12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge for Home Defense: Which Is Better?

cover photo showing shotgun shells on a belt

When developing a home defense plan, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is determining the best firearm to protect you and your loved ones. Shotguns are a classic standby trusted by families across the country, but before you buy one, you have to make a decision – which gauge?

Which Shotgun Gauges are Best for Home Defense?

When talking about shotguns and gauges, you’ll notice that the gauge determines the size and power of the gun. Unlike traditional rifle calibers or handgun calibers, smaller numbers mean larger rounds for a shotgun. So, a 10 gauge is much bigger than a 410.

What this setup also means is that you can’t interchange calibers within the same gun. For example, even though a 12 gauge round may fit into a 10 gauge shotgun, firing it could damage the weapon and yourself.

Based on this information, we would have to say that the “best” shotgun gauge is the one you can handle the best in a home defense situation. 

Larger guns are heavier and have more recoil, but smaller guns aren’t as deadly. That said, 12 and 20-gauge shotgun shell sizes are often the most recommended, with many homeowners choosing a 12-gauge shotgun. (1)

So, while there are many shotgun gauges that work for home defense, we’ll mainly be looking at the 12 and 20 gauges and how well they work. Here’s what you need to know:

12 Gauge for Home Defense

two boxes of shotgun shells

As far as shotguns go, 12-gauge models are probably the most well-known outside of the firearm community. 

Almost everyone has heard about using a 12-gauge shotgun with “double-aught” buckshot loads, so it’s a relatively common weapon and, as such, relatively inexpensive. Both the weapon and ammunition are affordable, making a 12-gauge gun ideal for most home defense situations.

Another benefit of using this type of a shotgun is that it’s easy to maneuver and shoot, particularly in close-range situations such as a home invasion. Also, the relatively light weight of the gun means that anyone can use it, including teens and older children.

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge Home Defense

Because the 10 gauge is a larger caliber, some homeowners may prefer it for defense because it has more muzzle energy and packs more power. However, a 10-gauge shotgun will often weigh about 10 to 11 pounds, which is pretty heavy for a firearm. By comparison, a 12-gauge weighs only six to eight pounds, which is much more manageable.

This weight difference also means the recoil is about the same. With a heavier gun, there is less felt recoil, even though there’s more power behind the round.

Overall, a 10 and 12-gauge shotgun are pretty similar for home defense, but the 12-gauge is often preferable because it’s:

  • Easier to find
  • More affordable
  • Easier to carry and handle
  • Not difficult to master

20 Gauge for Home Defense

A 20-gauge shotgun is noticeably smaller than a 12-gauge, so it may seem like a less desirable choice for self defense. However, when comparing it to other versions, the results are not as different or noticeable as you might expect. 

In fact, the 20-gauge shotgun is quickly becoming a favored weapon for self defense because it’s a lighter gun and easier to use without sacrificing much power or lethality.

12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge Home Defense

man aiming a cammo shotgun

If you’re looking for a great all-around weapon to use for hunting, self defense, and pest control, the 12 gauge is better than the 20. However, if we’re just talking about home defense, both firearms are pretty similar. We’ll break down these differences in more detail later, but here’s a quick overview:

12-gauge shotguns are generally cheaper, but they’re heavier than a 20-gauge version. Also, a 12 gauge has more significant recoil, while a 20 gauge offers less recoil, so you won’t be able to take as many follow-up shots or as quickly, which could mean the difference between life and death when dealing with an armed intruder.

Overall, in a close-quarters situation, both the 20 and 12-gauge shotguns offer similar results, and there are pros and cons to each option. So, you have to make a final decision based on the factors that are most important to you.

410 Gauge for Home Defense

A 410 shotgun is one of the smallest options you can find, meaning it’s much lighter and has a lighter recoil than other shotguns. 

For these reasons, some gun enthusiasts say a 410 would be a poor choice for this purpose, but that’s not telling the whole story. What matters is the shooter’s capabilities, the size and layout of the house, and the type of shot used.

For example, perhaps you have narrow hallways or doors that prohibit you from maneuvering a long rifle or shotgun easily. Or, maybe carrying an eight-pound gun isn’t feasible. In those situations, a 410 shotgun could prove more useful than a 12, 20, or 10-gauge model.

12 vs. 410 Gauge for Home Defense

a box of 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells

Again, a 12-gauge shotgun is an excellent weapon for all-around use, both inside and outside the home, like hunting, target shooting, or sporting clays. But, when compared to a 410, it’s bulkier, heavier, and has much more recoil.

That said, you have to use the right shot for a 410 for it to be lethally effective. For example, if you’re shooting birdshot at an intruder, it would be painful but not necessarily stop them in their tracks. By comparison, birdshot coming out of a 12-gauge shotgun would be deadly, particularly at close ranges.

Basically, if you prefer a lighter weapon and you’re using a heavier shot, a 410 can work wonders for self defense. Also, its compact size means you can keep it handy in the bedroom or other locations inside the house where a 12-gauge would be too cumbersome. However, if a lighter weight and less recoil are what you’re aiming for, a pistol caliber carbine might be a good fit too.

Why Use a Shotgun for Home Defense?

