Handloading For Rifle/Handgun Combos

By Mike “Duke” Venturino

Our Editorship, Roy, has a strange affliction in regards to gunzine bosses, as he tries to please readers. This column came about because a fellow shooter (and reader) asked him if there was any difference in reloading when the rounds were meant for both long guns and handguns. This concept of combining long guns and handguns shooting the same ammunition is a firearms institution peculiar to Americans, and we love to exercise that idea.

When Roy first broached this subject I thought, “Well, not really. Nothing is different except some extra thought must go into bullets, primers and powders.” I guess that’s a bit more than nothing.

Primers first. Many of the cartridges chambered in both rifles/carbines and revolvers take large pistol primers as standard. Take that as fact, for large rifle and large pistol primers differ dimensionally. Rifle primers are “taller.” That means they need deeper primer pockets than large pistol primers. Put large rifle primers in pockets in .41 Magnum, .44 WCF, .44 Magnum .45 Colt, etc., and they stick out.

In revolvers this means they won’t fit the headspace between recoil shield and chamber, consequently preventing the cylinder from rotating, or at best rotating with difficulty. Additionally when cartridges with high primers are put in lever guns there is the danger of a magazine tube explosion or a slam fire when the bolt is closed. So don’t put large rifle primers in cartridges whose primer pockets are intended for large pistol primers.

What about small rifle and pistol primers? Strangely enough they are the same size. However, rifle primer cups are harder than pistol primers so a handgun’s hammer strike may not set them off reliably. That said, I do use small rifle primers in .30 Carbine when fired in handguns but that is the only cartridge of my combo experience with which rifle primers are used. I’ve reloaded for most rifle/carbine/pistol/revolver combo cartridges from .32 WCF to .45 Colt.


Duke emphasizes bullet choice is an important factor in handloading rifle/revolver
loads. The RN/FP gives no problems in either type of firearm. Note the heavy crimp
on these loads which are from left: .44 S&W Russian, .44 S&W Special and
.44 Remington Magnum.

Bullet Basics

Next some deep thought must go into combo cartridge bullets. Of course, in regards to lead alloy bullets the semiwadcutter (SWC) is the Holy-Grail for revolver shooters. They are nigh on useless for most tubular fed rifles/carbines though. The problems are caused by the same sharp edges which make them otherwise popular. Their sharp front driving band tends to hang up on chamber edges. Old time roundnose (RN) bullets used in much factory ammunition in bygone times are likewise taboo in tubular magazines. Not only is it possible for a rounded nosed bullet to set off primers in a tube magazine — I’ve known several people to whom it has happened.

As early as 1873 the roundnose/flatpoint (RN/FP) shape of bullet was actually introduced for tubular magazine lever guns. It remains the best for tube magazines, and the popularity of cowboy competition these last 30 years have brought many new RN/FP cast designs to mould-makers’ catalogs. The new designs have crimping grooves in the proper location so a firm crimp in it will result in cartridge overall length being proper for all the firearms chambered for that particular round. They won’t be a danger in magazines, and most of them have a large flat meplate (front end) which is about as good in the hunting fields as the lauded SWCs.


The idea of rifle/handgun combinations goes back over 150 years. Here is a Chiappa Model
92 take-down .44 Magnum carbine built especially for Skinner Sights, his “Bush Pilot”
model (comes with a rugged bag of survival gear) along with a Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum.

Powders & Crimping

Also keep that idea of “proper crimp” in the forefront. The case mouth must be turned into the crimping groove. Any edge left at the case mouth is liable to catch on the chamber mouth in lever guns and it also can mean poor powder combustion in handguns — depending on the exact propellant used.

And that brings us to the final factor of powders. Handguns have shorter barrels than rifles. The optimum powders for both are seldom the same. Therefore, it might be best to meet in the middle between fast burning powders and slow burning powders. Such would be Unique, Blue Dot, Accurate #7, etc.

Proper consideration of these factors will net combo shooters good handloads — perfect for use in long and short guns.

For more info: Skinner Sights: andy@nullskinnersights.com, Ph: (406) 531-5133

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