Short Barrel? Short Cartridge!

The title pretty much is the whole article. If you want to shoot a gun with a short barrel, get one that shoots a short cartridge. Using a long cartridge has a big energy drop in short barrels.

The key concept is: Case volumes of expansion.

If your case is an inch long, a 10 inch barrel gets almost all available energy.
A 5 inch barrel does OK with more muzzle flash and noise. At 2 inches, most of the available power in the powder goes into noise and flash, bullet energy not so much. Make that case 1/2 inch or even less, efficiency in short barrels goes way up.

This comes into play in several very common cartridges, and not always in a good way. Most revolver cartridges were designed in the black powder era. It is bulky. Smokeless powder then left much of the case empty. Magnums then made the cases longer to avoid folks putting them in non-magnum guns. This made things worse. Now you have a long shell without much powder in it. (Yes, you can load bulky powders and fill it up, but compare the .357 Magnum case with the .357 Sig case and remember the Sig is the same power as some of the regular magnum loads.) Or compare the .38 Special case with the more powerful 9mm case. Were I getting a short barrel revolver, I’d look for one that shoots a round like the 9mm or .45 ACP.

How short it short? It varies with the cartridge, but under 4 or 5 inches.

This also shows up when folks talk about comparative muzzle energy of pistol rounds, especially if one of them is a .22 LR or Magnum that are usually measured in an 18 inch barrel, not a 3 inch snub nose. You must compare rounds from the same short barrel length. Lucky for us, there’s a web site that’s done just that.

Welcome to Ballistics By The Inch, or ‘BBTI’ as people have taken to calling it.

Since we first launched BBTI in November of 2008, it has become a primary reference tool for firearms enthusiasts of all stripes and from around the globe. Our initial research data covered the relationship between barrel length and velocity for some 13 common handgun calibers/cartridges. In response to the phenomenal popularity of the site, we’ve continued to do testing, and have expanded the data to include an additional 8 handgun calibers/cartridges (and a repeat of the .380 Auto tests with additional ammunition) as well as the .223 rifle cartridge. We’ve also conducted a major study of the ‘cylinder gap effect’ on a revolver, involving more than 6,000 rounds fired, as well as a comparison of the performance differences between polygonal and traditionally rifled barrels. As always, all of our data is freely available, though we happily accept donations (see button below left)and would greatly appreciate your tangible support to help us continue the project.

Up above you’ll find links to four main pages:

Calibers/cartridges will take you to a list of all 22 different data sets. You can just browse the charts, click on a given ammunition type listed in the header of each chart for a graph of how that particular ammunition performed, or download the raw data for your own use.

So let’s look first at a short lower pressure cartridge, the .45 ACP:

.45 ACP power

.45 ACP power

Ignoring the bottom line “low recoil” round and the extra power top lines, look at the more common Federal standard pressure orange line. Starts at about 440 and ends about 330. more than enough power even from a 3 inch barrel.

Compare the rate of energy fall off with a longer case round, the .22 Magnum:

.22 Magnum power

.22 Magnum power

By the time you are down to a 3 inch barrel, your 300+ ft-pounds are down to 80. About the same as a .25 ACP round. Even from a 5 inch barrel, half your energy is going to noise and flash. 160 ft-lbs is about the same as a standard .380 or the CorBon hot .32 ACP, yet folks talk down the .32 ACP and praise the power of the .22 Magnum even in short barrel revolvers (some in the 2 inch range).

This, BTW, is why I’m quite happy with my very short case .22 SHORT, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP rounds in my 2.x inch barrel Berettas. They don’t have a graph for the .22 short, but it is over 1000 ft/second and will hold that kind of speed even in short barrels. It ought to be close to the .22 Magnum in the 2.x inch range, but without the obnoxious noise and flash. I eyeball the barrel at about 7 case volumes of expansion for the .22 short. Enough to be fairly efficient. The quiet shooting confirms most of the energy is in the bullet.

List power is about the same in their test barrel, and with the extreamly short case, most of that will be available in the very short barrel.

Bullet mass/type Velocity Energy
27 gr. (1.8 g) RN 1,164 ft/s (355 m/s) 87 ft⋅lbf (118 J)

What about the .22 LR? As you might guess ftom a name with “rifle” in it, not so great:

So about 50 to 70 ft-lbs in a 2.x inch barrel. Or about what the short is giving you. Even in the 4 to 5 inch barrel range common in guns, you get in the 50 to 100-ish ft-lbs range.

Here’s the .25 ACP and .32 ACP:

.25 ACP power

.25 ACP power

Even in the 2 inch barrel, 75 ft-lbs. 3 inch bounces you up to 75 to 90 depending on ammo, and at 5 inches it is up to 100 ft-lbs. Better bullet construction and more reliable primer too. Oh, and less blinding flash at night while being quieter too. This from the widely poo-pooed as “don’t even think about it” .25 ACP from the same folks who praise a .22 Magnum mouse gun.

