Today I’m going to show you the best 20 gauge shotgun.
I’ve hand-tested over 12 guns alone for this review.
The best part?
I’ve sorted each shotgun by use. So whether you’re on a budget or need the best semi-auto shotgun, you’ll find it here.
Let’s dive in!
The Best 20 Gauge Shotgun
If you’re pressed on time, here’s a quick list of the best 20 gauge shotguns:
- Remington 11-87: Best Youth 20 Gauge Semi-Auto Shotgun
- Stoeger Uplander: Best 20 Gauge Shotgun for the Money
- Benelli Ethos: Best 20 Gauge Semi-Auto Shotgun
- Remington 870: Best 20 Gauge Home Defense Shotgun
1. Remington 11-87: Best Youth 20 Gauge Semi-Auto Shotgun
The Remington 11-87 is the best shotgun for a young hunter to start with.
This versatile shotgun is famed to be great for hunting small to medium game, home defense and informal clay pigeon shooting.
Being one of the only semi-auto 20 gauge shotguns made in the USA, I wanted to see if this would be a good fit for my kid to use in the field.
So we struck out to enjoy some learning, some surprises and a lot of fun testing.
For the field testing, my son was thrilled with the accuracy of the 11-87.
Since this is being tested for a young shooter to use, it made sense to let the kid be the one to do the tests. So a day in the woods with my boy, with every squirrel and rabbit being fair game, was a fun way to vet the 20 gauge.
Using a light varmint load for our small targets, the Remington was consistently accurate on targets within 30-40 yards.
The 1 ½” comb helped him with a good line of sight. He had no trouble getting lined up and staying on target.
Those soda cans on the logs didn’t stand a chance.
The autoloading of the Remington 11-87 was perfectly reliable.
Without any fail to fire, and good ejection with each rack, it was an easy category to check off of the list.
During the more rapid-fire situations when he would chase a bird on the wing, there was no trouble with the smooth operation. It was so easy for him to use.
Black synthetic stock is built with good checkered panels on the pistol grip and forend. The easy grab of the handholds makes it easy to keep a firm grip.
The trigger on the 11-87 is very good.
The 3 ¼-pound pull made it easy for his trigger discipline. For reviewing’s sake, my test fires with it proved it has a nice feel and clean break.
The walnut versions of this shotgun have gold triggers within the black plastic trigger guard, but our low-profile black version was entirely consistent in the matte finish.
Magazine & Reloading
With a 4 + 1 capacity, there is plenty of opportunity for my son to hit targets on the move.
The Remington’s self-compensating gas system allowed us to test the gun with 2 ¾” and 3” shells without having to make adjustments.
The versatility in the load is another nice feature that makes my apprentice’s life easier. He doesn’t know yet which ammo works best in a situation, so having options will help him learn as he practices.
Length & Weight
Easy to manage for my son, the length and weight of the Remington 11-87 are easy for him to work with.
Styled with a matte black solid-steel receiver and 26” barrel, the non reflective surface increases the ability to remain concealed in the blind.
The overall 46” length of the gun, with a 14” pull is an easy length for him to operate.
The semi auto comes with one modified choke tube, and accepts standard RemChoke(c) tubes.
Also, the 7.75 lb weight is well-balanced and not difficult for him to support.
The heavier weight may seem to be too much for hunting far afield, but there is an upside. The mass of the shotgun is a significant factor in the low recoil.
The self cleaning gas operation system is effective at significantly reducing recoil.
This means I can stay on target for squirrels or birds through a quick volley of shots.
The stock buttpad is cleanly molded and is on par with the other 20 gauge hunting shotguns at this price point.
Most of what we’ll be hunting for as my son learns will be small game and fowl, which means the lighter load ammo is what will be needed. If you are in the same boat, here are some options for you to start with.
- Fiocchi, Golden Pheasant, 20 Gauge, 3″ Shells, 1 1/4 oz., Nickel Plated Just what the name implies, this highly rated hunting load for birds is perfect for the task at hand.
- Federal, Game-Shok Heavy Field, 20 Gauge, 2 3/4″, 1 oz. Shotshell This is the best way to allow your trainee to let ‘er rip without a care in the world for the cost of shells.
