Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: When is a Magnum not really a Magnum?

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 6/5/2013.  Some additional observations at the end.

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Those are all claims taken right off of the box of three different boxes of .22 Magnum (technically, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridge) ammo. And when you see numbers like those, it’s really easy to get excited about how much more powerful the .22 Magnum is over your standard .22 LR.

But what do those numbers really mean? And can you really expect to get that kind of performance? Do you get a different kind of performance out of your rifle than you get out of your little revolver?

That’s one of the reasons that our Ballistics By The Inch project exists: to find out just exactly what the reality of handgun cartridge performance is, and to see how it varies over different lengths of barrel.

And the first weekend of May, we did a full sequence of tests of 13 different types of .22 Magnum ammo to find out.

About our tests

About four years ago we started testing handgun cartridges out of different lengths of barrel, using a Thompson/Center Encore platform, which has been altered to allow a number of different barrels to be quickly mounted. The procedure is to set up two chronographs at a set distance from a shooting rest, and fire three shots of each type of ammo, recording the results. Once we’ve tested all the ammo in a given caliber/cartridge, we chop an inch off the test barrel, dress it, and repeat the process, usually going from an 18-inch starting length down to 2 inches. The numbers are then later averaged and displayed in both table and chart form, and posted to our website for all to use.

For those who are interested in the actual raw data sets, those are available for free download. To date we’ve tested over 25,000 rounds of ammunition across 23 different cartridges/calibers.

To do the .22 Magnum tests things were slightly different. We started with a Thompson .22 “Hot Shot” barrel and had it re-chambered to .22 Magnum. Since this barrel started out 19-inches long, we included that measurement in our tests.

So, how did the .22 Magnum cartridge do?

See those claims from manufacturers at the top of this article? Two of the three were supported by our test results. The third was not.

Data sheet from the test.

I don’t want to pick on those specific brands/types of ammo, though. I just grabbed three of the boxes we tested at random. Altogether we tested 13 different brands/types of .22 Magnum ammo, and let’s just say that the performance you actually see out of your gun will probably vary from what you see claimed from a manufacturer.

Now, that’s not because the ammo manufacturers are lying about the performance of their ammo. Rather, the way they test their ammo probably means that it isn’t like how you will use their ammo. This is most likely due to the fact that the barrel length and testing conditions are pretty different than your typical “real world” gun.

So, what can you expect from a .22 Magnum cartridge? 

Well, that pretty much depends on how long a barrel you have on your gun.

Most handgun cartridges show a really sharp drop-off in velocity/power out of really short barrels. Typically, going from a 2- to 3-inch barrel makes a bigger difference than going from a 3- to 4-inch barrel.

Also typically, most handgun cartridges tend to level out somewhere around 6 to 8 inches. Oh, they usually gain a bit more for each inch of barrel after that, but the increase each time is increasingly small.

The real exception to this, as I have noted previously, are the “magnum” cartridges: .327 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum. The velocity/power curves for all these tend to climb longer, and show more gain, all the way out to 16 to 18 inches or more. There are exceptions to all these rules, but the trends are pretty clear.

So, does the .22 Mag deserve to be listed with the other magnum cartridges?

Well — maybe. Compared to the .22 LR, the .22 Magnum gains more velocity/power over a longer curve. But it also starts to flatten out sooner than the other magnums — usually at about 10 to 12 inches. Like most handgun cartridges, there are gains beyond that, but they tend to be smaller and smaller.

Bottom line

For me, the take-away lesson from these tests is that the .22 Magnum is a cartridge that is best served out of rifle barrel, even a short-barreled rifle. At the high end we were seeing velocities that were about 50 percent greater than what you’d get out of a similar weight bullet from a .22 LR. In terms of muzzle energy, there’s an even bigger difference: 100 percent or more power in the .22 Magnum over the .22 LR.

But when you compare the two on the low end, out of very short barrels, there’s very little if any difference: about 10 percent more velocity, perhaps 15 percent more power. What you do notice on the low end is a lot more muzzle flash from the .22 Magnum over .22 LR.

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot of rifling past the end of the cartridge when you get *that* short.

While you do see a real drop-off in velocity for the other magnums from very short barrels, they tend to start at a much higher level. Compare the .357 Magnum to the .38 Special, for example, where the velocity difference is 30 to 40 percent out of a 2-inch barrel for similar weight bullets, with a muzzle energy difference approaching 100 percent. Sure, you get a lot of noise and flash out of a .357 snubbie, but you also gain a lot of power over a .38.