But lets go upscale to the .32 ACP:

.32 ACP power

.32 ACP power

Solid 100+ ft-lbs even in 2 inch barrels. Up to 175 with CorBon in a 4 inch barrel. My Walther PP has a 3.9 inch barrel, so it will get that.

Next, the .380 and .38 Special / .357 Magnum / 9mm:

.380 ACP / 9m  Kurz / Corto

.380 ACP / 9m Kurz / Corto

Ignoring the +P rounds, its about 125 to 150 from 2 inch to 150 to 175 in a 3 inch. Now tell me again why a 3 inch barrel 380 is going to be so much superior to my .32 Walther PP?

.38 Special power

.38 Special power

The snub nose .38, classic Detective’s gun in the movies, is running 110 to 175 ft-lbs. Gee just about the same as high end ammo in .32 ACP in th PP. A poor choice of ammo and that 110 is less than any of the .32 ammo graphed from the PP. Yet loads of folks will claim a .38 snubby is enough gun and a .32 isn’t. Those are folks ignorant of the relevant math, physics and data. Move up to a 4 or 5 inch barrel, then they have a case to make for 250 to 350 ft-lbs being more.

How about that Killo-ft-lb .357 Magnum? How does it do in a pocket gun?

.357 Magnum power

.357 Magnum power

About 200 to 300 ft-lbs (and 700 ft-lbs worth of flash and bang!) Furthermore, it is already dropping fast even in a 10 inch barrel! By 4 inch, the starting 1200 ft-lbs is down to 600. Why I like it in my Marlin rifle and why my pistols are long barrel 6+ inch.

Compare the flatter 9mm Lugar curves:

9mm Lugar power

9mm Lugar power

With +P giving over 300 even in a 2 inch barrel. MORE than the .357 Magnum. By 4 inches, you have 300 to 450 even with standard ammo. Hot ammo in a 4 inch barrel 9mm still beats the .357 Magnum 3 inch! (And is just middle of the pack of the .45 ACP from a 3 inch barrel…)

Also the .357 Sig, a necked down .40 S&W:

.357 Sig power

.357 Sig power

Almost 500 ft-lbs from a 3 inch barrel and matching the .357 Magnum in 4 inch with flatter curves.

Just for completion, here’s the graphs for .40 S&W and 10mm. Note that with a 4 inch barrel, the 10mm is about 50 ft-lbs more power. 10%. 450 vs. 500 more or less. Yet there are folks who scream about the .40 being a bastard underpowered 10mm and how much better the 10 is. After all, it has way more kick and noise… But at least now you know why the FBI was OK with dropping the 10mm for the .40 S&W. The smaller case is just more efficient. Ammo choice can matter more.

Also note that the .40 S&W 4 inch is about the same as the .357 Magnum 3 inch and the .45 ACP 3 to 4 inch.

.40 S&W power

.40 S&W power

10mm power

10mm power

In Conclusion:

When you get below about a 5 to 6 inch barrel, you need a short stubby case to give enough case volumes of expansion to the gasses and efficiently make your bullet energetic. Long cases like old revolver rounds are just throwing away energy below that length. I’d rather have a 4 inch barrel revolver in a semi-auto round like the .45 ACP or 9mm than in .357 Magnum.

Considering this, IMHO, there’s real room for energy improvement in revolvers by designing brand new cartridges that are fat and short.

Or just get one chambered in .45 ACP and be done ;-)

In mouse guns and things with sub 3 inch barrels, the “dinky” cartridges originally designed for them, like .25 ACP, .32 ACP and .380 Auto are far more efficient than long skinny cartridges and can often beat them for total power. Ignoring case length and just looking at published max power numbers from long test barrels (often 10 to 18 inches) is very misleading, yet is usually what is done.

Remember that when it comes to barrels, bigger IS better! But for cartridges, you want shorter in handguns.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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43 Responses to Short Barrel? Short Cartridge!

  1. ossqss says:

    So, are we extending the effective barrel length with a shorter cartridge? I gotta ponder this for a bit. Dang physics :-)

  2. Sera says:

    Everything over 5 inches matters ; )

  3. H.R. says:

    Other than someone totally hopped up, most people dislike getting shot. A gunshot wound typically disrupts their immediate train of thought. In most cases, any old bullet will do, particularly if it’s a double tap.

    The important thing is to hit the target with what you have.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Basically, the solid powder turns to a gas. It is about 8 to one more gas volume, but varies by exact powder type.

    If you have less than about 8 times the powder space of barrel volume, you get hot high pressure gas venting out the barrel when the bullet is long gone.

    10 x is better.

    So measure the height of the powder column in the shell. Your barrel needs to be about 10x that for best performance and at 5x that you are entering sucky loss of power land.

