Wolfe Publishing Group

    The Mighty 20 Gauge

    I remember it like yesterday. I was 9 years old, squinting down the barrel of that old J.C. Higgins shotgun, struggling to hold a steady bead on a tin can. When I pulled the trigger the tin can went flying high and far. The dread was gone. That gun wasn’t half bad to shoot! My great-grandfather Earl Valade had bought that bolt-action 20 gauge from one of the mail order outlets many decades before. Though very plain in appearance, it was a perfect shotgun for a kid.

    For upland birds, it performed flawlessly as long as I did my part. The bolt action, polished from years of use, operated as smooth as any other action out there. As a teen, my buddies and I would run the roads at night to hunt for rattlesnakes. I always liked the way a load of number 8 shot took care of the lethal end of of those buzztails. With a full choke, integral to the barrel by design, I could not use the state-mandated steel shot for waterfowl hunting, but for every other use regarding birds or small game, I was very pleased. Newer shotguns do not have this issue as they are equipped with a removable choke tube that can be exchanged for whichever choke tube is desired for the job at hand. Most come from the factory with a middle of the road choke tube called “modified choke.” It doesn’t hold as tight of a pattern as a full choke but is more generally versatile for most applications.

    In some of the eastern states and even certain “short range weapon only” hunts in western states, a shotgun firing a sabot or rifled slug is required for hunting deer species. A quick comparison of ballistic charts favors the lighter weight (.62 ounce), higher velocity 20 gauge loads versus the 12 gauge. Although the 12 is chucking a considerably larger (1 ounce) hunk of lead and both have an effective range of about 100 yards. A few gunmakers even have a product line with shotgun deer hunters in mind.

    When Emma started bird hunting with her father and I back in Eastern Idaho, the shotgun she used was a single barrel Harrington and Richardson 20 gauge. With its mild recoil and fast handling skills, she took the first dove she ever shot at with it. Recently when we looked into buying a new shotgun, there was no question about which gauge to go with. I think she may even have her spring turkey picked out already!

    Many first time shotgunners are issued a .410 rather than a 20, and while sometimes this is due to availability, the 20 is a much more versatile, economical choice. The 12 gauge is the cheapest to buy for, occasionally as little as $4.95 a box, owing to its popularity, but the 20 isn’t far behind at around $6 per box. Compared to the price of .410s, you’re nearly getting two for the price of one.

    While I’ve seen a decline in the number of grouse in our forests, doves, quail and chukars seem to be doing quite well. Whichever shotgun you end up taking out into the field, be safe. Pay extra attention to your ammunition. It’s quite easy to get confused. Search the internet for “12/20 shotgun burst” if you’re curious as to why that could matter. It’s only a good day if we all make it home.

    What’s your favorite shotgun gauge? Write to us at shootingthebreezebme@gmail.com!

    Wolfe Publishing Group