But then there’s the curious case of the Rossi Circuit Judge with an 18.5-inch barrel, chambered in .22 Magnum. You see, it only performed as well as my SAA revolver with the 4.625-inch barrel. This was so completely unexpected that we thought we had to have made a mistake, or the chronos were malfunctioning, or something. So we went back and tested other guns for comparison. Nope, everything was just fine, and the other guns tested as expected.

So we made a closer examination of the Rossi and it just goes to show where there’s a rule, there’s an exception. Yup, there’s a good reason why it was giving us the readings it was. And I’ll reveal why when I do a formal review of that gun.

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OK, first thing I want to say: the reason the Circuit Judge performed so poorly was that it had a forcing cone the size of a .357 magnum on it, either allowing far too much gas to escape as the bullet made the transition from the cylinder to the barrel or because the chamber was so badly out of alignment with the barrel that it was necessary for the bullet to be guided into the barrel by first striking the side of the cone. Either way, it was a problem.

Next thing: since I wrote this 4+ years ago, I have seen countless examples of people insisting that even a little NAA .22mag pistol is MUCH more powerful than the .22lr version.

No, the .22mag is not more powerful at those very short barrel lengths. It isn’t until you get to 5 – 6″ that the .22mag starts to really outperform the .22lr. Take a look at the Muzzle Energy charts yourself:

 

This is not to dis the .22mag. It’s a fine cartridge — in the right application. For me, that means out of a rifle. And there are good reasons to have a handgun chambered in .22mag, such as ammo compatibility with a rifle or just flexibility in ammo availability in the case of a convertible revolver like the one I have. Just understand what the real advantages and disadvantages actually are before you make a decision.

 

Jim Downey

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January 21, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reprise + New Review: Uberti Lightning and Taurus Thunderbolt pump carbines.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/27/2012. In addition, I am including a new but related review of the Taurus Thunderbolt following the original review.

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I have owned several lever guns over the years—a style I deeply enjoy. Currently, I have a Winchester 94AE in .44 magnum, which I love. However, I always keep my eyes open for a lever gun in .357 mag. It’s a cartridge that really begins to shine when paired with a carbine length barrel. Based on BBTI testing, it gains upwards of 50 percent velocity and pushes 1,200 foot/pounds of muzzle energy. But then the Uberti Lightning came into my life—a .357 pump carbine—and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel.

Don’t Forget Where You Come From

It’s a reproduction of the original Colt Lightning, originally manufactured in 1884 (but, curiously, listed as the Model 1875 by Uberti), and a pretty faithful reproduction at that. The only changes it has are to meet modern safety demands. Specifically, there’s a new hammer safety (of the transfer-bar variety), which eliminates the option to fire the gun just by pumping new rounds while keeping the trigger pulled. This also greatly reduces the chance of an accidental discharge.

Uberti Lightning

The Uberti Lightning I shot was the ‘short rifle’ version, meaning it has a 20-inch barrel, with a case-hardened frame and trigger guard. It’s a very attractive gun with a top-notch fit and finish, a beautiful walnut stock—smooth in back and checkered on the slide—and good detail work. The case-hardening is quite attractive, but the gun is available in just a blued version if you prefer.

When first loading the gun I experienced a common problem that Uberti cautions about (and something I was warned about by several other reviewers): it is relatively easy to get a cartridge wedged under the carrier that loads a round from the tubular magazine into the chamber. This can also happen when you cycle the gun, if you’re not careful to push the slide grip fully forward and fully back. I wasn’t the only one of the three of us trying the gun who had this problem, and each time we had to stop, dislodge the cartridge with a small screwdriver, then cycle the action fully.

It’s a flaw in the design, there’s little doubt about that. However, once we all got the hang of it, we had no problems firing the gun quickly and accurately.

And I think that is the nicest thing about the Lightning: once you learn how to use it, it is faster and easier to stay on target than using a lever gun, at least for me. And I have a fair amount of experience shooting lever guns. You can run through 10 rounds almost as fast as you can pull the trigger.

Shooting

The gun shot well, and was very accurate. At 25 yards (the longest distance we had available) it was no challenge to keep rounds in the X. Others have reported that it is just as accurate out to 50 yards, and I have no difficulty believing that.

Recoil is minimal, even with ‘full house’ 158 grain loads. The gun does have a curved metal buttplate, so the recoil-sensitive shooter could easily add something there to cushion recoil if necessary.