    So for a 4 inch barrel, you would want about a .4 inch tall powder space in the shell and the bullet seated on the powder. (I.e. no 1/2 inch air space in the shell.)

    My 2.4″ Beretta barrel implies a 0.24″ inch tall powder column, which is about the .22 short or .25 ACP, but not a .357 Magnum and way not a .22 Magnum. That inch tall cylinder needs a 10 inch piston travel to expand the gasses efficiently

  5. ossqss says:

    @HR, double tap, if you have not watched the Zombie Land movies you should. Just sayin :-)

  6. ossqss says:

    I would recommend watching the first one first, however.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    This bit of R&D sent me down the memory lane of various cartridges.

    In general, old cartridges respected this physics. Short dumpy fat things. Like the Webley rounds.

    Modern cartridges go for longer cases and lots of boom / flash. It has all reminded me that at one time I wanted a .45 ACP / .45 LC Ruger single action. It looks like I have again awakened that urge.

    Oh Well. I’ll try to get back to being satisfied with .38 / .357 / 9mm kit….

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    Or this one:
    1200 fps and 1125 ft-lbs in a half inch bullet of 350 gr / 23g.

    Looks like I can buy a new one for “only” 2 $ kilobucks (Gak!)

  9. H.R. says:

    E.M.: “[…] for “only” 2 $ kilobucks (Gak!)”

    I second that Gak!

    The time to get the toys is while you’re gainfully employed. You did, but then said you gave a large percent of those bang!-bangs! to your son. So now you are a little bit stuck.

    Lessee here… beer and wine budget (and quinine, with the requisite gin) or a new firearm when you already have sufficient firepower to discourage most any attempt to breech your abode?

    I’m in a similar boat. I’ll stick with what I have, dream about the latest and greatest toys, and be satisfied with a sigh for the lost opportunity to get one of everything while I was still working.

    I might still add one or two more of something. I’m not in complete penury during retirement. I’ll just have to set aside a few months longer for something I’d really, really like to have.
    P.S. Firearms scattered all about the house. I’m never more than a few steps away from firepower should I need it.

    Pantifa is supposed to hit the ‘burbs and exurbs, and I have no doubt they will, so it’s just random chance whether or not they select my neighborhood. Better to be ready and never have to draw down than be ill prepared when the unlikely happens. It’ll be random chance. in my location.

    BTW, though I haven’t bookmarked any of them, there have been several videos posted (some here?) of Antifa showing up in Podunk towns… which were ready and well prepared for their arrival. So far, none of the videos I’ve seen show Antifa with the upper hand. Rather, they have had to retreat with tails between their legs when faced with very, very serious men, most armed. who will not tolerate their mischief; “Leave now on your feet or leave feet first. Your choice.”

  10. John Robertson says:

    Now I am just green with envy.
    Guess I will have to build my own.
    Should my world get that dark and ugly I shall rely on a 12 gauge.

    E.M. did you see the Democrats have found the cure for the Wuhan Flu?
    Apparently violent protest,riot and virtue signalling prevent its spread.

    I can’t get over the amazing hypocrisy,the same ass hats who keep telling us that we must still remain locked up at home,are praising the protests and rioters.
    Turning up at these “protests” to mingle with the chosen.
    Looks like we will have to riot,to end the lockdown of civilization.

  11. E.M.Smith says:


    I’m kicking around the idea of a short revolver round of modest pressure and unique caliber (to avoid it fitting in old weak guns).

    The problem is that it looks like just about every possible caliber has been tried!

    I was thinking something like a 56-50 but centerfire and shorter. Muzzle velocity about 900 fps. so more than the old Webbly rounds, but also shorter with a full case of powder. Like a .50 S&W Magnum cut down a lot. But then I’d still have a giant revolver frame even with a shorter cylinder, so now you need to cut down the frame too…

    In the end, just getting s .45 ACP revolver gets most of it.

    Per Wuhan Virus cure:

    No, I heard the cure was proximity to fires and exercise throwing bricks through store windorws and doing the TV & Stereo Lift & Snatch!

    Yeah, 12 gauge. Its a thing ;-) I do want to try a box each of the 2 1/2 and 2 inch shells. It will be a lot easier for me to play with lots of case volumes of expansion using shotgun shells. Put a .50 cal slug in a sabot. Have the powder fill the space under the wad (so that’s the effective case volume). Or just buy some 2″ slug rounds ;-)

    Then there’s the only-legal-in-some-states 12 ga Shockwave:
    10 round magazine not a shotgun, rifle or pistol, but a non-NFA Item. Go figure.

    15 inch barrel, 27.5 overall.

    I’d not want to try shooting magnums or slugs ftom it….

  12. Sera says:

    I found this to be interesting…

  13. rhoda klapp says:

    You might look at a .577 Martini-Henry, the rifle from ‘Zulu’. Around a thousand pounds here, and yes it seems you can buy one, after jumping through many hoops, in the UK.

