Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: Levering the Playing Field: a Magnum Opus

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, and it originally ran 3/26/2011. Some additional observations at the end.


In an earlier article, when I said you’d get about a 15% increase in bullet velocity when using a pistol caliber carbine over a handgun, I lied.

Or, rather, I was neglecting one particular class of pistol ammunition which can develop upwards of a 50% increase in velocity/power in a carbine over a handgun: the “magnums,” usually shot out of a lever-action gun. This would include .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum.

These cartridges are rimmed, initially developed as powerful handgun rounds, and have their origins in black powder cartridges. This history is important for understanding why they are different than most of the other pistol cartridges and the carbines that use them.

We’ll start with the .357 Magnum, the first of these cartridges developed.

Back in the 1930s a number of people, Elmer Keith most notable among them, were looking to improve the ballistic performance of the .38 Special cartridge. This had been a cartridge originally loaded with black powder. Black powder takes up a lot of space – typically two to four times as much space as smokeless powder of a similar power. Meaning that when people started loading .38 Special cartridges with smokeless powder, the cartridge was mostly empty.

Now, if you were looking to get more power out of a .38 Special, and you saw all that unused space in the cartridge, what would be the obvious thing to do? Right – add more smokeless powder.

The problem is, many of the handguns chambered for the .38 Special using black powder were not strong enough to handle .38 Special cartridges over-charged with smokeless powder. And having handguns blowing up is rough on the customers. Heavier-framed guns could handle the extra power, but how to distinguish between the different power levels and what cartridge was appropriate for which guns?

The solution was to come up with a cartridge, which was almost the same as the .38 Special, but would not chamber in the older guns because it was just a little bit longer. This was the .357 Magnum.

There are two important aspects of the cartridge as far as it applies to lever guns. One is just simply the ability to use more gunpowder (a typical gunpowder load for a .357 magnum uses about half again as much as used in a .38 Special.) And the other is that you can get more complete combustion of the gunpowder used, perhaps even use a much slower burning gunpowder. This means that the acceleration of the bullet continues for a longer period of time.

How much of a difference does this make? Well, from the BBTI data for the .357 Magnum, the Cor Bon 125gr JHP out of a 4″ barrel gives 1,496 fps – and 2,113 fps out of an 18″ barrel. Compare that to the .38 Special Cor Bon 125gr JHP out of a 4″ barrel at 996 fps and 1,190 fps out of an 18″ barrel. That’s a gain of 617 fps for the .357 Magnum and just 194 fps for the .38 Special. Put another way, you get over a 41% improvement with the Magnum and just 19% with the Special using the longer barrel.

Similar improvements can be seen with other loads in the .357 Magnum. And with the other magnum cartridges. And when you start getting any of these bullets up in the range of 1,500 – 2,000 fps, you’re hitting rifle cartridge velocity and power. The low end of rifle cartridge velocity and power, but nonetheless still very impressive.

There’s another advantage to these pistol caliber lever guns: flexibility. Let’s take that .357 again. On the high end of the power band, you can use it as a reliable deer-hunting gun without concern. But if you put some down-loaded .38 Special rounds in it, you can also use it to hunt rabbit or squirrel. I suppose you could even use snake/rat shot loads, though most folks don’t recommend those loads due to concerns over barrel damage. Shooting mild .38 Special loads makes for a great day just plinking at the range.

One thing that I consider a real shame: you can get good quality lever guns for the .357, the .41, and the .44 magnums. But to the best of my knowledge, no one yet makes a .327 Magnum lever gun. I would think that such a gun would meet with a lot of popularity – properly designed, it should be able to handle the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge, the .32 H&R cartridge, even the .32 S&W Long. Again, with the right powder loads, this would give the gun a great deal of flexibility for target shooting and hunting small to medium sized game/varmits.

So, if you like the idea of having a carbine in the same cartridge as your handgun, but want to be able to maximize the power available to you, think about a good lever gun. It was a good idea in the 19th century, and one that still makes a lot of sense today.


Some additional thoughts …

I’m still a little surprised that no manufacturer has come out with a production .327 mag lever gun, though occasionally you hear rumors that this company or that company is going to do so. But I must admit that as time has gone on I’ve grown less interested in the .327 cartridge, since firearms options are so limited — definitely a chicken & egg problem.

