Ammunition

Cartridges that Make You Ask Why

Not every caliber does a particularly good job at filling its role. We can’t all be a .308 I suppose. I will say however, that any caliber is better than none. If I had to choose between carrying an anemic cartridge or no gun at all, I’ll take the anemic cartridge every time. That being said, some calibers make you step back and wonder why they ever made them at all. We looked through some gun history and came up with some pretty odd performing bullets.

.32-20 Winchester

I admit it; I actually own an old lever-action in this caliber. It was my great great grandfather’s saddle gun. While it does hold sentimental value, it no longer shoots straight, so I pretty much use it as a wall hanger. Even if it did function properly, I don’t think I would use it for anything. The .32-20 is such a terrible round that I could do better by throwing the whole rifle at the target. This cartridge throws a 100-grain projectile at 1210 feet per second. At 100 yards, the energy measures in a 231 foot-pounds. The problem with this round isn’t the fact that it performs poorly, it’s that Winchester originally sold it to use as a varmint and deer cartridge. While you can technically kill a deer with a .32-20, I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

.41 Rimfire

Admittedly, the National Arms Company only intended this cartridge to fire in Derringer type pistols. Apparently, the projectile is so low powered, that it bounces off trees at 15 yards. The .41 Rimfire consisted of a 130-grain lead bullet propelled by 13 grains of black powder. The round produced a muzzle velocity of 425 feet per second and muzzle energy of 52 foot-pounds of force. After the Battle of Little Big Horn, someone recovered General Armstrong Custer’s .41 Rimfire Derringer from the battlefield. I guess he learned his lesson.

.950 JDJ

Okay, don’t hate me. The .950 JDJ is the world’s largest and most powerful rifle cartridge. That’s pretty darn cool. This insane bullet weighs 3,600 grains and travels at a velocity of 2,200 feet per second. It rips through the air with 38,685 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. It has a unique ATFE sporting use exception on the books, which allows you to own the rifle for this cartridge without the need for the NFA paperwork required for destructive devices. This little ATFE fact makes this cartridge an exclusive range queen. It literally serves no purpose other than shooting at a target. While I am impressed by the cool factor, I prefer my cartridges to be a bit more practical.

2mm Kolibri

The 2mm was the smallest commercially available centerfire cartridge. Franz Pfannl, an Austrian watchmaker patented a small handgun intended to fire his 2mm incarnation. The projectile weighed .2 grams and flew at 660 feet per second. Muzzle energy weighed in a 3 foot-pounds of failure. What really makes this cartridge terrible is that they attempted to market this cartridge for self-defense! The good news is, it never really caught on, and now it exists only as a collector’s item. You can still purchase the individual rounds for about $70 a piece.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. Nuimbers on .41 Short rimfire are wrong.
    Read Parson’s article for Guns Magazine. among others.
    You could add 3mm Kolibri, 4.25 Liliput, 2mm pinfire.

  2. Custers .41 cal derringer was meant for a last resort. The Indians were known to torture you alive and they hated Custer for good reason. I read that he would carry that as a last resort instead of being taken alive. There is also debate as to the rumor that the derringer was ever found at LBH. In fact it is believed that all the weapons were stolen by the Indians. It was days before the bodies were recovered.

  3. Ok, so JD Jones and company have been busy once again pressing toward the edge of new and different. Cool factor aside, I want to know how many bull elk standing shoulder to shoulder one of those bullets will pass through.

    As for the others they appear in the assorted volumes of Cartridges of the World by Frank C. Barnes, the 3rd edition being my favorite of the 3 or 4 I used to have.

    I had a S&W M&P in .32-20 for any years and finally gave it to my brother on a lark. He has been quite intrigued with it and the reloading potential it has. A relined barrel with a section of .303 Brit barrel keeps it true to the bullets it was designed for. I actually preferred it as a concealed carry piece for its performance over a similar framed .38 Sp–when loaded with similar bullet weights at similar speeds the .32 has much better sectional density which equates to better penetration.

    After much research on the round I found: Part of the .32-20’s undoing was that ammo mfrs made two loads, a hotter one for rifles and another toned down for revolvers, marking the boxes accordingly. An assortment of rocket scientists put the hot loads in their revolvers, knowing or unknowing, and ruined their revolvers. The mfrs’ response to that was to water down the rifle loads in order to compensate for consumers’ choices. Thus, the marketing claims as a varmint to deer caliber, which were tenuous (read: disingenuous) to begin with, simply couldn’t be achieved in the field.

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