Which Something "Bigger than a .22?"

Discussion in 'Hunting & Fishing' started by ke4sky, Nov 4, 2008.

  1. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Most utility firearm owners aren't hobby shooters, but may have good reason to want something "bigger than a .22" which is more effective for home defense, hunting larger predators and shooting the occasional deer for the larder. The combination of a lever-action rifle in 357 Magnum and a revolver using the same ammo makes sense.

    My most-used center-fire rifle is a Marlin 1894C in .357 Magnum. It is manageable by females and youngsters, has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun with good small game utility. Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at. A .357 levergun is adequate for deer within 100 yards. Leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does. When firing .38 Special lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, having a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet suburban garden varminting.

    New leverguns cost less than so-called "black rifles." Used .357 leverguns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle costs new. Around here the Marlin Micrgroove leverguns sell for about $100 less than a similar model with Ballard rifling, because people think that "Microgroove don't shoot lead." The 1894C with Microgroove rifling shoots lead loads just fine, as long as you use ordinary standard velocity and +P .38 Special, but not lead bullet.357 Magnum loads. Microgroove barrels handle jacketed bullet .357 Magnum loads very accurately and the 158-gr. softpoint is what you want to use for deer. But in reality you will use very few Magnum loads. Standard velocity 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters are the basic farm utility load in both rifle and revolver if you will standardize on only one load.

    The frontier concept of having a rifle and revolver both using the same common ammunition still makes sense. The combination of 4-inch, fixed sight, police service, double-action revolver for personal defense and a Marlin lever gun with ghost ring peep sight for when its better accuracy, greater range, magazine capacity and rapidity of fire to 100 yards or so are needed, is hard to beat.

    The requirements for a basic revolver are safety, reliability, durability, accuracy, and modest cost of gun and ammunition. Also important is ease of use by the "female significant other." These parameters haven't changed a bit since Smith & Wesson first introduced its famed Military and Police Model in 1903. Julian S. Hatcher said, in his Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers (1935), "Were it necessary for the average shooter to own and use but one revolver, it should be a .38 Special." This is still true today. The late Elmer Keith, who favored large guns and powerful loads, said in his book Sixguns (1955), of the .38 Special, when loaded with the semi-wadcutter bullet he made famous, as "the best to be had for hunting small game with the sixgun," high praise indeed from Keith.

    Mechanically sound, used .38 Special revolvers are reasonably priced compared to modern combat autopistols. Ammunition is still common, relatively inexpensive and available everywhere. The .38 Special is the most accurate revolver cartridge ever developed. Quality service revolvers produce groups in the order of 2 inches at 25 yards. A Marlin carbine can produce 2-inch groups at 50 yards with the same ammo.

    While the .38 Special is no longer the duty gun of choice for police or military use, it enjoys great popularity in states where civilian concealed carry is permitted. While it is also true that compact revolvers are readily available chambered for in .357 Magnum, using .38 Special ammunition in them most of the time makes more sense.

    While a .22 rim-fire is most often chosen as the outdoorsman's kit gun, the owner of our recommended “one handgun - bigger than a .22” can use his .38 Special very effectively and may find it more effective than a .22 rimfire. When outdoor trips are short, little ammunition is needed. I carry a Speer shotload (for snakes) first-up in the cylinder, with the rest of the rounds being +P semi-wadcutter hollowpoints. Two or three Bianchi speed strips carry six rounds each and fit in your coat pockets without spare ammo rattling.

    The non-enthusiast seeking "one handgun-bigger than a .22" should select a “police-service-type,” double-action .38 Special or .357 with 4" barrel. In states where concealed carry is legal a 4-inch ” gun is about $100 cheaper than a 2” snubbie of similar model. A 4” barrel is easier to shoot accurately and gives higher velocity. A .357 Magnum revolver of these general specifications can also use .38 Special ammunition, but is more durably constructed. So it won’t loosen up with frequent use of .38 +P loads, and you can shoot more powerful magnum ammo if really needed.

    The variety of .38 Special factory loads makes it better than ever. Standard velocity lead 158-gr. semi-wadcutter loads are ideal for most field shooting. They are accurate, give a good knockdown blow on small game, and don't destroy much meat. Velocity is about 150 f.p.s. higher firing .38 Special loads in a rifle, compared to a 4-inch revolver. So 148-gr. target wadcutters which give 700 f.p.s. in a revolver are about 850 f.p.s. in a rifle, 158-gr. non+P lead service loads which are 800 f.p.s. in the revolver are about 950 f.p.s. in the rifle and +P 158 -gr. lead hollow-point service loads which give 890 f.p.s. in a revolver are about 1040 f.p.s. in a rifle. Still subsonic and having a mild report, but very effective. What's not to like?

    Target "wadcutters" look like little lead trash cans mashed into the cartridge case. They are intended to cut clean holes in target paper. They also so do on small game and kill out of proportion to their energy and are extremely accurate. I use alot of these in my revolvers.

    The trick to using wadcutters in a lever-action rifle is to use the rifle as a "two-shooter." Place only one round in the chamber, and shove only one additional round past the loading gate at a time. If you try to fill the tube full, their shorter overall length will cause two rounds to be released onto the lifter at once. This jams the gun up and requires removal of the lever pivot screw, the lever, and breechbolt to clear the jam, without losing the ejector, and reassembling the rifle carefully without the use of choice words unsuitable for ladies and youngsters.

    I frequently use wadcutters in my Marlin as a two-shooter because it accurate, quiet and effective. With practice you will get used to carrying a spare round or two in your hand. Each time you fire a shot, just work the lever and shove a new round past the loading gate to replace the one you just chambered.

