I have had several friends write me to ask, "My wife doesn't like the recoil of a 12 gauge. How about a 20 Gauge for home defense?"

Well, let's see what we can determine.

We will use the Waterbox O' Truth to measure penetration.

According to a recognized expert, DocGKR, "Be aware that water generally reveals the maximum upset which can occur to a projectile in soft tissue -your actual result in living tissue may be somewhat less. You can also use the water testing to get a rough estimate of bullet penetration depth in soft tissue--bullets penetrate approximately 1.6 to 2 times as much in water as in soft tissue."

We have a layer of denim over a layer of terrycloth to simulate semi-heavy clothing.

The water jugs are touching the back of the cloth.

This is the set-up.

This is the set-up.​

We will use my old double barreled 20 Gauge shotgun and my Mossberg Maverick 12 Gauge to do the tests.

We will shoot from an across-the-room distance of about 15 feet.


First, a round of 20 Gauge #8 birdshot.


It tore a nasty hole in the cloth.


But it only penetrated one jug of water...


...and barely made a hole in the second.

This means that it only penetrated about 6 inches of water, or the equivalent of about 3 inches of flesh.

Not enough to be an effective Stopper.

22-6 How about the 12 Gauge with #8 birdshot?


Having a short barrel and no choke, it made a much bigger pattern, but also only penetrated one jug.

Not good enough for dependable Stopping.

22-8Let's try Buckshot.

I was able to find some 20 Gauge Buckshot, some Winchester #3 Buck, with 20 pellets.


I was very surprised that it penetrated into the forth jug!

That's equivalent to over 12 inches of penetration into flesh.

More than enough, according to experts.

Who'd a thunk it?

22-10Let's try the 12 Gauge with Remington 00 Buckshot.

Sure tore up the jugs!

22-11 It penetrated 4 jugs.

This is a picture of the 00 Buck compared to the #3 Buck.

22-12Okay, how about a Rifled Slug in the 20 Gauge?

I got some Remington Slugger, 20 Gauge, 5/8 Ounce, Hollow Point Rifled Slugs.

My first shot was a little low and the hydrostatic shock blew the bottom out of the Waterbox.

What a mess!

22-13We tried again and centered the Slug in the jugs better.

It only penetrated a couple of jugs and the Slug came all to pieces.

Not very satisfactory performance.

22-14Let's try the 12 Gauge Rifled Slug, a Federal Power-Shok 1 Ounce HPRS.

How's that for blowing up some jugs?

22-15It penetrated 5 jugs and blew them to pieces.


This is the Slug and it's wad, recovered from the fifth jug.

This is the Slug and it's wad, recovered from the fifth jug.​

Lessons learned:

  1. As we have shown time and time again, birdshot is for little birds, not for bad guys. It makes a nasty, shallow wound, but is not a good "Stopper".
  2. I was surprised by the penetration of the #3 Buckshot in the 20 gauge. It performed much better than I would have expected. I would not be too quick to discount Buckshot in a 20 Gauge for home defense.
  3. 00 Buck in the 12 Gauge was excellent.
  4. The Slug in the 20 did not perform very well. For some reason, it broke up into small pieces.
  5. Once again, the 12 Gauge Slug amazes us. It was devastating! Penetration was 5 jugs or almost 30 inches. That is equivalent to almost 15 inches of penetration of flesh.
Lots of dead water jugs left. A fine day of shooting.

And, shooting stuff is fun!

(Thanks to Tman for the photo help)


I received a note from a police officer that asked me not to mention names or locations about this true event.

A police officer was involved in some shotgun training, where they used #6 birdshot in the training due to lower cost. After the training session, he forgot to remove the birdshot and replace it with 00 Buckshot, the normal carry load.

That night, while on patrol, he confronted a couple of burglars and was in a shootout with them. He shot both of them with his shotgun, but forgot that he had it loaded with birdshot.

They killed the officer and escaped.

Never use birdshot against goblins. Use plated 00 Buckshot.