The gun is built robustly enough that it should handle just about any .357 magnum load out there without excess wear, and of course you can shoot .38 specials if you’re looking at reduced power needs or want to save a little coin at the range.

Conclusion

The Uberti website no longer lists the Lightning as available for sale, so if you’re interested in one of these guns you’ll need to hunt for it on your favorite firearms auction/sale site. The MSRP was $1259 last I saw.

So, if like me you’ve been thinking that you need to get a .357 lever gun, broaden your horizons a bit and consider the Uberti Lightning pump, instead. I am.

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And about a year ago, I found one. Well, kinda.

What I found was a Taurus Thunderbolt:

That’s a 26″ barrel, and the tube mag holds 14 rounds of .357 mag (I think it’ll hold 15 of .38 special, but I would have to double-check that). Stainless steel, with walnut stock and fore-grip. The MSRP was $705, and I got mine (new, unfired, but it had been a display model for Taurus, so it had been factory reconditioned) for about 2/3 that price. You can still find them on various auction/sales sites for about $600 and up.

The Taurus isn’t as nice as the Uberti was, in terms of the finish. Still, it’s quite nice enough, and the mechanical aspects all seem to be fine. Particularly after breaking it in (say 3-400 rounds), there’s much less tendency for the design flaw mentioned above to trip you up, and most of the people who have shot mine have gotten the hang of it quite quickly.

It really is a slick-shooting gun, and once you’re used to it you can fire the thing almost as fast as a semi-auto carbine. It’s also easy to keep the gun shouldered and on-target, which I find difficult to do with a lever-action gun. I’ve found the gun to be quite accurate, easily as good as the Uberti version.

Being able to ‘top off’ the tube mag is nice, and there’s no need to fuss with magazines — though reloading it is definitely slower, and an acquired skill. Also, you have to carry loose rounds in a pouch or pocket.

My Thunderbolt weighs more than the Lightning (8+ pounds compared to less than 6 for the Lightning), due to the 6″ longer barrel/magazine. That makes recoil even more manageable, and I haven’t had anyone complain about shooting it even with hot .357 magnum loads. With mild .38 special loads it’s like shooting a .22, and a lot of fun for plinking.

I’m really happy I found this gun, and again I find myself saying what I did in my original review six years ago: if you’re in the market for a lever-gun in .357 mag, consider opting for a pump version, instead. And definitely, if you get a chance to shoot either of these guns, take it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Jim Downey

 

January 14, 2018 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Springfield EMP

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, and now that the holidays and other issues are passed, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 7/26/2012. Some additional observations at the end.

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Last year (so, 2011) in my review of the Springfield EMP I concluded, “$1,100 is more than I have spent on any handgun previously and I don’t really need another concealed carry gun, which is also too heavy for pocket carry. I watched it disappear into the gun case … Guess I should start saving my money.”

Well, I had a change of heart. I should never have bothered saving the money to buy the gun. Nope. I should have sold something to get it because then I would’ve gotten it sooner.

Still impressed

In my initial review of the EMP, I was impressed with the overall quality of the gun. Impressed with how it had been redesigned around the smaller cartridge size of the 9mm and the .40 S&W, rather than just adapted for those cartridges from the standard .45 ACP design of the 1911. Impressed with the overall quality. With the accuracy. With the way it felt in my hand.

Putting several hundred rounds through the gun, cleaning it a couple of times, carrying it as my primary self-defense gun for a week at a time – all of this has provided me ample opportunity to re-evaluate the EMP. And I am still impressed.

Real life use

The first thing I did after taking the gun home was to take it apart and clean it. It didn’t need it – it came clean and properly lubed – but this is my standard practice with a new gun. And with the EMP, it was the first chance I had to actually take one apart, since the one I tried previously belonged to my friend.

Disassembly was more or less routine for a 1911, but with two significant exceptions. The first is that the recoil spring is a captured assembly with the guide rod and using the little plastic clip Springfield provides makes it much easier to assemble and disassemble the gun. The other is that unlike most 1911s the EMP doesn’t have a barrel bushing – the barrel itself is flared out to match up to the slide.

The gun then went for a trip out to the range with my wife and I. I put a couple hundred rounds of factory ball ammo (124 grain, standard pressure), a bit less of my practice reload ammo (same specs), and about 60 rounds of mixed premium self-defense ammo through the gun (about half of the different ammos tested for Ballistic By The Inch). Just to be sure, I ran a couple of extra magazines of my preferred carry ammo (Speer short-barrel 124 gr GDHP +P) through it. It ate everything. It ejected everything. It was accurate with everything. I didn’t have a single problem with it.

