Shooting Yellow Shells – 20 Gauge Shells

| Last Updated September 3, 2020

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When teaching a hunter safety class one of the major topics of safe gun handling is to never put 20 gauge shotgun shells into a 12 gauge gun. We all know that if you do this the smaller shell will become lodged in the barrel behind the choke. If the gun is fired with the proper shell, an instant blow up will occur. There is no way around this, so this is why all 20 gauge shotgun shells are color coded Yellow. I wonder how many of you actually knew this.

I have had a love affair with the 20 gauge all my life starting with a Savage single shot model 94. My father traded a Marlin bolt action .410 shotgun, which was my first shotgun, and the “Twenty” put me in the big leagues. They don’t make this gun anymore but the Harrington and Richardson “Topper” is just as good. I have a rule of thumb, as it were, when a youth hunter is able to safely cock and uncock an H&R Shotgun they are ready to go hunting with adult supervision.

I learned to quail hunt with the Savage but I didn’t do well as it was a full choke. My English setter was none the happier as he would do his job, but I just kept missing the bobwhites, not to mention I only had one shot. This quickly taught me about the usefulness of chokes on a shotgun.

However on doves, squirrels and cotton tails the full choke was perfect. On doves using a load of number 8s you either completely missed or smacked them hard enough that they didn’t go walking around all over the field after they hit the ground. Once you got your grove with the full choke there were very few misses. Using number 4 shot I ensured the Simeone family never went without a proper dietary supplement of squirrel al la king. That was a long time ago but the philosophy of the 20 gauge still rings true today. If you want light and fast or the perfect youth or ladies gun, the 20 gauge shotgun does it all.

Now I have two light 20s, A SKB 500 over and under, bored full and modified and a Browning light 20 A-5 with interchangeable chokes, but usually full or super full. You find if you shoot enough 20 gauge that this is the real hunter compared to the 12 gauge. I prefer the 12 for bobwhites and large ducks, but the 20 is the teal and dove gun of all time. Doves are the main target for my quick little shotguns as my eye is quick to follow but sometime the 12 seems to drag through the air a bit slow, especially on a hot day in Louisiana, or New Mexico trying to shoot a limit without burning up a case of shells.

As a teenager I was good with my model 1100 Remington 12 gauge but when September came around I always started the dove season with the 20 gauge single barrel, once taking a limit of 12 birds with 12 shots, never to be repeated again with any shotgun.

The SKB over and under and its counter part a Weatherby Orion is one of the finest of light field guns. Later on I decided I wanted a pair of Browning A-5s and had a 12 and 20 restored for me and never looked back. The Browning 20 is what I was looking for in a dove gun so with this I need no other, at the moment.

One day while shooting a few doves at White Sands Missile Range back in the days when you could still use lead shot on ducks, I decided to try my luck on some teal ducks that were congregated at one of the rare pounds out in the desert. I switched over to a 12 gauge after the dove hunt, and of course I had to go over every shell to make sure I didn’t get a blow up. Then I walked about a half a mile to the pound, loaded up with number 4s and when the first green wing came by all I got was a click. That reminded me to change firing pins about every 20 years or so in the Remington.

Well no big deal, I returned to the truck and got the 20 gauge, although all I had was number 8 shot. By now it was getting to be a long walk even for a young man, but I was determined to get me some Teal ducks. I didn’t have a dog so I just waited for the right shot so they would fall on the ground instead of the water.

Five little speedsters came right across the pound and went broadside at about 30 yards flying low. I tapped the trigger twice and all five of them hit the desert floor in unison, limiting me out for the day. “Not bad for a 20 shooting 8s,” I thought. Now days you can do the same thing with 7 ½ shot in Hevi-shot and you will even hit them harder than the lead shot.

I see a lot of people now hunting turkeys with a 20 ga. This is a good idea considering all the gear you have to pack and every ounce counts. A 2 ¾ inch Federal magnum load of lead 4s will do better than some 3 inch 12 guage turkey loads I have seen. My Browning doubles as a light turkey gun with the Hastings super full turkey choke that goes down as far as you can squeeze shot safely out of a .20 gauge.

About the only thing I would not shoot with the 20 is a deer with buckshot, although I like buckshot in the Louisiana deep woods. This is a 3 inch magnum 12 gauge or more game. On the other hand a 20 gauge with sabot slugs is another ball game. Here you have a .50 cal bullet just like the one in the 12 gauge. This will be in a lighter and faster gun and does the same thing as the 12. With rifled interchangeable slug barrels and the ability to mount a scope, the little 20 becomes a formidable deer gun with a few slight adjustments.

That bring about what I would recommend as a light affordable 20 gauge that does it all. It just happens fellow outdoor writer Claudette Oliver of the American Press out of Lake Charles, had written she was in the market for a new shotgun. A light 20 for a man would also be the perfect ladies shotgun, therefore I know what my choice would be if not for the fact I already have the A-5 and the SKB. The very first true light 20 gauge was the Frenchie (pronounced Franky) and the new model competition (Sporting Clay Grade) is about right for her or anybody else.

Now I don’t know yet if she carried out my recommendation, but you can bet if I see her in the dove field this September and she is packing a 12 gauge duck gun that someone else recommended, there is a slim possibility she is going to want a 20 especially if she gets a look at my Browning.

Chances are there will be a few doves in the bag and a nice little pile of yellow 20 gauge hulls just to the right of my shooting chair. Like a good gentlemen I will offer her a cold drink and make introductions. Now if she is packing a 12 chances are she will be tuckered plum out and not in a good mood, and no matter how hard she tries to trade me out of the Browning, it ain’t gonna happen. My only advice at that point would be, the 12 gauge in hot weather is a great way to lose weight, hmmm come to think of it maybe I ought to use one too. Pass it on. 

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.