5 Underrated Handgun Cartridges Deserving More Popularity

5 Underrated Handgun Cartridges Deserving More Popularity

American shooters love their handguns, but we definitely play favorites. While each new year brings with it a new centerfire rifle cartridge or two, new handgun cartridges are far more scarce. Order a custom bolt-action rifle, and you'll have the opportunity to choose from an extensive list of chamberings, sometimes hundreds of different options. Order a custom semiauto pistol, on the other hand, and you'll have four or five different caliber choices.

Handgunners like their new products and new toys as much as anyone, but when it comes to new cartridges they aren't so easily swayed. For years the 9mm Luger, .45 Auto, .38 Special and .44 Remington Magnum have dominated handgun sales. And because these perennial favorites account for such a large percentage of sales, gun companies tend to give the consumers what they want, which to some degree is what they already have.

Will one of these rounds rise up to prominence in the years to come? That's tough to guess, but for now, these high-achieving cartridges don't get the love they deserve.

The .327 Federal, a joint venture between Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Federal Ammunition, broke cover in 2007 and drew a great deal of attention and praise from gun writers. It was based on the .32 H&R Magnum, itself a Federal creation and lengthened version of the .32 Smith & Wesson Long. Despite their nomenclature, all of these cartridges, fire .312-inch projectiles. At the time of the .327 Federal's release, issuance of right-to-carry licenses was at an all-time high, and the .327 Federal seemed a logical choice for compact carry revolvers. Its ballistics were impressive; 85-grain Hydra-Shok JHP defensive loads left the muzzle at 1,400 feet per second (fps) and produced 370 foot-pounds of energy.

The other defensive load that was introduced with the .327 Federal was Speer's Gold Dot 115-grain Personal Protection load that boasted a muzzle velocity of 1,335 fps and produced 455 pounds of energy, roughly twice the muzzle energy of a .38 +P load. Performance, Federal said, was similar to that of a .357 Magnum with 20 percent less recoil, and initial ballistic tests showed that the .327 Federal offered great penetration and produced tremendous shock, making it an ideal carry cartridge. Revolvers chambered for the .327 Federal Magnum could also fire .32 H&R Magnum loads as well as .32 S&Ws, so there was the added versatility of having lower-powered, lighter-recoiling practice cartridges available. Another bonus for the .327 Federal Magnum is that it had a capacity of six rounds in compact revolvers (as opposed to five for most .38/.357s). For defensive carry, having that extra round meant one more chance to stop an attacker and save your life. The .327 Federal Magnum has never been wildly popular as a carry gun, which I do not understand. Maybe someday.

.38 Super

Technically, it's the .38 Super Auto +P, by far the oldest cartridge on this list, emerging in the early twentieth century as an improved version of the .38 ACP. At that time, pressures and performance were limited by the available firearms, but in 1929 Colt offered the .38 Super in a strong 1911, and performance figures increased dramatically. There was only one problem, though; it wasn't very accurate. This problem was remedied when gun companies began headspacing off the case mouth instead of the rim. The .38 Super had a new breath of life, and it became popular with USPSA/IPSC shooters because it offered the potential to reach Major power factor.

Custom handgun makers began building 1911s chambered in .38 Super, first for competitors and, to a lesser degree, for defensive purposes. The .38 Super gained its +P status in 1974 to avoid confusion with the older but identical .38 Auto cartridge. Today, the .38 Super is primarily used in competition, but it certainly has the goods to make a highly effective concealed carry cartridge. It generates between 400 and 500 foot-pounds of energy, making it more powerful than the majority of 9mm +P loads, yet recoil is manageable. The .38 Super will always be associated with the 1911 platform, but that also just happens to be one of the best carry guns ever designed, and there are more and more companies offering .38 Super guns. Last year, Dan Wesson announced the release of their bobtail commander Guardian 1911 chambered for this cartridge, so there is still hope for the .38 Super as a mainstream defense cartridge.

.357 SIG

The .357 SIG was a 1994 joint venture between SIG Arms and Federal. It was no accident that the cartridge was called the .357 SIG, as the goal at introduction was to create a compact semiauto cartridge that matched the ballistics of the .357 Magnum revolver with lighter bullets. Based on the popular .40 S&W case necked down to accept .355-inch bullets, the .357 SIG is one of the few bottleneck semiauto cartridges, but its design makes it a smooth-feeding cartridge, which is certainly a bonus with a cartridge designed for self-defense and law enforcement.

