I'm going to buy a shotgun at the gunshow tomorrow. Please advise on what gauge to buy.

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I don't know what gauge will service me the best. Is 20 gauge bigger that 12 gauge? Is there much difference in price for ammo? What length barrol?


-- freddie the freeloader (freddie@thefreeloader.com), April 17, 1999


12 gauge is bigger than 20 gauge. Riot shotguns for law enforcement work are 12 gauge. Military shotguns were (are?) 12 gauge.

In general, the shorter the barrel, the faster the pattern will expand when it leaves the muzzle. So, the shorter, the better, for that purpose. There are laws that prohibit shotguns with barrel lengths shorter than a specified distance. Most common I've seen is 18 in.

You might want to call a couple of gun stores before you go to the show, and then talk up some of the sellers when you get there.

As always, caveat emptor.

Good luck, good shopping.

-- LP (soldog@hotmail.com), April 17, 1999.


I stumbled across this page on the tactical shotgun by a swat guy. I think you may find his essay to be of interest to you. Maybe, you will get a chance to read it before you go to the show.


Good Luck.

-- Stan Faryna (info@giglobal.com), April 17, 1999.

Better than a shotgun is a nuclear weapon. NO ONE will mess with you then. It is the ultimate home-protection weapon.

I've got one I picked up in Russia. 100k. Cheap. Interested?

-- nospam (nospam@nospam.com), April 17, 1999.

The lower the number, the bigger the barrel diameter.

Get an 8 guage, if you can find one.

But make sure you're holding that rascal FIRMLY before you fire it ... and y' might want to put some plywood over your shoulder to distribute the kick . .. .. :)

-- Stephen (not for nothing is it called a "Hand Howitzer") http://www.wwjd.net/smpoole

-- Stephen M. Poole, CET (smpoole7@bellsouth.net), April 17, 1999.

Hi Freddie,

It used to be that 12 gauge was the standard for power, and 20 gauge was relegated to women (much less kick when fired, and the weapon is slightly smaller and lighter).

However, with modern shells, you can get the same results these days with a 20 gauge that could only be had with a 12 gauge 20 years ago.

Shells for both 12 and 20 gauge are readily available (with a slight edge to the 12 gauge, because there are more in use). The prices for the shells are about the same, as are the variety of loads.

Summarizing, there's not much difference between modern 12 and 20 gauge shotguns in actual use, except the 20 gauge shotgun is smaller, lighter and the shells are smaller and lighter.

Whichever you get, GET A PUMP ACTION (not single shot, double barrel or autoloader).

-- Dean -- from (almost) Duh Moines (dtmiller@nevia.net), April 17, 1999.

Fredie, Gauge is an old method of measuring bore diameter using 1 pound of pure lead as a reference. A 12 gauge(bore) shotgun would use a ball diameter equivalent to 12 balls per pound. A 20 gauge weapon used 20 balls per pound. The smaller the gauge the bigger the hole in the end of the barrel.A 12 gauge shotgun has a nominal bore diameter of .729". The only shotgun I know of that doesn't follow this convention is the .410. That shotgun used a .410" diameter bore.AKA as in 41 caliber.

Since I ASSume you are buying this shotgun for the 200 pound varmint class of hunting might I suggest buying a 12 gauge Pump shotgun with a modified choke(A shotgun term for how tightly the shot pattern is produced). Also please buy the gun with a 3" chamber. Shotguns for the most part come in 2 3/4" and 3" chambers. A 2 3/4" round will chamber and fire out of a 3" gun but not vice versa. For this application you also want the barrel not to exceed 24"(Plus or minus)

Good guns to look for:

Remington 870, Pretty much the industry standard About 350.00

Winchester 1200/1300. I've owned both and they run fine. About 325.00

Mossberg 500.Good gun can be had with different barrel combinations. About 325.00

Mossberg 590. GI/COP version of the 500. About 375.00.

If I were going to buy a shotgun to protect me and mine I'd go for the Rem 870. But your milage may vary.

As far as buckshot rounds go look up Ivanhoes Wearhouse on the net and buy Sellier and Bellot 12 GA 00 buck ammunition. It has a 12 pellet per shot loading which is a 3" loading in a 2 3/4" package. 200 Rounds runs in the amount of 60.00.The advantage is you might get another shot in your gun with a 2 3/4" loading. Every little bit helps.

Before the nay sayers whine about my choice of shot let me say. If you are going to shoot someone, shoot them. I don't care how thin my walls might be. If I have to use this weapon in a defensive manner I could care a rats ass less about over penetration. If I shoot someone I want them to stay shot. So in that situation bigger shot is better shot.

I hope this helps. Get some training with this new tool. It will help.

BTW, You aren't going to the genealogy library are you?

-- nine (nine_fingers@hotmail.com), April 17, 1999.

Thanks to everyone for all the useful information. I've been wondering what to buy myself. Any input on shotgun versus a handgun? I live in Hawaii which has an atrocious concealed weapons law.