One very notable absence from the above discussion is the .22 WMR (.22 Magnum), for the simple reason that we hadn’t tested it yet when I wrote the article. You can find a later article about it here.

Something I didn’t address when I wrote the article initially was ammunition which was formulated to take greater advantage of the longer barrel of a lever gun. Several manufacturers produce such ammo, perhaps most notably Hornady and Buffalo Bore. A blog post which includes the latter ammo out of my 94 Winchester AE can be found here, with subsequent posts here and here.

And lastly, there’s another cartridge we tested which really should be included in the “magnum” category, because it sees the same increasing power levels out to at least 18″ of barrel: .45 Super. This proved to be more than a little surprising, since it is based on the .45 ACP cartridge.  Most semi-auto firearms which shoot the .45 ACP should be able to handle a limited amount of .45 Super, but if you want a lever gun set up to handle the cartridge you’ll have to get it from a gunsmith.


Jim Downey

April 2, 2017 Posted by | .22WMR, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Join the party.

All along, we’ve said that if someone wanted to take the time, trouble, and expense to do some additional research along the lines of our protocols, that we’d be happy to include their data on our site. This is particularly true if it helped expand the selection of “real world guns” associated with the data for a given caliber/cartridge. Well, for the first time someone has expressed an interest in doing just that, prompting us to come up with an outline of what standards we feel are required for making sure it relates to our previous tests.

The biggest problem is that ammo manufacturers may, and do, change the performance of their products from time to time. This is why we have on occasion revisited certain cartridges, doing full formal chop tests in order to check how specific lines of ammo have changed. That gives us a benchmark to compare other ammo after a period of several years have passed, and shows how new tests relate to the old data.

But without going to such an extent, how can we be reasonably sure that new data collected by others using their own firearms is useful in comparison to our published data?

After some discussion, we feel that so long as any new testing includes three or more of the specific types of ammo (same manufacturer, same bullet weight & design) we had tested previously, then that will give enough of a benchmark for fair comparison. (Obviously, in instances where we didn’t test that many different types of ammo in a given cartridge, adjustments would need to be made). With that in mind, here are the protocols we would require in order to include new data on our site (with full credit to the persons conducting the tests, of course):

  1. Full description and images of the test platform (firearm) used in the tests. This must specify the make, model number, barrel length, and condition of the firearm. Ideally, it will also include the age of the firearm.
  2. That a good commercial chronograph be used. Brand isn’t critical — there seems to be sufficient consistency between different models that this isn’t a concern. However, the brand and model should be noted.
  3. Chronographs must be positioned approximately 15 feet in front of the muzzle of the firearm used to test the ammo. This is what we started with in our tests, and have maintained as our standard through all the tests.
  4. That five or six data points be collected for each type of ammo tested. This can be done the way we did it, shooting three shots through two different chronographs, or by shooting six shots through one chronograph.
  5. All data must be documented with images of the raw data sheets. Feel free to use the same template we used in our tests, or come up with your own.
  6. Images of each actual box of ammo used in the test must be provided, which show the brand, caliber/cartridge, and bullet weight. Also including manufacturer’s lot number would be preferred, but isn’t always possible.
  7. A note about weather conditions at the time of the test and approximate elevation of the test site above sea level should be included.

We hope that this will allow others to help contribute to our published data, while still maintaining confidence in the *value* of that data. Please, if you are interested in conducting your own tests, contact us in advance just so we can go over any questions.


Jim Downey

September 9, 2016 Posted by | .22, .223, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .30 carbine, .32 ACP, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, 10mm, 9mm Luger (9x19), 9mm Mak, 9mm Ultra, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six shooter.

Well, well, well, BBTI made it to six years of shooting fun and research!

Yup, six years ago today we posted the first iteration of Ballistics By The Inch, and included data for 13 different handgun cartridges. Since then we’ve continued to expand on that original research, including some extensive testing on how much of an effect the cylinder gap on revolvers has, what performance differences you can expect from polygonal over traditional land & groove rifling, and added another 9 cartridges, as well as going back and including a very large selection of real world guns in all the different cartridges. This blog has had 100,000+ visitors and the BBTI site itself has had something like 25 – 30 million visits (the number is vague because of changes in hosting and record-keeping over time).

