Best 20 Gauge Shotgun: 2019 Buyer’s Guide

This is an article that highlights the best 20 gauge shotgun. It features background information about the caliber and the platform and highlights 6 shotguns that are considered among the best 20 gauge shotguns available. 

We want to showcase the 20 gauge for what it is and what it can do for you as a hunter, or other type of shooter. In order to effectively do this, because of such market saturation in the 12 gauge shotgun market, we feel it’s necessary to also talk about the benefits of using a 20 gauge shotgun, and where a 20 gauge shotgun will shine.

Best 20 Gauge Shotgun Comparison

Model

Weight
(lbs)

Capacity

Barrel length

Overall Length

6.4

4+1

28"

47"

6.5

3+1

28"

48"

7.25

4+1

18.5"

38.75"

6.5

2

26"

40"

6.25

2

26"

45.75"

6.75

4+1

28"

49"

Compared to the 20 gauge, why is the 12 gauge shotgun so popular?

The 12 gauge shotgun has been pushed by marketing, proliferation of casual commentary on the internet and through general gun culture to be the superior shotgun, because in common shooting circles, most of the time, “bigger is better”. That’s a subjective concept, however, because there are many situations where a 20 gauge shotgun is vastly superior to the 12 gauge.

20 gauges are great guns for young hunters or new hunters

20 gauges are great guns for young hunters or new hunters

That said: the market is full of the 12 gauge shotgun models because it is as cheap to shoot (both from a gun and an ammunition perspective); it is easy enough for most full size shooters to handle (from a recoil perspective) and 12 gauge models are more available. Furthermore, the larger shotshells and the more potent loads and breadth of load options makes it easier to kill an animal; stop a bad guy or achieve other goals in shooting, hunting and defensive use cases, because you can put more lead on the target per shot.

The twenty gauge remains popular, mostly due to youth shooting and more females picking up shot gunning habits, and because there is a robust bird/waterfowl culture that takes full advantage of the 20 gauge’s benefits.

  • The recoil and sizing of the shotguns chambered in 20 gauge are generally easier to control by smaller shooters
  • Certain types of shotgun hunting can benefit from the sizing of the powder charges and the shot builds of the loads that come in 20 gauge because the birds, or the groupings of birds (or other animals, including deer) are sized within the sweet spot, operationally, of the 20 gauge.  

How can the 20 gauge be used to the best effect?

For sport shooting, the 20 gauge shotgun is a great option. It offers good build quality, and it recoils less on average than 12 gauge models. Note: many of the variants tend to be at 100 to 125% of the base cost of comparable 12 gauge shotguns for some models because the 20 gauge shotgun does not sell through as many total units.

The load variety is high, and despite a small premium in cost for some load options over the comparable 12 gauge loads, the options for upland birds, sporting loads and waterfowl tend to be very strong and deep.

The 20 gauge shotgun is a popular choice for small game hunters and sports shooters

The 20 gauge shotgun is a popular choice for small game hunters and sports shooters

For hunting, the 20 gauge offers smaller form factors, lighter weight and slimmer guns for the most part. They are also easier to handle with quicker follow up shots thanks to significantly less muzzle rise and recoil. The guns tend to have longer barrels which offer better, more consistent patterning than off the shelf models in other gauges. This allows shooters to custom tailor the delivery of the payload for the animal or target in question.

For female or youth shooters, as discussed earlier in this article, the lighter weight models, lower recoil and better follow up shot capabilities favor the smaller shooter, which these demographics tend to fit in with.

Can the 20 gauge shotgun be used for home defense or general tactical purposes?

Of course it’s not as popular in the home defense and tactical market because there is a concept that bigger and more powerful is better when it comes to stopping a threat, but there are plenty of other attributes that should be factored into the equation.

Namely, the ability to better control penetration in close quarters environments is an obvious factor. The option to use a shoulder fired weapon over a handgun offers a huge advantage.

Lower flash and lower sound exposure can also be helpful compared to the 12 gauge or high powered centerfire rifles, or big bore handguns. When in a dark home in the middle of the night, any improvement in flash signature and sound metrics can be helpful.

