A Guide to Gun Calibers

Chances are you have heard guns referred to as specific calibers or types, such as the common .22 or Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” .44 Magnum. The latter, which is legendary among movie buffs and gun enthusiasts, is a powerful weapon. While all guns have the potential to injure, not every gun is equal.

To further explain the power behind guns, it is important to understand the terminology associated with calibers. Guns come in a wide assortment of calibers. Calibers define the internal diameter measurement of the gun’s barrel, which in turn fires the projectile. In the United States, these measurements are “grooves,” while in foreign countries they refer to them as “lands.”

In order for a gun to have maximum impact, the barrel’s groove diameter must match the barrel, which helps provide a good fit and safe seal. The reason caliber refers to weapons is that it takes the place of “inches.” Instead of saying a .44-inch, gun aficionados refer to it as a .44-caliber. In general conversation, the decimal point drops, so it simply becomes a forty-four-caliber. Calibers also measure in millimeters, of which a good example is the 9mm.

While calibers outside of .17 to .50 do exist, they are not common in everyday hunting or target practice. A wildcat cartridge is generally a .10, .12 or .14 caliber and hunters frequently use these calibers to shoot small game at minimal distances. High velocity, larger calibers are used for dangerous game, such as African safaris and tactical military operations. This includes .577, .585, .600, .700 and .729.

Introduction to Handgun Cartridges

Calibers greatly vary. When killing large game, it may take several shots from a minimal .22 rifle, but a .500 cartridge will stop a bear in its tracks. Whether you are looking to explore guns for self-defense, hobby shooting or killing big game, it is important that you understand the differences between weapons and calibers.

Among the most popular calibers, this small bullet is lightweight and affordable. The recoil on this weapon is minimal, which makes it perfect for lightweights or beginners. The low-price point also makes it ideal for learning how to shoot targets.

Pros: This easy to carry caliber accommodates shooting practice, giving shooters the ability to rapidly hone their shooting skills. This caliber is excellent for shooting varmints, fox and other small animals.

Cons: Barely larger than a pellet gun, these cartridges do not deliver deadly force, unless it is a small rodent, bird or snake. As with any weapon, it can kill a person, but chances are it will take multiple rounds.

*This weapon has recently experienced a shortage in production, with demands greatly increasing. As one of the most common ammunitions worldwide, gun manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand. Much of this demand relates to political strife, public shootings and hysteria among gun politicians calling for gun bans.

A hardy choice for concealed carry and self-protection, the .38 delivers a powerful punch at close-range. A popular option, this all-around weapon can help defend against wild animals and predators.

Pros: Boasting low recoil and excellent penetration, this weapon and the 9mm are toss-ups as far as protection weapons.

Cons: A low-powered round, this gun is best within close range distances, such as personal protection. It weapon does not accommodate long-range use.

.38 Special
With a longer cartridge equating to more power, this heavy, slow bullet does more damage than the average .380.

Pros: This weapon is standard issue to FBI personnel, which means it is superb for self defense situations.

Cons: Nearly impossible to find, this revolver cartridge is not compatible with standard semi-automatic guns.

A tried and true classic, this versatile gun is great for self-defense, practicing shooting skills and offers the perfect compact size for concealed carry.

Pros: Small and super compact, 9mm weapons generally hold from 15 to 17 rounds, depending upon individual state laws and requirements. Bullet costs are relatively affordable and the weapon has very low recoil, which makes it easy to use in self-defense situations.

Cons: Because the bullet is still petite, it has less power than other larger caliber bullets.

Commonly used by police, this relatively small caliber packs a load of punch and has mega stopping power.

Pros: This weapon is noticeable and once impact occurs, escape is nearly impossible. It packs a punch and recipients feel the powerful hit. Ammunition for these models is inexpensive and relatively common, making it easy to pick up a box at local sporting goods stores.

Cons: As the size of the bullet increases, so does the recoil. That means this weapon is going to have more significant kick than a 9mm.

.357 and .44 Magnum
At one time, the .44 Magnum was the most powerful weapon worldwide, sought after by collectors and gun enthusiasts.

Pros: There is no escaping the ripping feeling of a weapon’s lack of mercy. Most experts equate the feeling to the force-hit of a sledgehammer. Interestingly, .38 special rounds are interchangeable in this weapon, but .44 Magnum rounds do not work in .38 weapons. The wicked, deadly .44 Magnum can shoot deer, black bear and mountain lions at close distances.

Cons: Knocking beginning shooters backwards, this gun has fierce recoil that is not for the faint of heart. The .44 Magnum does anything but take a back seat.

.45 ACP
Common military and police caliber choices, this powerful caliber was invented by John Browning in 1904 specifically for his legendary 1911 pistol.

Pros: Inexpensive, police use this weapon because one shot literally stops perpetrators in their tracks. If the perpetrator is on an adrenaline drug-induced high, it may take two shots.

