Multi-Caliber Weapons for Survival, by A.B.S.

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.

Revolver Options

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.



  1. The .32 centerfires deserve more recognition. They offer the sweet spot of reloading economy and large enough to do the required job without the higher recoil and cost of the larger magnums. And because of their smaller size, they can be shot in smaller framed guns – the Ruger Single-Six for example is (or was) chambered for the .32 Magnum. A compact hip carried firearm for woods roaming. I can only imagine what the magnum .32s do in a carbine barrel. A very common firearm in the later 19th century was the .32-20, very similar to the .30 carbine.

    Steel barrel sleeves in differing rounds have been available for single / double barrelled shotguns for many years. Harry Owen, MCA, and many others come to mind. One thing that is not often mentioned is the heavier weight that occurs when they are employed. In the case of a 12 gauge, imagine a 3/4″ pipe now filled in with steel around the .22 bore and you see why this happens. I am guessing that a synthetic wrapped around the mininum bore is in the works, or should be.

  2. If I get one gun that shoots all kinds of calibers how can I justify buying a whole pile of new guns?
    Ya ain’t no kind a man if you can remember where all your guns are.

    All kidding aside, I shoot .45lc and .45 schofield in several revolvers and lever action long guns. It is a handy option. .45acp and .45 auto rim are another great combo in outher revolvers made for that option. Then there is the .44 special and all of the older shorty .44’s like the .44 Russian, 44 American etc. that will fit in the .44 mag cyclinders.

  3. I have a couple of the Ruger Single Six revolvers in 32 mag. I liked them so much I now have a rifle in that same caliber. I cast my own bullets so I can reload the rounds very inexpensively.
    One big advantage of revolvers that is seldom mentioned is the ability to shoot reduced loads to make them quieter and more economical to shoot. With autos you must use mostly full-power loads to work the actions.

    I have tried several of the short cartridge adapters so you can shoot a small caliber in a larger bore but I found them to be very inaccurate (including the rifled versions). Your results may be different.

  4. Conversion cylinders for Remington pattern revolvers are probably better than those for the Colts because the Remington has a solid, rather than open-top frame. Avoid the cheaper brass frames, which will almost certainly shoot loose more quickly. The most robust cap-and-ball option is the Ruger Old Army, basically the Remington style beefed up. It will withstand heavier loads than either of the replicas, and has better sights. It was also made in stainless steel.

  5. I you have a Ruger Blackhawk in .357 with a 9mm cylinder you’ve got 3 calibers to choose from (.38, .357, & 9mm). A good 1911 .45 acp can be converted (different barrels, slide, springs) and you can shoot multiple calibers out of the same weapon (.45 acp, .460 Rowland, .22 LR). This would give you 6 calibers out of 2 guns. Lots of options this way.

    1. I was only thinking of the most common calibers (except the .460 Rowland, which I have great praise, 10+1 in my Kimber). I like the idea of strapping on 2 guns with all the caliber flexibility and just 6-8 lbs. The bullet weights are extensive (40 grains to 250 grains).

  6. Quote; ” 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.”

    Yeah, well that may true, but all of those calibers are gimpy and puny, and don’t belong in a real serious persons arsenal in the first place, much less in a serious survivalists arsenal. Every one of those calibers are not only underpowered, they are not common, and not worth investing time and money in.

    If you own any weapon that shoots these calibers, or if you own anynof these calibers, sell them at the next flea market and buy something useful with the money.

    1. .327 Federal Magnum isn’t “puny.” Neither is the H&R. You are misinformed. The FM can push a 115 grn JHP at around 1500 ft/s. But you’re right about the limited utility of the smaller ones.

  7. All the .32’s mentioned are relatively uncommon calibers. You are much less likely to find resupply in a grid down environment with these .32’s, compared to the .357mag / .38Spl / 9mm you can use in a Ruger Blackhawk single action convertible. If you want to go with the .32 variants, you better stockpile all the ammo / components you think you’ll ever need.

  8. i guess having the knowledge of what calibers can also be safely fired from different caliber barrels is good. i buy ammo cheap and stack it deep to safeguard against this

  9. Interesting article. In view of what is coming down the pike, however, I will stick with 9mm, 5.56, and 7.62X51. Those are the Leviathan’s calibers. And, I may need to think the unthinkable and do terrible things in order to replenish my ammo supply. Yes, I do own .22 LR firearms and shotguns. But unless you are ready to spend additional $ to set up a small reloading operation, 25’s, 32’s, .380’s, etc. are a waste of time. We live in very interesting and uncertain times. Keep prepping.

  10. buy a glock 17, a glock 21…you need a 40 barrel, 357 barrel, and a 10mm barrel and you have 5 cals to choose between 2 glocks…add the rowland to the 45 and you have 6…get a .22 conversion kit for the 9mm and that makes 7…you may want to buy extra parts (extractors for each caliber) but everything else should work fine…prob won’t work on the new gen 5 models…

  11. Currently everyone is correct that 357/38 spl, 9mm, and 45 auto are much easier to find than any 32 ammo. But it is also true that in a SHTF situation any odd caliber ammo might still be on the shelves because nobody wants it or can use it. Not that a prepper is going to be shopping for ammo at the last minute.
    Plus most people that own odd caliber guns also have common guns too. Some people just like guns.

  12. Beyond a revolver in .357 magnum/.38 special, I don’t much see the point in a multi-caliber weapon. The point is supposed to be keeping the number of calibers to as few as is practical.

