pistol rifle

Is A Pistol-Caliber Carbine Good For More Than The Range?


While once the default choice of rifle, the pistol caliber carbine is now a niche firearm. Few companies make them, and not as many people buy them. Today, they're popular as survival guns, tactical shooters and with some hunters.


Is it worth it to get one? Depends on what you have in mind. It's always worth it to get a good gun belt for carry, because a person can use it, and at that, a lot. A carbine though...that's another matter.


The Original Pistol Carbine Was A Do It All Gun


original pistol carbine

The pistol carbine, or pistol-caliber carbine, is a short-barrel rifle that shoots a pistol-caliber bullet. Though small-caliber, short-barrel muzzleloading rifles certainly existed (the Hawkens rifle in particular) the archetype, and to date the most popular example of the breed, was the lever-action carbine.


The best-known example is the Model 1873 Winchester, which was available in .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20, which were all very popular handgun rounds of the day. The benefits, of course, were reduced recoil (compared to rifles firing larger bullets) and greater accuracy and velocity when the round was fired from the 20-inch carbine barrel compared to a 6-inch pistol barrel.


The 1873 was a very capable implement of defense and game-getter at close to moderate distances. Owners loved that it fired the same round as their pistols, making it very economical and practical for people that lived on or near the frontier. The gun acquired the nickname "The Gun That Won The West" and has been a staple Winchester offering ever since.


The Winchester Model 1892 followed much the same formula, being offered in .44-40 as well as .45 Colt and today, .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. Clones of the rifle are also available in .454 Casull.


However, the pistol carbine of today is something else entirely.


Modern Pistol Caliber Carbines Are A Bit Different


modern pistol carbine

A new breed of pistol caliber carbines has emerged in recent years, very different from the Winchester carbines of the later 19th century. The modern pistol-caliber carbine exists in a bit different space.


Modern pistol carbines, like the KelTec, HiPoint and many others, fire auto-loading cartridges such as 9mm. They're clearly designed for tactical use, with Picatinny rails and polymer construction. They're also meant to be just as ubiquitous, as a number of companies make carbines that accept popular gun maker's magazines.


Some use a pistol-grip magazine well, others have more of an AR-15 style design.


Clearly, these aren't every day carry firearms. The point is either a home defense gun or a survival rifle in extreme circumstances. Law enforcement can also make use of such guns, as they allow the user to get more firepower while using the same magazines one is already carrying.


Such was also the case long ago, as many lawmen had a .44-40 on their hip in a Western gun belt and holster rig, and in their saddle scabbard.


Just as with the Winchesters, accuracy and effective range are improved by use of a carbine - though not to distances much more than 100 yards - and velocity goes up as well, usually on the order of an additional 100 to 300 feet per second.


Are Today's Pistol Carbines As Useful?


carbine pistol rifle

Today's carbines definitely have a use. One can definitely get more out of a smaller round, and with the tactical accessories available, create a home defense rifle that's drastically more appropriate for the role than an actual rifle in a suburban setting. Overpenetration becomes less of an issue and very few people will have an issue handling a 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP rifle compared to an AR.


Law enforcement also has tactical uses for them.


Some loads of some calibers would even be very serviceable short-range hunting rounds, especially if one finds a 10mm carbine, and one can certainly use many modern carbines as a survival rifle in case things go very wrong.


However, the truth is that a handgun is just as good in a defensive role at home. As a game getter, full-power rifles and shotguns still reign supreme. Really, it's up to the buyer. If nothing else, some of them are very cool.




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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