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Hunter’s Handbook is the official student “how-to” information pipeline of the International Hunter Education Association. As the experts in teaching safe, ethical and successful hunting, we are here to provide tips, tools, and great video content as well as offer you a place that you can learn more about your love and favorite past-time—hunting.  Spend some time with us.  New content is added monthly, and we are excited to share our expertise with you.  We wish you a lifetime of safe and memorable experiences in the outdoors.

12 Gauge Vs. 20 Gauge for Turkey Hunting

It’s safe to say there are more turkey hunters in the woods carrying 12-gauge shotguns than 20-gauge shotguns, but the number of converts to the smaller gauge is growing, just as the number of gobblers falling to 20-gauge loads grows.

Both 12- and 20-gauge loads have advantages and both can be deadly on turkeys, according to Neil Emery of Hornady Manufacturing, whose motto of “Accurate. Deadly. Dependable.” guides production of their ammunition, including their Heavy Magnum Turkey loads.

“Both the 20- and 12-gauge loads are terminally effective on turkeys out to 50 yards,” Emery said. “Of course, the more pellets going out the barrel, the better when it comes to getting more pellets into the bird.”

Those extra pellets in a 12-gauge can make a difference, he said. Comparing Hornady’s 5-shot Heavy Magnum Turkey loads, the 20 gauge has a 1-3/8-ounce payload of powder pushing approximately 240 pellets at 1,200 feet per second. The 12-gauge load has 1½ ounces of powder driving approximately 260 pellets out the barrel at 1,300 fps.

Reasons to choose 12 gauge:

• More pellets in the pattern, and therefore, hopefully, in the turkey

• More velocity produces better terminal performance at longer ranges

• More pellets in the load means more pellets on the fringe of the pattern, which can be important as range increases

Reasons to choose 20-gauge:

• Effective on turkeys out to 50 yards, much the same as 12-gauge

• Lower recoil, less pounding on your shoulder

• Just as devastating on close shots, so just call the turkey in and rest assured it will deliver

The Great Debate:

12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge for Turkey Hunting

By Joe Arterburn

 

It’s safe to say there are more turkey hunters in the woods carrying 12-gauge shotguns than 20-gauge shotguns, but the number of converts to the smaller gauge is growing, just as the number of gobblers falling to 20-gauge loads grows.

Both 12- and 20-gauge loads have advantages and both can be deadly on turkeys, according to Neil Emery of Hornady Manufacturing, whose motto of “Accurate. Deadly. Dependable.” guides production of their ammunition, including their Heavy Magnum Turkey loads.

“Both the 20- and 12-gauge loads are terminally effective on turkeys out to 50 yards,” Emery said. “Of course, the more pellets going out the barrel, the better when it comes to getting more pellets into the bird.”

Those extra pellets in a 12-gauge can make a difference, he said. Comparing Hornady’s 5-shot Heavy Magnum Turkey loads, the 20 gauge has a 1-3/8-ounce payload of powder pushing approximately 240 pellets at 1,200 feet per second. The 12-gauge load has 1½ ounces of powder driving approximately 260 pellets out the barrel at 1,300 fps.

For comparison, the 20-gauge shell holds roughly 60 percent of the volume of powder of the 12-gauge, but the two loads do not use the same gunpowder, “so it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does give a general idea,” Emery said.

“The approximately 8.9 percent increase in pellet count doesn’t make much difference on close shots,” he said, “but it definitely improves the odds at distances.”

Also, those extra pellets can help produce a wider, more effective pattern, especially as the range to the target increases.

“On close shots, both 12- and 20-gauge loads will work extremely well with proper shot placement,” Emery said. “Where they differ is on fringe shots where the extra pellets and velocity of the 12 gauge will give it an edge.”

The pattern of Hornady’s 12- and 20-gauge loads is created and controlled by the Versatite wad, which strips away cleanly from the pellets upon exiting the barrel without disrupting the pellets’ flight, resulting in a shorter shot string and more energy and knock-down power on impact.

The 20-gauge is not without its advantages, not to mention sufficient power to put down a turkey. Less felt recoil is one of the first advantages 20-gauge aficionados mention. Less recoil can mean less flinching, and less discomfort than shooting heavy-punching loads. 20-gauges can be a great choice for youths and small-framed hunters—and can make it more comfortable for novice turkey hunters who might be turned off by heavier recoil.

“While the 20-gauge is certainly sufficient and offers the benefit of lower recoil, the 12-gauge load is more forgiving if you are at the outer limits of the shot pattern,” Emery summarized.

“We patterned both of these at 50 yards and both have the ability to kill birds at those distances,” he said. “The unique thing about our shell is that choke tubes have less effect on the pattern than with other shells on the market. This makes this round ideal for turkey hunters who do not have interchangeable choke tubes in their guns, and have a standard modified or improved barrel, or simply don’t want to spend the money on an expensive extra-full turkey choke.

“The wad does the work in this case and typically works best with a modified or improved choke.”

So, there are benefits to either gauge and both can produce the desired result: a downed turkey.

 

Here’s a quick overview.

 

Reasons to choose 12 gauge:

• More pellets in the pattern, and therefore, hopefully, in the turkey

• More velocity produces better terminal performance at longer ranges

• More pellets in the load means more pellets on the fringe of the pattern, which can be important as range increases

Reasons to choose 20-gauge:

• Effective on turkeys out to 50 yards, much the same as 12-gauge

• Lower recoil, less pounding on your shoulder

• Just as devastating on close shots, so just call the turkey in and rest assured it will deliver