Upgrading to a Twenty Gauge Shotgun

By Randy Wakeman

This is the story of someone who upgraded to a twenty gauge; my father, as a matter of fact. It was not a matter of being unfamiliar with 20 gauge guns, for there were 20s, 16s, 28s and .410 bores at the ready for as long as I can remember. Yet, we are all creatures of habit and old habits die hard. Though Dad certainly used a wide variety of shotguns, it was the same old 12 gauge Browning A-5 standard weight with which he hunted more than any other gun.

When I was very young, we hunted standing corn without dogs. It was easy enough to do, for row crops were not planted as close together as they are today. Not every piece of land was tiled and generously wide and grassy fence rows were still common. It was common practice to hit a flushing rooster once on the way up and then once on the way down, for if he did not drop dead in the standing corn, it was difficult to recover him.

For several decades, Dad hunted with that A-5 with a 28 inch plain barrel and modified choke. It worked well and still does. Dad often had two roosters on their way down before before I could get my gun up.

You've heard what they say about paybacks? Well, times change. On one particularly cold and windy day, Dad and I were walking out some length fence rows. After I bagged the first two roosters, Dad remarked that I was about a half of a second too fast. Aside from being a generation younger, I was using a lighter, faster gun: an alloy Browning B-80 twenty gauge that weighs 6-1/4 pounds. After that, Dad remarked, from time to time, that "I was too fast."

Wing shooters can be staunchly set in their ways and often have an aversion to change; my Dad was no exception. I mentioned to Dad that he really needed to get a faster, 20 gauge gun. Dad was resistant, of course, saying "Oh, you probably want me to get one of those new gas-operated autoloaders." This was in 1994 and the Browning Gold 20 gauge had just came out. Although Dad had a lot of shotguns, including 20 gauges, he never had an autoloading 20 gauge that really spoke to him. The Browning Gold 20 with a 26 inch barrel finally did.

It was not perfect out of the box, for the recoil pad wasn't the best, the trigger was way too heavy and the triangular safety took close to 20 pounds of force to operate. However, all that was fixed and Dad finally had a new 20 gauge that fit him. The original Gold 20 was no flyweight, coming in at just over seven pounds. However, compared to Dad's eight pound plus A-5, it moved like lighting.

It is also kicked very little with 7/8 oz. loads. All you hear is a click, the clay explodes, and you feel the action working. Dad remained skeptical that his new Gold 20 could instill the confidence that he had in his A-5. Dads first nine shots with that Gold resulted in nine dead Illinois pheasants, and that was that. It remained his most-used hunting shotgun for the rest of his life. In my Dad's case, going to a 20 gauge was a huge upgrade, for it instantly rolled back the clock 20 years or so, in terms of field performance.

A good 20 gauge gun often provides what 12 gauge guns struggle to achieve, in terms of fast-handling, slim lines and light weight. It is not an automatic panacea for everything, for if you are compelled to use steel shot, the 12 gauge always wins. As a dedicated clays gun, the 12 gauge wins, as well.

Nevertheless, the 20 gauge is often a distinct advantage when hunting. A gun that shoulders faster and allows you to get on the bird faster means closer shots than a sluggish, comparatively unresponsive gun can offer. When a pair of nervous roosters cackle and flush, dropping the first pheasant quickly is close to mandatory for a dead-in-the-air rooster number two.

Over the years, there has been significant banter about bulky forearms and low-profile receivers. You won't easily find the slim forearm of a 20 gauge Benelli M2 in a 12 gauge autoloader. You will not find the low profile receiver of a 20 gauge Browning Cynergy in any 12 gauge O/U. How much that matters is up to you, but there it is.

Some folks will be surprised to discover that 20 gauge guns of similar weight have less recoil than their 12 gauge counterparts. It is not that much of a mystery. One of the best 20 gauge pheasant loads is the buffered Remington Nitro Turkey load, #NT20M5. This uses 1-1/4 ounce of shot at a MV of 1185 fps.

Small wonder (no wonder, actually) that less recoil is produced with this shell than the over hyped 1400-1500 fps, 1-1/4 ounce, 12 gauge pheasant loads out there. The 20 gauge often patterns better than a 12 gauge, for you have less deformation on initial setback and less freebore in a three inch chamber.

For all of these reasons, a 20 gauge is often a significant upgrade over a 12 gauge upland gun. This is something that is all too often overlooked, if not completely ignored.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.