A special gauge to many shotgunners, the 20 gauge is what many used to take their first shots. And it remains the choice today for many hunters and competition shooters.
The 20 gauge began life as a muzzle loader with a 0.615-inch diameter bore. Just as the 10, 12 and 16 gauges evolved into being packaged in paper cartridges, and eventually in today's familiar plastic hulls, so did the 20 gauge (the only difference being that 20 gauge hulls are colored yellow). The choice of yellow as the color for 20 gauge shells was intentional, as it draws the attention of shooters who might have different shotguns in different gauges to make sure they don't accidentally load a 20 gauge shell in the wrong gun – which would ruin their shotgun or possibly harm themselves.
Commonly employed to hunt birds and small game, as well as that ever elusive clay pigeon, hunters and competitors indicate that the number-one reason for using the 20 gauge (as opposed to the more powerful 12 and 16 gauges) is recoil. The recoil of the 20 gauge is described by many shooters as about 50 percent of a 12 gauge when fired out of a shotgun of the same type. The 20 gauge enjoys another advantage in that the gun itself can be lighter than the large shotguns, without worrying about an increase in recoil. In fact, 20 gauge shotguns can be lighter than an equivalent 12 gauge shotgun by one, two or even several pounds.
Some shooters argue that the 20 gauge is a less effective cartridge due to the lighter payload and smaller charge. Counter arguments can be made by presenting the stories of many successful hunts being made with 20 gauge shotguns on animals as diverse as dove and deer. Consider the 20 gauge slug as a perfect example of how much power is contained in this cartridge. In terms of ballistics, the 5/8-ounce slug of the 20 gauge exiting the muzzle with a velocity of about 1,500 feet per second is essentially the same as the .454 Casull.
Shooters today will find a wide variety of 20 gauge ammunition for their shotguns. Shot sizes available range from large buckshot on one end of the scale to diminutive #8 and #9 on the other end. Federal and Winchester recognize the market potential and value of the 20 gauge for personal protection at home, and are including it in their product lines for self defense. The 20 gauge is a great choice for applications as varied as bird hunting in the field to protecting your house.