There is something about the old days that have been lost in the craze of modern times. Many of the innovations brought about at the turn of the 18th Century are still being used to this day.
This especially rings true with the military cartridges produced at that time. The designers of old seem to have hit all the right notes, creating cartridges that have been shot through time to the present day.
Modern manufacturing techniques have only improved on what was already great. Exact science and experience has led to cartridges being developed with the perfect weight to power balance.
If you don’t trust that these cartridges still hold their own, then listen to what more than 100 years of reliable service has proven.
One can argue that better projectiles have been made since but their popularity has not taken off like those in this topic.
Keep watching to find out what has made these cartridges last as long as they have.
5. 1898 .38 Special
Imagine being involved in a war where your bullets are not effective against the enemy and it takes multiple shots to drop one. This was the problem that was faced during the Spanish-American War. The .38 Long Colt cartridge did not have enough power to penetrate the armor of the Filipino Moro warriors. This presented a serious problem, and the .38 Special was the answer to this problem. Smith and Wesson designed the .38 Special in 1898 to be a higher velocity round with better penetration capabilities. It was originally loaded with black powder, but a year after its introduction, smokeless powder options were available. Despite the name, the rimmed, centerfire cartridge is actually .357 inches.
The .38 Special reliably served soldiers and law enforcement from the 1920’s to the 1990’s. It was the most common sidearm cartridge in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It was slowly phased out of military service by the stronger .45 ACP, but its popularity didn’t end there. It continued to serve as the sidearm cartridge of choice for law enforcement personnel. Offering high velocity with expanding rounds that wouldn’t kill anyone on the other side of a bad guy. Many claimed that the .357 Magnum was a superior cartridge and would replace the .38 Special, but this was not the case. While the .357 Magnum packed a lot more stopping power, the cartridge itself was longer and cumbersome to carry. The .38 Special offered smaller pistols capable of concealed carry while being powerful enough to get the job done.
The .38 law enforcement service lasted until the 1990s. It was then that better 9mm semi-automatic options started hitting the market. Police personnel traded in their revolvers for more accurate blowback operated pistols that could hold a greater number of rounds.
Nowadays, the .38 Special will mostly be found in the hands of sport shooters and civilians that have a soft spot for revolvers. Much better rounds have been produced since its inception, but this hasn’t stopped die-hard fans from making good use of it.
4. 1891 – 7.62×54 R
While it has been affectionately named the 7.62 Russian, the R does not stand for Russian. Instead, it refers to the rimmed shape of the shell. This cartridge is one of the few rimmed options still in use. Don’t confuse it with the 7.62 Soviet, the rimless round used in SKS and AK variants. The Russian Empire developed the 7.62R for use in the Mosin Nagant. This cartridge, in combination with the Mosin Nagant, has been wielded by some of the deadliest snipers in history. The long-range accuracy of this cartridge has been proven through more than a century of combat.
At 128 years and counting, the 7.62 Russian is the longest serving military cartridge still in production today. While it hasn’t seen the same action since World War 1 and World War 2, its ability to drop targets at a long-range is undoubted. Today, it is still used in the Dragunov SVD sniper and PKM machine guns. Commercial grade 150 grain 7.62×54 fires at around 3000 feet per second, almost identical to a 30-06 cartridge. In 1966, the Soviets felt the need to improve the accuracy and recoil of this cartridge. They developed the 7N1 variant. This shot a full metal jacket 148 grain Spitzer round at 2800 feet per second, giving it an effective range of 580 yards and reducing felt recoil.
The 7.62 Russian feels like exactly that. A tough, reliable Russian that will just never die. The long-range performance and pinpoint accuracy will keep this in the chambers of snipers for years to come.
3. 1895 – .30-30 Winchester
The .30-30 Winchester was first designed by John Browning in 1895. To put that into perspective, this cartridge has outlasted any human being alive today. John Browning clearly had some insight into the future, as many of his designs are still popular. So what makes the .30-30 such a successful cartridge, more than 120 years later?
The .30-30 was marketed alongside the Winchester 1894 lever-action rifle. It proved to be a deadly combination at the time, especially for hunting in forested conditions. All these years later, hunters still see the benefits of this ancient cartridge. More whitetail deer have been dropped by the .30-30 than any other round, or so it is speculated.
Hunting is where this truly shines. It is favored for its relatively low velocity. Less pressure means less meat is spoiled, meaning more bites of tasty venison to enjoy. This also leads to some really light recoil and an easy shooting experience. At the end of the day, a cartridge that can still effectively kill a deer while causing little excessive damage will always be favored by hunters. The low velocity does pose some other problems.
