of the recoil. 

Milder recoil usually leads to better shot placement, especially when delivering successive shots. It also makes shooting a ton more enjoyable for most people. Normal people probably don’t typically find a lot of joy in spraying buckshot down your front hall toward a home intruder with nefarious intent. However, yeeting targets totally slaps, especially when your shoulder isn’t getting a beat down from your scattergun. 

Fun shooting means the average person is more likely to practice, and practice is a good thing. Sacrificing a tiny ballistic advantage for improved accuracy and familiarity with your defensive firearm is totally worth it. 

Most 12 gauge shotguns, especially those marketed for tactical applications, tend to be sized for the average guy, which is great if you’re an average guy. But what if the shit hits the fan when your 14-year-old daughter is home alone with her 75-year-old grandma? Can everyone in the family handle that big, manly 12 gauge?

While downsizing to a 20 gauge for home protection makes sense on many fronts, the tactical and firearms industries haven’t caught on yet. The majority of shotguns set up for defensive shooting are based on models designed for military or law enforcement use — all of which happen to be 12 gauges. 

With the 12 gauge stealing so much of the industry’s focus on research and development and the 20 gauge mainly being viewed as a gun for young hunters, finding 20 gauge shotguns and ammo optimized for defensive shooting can be an absolute pain in the backside. 

Finding models with tactical options like shorter barrels, light mounts, and extended magazine tubes can be difficult, but it is far from impossible. If you want to downsize your home defense shotgun to something of the 20-gauge variety, here are some of the best options on the market. 


Mossberg SA-20 Railed Pistol Grip

The semi-auto Mossberg SA-20 has ruled the youth season turkey woods for decades. This version of the beloved SA-20 could dominate big gobblers worldwide. However, it also has some key features that make it perfectly suited for home security, including a synthetic pistol grip, a ghost ring rear sight, a fiber optic front sight, and an optics rail. 

The model’s 20-inch barrel, compact 29-inch overall length, and shortened 12.75-inch length of pull make this gun easy to maneuver in the tight confines of a bedroom or hallway. And since it tips the scales at a meager 5.75 pounds, it is easy for even the more petite family members to handle it confidently. 

Remington 870 Synthetic Tactical

As the most popular pump-action shotgun of all time, the Remington Model 870 has earned legendary status.

The 870 Synthetic Tactical has the same ultra-dependable action that we’ve come to know and love, plus some tactified features, such as an 18 ½-inch fixed cylinder choke barrel and glare-free matte finish, that make it really stand out as a defensive shotgun. 

The magazine holds six shells, giving you two extra shots over the 12-gauge version.

Mossberg 590 9-Shot

Mossberg’s Mighty 590 has decades of military and law enforcement use under its belt. Based on the company’s iconic Mossberg 500 pump-action design, the 590 has a more durable metal safety, trigger unit, and guard. It also features a thicker barrel and receiver. 

This version of the 590 has an 8-plus-one magazine capacity and a fast-sighting ghost ring sight, and it comes drilled, tapped, and ready for an optic. It measures 40 inches and weighs in at 7.25 pounds with a 20-inch barrel. 

Stoeger M3020 Defense

The Stoeger Model 3020 has a well-earned reputation for being an affordable yet highly reliable shotgun. M3020 Defense line of semi-automatic scatterguns augments the platform's performance with features like ghost ring sights, a receiver-mounted rail, and an additional accessory rail that extends past the magazine cap, allowing you to trick this puppy out with whatever flashlights or lasers your tactical heart desires. 

The Stoeger M3020 Defense 20 gauge comes with an 18.5-inch barrel, a 4-plus-one capacity, and weighs a very manageable 5.5 pounds thanks to its lightweight synthetic furniture. 

Winchester SXP Shadow Defender

Winchester makes their tactical semi-auto SXP Shadow Defender in both 12 gauge and 20 gauge flavors. Both versions feature interchangeable comb pieces, so you can customize the fit to match your preferred sighting system. They also come with a forward Picatinny rail for mounting a tac light or other accessories. 

The SXP Shadow Defender comes with a traditional brass bead sight as well as a removable Tru-Glo fiber optic front sight. 

At 7 ½ pounds, this one is pretty heavy for a 20 gauge. However, the 18-inch barrel, textured gripping surfaces, and shortened length of pull make it relatively easy to handle. That little extra weight can go a long way in taming what is already mild recoil.

The SXP Shadow Defender also features an Inflex technology recoil pad designed to direct recoil down and away from your cheek, which can be a major perk in high-adrenaline shooting scenarios where you might not have time to get that picture-perfect cheek weld. 


Remington Ultimate Defense

One of the few 20-gauge loads made specifically for home defense, Remington Ultimate Defense features 17 pellets of lead #3 buckshot. These loads are engineered to deliver devastating short-range shot patterns. 

Winchester Elite Defender

These defense-specific loads from Winchester are designed to deliver substantial tissue damage and terminal shock with manageable recoil. The buffered payloads ensure consistent, reliable shot patterns at typical defensive ranges. Each two ¾-inch shotshell is loaded with 20 copper-plated lead pellets of #3 buckshot. 

Winchester Super-X Buckshot

The selection of high-quality 20-gauge defensive loads is pretty limited. However, bells and whistles aren’t everything, and there are plenty of excellent hunting loads on the market that can easily pull double duty for home defense. 

Winchester Super-X buckshot has sent plenty of four-legged predators to meet their maker, and it is just as effective on the two-legged variety. These two ¾-inch shells are stuffed with 20 pellets of #3 buckshot.


Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free