A Brief History
On March 29, 1911, the Colt M1911 .45 ACP caliber semi-automatic pistol became the standard pistol of the US Army. We used this historical event for our impetus to write previous articles about firearms, and today we use this red letter day in firearms history to explore some of the individual arms (pistols and rifles/shotguns) that are extra-adaptable due to their ability to fire more than one particular cartridge. During the 2020-2021global pandemic, many gun owners have felt the need to consider guns and ammo for possible apocalyptic scenarios, making today’s topic quite apropos. Feel free to tell us what multi-caliber firearms you would add to this admittedly incomplete list. Sure, the .44 Remington Magnum revolver can also fire the .44 Special cartridge, and the .357 S&W Magnum can use the entire array of .38 special rounds, but we are after even more versatility here!
Taurus Judge/Smith & Wesson Governor, .45 Long Colt and .410 Shotgun
Much as the Colt Single Action Army models were considered versatile because they could use the .45 Schofield cartridge as well as the .45 Long Colt, Taurus came up with a huge commercial hit when they dreamed up a revolver that could use .45 Long Colt as the main chambering, but had lengthened chambers to also use 2 ½ inch .410 shotgun shells. Soon, models that could also chamber 3 inch .410 shells were offered, and then a “Raging Judge” model that could use the powerful .454 Casull round as well as the .45 Long Colt and the .410 shells. Available in short and long barrel lengths, the Judge is kind of big for concealed carry, but it makes a highly versatile survival and multi-purpose firearm that could take the largest game or the smallest game, fur or fowl. Smith & Wesson joined the crowd in 2011 by producing their own version, the Governor, and Rossi, a subsidiary of Taurus, offers the same capability in a revolver carbine. Talk about a handy survival long gun! Self-defense gurus also like the ability to use buckshot rounds in the .410 shells for close range self-defense. By the way, the Governor can also utilize the ubiquitous and popular .45 ACP cartridges by using moon clips. (Note: Some single or 2 shot derringer type handguns also are chambered to fire .45 Long Colt and .410 shotgun shells and may represent a simpler, perhaps cheaper, method to achieve this particular versatility.)
Smith & Wesson .460 Magnum Revolver
Any revolver chambered in the ultra-powerful .460 S&W Magnum chambering is also capable of using .454 Casull, .45 Colt, and .45 Schofield cartridges, and some may also be compatible with .45 ACP rounds if provided with appropriate moon clips. Single shot rifles/carbines in the .460 Magnum chambering will also be compatible with those other mentioned rounds, although lever action and pump action rifles may or may not be cross compatible.
.22 Rimfire Revolvers and mechanically operated long guns
Semi-automatic pistols and carbines usually only function with the main round they are chambered for in full power loads, but in revolvers, single shot rifles/carbines, and various pump, lever and bolt action long guns, the shooter can use .22 Short, .22 Long or .22 Long Rifle cartridges, lending some serious versatility to the firearms. (Note: .22 Magnum is not interchangeable with .22 Long Rifle, though many revolvers are available with 2 cylinders to accommodate each of those chamberings.) In addition to the 3 main .22 rimfire chamberings mentioned above, the shooter also has .22 miniature shotshells available for close range anti-pest and anti-snake (is that really necessary?) use, and an often-overlooked capability to use CB caps, an extremely low powered chambering that makes your .22 revolver handy for indoor practice, training youth shooters, plinking with less noise, danger and recoil, or whatever other less lethal purpose you have for the round.
.327 Federal Magnum Revolver
By using the title cartridge, the shooter has a serious weapon for self-defense or even small/medium game hunting. Revolvers chambered for this relatively new round, introduced in 2008 can also use the medium powered .32 H&R Magnum ammunition as well as the far less powerful .32 S&W and the .32 S&W Long. The ability to use the lesser powered ammo makes revolvers in this chambering valuable for apocalyptic situations when the shooter must scrounge for whatever ammunition he or she may find, as well as providing a more pleasant shooting experience for training and plinking. (It may or may not be a good idea to fire .32 ACP rounds from your .327 Magnum revolver. Some claim it is ok to do so, but we recommend you check your firearm with a gunsmith before attempting to use .32 ACP.)