  14. rhoda klapp says:

    Oh, it seems the cartridges are five bucks a pop. Except they do not go pop.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like someone already made my idea:

    The .50 GI (12.7×23mmRB) pistol cartridge was developed by Alex Zimmermann of Guncrafter Industries. The .50 GI was introduced at the 2004 SHOT Show alongside the Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1, a variation of the M1911. The round has a rebated rim that is the same diameter as that of the .45 ACP.

    In 2006, Guncrafter Industries introduced its 1911 Model No. 2 which sports a full length light rail/dust cover and is chambered for the .50 GI cartridge. Both the M1 and the M2 can be fitted with Guncrafter Industries’ .45 ACP conversion unit, the .45 ACP magazines hold 8 rounds.

    Physically, the .50 GI round is wider than the .45 ACP and slightly longer. The M1 and M2 magazines can hold seven rounds. The Glock conversion can hold eight rounds in the standard magazine and nine with the extended base pad.


    The .50 GI operates at pressures comparable to the .45 ACP, around 15,000 psi (100 MPa). Felt recoil is not unlike that of the .45 ACP. The .50 GI has developed a reputation for accuracy, though this may be due to the high precision of the semi-custom and very expensive Guncrafter pistols themselves. In one test, the 300 grain (19 g) jacketed flatpoint (JFP) gave a 25-yard group of 2.24 inches, and the 300-grain Jacketed hollow point (JHP) and 275-grain JHP gave a 25-yard group of 2.14 inches.[citation needed]

    The penetration in gelatin (but not necessarily the kinetic energy) of the .50 GI is significantly different than the .45 ACP. While it is one of the few examples of the largest legally allowed caliber projectile (.50) in a semiauto handgun, it was purpose built to have a recoil impulse and kinetic energy substantially less than the magnum .50 caliber rounds such as the 50 Action Express (semiautomatic) or .500 S&W Magnum (revolver). Factory loaded ammunition has a kinetic energy of around 500 ft·lb.

    The cartridge is not used in law enforcement and rarely for personal defense due to limited availability of ammunition and guns chambered for the cartridge. Currently, the only commercial handguns available in this caliber are Guncrafter Industries’ own Colt 1911 handgun variants and its Glock 21/Glock 20 conversion upper receiver, and Magnum Research chambers their BFR revolver in this caliber on a custom basis.

    Looks expensive, but fun ;-)

    Next time I’ve got a few $ thousand extra (after selling out of California?) I could see getting that 1911 (and the .45 ACP conversion kit) and / or the BFR (perhaps with cylinders in 2 cartriges!)

    Short cylinder
    .22 Hornet (Precision Center Custom Caliber) (discontinued)
    .218 Bee (Precision Center Custom Caliber) (discontinued)
    .44 Remington Magnum (Production Caliber)
    .454 Casull (Production Caliber)
    .480 Ruger/.475 Linebaugh (Precision Center Custom Caliber)
    .50 GI (Precision Center Custom Caliber)
    .50 Action Express (Precision Center Custom Caliber)
    .500 JRH (Precision Center Custom Caliber)

    Likely those last 3 are the same bbl diameter….

    But like I said, pretty much every caliber idea has been tried.

  16. Gerard Bono says:

    E.M. since it seems like you like this kind of stuff you have to go to Box O’ Truth. A couple of white haired gentlemen testing all kind of things. I think they are in Texas. Have a nice set up. No videos, just text and pictures. Can keep an interested person fixed for hours.

  17. H.R. says:

    @sera – That video is a nice find!

    Mrs. H.R.s carry is a Sig Sauer .380. It seems to hold up well in that video. My carry is a Kahr 9mm. That also provides respectable results.

    My “hallway” gun is a 12ga. At the range, on a man-size target, all you need to do is swing it up and point to a bushel basket-sized area and it covers that bushel basket-sized area. It is amazingly fast to get pointed at a torso and put all 9 pellets of 00 shot in the torso. There is no aiming involved.

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    I like my 12 gauge too :-)

    My one regret on my small guns is that the only .380 I got was a Colt Mustang that didn’t work reliably. It was a fun little mini-1911 sort of. But prone to not always working right. The one thing inexcusable to me. I ought to gave gotten the Beretta ;-)

    Or the Sig if I’d had the money :-)

    Maybe if I’d run a few hundred rounds through it, it would have settled in…

    FWIW, I have a cheap Chinese Tokarev (Browning 1903 clone) that is 100% reliable, so I like it more even though it’s cheaply made. (It has 8 rd magazines, 2 included, and is currently 5 feet to my right…) Crisp clean trigger and hits where it points. Also cheap enough I won’t care if the police take it post self defence event…

    I’d rather have a reliable .380 there right now, but my choice now is 9mm or larger; or the .32 ACP and smaller. I’m comfortable that the .32 IS “enough gun” (I can shoot accurately…). I’m also comfortable that lite load 9mm is not going 2 houses down the street… but my 9mm guns are a bit large, like the Tokarev. I’d rather have a small sized .380 that “just works”… but the reality is I’m more in the reducing guns owned mode, and with present inventory can’t justify more.

