Thursday, June 25, 2020


Being somewhat of a gun nut, I pay attention to the newer offerings from the various manufacturers. This week, one caught my eye that demanded a bit of research and led to the idea for today's article.

Firearms require ammunition; that's a basic fact. In times of crisis, finding a ready supply of ammunition can be a problem. Most of us get around that potential problem by stockpiling ammunition and/or components to reload our spent brass, but there are some who choose a different path. They want a gun that can fire a variety of different calibers so they can take advantage of whatever they can find. There are several common calibers that have interchangeable partners, like firing .38 Special in .357 Magnum or .22 LR in a .22 WMR (don't try to go the other way! They won't fit, and if you do manage to insert one and fire it you will damage your firearm or yourself!), but a few enterprising people have come up with ways to make guns capable of firing more than just two or three calibers from the same frame.

Medusa M47 Revolver
Based on the venerable S&W K-frame revolvers, this pistol has a unique extractor system that would work with rimmed or rimless cartridges. Advertised to work with around 25 current cartridges, you could feed it another 50 or so obsolete cartridges if that's all you have.

Since the .38 Special/.357 Mag family uses 0.357 inch bullets while the .380/9mm family uses 0.355 inch bullets, the Medusa uses a 0.357 inch barrel. The slightly smaller 9mm bullets don't bite into the rifling as much, but they at least head in the right direction.

Introduced in the late 1990s, this handgun didn't fare well in the market and production ended after only 500 were made. The price was twice that of a comparable .357 Magnum, and poor accuracy from the smaller bullets not engaging the rifling, and a sometimes sticky extraction, led to poor reviews. They are now a collector's item, and prices are well over $2000 for one in good shape.

Scavenger 6
This is the new gun that caught my eye. Advertised as a survival gun, it is basically a standard revolver frame with a very long cylinder and a barrel extension to make the collapsible butt-stock legal*. The long cylinder is referred to as a “Cylinder Barrel” in their ads, which tells me that the front portion of the cylinder is the only part that has any rifling.

The “Cylinder Barrel” (CB) is available in a few different combinations of calibers (21 to choose from), but most of them are 6 different caliber choices per CB. Priced at roughly $1700 for the basic package and $8000 for the deluxe kit with additional CBs costing $300-400, this is not one for someone on a tight budget.

Just off the top of my head I can see several potential problems with this gun:
  • Advertised as being able to shoot common calibers from .22LR to .308/7.62x51mm, you're going to need their special cylinder case just to carry all of the extra parts.
  • I have my doubts about the comfort, reliability, and longevity of the collapsible stock they chose. It reminds me of the wire-frame stocks found on submachine guns of the mid-20th century, but those SMGs fired 9mm rounds and were blow-back operated, so the felt recoil would be a lot less than any rifle cartridge fired from a single-shot (fixed action) “rifle” like the Scavenger 6. That oval of steel tubing for a butt-pad looks like it'll be painful with a rifle cartridge.
  • Yes, I said single-shot. Each CB has 6 chambers, but each chamber is for a different caliber. This might be suitable for hunting if the accuracy is good enough, but I can think of several much less expensive single-shot rifles on the market that would be quicker to reload for a second shot.
  • The CB is the barrel, so you're looking at maybe 6” of rifling to stabilize a bullet. This is sufficient for most handgun calibers, but nowhere near enough to get any accuracy out of a rifle cartridge. Good luck hitting a deer-sized target at any range past 50 yards with a 6” barrel and a bullet that normally gets at least one full revolution in a rifle barrel!** I've seen a lot of large-game handgun hunters, but they're using hand-crafted ammunition in exceptional handguns to hit what they aim at.

T/C Contender
My choice for a multi-caliber firearm would be the tried and tested Thompson/Center Contender or Encore. The Contender is the older style, introduced in 1967, but there are still plenty of companies making barrels for them. The Encore is an updated version, with a better trigger and stiffer frame for better accuracy. 

You can find, or have made, barrels in any caliber you want from .17HMR to .45-70 Government so the variety of choices is much wider than the options above. Barrels are quick to change, have their own front and rear sights (or scope), and the simple break-action design is quick to reload after some practice. Accuracy from a quality barrel is often better than what the shooter can do; I've seen half-inch groups at 100 yds from a bench. Stocks and barrels from 6” to 20” may give an overly-zealous law enforcer some room to hassle an owner, but I've never heard of any major problems.

Priced around $400 for the frame (which is the serial-numbered part), you can add barrels as your budget allows. Barrels vary in price by popularity and condition; I usually see at least one table full of used Contender barrels at the larger gun shows and new ones in common calibers are selling for $300-400. Custom-cut barrels in “Wildcat” chamberings can get expensive, but that's for the true gun nuts who demand the best they can get.

Like most things in life that try to do everything, none of the multi-caliber guns does all of them well. You will be trading speed, reliability, accuracy, or cost to get more functions stuffed into a tool. I've used and carried a variety of multi-tools over the years and they mostly worked at a “fair” level, but never as well as the tool that was designed for that task. Guns aren't much different.

* The government has silly rules about putting a butt-stock on a pistol; they call such combinations Short Barreled Rifles which require a Tax Stamp and a $200 fee, if your state allows them.

** Rifling is expressed in “twist”', the number of times the bullet will make a complete revolution in a given distance. .223/5.56mm is usually 1:7 or 1:9 inches, with heavy bullets using 1:12. .308/7.62mm is usually close to 1:10 inches. That means that a common AR-15 with a 16 inch barrel will spin a bullet twice before it leaves the barrel. The spinning motion helps keep the bullet flying in a straight line, pointy end first, making it more likely to hit what you're aiming at.


  1. Don't forget conversion kits! I've got 22LR conversions for my 1911s and my ARs. Cheap, reasonably accurate, and not terribly finicky about ammo.

  2. Those and chamber adapters are in the 2-3 caliber range that these guns try to go beyond. I've had fairly good results with quality conversion kits and chamber adapters in the past, but you normally get what you pay for.


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