Not a practical firearm for today, although you can still buy these in reproduction form, these revolvers look similar to other blackpowder percussion revolvers of the era (1861-1865) and were used by the Confederate States of America Army during the American Civil War. Chambered in either .36 or .42 caliber muzzle loading cap and ball, the LeMat had the added advantage of a nice big 20 gauge barrel intended to be loaded with buckshot under the pistol barrel. The big cylinder had 9 chambers for pistol balls, giving the pistolero a whopping 9 shots plus the big boom of the 20 gauge, a lot of fire power in those days! Although developed in New Orleans, Louisiana, the LeMat, true to its French name, was also used in France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. (Since muzzle loading blackpowder firearms do not require fixed ammunition, perhaps such a weapon can be considered a good survival investment after all,, with both the gun itself, the powder, primers and projectiles not being subject to the same restrictions on regular fixed ammunition firearms.)
Switch barrels, cylinders, upper receivers
Many single shot rifles and shotguns can change calibers merely by switching barrels, such as the Rossi .410 shotgun/.22 Long Rifle convertible single shot used by the author. Larger shotgun gauges and centerfire rifle caliber single shot long guns are also readily available. Many rifles and carbines in the AR-15 family of long guns (civilian version of the M-16) can quickly change calibers by using the same lower receiver and switching out the upper receiver/barrel assembly, sometimes without even having to use a different magazine. (Some of the conversions require a different bolt and magazine.) One company, Frontier Tactical, claims they offer the ability to use 90 different calibers with your AR-15 platform! As we noted in the above entry, .22 caliber revolvers often come with separate .22 Magnum and .22 LR cylinders. Many handguns are available with conversion kits to allow centerfire calibers such as 9mm, .45 ACP and .40 S&W chambered guns to convert to .22 LR caliber for cheaper plinking and added versatility. Sig-Sauer takes this concept up a notch by offering their P229 model in .40 S&W caliber with available conversions to 9mm, .357 Sig, and .22 LR, giving the shooter one pistol with the choice of 4 calibers!
Multi-barrel long guns
Here we are talking about the typical over and under break top arrangement in which the long arm has 2 single shot barrels, one chambered in a shotgun gauge and the other in either a rimfire or centerfire rifle caliber. Taking this concept a step further, another type of long gun not often seen is called a “drilling,” and boasts 3 barrels! Apparently a Germanic idea, such weapons were issued to select officers of the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Yes, they are still produced, though expensive!
Another nifty idea to give the gunner incredible versatility is the chamber insert, which can be used in revolvers and typical single shot shotguns and rifles. Obviously, the insert is of smaller caliber than the host firearm, and since the projectile would not engage the rifling, the insert itself is rifled to stabilize the projectile. Several manufacturers offer these products with prices starting at an affordable $15-$20 or so apiece. Some calibers are such that using a pistol cartridge in a chamber insert in a rifle can actually use the original barrel’s rifling, such as .32 ACP in a .30 caliber rifle. You can turn your .308 Winchester rifle into a soft shooting, quieter well tamed beast using the .32 ACP adapter. How nifty is that? The Chiappa M6 X-Caliber is a prime example of this concept, with an over and under break open layout and barrels in either 12 or 20 gauge, and .22 LR or .22 WMR, along with up to 8 chamber inserts for the shotgun barrel that allow the shooter to choose between an incredible array of pistol calibers.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite multi-caliber firearm? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
DK Publishing. Firearms: An Illustrated History. DK, 2014.
Steier,, David. Guns 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Buying and Owning Firearms. Skyhorse, 2011.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of a Colt M1911A1 pistol, is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.