Pistol-Caliber Carbines

Short, Fast And Sweet — Don’t Let Their Pistol Power Fool You!

Duke and Yvonne bought one of Skinner Sights’ Bush Pilot Chiappa carbines,
sharing ammo with Duke’s Ruger .44 Magnum revolver.

His Editorship always encourages we writers to “think outside the box.” How’s this then: some thoughts about carbines firing handgun cartridges? There are plenty of locales nowadays with dumber than normal politicians making handgun ownership tough. Personally I wouldn’t live in such a place but if for some reason life set me down in such a politically terrorized location, you can bet my home would not be gun-less. Such places are where the dregs of society feel they have free rein.

My first non-handgun choice would be a pistol-cartridge firing lever-action carbine. After all, this is how the concept began. It was simple logistics. Winchester and Colt started it by making rifles, carbines and revolvers firing the same cartridges. It was supposed to make supply matters easier for those heading to the frontier. The idea took hold and remains valid today. Not necessarily because of resupply, but because pistol-cartridge long guns have a niche in the shooting world.

Developers of the M1 .30 Carbine got the cart before the horse. It was first
chambered in carbines and later in handguns. From left: M1 .30 Carbine, M1A1 .30
Carbine, M2 .30 Carbine, Ruger .30 Carbine revolver and AMT 1911 .30 Carbine autoloader.

Lost His Mind?

Likely some of you are thinking, “Boy, ole Duke is getting as goofy as he looks. He spent too much time in cowboy action competition.” Truth is I really wasn’t all that big a fan of lever guns until indulging in the cowboy action sport. It was there I witnessed just how fast and accurately lever guns could be fired. It doesn’t even take a lifetime of practice to achieve a decent level of skill with them. For instance, Yvonne had never fired a pistol cartridge lever gun until I bought her a Winchester Model 1892 .44 WCF. After an afternoon’s tutoring I turned her loose and nobody would want her shooting at them with it.

Good pistol cartridge lever guns are fast, accurate, reliable and make better clubs than any handgun. Let’s not ignore when handgun cartridges are fired in 16+” barrels they get about 250 to 400 fps over whatever speed a 4″ to 6″ handgun delivers. And don’t forget the amazing types of super-duper handgun ammunition on the market now.

Personally my favorite pistol cartridge lever guns are vintage ’73 and ’92 Winchesters but there are plenty of good replicas about. Currently they’re coming from Italy, Brazil and Japan; imported by a host of companies. My originals are chambered for .38 and .44 WCF (.38-40 and .44-40). Those two may be antique cartridges but both are still fine self-defense calibers. Today’s primo pistol cartridge in lever guns is .45 Colt. Never a rifle or carbine cartridge in its heyday due to the small rim back then, but all the new ones are made for it.

Duke fitted a Leupold Scout scope to an Inland “Jungle Carbine” with 16.5" barrel.

The concept of carbines firing pistol calibers originated in the black powder
era when Colt developed revolvers taking Winchester’s rifle/carbine calibers.

Even Magnums

Several foreign replica lever guns are chambered for magnum revolver rounds. Rossi of Brazil sends their ’92 replicas in both .357 and .44 Magnum. The newer Japanese ’73’s bearing the Winchester name come in .357 as do some of the Italian ’73 and ’92 models. Let’s not forget the Marlin Model 1894. They are also chambered for those two magnums. All .357 and .44 Magnum lever guns which I’ve had hands-on functioned fine with .38 and .44 Specials. The new Winchester ’73 from Japan is not actually made as a carbine in the vintage sense but does come as a short rifle which suffices.

Our family’s newest lever gun is Chiappas’s Model 1892 .44 Magnum: specifically as sold by Skinner Sights in their Bush Pilot Survival kit. This Italian-made replica is of take-down form for stowing on an airplane. This doesn’t concern us here but it only has a 16.5″ barrel and weighs a mere five pounds. Being based on the John M. Browning-designed Winchester Model 1892 makes it strong and Chiappa’s quality makes it smooth functioning with either .44 Magnum or .44 Special loads. Its magazine capacity is eight rounds of either and the entire set-up is first-class.

A friend prevailed on Duke to try his 9mm Beretta Storm carbine. A little aghast
at its homeliness, Duke still found it a viable idea.

Duke admits it wasn’t until he became involved with cowboy action shooting he realized
just how fast and accurately pistol cartridge lever guns could be fired.

The Semi Autos

Not being up on AR-style rifles, I Googled the three AR manufacturers whose names I knew offhand. Colt lists a 9mm carbine in their “Commercial Catalog” online so it’s not just a law enforcement product. Next I looked at Bushmaster. No joy there in regards to pistol calibers. Finally consulted was Rock River’s website and they list AR carbines chambered for both 9mm and .40 S&W. Someday I’m apt to try an AR pistol cartridge carbine. (Editor’s note: I told Duke there are dozens more AR-builders “out there” these days with dozens of pistol-caliber carbine ideas floating around. I also told him he should get out more often. —RH)For the fans of wood and steel, I can think of no better choice than the good old M1 .30 Carbine. Here again somebody is saying, “Duke has too many dents in his helmet. M1 Carbines are over 70 years old and were poodle-shooters anyway.” As to the first part: there are perfectly fine M1 .30 Carbines being made nowadays and sold by the Inland Company and Auto Ordnance. I have two on hand, both from Inland. Neither has suffered a malfunction in firing several hundred rounds. I even put a rail handguard on one with a Leupold 2.5X scout scope mounted.

Good pistol cartridge lever guns are fast, accurate, reliable and make better clubs than any handgun.

As to the .30 Carbine’s reputation for failing in combat during World War II and Korea, please realize this was with FMJ military “ball” ammunition. Anyone who has shot a critter with .30 Carbine using jacketed soft point or hollowpoint loads knows how vicious they are on tissue. CCI’s Lawman JSP and Winchester’s JHP factory loads come to mind.

Very small and light pistol cartridge carbines are not new ideas. This frontier-era
fellow is holding a Winchester Model 1873 saddle ring carbine with 12" barrel.

The Storm

Last year a friend introduced me to a pistol cartridge carbine I’d never heard of. It was the Beretta Storm. He had them in 9mm and .40 S&W. They are ugly as mud huts but they certainly handled and shot well. As a fan of Beretta pistols my buddy liked the idea his Storms would accept the same magazines as his handguns. Mounted with red dot type sights he uses them for head shooting rabbits.

Almost everyone considers handguns the ultimate home/self-defense gun. But the US Army had a valid idea in 1941 when asking for “light rifle” submissions that eventually became the M1 Carbine. Those military guys knew from experience it was much easier to teach a recruit to shoot a mild carbine than a powerful pistol. It’s sad but true most people buying handguns today will not put out the effort to become honestly proficient. Those same people could learn to handle a pistol cartridge carbine easily.

Whoever had the idea of pistol cartridge carbines in the first place was a pretty good thinker.

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