Best Pistol Caliber Carbine [2021]: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

by Travis Pike

January 7, 2021

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Weird things happen in the gun world, and one of the weirdest is how pistol caliber carbines (PCCs) took off.

PCCs have been around for a long time, but they were typically a small category of firearms that people enjoyed, but they were niche. From 2010 to now, the Pistol Caliber Carbine category has absolutely exploded in popularity.

For those with more than a passing interest in the pistol caliber carbine, we’ve created the ultimate guide to PCCs. After this reading this guide, you’ll be a bit more prepared to pick and choose your first or tenth rifle chamber in a pistol caliber.

Best Pistol Caliber Carbines

Best PCCs

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#1

Ruger PC Carbine

Editor’s Choice

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#2

Sig MPX PCC

Best for Competition

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#3

CZ Scorpion

 

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#4
CMMG Banshee PCC Featured
CMMG Banshee

 

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#5
KelTec SUB 2000 featured image
KelTec SUB 2000

Best Portability

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#6
Henry Big Boy X Featured Image
Henry Big Boy X

Best Lever Action

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#7
Hi Point Carbine Featured Image
Hi-Point Carbine

Best Budget Choice

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Best Pistol Caliber Carbine Reviews

#1 Ruger PC Carbine : Editor’s Choice

Ruger-PC-Carbine-Featured

Ruger PC Carbine

A direct blowback styled PCC from Ruger that’s available in many different models including a takedown version.

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  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics B
  • Reliability A+
  • Value A
  • Accuracy B

Our Grade

A-

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Ruger PC Carbine Specs

  • Capacity 17
  • Caliber 9mm
  • Sights Protected Blade (Front Sight), Adjustable Ghost Ring (Rear)
  • Overall Length 34.37″
  • Length (barrel) 16.12’’
  • Weight 6.8 pounds

Ruger PC Carbine Review

The Ruger PC Carbine and later the Charger PC were an interesting development from a company that rarely strays from their standard firearm catalog.

Ruger actually has a history with PCCs in the form of the Police carbine.

The current Ruger PC Carbine is not too different from the old school PC.

However, this model uses what Ruger refers to as a Dead Blow blowback system.

While it doesn’t solve the issue of a heavy bolt associated with a blowback system is does solve the recoil issue.

The Dead blow system uses a tungsten weight attached to the bolt to limit bolt travel and reduce recoil.

It’s an odd system, but it works and does so well.

The PC Carbine and Charger series are outfitted with simple controls that are all easily accessible, and the reversible charging handle is genius. The PC Carbine also sports a great trigger, a threaded barrel, and optic’s ready compatibility. The Charger variant is the same, accept a pistol variant that lacks a stock.

Two features that really make this design stand out is the takedown design and magwell. The takedown design allows you to remove the barrel from the receiver and cut the weapon’s length in half. The second feature is an interchangeable magwell that allows you to use Ruger magazines or Glock magazines. Hopefully, Ruger embraces this and gives users more options for magazine compatibility.

Check out our full review on the Ruger PC Carbine here!

Ruger PC Carbine Pros and Cons

  • Ambidextrous Charging Handle
  • Great Sights
  • Bolt Hold Open Feature
  • Threaded Barrel
  • Mag Release is Clunky
  • Heavier than Other Platforms

#2 Sig MPX PCC : Best For Competition

Sig-MPX-PCC-Featured-Image

Sig MPX PCC

Sig’s latest foray into the PCC arena redesigned with performance enhancements to cater to competition shooters.

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  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Reliability A+
  • Value B
  • Accuracy A+

Our Grade

A

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Sig MPX Specs

  • Capacity 30 Rounds
  • Caliber 9mm
  • Sights Picatinny Rail for optics mounting
  • Overall Length 35.25″
  • Length (barrel) 16’’
  • Weight 6.63 pounds

Sig MPX Review

The SIG MPX is a runner for MP5 replacement among the civilized world. The SIG MPX is a remarkably well-designed platform that uses a short-stroke gas piston system over any kind of blowback design. This reduces recoil and improves controllability.

