What is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

I’m not exactly a diehard with pistol-caliber carbines but I definitely enjoy them. They’re fun, handy, and can be very practical.

A pistol caliber carbine, or PCC, is a compact rifle that fires a traditional pistol cartridge. The most common calibers are 44 Magnum, 357 Magnum, and 9mm. Most pistol PCCs have a 16-inch barrel. They are short-range, low-recoil guns. They are popular for hunting and shooting.

Interested in buying a PCC? I’ll walk you through the pros and cons, and give my personal recommendations.

What’s the Point of a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

A pistol-caliber carbine gives you more power than a pistol without needing another type of ammunition. Because the barrel is longer (12-inches longer on average), a PCC delivers 10-50 percent more velocity than a pistol in the same caliber and has a greater sight radius for added aiming precision.

The whole point of a carbine-length (compact rifle) firearm in a pistol caliber is one of practicality and simplicity. A lot of the appeal is that you don’t need to have a ton of different calibers of ammo.

I recently went to a farm estate auction where they were selling a number of guns. They had several 9mm Pistols and a 9mm carbine. Apparently, the carbine was often toted in the farm truck and on tractors to deal with woodchucks or opossums digging up his field.

The rationale for that is mainly that if you have a pistol and a carbine that takes the same bullets, you only need a single box of bullets. It’s easier and cheaper to buy a single box, and it’s simpler to keep track of your inventory. If you don’t plan on buying a lot of ammo, you might consider a pistol-caliber carbine.

Another big point is recoil. A standard 9mm Glock has about 5 pounds of recoil. A 9mm Carbine has around 2 pounds of recoil. That’s less than a standard AR. A rifle with a 2-pound recoil is just plain fun to shoot and super easy to keep on target between shots. It’s great for young kids too.

PCCs are More Powerful than a Pistol in the Same Caliber

A pistol round in a carbine usually creates 15-20 percent more velocity and 30-50 percent more energy than the same round in a pistol.

I’ve got some test data on the popular pistol carbine calibers. The numbers here are an average of three common loads I had on hand for each caliber. They show a decent representation of what a caliber can do, and more importantly, the difference in energy and velocity between a pistol and a pistol caliber carbine.

velocity/energy comparison
*based on averages
Pistol 4″ barrelCarbine 16″ barrelIncrease
.3801038 fps
215 ft/lbs.
1232 fps
303 ft/lbs
18% velocity
40% energy
9mm1070 fps
315 ft/lbs
1232 fps
418 ft/lbs.
15% velocity
32% energy
45 ACP900 fps
414 ft/lbs.
1077 fps
592 ft/lbs.
19% velocity
42% energy
10mm1176 fps
553 ft/lbs.
1395 fps
788 ft/lbs.
18% velocity
42% energy
357 Mag1426 fps
546 ft/lbs.
2038 fps
1153 ft/lbs.
40% velocity
104% energy
44 Mag1200 fps
707 ft/lbs.
1508 fps
1161 ft/lbs.
25% velocity
57% energy

These numbers are not to say that you will get the exact same results. You probably don’t have the same ammo as me, and every load shoots a bit differently in every gun. But, what you can expect to see is something along the same scale.

It should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of difference between a pistol and a pistol-caliber carbine. Honestly, I expected less of a difference. I was a bit surprised when I put together this table. Something interesting to note is the relation of the increase in velocity to the increase in energy.

The biggest difference is in the 357 magnum. The case dimensions and max operating pressure allow for some truly serious loadings to be used, but they only reach their potential in a long barrel. Not all 357 Mag ammo will double its energy when shot through a carbine but the really hot ones, like Buffalo Bore, can.

I’ve always known that a little extra velocity makes a bigger difference in energy, but until I put this table together, I didn’t really see the scale. In essence, an increase of X amount in velocity creates a little more than twice X in bullet energy. Like with the 44 Mag, 25% more velocity added 57% more bullet energy.

That increase in velocity and energy makes the cartridge more effective for hunting and defense. In fact, calibers as low as 9mm are used in carbines are to hunt deer. They’re not for long shots and are best kept within 100-yards, 50-yards for a 9mm.

No, it’s not quite as common or practical as a .308 or 30-06 hunting rifle, but a 9mm, 10mm, and even 45ACP carbine can make a practical hunting weapon. It’s all situation-specific. If you hunt in an area where you aren’t likely to get a far shot, it can be an option.

I’ve seen several times where a 9mm carbine was used in Texas to hunt wild hogs. Those hunters regularly bring home the bacon. Gold dot hollow points are the preferred ammo for hunting with a 9mm, but people often use FMJ for hogs.

5 Great Calibers to Consider for a PCC

9mm is by far the most common and readily available. It gains well in the longer barrel, and it’s the easiest ammo to find. 9mm is the lowest I would ever go. I know a manufacturer that makes a little .380 carbine, but it’s expensive, less common ammo, and just not powerful enough to be practical.

This is my second favorite caliber for a PCC just because it’s such common ammunition and it’s got such incredibly low recoil.

45ACP is a fairly common choice too. It has been used in long barrel firearms since the 1920s. In a carbine, it becomes a very efficient weapon and hunting tool. The .45 caliber bullet makes a decent wound even without an expanding bullet. And, with the increased velocity, it packs a punch.

It’s definitely enough for deer hunting, but not by much. It will do the job if you do yours and make a good shot. Ammo is more expensive, but you can still find it around.

10mm is my favorite caliber for a PCC. It’s my favorite pistol caliber too. The 10mm offers a big step up from the 45 in terms of velocity, which means less drop. It also has a lot more energy, which means better penetration and wounding for hunting or defense.

Ammo is a bit less common, and the cost is about the same as 45. The 10mm is .40 caliber, and still very low recoil in a carbine. As far as a hunting carbine, I’d get one in 10mm. it’s the most powerful pistol caliber you’re likely to find in any semi-automatic option.

I’ve written several articles about the 10mm. Here are two good ones:

.357 Magnum is the king of pistol caliber carbines. It’s most often used in a lever action. The .357 Magnum is not considered functional in a semi-auto firearm. That’s why I don’t really want one. I’m partial to a semi-auto. But, it’s still a very practical option.

It can have some serious gains in a carbine-length barrel, and it is absolutely devastating as a short-range deer rifle. It’s fairly common as well.

44 Magnum is the big daddy of pistol caliber carbine rounds. It can fire bullets in excess of 350 grains (that’s pretty heavy) and it can reach pretty good velocities. Using a full power load like those offered by Underwood Ammunition or Buffalo Bore, it can do some incredible things.

The full-power loads are no joke. even the more normal stuff is fairly powerful. This one is mostly limited to lever-action guns too. Ruger once made a 44 Mag semi-auto, but there were too many problems with it and they discontinued it. Plus, ammo is pretty expensive.

5 Reliable PCCs for Every Shooter

I was just talking with my Dad about 9mm carbines. He’s interested in getting one for the sake of utility and practicality, and because he’s got a lot of 9mm ammo.

My recommendation is the Hi-Point 995 (9mm). Yes, I do recommend a Hi-Point. They are reliable, tough, and cheap. The downside is, they look wonky. But, looks don’t improve function.

In fact, I read somewhere that over 60 police agencies have adopted the Hi-Point carbine as their long gun instead of a shotgun or rifle. Sportsman’s Outdoor Superstore recently sold out of police trade-in Hi-Point carbines and pistols. They were all a basic .40 caliber model.

The basic model Hi Point carbine is by far the cheapest semi-auto long gun you can buy, barring a 22lr. They sell for $300, which is about a third the cost of most pistol caliber carbines.

Most other options will sell for $700 to $1200. The Hi Point carbine comes standard with a 10 round magazine. There are larger, aftermarket magazines available, but the original will probably be more reliable. besides looks, the downside is the 10-round magazine. More expensive carbines often take 17 and 33-round Glock magazines.

The Ruger PC Carbine is my second favorite. It looks much nicer than the Hi Point for sure. it comes with an 8-round magazine, but If you use the swap mag wells (there’s another one included) it will take the larger Glock mags. The price is usually around $700 or $800, and it’s the next cheapest one.

The AR-9 is an AR-15 designed in a smaller size, specifically to fit 9mm and other pistol cartridges. There are a good number of AR-9s offered by various manufacturers. I’ve considered buying one from Bear Creek Arsenal. I love the rifles I already bought from them.


They have an assortment of pistol caliber carbines.

After that, prices really go up. There’s nothing in the $1,000+ range that I’d recommend, simply because I haven’t used one before. I can’t offer a recommendation about something I’m not familiar with.

Here are a few articles that may help you:

Jordan Buck

Jordan Buck is an outdoor writer, a man of faith, and a family man. He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Jordan has taught marksmanship, woodsmanship, and self-defense classes. He has earned black belts in four martial arts and is a certified Krav Maga instructor. He also runs his own Gun Blog and YouTube Channel. Jordan enjoys giving his time and resources to help others and has spent 15 years volunteering in a boy's mentoring program He is and will always be an American Patriot. MOLON LABE

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