10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge Shotguns

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If you are stuck between the 10 gauges vs. the 12 gauge, well this is the article for you. With basic knowledge, you’ll probably go for the bigger gauge, since it’s more recent, and obviously the latest is best and modified.

Well, this is not a bad idea to go by, but it is important to have an analysis of the 10 gauge versus the 12 gauge to determine the overall best performer. 

It is fully understandable because the shotgun gauge classification is somewhat counterintuitive. There are a lot of more misconceptions concerning shotgun gauges than any other ammunition and firarms related subjects. 

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge Shotguns: A Detailed Comparison

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge 3.5 Ballistics

Both 10 gauge and 12 gauge shotguns chambered in the 3.5 are popular among shooters. But, which one is a better performer than the other. The one that offers the best bang for the buck will depend on the intended purpose among other factors. 

The 10 versus 12 gauge is simply a function of ballistics. Holding all things constant, the 3.5 inches in the smaller 12 gauge won’t hold an equal amount of lead and powder as the 3.5 inches in the larger 10 gauge bore. Theoretically, the 3.5 inches 10 gauges have more potential than the 3.5 inches in the 12 gauge.

With the arrival of a 3 -1/2 inch 12 gauge load, people thought that the 10- gauge had become obsolete, which wasn’t the case. The 3.5″ 12 gauge is still very far to outdo the performance of 10 gauge. The 12 gauge shows little or no range difference over the 3.5″ 12 gauge.

10 Gauge vs 12 Gauge Velocity and Ammo 

The ten -gauge in 3-1/2″ is .775″ gauge 10, and the 12 gauge is .729″~.742″ 12 gauge. The speed for these two gauges ranges between 1300 to 1450 fps although it is dependent on the kind of ammo you’ll be using. 

But considering we are in a world where marketing forces control physics, you’ll see that 12 gauge chambered in 3-1/2″ has become a hotcake in most gun markets. These 12 gauge chambered in 3.5 accepts a wide variety of affordable and lighter loads. 

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge Patterning

Besides, the 12 gauge feature longer shot column and shot deformation. They will require more tweaking for the better pattern at a distance. For steel shots, both 12 gauge and 10 gauge show relatively the same pattern. 

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge for Home Defense 

Most 10-gauge shotguns weigh over 10 pounds. This helps in countering the effect of large caliber recoil. On the other hand, 12 gauge offer smooth-swing and comfort of use and therefore, a great gun for defense as well as upland shooting.

However, the 10 gauge is also applicable in home defense as they boast longer range accuracy. 

The two are practical for home defense, but the 12 gauge guns have become more popular due to their shell compatibility. If you don’t care about recoil and limited ammo choices, the 10 gauge is a superb deal as it is more powerful. 

10 Gauge vs. 12 Gauge Pellet Size and Shell Length

While gauge size typically the bore diameter, there are other crucial shell characteristics you need to know. Apart from the gauge, shotgun shells feature varying lengths. They also possess different loads of powder, shot size, weight, and composition. Most shell packages will have an indicator showing shell length after being fired.

Shells will be half-inch shorter when loaded. The longer shells will usually feature a combination of more shot or more powder for more incredible speed or a heavier shot load. As a thumb rule, the longer shell will kick better than a short shell of the same gauge. However, there are shell lengths and gauges, which are quite common and are standardized by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI).

 If you’re wondering about the proper length shell your shotgun can use, you need to check the barrel or chamber. If the chamber is longer, it is safe to use smaller shells, and the other way round is not correct.

 You will find that the 20 gauge shells are mostly available in 2 3/4″ and 3″ lengths. Thus, you can safely fire the 2 3/4″ shells in a 20 gauge gun that features 2 3/4″ or a 3″ chamber. Apart from shotgun slugs, the 20-gauge shell features a large number of pellets. It depends on the size, composition as well as the weight of the pellet loaded.

Shotgun Gauges and their Recommended Uses

There is no doubt that 12 gauge shells are the most popular in the USA. It is followed by 20 gauge, 28 gauge coming third, and .410 bore. The 10 gauge and 16 gauge aren’t rare but are relatively less common than the others we’ve mentioned. The best for you will depend on the intended use and other aspects. As you may have noted, the pattern of shotgun increases with range. Hence it is easy to hit your target, especially if it is in motion.

 But most hunters have improved the art and mostly use chokes to tighten the shot pattern to a certain extent. The choke is simply a constriction on the rifle’s muzzle. But there is always that point where the shot becomes too spread out to offer a nice hit on the target passing through the shot column. Moreover, individual pellets reduce speed as they leave the muzzle.

So as you would expect, heavier pellets retain considerable velocity at longer ranges. They end up causing more damage than the lighter and smaller rounds. However, the shot pattern becomes thinner as you increase the pellet size since it reduces the individual pellets. Traditional shot measurement involves shooting at the center of a 30 inches circle at about 40 yards and determining the number that hit inside. The dense pattern is ideal for a quick and ethical game hunting.