Remington provides for easy installation of a sling for the 11-87, with one molded sling swivel stud on the rear of the stock and another stud affixed to the magazine cap.
Slings are always a good accessory for all of your long guns. Keep it simple, and affordable.
Braudel 2 Point Rifle Slings – Sling with Swivels, Length Adjuster, Gun Shoulder Strap for Hunting Shotgun
You can save your pennies on this accessory, to ease the smack of the more costly optics and accessories that are needed for your favorite rifle.
You’re happy. The kid is happy. Your wife won’t yell at you for buying more gun stuff.
Remington kept the costs of this shotgun down to a low $600 price tag.
Smart choices with engineering and design have been passed along to us, and I appreciate that when shopping for a starter gun.
The investment for me is a great way to equip my son. I also know that it’s likely he will take this gun with him when he leaves the nest, and may be enjoying its use for decades.
Is the Remington 11-87 worth it?
The accuracy, ease in operation, and overall quality Remington has given us with the 11-87 is worth every penny.
Shooting should be fun to learn and fun to practice. This shotgun is the pinnacle in each of those categories.
It was such a pleasure to spend this testing day in a guiding role, and the Remington 11-87 will be with us to enjoy many more days just like this one.
2. Stoeger Uplander: Best 20 Gauge Shotgun for the Money
The Stoeger Uplander is a side-by-side shotgun that offers the most value.
In fact, it’s the only double-barreled hunting shotgun you can get for under $500.
Double-barreled shotguns have a special place in the hearts of hunters: they’re simple, effective, and have a satisfying break-action.
But if you’ve never used one before, the high cost of a double-barrel makes it a risky investment.
That’s where the Stoeger Uplander comes in, but is a budget shotgun really worth taking on a hunt?
Read on to find out…
The Stoeger Uplander is made for hunting, and works great at the effective ranges for hunting fowl: 30 to 40 yards.
In a range test with a 25-inch target placed 40 yards away, about one-third of pellets from each barrel landed on the target.
And that’s at the farthest range that you’ll be firing on pheasants.
In addition, the overlap of pellets means you won’t have to compensate your aim too much when taking your second shot from the other barrel.
In addition, out of the box the Stoeger Uplander comes with an Improved Cylinder choke and a Modified choke that you can install to improve your accuracy over ranges.
You can easily swap out these chokes based on what your target is and how far away you’ll be taking your shot.
The modified choke is especially good for hitting flying targets, as it tightens the spread of your shot, making it more effective at longer ranges.
As a budget shotgun, the Stoeger Uplander is certainly not the most reliable side-by-side you’ll pick up.
The bottom line is, this is a mass-produced firearm that lacks the fit-and-finish of more costly models.
The Stoeger Uplander has been known to fail to fire, especially under colder temperatures.
If you’re considering buying one, I suggest going to a physical store and inspecting the shotgun’s fit before making the purchase.
If you’re not married to the idea of owning a side-by-side, consider looking into a different type of shotgun, such as a 410, instead.
If you want a side-by-side double-barreled shotgun, however, the Stoeger Uplander is the only one you’ll find for under $500.
The Uplander handles fairly well, being a hunting shotgun.
Pressed checkering is located on the grip and fore of the Stoeger Uplander, providing modest purchase.
However, I doubt the shallow checkering would stand up to outdoor conditions that I’d experience on a hunt, such as cold and wetness.
Regardless of that, this side-by-side is still fairly easy to handle due to its shape and weight.
New 20-gauge models of the Stoeger Uplander are built with a double trigger, allowing you to fire each barrel individually.
I found the triggers to be fairly heavy, with stiff breaks that took some getting used to.
I vastly prefer the double trigger design, though some swear by single-trigger guns for hunting. The forward trigger fires the right barrel, the rear trigger the left.
Magazine & Reloading
The biggest pull of double-barreled shotguns is their elegant simplicity: two shells, two shots.
Having to reload after only two squeezes of the trigger may seem tedious, but you’ll get used to it surprisingly quickly.