    .22LR of course, for semi auto pistol, revolver, bolt, lever and semi auto rifles. Thousands of rounds of .22LR, maybe 10’s of thousands.

    Semi auto pistol, really only three choices, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Choose your primary caliber, stock up on guns and parts and mass quantities of ammo. The other two, a couple of guns in each and some ammo for both calibers. Just pick the caliber of weapon that suits your needs and your ability to handle the firearm. Any of these three will make for a fine sidearm.

    Rifle calibers, I’d stick to any combination of these. .223/5.56 NATO, available for not only semi auto rifles, but bolt action and lever action as well. .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO, also available in bolt, lever, and semi auto, this would probably be my first choice for a main battle caliber. Finally the venerable 7.62×39. This is available in bolt action and of course semi auto, no lever action that I can find. Range or more precisely power at range is the problem with this caliber. My choice would be to have both the .223 and the .308 as primary calibers for my rifles, but I would also have a couple of rifles in 7.62×39 as a backup.

    The only other rifles I might consider is a couple of pistol caliber rifles, like the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 (available in 9mm or .40 s&w) or the Ruger PC Carbine (only in 9mm). Both are takedowns and fairly easy to conceal. I haven’t found anything similar in a 45, but I could easily be missing something.

    So a set of rifles, both bolt and semi auto, in .223 and .308, several pistols in, say, 9mm (or .40 or .45), revolvers and pistols and rifles in .22LR, revolvers in .357 magnum, and a couple of Kel-Tec Sub 2000’s. Add repair parts, magazines, optics, and a boatload of ammunition. This would be my primary armory. My secondary armory, more for safety’s sake, (you never know what you are going to acquire along the way) and maybe as serious high value barter items. That would be weapons in 7.62×39 and .40 and .45 (or 9mm) calibers.

    In a SHTF scenario this combination should be enough to keep you and your family in the fight, or more realistically, alive and fed.

    Admittedly, I’m not as knowledgeable about firearms as I need to be, but I’m slowly getting there. So much to learn, so little time.

  13. Well, I guess I’m a freak. No surprise there. I’ve been loading all of those old obsolete calibers for 35 years. Learned it from my gramps who was doing it back in the 50’s. With all the reloading supplies I have on hand I’ll never need to buy any commercial ammo again, and I probably shoot a lot more than most of you. I even have an endless supply of projectiles since I cast my own. BTW, you won’t want to stand in front of any of those “pip squek” .32’s, they are going to hurt a little and probably kill you if you take one in the guts or the ticker. You know those .32 S&W and .38S&W revolvers were still carried by many coppers even after the 38 special was invented.
    I started loading for the ancient 32-20 a few years ago. That is one butt kicking round, I shoot a 115gr lead pill and it’s a flat out blue whistler. I have shot it some with these modern high expansion copper clad bullets too, very effective and even faster. I compare it with the 9mm. Remember, this round was invented and used back in the black powder age. I have no idea why it ever fell out of favor…..Somebody will probably “discover” it again and sing it’s praises in all the gun rags.

    1. You are right that the 32-20 is a dandy, whether in a carbine or a pistol. About the only thing I can say against it is that it is harder to reload than the straight-walled cases.

      1. I have heard and read that many times. I personally don’t have any problems with it. I do reload them in a single stage press, that may be why. Always heard the same thing about 38-40 and 44-40, no problems for me with those either.

    2. You are right that the 32-20 is a dandy, whether in a carbine or a pistol. The only downside I can figure is that it is harder to reload than the straight-walled cases.

  14. One statement in the article may need clarification. “The cap and ball weapons are not considered firearms in most areas, and can be mailed directly to your home. ” In all states that I am aware of, you will only be able to legally hunt with these cap and ball revolvers during firearm season. Now watch somebody come up with an example where I’m wrong.

    1. In Iowa C&B revolvers are legal in muzzleloading season as well as shotgun season. I took a doe with a ’60 army several years ago. Scratched that one off my bucket list. Still have to take one with a flint pistol!

  15. The 32 mag caliber weapons are good for a segment no one mentioned, those that cannot take the recoil of the 9mm or bigger rounds and may like the simple operation of a revolver. If you pick this option stack the ammo deep though.

  16. I see many here are big fans of the .223 and the .308. Although I have several rifles in .223 I can’t get acceptable accuracy (FOR ME) from them unless I do my own reloads. And since I have to reload I have switched over to a 1:7 twist and just load 77gr Hornady projectiles. Those give me the long range accuracy I’m interested in. For me the old .308 has too much recoil and isn’t accurate enough. I go with .243 or 6mm Creedmoor or 6 X 47. Little recoil and far more accuracy, even out to 1000 yards. Of course I reload my own stuff….
    I see a lot of 9mm fans. I’m not. I like a 45ACP for semi auto. For wheel guns I like 45lc or 44 special. All three of those are real smashers. Of course I reload for all of those too.

  17. In a SHTF scenario, the .223/5.56 and .308 are most likely to be available due to their use by the Army.

    Should the Army actually change calibers and buy a new long gun, that caliber should be added to the mix.

    For a sidearm, a 9mm handgun has similar supply characteristics. I’ll still keep my 1911 in .45 ACP, but I’ve been shooting that particular gun since 1969.

  18. Of course the author is talking about a survival weapon, while all those putting down his idea are opting for combat weapons. Having been in several situations that ammo flexibility would have been useful, I like the idea of knowing additional calibers a weapon can use. Several are actually the same caliber, just by a different name or designation. Real world experiences make you open your mind to other possibilities. Knowledge is power, and it’s easy to carry.

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