12 vs. 20 gauge.


January 30, 2007, 01:10 AM
I do my pheasant hunting without a dog and have been limiting my shots to about 30-35 yards or so as I have noticed that shots beyond that range results in more cripples and runners. I've been using an old 20 gauge Bernardelli Gamecock sxs with 25" IC and mod barrels that I bought back in 1970. I've been wondering how much better performance I would get out of a 12 gauge with it's heavier shot loads and slightly higher velocities. About 50% of my shots are at fairly close range so I am reluctant to go to something with modified and full chokes. In researching 20 gauge ballistic tables, most 1 ounce loads get about 1220 FPS. 1 1/8 ounce short mags and 3" mags get 1175. How effective are these magnum shells with thier heavier shot loads at reduced velocities? I normally use #6 shot.

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January 30, 2007, 08:17 AM
Hi, I have a Ruger Red Label in twenty gauge. It has 28" barrels and I use the IC and Mod. (screw in chokes). I bought this shotgun as a present to myself for earning my degree and getting a job with DNR. I like the way the longer barrel balances vs shorter 26 " barrels. Also, looking ahead at old age, the twenty is lighter and smaller in frame for carrying afield. I hunt with a dog, and you are right, anything over 30-35 yds is out there a bit, at least for me, even with a twelve gauge. I think the #6 shot, one ounce load is optimum for the twenty. I have read a few extensive tests on this , and seems to be the right medicine for the big birds. Works well on sharptail and prairie chicken too. This response may ramble a bit, but I think you have a fine setup for birding. Yea, a dog makes the hunt better, I hunted for years without one, a dog is no sure bet you will have more birds in the bag! If you can drop them with your double, save your money, use it for a dog! Good hunting.


January 30, 2007, 08:26 AM
Another "thought" is adding choke tubes. Mod on the first barrel and IM for the second barrel.

At 30-35 yards you are beyond IC and "edging" with Mod IMHO with large "birds".

January 30, 2007, 09:21 AM
While I have 12, 16 and .410 shotguns, I have always found a 20 ga side by side is the gun I use most often to hunt birds. Much like you, I limit the ranges I shoot, and rarely use dogs. The only difference I have ever found between the 12 and 20 after hunting all day is that I have more soreness in my shoulder with the 12 ga!

January 30, 2007, 09:24 AM
Just my opinion...

I hunted pheasants for a couple years with a "semi-useless dog :) ". He could find the occasional bird (if he tripped over it), but was almost entirely unable to find a wounded bird.

In any event, I ended up using a 12ga with 1 1/4oz handloads, around 1350 fps. Those shells use hard #5 shot and I normally shoot them out of a FULL choke. I'll take most shots at 30-40 yards, and cripples have not been a problem.

If you don't have a good dog, it's important to try to kill it "in the air", so that it can't run or just hunker down under some cover. To me, that means a few things:

- Limit shots to distances you know are within your own range
- Pass up on shots where the bird is going straigt away. If I can't see the head, I don't shoot.
- Strive for "overkill" with gun, choke and shell.

There will probably be lots of dissenting opinion, but this is what's worked for me. Also, I figure that as hard as I work to get birds up without a good dog, I want to make sure that each and every one makes its way into my vest.

Dave McCracken
January 30, 2007, 09:39 AM
A couple things....

A, ammo quality and performance matter more than gauge. In your shoes, I'd look for hard shot at moderate velocity in 5s and 6s. Pattern at your max distance, not the standard 40 yards and see what works best.

You may have to roll your own for best performance.

B,a long forcing cone will mimic choking one click tighter. Less deformation means more pellets in the pattern. For far less than a new shotgun, long cones and choke tubes can give you clean, humane kills further out than at present.

C, more practice means less cripples and misses. Go have fun with your shotgun and get better allasametime.

D, as to your question about mag 20 gauge loads, they oft tend to pattern badly. The 20 works most efficiently with 3/4 to 7/8 oz of shot and kicks a lot less. If you NEED 1 1/8 oz, get a 12.

January 30, 2007, 10:43 AM
I've thought seriously about getting a dog but we go on trips frequently and hate to burden anyone with caring for it while we are gone. I'll have to put more thought into it though, as good a dog would defintely make a difference. Hopefully, if I do get a dog, it'll be better than TrapperReady's.

I've been looking at some premium 20 gauge loads (buffered, plated shot) and think I'll pick up a box and fire some patterns. As TrapperReady said, trying to kill em before they hit the ground would help improve recovery. I guess I should work toward improving my shooting also. Hate to put that little 20 gauge gun in the cabinet. It is such a nice handling gun and a pleasure to carry.

thanks for your replies.

