When I started working in the local gun store back in the late 90s, the closest thing to a tactical 20-gauge shotgun was a standard smoothbore slug gun. Every defensive shotgun in the store (or our catalog to order) was a 12-gauge. Today though, almost all manufacturers sell a tactical 20.
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Why a 20 gauge?
The twenty gauge shell gives up twenty-five percent of payload capacity to the twelve gauge, and rounds are available in the larger buckshot sizes. So, why chose one? For many, the answer simply is lower recoil. This is a major consideration if you are planning on all members of the household using the weapon as recoil can lead to flinching, which leads to missing.
The ammunition also weighs less and is smaller in diameter, so more can be crammed into an ammo can, or carried on your person if you are bugging out. The cost of 20-gauge ammunition is the same as a twelve gauge for some reason, but because of the lesser shot charge, reloading can reduce the cost per round considerably.
Tactical 20-gauges are available from Stevens, Remington, Mossberg, Winchester, and Stoeger, among others. Many models are offered in several different configurations to meet the diverse needs of end users. Let us look at some of the offerings.
The Stevens 320 is a no-frills re-incarnation shotgun that has made a name for itself as a reliable and inexpensive weapon. The design is reminiscent of the old Winchester 1300 and is very fast to cycle. Various configurations and options are available, including ghost ring sights and pistol grip stocks. The sight-equipped models would easily work as slug guns for deer hunting. Using Federal Truball slugs, you can get lethal accuracy out to 80-plus yards with one of these guns. For a household on a budget, this shotgun is a can’t-miss bargain.
Mossberg Shockwave / Remington TAC-14
These two weapons are the kings of compactness. Featuring 14-inch barrels and bird’s head grips, the Shockwave and TAC-14 are best suited to close-quarters work or stuffing in a backpack Book of Eli style. While this design takes more practice to master, it can be an extremely effective option for the cramped confines of an older home or a vehicle.
Complete with a pistol grip stock, ghost ring sights, and an optics rail, the SA-20 is a featured loaded tactical 20-gauge for home defense or competition. There are also mounting rails on the magazine tube for mounting lights like the Streamlight TLR RM. The SA-20 is a popular choice for shooters getting into 3-Gun competition on a budget, but as a gas-operated weapon, the SA-20 must be kept clean to run well.
A sleek-looking shotgun, the Stoeger M3020 also features sights and an optics rail but has a more traditional stock. This tactical 20 gauge houses the same proven inertia-driven action found in most Benelli shotguns. Because of this, the 3020 may be the most reliable semiautomatic tactical 20-gauge available. My only complaint is the standard 4+1 magazine capacity. As an autoloading shotgun setup for defense or competition, I would have liked to see the Stoeger come with a magazine extension to bring total capacity up to seven or eight rounds.
The new Remington Arms Company offers the reincarnated 870 pump-action with a side-folding stock in 20-gauge. The barrel is threaded for chokes, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for optics. A 6+1 capacity is a welcome upgrade from the standard 4+1 found on most shotguns, and sling mounts are factory installed. The SAW-style grip makes the weapon comfortable and controllable when firing with the stock folded. This would be my choice if I decided to go tactical with my next shotgun.
Stoeger Double Defense / Coach Gun
If you have the misfortune of living somewhere that frowns on pump or semi-auto shotguns, then the compact double-barrels by Stoeger are worth a look. The plain Coach Gun model features 20-inch barrels and will give an old-school howdy to any unwelcome intruders. If you need more bells and whistles, the Double Defense models are available in side-by-side and over-under configurations. Double defense models feature matte black finishes and have rails for mounting lights and optics.
The successor to Winchester’s venerable model 1300, the SXP has made a name for itself as a reliable and affordable shotgun with very little market hype. Defender models have a six-round capacity, one more than the standard field models. Some fancy stock colors like Dark Earth and Woodland Camo are available, with some models featuring a Tru-Glo front sight. If you must have all the bells and whistles, go with the Extreme Defender FDE. It has sights, pistol-grip stock, barrel heat shield, accessory rails, and a door-breaching choke tube. There is very little that the SXP FDE will not do.
A tactical 20-gauge is a viable defensive tool and a solid choice for anyone needing lower recoil, lighter ammunition weight, or savings on reloading. The 20-gauge is just as lethal as a 12-gauge at close range. Even though 00-buckshot is not available, #4 buck is, and that is what the FBI uses in their 12-gauges.
So, which one is the best? I vote for the Remington 870 or Stoeger 3020. However, the Stevens 320 is half the money and has a stellar reputation. Your call.
Most members of a household can use a 20-gauge tactical shotgun without issue, and one can easily pull double-duty as a deer gun should you desire. These are versatile weapons and are worthy of consideration for your home defensive arsenal.