The Eclipse of the 20 Gauge Autoloader

By Randy Wakeman


While a bit premature, the last twelve years have displayed a lack of 20 gauge autoloader innovation from the brand name companies and a resultant lack of excitement from consumers. There just hasn't been much new or improved, in the way of 20 gauge autoloaders, to get excited about. (Fortunately, double-barreled and pump action 20 gauge shotguns seem to be doing fine. -Editor.)

Look at Beretta, for example. They don't even seem to have a current production 20 gauge autoloader. That's hard to believe, much less understand. If you want a mid-range or slightly upscale, name-brand, 20 gauge autoloader, it is Benelli or Browning or Remington. The Benelli Super90 / Montefeltro is from the 1987-1988 era. The Gold (just renamed the Silver) is from 1994. The discontinued A391 is from 1999 or thereabouts and the Remington 1100 is older than that. Nothing vividly remarkable in the last 12 years in 20 gauge. Yet, Maxus, Versa-Max, A300, Vinci and the new A5 have displayed zero movement in 20 gauge, but with more than enough ugly, 3-1/2 plastic, 12 gauges to satisfy anyone. My understanding is that the Beretta A400 20 gauge was considered "out of development" in January 2012, but actual availability is the usual ongoing mystery.

The twenty gauge autoloader has been neglected. Unfortunately, marketing hyperbole and misrepresentation takes its toll. Twelve gauge autoloaders have been touted to “carry like a 20,” “handle like a 20,” and shoot “softer than a twenty.” It is all quite easily shown to be untrue, for the only way a 12 gauge is going to carry like a six pound 20 gauge is if it actually weighs six pounds. Gauge, per-se, has absolutely nothing to do with recoil, but that doesn't stop folks from claiming that it does. You won't find “gauge” in any free recoil equation.

Our last six wild turkeys were taken with 20 gauge repeaters, including Dad's 26 pound gobbler with 1-1/4 inch spurs from this year, taken with an Ithaca M37 Turkeyslayer pump gun. No reason to fuss with a 12 gauge in a blind today.

I'm writing this after another enjoyable afternoon evening of dove and teal hunting. There is no mystery about what drops doves, here in Illinois, year after year. After watching my eighty-four year old father drop long-range dove doubles with either his A-5 Twenty Magnum or his older Browning Gold 20, it is hard to understand what the fuss is about. Winchester AA 1 ounce #7-1/2 (AAH207, 1165 fps) pattern as well as 12 gauge 1 ounce loads, according to the pattern board. That's what I've taken every single dove with this year, whether though a B-80 (made by Beretta, branded for Browning), a Benelli M2, or one of my A-5 Twenty Magnums. The teal were taken this year with Kent Tungsten Matrix loads.

Part of the manufacturer reluctance to introduce new 20 gauge autoloaders is understandable. Folks like to say, “I hope it comes out in 20 gauge.” With completely different tooling and different action parts, it isn't as easy as just hitting the twenty gauge button and out she comes. A desirable 12 gauge doesn't always mean a desirable 20 gauge design.

The Winchester Model 21 double introduced the three inch 20 gauge shell that was made available to the public in 1954 as the Western Super-X Magnum. Far from being a recent development, the three inch 20 gauge shell has been with us for over 55 years. Due to the advances in propellants, buffering and wad materials, there are loads today for the 20 gauge that are far more advanced than the loads introduced 50 years ago. I’m referring to the Winchester STH 2035 1-5/16 ounce #5 shot loads and the Federal PFC 258 1-5/16 ounce #5 shot loads in particular. These are spectacularly good 20 gauge loads (as tested in Browning Gold, Silver, A-5 20 Mag, B-80, and Beretta A303 shotguns), often surpassing the patterns of common 1-1/4 ounce 12 gauge loads.

There are several reasons for this. The moderate muzzle velocities (Win. = 1200 fps, Fed. = 1185 fps) promote denser patterns than high velocity loads, the buffering helps and so does the quality of the shot. Having 31% more pellets than a standard 2-3/4 in. 20 gauge hunting shotshell is more than substantial. (As is the inceased recoil! -Editor.)

Many shooters have heard that the 20 gauge “doesn't pattern as well as a 12.” This is easily disproved, for the only rational barometer of pattern is percentage. A 70% pattern in a 30 inch circle at 40 yards is no different from a 28, a 20, a 16, a 12, or a 10 gauge. If you throw a one ounce load from a 28, 20, 16, or 12 gauge that creates a 70% pattern, you've done the same thing. If the absolute tightest pattern benefited wingshooting, we would all be shooting X-X-X-F or turkey chokes at everything flying. Of course we don't, for the tightest pattern (and smallest pattern diameter) is rarely the most useful or desirable.

Certainly, the 12 gauge has clear advantages in case capacity that become more pronounced when using steel. Yet, I wonder how many people realize that when shooting classic 16 and 20 gauge payloads in a 12 gauge gun, they are loading their shotguns with more air and plastic than anything else? The 20 gauge autoloader is far from dead, of course, and there is no reason to think the demise of the twenty is going to happen. However, the 20 gauge autoloader is currently a platform that is being sorely ignored. Let's hope that changes, so we don't have to endure the next twelve years unmarred by progress.




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Copyright 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.


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