Handgun Calibers: The ‘Popular’ Orphans

Most handgun shooters are familiar with the centerfire calibers .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, 10mm, and .45 ACP for the semi-automatics, and .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .50 AE for revolvers. And yes, there are the smaller calibers such as .22 LR, .22 WMR, .25 ACP and some larger calibers in the .500 range. In addition to these handgun calibers are a few you might not have heard of or at least don’t know so well. My mission today is to tell you about some of these, and why you might find them interesting enough to own a gun in one of these calibers.

.327 Magnum

I’m going to start with a powerful personal protection caliber — .327 Federal Magnum. This round has been available for several years. Taurus, Ruger, Charter Arms, and Smith & Wesson all make revolvers in this caliber. It’s a fine round that packs a punch and has two main advantages.

Speer Gold Dot, American Eagle and Federal Premium .327 Federal Magnum ammunition boxes
An often-overlooked revolver caliber, the .327 Federal Magnum, has good muzzle energy. Revolvers chambered for the .327 Fed. Mag. will also handle .32 H&R Magnum and .32 S&W cartridges.

First, it is small enough to have six rounds in a small revolver that would only typically carry five rounds of .38 or .357 Magnum. Second, its kick is a little more manageable than a .357 Mag. Guns made for the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge will also fire .32 H&R Magnum and .32 S&W Long. The .32 S&W Long is a mild cartridge, making it ideal to practice with in your .327 Federal Magnum gun.


Here’s one for you, the 22TCM9R. I have a pistol that shoots this round. The gun is somewhat of a CZ 75 clone. In fact, it’s the same gun as the EAA Witness made in Italy by Tanfoglio. It turns out that Armscor buys the parts from Tanfoglio and assembles the guns in the Philippines.

You can change the barrel and shoot 9mm in the same gun. Armscor’s Rock Island brand also makes several 1911s that are 22TCM9R/9mm firearms. This cartridge is fun to shoot — lots of noise and muzzle blast, but low on recoil. The thing is, Armscor also makes a similar round, the 22TCM, except this round does not fit in the 22TCM9R magazines and cannot be shot in the 22TCM9R firearms. It’s a bit too long.

.30 Super Carry

A newer handgun caliber is .30 Super Carry. With ballistics not far below the 9mm, .30 Super Carry offers the advantage of packing more rounds in the gun. For example, the S&W Shield in .30 Super Carry holds 17 rounds in a gun that is the same size as the 9mm Shield holding nine rounds.

.38 Super

Colt makes a competition 1911 in .38 Super, as does Armscor/Rock Island, Tanfoglio, and Dan Wesson. Ammo is made in .38 Super by Armscor and several others. The .38 Super is a pistol cartridge that fires a 0.356-inch diameter (9.04 mm) bullet. It was introduced in the late 1920s as a higher pressure loading of the .38 ACP, also known as .38 Auto.

Colt 1911 handgun with a box of .38 Super ammunition
The .38 Super round is often used in competition, fired from Colts and other competition-grade 1911s.

The older .38 ACP cartridge propels a 130-grain bullet at 1,050 fps, whereas the .38 Super pushes the same bullet at 1,280 fps. The .38 Super, also known as .38 Super Auto, .38 Super Automatic, .38 Super Automatic +P, .38 Super +P, or 9×23mmSR, has gained distinction as the caliber of choice for many top practical shooting competitors. It remains one of the dominant calibers in IPSC competition.


I’m sure you’ve heard of the 5.7x28mm cartridge. The 5.7x28mm was developed in conjunction with the FN P90 PDW. Later, the FN Five-Seven pistol was developed in response to NATO requests as a replacement for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge.

S&W 5.7x28mm M&P handgun with a box of American Eagle ammunition
Guns such as this S&W 5.7x28mm hold up to 20 rounds of this fast-moving, flat-shooting round.

In 2002 and 2003, NATO conducted a series of tests and subsequently approved the cartridge. Initially, FN had the market. However, in the past year or two, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, KelTec and a couple of other lesser-known companies have each issued pistols or carbines in the 5.7×28 caliber.

.357 Maximum

In the early 1980s, the sport of knocking down steel targets at long range presented challenges to existing handgun loads. A fellow by the name of Elgin Gates developed a cartridge that was a .357 case lengthened to 1.60 inches and used the heavier bullets of 158–200 grains. Remington picked up the cartridge and named it the .357 Maximum.

Ruger Blackhawk chambered in .357 Maximum with a .357 Maximum and .357 Magnum cartridge for comparrison
This .357 Maximum Ruger Blackhawk has a longer cylinder to accept the .357 Maximum cartridge (right) shown here to compare with the .357 Magnum (left).

Ruger made a revolver for it in the Blackhawk line. Competitive shooters began developing their own loads that created burning along the forcing cone and back strap. As a result, Ruger issued a recall on the 7,700 or so revolvers it produced. Knowing nothing about this, I picked up a used .357 Maximum Ruger. Mine isn’t damaged, so I didn’t send it back.

