28 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge Recoil

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All hunters know that the 12-gauge shotgun remains the most effective, versatile one-gun solution for hunting. Its recoil, however, makes the 12 gauge not the only ideal shotgun for all shooting, and sometimes a 20 or the lesser 28 gauge can prove to be a better tool.

The effectiveness of shotguns for hunting is derived from their casting a wide-area pattern of shot pellets.

Not only do shotguns minimize the chances of not hitting moving targets, but you can also select different loads depending on the game you’re after.

Practical Applications of 28 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge Shotguns

The 28 gauge vs. 20-gauge recoil debate prevails since, aside from the 12 gauge, these are the more popular shotgun choices for hunters and sports shooters. Prominently featuring in sporting clays or trap shooting competitions, both gauges are efficient small game and bird hunters. 

There are several models of 28 and 20 gauge shotguns, either with single, double side by side or double over and under barrels. 

There are also various actions for the 28 vs. 20 gauge shotguns, such as the single-shot version that loads shells manually at the bottom of the barrel. Bolt actions also load manually, and you slide the bolt back and forth to chamber shells.

Three shells can be loaded into a pump-action, and you pump each load into the chamber manually. The semi-automatic 28 vs. 20 gauge can hold up to five shell rounds, each loading automatically after the last shell expended.  

When comparing 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge recoil, you’ll find the 28’s shells more expensive than their 20 gauge counterparts. This is due to their versatility for upland bird shooting and the lighter recoil option for the small and medium-sized game. 

As good hunting bores and home defense applications, shooting 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge shotguns may require learning how to reload as a cost-effective measure.  

Does Your Shotgun’s Gauge Determine Recoil?

Shotguns come in six standard gauges, determined by the bore size of their barrels. The 28 gauge vs. 28 gauge falls in the mid to light recoil range and are popular with target shooters and small game hunters.

20-gauge, for instance, means that if you have one pound of lead balls that fit snug into the barrel’s diameter, 20 of them will go in.

This description doesn’t translate well for the 28 gauge as it denotes a less effective and efficient load. However, the 28 gauge is a proficient bird killer with shot numbers six to eight, with successes prominent in upland pheasant or quail. 

Why Lighter Recoil Trumps Over the Heavy Impact

There’s a physical law that states that there must be an equal reaction for each action, and that’s true for shotgunning. The momentum produced by your shotguns shot, wad, and powder gas being ejected from its barrel will equal that of the relational recoil.

Recoil or kick can be measured with empirical computations, but the gun’s load weight is the most crucial part of this equation.

A shotgun chambered in a heavier load is built heavy to withstand recoil, and this is inversely true for smaller 28 vs. 20 gauges. The kick that you feel on your shoulders when you shoot the gun is called perceived recoil, and it’s highly subjective to how the stock is shaped to fit.  

With a recoil pad, for instance, your shoulder will feel a more softened blow. Semi-automatic or gas-operated shotgun actions soften the recoil by spreading it over a period of time.

You can’t, therefore, account for these variables when assessing 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge recoil. There are also various loads that offer the same velocity but produce a different kick than is standard for that gauge.  

According to one shotgun recoil table, the 28 gauge kicks at 12.8-foot pounds while the 20 gauge recoils from 16 to 31 ft. lbs.

Are Small Gauge Shotguns as Effective as Their Large Bore Counterparts?

Due to their smaller build and substantially lower recoil compared to 12 or 10 gauge shotguns, the 28 vs. 20 gauges are popular with youth and women shooters. A recoil sensitive or inexperienced male shooter can also tote one of the gauges, but it’s all dependent on what you are shooting.

The 28 gauge is favored for its low report and mild recoil. As opposed to the boom that a large bore shotgun produces, the 28 gauge has been described as a loud cracking that’s more akin to a breaking branch.

For the added benefit of shooting a more versatile gun, the 20 gauge’s report and recoil are slightly expressive. This is a practical trade-off for a lighter waterfowl, turkey, or buckshot deer hunting. 

The 20 gauge woks pinch in waterfowl situations, and advances in shotgun ammo for the non-toxic shot have seen its preference dramatically improve.

Its typical applications are, however, in small game and upland bird hunting. While both the 28 gauge vs. 20 gauges excel in these applications, the 20s light recoil is coupled with a denser shot pattern than you’d get with the softer 28 bores.

Another area of excellence for both 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge recoil is home defense. The lighter felt recoils make it easier to make follow up shots rapidly.

Factors to Consider When Choosing 28 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge Shotguns

When choosing between 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge shotguns, remember that 20 gauge shots are yellow while the 28s are red. This color marking avoids getting mixed up, seeing as these two smaller bores are nearly identical in girth.

Many people assume that the larger the shotguns gauge, i.e., 10 or 12 gauge, the more powerful it is. This misconception is half right as a larger bore will have an effective range and pattern density due to larger cartridges with more pellets and powder.

But when comparing 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge recoil, waves seen that shells of the same length loaded with equal amounts of pellets and powder will have similar effectiveness. 


Like any other gun, shooting 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge shotguns can perfectly match you or your partner’s hunting or target applications. When you ask for less recoil punishment than the ubiquitous 12 gauge can offer, 28 and 20 gauge shotguns hold the solution. 

When chasing through the bush after upland birds or climbing up tree stands for scurrying squirrels, you will need a lightweight shotgun that the massive bores can offer. Aside from lighter 28 gauge vs. 20 gauge recoil, you’ll have fun shooting an easy to carry and manage shotgun. 

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