.410 vs. 20 Gauge for Home Defense: Which is Best Suited

.410 vs. 20 Gauge for Home Defense: Which is the Most Suitable?

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When you’re shopping for a self-defense shotgun, you’ll almost always be led to the 12-gauge rack. That’s because it’s the universal law enforcement and military weapon, seeing as it has plenty of stopping power. But what about .410 vs. 20 gauge for home defense in maneuverability, patterning, and recoil?

The .410 bore is the lightest weight shotgun used today, while the 20 gauge offers a significant step over in terms of power and usefulness. It’s a better beginner’s gun due to its relatively low recoil, but you fire more shot-per-shell than the smaller .410 caliber. The first is best for small and sensitive-to-recoil shooters, while the other delivers 75% of the lead a 12 gauge offers with 40 to 50 percent less recoil.

Using a .410 gun for home defense requires a full choke to concentrate available shots. A 20-gauge shotgun means you’re able to rapidly and more accurately hit your attacker with multiple shots or hit many targets. Let’s dive into a conclusive comparison of the .410 vs. 20-gauge guns for home defense.

What Are ‘Gauge’ Measurements Used in Shotgun Sizing?

Shotguns are designed to fire a pattern or group of small pellets called shot. That makes it easier and more effective to hit moving or flying targets, especially if they’re small. It’s a more effective weapon for home defense where there’s little time to zero in your sights on an intruder target. The shell, measured in gauges, is constructed differently from the single projectile of a handgun or hunting rifle.

Shotgun shells utilize numerous pellets instead of the primer, powder, and bullet inside a rifle cartridge’s brass or steel casing. An often-plastic shell contains several shot pellets, a wad, and ignition powders and primers. Apart from shots, these shells, which come in different gauges and lengths, much like rifle calibers, can also have a slug for specific purposes.

Gauge is part of an old British system from the days when you’d buy lead by the pound to make your shot pellets. For instance, 20 gauge means you could fashion 20 shot balls from 1 lb. of the heavy metal. But the .410 shotgun is a misnomer, as it refers to its bore or inside barrel diameter, which is .41 inches.

Other guns in the past included an 8, 4, 24, and 32 gauge, but most of these remain as antiques and collectors’ items today. You’ll come across the most common shotgun sizes are, from the smallest to the largest, .410, 28, 20, 16, 12, and 10 gauges.

Lack of Industry Support for the 20 Gauge, Little Acclaim on the .410 for Home Defense

For many small game hunters, yours truly included, our first harvest was probably a squirrel. Even if you graduated to turkey, waterfowl, or filling buck tags, you’d start with a rusty .410 shotgun, possibly a single shot model. Having used all manner of guns, especially the more powerful 20, 12, or 10 gauges, you’d never consider a .410 shotgun for a spot beside your bed or at arm’s reach.

That’s until you’ve been noticing manufacturers coming out with shotgun ammunition designed specifically for home defense. In among the myriad choices, you’ve spotted shells labeled .410 bore and off flies, all that sentimental value you attached to your first kill. A 20 gauge, you’d understand, but will you stake your safety and that of your loved one to that little pop gun used by kids to hunt small critters?

It’s at close ranges, such as you encounter in a home invasion, that a small-bore shotgun like the .410 becomes a destructive weapon. At 15 feet, a cantaloupe of multiple pellets well placed downrange will instantly create an understanding between you and your attacker. With a lessened margin for error, your gun negates the psychological elements of an intrusion. These include fear, low light, heart pounding, instability, and lots of adrenaline.

A .410 is light and short, meaning it’s maneuverable in the tight spaces of your home. Since it’s a small-bore or gauge, it’s manageable in terms of recoil and can be handled well by young and old alike. Less recoil allows for fast cycling and well-placing of your shots of specially formulated defensive ammunition.

Comparing the .410 vs. 20 Gauge for Home Defense Shotguns

Most shooters within a home defense environment shouldn’t have problems handling a 20-gauge shotgun. It’s the best compromise between the less robust .410 and a 16- or 12-gauge thundercloud and is useful in terms of knockdown power. In contrast, although firing more shots per shell than the smaller bore, many experts term this shotgun size best for beginners for its slightly less recoil.

Compared to the .410, a 20-gauge shotgun delivers at least 15% more lead with an increased recoil by up to 20%. You’ll get a fuller pattern with this gun, and well-placed buckshot patterns from this gauge are just as effective as a 12 gauge, albeit with less recoil. For many, that means more practice with the weapon and, when in moments of home defense stress, excellent shot placement.

Shells and Power

.401 shells are available in lengths of ½ inch and 3 inches, containing a selection of shot loads and sizes. While widely available, this ammo is relatively more expensive than 20-gauge shells. These come in 2 ¾ and 3-inch lengths with a variety of loads.


The .410 bore shotgun shell has proportionally less powder, carrying a ½ ounce of shot, while the 20 gauge contains 7/8 of an ounce in pellets. A 20 gauge offers the same power as a 12 gauge, which means propelling projectiles at a 1200 feet per second velocity. These amounts of powder, indicated in dram equivalents, affect the use of each of these guns.

Shot Pattern

.410 shotguns are patterned at 25 yards, unlike other gauges, including the 20-gauge patterned at 40 yards. On average, a full choke single-barrel break-action .410 offers around 88% patterns at 30 yards for a 20 gauge’s 85%. It’s only due to the higher powder and pellet count of the 20 that it combines to place more shots within a 30-inch circle, but penetration is better at 3.4 inches vs. 3.1.

The same pattern tightness and penetration comparison continued at shorter ranges for the .410 and 20 gauge. Fewer pellets in the .410 pattern are broad, meaning you can miss your target beyond 30 yards. On the contrary, both guns are lethal at nearby targets, giving home intruders a full load.


You can employ either the .410 vs. 20 gauge for home defense as both guns are lightweight, maneuverable, and deliver full-on patterns at short ranges. Even young people and old geriatrics can put up a viable fight using one of these shotguns, and less recoil equals better shot placement. Their proficiency is more effective due to the availability of specialty defensive ammo while using chokes makes for sufficiently robust stopping power.

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