My wife, on the other hand, did. Several times she had problems with the gun cycling completely. She’s not too much for shooting semi-autos, as she greatly prefers revolvers, and it was clear that the problem was limp-wristing. With a short action and stiff recoil spring you need to hold the grip firmly so it functions correctly.

I tried to reproduce the problem, but I couldn’t do it. I’m much more used to shooting a small semi-auto. As a point of information, I can create this problem with a number of other even smaller semi-autos including one I own.

First impressions really last: I still love it

So, what did I think after putting the EMP through its paces?

Well, I still love it. It was easy for me to shoot well, in that “dynamic” way I mentioned in my previous review. At 10 and 25 yards I was able to consistently pop 6-inch spinner targets and tin cans, shifting quickly from one to the next.

The trigger is crisp and breaks cleanly, aiding accuracy. Recoil is very manageable for such a small gun, meaning you can stay on target for multiple shots. And shooting several hundred rounds through the gun in a short period of time didn’t leave my hands sore or me tired.

There’s gotta be something I don’t like

Yeah, there are a couple of really minor things. One is that the gun doesn’t have any stippling or grooves or anything on the front strap of the grip. With the aggressive relief on the G10 grips on the one I got, this isn’t really a problem, but something on the front would probably make the gun just that much more secure in the hand.

And those G10 grips do present a minor issue I hadn’t considered previously. The relief on them is so aggressive that I needed to get a new holster for summer carry – the one that comes with the gun, and the OWB pancake holster I had for a micro 1911 (which fits the EMP perfectly) doesn’t have a body shield and you need one or the grips will chew up your skin.

Conclusion, revisited

This is a hell of a gun. Small enough to carry comfortably, but equally comfortable for an extended trip to the range. At 27 ounces, it’s too heavy for a pocket gun, but I’m more than a bit leery of carrying a ‘cocked & locked’ 1911 in a pocket anyway. In terms of size for holster carry, the EMP is very comparable to a J-frame and holds twice the number of rounds.

Yeah, I’m glad I got it.

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And I still have it, though it is currently on loan to a friend who is considering getting one. In the 5+ years that I have had it, my opinion hasn’t changed much at all from what is written above. My new favorite 9mm carry ammo is the Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+, and the EMP handles that as well as all other ammo I’ve run through it over the years. The little EMP is still a great gun to shoot, though I honestly haven’t carried it all that much in the last couple of years.

One thing additional to note: recently Springfield came out with a slightly different version of the gun called the “EMP® 4” Lightweight Champion™ with Concealed Carry Contour“.  Here it is:

See that cut-off angle on the bottom of the grip? That’s Ed Brown’s “Bobtail” from his Kobra Carry. I haven’t shot the new Springfield version yet, but I really liked how that felt on the Kobra Carry. A friend of mine got one of the new guns, and I look forward to trying it. I could see trading-up from my original EMP for one of those.

Jim Downey

January 7, 2018 Posted by | .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Looking back over 2017

Time for the traditional New Years post …

Looking back at last year’s post, I see that not a lot has changed. BBTI had a total of 433,673 visitors in 2017. That’s about 14,000 fewer than in 2016, though there was a significant uptick in the monthly numbers towards the end of last year. And there’s a slightly different mix of referring sites this year:

  1. DefensiveCarry.com
  2. Guns.com
  3. MechTech Systems
  4. The Firearm Blog
  5. AR15.com
  6. Survivalist Boards
  7. reddit
  8. Rimfire Central
  9. Active Response Training
  10. M4 Carbine

I decided to drop Wikipedia this year (along with the various search engines), but it would have been in about the same position as last year. And we saw one of last year’s referring sites — The Firing Line — drop from the list. The two new names are Rimfire Central and M4 Carbine, both active discussion sites. That continues to indicate that BBTI is being cited by real people who are discussing firearms, who are recommending firearms, who are using our data to help make important decisions. Thanks to you all who share our site with others!

As we head into our tenth year, we currently don’t have any plans for new testing. But who knows? If you have a favorite handgun cartridge which you would like to see us revisit … or a new one to recommend … let us know.

And have a great 2018!

 

Jim Downey

January 1, 2018 Posted by | Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments