A good shotgun is an essential tool for the homestead and a great starting point for a well-rounded hunting or defensive battery. Many users gravitate to the 20 gauge as the first gun for themselves or their spouse or children. But, shotguns today can be expensive. So, what is the best cheap 20-gauge shotgun available today?
Why do many choose a 20 gauge? The answer is usually simple, they recoil less than a 12-gauge and can do the job just as well in most cases. If you can acquire a reloading press for a reasonable sum or come across an older Lee handloading tool, then rolling your own is an economical course of action. A 20 gauge uses less powder and shot than a 12 or 16 gauge, so you will get more rounds per pound of the components.
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Choices on the Market (new and used)
Today is a good time to be alive as far as affordable shotguns go. There are several good options to choose from new and many others on the used market.
My top pick for the best cheap 20-gauge shotgun is the Mossberg Maverick at $219 from Academy. This no-frills workhorse is based on the flagship model 500 but with a different trigger group. The Maverick will accept any model 500 barrel and has the same reliability. I sold many during my time behind the gun counter, and no one ever came back to complain.
If you cannot find a Maverick, then the next gun on the list is the Stevens 320. Street price ranges from $180 to $280 depending on the model and local. The action is similar to the well-respected Winchester 1200/1300 series shotguns. This is a very fast action and will run almost any load without a hiccup. Both field and home defense configurations are available. The defense version with the ghost-ring rear sight makes a very nice deer gun for hunting in thick brush.
The parent actions (Mossberg 500 and Winchester 1200/1300) of these guns are solid choices themselves. Many can be found used for under $300 in good condition. Look for store-branded models like Coast to Coast or J.C. Higgins as they tend to sell for less than the same gun with the manufacturer’s name stamped on the barrel.
If you prefer an autoloading weapon, then you are in luck. The Hatfield SAS Semi-Auto lists for $279 at Academy and has mostly good reviews. It sports a 28” barrel and wood stock. The Hatfield is supplied with Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder choke tubes and handles both 2.75-inch and 3-inch shells. According to one reviewer, after a break-in with a couple of boxes of heavy high brass, it cycled every load fed to it. He went on to say that he used the gun in the extreme cold during a South Dakota pheasant hunt and that it never failed to function despite the temperature.
Another good option for the best cheap 20-gauge shotgun is the bolt-action. While only available on the used market, these venerable workhorses are usually inexpensive simply due to not being very popular. I prefer the Mossberg-produced models, they typically have a factory-installed adjustable choke and a detachable magazine. The magazine can be kept loaded and ready to slap in when needed, just do not lose it as they are expensive to replace.
Stay away from the tube-fed bolt-action shotguns if you plan to feed them heavy loads. The stocks on these models tend to split behind the action due to poor support. I have rehabbed one before by bedding it with epoxy putty. If you already have one of these shotguns, bedding the action may be a good bit of preventative medicine.
The absolute cheapest new 20 gauges on the market today are the Turkish-built folding single-shot shotguns. Available from several different manufacturers and a half-dozen distributors, these shotguns are inexpensive, reliable, and compact. I have seen them selling for as little as $100 at Walmart.
There are models available with long and short barrels. The short barrel varieties fold up with barrel and buttstock nearly even and will fit into a hiking pack when folded. The long-barreled models are still very lightweight and can be carried all day after game without fatigue.
The Stevens 301 is slightly more expensive than the Turkish weapons at $199 but is a solidly built weapon reminiscent of the old Harrington and Richardson Topper series. The 301 comes with removable choke tubes and is available in a turkey model supplied with a scope rail and turkey choke installed.
Advantages of a Single Shot
While a single shot weapon is less than ideal for defensive work against two-legged intruders, they serve nicely against any four-legged ones intent on raiding your chicken coop. According to my grandfather, his dad kept the family single-shot standing near the door with a half-dozen shells sitting on the window sash up out of reach of the kids. The gun was easy to load in a hurry for varmints and did not cost much to acquire.
As stated earlier, they are a light weapon and provide a way to increase the firepower in camp without adding much extra weight or giving up much more pack space.
Another advantage to the cheap single shot is the ability to use different ammunition by using adapters. Metal reducer sleaves sold by companies like Gaugemate allow the use of smaller gauge shells like 28 gauge or .410 bore in a 20 gauge. A couple of these would have been useful to me last year when the only ammunition consistently available at my local Walmart or Academy was 28 gauge. There are also adaptors that allow the use of some rifle and pistol rounds in a single shot, but that is a topic for a different day.
The 20-gauge shotgun is a versatile tool for the homestead, camp, or cabin. While easy on the shoulder and deadly on game, it should not kill your wallet in the process. Hopefully, some of the options discussed here will help you find the best cheap 20-gauge shotgun that fits your needs.
Take care and shoot straight.