January 30, 2007, 10:48 AM
Perhaps a full choke would give you five or ten more yards?

January 30, 2007, 10:50 AM
Hopefully, if I do get a dog, it'll be better than TrapperReady's.

Actually, you can't get a better dog than mine. :) He's a house-pet, and didn't go hunting until he was 8 years old. All things considered, he did fine... especially on grouse. Pheasants have always been a problem for him for some reason.

Now, at 12 years old, he's done with hunting and has gone back to his true calling... eating, sleeping and playing frisbee in the back yard.

However, I did pick up a German Shorthair Pointer last year. He's 14 months old and an absolute bird-finding machine. He's good, but there's no dog "better" than my old friend. :)

January 30, 2007, 01:35 PM
I've been looking at some premium 20 gauge loads (buffered, plated shot) and think I'll pick up a box and fire some patterns.
I really like the Fiocci "Golden Pheasant" loads in both 12 and 20g. especially wild birds can be tough kill but those Fiocci loads hit 'em hard with minimal meat damage or feather draw. I buy the nickel plated #5s by the 10 box flat. I also have used the Kent tungston matrix in 20g on both ducks and pheasant with good results.
I take my pheasant hunting pretty seriously, but if I couldn't hunt with my dogs, I wouldn't bother. 2 labs that will do anything for me, especially if it means retrieving something with feathers.

January 30, 2007, 02:37 PM
"semi-useless dog :) ". Actually preferred to shoot and I understand is a great shotgunner in his own right.
Problem was training Trapper to find his birds.

I just wanted to clarify and post the correct version of this story. :)

January 30, 2007, 03:03 PM
Problem was training Trapper to find his birds.

:) :) :)

He had me trained alright. Whenever the cover got really thick, he'd just fall back a little bit and walk behind me. I'd mash the stuff down and he'd walk with ease.

Personally, I don't think he liked pheasants too much. He'd always run around in the field looking like he was trying to find his frisbee. Now grouse... those he'd get serious about.

BTW, since pictures are better:


January 30, 2007, 03:28 PM
Your guns sounds like a perfect canidate to have the forcing cones lengthen job. Older cone really respond to this . I don't think I'd get it tubed though, as the chokes are perfect and the throat job will make them tighter and more uniform and allow heavier loads!
+1 on the Fiocchi Golden Pheasant #5nickle loads, they are the best 20ga. upland load I'd ever used-by far.:)
I won't insult you trying to trade you out of that perfect old GameCock!

January 30, 2007, 04:52 PM
If you use a 12 Gauge, you can get a better pattern with larger shot, and more pellets of that shot (pellet count per ounce drops precipitously as you go bigger). You can get more #4 shot, in a flatter pattern, going faster, with a 12 Gauge.

The question is: do you want to?

Hell, a 10 Gauge can throw 2 1/4 oz. of #4 shot.

The question is: do you want to?

January 30, 2007, 05:33 PM
bobsmith - I guess to follow up on ArmedBear's question "Do you want to?", I'd ask:

- Are you having problems with how things are working now?
- Do you end up with many cripples?
- Do you find your cripples?

IMO, 12ga works better than 20ga on pheasants. When I'm hunting without a good dog, I'm typically working my butt off and any missed opportunity is frustrating. Furthermore, nothing is more frustrating than hitting a bird, watching it fall and then not being able to find it. The odds of that happening when hunting wild roosters without a dog go way up, so I try to stack the odds in my favor.

January 30, 2007, 10:27 PM
Yes, I do have a fair percentage (maybe about 25-30% of hits) of cripples and I've been wanting to reduce the number of lost birds. I was wondering if I should hang up the old 20 gauge Bernardelli and go to a 12 gauge if it would be noticibly more effective. Maybe I'll just get myself a 12 and see what the difference is. Hell, I'm always looking for an excuse to buy another gun anyway. But realistically, I think what some of you have said is right-- a dog is the real answer.

February 2, 2007, 08:49 PM
All work.

20s are light, inexpensive, and don't have too much recoil.


February 2, 2007, 09:54 PM
did i hear dog training?

today duck scent on dummys.. i think they like it..

February 16, 2007, 10:38 AM
Well, I found a like new 12 gauge Bernardelli Gamecock on the web and bought it so I guess when the hunting season rolls around, I'll find out if that's the answer I've been looking for. It has 25" barrels with I/C and Imp Mod chokes. Sounds like a good combination. Actually, I still think a dog is the real answer but I'm not ready for one just yet. Besides, I needed an excuse to buy another gun.:)

February 16, 2007, 10:49 AM
A grizzly meets you in the middle of a forest path, what your choice stopping power?