There are a few compelling reasons to invest in a shotgun for personal defense instead of other types of firearms:

  • Easy to Use – Pump-action guns are reliable and don’t need much maintenance and upkeep to stay in good condition. Plus, you don’t need tons of experience to hit your target.
  • Deadly – If you’re inaccurate with a handgun, an intruder could still pose a lethal threat. However, one hit from a shotgun with the right buckshot should bring someone down immediately.
  • Versatile – As we mentioned, shotguns can be ideal for pest control, hunting, and self defense. (2)

What to Look For in a Home Defense Shotgun

There are tons of variables to consider when choosing a shotgun for self defense, such as:

Distance

Are you planning on using the gun only for home invasions, or do you have outdoor property you may want to defend with your shotgun? If you’re firing outside, you need something that’s accurate at a greater range. 

Length

Longer shotguns with a lengthier shotgun barrel can be harder to maneuver in narrow hallways or around corners. If you’re in a small apartment or house, you may need a shotgun with a shorter barrel so you can aim it at all times.

Weight

Carrying an 11-pound shotgun may not seem like much, but it feels pretty heavy after a few minutes. Lighter guns are more nimble, but they usually pack less power.

Stopping Power

Unless you’re using a 410 shotgun, most of these firearms should be able to take down an intruder in a single shot. Plus, because the pellets spread out, you don’t have to be too precise with your shots.

Should You Use an Optic Scope?

a close up of a typical optic

Optic scopes are generally reserved for long-distance guns, so it doesn’t make sense to equip a shotgun, especially for hunting purposes. That said, two types of scopes can be handy for self defense situations:

  • Dot Sight – This option works well because it allows you to pinpoint your target more efficiently, especially in a frenzied, close-quarters situation.
  • Thermal Sight – Since many home invasions can occur at night, you may have limited visibility. So, having a thermal scope gives you a tactical advantage since you can see your target before they see you.

Where Should You Store Your Personal Defense Shotgun?

While it’s nice to imagine installing quick-access gun storage holsters around your house, you likely won’t be able to use them in a real home invasion situation. For instance, if you have a gun stored under your dining room table, what happens if you’re in the bedroom and an attacker breaks in?

Realistically, you want your home defense shotgun to be available but also stored in a safe location, particularly if you have children. Usually, a high hiding place (such as the top of a closet) works well. You should also keep some shotgun ammunition nearby for easier access. Never store your shotgun fully loaded, though – we recommend having it in a “cruiser-ready” condition.

How is a Shotgun Gauge Determined

main loading two shotgun shells at the same time

Unlike standard bullets, the numbers on a shotgun gauge refer to the size of the pellets loaded into the round. The rating refers to the number of lead balls, equal to the bore diameter, that is necessary to reach one pound of shot. 

So, a 10 gauge uses heavier pellets than a 20 gauge because it doesn’t need as many to reach that one-pound weight limit.

Differences Between 12 Gauge and 20 Gauge

Here’s a rundown of the variations you can expect when choosing between a 12 or 20-gauge shotgun for self defense:

Cost

Because 12-gauge shotguns are more common, they’re cheaper than 20-gauge models. The ammunition is also more cost-effective.

Recoil

Since you’re shooting a heavier round, a 12-gauge shotgun has a more noticeable kick than a 20-gauge. So, you can’t fire as many rounds as quickly.

Performance

A 12-gauge shotgun has excellent stopping power at close and mid-range distances. A 20-gauge shotgun is deadliest at close range, but if you’re too close to an attacker, you may be in danger before you’re able to fire. Also, if you happen to miss, you can open yourself up to a counterattack.

Weight

12-gauge shotguns weigh between six and eight and a half pounds. Twenty-gauge models are often around five or six pounds.

man shooting a shotgun with a pistol grip handle

Best Tactical Shotgun for Home Defense

If you’re interested as to which shotgun to use, make sure to check out our article on the best tactical shotgun for home defense. We cover exactly what you need to know to pick the right shotgun for every situation.

FAQs

Is a 12 or 20 gauge better for home defense?

Both a 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotgun work well for home defense. However, as an all-around weapon, a 12 gauge is better.

Will a 20 gauge shotgun stop an intruder?

Yes, a 20-gauge shotgun will stop an intruder as long as you’re firing within a relatively short range (i.e., 10 feet or less).

What is the best gauge for home defense?

Most individuals would argue that a 12 gauge is best for home defense, but that only works if the homeowner can handle this size. Twenty-gauge shotguns may be preferable because they’re lighter, shorter, and easier to maneuver in tight quarters.

two shotguns seen on a wooden table

What’s a better shotgun, 12 gauge or 20 gauge?

For home defense, both 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns work well. Again, as an all-around weapon for hunting, pest control, and home defense, the 12 gauge is better.

What is a 20 gauge shotgun good for?

A 20-gauge shotgun is good for most uses, including hunting, pest control, sporting clays, and home defense. However, you need to be more discerning when picking the type of shot you use for each situation since this gun isn’t as powerful as a 12-gauge shotgun.

References

  1. Field & Stream, 12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge for Hunting Just About Anything, retrieved from https://www.fieldandstream.com/guns/12-gauge-vs-20-gauge/
  2. Outdoor Life, Why a Shotgun Is a Great Option for Home Defense, retrieved from https://www.outdoorlife.com/story/guns/why-a-shotgun-is-the-best-option-for-home-defense/

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