    Oh Well.

  19. ossqss says:

    @EM, my good “lifetime” friend settled on 9mm as his baseline. He had a single stack Glock 43 he carried (very small) , but shared magazines with his 19 and the Sub 2000. His whole game plan was ammo compatibility when needed. I gotta tell ya, upon him transferring those to me upon his demise, RIP Greg, I get it now. Popping a compatible a clip or even a 30 round clip, in those compatible items, has its benefits. Let alone the cost and weight of 9 vs 45 for example. On a road trip, having a rifle and pistol sharing clips if beneficial. I still put the 10/22 takedown in the bugout bag no matter.

    To each his own, but what you own matters.

  20. Sera says:

    @ H.R.:

    That is why I carry a .38 Super- best at everything. I also found this video interesting…

  21. E.M.Smith says:


    Why I’m (slowly) standardizing on 9mm / .357 and many of my odd bits went to the Son (thus saving him the “exploration cost” to try them out).

    Yes, I still drool over the .45 and the .50s, but the odds I’ll ever buy another .45 for anything but fun shooting is nil. Just too heavy for wearing. Heck, you saw my real choice: a Beretta mouse gun in .32 ACP. Real / probable threat low, comfort more important. 9mm near but not on me.

    OTOH, I do miss that deep soft thump when firing the 1911 and those giant holes in the paper ;-)

    So I’ve got 2 x 9s plus a Ruger revolver in 9mm and .357 (swappable cylinders), plus rifle in .357. I can reload all of them. Plus a .22 rifle / pistol combo and 2 x 12 gauge (one with cyl 18 inch and rifled 24 inch bbls, the other a double bbl bird gun).

    That’s the core for prepper food getting and varmint dispatching. It covers (barely) all critters I’m likely to encounter. (Plus “deer sized animals” that might attack me)

    The rest of the kit is (now) mostly fun shooting or pocket guns. Plus the Zombie Apocalypse SKS Carbine… some of that headed to The Kids as time goes by.

    So yeah, I still have the “just one more gun” urge… but really I’ve not shot anything but paper in a decade and I’d rather move them along to someone who enjoys them before letting California / Probate deal with it…

    Next time I’m a Florida resident I’ll likely transfer some of the mouse guns and Walther PP. Get down to just one of them in minor calibers. Maybe toss in the double bbl (I can get a bird bbl for the pump). But we’ll see. Hopefully I’ve seversl years to decide 8-)


    I’m intrigued by the .38 Super. The Cz Clone race guns in .38 Super have a great reputation. Once out from under Kalifornian draconian magazine laws, I’d like to get another Cz Clone as I loved the feel of them. Grip fit my hand perfectly. By then I’ll be largely .38 / 9mm centic but won’t need another 9mm… so might be a good time to scratch that itch :-)

  22. Sera says:

    Just putting this here…

  23. Pingback: Some Thoughts On Bang! Flash! Penetration & Cartridge Length | Musings from the Chiefio

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    Demolition Ranch has a test video on it.

    I’d love to have one, but I doubt California would let me get one…

  25. H.R. says:

    @sera – What’s the availability of .38 Super? I’ve never looked for it when buying my ammo.
    Part of the reason I settled on 9mm and .357 (revolver & gate loading lever action rifle) is ammo availability and compatibility. If .357 is hard to come by, I can shoot .38s. Also I have12 ga. 3′ for the same reason, though I’d dare say 20 ga. is just as, if not more so, readily available.

    Even during the infamous ammo shortage, 9mm was available, just pricey. There are lots of .38s out there, too.

    So… is .38 Super out there in stock-up quantities? I just don’t know anything about it.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    Sera will know better than I do, but my experience has been that it’s well stocked at places with a community of competition shooters and “OK” at places out in the boonies with mostly hunters. There’s more of it in Hispanic areas and near the Mexico border and less in Germanic areas (so Ohio Farm Country will have more 9mm but El Paso Texas likely to have a lot of .38 Super along with the 9mm.)


    1) It is one of the most popular rounds for competition shooting as it is very accurate. It’s in a “sweet spot” of parameters that just works well. And it’s got more power than 9mm so some categories of competition are hard to enter with a 9mm without pushing it to places where accuracy suffers. (Folks who actually do competition can explain the details).

    2) In many places (Italy and Hispanic countries like Mexico) it is not legal for civilians to own guns chambered for the caliber used by their Military. So no 9mm. The civilians get to use “something else” and the .38 Super is a) Not a military round, and b) more powerful than the 9mm. So it sells a lot. Don’t expect 9mm in the Walmart in Mexico.