-- Patricia (asap@aloha.net), April 17, 1999.

Freddie-- I'd go for the 12 gauge. From what I've seen, ammo availablility should be better since there seems to be about three 12 gauges for every 20 gauge around here. As for barrel length my personal preference is for 18.5" to 20"... makes the shotgun somewhat easier to handle indoors, especially in a hallway. If you shorten your own barrel (easily done with a hacksaw and a file) be sure to keep the length from muzzle to breach over 18", which is the legal minimum. I recommend a pump action shotgun. They're reasonably priced, widely available, reliable, and you can easily swap barrels to configure it for hunting. I prefer the Mossberg 500 since I think its safety is the easiest to operate in a hurry, especially when wearing gloves.

Patricia-- Shotgun vs handgun... I think the shotgun is a better choice for at-home defense. It's easier to hit something with a shotgun than a handgun since it's greater length makes it easier to point accurately. Another factor-- in over 90% of the cases where people have used a gun for defense, no shots were fired. Just displaying the gun convinced the would-be attacker that he had other, urgent business to attend to. Shotguns have a tremendous intimidation factor, more so than a pistol. They can inflict severe damage at close range and most people are aware of that.

Away from home, the handgun is better because you can carry it in a purse, fanny pack (they make special ones for handguns), holster, coat pocket, etc. I would recommend a revolver for someone who didn't have a lot of experience with pistols, since they are simpler to shoot. If you do intend to carry the handgun on your person frequently, get a model that is designed for concealed carry and it will be easier to draw in a hurry. I suggest .357 caliber; you can train with the cheaper light loads but keep it loaded with full-power ammo for defense.

Whichever gun you choose, get training from a competent shooter. If money for lessons is an issue, ask the owner of a gun shop if someone in the area might be willing to instruct you. Most NRA members are quite willing to help a beginner (especially if the beginner buys lunch :). Remember-- safety first, last, and always!

-- Max Dixon (mcdixon@konnections.com), April 17, 1999.

Dear FtF, You didn't state whether this was rural or urban defense. If rural you'll want a nice long barrel so that you can reach out. For rural defense you really do need a rifle. My personal prejudice is for a .308. Notice that we all assume it is for defense rather than food gathering? Is this assumption correct? Stan F.'s linked article is must reading.

On gauge size you have 12, 20, 16, and .410 as the most popular gauges. There are others, as mentioned. You will find that the most readily available ammo is 12 gauge but it will be around size #7 area. If you want 00 or 4 for self defense buy what you want NOW or forever hold your peace. Dean, Nine, and Max all make good points.

One thing I'ld like to add is that in cases of look alike, ie. the Mossberg 500 versus the 590, 600, etc. the more expensive version of the "same" gun usually has better quality control, ie. less liekly to jamb from being dropped in the sand, etc.

If the unit does not come with a good butt pad, get a good one, or if the pull length (the relation of the length from your shoulder to the trigger) isn't right keep shopping unless adding or swapping a thicker butt pad will do the trick.

Afterwards get NRA training and also purchase any video or book you can find done by John Satterwhite.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), April 17, 1999.


If you want them to stay shot.... why not use a .357?

-- (cannot-say@this.time), April 17, 1999.


Max has pretty much covered it. If you are staying put, a shotgun is generally more useful than a handgun for most people. In your environment, if I read you right, it's also more politically correct, so you would have a better chance of keeping it when/if the "gun collectors" come calling.

-- LP (soldog@hotmail.com), April 17, 1999.

One model shotgun I've dealt with alot recently is the Mossberg. Even though I personally use Remington 870s, people I've been teaching to use a shotgun find the Mossberg's safety being more visible is easier to use. And Mossbergs can be had for under two hundred bucks at the local WalMart or K-Mart. Remingtons go for around one hundred dollars more.

Twelve gauge is the only way to go. Twenty gauge is a poor second. Sixteen gauge is becoming unpopular, and is ammo getting hard to find as companies dicontinue it. Ten gauge was mentioned by someone, but that's a very uncommon gun and ammo is scarce and expensive.

One aspect of using a twelve gauge is the "standard (2&3/4"), magnum (3") and ultra-magnum 3&1/2") question. The last Mossberg I handled can use all three sizes. That was a model 835 if I recall correctly. If you buy a gun which can handle the 3&1/2 inch ultra-magnum, it can use all variations of twelve gauge ammo. A 3-inch magnum model will only shoot the three inch and standard length rounds. A standard twelve gauge will only shoot the two and three quarter inch shells. The big advantage of a gun that can shoot the biggest shell is that you can't jam your gun by trying to put in a round that's too large for the gun. With guns chambered for the shorter rounds, you can jam your gun if you accidentally put a longer round into the chamber.

