Odd Guns: The Calico M-900 9mm

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This is the second installment of the “Odd Guns” series I started last month when I covered the VP70z pistol, and I figured that I might as well keep the 9mm train rolling.

Honestly I have some truly odd guns, but the Calico may well take the cake as the oddest. The funky magazine and post modern styling make the gun stand out in my safe and prompt responses such as “is that Buck Roger’s gun?” and “Quaid, start the reactor!” (please tell me you get this reference).

Anyways, the Calico is a 9mm roller delayed blowback gun that functions like an MP5 in terms of the way the action works:

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Rollers located on the bolt head engage the trunnion/receiver:

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The idea of a cylindrical magazine has been around for a long time. Even the USA was interested in the 1941 Johnson rifle as a possible service weapon, but it was defeated by the Garand:

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However the most well known gun using a cylindrical magazine is perhaps the Soviet Bizon, a fully automatic AK variant that feeds from the bottom instead of the top like the Calico:

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It is also noteworthy that the Calico was originally designed as a submachine gun. After all, who wouldn’t want to blast away watching rounds make their way down the helical magazine on full auto? While I have heard rumors that there are transferables out there, I have never seen one. Regardless, here is an old promotional video that some of you might enjoy:

So how does the gun shoot? Well first you have to painstakingly load the gun’s massive 100 round magazine… and then wind it 23 times:

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It legitimately feels like a wind up toy.

Anyways, my friend Chase volunteered to be the trigger man for this one… and this is what happened:

So yeah, the gun is not reliable with the 100 round magazine at all. In fact, we kept having to unjam and unjam it after every 5 or 6 rounds:

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With the 50 round magazine though the gun works very well. Chase again was the trigger man and plinked the metal targets with ease:

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So perhaps my 100 round mag is defective, but who knows. That said, when the Calico runs it is great fun. The sights are funky (located on the magazine) but the mag locks in very solid and the front post is attached to the receiver and is adjustable. All in all, the gun is not horribly inaccurate… but the idea behind the weapon system is volume of fire so I suppose it being accurate is just a bonus.

So what killed the Calico? Well, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban restricted firearms to 10 round mags which basically meant the Calico was not allowed to sell the magazines, which was the most desirable feature of the guns. However… Calico is in fact still around! After the Ban expired in 2004, the company rose like a phoenix and began producing guns again.

All in all I like shooting the gun… when it works, but here is a breakdown.

The Good:

  • Light
  • Reasonably accurate
  • Excellent capacity
  • Strong action relative to a straight blowback gun
  • Collapsible stock
  • Easy to clean and work on
  • Pretty decent trigger
  • Striker fired
  • Affordable (I see them in the $600 range)

The Bad:

  • You have to wind magazines up (23 times for the 100 round mag, 10 for the 50)
  • Not a great cheek weld
  • Mags are cumbersome as heck

The Ugly:

  • Questionable reliability
  • The prices of magazines are insane
  • Full auto is almost essential to making this weapon concept valid

So that’s that. All in all I like shooting the Calico M-900 so long as my shooting buddies load and wind the magazines!



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • JumpIf NotZero

    Calicos are easily #1 on my list of ugliest firearms of all time. Could never bring myself that low. Just… Just couldn’t. 🙂

    • Steve Truffer

      I actually rather like the looks.

    • Hyok Kim

      Beauty is only skin deep, besides it’s in the eyes of the beholder.

  • FWIW: Rotary magazines are far older than the Johnson, as is the helical concept used in the Calico. Not too terribly long ago, Ian at “Forgotten Weapons” had a piece on an 1870s vintage Evans Repeating Rifle, which used a helical feed magazine.

    Calico had hoped to upscale the magazine design for rifle cartridges, 12 gauge shotshells and even 40x46mm grenades. One can imagine how large those would have been.

  • Sulaco

    “Quaid, start the reactor!” (please tell me you get this reference). No, sorry.
    I played with the Calico’s when they first came out and decided that 1. Fragile mags 2. Springs have to stay wound up, over time they will weaken..

    • Cymond

      It’s my understanding that the spring tension can be released by pressing a button in the center of the crank.

    • iksnilol

      Springs weaken when compressed and decompressed, not when they are only compressed.

      Also the mag is ideal for storing, since you can fill it and not wind it up. When needed, just wind it up.

      • Sulaco

        They do take a set sometimes, have seen it with bad springs in some Glock mags that were supposed to be 17 round…

  • Cymond

    Considering that Calico only really has 1 gun design, I’ve always been a bit amazed by the amount of variation in the Calico models. For example, the 22lr models use different sights than the 9mm models, plus various handguards.