Depending on what rifle you shoot this round from, it will only be effective up to 150 yards. Anything further than that, and you will likely be hunting earthworms or tracking your injured prey till the sun is down. Another downside is the likelihood of wind throwing you off target. If you are a skilled marksman, this shouldn’t be a big issue.
A 160 grain .30-30 round will travel approximately 2,000 feet per second and drop 4 inches at 200 yards. Since the .30-30 was initially designed for the tubular magazines used in lever-action rifles, most of these rounds have a flat or rounded tip. Tubular magazines stack rounds vertically to each other, meaning a sharp tip cartridge could very well activate the primer of a round not loaded yet. Any shooter will know this can cause catastrophic damage to your firearm, or yourself.
Many cartridges have far surpassed the long-range capabilities of the .30-30. This does not mean this is no longer an effective round. As the older generations will tell you, sometimes it is better to have something you know how to use instead of the latest trends in technology. Tradition and usability have kept this cartridge in hunters’ armories for 127 years, and it will likely be around for 100 more.
2. 1901 – 9x19mm Parabellum
It may come as a surprise to you that the most popular cartridge in use today was invented in 1901. The demand in Germany had increased for a larger caliber cartridge that was still short enough to fit in a smaller magazine. Georg Luger removed the tapering and rim of the 7.65×21mm Parabellum case to create the 9x19mm Luger cartridge. The designation of 9mm Luger comes from the fact that it was originally made for the P-08 pistol. A formidable handgun which served the German military for 49 years.
The 9mm has seen many variants since its inception, such as the 9x17mm Browning short and the 9x25mm Mauser Export. In World War 2, the Germans even tried compressing iron powder to create a cheaper bullet. This resulted in barrels being worn out after a few shots. The modern 9mm is becoming more effective with advances in ballistic technology. +P Ammunition and expanding projectiles have made it much deadlier than its older counterparts.
You may have heard a few different names for the 9mm. The 9mm Luger and the 9x19mm Parabellum are no different. However, the 9mm NATO is slightly different. The bullet is heavier at 124 grains and packs a heavier charge. NATO adopted the 9mm in 1955 as its official sidearm cartridge. It replaced the .45 ACP and proved to be ballistically superior to the .38. The standard 115-grain bullet fires at 1250 feet per second. Enough to pack a punch while also maintaining distance and accuracy. The cartridge was made to fire 50 meters, but history has shown that it can be accurate to much further distances. Especially with the advances in barrel technology and weapon offerings in 9mm. The compact cartridge has less recoil and allows for easy handling. Its small size has spawned the creation of many brilliant compact weapons that still carry enough rounds for a self-defense situation. These have little recoil and offer good agility, ushering in an age of movement-oriented combat shooting.
While it doesn’t have the power output of a .45 ACP, the 9x19mm parabellum is now the most favored carry option around the world. It strikes the perfect balance between weight and speed to create an accurate and deadly cartridge.
1. 1904 – .45 ACP
I wonder how far back the superior cartridge debate goes. If the 9mm was invented in 1901 and the .45 ACP in 1904, then by 1910, enough information was available for the debate to begin. That means people have been arguing over which is the superior cartridge for 122 years! At the end of the day, what matters most is what works best for you. In my personal opinion, I love the .45 ACP. John Browning designed the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol Cartridge as the bullets of the time were not providing enough power for the fast changing landscape of warfare. When the .45 is mentioned, the first thing gun enthusiasts think of is the M1911 and the Colt Peacemaker .45. These weapons pushed the .45 cartridge into the spotlight. A spotlight it has held since its inception.
While the size of the round makes it harder to carry than a .38 or 9mm, the stopping power and potential for expansion make it extremely effective in putting someone down. The .45 is typically a slow-moving, heavy projectile. A 230-grain bullet will fire at around 850 feet per second. Yes, this is the same speed as pellet guns, but the weight makes a big difference. What makes the cartridge favored for self-defense is the extreme expansion of the bullet. This is made to open wide upon entry and tear through flesh, causing maximum damage. Another benefit of this is that it won’t exit out the back of your target. 9mm projectiles have been known to penetrate through an attacker, killing an innocent bystander on the other side.
While it has mostly been replaced by the 9mm, many armed forces around the world still place their trust in this effective killing cartridge.
The argument will keep raging as long as these cartridges exist. A .45 will always weigh more and carry less, but that hasn’t stopped millions of people from refusing to change to a 9mm. If you are confident that you can land an accurate shot with the .45, then you will not need the 15 plus rounds that a 9mm offers.
They say time heals all wounds. That is not true for the wounds that these cartridges have created since they were first made. As time passes, and technology improves, those wounds only get bigger and more fatal. What the past 120 years proves, is that they definitely did it better in the old days.