There are very few drawbacks to using a 20 gauge shotgun in home defense scenarios., provided the user is skilled and knowledgeable about how to use the gun.

Critics could make some favorable arguments for professional tactical use of something other than a 20 gauge shotgun. Additionally, a 20 gauge shotgun does have some minor concerns when being used as a defensive or tactical weapon. The guns that are made in 20 gauge offerings are not typically built as high capacity firearms. This can be a detriment in such a scenario. 20 gauge shotguns are also not as heavily supported in the aftermarket accessory pool either.

As a result, they tend to be less popular as a home defense option, with some excellent niche applications, but not necessarily as a mainstream home defense option for many people.

What attributes should be used to determine if a 20 gauge shotgun is a best in class?

In order to determine the best 20 gauge shotguns on the market, we utilized the following weighted aspects of what a shooter would want in the firearm for the 20 gauge.

  • Build quality and appropriateness for the use case
  • Reliability and functional prowess
  • Ability to easily shoot from one use case to another without significant changes
  • Ability to handle factory shotshell loads
  • Details, fit, finish and history of the firearm/manufacturer
20 gauge shotgun shells are always yellow in color.

20 gauge shotgun shells are always yellow in color.

Admittedly, the 20 gauge, much like the 410, 28 gauge and others, is becoming more of a specialty, high-end product offering as the years go by. You can still find many reasonably priced shotguns made for the 20 gauge spectrum, but there are increasingly more top tier options that feature high end finishes, more detailed craftsmanship and other attributes that demand higher price points.

As a result of this, you will see some options that reflect this increasing price point in this list. That isn’t to price anyone out of the market, but rather, to showcase a good cross-section of the market offerings.

The following options represent the best 20 gauge shotguns on the market:

Best 20 gauge shotguns

CZ USA - 920 Semi Auto

CZ USA - 920 Semi Auto

CZ has always had a reputation for making high tolerance, quality guns, manufactured without cost cutting measures. They have reignited the original market demand for their products by re-imagining the price point for a quality made long-gun.

While their handguns have always had a robust following in the United States since their domestic debut, the long guns have just started to gain the type of sales momentum they deserve.

The very good value provided by the semi-automatic 20 gauge shotgun featured here is one of many reasons it is on this list, but the price point is exceptionally telling, about what can be produced at a given price. In this case, it is significantly lower priced than the nearest close competitor, a competitor that already was seen as the low-price offering.

It is substantially built, and many might argue, much better built than any “value” brand offering. The 3” magnum 20 gauge chambering puts you well into low level 12 gauge territory at least in the shotshell variants, and the smooth action is much more impressive than the price point would lead on. It weighs in at an impressive 6.4 lbs which, with a 28” barrel length is still lighter than most 18” 12 gauges.

With that footprint, you get balance and swing that is reminiscent of some of the best bird guns in history and a caliber offering that fits well in the genre. For fast follow-up shots on a budget for bird hunting, this is a shotgun that you need to take a good look at.

Pros

  • Sleek and very good looking
  • Fantastic production history and excellent price point
  • Perfectly suited to birds

Cons

  • Hard to find a flaw with this one

This is best for

A bird hunter who must have a semi-auto and will utilize the 3” chamberings occasionally. Shooters that want a low priced competition gun in 20 gauge for long-term sessions on the range chasing after bright orange birds.


Beretta - A400 Xplor Semi Auto

Beretta - A400 Xplor Semi Auto

Priced at nearly exactly the middle ground for a niche shotgun, this is more gun than the price dictates, but because it is made on mostly machinery, it cannot command some of the high price points that more handmade guns are priced at. Beretta has offered this truly good value on the market for years, and this is about as good as it gets for the standard shotgun user.

It will provide everything you are looking for in a fast-second-shot shotgun, without some of the detailing and frivolity that some people bemoan about the factory customs. Simple in its looks, it is still detailed with a gorgeous scrollwork on the side of the receiver, and the super-fast recovery aided by the internal recoil dampening and the already quite mild 20 gauge load it is chambered for, offers you a real treat for firing a fast second or third shot if needed.