Also, some shotgun patterns work best with certain loads. Therefore, increasing the shot weight is a simple way of getting a dense pattern. But don’t forget you can only increase the shot weight to a certain degree because the gauge and shell length are vital considerations.

Most North American waterfowl hunters prefer steel shots to lead shots, yet the latter is heavier than the former. To counter this, the hunters use large diameters of steel shots; this is particularly true with turkey and geese hunting. 

The heavier loads also apply to long-range hunting. But there is this thing about overkill and killing a small game with a heavy and powerful cartridge, causing extreme damage and loss of meat. That’s why most hunters prefer 12 gauges and not the 10 gauge. The other demerit of heavier loads is that when fired from a larger bore will result in a great recoil.

The Popularity of Shotgun Gauges

10 Gauge Shells

The 10 gauge is popular in waterfowl hunting. As earlier mentioned, the larger bore and longer shell length increases the ballistics of the shot. The 10 gauge offers impressive ballistics, especially if you use it with a non-toxic load. However, its insane recoil and substantial weight of most 10 gauge shotguns make most hunters fear using them.

 But, for turkey hunting, there are lots of loads that are being offered as 10 gauge. These are usually provided in shot size, 4, 5, or 6 toxic free ammo for ducks and geese, including BB, BBB, or T size shot, which make up the vast 10 gauge ammo being currently manufactured. 

12 Gauge

On the other hand, 12 gauge is indeed the most popular shotgun size in North America. It is produced in almost every shotgun, ranging from semi-autos to pump-action or any kind in between. This shotgun gauge is probably the most versatile as you can use it for the big game, waterfowl, turkey, upland, and small game hunting. In the United States, this is also the most popular shotgun gauge for home defense.

 Recent research on popular guns showed that a hunter equipped with a Mossberg 500 pump-action or Remington 870 could take down almost every game animal in the US woodlands. It is quite possible, and all they need is to change the barrel, choke, and load size if necessary. Moreover, the 12 gauge ammo is widely available, and that’s why using these shotguns is no hassle. It is available in almost every shot size, starting from number 9 to 000 buck shots and slugs.

The Standard 2 3/4″ 12 gauge shells are excellent for small species and upland game. Therefore, the 12 gauge shotguns do the trick for turkey, waterfowl, and the big game animals, though the sizable 3-inch magnum shells do better in hunting those species. Most waterfowl hunters prefer 3 1/2″ 12 gauge shells. Apart from the versatility and availability of 12 gauge shotguns and shells, they offer manageable recoil as compared to the 10 gauge shells.

 Amazingly, the 12-gauge shell is more advantageous over the smaller gauges because it possesses a shorter column that reduces deformation as it gushes out of the barrel. Consequently, the 12 gauge loads will offer a better pattern than the smaller gauge shotgun using the same amount. They are available at affordable prices not to scare any aspiring hunter.

16 Gauge

To fully appreciate the 12-gauge shotgun and shells, you must not overlook the 16 gauge. This bore size remains popular in Europe but not as much in North America. You will find that most American hunters consider the 12 gauge as the most versatile shotgun and will go for 20 gauge if they’re looking for a lighter hunting rifle. 

So, 16 gauge vs 12 gauge: which is better? While many factors played a role in this, the transition from lead to steel shot in turkey hunting discouraged the use of 16 gauge. But, its functionality can go hand in hand with that of 12 gauge only that it offers less recoil. It is still a capable shotgun gauge though, in North America, it is popularly used for small game hunting such as pheasant, rabbit, and squirrel. Thus, most of the 16 gauge shells feature 4, 5, 6, 7 1/2, and 8 sized shots.

20 Gauge

 The 20 gauge shotguns rank slightly behind the 12 gauge regarding popularity. These 20 gauge shotguns are the most popular of all smaller gauges. Besides, it is available in a wide array of shotgun types and ammo sizes ranging from #9 to #2 buckshot loads and, of course, slugs.

 For a long time, the 20 gauge has been classified on the lighter side for deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting. But advances in toxic-free ammo has enhanced the ideality of the 20 gauge in all hunting areas. It is a major reason why the 20 gauge shells have become extremely popular and available.

Additionally, the 20 gauge shells are yellow, making it easy to distinguish them from their 12 gauge counterparts. There is nothing more catastrophic than loading any shell of a different gauge into any shotgun. The 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells are very competitive in terms of popularity, and it can be easy to confuse the two.

28 Gauge and .410

The 28 gauge and .410 bore are less popular, and the smallest shotgun bore in everyday use. They are somewhat great for upland and small game hunting. The .410 bore is relatively diminutive and offers mild recoil making it ideal for kids. These shells are also easy to use and affordable.


From our article, there are different shotgun gauges. But if you’re looking for the most versatile, it would be great if you choose a 12 gauge shotgun featuring a 3-inch chamber. It can accommodate 2-3/4″ and 3″ shells. For long-range hunting, the 10-gauge wins since it is heavier, but you will have to deal with high recoil. Simply put, there is a shotgun gauge for anything you want to hunt. Also, most of these shotgun shells are readily available at affordable rates.

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