    I’ve always liked the look of the old 22lr model with wooden thumbhole stock.

    • iksnilol

      Are those still made? The ones with the thumbhole stock. Would be a good small game and plinking gun.

      • Derek C

        The new company does not make the wood stock versions to my knowledge, however I’ve seen several up for sale on GunBroker.com.

  • Macchina

    Sight radius is for sissy’s…

  • sianmink

    He shot my hair!

  • Tom

    I owned one for a few years and found it reliable with the 50 Rd magazines and one of 3 100 round magazines. As to accuracy, it’s fine out to 100 meters or so. I was living in and managing property in East Oakland at the time, this was my “Earthquake Gun”. I sold it when I moved to a more civilized area. Light, handy, high volume of fire…accurate enough for the purpose,

    It suited my needs.

  • dan citizen

    Calico should have turned the magazine around and made it a bullpup.

  • Big_Juju

    Get your ass to Mars!

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    “I got the Calico with the Black Talons loaded in the clip.” -Biggie Smalls

  • CaptainSlaughterboard

    I rather like M11/9 converted version.
    That looks very handy and awesome.

  • vince

    Found one at a dealer, didnt know what it was. Guy explained it and said it was $975, for a used and abused one, now I know why I have never seen one before that.

  • Fruitbat44

    One of those guns which definitely looks it was designed to “Zappp” rather than “Bang!” when you pulled the trigger. very interesting article though.

  • masterduck

    looks like a jam jar. no pun intended.

  • iksnilol

    The 100 rd mag was probably defective.

    I think that a red dot sight is perfect for one, just mount a rail where the front sight is on yours (or where the rear sight is on the other versions). That way you avoid the “sights on magazine” and short sight radius.

    Too bad they didn’t make a 12 gauge version, that would be practical. Good way to avoid the problem of the half meter mags sticking out of the gun.

  • Perturbo

    I always wanted one just couldn’t afford it.

  • gunslinger

    i want

  • n0truscotsman

    What a peculiar weapon.

    It screams 80s “post apocalyptic” or “dystopia” movie, which should place it at a special place in my heart, although i must say i haven’t owned or fired one.

  • Fog

    The movie reference is to the the first Total Recall movie. The Calico also was seen in a bunch of other 80s sci-fi movies. I shot a 22 rifle and 9mm pistol version back in the day. Neither was very reliable.

    • echelon

      Proper Calico movie reference is:

      “I come in peace.”

      “And you go in pieces, a**hole.”

  • Jon

    There is something unfair with the Bizon, is the most underrated and unknown smg in Western countries.

    Imagine a combat proven weapon, with at least HK MP5 accuracy, reliability near to AK, capable firing 53 rounds of 9x19mm 7H21 at 650-700 rpm. It exists since 1996.

    • SP mclaughlin

      Unknown how? Definitely known better than others like the PP91 Kedr or SR-2M Verhesk.

      • Jon

        You are right, it’s better known than it’s cousins, but yet underrated compared with western counterparts.

  • abprosper

    Back in the day a buddy of mine bought one of these but he rarely shot it and he wouldn’t loan it out .
    Also I understand it, the Calico 100 round magazine was best loaded only to about 94-97 rounds for some reason. It was decently reliable at that point.

  • Bill

    If you think the Calico and VP70 are weird, you need to check out the Gyrojet and the Dardick. Just sayin’

    • Coming soon. The Dardick and Gyrojet firearms are starting off heavy.

  • macmechanic

    I don’t think they’re still in business. But, I sent an email about what I needed. We’ll see.

  • koh chong hwa

    See http://mpopenker.livejournal.com/1724564.html
    The Canadian Cliff SMG designed by Douglas Cliff. No much info on it.

  • BryanS

    The magazine concept did work out for a few years in the paintball works with the “Q-Loader” helical style feeders. I had a set, and it worked great, it was designed off the same system. The best thing about it was, especially for a fragile gelatin filled capsule, was that there is little pressure on the rounds in the magazine, unlike those in a standard stacked magazine, and leaves little chance of deforming while stored or when feeding.

  • bfmusashi

    I love this series so much. Thanks for doing it.

  • Rick

    the movie “Dark Angel” (titled in my video store as ‘I Come In Peace”) featured an alien bad guy with the Calico 9mm pistol firing in full auto. So at least Hollywood had a blank firing one that could dump a mag with a spectacular muzzle flash.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099817/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_52