Wheelgun Wednesday: Cartridge Conundrum – What One is Just Right?

    cartridge conundrum

    When it comes to revolvers and wheelguns of all sizes there are a lot of potential cartridges you could dive into. Some are common and predictable like .357 Magnum while others are so obsolete and weird like .38-40 Winchester that you probably have to “Google” them to figure out what they even are. In today’s Wheelgun Wednesday, we are going to take a look at 3 of the most popular and common cartridges found in revolvers to see why people are choosing them, and why you might want to own them yourself. Everything will have a narrow intended purpose or spectrum of usefulness. So, let’s dive in and see if you might get acquainted with a new cartridge you can add to your arsenal!

    Cartridge Conundrum: .22 Long rifle

    The .22 Long Rifle round should not be a surprise to anyone. It is one of the cheapest rounds you can possibly buy in bulk even when prices across the board get jacked up because of political or societal events (like per se, the Coronavirus or impending zombies). So, the price-point is appealing to many people because it can be used to train for larger cartridges more cheaply. Most parents have no qualms against allowing their children to shoot brick after brick of .22 Long Rifle ammunition in comparison to more costly centerfire cartridges.

    cartridge conundrum

    Ruger Wrangler .22 Long Rifle in a Black and Bronze Cerakote from the factory

    On the more practical side of things, the .22 Long Rifle is useful for varmint hunting as well. Whether it is for dispatching raccoons, skunks, or other wiley crickets from your property. Many people simply use it for bird feeder control or to fill a “hunter’s crockpot” on the weekend with rabbits and squirrels. The appeal for .22 Long Rifle in that regard is pretty strong.

    Another reason people might reach for a wheelgun chambered in .22 Long Rifle is because of the recoil, or lack thereof. If you want to really hone in on your trigger press, teach younger more gun shy shooters to shoot, or have a friend with muscular or arthritic issues they are combating shoot, then .22 Long Rifle could be the answer for a host of reasons.

    cartridge conundrum

    An original Colt Diamondback .22 Long Rifle

    Cartridge Conundrum: .38 Special/.357 Magnum

    The next cartridge worth noting we will actually assess as a tandem because they are so closely interwoven and go hand-in-hand, and those rounds are .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Some of our younger readers might want to believe that .38 Special/.357 Magnum is mildly newer as a cartridge, but it is actually closing in on 100 years of being around in wheelguns. It was first introduced in 1935 by Smith & Wesson for the purpose of hunting and use by law enforcement (remember there weren’t Glocks back in the 1930s).

    Some of the novelty behind .38 Special/.357 Magnum is that it has such a wide grain weight range that you can accomplish a lot of things with it. If you want to plink with no recoil and nearly no noise you can reload ammunition with as light as a 90-grain bullet where it barely squirts out the barrel. The converse to that is that you can also fire it up with some hard cast lead bullets and clap dangerous game like wild boar and black bear with a feisty 800 Foot-Lbs of energy as well.

    cartridge conundrum

    A new model Colt King Cobra Target .357 Magnum

    Another reason why .357 Magnum wheelguns specifically are so popular is because you can also fire .38 Special out of them. So, if you want to launch some hot rod loads for defense or hunting, and then turn around and practice with some significantly more mild ammunition on the weekends you can absolutely do that. Being able to play both sides of that coin is pretty appealing to many shooters as opposed to investing additional money in a 2nd revolver.

    Finally, for both .38 Special and .357 Magnum as standalone cartridges, there is a pantheon of defense revolvers that can be purchased for modern carry. Everything from snubby 38s to full-size 357s with rails to add micro red dots, lasers, and flashlights. So, the host weapons are just as appealing as the cartridges themselves.

    cartridge conundrum

    An original Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum

    Cartridge Conundrum: .44 Magnum

    The mystique and intrigue around this cartridge that has been around since 1955 ratcheted up to a feverish pitch in 1971 due to a certain movie that came out. The title of the .44 Magnum being the most powerful handgun in the world was declared by Clint Eastwood’s character Harry Callahan in “Dirty Harry” and the rest is history. Since then there has been a race to usurp the .44 Magnum from its throne by .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, .480 Ruger, and finally .500 S&W Magnum. Even with all of these larger rounds in existence .44 Magnum is still king of the hill all these years later.

    The cartridge conundrum behind huge rounds like those mentioned is everybody wants to own a big gun, but not everyone wants to feel the brunt of that recoil. For that very reason, .44 Magnum wins. It is big enough to take down essentially any big game animal in North America with a well-placed shot yet it is tolerable enough for most people to still handle and shoot a box of 20 rounds in a range session if need be.

    cartridge conundrum

    Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 629 Stealth Hunter .44 Magnum

    The revolvers that .44 Magnum are chambered in typically will have porting of some kind on them to help alleviate the tremendous kick some of them can have, but the converse to this is the deafening noise. It is a give-and-take of a thunderous concussion or freight train recoil – take your pick. The .44 Magnum cartridge also, in theory, has some of the crossover potential that .38 Special/.357 magnum does, but in reality, next to no one shoots .44 Special out of their .44 Magnums. This is because .44 Special costs even more than .44 Magnum defeating the purpose to step down a notch. When it comes to clapping big game animals or even would-be criminals in the night, it is difficult to pass on the gusto of the .44 Magnum.

    cartridge conundrum

    Taurus Raging Hunter .44 Magnum

    So, whether you are green to the world of wheelguns and are contemplating buying your 1st one, or you are looking to more completely round out your current collection, hopefully, our discussion on the cartridge conundrum will have helped you solve your own cartridge conundrum. As always, let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.

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