The habit of breaking open the Stoeger Uplander, extracting the spent shells, and replacing them with new ones quickly becomes ingrained in muscle memory, turning into an unthinking ceremony between shots.
It’s part of the appeal of double-barreled shotguns, after all.
I will admit that breaking open the gun for the first time was a struggle, but it seemed to loosen up after use.
Manually extracting spent shells might also seem like extra work if you’re used to the automatic ejection systems of a pump-action shotgun, but the chances of malfunction with the Stoeger Uplander is close to zero.
Call me old-fashioned, but the less moving parts involved, the more consistent a firearm operates.
And having two shots might seem like too little if you’re often at the range, but as a hunter I will say that I’ve often needed a second shot to bring down my quarry, but never a third.
Length & Weight
For a gun named “Uplander,” this Stoeger is a bit larger than most firearms I’d bring upland hunting.
The Stoeger Uplander weighs 7 lbs and 15 oz, which is fairly heavy for a gun this size.
This shouldn’t be surprising though, as having twice as many barrels as the average shotgun certainly adds a lot of weight.
In general, I’d say that this gun is heavier than most hunting shotguns I’ve handled, but lighter than many rifles, in part due to having less ammunition loaded at a time.
The 20-gauge model comes in 26- and 28-inch barrel versions, of which I tested the former. Overall length is 42 inches.
A gun that’s over 40 inches and almost 8 lbs in weight isn’t ideal for carrying around on an upland hunt, but it would still be perfectly suitable for hunting waterfowl.
Not to mention, the Stoeger Uplander is built like a brick and at this price point, I wouldn’t be afraid to get it dirty shooting puddle ducks.
The recoil on the Uplander is perfectly manageable, especially when kneeling or lying prone as one would do on a hunt.
With the 20-gauge model I had no issues managing the recoil, though in my experience 12-gauge shotguns have much more of a kick to them.
The stock of the shotgun comes with a fairly thick recoil pad that softens the effect on your body. It fit me quite well, but shorter hunters may want to test out the length of the stock for themselves and possibly shorten it.
As with any side-by-side shotgun, the felt recoil is higher compared to hunting rifles, but isn’t an issue since you’ll be shooting less.
With a 3” diameter, the Stoeger Uplander fits pretty much any shotgun load.
Your choice of ammunition largely depends on your quarry, but for upland fowl I have some suggestions.
If hunting pheasant, I recommend picking up a box of Fiocci Golden Pheasant.
For a budget option, look into buying Kent Ultimate Fast Lead instead.
As a hunting shotgun, the Stoeger Uplander doesn’t come with rails or screws to fit your own. You won’t need them under 50 yards, anyway.
The stock sights are simple brass beads that let you easily take aim with either barrel.
If you’re wondering what accessories to buy, I highly recommend getting aftermarket choke tubes.
The Uplander ships with IC and M chokes, but I’d also consider a skeet choke and perhaps an extended IC or M choke.
A new Stoeger Uplander will cost you $400 MSRP.
You won’t get another side-by-side shotgun at this price. Period.
While the Uplander might not compare well to other double-barrels in other categories when it comes to price it simply can’t be beat.
Is the Stoeger Uplander worth it?
With the Stoeger Uplander, you get a side-by-side shotgun that’s known for…
…all for a mere $400.
If you want to get your hands on a 20-gauge side-by-side without breaking the bank, the Stoeger Uplander is your answer.
3. Benelli Ethos: Best 20 Gauge Semi-Auto Shotgun
The Benelli Ethos is the best 20-gauge semi-auto shotgun on the market.
Back in 2015, Benelli added the 20-gauge model of the Ethos to its 12-gauge lineup.
It’s reliable, lightweight, and looks fantastic.
The only question is:
Is it worth the heavy price tag?
Let’s find out!
The Ethos is very accurate, competing with some of the top sporting shotguns.
You can expect to hit your target, even when it’s moving, 9/10 times.
Benelli included many different features on the Ethos to ensure accuracy.
First, it comes with an interchangeable, carbon fiber-ventilated, stepped rib, and three interchangeable fiber-optic sights. Neither requires any tools to change, and you can choose between red, green, and yellow front beads.