With only 20 inches of barrel, it is positioned mostly for two shot bird hunting where the birds are fast off the ground and out of the bushes, or where there is limited open sky on the watershed. A fast swing with a weight of under 7 lbs., and an overall length of 48” makes this a super-fast gun, even by semi-auto standards.

The aesthetic is pleasing and soft with the traditional blues on metal and deep walnut on the furniture, the bronze palette also allows you to push the boundary a little bit with the traditional, and gives insight to the very innovative core features of the gun which prioritize speed and smoothness. You won’t be missing on either variable with the Beretta A400.

If you have the money and want a factory semi-auto, this is easily the best value for a full featured 20 gauge shotgun on the market today.

Pros

  • Significantly better recoil handling than most guns on the market in its space
  • Quick follow-up shots
  • Very clean operation and very reliable

Cons

  • Great value for what you are getting, but still not cheap

This is best for

The shooter who doesn’t want a factory custom but wants a step up in a semi-automatic 20 gauge shotgun.


Remington Model 870 Express

Remington Model 870 Express

Time tested, in the field against all types of animals, including those which are favored by the 20 gauge. It is also proven in law enforcement and in-home defense situations. It’s probably the best option if you want to take the home defense angle with the 20 gauge, because it will digest any shell you can dream up to put through it.

It is also the simplest, most robust in build quality (meaning it has high durability and low maintenance, generally), and the most easily accessorized gun in the 20-gauge chambering on the market. Simple, comfortable, intuitive to use and proven in any scenario, it is far from the prettiest or the most innovative, but it has been around forever and is ridiculously reliable.

Remington’s 870 is a budget offering in this list, and offers significant value for money, especially for those who want a gun that is more than just a range gun, or more than just a hunting shotgun, but which can be comfortable in just about any scenario. Easily the most utilitarian option on this list.

Pros

  • Simple to operation and built to last
  • Has sold more units than any other gun on this list
  • Will shoot any shell type in the chambering

Cons

  • No real cons

This is best for

The shooter who might seriously consider it for a home defense weapon, which is a viable option given the breadth of loads available in 20 gauge currently. Shooters who are casually dipping their toe into the 20 gauge shotgun market.


Beretta - 686 Silver Pigeon I

Beretta - 686 Silver Pigeon I

This is the gateway drug of high-end shotguns because it turns casual shooters into dedicated scattergun addicts. The simplicity and grace with which the Beretta 686 silver pigeon performs, makes it truly a spectacle at the price point, which to the uninitiated is steep, but to the veteran, is cheap.

It is obviously good looking, but that is the least important feature it offers to the shooter, which will typically be a newcomer to top tier shotgun range sports or a dedicated upland bird hunter. More important and more prevalent in the design slant is the smoothness and accuracy afforded by top-tier barrels that measure 26”.

These moderately lengthy barrels still keep the overall length to 40 inches, making this one of the easiest to maneuver and fastest to point shotguns on the market, with the well balanced 6.5 lb weight.

With that kind of speed in a swing, it makes a better shooter out of anyone who can agree that 2 shots are enough for their purposes. This is no home defense shotgun for most onlookers. But put this shotgun up against the casual shooter at the gun club and suddenly you are outperforming them on a day to day basis.

It is the type of gun that gives unnatural improvements over your standard off the shelf offerings. Partially by design, and partially by the way a quality gun makes you as the shooter feel, while shooting it.

If you are serious about changing the way you look at 20 gauge shotguns, this is the option.

Pros

  • Simple, smooth and reliable
  • Built to a different standard for factory mainstream offerings

Cons

  • Starting to get expensive for factory mainstream firearms

This is best for

The shooter who is starting to take shotgunning very seriously and wants something that will feel like an extension of their arms. Shooters who want a legacy gun that can be passed down to the next generation that won’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder, but will help build memories as intended.


Browning - Citori 725 Field

Browning - Citori 725 Field

The most expensive shotgun on this list of best 20 gauge shotguns, the Citori has become synonymous with high quality and top tier results in the field and on the range. The higher price tag does not mean it’s going to perform better than any of the other guns, but the way it’s built more than justifies the price tag.

