Saturday, January 08, 2011

Odd calibers, continued...

I engaged in some sleep-deprived nattering yesterday about odd handgun chamberings, which stirred some interesting discussion in the comments, and got me musing on what is and isn't an "odd" round.

Some are aren't so much "odd" as "old": The old hyphenated Winchester Center Fire cartridges, like .32-20 and .44-40 cling to life only by virtue of the jillions of guns made for them in the past and the the enduring popularity of Old West nostalgia. They've certainly become uncommon, though; you're lucky to find a single offering in either, even in a well-stocked gun store. Similarly, .38 Super, once popular, has largely been reduced to a special-purpose gun game cartridge over the years.

.32 Smith & Wesson Long has been relegated to the target-shooting fringe, and when was the last time someone chambered a firearm for .32 S&W or .38 S&W? I know Smith & Wesson themselves discontinued the Models 32 and 33 'way back in 1974. Two more that are in danger of heading down this same path are the .25ACP and the .32ACP. The rise of the tiny .380 and 9mm pistols has seen a concomitant dropoff in popularity of these traditional vest pocket chamberings.

Then there are those that never catch on, but never go away, either. Sure, 10mm Auto or .41 Magnum aren't terrifically common, but every year somebody continues to offer one or two models chambered for these cartridges, and I doubt they'll ever really go away. I don't know that they're really "odd" as much as "niche". Similarly, .50AE and .454 Casull, while never setting the sales numbers on fire the way they can a too-close target, will probably always have their niche.

Real oddballs would be the ones that never catch on and do actually go away: .41 Action Express is an oddball. So are .356TSW and Walther's 9mm Ultra. Smith's .22 Remington Jet and Ruger's .256 Winchester Magnum are oddballs. .357 Maximum and 9mm Federal; 9x23 Winchester and .35 S&W...

Actually, by contrast, the number of new cartridges that have been introduced and actually caught on is pretty slim: .40 S&W and its .357SIG spinoff are the only ones that really come to mind in the last forty years or so...

33 comments:

Mr.B said...

likely the .327 Federal Magnum will be the next successful cartridge, especially if someone chambers a levergun for it.

The .40 (and .357 Sig) are really only successful because LEO purchasing folks bought GLOCKs at discounts chambered it it. And, lets face it, the .40 is just a weak 10mm, which was supposed to fix all the issues with too small 9mm and too big .45 ACP, but was too much cartridge for many folks.....

Ancient Woodsman said...

Fun: 7-30 Waters in a 94; 5.7 MMJ or .22 Carbine in an M1 format; a .310 Martini cadet rifle and ammo; and your mention of the .256 prompts a drool for a Hawkeye paired with one of those odd Marlin 62 lever guns in the same caliber.

All fading away, but what fun to play. Successful cartridges & formats with which to fire them probably stem most from practicality, efficiency, and effectiveness in use and performance. Those that fade away are lacking one, some, or all of those. However, sometimes the fun factor has nothing to do with practicality, efficiency, or effectiveness.

Tam said...

Mr. B,

"And, lets face it, the .40 is just a weak 10mm..."

Much more importantly, .40 delivered all the performance of the 10mm FBI load and could still be chambered in double-stack pistols with grips smaller than railroad ties, which is an important consideration if you need to equip a police force with a wide range of hand sizes.

Anonymous said...

"Two more that are in danger of heading down this same path are the .25ACP and the .32ACP."

This is possibly true, but I notice the local Wal-Mart stocks both. If it's available there, it's probably not odd or niche quite yet.

Rob

Butch_S said...

.22 Winchester Auto and .22 Remington Auto.

Anonymous said...

In general I have to agree with your statements, except for the 357 Max.

The 357 Max is about where the 10mm was say 12 to 15 years ago. Not many guns made in it, and looking like it will die except for a very dedicated core group. The Max seems to live in the TC Contenders and I see a lot of barrels, shooters and questions on the max there.

ajdshootist said...

Tell me Tam what did you dislike about the .41AE i had one for a few years untill we had all our pistols stolen by the UK Goverment,i liked it
with 41 mag heads up to 220grn a bigger mag than a 1911 .45 and hard hitting a great gun never failed to feed more omph than the 40s&w much easier to load than 9mm so why do you think it failed.