There’s also a metal bead mid-sight, providing a strategic sighting plane that allows for rapid target acquisition.
Both the barrel and the choke tubs are made with Benelli’s Crio system, which creates a smooth, even surface.
Whether you’re bird hunting or sport shooting, accuracy is paramount. This shotgun gives you the accuracy you need to hit each and every target.
Benelli’s Ethos reliably and smoothly cycles any load you feed it, from light shells up to 3” magnums.
I had no malfunctions of any kind with the Ethos. No failures to feed, extract, nothing. The reliability is on-par with the Ruger American Ranch.
One of the unique features of this gun is that powder gases and residue never actually enter the action. This keeps it cleaner for longer periods, and therefore, ensures consistent reliability.
This is a very well-designed and engineered shotgun, crafted with Benelli’s new Inertia Driven system.
The Inertia Driven system is comprised of just three main parts: the bolt body, inertia spring, and bolt head.
Here’s how it works:
When you fire, the shell pushes back on the bolt head, compressing the inertia spring and unlocking the bolt head lug. The bolt and shell move rearward, and the spent case is ejected when it hits the ejector. A spring in the stock pushes the bolt forward to chamber a fresh shell, then locks the bolt head into the barrel extension.
Benelli also recently fixed a problem many users were having with the bolt.
There were instances where the bolt head wouldn’t fully rotate back into a locked position after the shooter moved it back to check if it was loaded.
To remedy this, they added a spring-loaded ball dent into the bolt carrier body, which helps nudge the bolt head into the battery.
The company claims this addition makes it impossible to keep the bolt disengaged, and from what I’ve seen, this seems to be true.
Sporting clay shooters shoot hundreds, maybe even thousands, of rounds over short periods of time. The gun’s ability to handle heavy use while still being relatively low maintenance is a huge advantage here.
Aesthetically, the Ethos is perfect.
It comes with an AA-grade walnut stock and fore-end with laser-cut checkering. My model also came with a nickel-plated, engraved receiver.
The new design features a slim fore-end, which provides excellent control.
It’s nimble, well-balanced, and has a very natural feel to it.
Due to the extensive recoil reduction system (we’ll get into that later), it is somewhat butt-heavy. If this bothers you, I’d recommend adding some weight to the grip.
The single-stage trigger pull sits at just about 5.5 lbs.
It’s a little heavy, but very crisp with minimal travel.
The ergonomic design of the trigger guard makes shooting with gloves easy, which is a huge advantage for shooters who compete while wearing gloves.
Magazine & Reloading
The Ethos’s magazines have a capacity of 4+1.
Thanks to the beveled loading port, redesigned carrier, and two-part carrier latch, it’s significantly easier to load than earlier models of Benelli autoloaders.
There’s a hollowed-out portion on the forward slope of the trigger guard, which allows shells to easily slide right into the magazine.
The controls are all very easy to reach, a clear upgrade from earlier Benelli models. The toggle bolt release is located on the right wall of the receiver, and the mag release is right in front of the trigger guard.
Loading, unloading, and releasing are all incredibly quick and simple with the Ethos.
Length & Weight
Barrels come in two lengths on the Ethos: 26” and 28”. I have the 28” model.
Depending on which barrel length you choose, it’s either 47.5” or 49.5” overall.
Empty, the gun weighs just about as much as a brick at 6.5 lbs.
Despite the long barrel length, it’s not muzzle-heavy. The Inertia Driven system gives it a lighter, easy to carry weight, making it comfortable to hold during a long day spent shooting.
Benelli put a lot of thought into reducing recoil with the Ethos.
It features the Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system, which utilizes three different sets of interlocking, flexible buffers to absorb recoil.
In other words: two opposing comb-like parts with coarse interlocking teeth that flex under force, entirely out of view and encased within a hollow portion of the butt-stock.
As the butt-pad compresses inward, these teeth act as dovetailed leaf springs.
The resistance increases as each tooth is bent, self-adjusting to the amount of recoil each load creates.
According to Benelli’s calculations, this system reduces felt recoil by nearly 50%. You can easily shoot heavy pheasant or waterfowl loads without worrying about waking up with a sore shoulder.
