handgun calibers

3 Great But Overlooked Handgun Calibers

The dominant handgun calibers are excellent, but they're also fairly old. The newest caliber that's achieved much in the way of popularity is .40 S&W, and even that one seems to be on the way out to some degree.

There are some other great handgun calibers out there that just haven't gotten the same traction, which is kind of unfortunate. There are some great rounds that just don't get the same love as .45 ACP or 9x19mm that merit looking into.

The .38 Super: The Original Plus P Round

.38 Super bullet

In 1929, Colt released a new 1911 called the "Super .38," and a hot .38 round to go with it which is now called the .38 Super, though it wasn't initially. It took a few years for the ".38 Super" tag to get applied (mostly because the pistol was called the Super .38) but initially, the round was actually .38 Automatic Colt Pistol or .38 ACP.

The Colt M1900 (a precursor to the 1911) was developed with the .38 ACP in mind but early loadings proved too hot for the gun to handle, so the round was loaded down. Production cartridges pushed a 115-grain bullet at about 1,150 feet per second, so slightly slower than 9x19mm but with a longer, semi-rimmed case. In the 1920s, Colt decided to liven the .38 ACP up and stuffed a bit more powder in the case and created the .38 Super, which pushed the same 115-gr cartridge at about 1,400 fps, decades before the first 9mm Plus P was created.

When released, it started to become very popular with police as it was capable of penetrating car bodies and the body armor of the day. In that era, police needed every firepower advantage they could get.

Why hasn't this round become more popular? Well, there are a number of reasons. First, it was overshadowed by the .357 Magnum, which was released a few years later and won over more civilians and police officers since revolvers were still the dominant handgun design. Secondly, the 9mm doesn't require a special feed ramp to accommodate a semi-rimmed case and more companies were making it by then anyway.

Today, the .38 Super is still available and some people swear by it. It's a very popular round for competitive shooting as it offers a powerful round with less recoil than larger calibers. However, only a few major manufacturers offer guns chambered in it, and only one - the EAA Witness - is not a 1911, which some people don't prefer due to communism.

The .41 Magnum: Arguably The Perfect Manstopper

.41 magnum bullet

The .41 Magnum, or rather the .41 Remington Magnum, should have been so much more popular than it is. Some people think it's a tragedy that it never caught on, because it's a "Goldilocks" magnum.

In the early 1960s, some of the nation's top gun guys - including Bill Jordon, Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton and a few others - recognized that the .44 Magnum was overkill for police work and defensive purposes, but that the .357 Magnum was a little underpowered in some loadings. They went around bugging the gun industry for a round that was in between, settling on a .41 caliber bullet (inspired by the .41 Long Colt) and with the idea to have light loads for police work and high-power loads for outdoor and sporting purposes.

Remington came up with the cartridge and Smith and Wesson adapted their N-frame to the new cartridge, creating the Model 57 - the premium, gussied up model - and the Model 58, which was a little barer-boned and intended as a police sidearm.

It should have been perfect, but it all went haywire. Many police departments, used to .38 Special, felt even the moderate .41 Magnum loads were too powerful and the 41-ounce weight of the "lighter" Model 58 was just too much gun to tote around, compared to K-frame Smiths and Colt Pythons which were a little more compact.

It's a shame. The .41 Magnum is capable of incredible diversity, including lighter subsonic loads all the way up to full-house loads that push a 265-gr cartridge at 1,350 fps. As a result, the cartridge is good for defensive purposes and is also a very capable hunting handgun (many handgun hunters swear by the .41 to this day) and as a backup in bear country.

There are a few .41 Mags still in production - Ruger and S&W both make a model or two - but the round just didn't catch on like it should have.

The 10mm Auto

10 mm bullet

The 10mm auto round is, much like the .41 Magnum, actually a very capable round in terms of available loadings. Softer loadings can be shot by many shooters and the full-house loads are one of the few semi-auto rounds that suited to use as a handgun hunting round.

Initially, the 10mm was developed as a round that bridged the gap between easy-recoiling but high-velocity 9mm and the hard-hitting but slower .45 In short, a medium round that could really book it - and it does.

The FBI picked up on the 10mm's potential and briefly made it standard issue until they figured out that not all shooters could handle even the lower-power FBI load and also that the S&W 1076 pistols broke down a lot. They then adopted the .40 S&W round.

Without the endorsement of a major law enforcement agency, public interest waned and the 10mm was relegated to being a niche round.

It's kind of too bad. Just like the .41 Magnum, soft-shooting subsonic rounds (basically a .40 with a longer case) are available as are screaming full-power loads, as some 10mm loads are capable of pushing a 155-gr. bullet at 1,400 feet per second with more than 650 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Bullet sizes range from 135 grains to 200, meaning the round is capable of slinging some serious lead. It's one of the few auto cartridges that rivals the .357 Magnum for power, and in some cases exceeds it.

It does have it's fans, and there are a number of very vocal 10mm supporters out there. Additionally, this cartridge has a decent number of pistols still being chambered in 10mm from major manufacturers. However, it just doesn't have the traction of it's compact, lower-powered offspring - the .40 S&W - and isn't likely to grow much at this point, as the 9mm rules the roost as the dominant defensive and service caliber.

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Sam Hoober 

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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