When it comes to firearms for survival situations, you can find about as many opinions as models of weapons on the market about what is the best choice. To me, the ability to use multiple calibers in one platform will go a long way in extending the utility of these tools without breaking the bank.
The popularity of newer caliber firearms, such as the .327 Federal Magnum has brought this into a new light. The. 327 Federal Magnum had been offered in revolvers for several years. In this form you can use .327 Federal Magnum, .32 H & R Mag, .32 S&W Long, .32 SW Short, .32 ACP, as well as a couple of European calibers. This gives you several options. Lately .327 Federal Magnum has been offered in lever action rifles that are capable of firing .327 Federal Magnum, .32 H & R Magnum, and .32 S&W Long. With this diversity of calibers, it should give a resourceful person the chance to find ammo from a number of sources.
Many other platforms are available in various caliber families for anyone wanting to have options and willing to do careful research and use safe practices. Randy Lyman, of the reloading company fame, has a list of compatible calibers. This makes for a good starting place.
I have always been a fan of older-style weapons used in cowboy action shooting and black powder/antique weapons hunting seasons. With this in mind, I began researching the black powder revolving weapons that had historically been converted into cartridge capable platforms. I found that the 1858 Remington New Army cap and ball in .44 caliber makes a good platform for a multi-caliber hunting/survival weapons system. A carbine version of this revolver is available that extends the effective range of the platform. Couple this with a matching sidearm gives you a perfect pair with interchangeable ammo and cylinders.
In these weapons, using the same conversion cylinder I can use .45 Long Colt (low power, lead slugs), .45 Schofield, .45 Cowboy Action Express, and .455 Webley. A few other lesser-known calibers can also be used. A few people have stated that the Webley rounds have rims that are too thin to be reliable, but I have never had any issues in function nor performance. I also hear people say that these calibers are not readily available. I don’t know where they shop for ammo, but all of these can be found in my area in rapid fashion at several locations.
Recently new conversion cylinders have become available that allow the use of .45 ACP if the rounds are not loaded too hot, with cast lead slugs. This gives you several options in emergencies or just for hunting or plinking. If for some reason you can’t find any of these rounds, you can always put the blackpowder percussion cylinder back in and shoot it as used in the 1850s to 1870s. Similar set-ups can also be found in smaller calibers, such as .38 Special, .38 Short Colt, and .38 Long Colt in .36 caliber cap and ball. These can also be found with other style/make revolvers. With a little thought this opens many possibilities.
I have recently also found cylinders and barrel inserts that allow the firing of .22 caliber short, long and long rifle rounds from the same platforms. The accuracy is sufficient for small game hunting and target shooting as well as providing another backup for emergencies. This truly increases the viability of these older style platforms. This is a big advantage in many situations.
Another advantage is that these style weapons are not viewed with the same amount of fear and suspicion that several government agencies and much of the general public show to various other platforms. The cap and ball weapons are not considered firearms in most areas, and can be mailed directly to your home. The conversion cylinders are not regulated and can be directly mailed to you as well.
Not My First Choice for Self Defense
I won’t say that these are to be your first tier combat or self-defense weapons, but these can be used for more mundane applications like food procurement, while saving your ammunition in the top tier firearms for more pressing issues. These calibers can be readily found in many stores, easily and inexpensively reloaded, and are small enough to be carried in sufficient amounts without overloading your pack.
This may not be a choice for everyone, but I encourage you to look at these interesting old style platforms. Do the research, make sure to exercise proper safety procedures and you’ll do just fine. They may come in handy in the future. Good luck and good shooting. – A.B.S.
Important Safety Provisos From The Editor: Do plenty of research before substituting cartridges. Just because a cartridge will fit a particular chamber does not mean that it is safe to shoot! If you are uncertain, then consult a qualified gunsmith.
Beware of shooting smokeless loads in damascus steel shotgun barrels. Special mild loads (and handloading data) are available. It is generally safe to use a modern chamber insert, such as those made by Chiappa, only in shotguns with fluid steel barrels. Also beware of using cartridge adapters in 12 gauge signal flare guns. You are responsible for your own stupidity and recklessness. Do the requisite research first. And if in doubt, don’t!
Per Federal law, cartridge adapters and conversion cylinders are not regulated. But you must research your state and local laws before ordering and using them.