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Best 20 Gauge Shotguns: Bigger Isn’t Always Better



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Best 20 Gauge Shotguns: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The 20 gauge shotgun rarely gets the love it deserves. Too often, its more famous cousin, the 12 gauge, steals the shooting spotlight. However, modern advances in shot technology have narrowed the gap between these two popular scatterguns. With suitable loads, the 20 gauge offers plenty of firepower in a lightweight, milder recoiling package. The 20-gauge can do practically everything the 12-gauge can do, and it can do them almost as well. In some cases, it can do them even better. 

The 20-gauge is no longer a “settle-for” option relegated to young hunters. More and more shooters are making the 20-gauge their go-to gun for hunting, home defense, and field sports. 

PLAYING THE GAUGE GAME

Whenever there is a discussion about shotguns, it’s always a smart idea to take some time to clarify how they are classified. Unlike rifle and handgun calibers, which are measured in fractions of an inch, shotgun gauges are a throwback to bygone days when shooters would buy a pound of lead and make their projectiles from it. 

Gauge is the number of lead balls the same diameter as a gun’s bore that could be poured from that one-pound lead block. A round lead ball fitting down the barrel of a standard 20-gauge shotgun weighs 1/20 of a pound. That means you could fashion 20 lead slugs for that gun from a pound of lead.

Shotshells, 12ga, 20ga, and .410 Bore
Shotshells 12ga, 20ga, and .410 Bore

A 12 gauge has a larger diameter bore, so a shooter could only pour 12 lead balls that would fit down the muzzle of his gun. 

That means, although 20 is a larger number than 12, a 20 gauge has a smaller bore diameter than a 12 gauge. 

WHY CHOOSE A 20 GAUGE?

Why would you opt for a 20 gauge when there are plenty of outstanding 12 gauges to choose from? Well, contrary to what many firearm “experts” believe, bigger doesn’t always equal better. 

Yes, the 12 gauge has a power advantage over its smaller cousin. But that’s not because the 20-gauge is a slower load. While it is true that at the top end of the pressure spectrum, you can load 12-gauge shotshells to higher velocities, most 20-gauge loads send pellets downrange just as fast as a 12-gauge shell. Where the 12 gauge gets its power advantage is in its size. Thanks to its roomier shell, the 12 gauge can hold more pellets and accommodate bigger shots. 

The extra projectiles, larger shot patterns, and heftier pellets of a 12-gauge can increase your chances of dropping game.  However, modern bismuth and tungsten have helped energize 20-gauge loads, and now hunters can drop ducks and turkeys at the same ranges their grandfathers were doing with their heavy 12-gauges just a few decades ago. 

What the 20 gauge may lack in the projectile department, it more than makes up for in shootability. Yes, a 12-gauge can throw more lead downrange, but the guns are heavy. The 20-gauge is typically lighter, easier to swing on moving targets, and a whole heckuva lot easier to tote through the woods. 

The recoil from a 12-gauge can also put a hurting on your shoulder, especially after a long day of wingshooting. That bruising recoil can make getting rapid, accurate follow-up shots more difficult. Meanwhile, thanks to their lighter payloads, the typical 20-gauge is about as gentle as a pussy cat on your pectoralis muscles.

THE BEST 20-GAUGE SHOTGUNS

While there may be fewer 20-gauge options out there compared to the more esteemed 12-gauge, there are still plenty of top-notch models on the market. Here are a few of what we consider the best 20-gauges available to modern shooters. 

Mossberg 500

Yes, the Mossberg 500 is one of the most iconic 12-gauge pump-action scatterguns ever to grace an old-school gun rack. Many people don’t realize that the M500 also comes in several delicious 20-gauge flavors. The models vary in barrel length, stock material, length of pull, chokes, and capacity, but they all share the same famous ultra-reliable action and receiver.

Mossberg 500 .410 Turkey
Mossberg 500

A 20-gauge Mossberg 500 Super Bantam is my go-to turkey gun. Outfitted with an extra-full choke and wrapped in Mossy Oak camo, this is one helluva gobbler-getter, especially when you feed it Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS loads. 

Remington 870

With more than 11 million guns made, the Remington 870 is undeniably the best-selling pump-action shotgun of all time. It has long been the flagship firearm in Big Green’s extensive and impressive lineup. 