We’ve had an impact. I’ve seen incoming links from all around the world, in languages I didn’t even recognize. There’s probably not a single firearms discussion group/blog/site out there which hasn’t mentioned us at some point, and our data is regularly cited in discussions about the trade-offs you make in selecting one cartridge or barrel length over another. I’ve answered countless emails asking about specific points in our data, and have been warmly thanked in return for the work we’ve done. And on more than a few occasions people have pointed out corrections which need to be made, or offered suggestions on how we could improve the site, sometimes providing the results from their own crunching of our data.

When we started, it was fairly unusual to see much solid information on ammo boxes about how the ammunition performed in actual testing. Now that information is common, and expected. Manufacturer websites regularly specify real performance data along with what kind of gun was used for that testing. And the data provided has gotten a lot more … reliable, let’s say. We’ve been contacted by both ammo and firearms manufacturers, who have asked if they can link to our data to support their claims of performance — the answer is always “yes” so long as they make it clear that our data is public and not an endorsement of their product. And we’ve never taken a dime from any of those companies, so we can keep our data unbiased.

And we’re not done. We have specific plans in the works to test at least one more new cartridge (and possibly revisit an old favorite) in 2015. I try to regularly post to the blog additional informal research, as well as sharing some fun shooting and firearms trials/reviews. There’s already been one firearms-related patent issued to a member of the BBTI team, and we’ll likely see several more to come. Because we’re curious guys, and want to share our discoveries and ideas with the world.

So, onward and upward, as the saying goes. Thanks to all who have cited us, written about us, told their friends about us. Thanks to all who have taken the time to write with questions and suggestions. And thanks to all who have donated to help offset the ongoing costs of hosting and testing — it makes a difference, and is appreciated.


Jim Downey

November 28, 2014 Posted by | .22, .223, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .30 carbine, .32 ACP, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .460 Rowland, 10mm, 6.5 Swedish, 9mm Luger (9x19), 9mm Mak, 9mm Ultra, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures, Links, Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pump it up.

Last weekend I had the chance to revisit a couple of old friends, and try out something new: pump rifles. These guys:

PumpsFrom top to bottom:


If you check those links, you’ll see that I have written formal reviews for both the Uberti and the USFA previously. So I won’t spend much time talking about them.

But the little Taurus deserves a quick review. Because I found it to be a *very* nice little pump gun. The action was slick and didn’t have any problems, even though it was basically brand new. The Buckhorn sights are classic for a reason: they’re intuitive and work very well at modest distances. And even though the gun is relatively lightweight (compare the neck of the stock to the other two pump rifles above), there’s more than enough mass there to tame the recoil from the .22magnum cartridge. That means that you can get very quick and tight groups out of it even just standing and shooting it unsupported. Shooting it is just a blast, though one which doesn’t come with a lot of muzzle flash.

And the wood & finish on this gun is surprisingly good:

Taurus pump


I also want to share a couple of detail pics of the engraving on the USFA:


And the other side:


Very nice!

I *do* like pump guns.


Jim Downey


November 22, 2014 Posted by | .22WMR, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodness gracious …

… great balls of fire*:

That’s one of the other BBTI guys shooting a Kel-Tec PMR-30 last weekend.

How was it to shoot?

Actually, pretty nice. Has a surprisingly good trigger. In general, I like Kel-Tec guns for what they are: reasonable quality at a very affordable price. And I downright love my Sub-2000 in 9mm.

But I won’t be getting a PMR-30 anytime soon. Because at the 4.3″ barrel length, it just doesn’t take real advantage of the .22WMR cartridge — you only get about a 20% improvement over a .22lr cartridge.

Unless you like making fireballs.

Jim Downey

*With apologies to Jerry Lee.

November 19, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And now for some newer guns.

Last week I posted about some historical reproductions. Now let’s have a quick overview of some newer guns we got to try on the same trip to the range. I’ll include some *very* brief comments, and may return to do longer reviews later when I have some additional time.

First up, the USFA ZiP .22LR, shown with 25-round mag for additional grip purchase:

Comments: Ugh. I hated this gun. Seriously. It’s awkward to hold, worse to shoot, all sharp angles and weirdly thick. It’s the kind of ugly that isn’t even interesting. The design requires you to put your hand right up close to the muzzle to cycle the action. Since it was brand new, I’ll forgive it having problems cycling properly (this is fairly common with rim-fire guns which are brand new), but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have to shoot it enough to break it in.

