The twenty-gauge shotgun is the Goldilocks gauge. Not too big, but not too small. Many first-time gun buyers are picking a twenty gauge as their first shotgun for the same reasons that it is loved by sportsmen, it gets the job done without heavy recoil. So what is the best 20 gauge pump shotgun?
There are a large number of twenty-gauge shotguns available on the market today. Very few of these models, if any, are lemons to be avoided. So, which one to buy? I’ll give my top choice, plus a couple of runners-up.
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My Pick – Remington 870
Available as the Express, Wingmaster, or Special Purpose, this workhorse has been America’s shotgun since 1950. With over ten million produced, it is the best-selling shotgun of all time. The 870 has a steel receiver, interchangeable barrels, and a host of aftermarket accessories available.
I have used 870’s in 12, 16, and 20 gauge since I was ten years old, and while I have experience with other makes and models, the Remington 870 feels the best in my hands and the most intuitive for me to use. The disassembly is easy, remove the barrel, pop out the trigger pins, pull the trigger assembly, and then pull out the bolt and carrier. The video below is a little bit more detailed.
This weapon may have to be found on the used market, at the time of this writing Remington has just barely resumed production of this model. The 20 gauge 870 shotguns came in two different frame sizes, the early ones built on the same receiver as the twelve and sixteen-gauge models.
Some time in the 80’s the Lightweight, or LW Model was introduced, giving the twenty the same trim frame used on the 28 gauge and .410 models. The LW is a joy to carry in the field. The barrels for the standard and LW will not interchange, so if you want to purchase a second barrel for deer hunting or the like, you will want to get the LW version as accessory barrels are more common for this frame.
The Real Winner – Mossberg 500
The “other pump-gun”, Mossberg’s venerable model 500 has been the chief competitor to the Remington 870 since 1960. Available in a bewildering array of configurations, the 500 has been adapted to every need.
Accessory barrels for the 500 tend to be less expensive than those for the 870, and more “tactical” versions of this shotgun are available than others, due possibly in part to longstanding military and police use of this design.
The model 500 also features a sliding safety mounted on the rear of the receiver, making the gun well suited for left-handed shooters. The Mossberg will generally weigh a half-pound less than the Remington due to the former’s aluminum receiver. While not much, that half-pound could make a difference in comfort on a long day bird of hunting.
For the multi-season hunter, Mossberg 500’s are available in combo packages where a slug barrel and cheap scope come with the standard field model. I worked for a time at a major sporting goods retailer, and these combos would go on sale for Black Friday at ridiculously low prices.
If you do not care about switching barrels and want a dedicated slug gun, the receivers are drilled and tapped for scope bases. My old neighbor has his 20-gauge model 500 set up this way with a rifled barrel, and he bagged a deer every year, sometimes two. One of these shots was over one hundred yards.
If you are on a tight budget, the Mossberg 500 is available in the Maverick 88 configuration, with a trigger guard mounted safety and black plastic stock. Model 500 barrels will interchange with model 88 barrels.
Honorable Mention – Winchester Super XP
The Winchester Super XP makes this list from the six-plus different camouflage patterns available. Whether you are a Realtree or Mossy Oak fan, you are covered. Some models are an attractive mix of Permcoted metal and camo stocks. There are field, deer, home defense, and combo models available, so there is sure to be one to suit your application.
So What is the Best 20 gauge pump Shotgun?
There are a pile of different twenty-gauge shotguns on the market today. Some of these models are very reasonably priced, others more expensive. Take the time to handle several different makes to find the one that fits you best and feels good in your hands. A good shotgun is a lifetime investment, so do not be afraid to spend a little more to get the one you want. Then grab a box of clay pigeons and go have some fun!