buy a 12 and when your first starting out you can use light loads that will have less kick than a 20 and then you can move to heavy high velocity loads later,if you want to.Should your sporting clay shooting take you to F.I.T.A.S.C clays or pigeons and zz birds you'll be happy you went with the 12.
It also depends on the course layout... the longer the shot, the greater the penalty you pay for the smaller shot charge... you need a tighter choke to keep the pattern density and pay for it with a less forgiving pattern size. Some of this can be made up by using smaller shot, but that starts to get iffy on the long birds, too.
On a course with relatively close birds, where I can use Mod over IC (I'm not a choke changer - I pick my chokes and shoot the course) I usually score a bird or two higher with my 20 than I do with my 12... go figure.
Sporting Clays is primarily a 12 gauge sport. The 20 gauge guns are used once in a while for special preliminary events before a major tournament.
I used to shoot a 20 gauge gun for competition in 12 gauge events, just because I liked my 20 ga gun better than any 12 ga gun I had tried. I didn't think I was at much of a disadvantage, but there is a small disadvantage. I eventually found a 12 ga gun that I liked, and haven't shot the 20 very much in years.
I think it depends on the course. I shot a 12 gauge in competition on a relatively close in course and then went back and shot better with my 28 gauge tubes in the 12 gauge gun.
I now shoot 28 gauge a lot and take the tubes out for competition.
If you do your part either gun will do it's part. I recently started shooting a 28 and am consistently within +/- 3 birds of when using a 12. The only handicap for me is in a longer distance shot where pattern density becomes an issue.
I shoot a course that is a very tight grouse cover with a lot of hard wood and soft wood. Many close birds. I shoot about even with 12 ga and 28 gauge each with cylinadar and skeet chokes. Surprising sometimes how well the birds break at the longer distances though with the 28 but the 12 on long birds is clearly more effective.
Doesn't the shooter's style, strengths, faults and over-all body strength have some impact on which is better? A person with good body strength...arms, shoulders and legs will be as "quick" with that heavier 12 ga as a person with less strength is with the 20. In fact...the 20 might be too light and "whippy" for particularly strong shooters.
If you tend to stop your swing, and thus shoot behind birds...that heavier 12 gauge, and heavier shot load will make it a bit easier to overcome that fault.
And so on...
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