One of the most important aspects of selecting your first shotgun is what gauge it should be. Gauge is a traditional English measurement describing the diameter of the barrel. In general, the smaller the gauge number, the larger the barrel diameter. For example, a 12 gauge shotgun has a barrel that is almost ¾" in diameter, while a 20 gauge shotgun has a barrel diameter of about 6/10ths of an inch.
Naturally, a larger barrel diameter allows for a heavier payload of shot to be fired from a single shell. However, as the velocity and/or weight of the payload increase, so does the recoil or “kick” you feel when the shell is fired. Being pounded by recoil is never pleasant and even experienced shooters can develop a flinch, especially when firing many shells in a single session.
Ammunition availability, in terms of both location and variety, is broadest for the 12 gauge. You can readily purchase shells ranging from light target loads with one ounce or less of birdshot up to heavy magnum waterfowl or turkey hunting loads with twice that payload. You can also get buckshot and rifled slugs for big game hunting and home security. Naturally, the heavier and faster the payload goes out the front of the barrel, the greater the felt recoil is for the user.
Due to their smaller diameter, 20 gauge shotgun shells generally contain smaller payloads than 12 gauge shells, and generally their felt recoil is somewhat lighter. The 20 gauge often appeals to younger and smaller-statured shooters. There are still many factory loads available in 20 gauge, including birdshot, buckshot and rifled slugs.
Make sure that the shotgun ammunition you purchase is the correct gauge and length for your shotgun, which is marked on the barrel. It’s always a prudent safety practice to never mix different gauges of shotgun shells in a box, your pocket or other container.
Most Browning shotguns are offered in your choice of 12 and 20 gauge models. Certain Browning models are also offered in 16 gauge or 28 gauge, or in the smaller .410 bore.