    When I was active in buying guns a few decades back, the local commercial Range & Gun Shop had a LOT of .38 Super in different loadings (and the race guns to shoot it! Some over $2000 with all the doo-dads. That’s where I learned about the Cz-75 pattern guns ;-) and why I bought my Cz guns.) Over at the Sporting Goods Store they had, IIRC, one row of boxes of one loading. At the gun shop over on the East Side Hispanic area, several loadings.

    It is far far easier to find than the 7.62 x 25 Tokarev rounds or even the generic .25 ACP / .32 ACP rounds with anything other than LRN bullets in them.

    So I’ve had times I wanted one of those three and they didn’t have it, but there was .38 Super on the shelf…

  27. pouncer says:

    Boss, do you have thoughts you might expand upon the advantages of having sets of long and hand guns both (all?) eating the same ammo?

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    That’s pretty simple:

    You only need to inventory one thing and you avoid the case where you run out of one and can only fire the other gun (which, if it jams up, can be an issue).

    The downside is that your carry handgun will not be comfortable, usable, or even something to put in a holster if it is in .223 or .308 NATO (!) and a “rifle” in 9mm is not going to take down a deer at 200 yards very well at all.

    So, as usual, what you want depends on what you expect to do. Birds and maybe even rabbits? Shotgun. Deer? Rifle of more than .223 (yes, you can take a deer with a .223, but a .308 NATO will be much better). Personal Defense Weapon? (PDW) 9mm or .40 S&W in something that fits your hand, hits where you point it, and reliably goes BANG! when you pull the trigger.

    Now, when does a combo in the same caliber work for PDW & long gun? At that point where a PCC (pistol caliber carbine) is “enough gun” for the long gun use. That’s basically self defense and hunting smaller animals (i.e. no moose or grizzly bear on the list…)

    There are really only 3 common sets of PCC calibers that make sense for most folks, though a couple more exist and are fine too.

    The biggies are:

    .38 Special / .357 Magnum in “western style” lever guns.
    9mm in a semi-auto and carbine combo.
    .40 S&W in the same semi-auto combo.

    The “odd bits” are the .44 Special / Magnum (that works better for bigger critters than the .357 but doesn’t sell nearly as much ammo everywhere). The 10 mm (that’s able also to take down bigger critters but in a handgun is going to make some folks very uncomfortable). And the .357 Sig (that I love but is expensive and hard to find). And .45 ACP that’s a nice venerable cartridge but drops fast for trying to shoot a deer. Yes it works, but… BTW, I had a matched set of Marlin PCC / 1911 pattern pistol that went to the Son. The Marlin just had too many failures to function for my preference. Maybe one in 10 or 20 it would have a stovepipe or similar.

    In many cases you can get matched sets of PDW & PCC with the same magazine in both. So one gun jams you move the magazine to the other. Need to reload? Any magazine will do.

    My personal combo is a 9mm pistol w/ 2 mags, the Ruger Single Action Revolver in 9mm / .357 with cylinder swap, and a Marlin lever action in .357 Magnum with scope. This is oriented toward wilderness survival more than urban combat. I can basically shoot 9mm & .38 about anything in the rifle & Ruger while having a PDW in 9mm in case of a surprise AwShit. It is oriented more toward ability to use “found ammo” or last minute purchase than a big inventory of one kind.

    I do not have magazine interoperability with anything, but OTOH I can stuff rounds into the lever gun loading gate at any time so don’t need magazine changes and 2 of the guns can’t have a lost magazine cause trouble. It’s “enough gun” for the deer, wild pigs, and black bear in the hills around here (and our bug-out plan has a destination near a lake in those hills where I’ve seen / trapped wild pigs, so I know they are around… and destructive.) And while a bit heavy, it all fits on hips and sling without being too heavy for me.

    Most folks go for a single sidearm / PCC combo with shared magazines and one caliber round. (What I had done with the .45 ACP set). Were I doing it over, I’d be tempted to go for a 9mm or .40 S&W combo (avoiding the Marlin semi-auto as their 9mm also had failures to feed / stovepipe issues in the Paul Harrell test…) So that’s why I was looking to drool over PCC guns in my online web search. Note that the 9mm and even the .40 S&W is a bit lite for black bear and large hogs. IF you have that kind of issue, upscale to the 10 MM and just accept the kick. (Personally, I’d get the Sig in .40 S&W / .357 Sig and a PCC in .357 Sig. You can then deal with the bigger critters using a .357 Magnum sized Bang Stick while being able to shoot lighter .40 S&W most of the time if confronted… But I’m into caliber swaps so YMMV.)

    It looks like Hinterland Outfitters has a couple of PCC in stock now. One Kel-tec and one HiPoint (out of 20 listed).

    This was one I liked:
    $279 dollars. I don’t know much about the Hi Point brand though. I’d want to find out how reliable it is.

