12 or 20 Gauge for Clay Shooting – Let’s Explore Shotgun Calibers

The comparison between the success rate of 12 and 20 gauge shotguns has always been a source of debate among the majority of shooters. Here I will explain everything about 12 and 20 gauge shotguns, including their credibility with respect to trap, skeet, and sporting clay shooting.

Since 12 gauge shotguns offer on-point accuracy and rich pattern density required to hit the flying target, they are great for trap shooting. A 20 gauge shotgun has a wider spread and is ideal for hitting more than one target simultaneously, making it ideal for skeet shooting.

What do Gauges Mean?

In the field of shooting, the gauge is usually referred to as the caliber of a shotgun. (However, they are not the same!) Gauge is the number of lead balls weighing one pound collectively, provided that the diameter of the barrel and balls is the same. There are many gauge shotguns, but beginners and experienced shooters most commonly use 12 and 20 gauges. That’s why you will find these gauges being more popularly discussed on clay shooting platforms.

Needless to say, 12 is a smaller number than 20. But in the case of shotgun gauges, the reality is the opposite. You must be wondering why that is so! It is because of the shotgun barrel’s size. A 12 gauge shotgun barrel has a diameter of .73 inches.

On the contrary, the diameter of a 20 gauge shotgun barrel measures .615 inches, which is smaller than that of 12 gauge. You can’t use 12 gauge shells for a 20 gauge gun as the shell will not fit the gun’s barrel. A 20 gauge shell can be loaded on a 12 gauge shotgun; however, this is highly dangerous and not advisable. 20-gauge shells are always manufactured in yellow color to help you distinguish them from other shells and avoid loading the wrong shells in the shotgun.

Other than the barrel size, there are many other differences in the functionality, effectiveness, and shooting capabilities of 12 and 20 gauges.

12-Gauge Shotguns

Since the 12 gauge shotgun barrel has a large diameter, the shells loaded in this shotgun have many pellets. As a result, the shot delivered by a 12 gauge shotgun has a different impact on the target compared to other available gauges.

There are some aspects of shooting that help determine the efficiency of a shotgun. So, let’s dig a little deeper and discover the results of 12 gauge shotguns.

12 Gauge Shotguns


The recoil of 12 gauge shotguns is on the higher side. While leaving the muzzle, 12 gauge shots cause the gun to move towards you forcefully. If you are a beginner, it can initially be a bit challenging for you to control the gun. That’s why we recommend wearing protective gear to stay safe and enjoy the sessions to the fullest.


Accuracy is linked to the density of shots. The denser the patterns, the more accurate your shots will be. Before concluding anything related to the accuracy, let’s clarify that this factor also depends on the choke installed in the gun.

The shot patterns delivered by a 12 gauge shotgun are denser and exhibit minimal divergence. Hence, when you release the shot with this gun, chances are that more pellets will reach the target. All in all, 12 gauge shotguns will prove to be a great choice if you don’t need unnecessary dispersion of shots. Moreover, if you are sure about the target’s limited movement, choosing a 12 gauge shotgun would be wise.


As mentioned earlier, a 12 gauge shotgun comes with a large diameter barrel and a large-sized magazine tube. For this reason, it is considered a heavy shotgun. The large-sized shells needed for the shotgun also add to the overall weight. This weight contributes to releasing the shot with more energy, and the shot covers a good range at a high velocity with accuracy. Because of their heavy shells, 12 gauge shotguns have a higher recoil.

For Trap Shooting

In trap shooting, there is one machine that launches the target or clay bird in any random direction. Here, accuracy and velocity are the two most important factors affecting the success of your shot. The accuracy and speed of a 12 gauge shotgun meet the requirements of trap shooting perfectly. Thus, if you are interested in trap shooting, we recommend making the most of a 12 gauge shotgun to polish your skills. It will hit the target with excellent range and velocity, even if the house is very far from the station.

For Sporting Clays

Sporting clays involve more than one target being launched from different stations. In this situation, when you don’t have any idea which direction your next target would be appearing from, you will need a shotgun with more spread. Since a 12 gauge shotgun performs with accuracy and shows a dense shot pattern, avoid using this for sporting clays.

20-Gauge Shotguns

A 20 gauge shotgun is a shooting and hunting weapon with a small barrel and needs twenty lead balls. Like any other shotgun, it also has some distinct characteristics favorable for clay shooting. The performance of 20 gauge shotgun and shells varies on different accounts such as:

20 gauge shotguns


As far as the recoiling tendency is concerned, a 20 gauge shotgun trumps all else. It has less recoil as compared to a 12 gauge shotgun. If you find it hard to manage the firearm after every shot, you can start practicing with 20 gauge.


The shot patterns executed by a 20 gauge shotgun clearly show that the pellets spread soon after leaving the muzzle. That means the 20 gauge has a weak accuracy and might miss a target that needs precise shots. However, 20 gauge shotguns can also reach the bird accurately, given the range is short.


A 20 gauge shotgun is lightweight since it has a small barrel and small shells. This is the reason why it kicks back with minimal force and is easy to handle. Also, due to its lighter weight, it imparts less energy to every released shot. This makes it extremely effective yet safe for beginners to start with.

For Trap Shooting

When the house launches the clay bird in trap shooting, the target is expected to move. Accurate shotguns perform better in this case. However, since 20 gauge shots spread widely, they will not be able to hit the target precisely enough. The speed is also not up to the mark for trap shooting. So, a 20 gauge shotgun is not preferable for this type of clay shooting.

12 or 20 Gauge for Clay Shooting

For Skeet Shooting

The primary goal of skeet shooting is to hit two targets launched from different positions and angles. The spread of pellets is the key to accomplishing this goal. Because 20 gauge shots disperse over a wide distance, you can expect at least a few of them to hit the flying targets. The diverged pellets can also reach the second target if it is released in the same direction as the first one. Hence, a 20 gauge shotgun is recommended for skeet shooting.

For Sporting Clays

Sporting clays involves shots being launched continuously, one after the other. So, there is no benefit in focusing on accuracy. Spread shots can also do a satisfactory job in hitting consecutively appearing birds. Therefore, you can use 20 gauge shotguns in sporting clays without any hesitation.


I hope this article has cleared any confusions you might have had regarding choosing a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun. By now, you should know that 12 gauge shots are accurate, long-ranged, and powerful, which makes them ideal for trap shooting. In contrast, 20-gauge shots spread more but recoil less, so they are a good option for skeets and sporting clays.
However, choosing the right shotgun is not all about gauges or calibers. You must also think about finding the right barrel length for the choosen clay shooting discipline.