The .357 SIG was initially released with factory ammo pushing a 125-grain bullet at 1,350 fps and generating over 500 foot-pounds of energy, making it considerably more powerful than the 9mm Luger. The idea of having .357 Magnum power in a compact semiauto handgun appealed to law enforcement agencies and the .357 SIG began seeing duty on the street. The first pistol chambered for the round was the SIG P229, naturally, but since that time Springfield, Glock, and other companies have offered handguns chambered for the cartridge.

Recoil is manageable in most guns. Its slightly higher than a 9mm but significantly less than its parent cartridge, the .40 S&W. Faster, smaller-diameter bullets increase rotational speed and transfer energy efficiently, so the .357 SIG has plenty of stopping power. Why more shooters haven't opted to carry the .357 SIG is a mystery, but it certainly has something to do with the success of the 9mm and the .40 that came before it. There are several companies that offer ammunition, and the .357 SIG uses the same diameter bullets as the omnipresent 9mm, so finding suitable defensive projectiles is no challenge to reloaders. As defensive semiauto cartridges go, the .357 SIG is certainly underappreciated.

10mm Auto

The 10mm Auto was introduced in the early 1980's by Dornaus & Dixon Enterprises and was slated to be offered in the company's new Bren-Ten semi auto pistol, but the hype surrounding the 10mm Auto was truncated when manufacturing problems prevented guns from actually reaching consumers. In 1987, though, Colt picked the cartridge up and offered their Delta Elite pistol chambered in 10mm Auto. With the backing of a powerful and successful company, the 10mm had a firm footing and was offered up as a law enforcement round.

The 10mm certainly had the goods; it could fire a 200-grain, .400-inch bullet at around 1,200 fps, making it slightly less powerful than the .41 Rem. Mag. But the 10mm was never adopted for fears that not all law enforcement professionals could handle the 10's stout recoil. Some manufacturers began watering down 10mm loads to make them more comfortable to shoot, essentially creating a load very similar to the ubiquitous .40 S&W. With full-power loads, it has earned a reputation among hog, bear, deer, and mountain lion hunters, and there are a handful of shooters who carry it for bear protection as well, favoring the semiauto's sleek design over heavy revolvers. Several handgun manufacturers offer semiautos chambered for the 10mm Auto, and Federal recently added a new 10mm load to their Vital Shok line, which drives a 180-grain Trophy Bonded Jacketed Soft Point at 1,275 fps, generating 650 foot-pounds of energy (from a 5-inch barrel). 10mm handguns pack a punch on both ends, but if you can handle that, it's a fine cartridge.

.41 Remington Magnum

In many ways, the story of the .41 Remington Magnum mirrors that of the 10mm Auto. In 1964, law enforcement professionals were looking for a cartridge that could generate more energy than the .357 Magnum and yield less recoil than the .44 Remington Magnum. The answer was the .41 Remington Magnum, introduced by Smith & Wesson in their model 57 first (which was identical to the Model 29 except for caliber) and, later, a fixed-sight Model 58 that was built specifically for police use.

Two loads were also introduced, a 210-grain hunting load that reached 1,350 fps and a lighter law enforcement round that achieved only 1,000 fps to minimize recoil. The problem was that even the light police load was deemed too punishing for police work (if you've read about the 10mm, this is indeed sounding familiar). The .41 Remington Magnum never served as a law enforcement sidearm in a serious capacity, but for hunters and those who ventured into bear country, the .41 was a good choice. It shot as flat or flatter than the .44 Magnum with most loads, generated less recoil, and produced very similar results on game in the field.

It also provided a serious boost in power over the .357 Magnum, and there are still several .41s serving daily duty on the hips of those who venture into grizzly country. Cor-Bon, Remington, Winchester, Buffalo Bore and other companies load ammo for the .41 Remington Magnum ranging in bullet weights from 170- to 265-grains, and Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Freedom Arms and other companies offer revolvers.

Handguns wants to know: Which handgun cartridges do you think deserve more popularity? Join the debate in the comments below:


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