Today, there are a few guns in .357 Maximum in existence and the brass for reloading is in production. Up until a few years ago, there were two or three ammo remanufacturers who provided cartridges. On a sidenote, the .350 Legend rifle cartridge is similar but not quite the same.

.38 Long

.38 Long cartridges were designed for use in early revolvers chambered for that load. They were originally black powder cartridges, but today’s manufacturers load this cartridge using modern powder. That means there are many of these old guns still floating around. The .38 Long cartridges will work in a .38 Special revolver, but not the other way around.

Iver Johnson Model 1900 revolver chambered in .38 Long (top), and S&W Model 10 chambered in .38 Special (bottom)
This Iver Johnson Model 1900 shoots the .38 Long Colt (top). This round can also be fired in a .38 Special revolver such as the S&W Model 10 (bottom).

.45 Auto Rim

The .45 Auto Rim is very much like the .45 ACP cartridge, but (obviously) with a rim. These cartridges were developed to be used in the Colt and S&W 1917 revolvers. These revolvers were designed to use the .45 ACP round with moon clips, but the auto rim cartridge solves the problem of not having to keep up with moon clips.

.45 Schofield

The .45 Schofield cartridges were designed to be used on the Smith & Wesson top break revolvers. However, the U.S. Army issued the Schofield rounds for use in both top break revolvers and .45 Colt revolvers.

Non-Standard Offerings (Fluted)


Now, on to some bullets that are non-standard. The two I’m going to mention are in the category of fluted bullets. The projectiles are light, requiring lighter loadings of propellent to make them travel fast. ARX stands for Advanced Rotation eXtreme. The flutes have no effect on chambering into the gun or on stability in flight. The rotation of the fluted design, traveling at a high velocity, causes havoc when it hits. The is due to the flutes that cause lateral dispersion of energy along with the forward dispersion along the ARX bullet’s path.

powdered, polymer ARX (left) and the copper Lehigh (right) fluted bullet
The differences between the powdered, polymer ARX (left) and the copper Lehigh (right) fluted bullets are obvious when you compare them side by side.

The ARX patent, now held by RUAG Ammotec USA, lists the inventors as retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Lemke, along with Juan Carlos Marin and Steven Eric Johnson. Colonel Lemke is now General Manager for RUAG Ammotec USA. The patent was filed on September 24, 2014, and awarded on March 21, 2016. The drawings, and an examination of the bullets, show three notches as viewed from the top. The relative size and spacing of the notches, as well as the shape of the nose of the bullet, are all part of the patent.

The patent also includes the materials and manufacturing method of the projectiles which have a unique makeup consisting of a heated mixture of powdered copper and epoxy/polymer resin pushed through high-pressure injection molding. Excess material is ground up and reused resulting in minimum waste. These projectiles have been manufactured in all handgun calibers in normal use from .380 ACP through .45 ACP and in multiple rifle calibers as well, all carrying the Inceptor ARX brand.


The second patent of interest belongs to Lehigh Defense, LLC, of Quakertown, PA. Its inventor is David B. Fricke, CEO of Millennium Manufacturing, Inc. That patent was filed on September 12, 2014, and awarded on January 26, 2016. I find it interesting that these two patents were being worked on by the U.S. Patent office practically side by side and enough differences were found to award two separate patents. Lehigh bullets are available for reloading and are used in at least two brands of handgun ammo: Black Hills and Underwood.

bullet holes in a papertaget from Lehigh copper/fluted bullets
Lehigh copper/fluted bullets make a distinctive impression!

How are Lehigh projectiles different? The Lehigh bullets are solid copper, have four flutes (rather than three), with a small area on the nose that is either flat or slightly indented. The patent diagrams show it as flat. However, apparently a slight indentation, as noted in the Underwood 9mm and .45 ACP, does not alter the patent.

This fluted design creates the same kind of wound damage as the ARX bullets. None of these projectiles expand. In fact, testers have found multiple bullets with no damage at all after creating enormous simulated wound channels in ballistic gelatin. These bullets can often be reloaded and used again.

Do you own any of the guns chambered in the ‘popular orphans’ that made the list? Which handgun calibers would you add? Share your picks in the Comment section.

  • S&W Shield chambered in .30 Super Carry (left), S&W Shield chambered in 9mm (right)
  • Rock Island MAPP pistol chambered for TCM9R from a 9mm magazine
  • Colt 1911 handgun with a box of .38 Super ammunition
  • S&W 5.7x28mm M&P handgun with a box of American Eagle ammunition
  • Ruger Blackhawk chambered in .357 Maximum with a .357 Maximum and .357 Magnum cartridge for comparrison
  • Speer Gold Dot, American Eagle and Federal Premium .327 Federal Magnum ammunition boxes
  • Girsan MC P35 PI 9mm semi-automatic handgun, left profile, black
  • powdered, polymer ARX (left) and the copper Lehigh (right) fluted bullet
  • Four .45 caliber cartridges, left to right: .45 Colt, .45 Schofield, .45 Auto Rim, and .45 ACP
  • Iver Johnson Model 1900 revolver chambered in .38 Long (top), and S&W Model 10 chambered in .38 Special (bottom)

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