One of the great things about this shotgun is that it can handle anything from ⅞ oz to 3” shells.
You have a lot of options when it comes to ammo, but here’s what worked best for me:
If you’re looking for something a little on the cheaper side, Federal Game-Shok Heavy Field 2.75” is another solid choice.
With five different interchangeable choke tubes (full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder, and cylinder) and three interchangeable front sight beads included, there’s not much you need, accessories-wise!
Both the sights and choke tubes are easy to change to personalize it any way you’d like.
MSRP for the Benelli Ethos is pretty steep at $2,199. You can find it on sale at some retailers for around $1,900.
Despite the hefty price, it’s a very good value for the money.
The Ethos is reliable, low-maintenance, and looks great.
Is the Benelli Ethos Worth it?
In the past, Benelli has proven with the M4 that they can craft a great tactical shotgun.
With the Ethos, they’ve shown they can do even better with a hunting gun. This is a fast-handling gun perfect for shooting pheasants, chukars, and doves.
It’s also ideal for sporting use, including shooting clays, skeet, and targets.
It’s lightweight, easy to operate, low recoil, and very aesthetically pleasing.
The engineers at Benelli truly thought of everything when designing this shotgun.
4. Remington 870: Best 20 Gauge Home Defense Shotgun
The Remington 870 is an icon of the industry.
You’ll be hard-pressed to talk to any shooting enthusiasts who don’t know about it. The 870 has carved a path for itself alongside rifles in law enforcement and military usage as well as being extremely popular in tv, movies, and video games.
There’s a good reason why the 870 is so ingrained into gun culture. It’s a combination of some of the best things you can ask for in a gun: power, reliability, length, and it’s budget-friendly.
While accuracy isn’t usually the biggest focus of shotguns, it’s still important your shots are going where you’re aiming, even if you’re just going to put a plate-sized hole into your target. I was happy to be able to get my shells on target without too much spread.
I was able to essentially put shot after shot on top of one another, but at a relatively small distance of 20 yards.
Shotguns adopt a sort of “accuracy by volume” mantra for being on target. A sturdy barrel keeps the shot from flying off to the side as soon as it leaves the muzzle. A lot of accuracy variables are dependant on the type of ammo you run with.
You can do a couple of things with this accuracy. I kitted mine as a back-up shotgun if I was unable to reach my 12 gauge, but I’d trust the 870’s accuracy to protect me during a home invasion scenario.
An 870 could also be a great asset for bird hunting, especially the 20 gauge if you’re hunting upland birds.
Reliability was one of the biggest selling points for the 870 to me and it has proved itself over time for me.
I’ve never experienced a malfunction with the gun being the source of the jam. I have short stroked the action before and caused a jam, but that can be remedied by practicing with the 870.
This reliability means you can trust the 870 with your life, or to provide you with your next meal. All my time with this gun has assured me of its ability to function when I need it to.
The 870’s grip isn’t anything to fawn over and I quickly replaced my stock and forend with newer Magpul furniture which I love.
The stock options aren’t too slippery or anything, but they just aren’t stand out features to me.
The 870’s handling parts will work for most people, but if you’re picky I’d swap of the stock/grip with a more aggressive texture.
The factory can be a little heavier than you expect at 5.5 pounds. It’s not bad at all, but more than what I’m used to, even for a stock shotgun.
The trigger does feel fine though, I don’t think I’d even replace the trigger system. While the 5.5-pound trigger is heavier than I’m used to (on shotguns) it’s still a relatively light trigger pull.
The action is clean and satisfying. I’ll put up with a lot more weight if it means a pull like the 870’s.
As is usually the case with shotguns (and most guns), a good trigger action can prevent you from accidentally shooting two feet to the right of what you were aiming at. You should never need to fight your trigger to stay on top of your target.
Magazine and Reloading
The Remington 870 has a magazine capacity of 4+1.
If you’re familiar with shotguns, you know the exact reloading system the 870 utilizes. If you’re not though, most shotguns use an attached magazine tube beneath the barrel, which is what the 870 has.