February 16, 2007, 10:59 AM
12 or 20 (personally I like a 20 on upland birds). I'll let you in on the best thing to hit duck hunting in years . . . try HEVIShot! #6 Hevi is really good Pheasant medicine. Although there's no need for non-toxic shot with upland birds, the Hevi shot works better than lead . . . really. It's about 20-30% denser and you can go down a shot size, have more pellets with the same terminal performance.

A good dog though is better than the best shotgun you can buy or the highest tech shells on the market!

February 16, 2007, 11:02 AM
UH, excuse me slug 529, but I think you posted on the wrong thread. I seldom have heard of Pheasant hunters running into brown bears. Welcome though.

You want the "I have Bear Phobia" threads, where they talk about 20mm cannon shells for hunting, etc. . . . :)

February 16, 2007, 03:56 PM
Hunting birds with a dog makes hunting birds worthwhile for me. If I'm with my little Brittany, I don't care if we find birds nearly as much, and at the same time, I'm more likely to get a couple.

"You're kidding me, you brat, there's no bird in that bush, it must be a stupid mouse. I can't see a bird, I've hit all around it with a stick -- if there is, it won't flush. You go get it out."

Dumb man holds shotgun in one hand to watch pretty dog push through the bush looking for mice. Bird flies out. Dumb man watches bird fly away. Dog looks at dumb man. If she could, she'd be going "thbbbbttt" at dumb man.

February 16, 2007, 04:19 PM
20s are light, inexpensive, and don't have too much recoil.

Whats inexpensive about a 20 guage? A box of game loads costs twice as much as game loads for a 12 guage. Theres nothing you can hunt with a 20 ga that you cant with a 12. 12 ga has alot bigger selection as far as ammo goes and i would say beats it hands down. I didnt realize there was that much of a price difference as I got a used mossberg 500 for 110 dollars. As far as recoil goes, maybe that bothers some people but light game loads arent to hard on the shoulder. I believe they even make reduced recoil shotgun shells. As a matter of fact the police here use 2 3/4 in reduced recoil 00 buckshot. you can easily get a rubber pad to go over the buttstock or if the recoil is that bad, you probably arent going to be comfortable shooting a 20 guage either. Thats just my opinion on the issue, but i doubt youre going to wish you bought a 20 guage if you go with a 12 guage.

February 16, 2007, 04:30 PM
I too hunt without a dog. From what I've seen, that is the way for me, I just don't like dog hunting. I do like dogs, just not to hunt with. (My opinion only, I know most like dogs - just not me)
I've found that my flushes usually are pretty close, and my 20 has worked well for me. I've also used 12 and 16 gauges, but never really noticed any downrange difference.
I got a 16ga A5 a couple years back, and that has been my choice since then.

If you're wondering if you should go from a 20 to a 12, I say split the difference and get a 16. Then if you don't like it, you can go for the 12.

February 17, 2007, 09:05 AM
Jumping in late here...

The 20 is fine as long as you have the discipline to limit your shots to the 30 - 35 yds you mention. A 12 is better, IMHO, particularly for later season birds that have really gotten heavily feathered and tend to flush further out, but looks like you have that covered now too.

The most important thing you can do to cut down on the cripples is make sure the gun fits you, and shoot a lot before the season starts. If you center-punch a bird with the pattern, they are not going to know if it is a 20 or a 12, as they will be DOA. Low-gun trap and/or Skrap (shooting at trap targets from the skeet stations) is great practice for pheasant hunting, particularly if you can get on the trap field with just one friend, and instruct them to surprise you with the pull.

I have bird-hunted for close to 40 years now. I got a lot better when I started shooting trap, skeet and sporting clays a lot about five years ago. Practice, practice, practice.

February 17, 2007, 09:42 AM
I prefer the 20ga for dove and quail. I break out the 12 for pheasants.
(of course the 12 makes the occasional dove shoot when the birds are making a fool...uh, I mean; when i'm not shooting up to my usual)

You don't mention owning a 12 currently, so you need an excuse to buy one.
"Honey, I just have to have a 12ga for Pheasants, they are such a BIG bird"

The best option of course is to buy a nice double with changeable barrels. Same platform to shoot multiple gauges. Go by your nearest Cabelas or Bass Pro Shop and look in their nice oval rooms. Find a nice used 101 or similar 4 barrel set.

Just here to help.


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