The 20-gauge Model 870 is highly versatile, incredibly dependable, and near-perfect for everything from sporting clays to home defense.  They were made to get dirty and keep ticking, no matter what shooting application you choose to use them for. 

Two shotungs from the extensive number of Remington 870 options.

Remington’s 870 has come in hundreds of different configurations, finishes, and barrel lengths over the years.  If you like a traditional scattergun with blued steel and hardwood furniture, you can’t beat the classic 870 Wingmaster.  If defensive shotguns are more your style, the Remington 870 Tac 14, with a Raptor pistol grip and Magpul M-Lock forend, should be just what you need to get the tactical blood pumping. 

Winchester SXP

In the world of pump-action shotguns, the Winchester SXP is often overshadowed by the more popular offerings from Mossberg and Remington. However, the SXP has quietly made a name for itself due to its high reliability and affordable price tag. 

If you’re looking for a tactical 20-gauge, it doesn’t get much better than the Winchester SXP Shadow Defender. It features a synthetic grip stock, a tactical ribbed forearm, a forward Picatinny accessory rail for mounting your favorite tac light, and an Invector-plus cylinder choke tube that handles both slugs and buckshot. The SXP Shadow Defender also comes with interchangeable length-of-pull spacers and comb pieces, so any shooter can get that just-right Goldilocks fit. 

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus

Beretta’s A400 family of gas-driven semi-autos is perfect for busting clays, waterfowl, and upland birds. The 20-gauge models feature some impressive upgrades, including a “steelium” barrel with a lengthened triple forcing cone that gradually tapers the shot string, increasing pattern performance and reducing recoil.

Other notable features include an extended charging handle and bolt release for easy control on cold, wet days and an enlarged loading port for easy loading, even when wearing gloves. The barrel also has a step rib with an integral mid-bead and fiber optic front bead that works well for all kinds of shooting. 

Benelli M2 Field

When it comes to inertia-driven semi-autos, the Benelli M2 is legendary. It earned its reputation fair and square in murky duck blinds, dusty upland fields, and big turkey woods. This 20-gauge workhorse is lightweight, fast-handling, and reliably cycles everything from light target loads to heavyweight 3-inch magnums. 

Benelli recently updated their M2 bolt design with a small internal spring, taking the gun’s already high level of reliability to a whole new level. 

Browning Citorri

The Browning Citorri celebrated its 50th birthday this year. With over 2 million sold since its introduction, the classy and affordable firearm is probably the most popular American over/under shotgun ever made.

Although the Citorri has appeared in countless variants, all of them share reliable, box-like action. If you’re looking for a practical yet heirloom-worthy O/U that can put a hurting on upland game, the Citorri White Lightning in 20 gauge is a fine specimen. It features an intricately engraved steel receiver with a durable silver nitride finish, a polished blued barrel, and exquisite oil-finished walnut furniture. This is the kind of shotgun your kids will be fighting over at your funeral.

Savage 220 Slug Gun

This bolt-action 20 gauge from Savage is a game changer for deer hunters in rifle-restricted states. Built like a rifle, the Savage 220 features a button-rifled 22-inch barrel and the company’s signature AccuTrigger. Combined with an oversized bolt handle and customizable AccuStock, this 20 gauge takes slug gun accuracy to the next level. 

With the proper optic and a high-quality sabot, like Remington Accutip or Hornady SST, the Savage 220 can hold its own beyond 150 yards. 

Savage Stevens 301 Single Shot

Single-shot sub-gauge shotguns have become all the rage among hunters wanting to up the ante in the turkey woods. Knowing you have only one shot to drill through a strutting long beard will get your blood pumping. 

While the Stevens 301 has a simple break-action design, this is still a serious gobbler gun. It features a 26-inch barrel optimized for Heavyweight TSS loads and a removable one-piece rail for easy mounting of a red dot so you can milk every bit of accuracy out of your 20-gauge turkey loads. It also comes wrapped in Mossy Oak camo and an extra-full choke tube. 

Loose Rounds

Although 20-gauge shotguns were once considered guns for young or recoil-shy shooters, these light, compact, mild-shooting scatterguns are gaining popularity across the board. From turkey hunting to home defense, a 20 gauge has plenty to offer and certainly deserves a spot in your gun safe. 

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