    Somewhere I saw an interesting kit for those with too much money. About $1xxx where it was closer to $2k than one, IIRC. A backpack (included) with a gun that takes 3 different barrels in the 3 caliber combos of your choice. Pick 3 from {9mm, .40 S&W, 10mm, .357 Sig} and maybe one other. IIRC it was from Just Right Carbines. Looks like Buds is sold out of all of them:
    I know nothing about their reliability though. Just that it was a neat kit to look at.

    FWIW part of why I like the Ruger Single Action / Lever gun combo is that they just work 100% of the time. Always. On anything I’ve fed them. (Well, except when I tried running .38 S&W through the Marlin magazine. Shot fine one at a time in the chamber, but the lift expected no shorter than .38 Special and the .38 S&W is way shorter…) My interest was “field maintenance & Just Works” not “takes on a squad of armed rioters in a combat situation”… So I’ve never really researched the brands that specialize in “tactical” PCC.

    With that said, again on the Paul Harrell video, he had zero problems with the Beretta PCC / 92F combo ( I think I got the handgun designation right… 92 something…). My experience with Beretta has also been quite good. The Ruger (changes magazines with Ruger handguns) has a long ways to the rear sight and clearly expects you to mount an optical site with the metal sights just an emergency measure. But if you have a Ruger handgun already, nice kit. He also had “issues” with failure to feed / stovepipe in the 9mm Marlin / S&W magazine rifle so I’d not go there.

    Here’s his take on the general topic of matched guns:

    He’s got a newer one on the PCC guns. Oh, and note that folks into reenacting: You can get old west caliber handgun lever gun combos too ;-) There’s also .22 LR combos (and I have one) but not exactly great on “Deer sized animals”. Also other various combos exist, depending on what you intend to shoot or like. So things like .30 Carbine even. But those are not exactly as common or usable as things like 9mm or .44 Magnum even.

    Here’s another of his videos on the merits of combos. Note that part of why my combo is as it is, is for one of the limitations he points out. A combo in .44 Magnum is not great on rabbits. I can put a .38 shot shell in and be good, while a .357 Magnum takes deer (just barely). So I have flexibility via ammo choice that a 9mm only or .44 Mag only combo does not provide. OTOH if you just want to shoot “Deer Sized Animals” you don’t need that.

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah, history list comes to the rescue. It’s “only” $1199 not closer to $ 2k, so I had that wrong, then it’s Aero Survival brand, so got that wrong too. Guess 2 AM insomnia isn’t best for remembering things ;-)

    Choice of .40 S&W, 10 mm, 9mm, .357 Sig, .45 ACP. Pick any 3. Includes backpack.

    I’d likely choose .40 S&W, .357 Sig, 9mm for compatibility with my Sig combo plus 9mm. But I could see a case for .45 ACP or 10mm depending on what else you own or local conditions (critters or ammo supplies or local police use). 10 mm especially if you live near grizzly or polar bear (or super hogs in Texas or Alabama).

    But I don’t have $kilobuck for new toys and as paper has been my only “threat scenario” for the last 2 decades and forgetting to take my wallet to the store my only “food getting emergency” in several decades: it’s just a hypothetical thought game / lust object for me ATM.

  30. E.M.Smith says:


    Comparison of .38 Super to .357 Sig and 9mm.

  31. ossqss says:

    I use the Glock compatible iteration of this thing and have multiple magazines to 30+ rounds that I can run through my G19 or this. They even have 50 round drums, shown in the 2nd article. They now make a multi-mag edition that you can change the mag catch with a hex key. Just sayin, if you already have a compatible pistol you can use those magazines in one of these relatively inexpensive units. Good luck finding one however. Sold out everywhere.

  32. E.M.Smith says:


    Is the blowback action kick an issue? Or the 9 lb trigger pull? (Per a video about KelTec, but maybe not the same model? I don’t know the models.)

  33. ossqss says:

    @EM, all triggers can be modified. Kick on a 9mm rifle, not exactly a 12 gauge, blow back, non issues.

    Just sayin. This dude addresses most questions.

    It is about compatibility in the end. I like it.

  34. ossqss says:

    Hummm, seems youtube wants to screen my post. Lets try again and see what happens. When I cut and past it, it works. Is this a wordpress thing? Same link, same result?

  35. Sera says:

    @ H.R.:

    I have never purchased a box of .38 Super, so I would not know. I own a model 1900 Colt .38 auto, and no one (that I know) makes that round anymore. It was our Chiefio who suggested buying the equipment and making my own rounds, so I did. I noticed that the instructions included .38 Super because the dimensions (cases, bullets and primers) are identical, so I then purchased my .38 Super. The only difference between the two is powder. The rounds I make cost about .18 cents each for both pressures.