    Novice revolver shooters should practice with wadcutters until able keep six shots fired double action at ten yards in a coffee can. After developing some skill, you can experiment with heavier +P loads, in guns suitable for them, to become accustomed to their additional recoil. But +P ammo is not for casual shooting, but for serious defense carry against two or four-legged varmints when more power is really needed. The .38 Special +P 158-gr. all-lead hollowpoints provide stopping power equal to .45 ACP hardball. This is the upper limit of power the average person can handle. Use +P only in steel frame revolvers, never in the light alloy ones.

    As recently as ten years ago the market was flooded with police turn-in .38 Specials in good condition for under $200. These days you must shop carefully to find a used revolver which isn’t worn out. Expect to pay $350 for a sound, used fixed-sight S&W .38 Special Model 10 and $450 for an adjustable sight S&W Model 15, or 19 or Ruger GP100. If you don’t know revolvers take someone with you to shop who is. Avoid buying a "gunsmithing project," because fixing a broken used gun costs more than it is worth.

    Simplify your ammunition supply. Use target wadcutters or non+P 158-gr. semi-wadcutters as your basic ammo. For actual defense carry use only factory loaded 158-gr. +P lead hollowpoint "personal protection loads" , either Winchester X38SPD, Federal 38G or Remington R38S12. These have the most proven street record in actual law enforcement use and are collectively known as "The FBI load." Keep a box of Speer shotshells around if you live in snake country. These loads handle all uses for a .38 revolver. If you intend to get a .357 rifle, zero it at 50 yards with the 158-gr. .38 Special ammo. You will probably use this most of the time. Also keep a box of 158-gr. softpoint .357 Magnums around if you will hunt deer or are bothered by predators larger than feral dogs. Think of magnums as "rifle ammo," not as "revolver ammo," for while a sturdy .357 revolver can shoot them just fine, they are an "experts" load having much more noise and recoil. They aren't "fun" to shoot, but they give more power and greater range when needed. In a rifle .357 magnums shoot "on" at 100 yards when your sights are zeroed at 50 yards with 158-gr. lead bullet .38 Specials.

    Elevate the revolver muzzle when ejecting fired cases. This ensures that unburned powder falls out with the empties, rather than under the extractor, or between the crane and frame, which will "tie up" the gun. Use a toothbrush for cleaning loose residue out from under the extractor. If you haven't shot a revolver before, make friends with a retired cop who carried one and ask him to show you how to properly clean and maintain it.

    If you don't own a handgun, but have been thinking about it, you can't go wrong with a sturdy 4" .38 Special or .357. If you are smart you will also get a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 to go along with it.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2008
  2. Smithy

    Smithy Outdoorsman, Bladesmith

    These are really great posts, ke4sky. Did you write all this yourself? I find it most useful.

  3. JeepHammer

    JeepHammer Well-Known Member

    While I don't disagree on any particular point,
    I prefer to use a PUMP rifle rather than lever gun.
    Less maintenance, less chance of problems as the gun ages.
    Pumps are also faster for follow up shot if you need one than a lever gun.

    I'm also pretty fond of my Ruger M-44 in .44 Rem Mag.
    Looks EXACTLY like a Ruger 10/22 unless you see the muzzle or magazine well/loading gate.
    Four rounds in the mag, one in the pipe and semi-auto speed if you need a follow up shot!

    Game wardens used to take one look at my M-44 and assume I was squirrel hunting and not give me a second though!
  4. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Favorite Stuff Is "In the Can"

    Roger, this was "in the can." Glad to help out.
  5. badkarma

    badkarma Guest

    Did you ever encounter the "Marlin Jam" in the .357 lever gun or is that restricted to big-bores?
  6. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Marlin Jam Avoided by Factory Ammo or Good Reloads Securely Crimped

    The Marlin Jam occurs almost entirely either with reloads in which the bullet is either inadequately crimped, and telescopes back into case under compression of the tubular magazine spring, or in ammunition which is shorter in overall length than standard factory length. This enables two rounds to be released at once onto the lifter, jamming the gun.

    Clearing the jam requires removing the lever pivot screw, withdrawing the lever, then carefully pulling out the breechbolt, taking care not to lose the ejector. Once the lever and breechbolt are out, any jammed rounds and those remaining in the magazine tube will pop right out. Reassemble and you are good to go.

    Avoiding the jam is easy. Use factory ammo or ensure that your reloads are the same overall cartridge length as factory loads. Buy a Lee Factory Crimp Die and use it for all of your levergun ammo, without fail!
  7. JeepHammer

    JeepHammer Well-Known Member

    There are words to live by!
    And that's about a mouth full too!
    You can include any Lever Gun, Pump Rifle, Auto-loading rifle to that list also!

    I don't care for Lee reloading dies or some of their other equipment...
    My Dies are almost all RCBS, with the exception of the factory crimp dies by LEE!

    They work REALLY GOOD, and I can't recommend them strongly enough!

    Factory crimp dies will take the guess work out of case length with taper crimp dies,
    and it will take a bunch of work out of trimming cases for length when you are reloading 'Fire Formed' brass.

    Also remember, the correct crimp will help with consistency of your ammo also!
    Bolt gunners don't have to worry about bullet crimp too much at all, but crimp can REALLY help make your rounds consistent if you start doing any bench shooting!
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2008
  8. DuckA

    DuckA Member

    I wish someone would make a detachable mag for the new Ruger .44 Mag carbines with the box mag instead of the tube. A M-44 with a 20 or 30 round mag would be a bad mofo.
  9. JeepHammer

    JeepHammer Well-Known Member

    I'm thinking maybe you mean the lever gun, 96/44 maybe?

    The M-44 is semi-auto and hasn't been made for several years.
    That M-44 was a super-bad, super-fast, serious heavy brush deer killer!