Part art, part mechanical functionality and part legacy, this is the gun that serious hunters shoot when they realize that it’s not just about bagging birds or having a weekend with friends. That the hunt can teach you something about yourself and the things you value. This is a work of art, masquerading as a factory mainstream, semi-custom 20 gauge shotgun.

It excels at that. More than being functionally proficient, however, the beauty of the way this gun makes you feel about what you choose to do with your time and the way it handles the simplest parts of the hunt make it a graceful companion when you are out shooting a caseload of target loads, or when you only get to fire off two rounds in the damp marshland.

Basically, you are paying for the details on the Citori, and those details include one of the best triggers you will ever pull on any gun; a significant velocity and accuracy improvement over most guns that are shorter than the 28” barrels this gun offers and very low pointing for those who prefer to be exactly on top of the gun when they take their shot.

Not the lightest, not the most innovative by way of mechanical operations and not the shortest offering on the list, this is still easily the most impressive because of what it denotes through careful attention to detail even just upon pulling it from the gun sleeve. It is flawless at every metal to metal and wood to metal fitting. Still made on machines, and not a fully custom gun, it is also still about 1/15th of the cost of the low end of that “custom” market. And you lose very little form the perspective of tolerances and fitment while saving thousands comparatively.  

Pros

  • Gorgeous attention to detail and fit and finish
  • Very good accuracy and very good swing characteristics despite being quite long

Cons

  • Expensive; not made for casual shotgun shooters

This is best for

The shooter who is fully hooked by the pheasant game or wants a gun that will “WOW” them each time they shoot, while providing silent confidence for any clays or other sporting event they might participate in.


Winchester - SX3 Waterfowl Realtree Max-5

Winchester - SX3 Waterfowl Realtree Max-5

The workhorse on this list of best 20 gauge shotguns, it is firmly in the middle ground of the field and it performs as good as any of the bigger guns on this list, even if it is the biggest, and tips the scales at the high end.

While the pump actions made by Winchester had a few years of bad luck with some of the component parts, this line has always been very solid, and at the price point, it’s a very good deal for the dedicated 20 gauge hunter. It can be used as well at the range as in the field, but it excels with an animal as the target.

Fast second shot capability and a long barrel give it the kind of accuracy you need for fast ground birds and allows you a bit of leash to select the right load for the type of hunt you are doing. It is both reliable and smooth, and it is dressed the part to blend in with its surroundings.

You’ll probably have to plug the mag tube for most hunts where this one makes the most sense, but that’s ok, because your 2-3 shots you’re left with after the plug goes in, is more than enough with the fast action and long barrels.

Made ruggedly, the TRUGLO fiber optic sight over the vent rib makes it easy to locate your shot and the chrome internal plating will ease maintenance concerns.

Pros

  • Good for turkey if you dare shoot a 20 gauge at them
  • Very easy maintenance
  • Good recoil dampening considering its not a core build feature on this gun

Cons

  • Pretty expensive for the casual shooter, not for the infrequent 20 gauge hunter

This is best for

Shooters who have made birds or waterfowl a way of life and want a tried and true partner to bagging the most they can in a long day on the water or in the field. Those who are hunting in inclement weather and want easy maintenance.


Our final thoughts

The 20 gauge shotgun is a beautiful reminder that bigger is not always better, and that specialty firearms are still a thing. Not every gun has to be a tactical, matte black, high capacity firearm that is made to be efficient for every defensive purpose, or have a modular do0it yourself build. Sometimes, restraint; tradition, craftsmanship and design are important.

The 20 gauge is an obvious choice for hunting, from small to moderately sized deer, to upland birds like quail, chukar, etc., and is perfectly suited to all day trips to the range where a large volume of shells will be expended. Because the cost of using a 20 gauge is so good compared to the more niche shotgun sizes, like 28 gauge, it is still an economical choice and offers some additional skill honing attributes for shooters who want to test themselves in the field or on the range.

It offers more than enough stopping power for home defense if you plan for it, and the ability to use it in multiple shooting environments without major changes to choke tubes, barrel lengths, or accessories makes it a wonderful addition to any collection of firearms.

The above list of the best 20 gauge shotguns surely shows the market breadth through a corresponding cross section of available options, while highlighting natural top performers.

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