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Anyone looking for an effective home-defense shotgun is often directed toward one of the many 12-gauge law-enforcement-grade tactical models. A number of self-defense experts, however, disagree. “The 20-gauge is much easier to shoot than the 12-gauge, produces significantly less recoil, and is lighter and more maneuverable,” says retired SWAT team leader and multi-level certified self-defense instructor Steve Denney, who currently serves as the general manager of Pro Arms Inc., in Live Oak, Fla. “It’s a shotgun that virtually any member of the family can master, and at the ranges that are encountered in home-defense situations, it is just as effective as a 12-gauge.”

The average 12-gauge tactical shotgun weighs between 7.5 and 8.5 pounds. The average 20-gauge tactical model with the same barrel length tips the scales at between 5.5 and 6.5 pounds. Home-defense situations are normally close, quick, and fluid. The lighter gun has an edge in handling and is especially suited for smaller-framed family members who may have to wield it.

The 20-gauge also has plenty of stopping power.

The 12-gauge load most often recommended for home defense is the standard 2 ¾-inch No. 4 buckshot load holding 27 pellets, launched at 1,100 to 1,200 fps. Each pellet is .24-caliber, weighing approximately 20 grains. It’s a very effective close-range load.

The standard 2 ¾-inch 20-gauge buckshot load contains 20 No. 3 buckshot pellets, launched at 1,100 to 1,200 fps. These are .25-caliber and weigh slightly more than No. 4 buck. It’s also a very effective close-range load. From a cylinder-choked gun, they normally deliver an 11- to 12-inch pattern at 10 yards, and with less recoil than the 12-gauge.

This has not gone unnoticed by gunmakers. Remington, Weatherby, and Mossberg currently produce highly effective tactical/home-defense 20-gauge models. When it comes to home defense, the 20 makes plenty of sense.