CCW Weekend: 5 Niche Carry Calibers That Should Have Been More Popular

Guns and Gear | Contributor

By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

The popular handgun calibers are almost all at least a century old. 9mm, .45 ACP and .380 Auto all predate WWI. .38 Special? Queen Victoria still ruled Britannia when that came out. .357 Magnum is a relative newcomer; it was released in the 1930s.

The only real new boys are the .40 S&W and 10mm. The only hitch there is fewer people actually carry the latter than talk about it and the former is basically on its way out. Yes, yes, there was .357 Sig for a while but rest assured of the following: nobody cares.

Which is actually kind of the point.

Over the years, a number of handgun calibers have been devised, only to fizzle (or never even catch on) despite a lot of on-paper promise. Here are five such novel chamberings that unfortunately never lived up to their potential…and really should have.

King among the niche calibers is without doubt the .38 Super. The roots of this cartridge are in the original loadings of .38 ACP, a round devised by John Browning for his Model 1900 pistol, which later evolved in the 1911. The .38 ACP in its original loading was a hot one, exceeding 9mm +P performance. It was redubbed Colt .38 Super Auto in 1929 and marketed to law enforcement. The .357 Magnum came out a few years later, which proved even more popular.

The round languished until it started to be used by competitive shooters in the 1980s. It’s too bad, too. While it lacks the capability of .357 Magnum to handle a diverse array of bullet weights, it exceeds 9mm +P velocities and muzzle energy by more than 100 fps and 100 ft-lbs, at the price of only an additional 1,000 psi of chamber pressure. If you wanted a .357 Magnum in an autoloader, the .38 Super is it and beat Sig Sauer to the punch by more than 60 years.

A commercial dud from recent years is the .327 Federal Magnum, which nets near .357 Magnum performance in terms of velocity and muzzle energy but with marginally less recoil. Granted, the reasons for this round’s underperformance commercially are pretty easy to understand.

The thing about most revolver cartridges is you need a full-size gun and at least 4 inches of barrel to really get the most of them. Recoil is tamed and sufficient spin is achieved to let the round really cook. Even shooting .38 Special out of a snubbie can be a chore and .357 Magnum is just plain unpleasant. The .327 Federal wasn’t going to be much better, and snubbies were mostly what gunmakers produced for the round. Not fun to shoot, and expensive to boot? Not a good recipe for success.

The .45 GAP was a novel concept. The resized .45 caliber autoloading round – devised by Glock – got .45 ACP performance with a smaller case, which allowed for the round to be used in a pistol with a 9mm frame size. It’s almost like a .45 ACP for modern sensibilities. Unfortunately, very little ammo was made, only a few guns outside of Glock pistols, and the fact that .45 ACP just works too well to set aside…doomed it. It’s too bad, and it also wasn’t the only failed attempt at modernizing the .45 caliber.

Any discussion of failed calibers must also include the .41 Magnum. The goal, when Elmer Keith and others talked Smith and Wesson and Remington into making the gun and the bullets, respectively, was to create a magnum for outdoor use and a .41 Special for law enforcement use.

It turned out that police hated lugging an N-frame around and since the hot loads came out first – it was just another big, powerful gun that made life less bearable than the .357 Magnum did. The lukewarm reception meant .41 Special never got off the ground. If it had, the goal was a 200-gr bullet at about 900 fps, a Goldilocks load that was powerful enough to put down bad guys but wouldn’t break your wrist in the process. That never materialized.

Lastly, the .45 Super, which by all rights should have replaced .45 ACP, basically everywhere. The .45 Super produces fairly moderate chamber pressure (SAAMI specs are 28,000 psi vs 34,000 for 9x19mm and 37,500 psi for 10mm Auto) despite producing a lot of wallop. The 185-grain loading is identical to 180-gr loads of 10mm in velocity and muzzle energy, and the 200-gr and 230-gr loads are right on the 10mm’s heels, despite generating almost 10,000 fewer pounds per square inch of pressure.

That means practically the same performance with less wear on the gun if the pistol in question is made to handle it. They’ll also shoot .45 ACP, too, so you can shoot lower-pressure rounds on the practice field and carry the hot stuff. Unfortunately, it just didn’t gain any traction outside of bowling ball shooters and hog hunters. It’s a shame, as it would have taken the .45 ACP into the 21st century. Alas.

What do you think, though? Do you have any guns in these chamberings? Or in another caliber that never got the love it deserved? Sound off in the comments.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.

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