As any of us who attended high school know, some people (or things) are more popular than others.
Sometimes there is a solid reason, other times the popularity is vexingly not related to reality.
This is just as true with calibers as it is with hairstyles or people.
Here is my abbreviated list of five very capable handgun calibers that just don’t make the cut with a lot of the shooting crowd.
When the power of .44 Magnum is not needed, this caliber really shines.
It allows for a smaller form-factor on the revolver and the recoil is greatly diminished, while still creating significant wound capacity.
To put that more plainly, any revolver frame that can handle .357 Magnum, could handle this cartridge.
I have not seen any J-Frames chambered in it, but theoretically, it could be done.
Charter Arms has a small-frame revolver (the Pug) chambered for this cartridge. It offers five rounds and a 2.5-inch barrel.
I would think a three-inch barrel would have been better, but concealment was probably the deciding factor.
It normally is seen in a medium frame, which is still a smaller format than most .44 Magnums.
The .41 Special is certainly a step down at 1,200 fps and 600 ft/lbs of energy, but is pushing 10mm energy and certainly plenty for self-defense or deer hunting with a pistol.
In comparison, a (light) 240-grain .44 Magnum provides 1,180 fps and 740 ft/lbs of energy and a heavier (270-grain) max load can produce 1,450 fps and 1,260 ft/lbs.
The recoil penalty is STOUT with these Magnum loads and would destroy either the gun or your wrist if shot from a 23-ounce Charter Arms Pug.
The .45 Colt is extremely useful in its versatility. It can be used at bunny-fart velocities for cowboy-action shooting.
This might look like a 255-grain projectile running 725 fps and just under 300 ft/lbs of energy.
Not exactly a defense round, as it is only in the .380 ACP power range, but great for fast shooting of paper or steel targets in SASS events.
There are standard loads that balance recoil with damage potential and are potentially good choices for self-defense.
Using the same 255-grain bullet, this would run things up into the 950 fps and 500 ft/lbs of energy range.
This provides better energy than almost all 9mm defense loads and in theory, creates a wider wound channel.
At the top end of the envelope are high-pressure loads that are great for deer hunting and passible for use as defense rounds against cougar or bear encounters.
Stepping up to a heavier projectile is better here, but to keep with the pattern, the numbers for a 255-grain bullet can be 1,250 fps or higher and energy at or above 900 ft/lbs.
This makes for stiff recoil, but serious effects downrange. Using a 360-grain projectile at 1,200 fps provides 1,160 ft/lbs of energy, significantly beyond most 10mm options.
These loads should only be used in a gun capable of handling these loads.
The Ruger Redhawk revolvers come to mind and five or more inches of barrel will be needed to capitalize on the extra effect.
This round has only been around since 2007, so perhaps it will find a solid home as time goes on.
The parent case .32 H&R has a pressure limit of 21,000 psi, the .327 Federal Magnum is able to reach 45,000 psi and push a .312-inch diameter bullet much harder.
It does underperform in comparison to its bigger brother the .357 Magnum, but that is missing the point and a large buying demographic.
This round produces two levels of power in a pistol.
The first is roughly in the 1,300 fps range with about 425 ft/lbs of energy with a 115-grain projectile.
The important part is, it does so with lower felt recoil than standard .38 Special rounds from an equal weight gun.
The higher-power options run close to 1,600 fps and over 600 ft/lbs of energy.
This has quite stout recoil and misses that important demographic of people wanting a small gun with strong damage potential, without a strong recoil penalty.
Henry has perhaps captured the true best use of the round in a series of lever-action carbines.
They tame the recoil and provide velocity and energies exceeding the higher numbers above.
This cartridge is an evolution of the .38 ACP round to develop more power and offer an alternative to .45 ACP in semi-auto police options.
It gained a foothold in 1911’s until the .357 came on the scene and gave police more power in the familiarity of a revolver platform.
This ended the adoption of the round in law enforcement and it languished in the U.S. market.
It has always been popular in South America, as many countries ban ownership of “military cartridges,” which excludes citizen ownership of 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP.
This (and IPSC shooters looking for an edge) has lead to further developments to overcome issues like rim lock, by greatly reducing the rim size in the .38 Super Comp and developing strong performing hollow-point bullets capable of withstanding the high velocities the round is capable of.
In a 1911, this round increases capacity by two rounds over .45 ACP and offers up to 18 rounds in a double-stack application.
With modern powders, this cartridge is factory-loaded (124-grain) to 1,400 fps and 540 ft/lbs of energy in the +P Comp version.
For those who love a flat-shooting pistol cartridge, this is a great option.
In the self-defense role, it has similar recoil to .45 ACP, but in a competition where a compensator is used, the harshness of the round is greatly diminished.
The high-pressure gasses work well with a compensator where lower-pressure rounds (.45 ACP) don’t, which makes for a much easier time shooting major, while having more rounds on-board too.
It succeeds with the lighter projectile loadings. Standard light bullets (125-grain) are commonly seen at 1,450 fps and 580 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.
Some people load as high as 160-grain bullets, but much more common is the 147-grain load.
This provides +/- 1,200 fps and 470 ftt/lbs of muzzle energy.
This is obviously not in the .357 Magnum range, but the round was designed for the 115 to 125-grain class bullets.
Some people also chase maximum velocity with (.380 ACP) 90-grain projectiles (1,900 fps and 720 ft/lbs at the muzzle), but the bullet construction is not designed for this and most often results in impact detonation.
This means almost no penetration. I would not suggest such a loading unless distant paper was the target.
The original specification was for .357-inch diameter bullets, but the market demanded a change to .355-inch bullets and that is where we are today.
It simplifies loading, in that most people already have piles of 9mm projectiles (.355”), although some care should be observed in terminal performance, as this may exceed the velocity/expansion parameters of some bullets.
I will admit I am biased against .40 S&W.
Once the reloading component shortage lifts, I am very likely to buy a replacement barrel for my GLOCK 22 and turn it into a .357 SIG platform.
It will simplify my reloading, as I can use powder and projectiles I already have for 9mm and get better performance, if in a slightly louder manner.
Conclusion: Most Underrated Handgun Calibers
Some cartridges on this list have been around longer than others, but for one reason or another, they have all dropped in popularity.
But this does not mean they aren’t amazing choices that will serve you well.
If you choose any of the handgun calibers on this list, you are sure to love it.
What handgun calibers do you feel are underrated? Let us know in the comments below!