Have you ever really thought about how a shotgun works? I'm not talking about triggers, ejectors, and actions, but about how they impact a target. Truth is, how a shotgun impacts a target depends on which end of it you hold when you swing it, because shotguns don't impact a target. The pellets propelled out of the muzzle do, and that is where a lot of the "misunderstanding" about shotguns, and their effectiveness stem from. Shotgun shells are what defines how a shotgun will perform on a given target. Let's look at a common "misunderstanding" (and pet peeve of mine), and try to clear some thing up.
- Gauge has no relation to power- Too many people, some of whom have been shooting for a long time, think that a shotgun's gauge somehow relates to the amount of power it has. It does not. A 12 gauge shotgun is not anymore powerful than any of the sub gauges. Why not? As explained in the paragraph above, shotguns do not impact a target. What you put in to them does. The shotgun is just the means of delivery. The components, and make up of the ammo you choose is what bears the "power".
- Gauge has no relation to range- Range is a function of a combination of pellet size (weight) and velocity. You can read about it here. https://allseasonsoutdoors.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-science-redefined.html
- The ammo dictates the "power"-Take a standard ammo load, for example, 1 oz of #6 (222 pellets) propelled at 1200 fps. This load will carry the same amount of energy (power) whether propelled out of a 10g, 12g 16g, 20g, or 28g. Which ever gauge you choose, this load has the same efficiency, when all the other variable remain the same.
- Don't use flawed logic- I know what you're thinking,"My 12gauge 1 1/8oz #5's @ 1250fps are more powerful" Yes. They are more powerful than the first load, but that's not because they are a 12 gauge load. It's because it's a bigger load, and a faster load. If you packed 1 1/8oz of #5's @ 1250 fps in to a 16g, or a 20g hull they would have the same "power" as you're 12 gauge. If you're not comparing equal variables, then you are using flawed logic.
What are some of the advantages of a 10g, 12g, or even a 16g?
- Room for more pellets- Having a larger bore diameter means that more pellets can be fit in a shotgun shell. When shooting loads with smaller sized pellets often a load as light as 3/4 oz allows for a pattern with enough density to efficiently hit any target. When shooting larger pellets, going to a larger payload increases your pellet count and pattern density. Where a pheasant hunter may have adequate pattern density of 222 pellets shooting 1 oz of #6's, a waterfowler may appreciate having better pellet density than the 87 pellets in a 1 oz load of #2's. In that case one could choose to shoot a magnum 1 1/2oz load with 130 pellets. This is not an increase in power.
- More pattern density- unlike the example above where one goes to a larger payload to increase the pellet count of larger pellets, sometimes your target may leave you wanting more smaller pellets. I do not shoot competitive clays, but if I did I would do so with a 12 gauge. Why? A clay target is a smaller target, and often shot edge on. This means a clay target can more easily slip through any holes in a pattern. To remedy this one can increase the density of their pattern by increasing their pellet count from 356 pellets (7/8 oz #8's) to 508 pellets (1 1/4 oz #8's). This is not an increase in power.
- Convenience- One will never have to look very far to find 12 gauge ammo. If you travel to shoot, either clays or in the field, sooner or later you will need to buy ammo while on the road. Not only will you find ammo, you'll probably find ammo you like. There is an abundance of 20 gauge ammo available, and I've never struggled to find some, but there have been times when I've had to shoot #6's when I'd have preferred #7 1/2's. This is where the popularity of the 12g becomes an off brand benefit. This benefit, however, does not transfer to 10g, or16g ammo, both of which can be quite difficult to find.
So why would anyone choose to shoot a 12 gauge (or any other gauge)? It comes down to choosing a gauge and a gun that best meets your need. I tend to break gauge down in to two categories; large bore and sub-gauge. I define large bore as 10g, 12g and 16g, and sub-gauge as 20g, 28g, and .410. Many 16 gauge shooters consider it a sub-gauge, but in my mind it's a large bore gun even though it is marginally closer in size to a 20g than it is to a 12g. Each category has it's own pros and cons. I shoot a 20 gauge almost exclusively. It works for 90% of my shooting needs. That said, there are a couple of situations where a 12 gauge would actually provide an advantage.