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Why are there So Many Types of Firearm Cartridges? Conversions, Industry Competition & More

As the world progressed from the 19th through the 20th century the market become inundated with a plethora of cartridges. Why are there so many? The 19th century was a big experimental environment for cartridges. Smith & Wesson introduced the .22 Short just before the civil war. Another rimfire innovation was the lever-action Henry with its .44 Henry. Shortly after the war began another rimfire was introduced, the Spencer rifle. Though they didn’t shoot metallic cartridges early on, the Sharps breach-loader with it’s linen or paper cartridges meant that the gun could be easily reloaded from horseback, allowing the cavalry to field a reasonably easy to load carbine. The accuracy of the Sharps rifles are legendary and the long barreled rifle was used by sharpshooters and skirmishers.

Cartridge Conversions

After the war cartridge conversions were common, still shooting cartridges like .46 Short, used many Remington and Colt conversions. In in 1871 S&W introduce the .44 American and shortly thereafter the .44 Russian. Center fire cartridges, stronger cases and they were reloadable. After that Winchester introduced the 73 Winchester and two new centerfire cartridges the .38-40 and .44-40. Colt introduced the Peacemaker in .45 Colt. S&W introduced the .45 in their #3 revolver. Referred to as the S&W .45, the Schofield .45 was shorter than the Colt cartridge and was possible the reason the referred to the Colt as the .45 Long Colt. Its official designation is .45 Colt. Maynard, Winchester, Sharps and other manufacturers began to introduce many proprietary rounds during the buffalo hunting period.

Beat Action Repeaters

Smokeless powders base on nitrated cellulose was introduced in the late 1800’s and every nation began to develop bolt action repeaters in the ‘national’ cartridge of choice. By the opening of the 20th century most were armed with bolt actions, in .303 British, 7.62x54R Russian, US 30-06 and the German series of 7mm and 8mm weapons. They were all within a small percentage of each other in power roughly equivalent.

Firearm Industry Competition

Everyone is aware of how competitive the electronics industry is between the car makers. It is no different in the firearms fields. Like racing and hot-rodding influence cars, firearms competition and hunters with innovative wildcatters’ fueled and pushed the limit in that illusive search for the ideal cartridge. Punching holes in paper and long-range shots at prairie dogs demand a bit different bullet and caliber. You’re not going to use a .22-250 to take a grizzly bear or a 458 Winchester magnum on a rabbit hunt. Being competitive those gun and ammo manufacturers must introduce ammo with their brand on it to be competitive. Take the .270 Winchester a necked down .30-06 or the .25-06 also based on the ‘06’ case. For most of their history Remington and Winchester have both been active in weapons and ammunition manufacturing. The .25-06, .22-250 and the .35 Whelen were all wildcats and adapted by the ammo makers into factory offerings. In handguns you have the .480 Ruger and .500 Smith& Wesson. The .38 Special is also known as the .38 Smith, while .44 Magnum is the .44 Remington Magnum. The proliferation of cartridge is driven by competition and the desire for many to ‘hot-rod’ cartridges by the wildcat crowd.

Custom Shooting Ranges Made in the USA

Do we need all these cartridges? Probably not, but we have favorites that create a demand for one or another. At one point the merits of the .300 Savage verses the .308 Winchester went on and on. The .300 Savage at one point was used during the creation of the 7.62×51 (.308 Winchester) as a test and base design cartridge. No matter what cartridges you choose, practice and training is important to become proficient and retain your firearm skills. Shooting Range Industries builds custom shooting ranges. Contact us to learn more today!