10 Gauge Vs 12 Gauge Vs 20 Gauge Vs 410 – Home Defense Shotgun Ammunition Gauges

Home Defense Shotgun Ammunition Gauges shotgun ammunition

Shotgun sizes have always been measured in a way that confuses most everybody. You would think that the “12” in a 12-gauge shotgun means some sort of measurement. Instead”12-gauge” means you can make 12 lead balls, each of equal diameter to the gun barrel, out of 1 pound of lead. This is from where you could buy lead in one pound blocks to make your own ammo. The gauge told you how many rounds you could make for the gun from 1 pound of lead.

The smaller the gauge number, the wider the barrel to handle those big balls. The largest shotgun is a 4-gauge. With a four gauge, you only get four balls from a pound. It's going to take a really large barrel to handle pellets that big. The one exception to all is this is the 41o. It actually has a .41-inch barrel diameter.

I know it's pretty confusing!

On top of the gauge you have different loads. Normal home defense loads are buckshot, birdshot and slug. The others get a bit funky. Performance can be iffy and you could get yourself in a legal bind if you are using some esoteric load and shoot someone with it.  I recommend you stay with buck, bird or slug. To cap it all off, shotshells come in different lengths with three common sizes – 2 3/4″, 3″, and 3 1/2″.

So let's get down to it 10 Gauge Vs 12 Gauge Vs 20 Gauge Vs 410 for Home Defense

Here's a cool video watching someone fire the different gauges. Notice the recoil and her ability to get back on target.

You can easily take off the 10 gauge off your list for a home defense gun. The bigger barrel and corresponding powder load will put a lot of people on their butts after the first shot. It is way to much of a gun to expect anyone to use for home defense.

Many if not most of the home defense shotguns you find will be 12 gauge. Now if you ask the owners why, most will not be able to tell you why they chose 12 gauge. It is simply the best known and therefore the most sold.

The 12 gauge has a lot of the problems of the 10 gauge.  The 12 gauge can be brutal to shoot for a grown man, not to mention a smaller woman or a teen in the house. If you plan to use it, think about taking up a position with butt of the shotgun against a wall for bracing.

Much better for a home defense gun is a 20 gauge. Many people described the recoil as half of that of a 12 gauge. The 20 gauge with #13 shot throws out 10 .30 caliber pellets versus a 12 gauge with 00 buckshot with 8 pellets of .33 caliber.  This gives you 20% more pellets at only 10% less density at 50% of the recoil.  The real advantage of 20 gauge is being able to hit your target for multiple shots or multiple targets.  The lower recoil and almost same amount of lead going down range makes the 20 gauge the best choice.

.410 is a bit weaker than the 20 gauge. For a very weak person, this might be a good compromise. Otherwise there is no reason not to go with the 20 gauge and get the fuller pattern that comes with it.

If you take anything from this brief discussion, take this – it doesn't matter how powerful a gun is if you can't hit your target repeatedly with it under stress conditions. If you wan to know more about shotguns, check out the Home Defense Shotgun Guide.

Let us know in the comments what gauge you use for home defense.


Photo credit – from video 10 Gauge Vs 12 Gauge Vs 20 Gauge Vs 410


  1. Don’t brace your shoulder against a wall and fire a 12 gauge. The will be painful. I did it once with a 10 gauge. Never again. Just hold the butt tight against your shoulder. You’ll be ok.

  2. Donald Klapproth says:

    Love this article and great information on shotguns. I recently gave my recommendations for a 20 gauge shotgun tomy very best friends who are both older and not familiar with guns at all until I took them to my range and let them fire several handguns for their first experience! They really enjoyed shooting but especially my friends wife. They were not sure about the safety of having handguns around their grandchildren so I suggested getting training and looking into the 20 guage and this article gives them excellent info as well as basking up my suggestion!
    Great Job keep up your excellent work.
    [email protected]

    • Home Defense

      I tell my wife who has weapons. We both have permits. If she hears something that scares her, fire a shot through the bedroom window into the ground. I can easily replace a window. I don’t believe anyone with half a ‘wit’ that didn’t belong there would stay after hearing a gun shot and glass breaking. If it is me I can yell “hay what the hell are you doing”.

      Also about safety. I have grandchildren. My Father now deceased, WW2, D Day + 2. Went to Berlin (I have German weapons from his being there.). Gave me, my first rifle in 1966, I still have it, I have served, I have shot, not a subject for discussion.

      My suggestion is about children. When you have children around, I have 7 grandchildren. Use automatic’s and keep the clips in a separate place from the weapons. Young ones are not smart enough to put the clip in or strong enough to cock it. They just want to play with pistol.

      If your not smart enough to leave it in a place they can get to it.


      • Be sure of your target and beyond. Firing blindly out a window is a recipe for disaster. Check your local laws but most won’t cover you in that situation.

      • check your laws…warning shots are a felony in most states. if you didn’t shoot to hit, a prosecuting attorney would have NO PROBLEM convicting of you of negligently discharging a firearm, whether or not you checked that you were shooting in a “safe” direction. it’s a good way to pick up 5-20 years of free rent though…

  3. 2014-9-11 (13yr Anniversary) – I just purchased a 20guage shotgun specifically for HOME DEFENSE (Mossberg 18.5″ Barrel) after much research. I’m looking forward to firing off several rounds with my wife, and then put it safely away in the event we are forced to use it for self0defense, and of course to practice at a range in the future. God Bless America

  4. Great choice for your video example, it showed the difference in recoil pretty clearly. Heather is always fun to watch, too.

