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For some people, cold weather causes depression. The days are shorter, the temperature stays cold. A lot of times you have to deal with snow and ice. But for a specific set of people, cold weather is good news. Take duck hunting, for instance. The colder it is, the more likely you are to get a few trophies to take home – as long as you’re hunting with the right gun.

Can You Duck Hunt with a 20 Gauge?

When it comes to duck hunting, your choice of a shotgun is important. I’m not talking about whether you’re choosing a Winchester or a Benelli. I mean, the gauge of your gun. Not surprisingly, many waterfowl hunters prefer to use a 20 gauge shotgun for their gun of choice.

The 20 gauge is a lighter weapon than your typical 12 gauge. And it has less recoil when fired, which makes it a great choice for hunters that are younger or smaller in size. When you’re hunting ducks, you’re not just going to shoot once as you would do with a deer.

You’ll be pulling the trigger multiple times. That’s a lot of abuse your shoulder will sustain. If you’re hunting with a 10 or 12 gauge, which is also both good options for duck hunting, the repetitive motion of the recoil can cause you some discomfort after a while.

Why Does Gauge Matter When Duck Hunting?

If you’re new to firearms, let me explain a few things. The gauge of your gun is going to determine how many pellets there will be inside each shell. The lower the number, the larger the shell. Therefore, the larger the shell, the more powerful it will be.

So a 10 gauge is bigger than a 12, which is larger than a 16, which is larger than a 20. Although a 20 gauge will have a smaller load, it is still plenty powerful enough to kill ducks. All you need is enough force for the pellets to pierce through the duck’s body and hit vital organs. At close ranges, a 20 gauge will be more than enough.

If you’re planning to shoot at distances less than 30 yards, there’s not much need for a large gauge gun. Especially if you’re an inexperienced hunter. Don’t think that you have to go big to impress the boys. I can assure you they will understand if you use a 20. They might be too. 

12 Gauge Versus 20 Gauge

Despite popular beliefs, the pattern shot – the way the pellets spread out after being shot – is not bigger with a 12 gauge compared to a 20 gauge. And although you might get an extra 10 to 20 yards using a larger steel shot in a 12 gauge, for the most part, you’ll have the same firing distance with a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge.

A 20 gauge will shot up to 40 yards. Past this, you’ll start having gaps in your pattern. A duck can easily fly through these empty spaces without getting hit. Or if they are hit, it’s not with enough shot to do maximum damage. You never want to just wound an animal. And it’s quieter than a 12 gauge so it won’t scare off incoming birds. 

A 12 gauge will average past 40 yards but less than 60. This size gauge does have a lot more recoil than a 20 gauge. However, using a lighter gun, and installing reduction systems like shoulder recoil pads, are ways to ease the power of the kick. Making sure that your gun is a good fit and using a lighter load can also reduce recoil.

Is a 20 Gauge Powerful Enough to Use Duck Hunting?

Other factors come into play that will affect how well your hunt goes. It doesn’t just matter what gauge you’re using. It also depends on the shot size, the length of your shell, the choke you use, and the type of material used to make the pellets. Check out this article to figure out what shot is the best for duck hunting.

I recommend reviewing that guide as well because it can give you a lot of relevant details about duck hunting that we’re not going to cover in this article. But for those of you in a hurry, the best overall shot for a 20 gauge shotgun is a number 6 shot for small ducks, a number 4 shot for medium ducks, and a number 2 shot for large ducks. 

The number four shot is your best go-to if you only want to use one size shot. It has enough power to take down most large ducks and geese, although it would need to be at a closer range. The closer your shot, the tighter your pattern will be. You’ll be able to kill your target without compromising the meat. 

A number 4 shot in a 20 gauge actually has more power than a 2 shot in a 12 gauge. 

Types of Shotguns

There are different types of 20 gauge shotguns you could use for duck hunting but we recommend using a semi-automatic. Although remember that you have to use a plug, which means your gun will not hold more than three shells at a time. This is federal law and the punishment for violating it can be steep.

A semi-automatic is a great choice for a duck gun because you get three shots in quick succession. If you’re using a pump or a bolt action, you have to eject one shell before loading a new shot into the barrel. This short time-lapse can cause your target to get too far out of range. 

An over-and-under and a double-barrel semi-automatic are two really great shotguns for duck hunting. You can use two different chokes for better control of your spread pattern. In case you’re unfamiliar with chokes, it’s a cylinder tube that screws into the end of your barrel that controls your pattern spread. 

If you want to know more about the best choke to use for duck hunting, we’ve got an article for that

Why Your Shotgun Pattern Matters 

Using a choke to control the spread of your pattern is crucial if you want to have a successful hunt. The choke holds your pellets into a tighter grouping for longer before it starts to spread out, which allows you to have a further reach.

There are three dimensions of a shotgun pattern:

  • Width
  • Height
  • Length – also called the shot string

Shot string is the distance from when the first pellet of the load hits your target to the last pellet hitting. You want a decent shot string so that you have a higher chance of your shot hitting true. One pellet won’t be enough to damage a bird. It needs to be multiple pellets.

The pellets spreading out is necessary for moving targets. But if the spacing gets too far apart, you’ll hit fewer ducks. When you’re using a 20 gauge, there are fewer pellets than a 12 gauge so it’s important to have the right choke and load size.  

Best Shot for 20 Gauge

When it comes to shot size, you can use different sizes for different breeds of ducks. If you’re hunting small ducks, a good option is the number 6 shot. Go with a number 4 when you’re hunting medium size ducks and a number 2 for your large breed ducks and geese. 

If you don’t want to swap shells in the middle of a hunt as a new flock moves in, the number 4 shot is your best option. 

A 20 Gauge is the Perfect Choice for Duck Hunting

You can shoot 2 ¾ and 3-inch magnum shells if you want more power. A 3-inch mag will have roughly the same power as a 12 gauge shotgun. The larger your gauge, the more damage you’re risking to the bird if you make a short shot. A 12 gauge can be too much for smaller ducks. But a 20 gauge can be just right for small and large.