Cons: As with all higher calibers, this gun has significant recoil. It is effective up to 75 yards, which makes it a better close-range weapon.

.500 S&W Magnum and .50AE
The forceful strike of all gun calibers, this massive .500 S&W Magnum measures one-half and one-inch wide. The most powerful shots around, these are designed for serious game hunters.

Pros: Designed to take down a grizzly bear within a second, the shot from this hefty weapon will leave your ears ringing in fits of rage.

Cons: This weapon hurts to shoot, which means if held improperly, the recoil alone can remove fingers.

Introduction to Rifle Cartridges

Rifles are more than handguns; they are preferable for long-range target practice, allowing for ultimate precision. These weapons combine chemistry, physics, aerodynamic principles, metallurgy and ergonomics, all of which come together to create masterful weapons.

When most people think of rifles, they consider military-grade weapons that often highlight Hollywood action hits. While this list is far from comprehensive, it does provide a good, solid introduction to rifle cartridges.

The .22LR standard for the .22 long rifle is among the most popular rifles in the world. Small, compact and featuring a high velocity, this weapon is preferable for hunting small game. In fact, this weapon has such low recoil, most children and adults learn to use this type of weapon before advancing to other rifles or handguns.


Pros: This weapon is super lightweight, inexpensive and has literally zero recoil. It is perfect for taking down small game, without obliterating tiny varmints’ bodies.

Cons: This weapon will not take down big game and is not effective for self-defense situations.

.223 (5.56x45mm)
These two calibers – the .223 and 5.56x45mm – are very closely related. Commonly used in the AR15 rifle, the 5.56 are military-grade calibers. Slightly larger than the aforementioned .22LR, most states restrict hunters from using this caliber on large game, such as deer and elk. This caliber is effectively kills coyotes at long-range distances.

Pros: Inexpensive and readily available in sporting good stores, the military regularly uses this weapon in combat. This weapon is perfect for hunting smaller game, such as fox, chuck and other varmints.

Cons: In some states it is restricted from hunting large game.

The most popular choice for killing deer, this weapon is accurate up to 200 yards. With only light recoil, this bullet can take down small bear, deer and other small game, making it the choice cartridge for hunters across America.

Pros: Moderate power, this weapon features light recoil and is readily available in stores. This gun is also ideal for shooting deer, black bear and mountain lion.

Cons: The blunt nose of this bullet can make it slightly less accurate when compared with sharp-nose bullets.

Designed to accommodate Russian AK-47 and SKS rifles, this bullet can easily take down medium-size game and is perfect for self-defense protection.

Pros: With minimal recoil, this weapon is inexpensive if purchasing from East European or Russian suppliers.

Cons: The U.S. makes 7.62 round calibers, which feature softer primers than their Russian and European counterparts. Using a soft primer in a Russian weapon can cause failure to fire or result in a slam fire.

Reinventing the market for nearly a century, this Winchester caliber is the ideal size for effectively taking down large elk. It is available in several weights, which allows shooters to select the size and weight of their choice.

Pros: This caliber is fast, quick and flat shooting. This caliber is preferred for shooting antelope, mountain sheep, mountain goat, deer, black bear and mountain lions.

Cons: This bullet is pricey, but well worth any additional costs.



Powerful and extremely accurate, this weapon is easy to locate in stores. The .30-06 Spitzer effectively tackles antelope, mountain sheep, mountain goat, deer, black bear and mountain lions.

Cons: Shooters should be prepared for hefty recoil.

.308 Winchester (7.62x51mm)

This round is a common choice for police forces and military operations for sniper shooting.

Commonly known as the “thirty-aught-six” this round can kill any North American mammal.

Pros: This bullet is powerful, easy to locate and highly accurate. The .308 Semi-Spitzer is used for hunting deer, black bear, mountain lion, moose, elk and caribou.

Cons: This weapon does have powerful recoil so shooters should be well prepared in advance.

Self Defense

When selecting a handgun for self-defense, there are several tips to help ensure that people choose the right handgun to meet their personal needs.

  1. Choose a handgun that feels comfortable. All handguns vary in design, size and weight. Handle the weapon fully loaded, as this adds additional weight to the frame.
  2. Choose an easy to conceal handgun, especially if you have a concealed permit.
  3. Reliability is essential when preparing for a self-defense situation. Research weapons, determining the types of weapons that rate highest for reliability factors.
  4. Select a caliber that is comfortable for shooting. Higher calibers cause more damage, but will often have more recoil.
  5. It is important to regularly practice self-defense preparation, so select a handgun that has inexpensive, readily available ammunition. Purchase pistol targets or steel shooting targets to help increase aim and accuracy.
  6. Shotguns have advantages, as they simply spray pellets, allowing for a reduction in precision shooting skills.










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