Bottom line: if someone insisted on giving me one of these, I’d just turn around and sell it to use the money for almost any other purpose.


Next, the Excel Arms MP-22 .22mag Accelerator:




Comments: Nice gun. Shot very well, and the 8.5″ barrel is sufficiently long to get some benefit out of the .22WMR cartridge.  The heavy bull barrel also does a good job of taming the recoil and muzzle-flip, as can be seen in this vid:


Next, the SIG 232 .380acp:




Comments: SIG SAUER’s version of the classic PPK. Just what you’d expect: quality, accurate, easy to shoot for even someone with large hands, as can be seen in this image of my buddy who has even larger hands than I do:




Next, the Glock 42 .380acp:




Comments: I did not expect to like this gun. I was REALLY surprised when I did. Seriously, it is the best-shooting Glock I’ve ever handled. For such a small gun, it fit my large hands comfortably and was easy to shoot well. With Glock quality and reliability, this may be the first .380acp I would seriously consider as a CCW gun.


Next, the Kimber Solo Carry 9mm:




And here’s a vid of shooting it:


Comments: Kimber quality. Lot of power in a small package, and I felt it in the web between thumb and forefinger of my dominant hand. But that was just a sting, not uncomfortable, even shooting premium SD ammo. Another good candidate for CCW.


And here’s a quick look at an old classic: Winchester Model 70 XTR Featherweight in 6.5 Swedish (6.5mm x 55mm)




Comments: Like I said, a classic. And as such, a known quantity. But the first time I’ve shot one in 6.5 Swede, and I was pleasantly surprised by how little recoil there was.

Well, that’s all that I have images of, though we also shot a Chiappa M1-22 and a KelTec PMR-30 .22 mag. Again, both are known quantities and shot as expected. Oh, and my buddy gave my Steyr S9 a go, and you can see that vid here.

As noted, I may revisit any of these with a longer review sometime later, but don’t hold your breath.


Jim Downey


August 26, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .380 ACP, 6.5 Swedish, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rimfire Roundtable

Well, it’s too damned cold in most of the country to go out to the range, so if you’d like to see hear why I didn’t stay in radio as a career, and maybe enjoy some good discussion about rimfire cartridges and guns, take a listen to this new podcast:

Episode #26 Rimfire Roundtable #1

On this show I was lucky enough to round up three guys uniquely qualified for the first ever Rimfire Roundtable. We discuss what we would like to see come from the firearms industry regarding rimfire, better supplies of ammunition aside. I hope you enjoy our discussion and let us know your ideas too.

It’s about an hour long, all told, and in spite of my participation fairly interesting/informative. Check it out if you have some listening time!


Jim Downey

January 7, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, Anecdotes, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wait … it’s 2014?? How did THAT happen?

2013 was a busy year for BBTI.

We did the .22Mag tests. We did the 9mm Glock Tests. I got my .460 Rowland conversion up and running. And I found some really fun .44Mag +P+ loads, then figured out a simple hack so that they would feed reliably in my lever gun. Like I said, a busy year.

And we couldn’t have done it without help. Of several types. To see the list of those donors who have helped offset some of our operating costs, pop over to the BBTI site. And here’s a list of the top-10 referring sites (excluding search engines and Wikipedia):


Altogether, we had 243,230 visitors to the BBTI website, and some 12,000+ views of this blog. Since we’ve gone through several iterations of the site over the last five years, it’s hard to say exactly how many visitors or pageviews or hits we’ve had in total — but it’s more than we ever really expected. Thanks, everyone.

And particular thanks to my Good Lady Wife, who has done all the webwork and most of the number crunching over the years.

We don’t currently have any concrete plans for new tests in 2014. But who knows? Keep an eye here and on our Facebook page for news.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Jim Downey


January 1, 2014 Posted by | .22WMR, .44 Magnum, .460 Rowland, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A review …

A number of people have noticed that our .22 magnum data contains one very odd discrepancy: the Rossi Circuit Judge we used in the ‘real world’ portion of the tests performed really poorly, in terms of bullet velocity for all the ammo tested. If you’re curious why this is, go check out my review of the gun over at

The Rossi Circuit Judge .22 Convertible: Stylish, fun, cool, but there’s one drawback…


Jim Downey

June 24, 2013 Posted by | .22WMR, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

.22 Magnum article.

