20-Gauge Enough Gun for Deer? Part II

Sept_11_07 Last year I posted about this incredible 234” monster freak that Jack Keihn killed with a 20-gauge in Indiana in Nov. 2005.

20 gauge? I grew up in a rifle/muzzleloader state and, curiously, had never killed a buck with a slug until last fall. I had always figured: Why would anybody use a 20 gauge when he could hunt with a big, heavy, ass-kicking 12 that spews forth the heaviest chunk of lead?

I never realized how many hard-core sluggers we have at the ZONE. That post continues to be one of the most viewed all-time on the blog (tens of thousands). Almost 100 people have chipped in so far with comments about shotguns, slugs and deer-dropping ballistics, and that many more have sent me emails. Examples:

JC wrote: “Clearly the 12 gauge is better. While the #'s will vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, in virtually all cases the 12 will trump the 20 in trajectory, energy, and wind drift.”

Long-time ZONER Jstreet asserted: "If you can handle a 12 gauge you will get better downrange energy, but recoil will be much worse. The 20 gauge for me is better because it allows me better accuracy, due to the lesser recoil. In turn I shoot my gun more and feel more confident.”

This is ongoing topic of interest and debate, and as we prep for the 07 shotgun seasons in the Midwest and North, I figured it was time to talk it up again, especially since we have thousands more ZONERS now than we did a year ago, and no doubt many of you have fresh perspectives.

To get us started I asked one of our new sponsors, Winchester, for some professional advice. A company spokesman said:

Winslug_3 An old rule of thumb is that it takes 1,000 ft-lbs of energy to kill a deer. The 20 gauge has plenty of energy. For example, the Winchester Supreme 2¾” 20-gauge Partition Gold load uses a 260-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1,900 fps and a muzzle energy of 2084 ft lbs. This is more muzzle energy than any .30-30 load that Winchester makes, and the .30-30 has probably killed more deer than any other cartridge.

The 3” 20-gauge Supreme load with this bullet has a muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps and muzzle energy of 2,309 ft-lbs, which is almost as much as the .45-70 loads in the Winchester line.

I know several people who have gone to 20 gauges for deer because they kick less and shoot just as flatly as 12 gauge loads. In the 20 gauge, I personally would want to use a rifled barrel with either Partition Gold or Platinum tip loads.

The 12 gauge Supreme Partition slugs (photo) have the same muzzle velocity as the 20 gauge loads, but they use heavier bullets and thus produce more muzzle energy and, of course, more recoil too.

So, which shotgun, gauge and slug will you use in a few months? If a dream buck steps out at 100 yards—look up at Jack Keihn’s giant again—would that 20 be enough? Or would you feel better with that mule-kicking 12 in your hands?