Tam said...

ajdshootist,

I don't necessarily "dislike" anything about the .41AE; it mostly died from bad timing.

.40S&W came out right on its heels and was supported by Winchester and S&W, which just have tons more clout in the gun biz.

It's similar to, but not an exact parallel of, the currently-playing-out Grendel-vs-SPC situation.

Anonymous said...

One thing to consider. If we have another ammo shortage, odd ball calibers will be easier to find initially. About the only thing left in my LGS was .45 GAP, .357 SIG, etc. Buy it cheap and stack it deep is a good plan.

Al T.

Frank W. James said...

One that no one has mentioned is the 9x21mm, which is European in origin because the people in charge prohibit the mil spec 9x19mm for those allowed to possess a handgun.

25 years ago it was all the rage in IPSC circles over here because it could be loaded to 'Major'. Now, it is an object of firearms trivia...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Tam said...

Frank,

I had heard somewhere that the Italians did away with the "military calibers" prohibition, which would surely be a serious nail in the coffin of both 9x21 and .30 Luger, since the Italian gun market is one of the larger ones in Europe and was largely responsible for 9x21 in the first place.

Standard Mischief said...

>One thing to consider. If we have another ammo shortage, odd ball calibers will be easier to find initially. About the only thing left in my LGS was .45 GAP, .357 SIG, etc. Buy it cheap and stack it deep is a good plan.

If the ammo shortage hasn't sold you on reloading, or tucking 10,000 primers and a few kegs of powder away for a rainy day. you're hopeless.

(not that I have my accumulation of crap set-up, mind you, but when I do we can barter for .221 Rem and 7mm-06 ;-)

Tam said...

Anon 9:49,

"The 357 Max is about where the 10mm was say 12 to 15 years ago. Not many guns made in it, and looking like it will die except for a very dedicated core group."

One big difference: There is no .357 Max factory ammunition from any of the Big 4 ammo companies. It is for all intents and purposes a handloader-only proposition. Neither 10mm nor .41 Mag have ever been that far off the scope. Glock has never stopped cataloging 10mm pistols, and .41 Mag handguns have always been available from Ruger, Smith, or Taurus.

Sure, silhouette shooters and T/C junkies know about it, but they also know about 7mm TCU...

Anonymous said...

As to recent cartridges that have may have staying power, I'd like to proffer: .17HMR

The next .22 Hornet? Stay tuned...

Frank W. James said...

Tam: Yeah, now that you mention it I remember hearing some rumor to the same effect. But I also remember they were concerned that the Italians were going to reduce the number of handguns you could possess with no reasonable means of being compensated for the 'excess' pistols on your license.

Never did hear how either provision turned out...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

perlhaqr said...

Much more importantly, .40 delivered all the performance of the 10mm FBI load and could still be chambered in double-stack pistols with grips smaller than railroad ties, which is an important consideration if you need to equip a police force with a wide range of hand sizes.

Being both a 10mm fan and a generalised obligate "designer and maker of things", I've been examining this issue for a while. I don't think anyone has ever made a 10mm pistol that was designed specifically around that cartridge, from ground zero. (But I have not made a truly comprehensive study either, sadly.) Most 10mm designs tend to be built down from .45 ACP designs, because the cartridge OAL is the same, but which adds width to the stack that really doesn't need to be there.

I'd like to build a double stack 10mm pistol from scratch some day that's designed to be at the minimum dimensions for grip, and see if that solves the problem for smaller handed shooters. (I also want to build a 10mm pocket pistol based on the CZ-52, because I'm crazy like that. :) )

So, I realised not long ago that I like 10mm essentially because I'm a hot-rodder. 9mm and .45 ACP are fine rounds, but 10mm is tweaked, hot, and kinda nasty. A Toyota Camry would do a perfectly adequate job of ferrying me around town and to the grocery store and back. I drive a '72 Plymouth Satellite with more modifications than I could possibly list because it's just more fun, damnit. 9mm is like the Toyota Camry of the autopistol world. 10mm is a lot more like my Satellite, right down to the cost of fuelling the bloody things. ;) But it's just cool, yeah?

Anonymous said...