  36. Sera says:

    Come to think about it, I have not purchased any ‘company manufactured’ ammunition since 1993 (two boxes of Winchester 30-40, 20 rds each). I’ve been reloading those cases and getting higher accuracy than the factory loads. The rounds for the .38 Auto are just powerful enough to work the slide. Light loads for the .38 Super use an 11lb spring, and the hot loads use a 13lb spring with a Shok-Buff.

  37. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like Buffalo makes .38 Auto at $37/box. Not cheap, but available (now).

    I have to admit that since I started reloading, I’ve not bought one box of 9mm, .357 Mag, .38 Spl, or 12 gauge.

    I also drastically reduced my shooting of my other caliber guns (that I didn’t reload…). Simply because I’d look at a box of ammo at $25 or more and think “I make my own for 10 ¢ to 20 ¢ a round. $5 to $10 a box. Why shoot that expensive stuff?”

    Part of why I’m standardizing on the calibers I reload. The other guns just don’t get used / shot.

    BTW, carbide dies are the champs!

    I’ve also cast some .357 bullets and that cuts cost too. Helps if you have friends at a tire shop for wheel weights ;-)

    Nice to hear reloading worked out well for you!

    Which reminds me, I ought to get a set of .40 S&W dies…. then I’d shoot my Sig more….

  38. E.M.Smith says:

    FWIW, Cheaper Than Dirt has .38 Super in 16 varieties from $19 to $40 a box (slightly cheaper in 500 or 1000 round cases):

    So, H.R., you can see loads available there.

  39. Sera says:

    @ Chiefio:

    Wow, somebody does make it! But when you add $20.00 for shipping, that box of 50 comes to $1.16 per round. That, and the fact that I want to shoot VERY light loads out of this antique make me hesitant ( I want more control over the issue ). But thanks for that- I did not know.

    Carbide dies are the champs!

    My rounds used to cost .16 cents each, but primer bricks doubled in price ( Obama ) from $20.00 each to $40.00 each (from .02 per primer to .04 per primer) so now we are at .18 cents per round. Still much cheaper (and quality controlled) than factory. Thanks again.

  40. E.M.Smith says:

    Just OMG! The preppers must be busy.

    I decided to see if the classic Lee Loader for one round at a time with a mallet, no press, was available in .40 S&W (it isn’t) and learned a couple of things.

    First, pistol calibers they make are very limited.
    Second, what cost $10 a few decades back is now $40.
    Third: All of them but 270 Win say “notify me when back in stock”.or “out of stock”.

    Folks aren’t just buying guns, they are buying reloading kit.

    That’s some serious prepping going on!

  41. Sera says:

    I have the ‘classic’ for my 30-40 and the perfect wooden mallet to go with it. My brother-in-law has the .40 cal dies, and he swears that his loads are more accurate that factory. You better get on ebay and grab a set of .40 while ‘they’ still allow it.!30096!US!-1

  42. E.M.Smith says:


    Maybe after I get the reloading station in the garage set up again. I expect dies to stay available as mostly experienced folks buy them and they largely already have most kit. It is the little kits that new reloaders are likely to buy that are sold out. And if I’m wrong and can’t get .40 dies, it is only one caliber in one gun that is hindered.

    My usual pattern has been to get the little Lee Loader hand kit first and hand load one box at a time until I shoot enough volume to do multiple boxes at a time. Then I’d get dies for the press to do volume. (And the Lee Loader would go into the prepper kit as something needed to keep an important caliber in service in an AwShit bugout).

    But it looks like Lee Precision is ramping down the Lee Loader (fewer varieties than in the past) in favor of their $60 hand press. An 11 inch long metal lever thing. Great for custom loads on a shooting bench, but not small to toss in a bugout bag. Oh Well.

    I’m pretty sure my hand loads are better than factory. I’ve not formally tested it though. But a human being careful can be better than a fast running machine set up once and ignored until it is out of spec and QA rejects exceed allowance and the tech is called in.

  43. H.R. says:

    E.M.: “I’m pretty sure my hand loads are better than factory.”

    My father wasn’t a hunter but a target shooting ballistics nut. He raised us kids on the shooting range, which gave mom a break.

    He hand loaded everything as his goal was to put 10 bullets through the same hole at 100 yards.

    His target rifle was a scoped single shot Winchester Falling Block in .225 cal with bull barrel. He’d get his bullets in packs of 50 and then sort them by weight on an analytical balance into matched sets. Same for sized, trimmed brass making sure with a mic and caliper that the cases were matched in height and diameter. Each charge of powder was weighed out. The final height was checked to make sure the bullets were seated the same. Dad was meticulous about his target loads.

    So yes, hand loads/reloads are better than factory when care is taken.

    Here’s something very close to that Winchester. I think the stock is slightly different in the linked gun from what I recall on his gun. Of course the scopes were different.—predator–rifles/winchester—high-wall-custom—-225-win-caliber.cfm?gun_id=100832280

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