boxes of ammunition with 45, 357, 38, 380 and 32 pictured side by sideGun Library ArticleCartridges


Firearms and their Closest Friends – The Cartridges

No firearm would be complete without its cartridge. Throughout time, firearms have undergone a lot of changes and today’s modern American firearm industry does not make an exception. And the same goes for cartridges. From the time they were first made, there was room for improvement and manufacturers continue to produce new and more desirable models. The cartridge is mainly a metallic case that occupies the firing chamber of all firearms, fitting the bullet, gunpowder and the igniting substance, called the primer.

The location of the primer depends on the type of ammunition that is used, meaning center-fire or rim-fire. In the past few years, there were several companies that became interested in the production of electrically-fired cartridges. Blank cartridges do not contain a bullet and they are widely used, for a diverse number of reasons.

When a cartridge is going to be manufactured, there are several things that must be taken in consideration. First of all, the arm that it is going to be used on. Then, the caliber of the bullet, usually measured in millimeters. Other factors to consider include the weight of the bullet, the velocity, length and type of igniting substance. All of them are extremely important as they can determine the quality and the level of functioning of the respective cartridge. And if you are wondering why cartridges are always presented using two numbers, then you should know that the first one represents the caliber of the cartridge and the second the length of the cartridge case. Black powder cartridges are also introduced with two numbers; in this case, one of them refers to the quantity of black powder contained and the second to the caliber of the bullet.

Time has provided more types of cartridges than anyone could imagine.

A lot of important gun inventors and manufacturers have turned their attention towards the production of ammunition, implementing their own ideas or adding improvements to existing models. The two main types of cartridges that are used up to this day remain the center-fire and the rim-fire. There are also the electrically-fired cartridges, but there are many discoveries to be made in that field before they become completely functional. As for center-fire cartridges, these have the igniting substance or the primer centrally located. The primer can be replaced with ease, making from these cartridges quite an affordable alternative. On the other hand, rim-fire cartridges have a far longer history than the ones mentioned above. Today, they are not so widely used but they’ve certainly had their golden times. The representative for today’s rim-fire cartridge is the 22 long-rifle, which is quite popular. As for recent discoveries in the field of rim-fire cartridges, a new 172 caliber was released on the market, being especially welcomed by passionate target shooters and hunting enthusiasts. For them, the increased speed and accuracy represent two of the key characteristics that a firearm should present.

Cartridges vary in length and diameter, being suitable for an incredible number of rifles, pistols and other kinds of firearms. There are many cartridges that have made it into the history books, being invented by famous personalities or taking part in important battles. From the rim-fire cartridges, as it was already mentioned one of the most important one is the .22 LR or long-rifle cartridge. A favorite of both hunters and target shooters, this cartridge has also been fitted for small handguns used for defense purposes. They are not as effective as center-fire cartridges but they have other advantages over the firearms that use these cartridges. The arms for which the rim-fire cartridges are fitted are usually small, can be easily concealed and they are also cheaper to manufacture.

The 9mm includes a wide variety of cartridges, used for both handguns and submachine guns.

There are various law enforcement agencies, military forces and even civilians that carry guns for protection purposes who prefer the 9mm cartridges. The guns that fire that cartridge are perfect for self-defense, being less harmful for the attacker. As for cartridges that are especially used by the military, during special assault operations, there is the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge. Fitted for both standard assault rifles and also for smaller machine guns, this cartridge has been especially adapted after the .223 Remington.

Other famous cartridges include the 7.62 x 51mm cartridge, utilized for sniper rifles and various machine guns of medium size. The .30-06 (7.62 x 63mm) is the cartridge after which the one mentioned above was modeled. It is the standard cartridge used by the American army and today it is widely used by hunters as well. As for new rimless center-fire cartridges, the .338 Lapua (8.6 x 70mm) is more than representative, being particularly adjusted for sniper rifles. It offers long-range shooting and it is a favorite of many hunters and target shooting enthusiasts. And as the history of American firearm cartridges could not be complete without the presence of important organizations such as NATO, we should present some of the cartridges that are fitted for NATO’s rifles. The 7.62x51mm, the .30-06 and the .50 Browning for machine guns represent just three examples. The last cartridges are intended to be used in various military operations but they are also used by those who practice target shooting.

As for where blank cartridges stand, these do not contain projectiles and they are mainly used for training purposes. The most important thing that one must remember about blank ammunition is that they can still do harm if you stand too close to the shooting range. Blank cartridges have been also used for the launching of rifle grenades and other types of bombs, and even in the training of gun dogs.

There are many cartridges that have remained as famous inventions of the American firearm history.

One of the many that fit that list is the .45 Colt cartridge, developed and perfected by the United States Army in 1872. Made after an already famous British cartridge, the .45 Colt cartridge was adapted for the single-action revolver and was used until in 1877 when newer technologies were implemented. The black powder cartridge was replaced in 1892 with the .38 Colt cartridge but it had its time of glory. It contained almost 40 grains of black powder and had a 255 grain lead bullet. Its velocity was 300 m/s and the cartridge offered an incredible energy. The .45 Colt cartridge was extensively used during those times especially since it was incredibly accurate. And history was going to reintroduce the cartridge, this time adapted for hunting guns and big game shooting. Today, it is still used for derringers and also for certain other guns.

Winchester cartridges have also played an important role in the American gun and cartridge making industry. From all the cartridges manufactured under that name, the .32-20 is one of the most popular produced especially for the lever-action firearms. Introduced in 1882 as a black powder cartridge, it was a favorite of passionate small game hunters. When Colt produced a single-action gun especially made for that cartridge, it became even more popular. The two main advantages of the .32-20 were its ease of use and affordable reload opportunity. The .30-30 Winchester cartridge was one of the first cartridges especially made for 1894 lever-action rifle. The innovation was represented by the smokeless powder used, opening a new era for the sporting rifle cartridges. Perfect for deer hunting, the .30-30 Winchester cartridge has a shooting rage of approximately 200 m and was incredibly effective. The bullets weighed between 150 and 170 grains and the cartridge was particularly popular for having easy recoil. Today, the .30-30 is one of the most famous center-fire rifle cartridges ever manufactured, being part of the modern cartridge production and industry.

Incredible as it seems, the first cartridges ever made date from the 16th century. They stand today as a testimony of how farther the history of ammunition has traveled, even though they primarily consisted of powder and bullets wrapped in a paper tube. During the ages, the cartridge has constantly evolved and improved. The production increased even more with the American Civil War and the introduction of the breech-loading rifle and other modern firearms. Central-fire cartridges became increasingly used for sporting rifles as well, being accurate and extremely powerful. And so long as the history of American firearms is written, so will be the one of cartridges and firearm ammunition!