Multi-caliber firearms have great appeal. Here’s a look at five choices of revolvers and long guns that add versatility to your gun collection while making your ammunition dollars stretch further.
1. Any .357 Magnum revolver
The 357 Magnum load boasts a fast-moving, heavy round. Although I don’t subscribe to the notion of stopping power, at least as it compares in importance to shot placement, there’s no denying that this caliber delivers tremendous impact, and commensurate recoil. Ammo isn’t terribly pricey for self-defense at approximately 50 cents per hollow-point round, but for practice, it can be both uncomfortable and costly.
Pick up some 38 Special full metal jacket (FMJ) for practice and plinking, and your 357 Mag revolver will serve as both a range and self-protection gun. This cartridge is the same diameter, but shorter, with a smaller powder charge than 357. Using 38 Special is also a great adaptation to make shooting more comfortable for arthritic or injured hands.
The Ruger GP100 is a popular and proven full-size 357 Magnum revolver that most people find pleasurable to shoot, even using the bigger cartridge. Prices are typically in the $600 range for plain models. Ruger’s carry-friendly LCR (lightweight compact revolver) is also available in 357. Expect snappy recoil from that one using 357. The LCR is priced in the $400 range, with many bargains available.
Safety and shopping notes: The 38 Special cartridge can be loaded into a 357 Magnum firearm, but the 38 Special handgun cannot be loaded with 357 Magnum ammunition. Similarly named 357 Sig and 380 are calibers designed primarily for semi-auto firearms, and are NOT cross-gun compatible to 357 Mag/38 Spl.
2. Taurus Judge revolver
This hefty Brazilian revolver can shoot 45 Long Colt or 2.5-inch 410 shotshell loads, or a mixture thereof, from its five-chamber cylinder. It’s available in barrel lengths starting at two inches, up to 6.5 inches — and there may even be a few in circulation that are even longer; these are just the lengths I’ve seen students bring to class. There’s no getting around the big recoil with the big cartridge. Suffice to say, the two-inch barrel model should be avoided by people with achy hands.
The Judge is very popular as a home-defense weapon. Its weight makes it impractical for daily carry, though there are surely some folks who manage to do so. The 45 Long Colt is expensive to purchase; defensive loads often cost in excess of $1 per round. On the other hand, 410 gauge shells, popular for use with the Judge as a defense against venomous snakes, can be picked up for less than 50 cents per round.
Usually found in the mid-$400 range, prices vary widely with the Judge depending on features and finish. In my experience, they require more frequent repairs and maintenance when fired regularly, thanks to the stresses of high-pressure rounds cycling through a comparatively small weapon. Nonetheless, Judge owners who embrace the “bigger is better” philosophy seem to glean a sense of security from having this model in the nightstand.
Safety note: Responsible self-protection includes proper target identification. None of the models mentioned thus far include an auxiliary light rail. A flashlight is therefore a needed accessory for dim-light defense. For most people, handling and flashlight and a 40-ounce loaded revolver are mutually exclusive activities.
3. Bond Arms derringers
Moving to the physically smaller end of the spectrum, Bond Arms of Granbury, Texas, makes a line of derringers with barrels ranging from 2.5 to 4.25 inches. Not only do the barrels range in length, but they range in caliber, as well. The same firearm that fires 22LR also can fire 45 Long Colt, as well as most popular handgun calibers in between, regardless of whether the case is rimmed or not. Quite an innovative design!
Bond Arms derringers have a two-round capacity, and are extremely compact. They’re big on Texas style — easy to conceal but lovely to behold. Firing them does require some familiarization, even for experienced shooters, as their single-action operation with cross-bolt safety and downward-favoring trigger press are out of the ordinary. Recoil from Bond’s short barrels and larger calibers is severe, but smaller calibers are easily managed, so a range of barrels will allow the entire family to enjoy one gun. A Bond Arms derringer will cost from $450 to over $1,000 depending on model. While extra barrels are priced between $100 and $200, the company runs half-off specials on barrels around the holidays.
4. Savage Model 42 over-and-under rifle
This old standby by Savage Arms of Massachusetts is versatile, and although it’s a classic platform, its looks have been updated with a modern synthetic stock. In addition to being ideal for small game, the 42 is a good snake/varmint control tool. Some will consider it their choice for home defense, too. It weighs just over six pounds, and is a modest 36 inches long including the 20-inch barrel. It’s therefore easy to handle for everyone, including the elderly and young shooters. People in both of these groups have made good use of “squirrel guns” in necessary home defense encounters.
The break-open action allows the user to load 22 Long Rifle, or 22 Winchester Magnum, depending on model, in the top barrel, and a 410 gauge shotshell in the lower barrel. A lever allows the user to choose which barrel fires. Add a scope for longer-range action on small game or coyotes. There’s no magazine, so extra ammunition must be stowed or carried.
MSRP on the Model 42 is $500, but expect real prices to be lower. Used models can be found for less than $200, and the high $300s can net a full-featured new Model 42 with a synthetic stock that will last a lifetime.
5. Frontier Tactical War Lock Multiple Caliber System and Rifles
Frontier Tactical is by far the youngest manufacturer on this list. Based in Florida, this veteran owned and operated business invented a new system that brings multi-caliber ease to the AR sporting rifle platform. The AR platform is already highly customizable, but the War Lock eliminates the time-consuming process of replacing complete upper receivers, or the removal/disassembly of the barrel requiring a shop and tools. With their $600 Multi-Caliber System 2-barrel kit, your AR15 can quickly switch calibers, to load and fire your choice of over 90 common or not-so-common calibers: 17 Remington, 17-223, 20 Practical, 204 Ruger, 223 Remington, 25-45 Sharps, 300 AAC Blackout, 5.56mm NATO, 6.8, 6.8 SPC, 6.8mm Remington SPC II, 6x45mm, and American 30 BHW. The War Lock even allows adaptation of the AR to pistol calibers, a way to save money on practice and perhaps make your handgun ammunition double as rifle fodder.
Frontier Tactical’s system is offered for regular and free-float barrels, but some firearms may still not be compatible due to manufacturing differences. Check with them before purchasing a conversion system for your own AR15.
Just starting as an AR owner or just want a whole new multi-caliber rifle? Frontier Tactical’s FT-15 War Lock Entry Carbine comes with War Lock components. It’s priced at $1,300, chambered in NATO 5.56/.223 Remington for starters.
Whether your choice is a model that’s been around for decades, or a newer platform that milks more mileage from your existing gun or ammunition supply, multi-caliber capability can increase the usefulness and economy of your trigger time. Options listed here are some, but not all, on the market today. More choices will likely crop up in the coming year.
Safety first! Always be sure you’re loading compatible ammunition into your firearm.
What is your favorite multi-caliber firearm? Share your advice in the section below:
Ammunition prices, where provided, were sampled from national retailer Lucky Gunner.