Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Prepper's Armory: Cartridge Versatility

When selecting a firearm, ammunition supply should be a fairly high level consideration. After all, what’s the point of owning a gun for prepping purposes that takes unusual or hard to find cartridges? (Guns bought for collection purposes are a different matter entirely.)

Beyond that, there are a number of firearms that can utilize more than one cartridge. This can be either due to cartridge development history, or the ability to switch parts quickly and easily.

The following list is not exhaustive, but represents some of the most common cartridge groups likely to be encountered.

.22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle
While .22 Long is nearly impossible to find even in normal times, .22 Short is frequently available. Out of a rifle barrel this diminutive cartridge is not only potentially quite accurate but is also nearly hearing safe in volume -- not a bad combination when taking small game during a survival situation.

Either cartridge can chamber in any .22 Long Rifle firearm, but being shorter, they may not feed through the magazine and will almost certainly fail to operate any semi-automatic action.

.32 S&W through .327 Federal Magnum
Introduced as a black powder cartridge in 1878, the .32 Smith & Wesson and 1896 follow-on .32 S&W Long survived the transition to smokeless powder and are still commercially loaded to this day. 

In 1984, the Harington & Richardson company introduced the .32 H&R Magnum, a lengthened version of the .32 S&W Long, intended to duplicate the ballistics of the classic .32-20 Winchester cartridge but in a straight-walled case. It proved to be quite popular with small game hunters. 

Just over 20 years later, the Federal Cartridge company lengthened the .32 H&R Magnum and called the new chambering the .327 Federal Magnum

Due to the design lineage, all four of these cartridges can be fired from any .327 Magnum revolver. Revolvers in .327 Magnum have been made by Charter Arms, Taurus, Ruger, and Freedom Arms, as well as custom designs or conversions.

.38 Special & .357 Magnum
Long considered the gold standard of personal defense cartridges, .38 Smith & Wesson Special was introduced as a black powder cartridge in 1898 but transitioned to smokeless within a year. It is likely the single most common centerfire revolver cartridge on the market.

In 1935, the .38 Special case was lengthened slightly so it wouldn’t fit in older guns and was loaded to higher pressure to produce the .357 Smith & Wesson Magnum. The new cartridge took off like a shot (pun intended) and achieved legendary status fairly quickly.

While unlikely to be encountered these days, .38 Short Colt and .38 Long Colt will both chamber in any .38 Special revolver, and all three cartridges will chamber in any .357 Magnum Revolver.

There’s also the .357 Remington Maximum, a slightly lengthened and more powerful .357 Magnum, but guns chambered in this caliber are rare as hen's teeth, and so is the cartridge.

While named similarly, .38 Smith & Wesson is a completely different cartridge, and no attempt should be made to fire it in a revolver chambered for either .38 Special or .357 Magnum! The .38 S&W case is slightly larger in diameter and won’t fit in a .38 Special or .357 Magnum chamber. Neither should .38 Special be fired in a .38 S&W revolver as, if it does chamber, the case will likely rupture on firing.

L-R: .38 Special; .357 Magnum; .44 Special; .44 Magnum

.44 Special & .44 Magnum
A similar story follows the design of the .44 Smith & Wesson Special and the .44 Remington Magnum. Introduced in 1908 as a smokeless cartridge, the .44 Special was well liked by hunters and target shooters for its excellent accuracy. However, many handloaders felt it didn’t live up to its potential. This issue was resolved when the .44 Magnum was introduced in 1955 to great fanfare. 

Again paralleling the .38 Special, the .44 Special was made by lengthening the older .44 Russian case. This means a .44 Magnum revolver can chamber any of these three cartridges. With the popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting, some limited runs of .44 Russian have been made.

.45 Schofield, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W
This family is another example of incremental development, but with a twist. The .45 Colt cartridge was introduced in 1873 with the Colt Single Action Army revolver, and the .45 Schofield was released two years later for the Smith & Wesson revolver of the same name. Due to the design of the Schofield revolver, the cartridge needed to be about 1/8” shorter than the parent .45 Colt.

.454 Casull was developed in 1958 during the Magnum craze of that era and, while based on the .45 Colt, it’s not only longer but was also reinforced near the case head.

At almost half an inch longer than the already lengthened .454 Casull, the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum introduced in 2005 is nearly rifle-like in proportion: its 300 grain bullet loading equals the power of the .45-70 Government rifle round.

A .460 S&W Magnum revolver can chamber any of the shorter calibers with corresponding reduced power and felt recoil.

Part-Swapping Conversions
Several single action revolvers on the market are available with both .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum cylinders that can be interchanged with a few moments effort. The Ruger Single Six and Heritage Rough Rider are two examples of this design concept.

For centerfire fans, .45 ACP cylinders are available for some .45 Colt revolvers. E.M.F sells one for the Pietta 1873 style revolvers and Cimmaron sells one for their Model P revolvers.

There have also been custom conversions of Smith & Wesson Model 25 .45 Colt revolvers involving .45 ACP cylinders that use Moon Clips. This conversion would also allow the use of .45 GAP cartridges in the same handgun.

The T/C Contender was introduced in the mid-1960s and by using quick change barrels allowed for chambering from .22 Long Rifle to .47-70 in both rifle and pistol configurations.

There are also combination guns which have both a rifle and shotgun barrel based on the 19th century Cape Gun concept. Examples include the venerable Savage Model 24 or the modern Model 42 as well as the Springfield Armory M6 Scout.


Whatever style of survival or prepping firearm is being considered, don’t forget to think about ammunition options as well. You just need to look back at the past year and a half to see the importance of ammunition interchangeability.

Good luck and safe shooting.

1 comment:

  1. I've been having a good time with a drop-in 22LR bolt for an AR. Works a charm, and swapout is <30 seconds.

    ReplyDelete

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