New Shooter’s Guide: What Is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

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If you’re just entering the firearms world, you may see the term Pistol Caliber Carbine, or PCC, and not quite understand what it means. Most shooters will think the term refers to only modern firearms, describing current short rifles (or carbines, as shorter rifles are often described) that are chambered for common handgun rounds such as 9mm, 40 S&W, or 45 ACP. But the notion of a carbine that fired handgun ammunition actually goes back to the beginning of cartridge use.

The year 1873 was a watershed in the U.S. firearms industry. Colt introduced the Model P Single Action Army pistol. Then Winchester improved the metallurgy on its toggle-link, lever-action rifle, and the Model 1873 was born. Now the country had two firearms shooting reasonably powerful centerfire pistol-caliber cartridges in platforms that could be reloaded quickly and conveniently. But neither was chambered in a cartridge that would work in the other platform — at least until 1878, when Colt brilliantly added the 44-40 chambering of Winchester’s rifle to their revolver line. Voilà, the Pistol Caliber Carbine combo was born. Now the cowboys could have a revolver and a long gun that shot the same cartridge, so there was only one cartridge for them to pack across the wilderness. Simplifying logistics is important, but the Colt/Winchester combo did a lot more than that.

Why a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

Let’s face it, handguns are compromises at best. They tend to be smaller and lighter than their carbine brethren, making them easier to carry and conceal. There the advantage stops. They generate less energy. The sight radius is shorter, making them more difficult to shoot accurately. The shooter has fewer points of contact with the firearm, again, making it more difficult to shoot accurately, and onboard ammunition is normally much more limited. The pistol caliber carbine solves many of those issues; the sight radius is longer and sights are frequently better than on a pistol, four points of contact with the shooter’s body instead of two with the handgun. Even with the firearm chambered for the same cartridge, such as a 9mm PCC, the carbine is normally a good bit more powerful. It’s the same bullet, but velocity in the longer barrel is higher, by quite a bit.

357 magnum carbine and handguns
Left to right are the Marlin 1894, a Colt Single Action Army and the S&W Model 13, all chambered in 3.57 Magnum. The chronograph results also include a 38 Special round.

The relative power of a cartridge (how hard the bullet hits) is measured in foot pounds of energy. The formula used to compute that is MV2 (Muzzle velocity squared) x BW (bullet weight in grains) / 450240 (to convert the grains into pounds). Note that the muzzle velocity is squared. As velocity increases, so does energy, and in a dramatic fashion. For most firearms, muzzle velocity will increase along with barrel length – at least up to a point.

Pistol Caliber Carbine Cartridges

We tested two pistol/carbine combinations to verify this fact for you, and to compare how speed and energy climb in the pistol caliber carbine. Combo #1 were all 357 Magnums. We used a Smith & Wesson Model 13 double-action revolver with a 4-inch barrel, a Colt Single Action Army single-action revolver with a 5.5-inch barrel, and a Marlin Model 1894 lever action rifle with a 16-inch barrel. The second set used modern 9mm pistols and 9mm PCC with a SIG Sauer P365XL with a 3.7-inch barrel, a SIG MPX with an 8-inch barrel, and another MPX with a 16-inch barrel.

Pistol Caliber Carbine Energy, By Barrel Length

We didn’t try to shoot the smallest groups in the world, but we still looked at them. The pistols did well. The pistol caliber carbines did a lot better, frequently putting 10 shots into a single hole. As we tested velocities, we found substantial increases with the longer barrels. The Colt SAA with its 5.5-inch barrel showed a 4% increase in muzzle energy with the Federal 38 Special +P load over the S&W Model 13 with a 4-inch barrel. The Colt also showed an increase of 14% when we tested a 357 Magnum reload using Hornady 158 XTP bullets. The Marlin lever action showed a whopping increase of 32% and 33% respectively over the Colt with the same loads.

9mm luger pistol and carbines
Pistol-Caliber-Carbine Combo 2, 9mm Luger: Here are the SIG Sauer MPX competition model with a 16-inch barrel, the SIG MPX pistol with 8-inch barrel, and a SIG P365XL pistol.

The 9mm MPX carbines had the same results when tested against the shorter SIG P365 XL. Using 115-grain Remington FMJs, 125-grain reloads, and 124-grain Speer Gold dot +P loads, the 8-inch-barrel MPX showed gains of 18%, 18%, and 16% respectively over the P365XL with a 3.7-inch barrel. The 16-inch MPX added another 12%, 12% and 6% to the energy number of the 8-inch-barrel MPX. The longer barrels of the 9mm PCCs essentially had the MPXs delivering like they were chambered in 357 SIG. Very nice energy out of a lightweight package.

So in raw performance, that’s why Pistol Caliber Carbines have appeal — they’re lighter than most rifles and the PCCs are more powerful than handguns in the same chamberings. That’s why a good pistol caliber carbine could make a great house gun, truck gun or competition gun that would be easy to use and pack a good punch — just like the cowboys learned almost 150 years ago.

Shooting Results: Combo 1, Revolvers and Lever Carbine

* shows increase over results of S&W Model 13.
** shows results over Colt SAA.
Federal 38 Special +P 158 Lead SWCS&W Model 13Colt SAAMarlin Model 94
Average Velocity923 fps943 fps1146 fps
Muzzle Energy299 ft.-lbs.312 ft.-lbs.461 ft.-lbs.
Energy Increase4.2%*14.1%**
Hornady 357 Magnum 158 XTP ReloadS&W Model 13Colt SAAMarlin Model 94
Average Velocity1109 fps1197 fps1460 fps
Muzzle Energy432 ft.-lbs.503 ft.-lbs.748 ft.-lbs.
Energy Increase32.2%*32.8%**

Shooting Results: Combo 2, SIG Pistol and SIG MPX Carbines

* shows increase over results of SIG P365XL.
** shows results over 8-inch MPX.
Remington 9mm Luger 115 FMJSIG P365XLSIG MPX 8 inchSIG MPX 16 inch
Average Velocity1124 fps1244 fps1328 fps
Muzzle Energy323 ft.-lbs.395 ft.-lbs.450 ft.-lbs.
Energy Increase18.4%*12.2%**
RMR Reload 9mm Luger 125 FMJSIG P365XLSIG MPX 8 inchSIG MPX 16 inch
Average Velocity1040 fps1152 fps1225 fps
Muzzle Energy300 ft.-lbs.368 ft.-lbs.417 ft.-lbs.
Energy Increase18.4%*11.6%**
Speer Gold Dot 9mm Luger 124 +PSIG P365XLSIG MPX 8 inchSIG MPX 16 inch
Average Velocity1189 fps1296 fps1337 fps
Muzzle Energy389 ft.-lbs.462 ft.-lbs.492 ft.-lbs.
Energy Increase15.9%*6.0%**
Each plate has three different types of ammo shot from a single firearm, with the pistol being on the bottom and the MPX competition on top. Even though we weren’t trying for perfect groups, it is easy to see how much more accurately we were able to shoot the longer guns. For sights, the pistol and the two MPX carbines had various red dots. Targets were at 15 yards. 

 

9mm luger chronograph readings
The same ammo shot from a pistol-length barrel, above, and a carbine-length barrel, below, produce dramatically different velocities.
9mm Carbine chronograph result

3 COMMENTS

  1. I own a single-shot 410 shotgun which is old and heavy, so in my opinion, is not my choice for an effective home defense long gun. I also own a Glock 19 in 9mm Luger and so would like to know which compatible 9mm PCC carbine would best suit my need for home defense and for a reasonable price? Thanks for your advice! – Allen Bolender

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