My .22 Magnum article looking at our data and my conclusions is now up over on Here’s an excerpt:

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. 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.

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.

Go check out the whole thing!

Jim Downey

June 5, 2013 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some thoughts about chronographs …

I got the following question, and it was on a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while. I thought I’d share the question and my response.


I want to upgrade my chronograph. Any recommendations?

Actually, that’s a good question. What I have to say is just my personal opinion, and does not constitute any kind of formal endorsement/review by BBTI.

We’ve used about a dozen different chronos over the series of tests. I’ve been pretty impressed with how consistent the different brands are one to another when compared head-to-head or in checking calibration with my Python and ball ammo from one lot over the years. So in that sense, most of the modestly-priced units seem to be of comparable quality.

Where you start to see some differences is in actually getting data – whether or not lighting is a problem, how much space they need, etc. For most people just using them casually, this wouldn’t be a big deal. When you’re doing 6,000+ shots checking for the cylinder gap effect, it can drive you nuts. Of the moderately priced units (actually, on the high end), this is one we’ve had good luck with:

Personally, I have a Chrony Gamma I like ( ) for most of my casual use checking reloads and whatnot. But that was one of the ones we had problems with now and again (and why it’s now my personal unit).

A couple weeks ago we did the .22WMR series of tests, and had a lot of chrono problems. We thought this might be the case, since the .22mag is one of the smallest bullets going the fastest – presenting the biggest challenge for the optical sensors used on a chronograph. Particularly since as you chop the barrel you are always changing the ‘sight picture’ (even though there aren’t actually sights…) and introducing changes to the barrel crown and suchlike. Meaning that you can’t trust that you’ll get the bullet over the sweet spot for the optical sensors.

So as a backup Jim K had a new high-end Oehler unit:  Very nice, more complicated than it needs to be, and about 3x the price of most other units on the market.

We even had problems with that.

Bottom line, I think most of the moderate priced units ($100 – $200) are about the same in terms of quality. I never use the printer on mine, and we don’t bother to set up a printer when we do our tests – it’s just one more thing to go wrong. But some people love ’em. If you can, take a look at some of the units, see what features appeal to you, what reviews say, whether the unit seems well constructed. Then make your best bet.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | .22WMR, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | 4 Comments

Ammo shortage? What ammo shortage??

Oh — THAT — ammo shortage.

Yeah, the beginning of January I wrote that we were finally moving forward with the testing of polygonal vs. traditional rifling; the so-called “Glock Tests“, and outlined how we were planning on conducting a bit of an experiment in asking for suggested ammo loads to include in the tests, and then seeing what kind of support there was for a slate of different choices by allowing pledges to help purchase ammo.

But, as someone who wrote me put it: where did we think we were going to *find* any such ammo?

Initially, I thought that the shortage we were seeing would be a fairly temporary problem, and that by the time spring rolled around we’d be able to locate sufficient quantities for our testing (we need about 350 rounds of each type).

Yeah, so much for that idea. Now you know why I don’t play the stock market or bet on races.

The ammo shortage has just continued to deepen. It’s to the point where people are having a hard time finding enough of any kind of ammo just to keep in practice with a trip to the range once or twice a month.  I’m damned glad I reload my practice ammo, and have a decent store of most components.

But that doesn’t do a damned thing for our testing. The whole idea is to test factory ammo, not some cobbled-together handload version of factory ammo.

So we’re putting off the “Glock Tests” again, until the situation gets better. Keep an eye here and elsewhere for news about when this will change.

One good bit of news, however: we already had a decent selection and sufficient quantity of each ammo type to do the .22WMR (.22Magnum) tests.  So we’re going to go ahead and do that sequence of tests here this spring — sometime soon!

Sorry for the bad news, everyone — really. These tests have been delayed several times for one (good) reason or another, and we’re just as frustrated by that as everyone else.  But when ammo supplies start to become more available, we’ll be sure to try and get them done as soon as we can.


Jim Downey

March 4, 2013 Posted by | .22WMR, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment