To those who don’t own guns, discussions about rifle calibers can seem confusing and esoteric, yet they remain pervasive, especially in popular culture. When watching an action movie, for instance, you’ll rarely hear a character discussing his “gun”. Rather, he or she usually refers to their weapon of choice by caliber, whether it be a “.50 cal” or a “thirty-aught-six”. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much in-depth research to understand the basics of rifle caliber. Read on as we break down how caliber is determined and a few of the most common rifle calibers you’re likely to hear about.
- How caliber measurements work. When you look at a bullet that hasn’t been shot, there are two measureable dimensions. The first is length, which isn’t commonly used in measuring rifle caliber. The second, a result of the bullet’s round shape, is diameter. In essence, caliber is just a measurement of the diameter of a given bullet in fractions of an inch. To further simplify matters, it’s almost always expressed as a two or three digit decimal.
- The “pea shooters”. Given this name for their small projectile size, these rifle calibers are most often used by young shooters, varmint hunters, and for target practice. They include the .17, .22, and .222. At less than a quarter of an inch wide, these small “cartridges”, as they’re called, won’t take down anything bigger than the smallest of animals in a single shot. It is worth noting, however, that the ammunition for these rifle calibers is significantly cheaper than other guns.
- The mid size calibers. This rifle size category is considered by most to begin with the .243 caliber, moving up to the .30-30 and .30-06 at the higher end. This caliber range is more versatile, and contains some of the most popular hunting guns in the world. Deer hunters are especially fond of rifles in this size, as it packs enough punch to take down the North American Whitetail Deer with ease.
- The large calibers. Beginning at the .35 and working all the way up to the infamous .50 caliber, these guns are known for their extreme power. In fact, they’re generally reserved for big game hunters and military personnel, as it takes a lot of experience and an iron shoulder to shoot rifles of this immense size properly. Ammunition for these rifle calibers is almost prohibitively expensive, so you’re not very likely to see them on a real shooting range – unless Rambo or John McClane happen to be there.