My favorite "oddball" is 9 X 18 Makarov. When these pistols flooded the market in the 90's, those of us who had them thought they would develop a more comprehensive aftermarket. Instead, the only real source was makarov.com, and they shut down a few years ago.

Still, there is both cheap fodder and effective self defense ammo for it, and parts through Brownells.

Antibubba

Axeman said...

perlhaqr :

Look up the "Bren 10".

og said...

I'm looking for unusual and obsoltete calibers for my bullet board, if you have any spares you'd be willing to part with.

Mo said...

It wasn't that long ago I didn't even know I NEEDED a rifle in 38-55 and a rifle and revolver in 32-20. I was blissfully ignorant of their existence. Now most of my shooting is done with calibers I can't afford to buy the ammo for so casting and reloading is a must. It's all part of the fun. Amazing that technology from more than a century ago can still thrive and do what it was intended to do even on today's bulletproof critters

Tam said...

perlhaqr,

"I don't think anyone has ever made a 10mm pistol that was designed specifically around that cartridge, from ground zero."

IIRC, the Glock 20 was designed for the 10mm Auto and adapted to .45ACP as the 21.

McThag said...

"It's similar to, but not an exact parallel of, the currently-playing-out Grendel-vs-SPC situation."

With which cartridge playing what role? I would hate for the furries to win.

staghounds said...

Make .310 cadet from 32-20.

Anonymous said...

.303 savage was a useful hunting cartridge until the late 1990's; now sadly other than handloading it too is gone.

Noel

perlhaqr said...

Tam: Well, now I feel all kinda silly. I coulda sworn it was the other way around. Oops.

Tam said...

perlhaqr,

FWIW, I don't thing Smith's 3rd Gen 10XX pistols are just their 45XX pistols with different top ends, either.

"I'd like to build a double stack 10mm pistol from scratch some day that's designed to be at the minimum dimensions for grip, and see if that solves the problem for smaller handed shooters."

The problem is the OAL. 10mm was designed from the outset to work in existing .45ACP platforms, and so it's going to have issues with grip dimensions in the fore & aft axis.

Matt G said...

Speaking of oddball/rarely seen as of late, I've lately really had kind of a hankering for decent M94 in .25-20.

Don't ask me to even begin to justify this desire.

JC said...

Tam - The Dormouse and D..was the way she described it to me. My OGF spent a summer as a finishing 'smith on the Bren Ten during its short unhappy life. It was Norma that had the patent on the cartridge at the time, and was charging about 1.5 dollars per round

Just My 2¢ said...

I wish I'd gotten a 1911 in 9x23. Just because - not that I would have had a particular use for it.

Rabbit said...

Matt, my brother has the Family M94, in 25-20. It went through the fire at his house about 15 years ago, and I haven't seen it since, but I think he salvaged it. At that time, it was a 95% rifle. Long hex barrel, crescent buttplate. Absolutely gorgeous and too much rifle for the cartridge.

My old gunsmith used to build a fine little carbine from Martini .310 Cadet actions. Fancy wood, high cheekpiece, each one bespoke. His sample was .30WCF. I really wanted one in .357 Maximum. He sold his business to a couple of guys and they've continued it as a special offering. Maybe I need another 'impractical' carbine.

Matt G said...

"At that time, it was a 95% rifle. Long hex barrel, crescent buttplate. Absolutely gorgeous and too much rifle for the cartridge."

Hoo, baby. Now you're talking.

I love how those old rifles just hang there.

Excuse me, I've got the vapors.

Mikael said...

The recent Guncrafter Industries Mk1, a 1911 in their own .50GI(shortened .45ACP with wider bullet, as I understand it) is kind of oddball... which doesn't stop me salivating over them.

Time will tell what happens to it I guess, but as far as I know, only one (minor) gun company supports it.

Anonymous said...

Got a real hankering for a 1911 in .38 Super...not really an oddball. Supposed to be a great cartridge, but as I understand it it never really caught on because .357 Magnum came out at roughly the same time. The latter did everything the .38 Super did and did it better, 'cept fit in an autoloader. Now that I'm approaching middle age, I do wish for something with a little less kick than .45 ACP sometimes.

"Middle age is a moveable feast, it's always five years older than you are."