12 Gauge For Grouse Hunting? It Depends…

When you think of a typical grouse gun you likely think about a 20 gauge over/under that’s light as a feather. While that’s definitely a solid option to tote around in the woods with you, there isn’t any reason you shouldn’t consider a 12 gauge for grouse hunting. Sure, there are definitely 12 gauges that wouldn’t make any sense to bring out into the thick grouse woods with you, but there are certainly 20 gauges that you could lump into that same category as well.

12 Gauge For Grouse Hunting? It Depends…

There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to selecting the right gun for grouse hunting. Anyone that tries lumping it all together & making a decision just based on the gauge of shotgun clearly hasn’t done their homework. First lets dive into the criteria that we look at when we’re shopping for guns to carry through the grouse woods.

Time To Shoulder

One of the biggest factors we look for out of a grouse gun is the amount of time it takes to snap it up to your shoulder. Having a gun that fits you correctly so that you can react to the bird quickly is huge. We often even opt for a plastic butt pad instead of a rubber one so that it doesn’t catch out vest. You don’t have long to crack a shot off at a grouse, and you better be really fast if you ever expect to get a second shot off. Time to should is definitely a key factor.

Barrel Length

In my opinion, using a 12 gauge for grouse is just fine if it has that quick time to should & a nice short barrel. Those are really the two things that make a gun a great grouse gun in our opinion. All these other factors are just icing on the cake.

On my 12 gauge for grouse hunting I have an 24in barrel that gives me plenty of room to swing when I’m in thick cover. I always laugh when I see guys stumbling & bumbling through the woods with a 30″ barrel on a gun that’s better suited for turkey or duck hunting than grouse. A nice, short gun is exactly what you’re looking for in the grouse woods.

Gun Weight

Stomping through typical ruffed grouse habitat gets to be a ton of work, so it’s always nice to have the lightest gear possible. Aside from maybe a vest that actually fits right, the main thing you’re going to want to reduce weight on is your shotgun. That’s going to contribute to the time to shoulder that we touched on earlier, and typically a shorter barrel is also going to equal a lighter gun.

Size Of The Hunter

While this won’t be a major factor for everyone, the reality is that you’re going to want to match the gun to the person. I’m only 5′ 6″ myself, and what might be the best grouse gun ever for me could end up feeling like a toy to someone else. I love my 12 gauge Browning Citori, but I’m not going to claim that everyone needs one.

The same can be said for kids that are starting to learn how to shoot and hunt. Giving them too much gun to handle is going to make the hunt a lot less fun for them & most importantly less safe. Pair them up with a nice little youth model 20 gauge that they’re comfortable handling, and you should be good to go!


I can always tell when someone is actually telling the truth when they say they get into the thick stuff for grouse hunting just by looking at their shotgun. A true grouse hunter’s gear gets the snot kicked out of it when they’re tearing through cover, and the shotgun is on the front lines of that fight. My Browning Citori is beat to hell on the right side (because of how I carry it) from pushing my way through briars & aspen stands. The other side is still pretty beat up, but compared to the right side it looks like new.

That being said, even though it’s aesthetically beat up it still performs exactly as needed when called upon. There are almost no exterior moving parts to get knocked around and ruined, so it makes quite easy to maintain. The internal components are a still practically like new simply because I use the best gun cleaner we could find.

The Choke Selection

I get it, the choke doesn’t really have a ton to do with the gun selection. I’m throwing this in here because there are some guns that don’t have interchangeable chokes, and that’s a major negative when it comes to grouse guns. I go into significantly more detail on choke selection & shot size in some other articles, so if that interests you go ahead and read up!

The Great Gauge Debate

In my opinion, the debate about the correct shotgun gauge to use for grouse hunting is made out to be much more important that it should be. When you’re grouse hunting three things need to happen, and if any of them don’t you simply aren’t coming back with a bird in your vest:

  1. You need to find & flush the bird.
  2. You need to get a shot off at the bird.
  3. You need to actually hit the bird.

None of those actually are actually impacted all that much by the gauge of a shotgun you’re shooting. If you’re worried about hitting the grouse too hard, I’d argue that it is just as much up to proper shot size than gauge selection. Quite frankly, if you’re doing that it’s a good problem to have! While everyone else is arguing about the right gauge size for grouse hunting, just pick the gun that fits you best & get after the birds!

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