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PCCs and You

From the reliable and dated lever action rifle, to the highly modular, polymer laden modern examples, pistol caliber carbines have been a part of the working man’s life since the settling of the American West. From merely sharing ammunition with the sidearm of the day, to sharing magazines and accessories, the pistol caliber carbine (PCC) has come a long way since the time of lever action rifles. There are many variations in style to suit one’s preference or intended use, but most can bring value, utility, and fun to a wide variety of tasks and shooters.  Why would you want to use a rifle in a handgun cartridge, one might ask? While almost all handgun ammunition is considered under-powered compared to an intermediate or full power rifle cartridge, there are quite a few benefits that can be had by stepping up, or down, to a PCC.

             To begin with, this style of firearm can be made lighter and simpler, due to the low strain handgun cartridges put on materials. While traditional rifles commonly weigh upwards of six pounds bare, many PCCs can be had that weigh under five pounds loaded, with sights equipped. My two personal examples, the KelTec Sub2000 and CMMG Banshee, weigh 4.25 and 4.9 pounds respectively. This, combined with relatively low recoil, results in a handy, easy to carry platform that does exceptionally well with new or inexperienced users, or those who may be smaller in stature. The additional point of contact inherent to switching from handgun to long gun also lends an ease of accuracy that, while not unique to this concept, is compounded by the low recoil and works to increase the practical accuracy for many different disciplines of shooting.

A few additional pieces of guidance for anyone looking to purchase a new Pistol Caliber Carbine, gained from thousands and thousands of rounds of training and roughly a dozen tested platforms:
Magazine interchangeability between a sidearm and rifle, while it may be useful occasionally, is overemphasized. If you use the same ammunition in your handgun as in your rifle, you aren’t getting the most of one or both. The real advantage is found in Magpul Pmags, which if you have a Glock compatible rifle, are the cheapest and most reliable mags on the market. Of any pistol caliber carbine
PCCs in short barreled ‘pistol’ configuration lose out greatly in comfort and velocity, and do not gain much in handling characteristics.
Blow back actions are dirty, and require cleaning frequently. Do not expect any direct blow back system to run more than a thousand rounds without cleaning, you risk damage and wear that can be avoided by regular maintenance
The simple blowback design of most 9mm rifles requires a heavy recoil spring, and can make charging the action of these rifles difficult without practice for weaker individuals.
While a longer barreled rifle can be more accurate, and does gain effectiveness through velocity, handgun cartridges won’t attain the energy of a rifle cartridge. In the case of 45ACP, there is very little gain from 5” to 16”, and at the longer length, 45ACP is barely approaching the energy of 5.56 from a six inch barrel. 51 \

Another advantage held by PCCs over handguns is the velocity gained by lengthening the barrel. 357 magnum is one of the best and earliest pistol cartridges to gain a favorable reputation in rifles, in some cases benefiting from gains of almost 1000 feet per second of velocity, and 400 to 600 foot pounds of energy. As a general rule, lighter bullets tend to gain more velocity by increasing barrel length, and that information should guide your ammunition choice for a PCC to get the most out of every inch. I’ve included a table below with a  few examples of the potential velocity increase in a longer barreled format.

9mm 5” 16”
Federal 115gr JHP 1150 1300
Gold Dot 124gr JHP 1250 1400
HydraShok 147gr JHP 960 1080

(Data collected from Ballistics By the Inch)

Its clear from these examples that the velocity is higher with a longer barrel, but what might not be obvious is the benefits gained in 16” 9mm barrels:

  • Increased expansion in rounds that might otherwise be less effective
  • Better energy at further ranges, and less elevation adjustments
  • More barrier penetration with non expanding projectiles

These benefits, along with the low cost and recoil of 9mm ammunition, have the potential to make you and your 9mm PCC a reasonably effective combo, so long as you take advantage of it’s characteristics to train more. That shouldn’t be an issue, as my pistol caliber carbines are the most enjoyable of my collection, and the first rifle I think of when I consider teaching a new shooter.

By James Boone

Guest Writer

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