If you have spent any length of time in pursuit of upland game, then you know how heavy a shotgun can feel in your hands by the end of a long day afield. For this reason, many hunters choose a 20 gauge as their weapon of choice for grouse, quail, rabbit, and the like.
In times past, most repeating shotguns were weighty beasts. A light gun was an expensive item (besides a single shot). However, advances in metallurgy and machining have made it possible to produce a lightweight shotgun that is affordable. So, what is the best lightweight 20-gauge shotgun? Let us have a look at some contenders for the title.
For our purposes today, I am defining lightweight as sixish pounds or less unloaded. The average American shotgun weighs somewhere around seven pounds empty, so dropping a pound gives us a minimum fifteen percent weight reduction. That can make a big difference when hiking long miles in bird country.
This Turkish-made over/under hit the U.S. market in 2014 and quickly established itself as a reliable budget o/u with good looks. With its aluminum receiver and trim barrels, the 555 weighs just 5.5 pounds. I sold about one a month of these when I worked the gun counter of a large retailer back in 2015, and the only complaint that I remember is that we could not keep enough of them in stock.
Another budget-minded over/under, the Turkish-built Trinity is a close cousin to the Stevens 555. With a weight of 5.4 pounds unloaded this is the lightest over-under on the list.
Living up to its name, the Benelli Ultralight tips the scales at just 5.2 pounds. This svelte little autoloader is a dream to carry over long miles in the pheasant fields or through the foothills after quail. In 20 gauge, it features a 24-inch barrel and three-round capacity.
If you cannot live without the extra two shots, then look to the Ultralight’s brother, the Montefeltro. Only giving up four-tenths of a pound to the Ultralight and featuring a 26-inch barrel, this is an ideal pheasant gun for when the miles are long. My father kept one for several years as his upland gun and loved it.
Franchi Affinity 3
The Franchi Affinity 3 is a six-pound, inertia-driven shotgun with an oversized loading port and controls designed for hunting with gloves on, making it the cool-weather cousin to the Benelli Montefeltro.
Browning Citori Feather Lightning
My absolute favorite, the Browning Citori Feather Lightning, is my dream shotgun for bird hunting. A finely finished 5.8-pound masterpiece, the Feather Lightning is not a cheap weapon, but you will only cry once when buying it.
Another Turkish weapon, the Hatfield is representative of several makes and models available that are nearly identical. Built with alloy receivers, these shotguns weigh between 5.5 and 4.5 pounds depending on the stock and barrel length.
These shotguns fold nearly in half to allow for compact storage. Midland advertises their eighteen-inch barreled 20-gauge as the Backpacker since it will fit into many hiking packs when folded. These weapons seem to get good reviews, are affordable, and are found readily at most chain stores like Walmart or Academy.
The Used Rack
As we all know, some of the best guns are out of production. Here are the lightweight champions of the past.
Produced by Savage from 1936 to 1990 under multiple names, models, and configurations, the 94 is a solid, all-steel weapon. Already a six-pound or so shotgun, the 94 got even lighter in the 1940s, when they first were fitted with Tenite stocks.
Tenite is a wood-cellulose-based plastic that Savage produced with the appearance of highly figured walnut. The hollow nature of the Tenite stocks shaved over half a pound of an already light gun. Actual weights are a little hard to come by on the web, but my 16-gauge version registers 5.5 pounds on a fish scale. A 20 gauge would probably shave a few ounces off that weight.
Franchi AL 48
This svelte little autoloader is a close cousin to the old Browning Auto-5. Based on a long recoil action mated with an alloy receiver, the AL 48 comes in at 5.5 pounds in 20 gauge. These are a joy to handle, and they point like your finger.
I remember holding one at Graafshap Hardware back when I was in high school, and I lusted hard after one in 28 gauge for a while.
A friend of mine bought one of these shortly after high school. I remember thinking it was the prettiest looking over-under I had ever seen. The Veloce weighs only 5.5 pounds on 20 gauge and shoots arrow straight. People that have a Veloce tend to hang on to it. So, if you have a chance to buy one, do not hesitate.
Shed the Pounds (from an existing gun)
If you have a shotgun that you already love, but wish was lighter, here are a few remedies.
- Have the vent rib removed. Ribs are normally fused to the barrel, and removal should be done by a professional to avoid damage. Removing the rib will cost you some $$ but shave several ounces.
- By a shorter barrel or have yours cut down. This procedure is best done with heavy-walled barrels. You will lose your choke, but if the barrel is thick enough then threaded chokes can be installed.
- The cheapest option: Buy a shorter, plain barrel. This is especially true for Remington 870s. The newer barrels are built heavier than the old ones. I have a newer, vented-rib barrel with chokes for my 1970s vintage 12 gauge and typically choose to keep the original plain modified tube on it as that barrel weighs nearly a half-pound less.
- Have the buttstock hollowed out. If yours is a particularly dense piece of wood, then this may be an option. I do not care to do it since it can weaken the stock or affect the gun’s balance if done wrong.
So, what is the best lightweight 20 gauge shotgun?
The best lightweight 20 gauge shotgun is the one you shoot well. For this reason, I typically recommend the Benelli or Franchi autoloaders since they come with a shim kit for the stock to tailor the fit of the gun to the shooter. Light weight can translate into heavy recoil, and a poorly fitting gun will amplify the perceived kick.
If you want a light gun for long-distance hiking or just to carry in the woods, I would look at one of the folding single shots. There is a lightweight 20 gauge to fit every budget and need. Try a few and pick yours. You will not regret it.