What Are Popular Revolver Calibers?

Revolvers remain as simple, easy-to-maintain firearms for hunting, carry, competition, or other uses.


Many new shooters aren’t as familiar with revolvers as shooters of, ahem, more experience. But revolvers remain as simple, easy-to-maintain firearms for hunting, carry, competition, or other uses. They tend to be chambered in fewer cartridges, some of which have been popular for more than 100 years. In this New Shooter’s Guide, we look at a few of the best-known wheelgun rounds:

What Are Popular Revolver Calibers?

Popular revolver calibers include 22 Long Rifle (LR), .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, which some shooters call .45 Long Colt to remove any possibility of confusion with the .45 ACP. These revolver calibers are popular  because they run the spectrum from informal plinking calibers and excellent self defense calibers to powerful hunting calibers. These popular revolver calibers come in two types—rimfire and centerfire—are chambered in a variety of Single Acton (SA) and Double Action (DA) revolvers. Think of SA revolvers as Old West cowboy revolvers where the user needs to cock back to hammer to fire the revolver. Modern DA revolvers allow the user to fire the revolver just by pulling the trigger in DA mode plus the user can cock back the hammer and fire it in SA mode.

The 45 Colt, also known as the 45 Long Colt, is an old revolver cartridge that is still very popular today.

Why Is The 22 Rimfire A Popular Revolver Caliber?

Hands down the most popular rimfire caliber for revolvers is 22 LR. The reason 22 LR is a popular revolver caliber is simple: 22 LR ammo is inexpensive and has little recoil. SA revolvers well suited for 22 LR include the Ruger Single-Six series and the Heritage Mfg. Rough Rider line of six-shooters In 22 LR these single action revolvers offers a weekend of plinking fun. They can also hunter small game like squirrels and take care of small varmints. Double action revolver chambered in 22 LR like the Smith & Wesson Model 317 Kit Gun is iconic. Many people who spend time camping, fishing, hunting, and hiking have this rimfire revolver on hand. A revolver chambered in 22 LR also makes a great training gun or first gun for new shooters. The low recoil and minimal noise help new shooters concentrate and learn shooting fundamentals.

Is 38 Special A Popular Revolver Caliber?

The 38 Special is perhaps the oldest defense caliber in existence and it is a popular revolver caliber today as it was when it was introduced in 1898. Small, compact DA revolvers like the Smith & Wesson Model 637 and Ruger SP101 chambered 38 Special make an excellent self defense and concealed carry choice.

Is The 357 Magnum A Good Defense Caliber?

The 357 Magnum is the big brother to the 38 Special and is a powerful caliber. In fact the 38 Special can be fired in revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum. Many Law Enforcement agencies in the 20th century equipped themselves with revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum. The 357 Magnum offers more recoil than the 38 Special and is not a revolver caliber for beginners. The medium frame Colt Python and Smith & Wesson Model 686 are two popular revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum. The 357 Magnum makes a great defense caliber for EDC (Every Day Carry).

What is a 44 Magnum revolver good for?

The 44 Magnum is a very powerful revolver caliber and is well suited for hunting whitetail deer and black bear. The 44 Magnum produces a tremendous amount of recoil and is not a revolver caliber for recoil shy shooters. Both the Ruger Super Redhawk and the Taurus Raging Hunter DA revolvers are excellent choices for hunting and topped with a scope the 44 Magnum offers range and power.

Is The 45 Colt The Same As The 45 Long Colt?

Yes, the 45 Colt is another name for the 45 Long Colt. The 45 Colt produces recoil but id not as sharp recoiling as the magnum revolver calibers. Weekend cowboys competing in Cowboy Action Shooting match favor the 45 Colt in low recoil cartridges, while some users still prefer the power the 45 Colt and use it for hunting and home defense. The 45 Colt is popular in SA revolvers like the Colt Single Action Army, Ruger Blackhawk, and the Uberti Cattleman series of SA revolvers.

Article and photos by Gun Tests Contributing Editor Robert Sadowski


  1. I would add 44 Special to your list. It allows shooting the 44 Magnum revolver, with much less recoil. As I get older, I am aware of Having less “tolerance” to recoil shooting so I enjoy lesser” calibers in full size revolvers. Yes, I shoot 357 magnum, but because I reload, I can make the 357 “fun” to shoot. With 38 special in the same gun, I can shoot whatever “push” is needed, to reach the target. Nobody talks about 38 (short) Colt, that shoots just fine in a 357 or 38 Special revolver. I load and shoot higher/lower recoil loads, depending on how much “ache” I have in my (really old) arthritic hands. I love to shoot, and will keep on doing it, as long as I remain “upright!” Thanks for the great article!

  2. The “What Are Popular Revolver Calibers?” needs a lot of work. As written it’s really not very good. Of low value. A solid critique would basically require a rewrite of the thing…

  3. I own a Smith & Wesson M25 that is chambered in .45acp. With the moon clips its one of the quickest reloading revolvers I have ever owned.

  4. What are anyone’s thoughts on 9mm for revolvers? Have a good bit around. Thinking about my first revolver. Any specific recommendations?

    • Considering the U.S. Armed forces uses the 9mm, (some special forces still employ the 1911 45acp), it MAY be a good choice. Capacity over knockdown power comes into play with the newer “poly” guns, shot placement counts for everything. BUT, out of a 2in barrel I’ll take a 45acp over the 9mm anyday.

  5. Waste of time. DIDN’T even mention the usefulness of the 38 Special +P . A big BTW, also this was about as helpful as doing the handgun ammo test by shooting through jugs of water. When trying to decide which ammo you could bet your life on, you want ballistics test done in ballistic gel !

    • Ballistics gel or Paul Harrell’s “meat target “. Ballistics gel has the advantage of being standardized, but it’s also not all that realistic. The meat target is much more realistic, but harder to standardize. I like to look at both and compare. For example, the Honey Badger 9 mm does well in both tests, but the T.U.I. (tumble upon impact) 9 mm looks good in gel but acts like a FMJ in the meat target. Probably better as a rifle bullet in 5.56 or .308.

  6. Anyone can line up jugs of water and guess at when bullet expanded . My point is Gun Test should earn their money by making a serious effort to help subscribers survive a gunfight. Everything else is secondary !!!!!!!!

    • Chuck, I agree %100. I was trying to keep my long post a bit shorter. The jug test reminds me of the old 1” pine boards test of the colonial period. At least the shattered pine can be used for fire wood!

  7. I wish you would have mentioned the 41 Remington magnum. It’s one of my favorites. Not quite a 44 mag, but more than the 357. But in all fairness you did ask what are “popular” revolver calibers. Also, the 45 Colt is not another name for the 45 long Colt. The 45 Colt IS the name of the cartridge.


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