Reloading the 870 feels second nature and satisfying to me with the exceptions of my poor attempts at three gun loading. With some practice, you can get rapid reloads down. Just make sure you chase that round down the tube to make sure it’s fully secured.
You should be able to drop this in any shooter’s hand and they should be able to operate with no issues. This intuitive design means it’s easy to reload, even in situations with low light conditions or inclement weather.
Length and Weight
The 870 has a total length of 46½ inches, with the barrel being 26 inches.
It weighs 6 ½ pounds.
I don’t have particularly long arms so I need to have my supporting arm almost completely straight which made me get fatigued pretty quickly. The length may be a little too much for some shooters.
Otherwise, it’s fairly easy to move and operate. With some practice, you can be zipping to each target.
Recoil can vary by a big amount depending on what ammo load you use to shoot. The padding is sufficient, but you can bruise your shoulders up something fierce if you hold the gun too loosely against your shoulders.
The best way to mitigate recoil is to make sure you really press the butt pad to your shoulder tightly. This will prevent the gun from having space to slam into your shoulder.
This means that the recoil is a product of its ammo and that the shooter should keep what type of ammo he is using in mind.
If you’re going to use this shotgun for self or home defense, I would personally select the Winchester Super X Buckshot 20 Gauge. I almost always opt for buckshot when I buy home defense rounds.
For upland game hunting like quail, pheasant, and grouse you should pick up some Fiocchi Golden Pheasant 20 gauge.
The Remington 870 doesn’t come with too many options for customization, but there’s a couple of changes you could make if you’re using this weapon for home or self-defense.
Here’s what I would recommend:
- Magpul Shotgun SGA Stock (A nicer recoil pad, better look, and slightly decreases overall length)
- Magpul Remington MOE M-LOK Forend(Good looks and able to mount a light)
- Streamlight ProTac HL-X Light (Easier target ID and easier to see your surroundings)
The Remington 870 is only going to cost you $350. It’s a great value and a great starter weapon for any beginner enthusiasts.
Is the Remington 870 worth it?
Looking for a 20 gauge home defense shotgun? Go for the Remington 870.
Not only is it an American classic, but it has:
- Reliability (Zero jams over 2 years)
- Affordability (For under $400, this gun is a steal)
- Utility (Great for both home defense and hunting)
Now It’s Your Turn
I hope you enjoyed my best 20 gauge shotgun guide.
So as a recap:
If you’re looking for the best overall 20 gauge shotgun, get the Remington 11-87.
On a budget? Then the Stoeger Uplander is for you.
Or if you want the best semi auto shotgun that has low recoil and easy to use, get the Benelli Ethos.
Lastly, if you want an all-in-one shotgun for home defense, I’d recommend the Remington 870.
Now I want to turn it over to you:
Which shotgun will you pick for your 20 gauge?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment down below.
3 thoughts on “The Best 20 Gauge Shotguns [Hands-On Tested]”
thanks for the review – seriously budgeted here, so just ordered the Stoeger Uplander SxS – had to do it online – all sold out locally, but read up well on it and the vendor has a solid return policy plus a lifetime warranty – as for this review, needs a little correction in the Stoeger entry: 3″ shell chamber refers to shell length, not ‘diameter’ and a recommended revision: you know upland wing shooters are always on foot, never “…when kneeling or lying prone…”, maybe at a turkey shoot – never done that and probably never will – can’t use dogs, only reason I hunt – finally as for the weight: 7.4 lbs, is a bit more than I’m used to compared to my 5.5 lb, bolt-action, single-shot 20 ga., but even in my 70s think I can manage – In Reach always clipped on – anyway, I handle the dogs with the shotgun slung on the shoulder – only ever load when they’re steady on point and honor, or standing a stop to flush and I’m moving in to pressure up the bird or look for stay behinds – main reason (not mentioned in the article) for upland hunting with a double barrel: quickest way to pick off a double out of a covey, or be ready for the stay behind flush, after shooting one from the initial flush – thanks again for the useful review
Is the recoil management better on the Benelli Ethos than on the Berreta Upland with the Kickoff Plus technology?
I have an 11-87 and would like to change out the parts you listed. However all the parts listed are for 12 guage. What did I miss or is that not an issue?