For survival of your shoulder, note that if you have a gun chambered for three and one-half inch shells, you don't have to use those long rounds exclusively. And trust me, you will not want to. Ultra-magnums DO HURT when you fire them. But they have their place when it comes time for hunting for turkeys, ducks and geese. If you are thinking to do any hunting, don't rule out one of the big chamber guns.

Also be certain to get a newer gun with interchangeable choke tubes. These are "screw-in ends" of the barrel that will allow you to vary the way the gun fires a pattern of shot. This lets you use one gun with one barrel for different purposes by changing choke tubes and ammo. For example: use sabot slugs with rifled choke for deer hunting, use #4 shot with extra-full choke for turkey hunting and use buckshot with modified, improved cylinder choke for badguys.

Good luck and enjoy your new firearm. May you never have to use it in anger.


-- Wildweasel (vtmldm@epix.net), April 17, 1999.

Hey guys thanks a lot! A lot of good info that a lot of people can use! I made some notes and I now know what to look for! I will have a good breakfast at my favorite restaurant and then go to the gun show. Thanks again!

-- freddie (freddie@thefreeloader.com), April 17, 1999.

Hello, Freddie. You've got a lot of advice in the other posts to consider; but here's something else to think about. Many shotguns use a "crossbolt" type safety which moves right and left perpendicular to the bore axis. For folks who don't use the weapon often enough to make switching the safety on/off automatic, that can cause you some serious problems when you're trying to remember how it works while under severe stress. Because of that, I long ago bought a Mossberg 500 "Persuader". The Mossberg safety sits atop the comb, and moves fore and aft in line with the bore. It's very easy to operate: if you want to make it ready for firing, you just push the safety forward, in the same direction that the shot will leave the barrel. No guessing needed. I think it's a lot safer and user-friendly than is the crossbolt-type safety. Not only that, but the Persuader can be had with an extended magazine tube that allows the gun to hold a total of eight rounds.

-- Norm Harrold (nharrold@tymewyse.com), April 17, 1999.

Thanks Norm, I caught your message just before leaving for the gun show! Good advise and it is appreciated!

-- freddie (freddie@thefreeloader.com), April 17, 1999.

Cannot Say,

The discussion was shotguns, not handguns. Were I to have to use a handgun for self defense I'd use as a first choice a 1911A1 in .45ACP. Ammunition of choice 230gr ball. As a second choice a S&W66 with 4" bbl and 110gr jhp's. Third choice CZ52 in 7.62X25(for use against personal body armor). Ammunition 88gr ball.

-- nine (nine_fingers@hotmail.com), April 17, 1999.

Freddie: This is all you need for home defense:

1. 18" 12 guage shotgun (Remington is good) I am assuming urban on the length.

2. .380 Bersa Thunder (handgun) small, but not too light so kickback isn't very bad, easy to handle and use and ammo readily available

In my area these guns are around $ 250 - $300 each. I own both of these, plus lots of ammo for both. Have spent around $1000 for all plus training and range fees.

I must insert this here, and it isn't directed at anyone in particular:

Please, PLEASE do not even consider buying a gun of any kind unless you KNOW you will not hesitate to use it in a life or death situation. If you hesitate, the other guy will take it from you and kill or maim YOU with it. And PLEASE take a basic shooting class and put in some time at your local friendly indoor or outdoor range.

That is what I did and it made a world of difference. Had never even shot a bb gun before 3 months ago and my first time on the range hit non-stop bullseyes with .22's, .38 revolvers, 9 mm's and .380. Was glad to find out I'm a pretty good shot! Added MUCH to my confidence should all hell break loose and I need to protect my family. (Now to get out to that outdoor range and practice with the Remington. Got to get a recoil pad.)

(I'm a woman, BTW)

-- preparing (preparing@home.com), April 18, 1999.

This is useful info you guys, thanks. (I know, on another thread I ranted about this defense-talk getting out of hand, but that was different.) I have a question:

Are there any rifles, shotguns, and/or handguns which use the SAME ammo for both or all three? It seems to me this would be a good way to plan weapons if money was somewhat low and you wanted some versatility.

PJ in TX (who despite her bleeding heart for saving the neighbors, would probably find it easier to shoot most people than an animal.)

-- PJ Gaenir (fire@firedocs.com), April 18, 1999.


Good, practical question. I've got a semiauto handgun and a rifle that both use the same high-velocity .22 ammo. Beyond that calibre, the ballistics are customized in terms of mass, velocity, and force in order to produce an optimized load for a particular "application". In general, what works well for a handgun is not optimum for a rifle and vice-versa. Shotguns are a whole other area.

-- Nathan (nospam@all.com), April 18, 1999.

for "Preparing": I'm 60 years old, and, over the years, have taught many women to handle guns. Invariably, they turn out to be better shots than most of the men I've trained. Don't know why that is so; but I suspect it's because they might be better at concentrating on the matter at hand than are the men. It's quite encouraging, though.

-- Norm Harrold (nharrold@tymewyse.com), April 18, 1999.

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