Saturday, April 21, 2018

Because they don't make a forty-six

"Please Br'er Fat Boy, don't throw me in them briar patch!"

Winter is trying to hold on, but spring is winning out.

Fringed Sagewort

Snow melting from decaying yucca

There's an old funny in shooting circles, and this is the way I heard it first.

"Why do you carry a forty-five?"

"Because they don't make a forty-six."

There's a lot of Fudd-lore and common-nonsense out there when it comes to the "best" handgun caliber. I suspect the argument began with the Chinese more than 2,000 years ago. It's a stupid argument because there are too many variables to narrow down an answer to a single caliber. It depends on what you intend to use the gun for. Under what circumstances and conditions. On how well you can shoot it. On weight and bulk and price and personal preference.

The hoary old story of the forty-five goes back to the 1890's and early 1900's, when U.S. soldiers found that they weren't getting close-range stops against Moro tribesmen in the Philippines with their issue .38 S&W revolvers. They could shoot a Moro six times with the .38, which would cause mortal wounds, but the fellow would not expire before he could close with and fatally stab the American soldier. The U.S. Army brought some old Colt .45's out of retirement and the hogleg had enough pop and terminal performance to get those close-range, one or two shot stops.

According to the theory which followed from the Philippine experience, the bigger the caliber the more effective the stop. There's some truth to that, but there are a lot of factors to consider, and as it turns out there's a lot more to it than bullet diameter.

I'm not going to go into any more detail, because I'm not even writing about a handgun today. Personally, I carry and rely on the .40 S&W, but that's fodder for a different day.

Today I'm talking about the .458 SOCOM. I have an AR-15 chambered for that round and it's fun (albeit expensive) to shoot.

The .458 SOCOM came out of a U.S. Special Operations Command (therefore SOCOM) project intended to get, you guessed it, more reliable one-shot stops. An analysis of combat in Mogadishu showed that U.S. M-16's chambered in 5.56 NATO weren't getting reliable stops. SOCOM wanted a large caliber, relatively high velocity cartridge pushing a heavy bullet, and they wanted it to fit into the basic AR (Nee M-16/M-4) platform. One of the results was the .458 SOCOM.

When it comes to close-range, one-shot stopping power, the .458 SOCOM is superior to the 5.56 NATO. The .458 pushes a 300 grain bullet to about 1,900 fps and generates about 2,400 ft/lb of energy. The 5.56 pushes a 62 grain bullet to about 2,800 fps and generates about 1,300 ft/lb of energy. Clearly, the .458 puts a lot more wallop into the target per shot.

So why haven't we gone whole hog and converted to the .458 SOCOM? There are a lot of reasons, actually. The .458 is harder to shoot accurately because it has a rainbow trajectory. The 5.56 will hit within 6 inches of point of aim out to 300 yards, while the .458 drops roughly 3 feet (36 inches) at 300 yards. The .458 ammo is heavier, so you can't carry as much, and bulkier, so you can't load as many rounds per magazine. Also, you can put an equal quantity of energy int the target by firing two 5.56 rounds, so in some sense you can achieve the same goal by adjusting training and doctrine rather than by introducing a new cartridge and teaching everyone how to shoot it out past 100 yards. Furthermore, new and better 5.56 bullets continue to be developed.

There are other reasons, but I've touched on the main ones. There's nothing wrong with the .458 SOCOM, it's just that it doesn't bring enough advantages to the table over the 5.56 to be widely issued.

In this part of the world, where the horizons are far and the trees are few, the .458 with its rainbow trajectory is far from ideal. That said, estimating ranges and aim-off to get hits is a challenge and very enjoyable. The big pop of that cartridge and the unusually heavy recoil (compared to the 5.56) is fun, too, and if you can figure out how to hit with it there's no denying the massive wallop you can put on a target. So it's not ideal but it's fun and challenging, so I like to take it out and shoot it.

Today I put a cheap Barska 4-power carry handle scope on the .458 and sighted it in. I was pleased with the way it shot.
100 yards, sandbag rest on pickup hood.

And the way it handles enemy melons.

300gr copper solid (extreme penetrator)

300gr jhp

Nebraska won today, 49-9. On the other hand, they lost, too, 9-49. Spring game sellout.


  1. Still, neither is as good as the Rifle 16"/50 MK 7 Mod 0, beloved of Badgers!

    1. That'll stop a hopped up Moro. Or elephant. Or blue whale. Or super tanker. Or great big alien spaceship (probably). Bit of a rainbow trajectory though...

  2. Spring is bursting out all over. OAFS has a spring post also. Here in northwestern Oregon too.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. Third coldest April since 1893 so far. At least we're getting some moisture.