    • I wholeheartedly agree! Does she have other videos? I love watching people shoot when they’re clearly having a good time and enjoying the sport. Doesn’t hurt at all that she’s mighty easy on the eyes and I’m a sucker for girls from back home.

  5. I like my 4 1/10 it shots a tighter pattern and does not kick and in an Remington 1000 you can cover and area in less then 4 seconds also, shoot skeet with it and can run a 100 out of 100 almost every time have had it for 40 years and have had it rebuild by Remington Twice

  6. Nice article, but where are you getting the 50% perceived recoil figures? You don’t mention velocity or shot weight. Nor do you mention the weight or action types of the fire arms being compared. These are all critical factors in perceived recoil. There are recoil calculators out there and interestingly none of them list gauge or caliber. The reason is that gauge is simply a measure of the bore diameter and nothing else.

    The main advantage of a 20 gauge is that it is lighter. This actually works against you when it comes to recoil. There are reduced loads for 12 gauges and magnum loads for 20 gauges. If you compare two similar shotguns so loaded, the 20 gauge is most likely going to kick a lot more.

    My wife shoots a 20 gauge for trap, because it is lighter. As a bonus, I can load it down more than I can a 20 gauge. Yes, I still make my own ammunition and I buy lead by the pound. For defensive purposes, I have a pump 12 gauge with a gas piston in the butt stock. When this shotgun is loaded with factory low recoil buckshot, my 12 year old daughter enjoys shooting the gun and can deploy it very effectively. She will tell you it hardly kicks a all.

    Bottom line is that there are several ways to lessen the recoil of a 12 gauge down to that of a standard 20 gauge and still accomplish the job at hand. None of this diminishes the value of a 20 gauge. There are lots of good reasons to chose a 20 gauges, but some of your blanket statements you make about recoil, simply can not be born out by the facts.

  7. dustin clevenger says:

    why isnt the 16 ga or 28 ga listed

  8. I don’t use a shotgun for home defense. I have shotguns, but i’ve been around an indoor discharge of a 12ga before, and i actually have permanent hearing loss in one ear. If you’re going to keep a shotgun for home defense, you MUST MUST MUST keep electronic ear protection next to the gun and periodically check to make sure the batteries are good to go. The electronic ear protection will actually help you with hearing softer sounds and, for that reason, far superior to normal muffs…and they aren’t expensive…you can get a pair from winchester at walmart for about 20 bucks. I prefer a glock 20 for ease of movement, being able to open doors, and handle a flashlight away from my body…but to each their own :)

    As for caliber, try and find a good instructor, or just a friendly gun nut who owns multiple gauges and go out and shoot various loads through them. I prefer a 12ga with #4 shot..my wife is half my size and shoots a 12ga just fine as well…but that won’t happen for the average person without a lot of practice.

    Another thing you need to do with shotguns is pattern them. Everyone tends to think you can’t miss with a shotgun, but at home defense distances…or even bird hunting…they are FAR less forgiving than most people picture them. My mossberg shoots a pattern smaller than my fist at 10 feet…it would be easy to miss under pressure if you weren’t actively aiming and had not put enough round through the firearm to know your point of impact and know it well.

    also, for the love of god…do NOT use the joe biden tactic. warning shots are felonies people. if you fire off a shotgun into the air to frighten an intruder, you will probably do more big boy jail time than he will…know your local laws!!

  9. I disagree with this assessment of shotguns,10 vs 12 vs 20 vs 410. I have hunted with all but the 10 gauge. In fact O have hunted doves with a fufull choke 410 using #6shot. There is just as much killing force between them all. The only difference is the amount of shot and type of shot available for each gauge.

  10. 12 only because I couldn’t find ten that fit all my criteria

  11. that girl is he girl of my dreams. Nothing sexier than a girls shooting. well, almost nothing.

  12. Gator Weiss says:

    The article contains many inaccuracies. There is no such thing as number 13 shot cartridges for a 20 gauge. No one braces the butts of guns against walls. Weird stuff here. 20 gauge shotguns are certainly good for home defense if they are loaded with buckshot and not birdshot. commonly 20 gauge buckshot loads in 2 and 3/4 inch shells containing number 3 buckshot can be found in most stores which sell ammo. There are also 3 inch Magnum 20 gauge buckshot loads that can be used if the gun has a 3 inch chamber. At ten feet no one walks away from a 20 gauge buckshot blast to the face or stomach or chest. Massive wound instantly. No one cares about recoil in an emergency; however; recoil is a factor during practice. The 20 gauge is lighter recoil simply because it’s a smaller gun than 12 gauge. The 20 gauge is powerful and deadly at short ranges and perfect for training and practice too. 12 gauge is great if you arent recoil sensitive. Both are powerful and deadly and adequate with any buckshot load. Compared to pistols, both shotguns, 20 and 12, are obviously bigger than any pistol caliber and more versatile and fire a wider variety of ammunition than the pistol. Shotguns are man-killers, in 20 or 12, period.

  13. Remington 887 Nitro Mag Tactical Shotgun. Shoots 2 3/4″, 3″, and 3 1/2″/

  14. Chuck Wilder says:

    12 gauge Remington 1100 with single buck, no plug in the magazine, shortest barrel legal. The gas operation of the semi-auto makes the recoil insignificant unless the shooter is tiny.

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