The MPX utilizes AR 15 like controls with a lot of focus on ambidextrous design. Anyone who’s used a AR 15 will be at home with the MPX. The trigger is fantastic for a PCC, and SIG makes the gun in tons of various configurations, which include rifles, SBRs, and pistol variants.

The magazines are proprietary, and while high quality, they carry a high price tag. Up to 50 bucks a pop for each 30 round magazine. As of this writing, no one is producing aftermarket alternatives either.

The SIG MPX is no budget blaster, but it is one of the few PCCs to use a short-stroke gas system over some type of blowback design.

Sig MPX PCC Pros and Cons

  • Great Trigger
  • Short-Stroke Gas Piston Operated
  • Extremely reliable 
  • Very Small Aftermarket
  • Expensive Gun and Magazines

#3 CZ Scorpion

CZ-Scorpion-featured

CZ Scorpion

CZ’s modern take on a PCC. Comes in multiple models including pistol and rifle variants.

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  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics C
  • Reliability A
  • Value C
  • Accuracy B

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Travis Pike

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CZ Scorpion Specs

  • Capacity 10-30 Rounds
  • Caliber 9mm
  • Sights Full Metal Irons
  • Overall Length 16″
  • Length (barrel) 7.7’’
  • Weight 5 pounds

CZ Scorpion Review

The CZ Scorpion is a middle of the road PCC that ties both price and quality together to form an excellent option for those looking for either a subgun style pistol or a full-sized PCC.

It’s a direct blowback 9mm weapon that uses a proprietary magazine. In this case, that’s not a bad thing.

This weapon is incredibly ergonomic, lightweight, and modular. Adding accessories is easy, and the include sights are fantastic.

The trigger could use some work, but that’s one of the few complaints I have.

The magazines are well made and affordable. Also, Magpul, Manticore Arms, and Palmetto State Armory make their own magazines, which drives down prices and offers shooters various options.

The CZ Scorpion is a very popular PCC with tons of first-party and aftermarket support. CZ has done a fantastic job of working with companies like Magpul, Manticore Arms, and SB Tactical to push the platform further.

Check out our full review on the CZ Scorpion here!

CZ Scorpion Pros and Cons

  • Modern Ergonomics
  • Outstanding Sights
  • Affordable
  • Large Aftermarket
  • Very reliable
  • Mostly Ambidextrous
  • Safety is Terrible
  • Heavy Trigger Pull

#4 CMMG Banshee

CMMG Banshee

A premium PCC option for those looking for tons of features and a fun gun to shoot.

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  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Reliability A
  • Value C
  • Accuracy B

Our Grade

B+

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CMMG Banshee Specs

  • Capacity 21 Rounds
  • Caliber 9mm
  • Sights Picatinny Rail
  • Overall Length 18.9″
  • Length (barrel) 5’’
  • Weight 4 pounds 10 ounces

CMMG Banshee Review

The Banshee line by CMMG is a massive line of rifles and pistols available in both rifle and pistol calibers. We are focusing on the PCC line, and it’s still a broad one.

It includes your everyday 9mm round, but also 45 ACP, 10mm, and even 5.7x28mm. You can purchase various Series with varying features.

The 300 Series is the top of the line and implements lots of cool upgrades, including an M-LOK rail, ambi safety, and charging handle, as well as cerakote options to die for.

The Banshee uses a radial delayed system that eliminates the need for heavy bolts, buffers, or springs.

The 9mm variants can weigh as little as 4 pounds 10 ounces and be as short as 18.9 inches.

The Banshee series makes use of established pistols magazines from Glock, SIG, and FN to provide commonality between pistols and easy to find magazine options. The Banshee is a robust and capable AR-type PCC that offers you tons of options in features, calibers, and magazine types that you don’t see with other PCCs.

Check out our full review on the CMMG Banshee here!

CMMG Banshee Pros and Cons

  • Low Recoil
  • Lightweight, Compact Design
  • Accurate
  • Fun to Shoot
  • Price

#5 KelTec Sub 2000 : Best Portability

KelTec Sub 2000

Reminiscent of a modernized Sten gun, this one-in-a-million style PCC is designed to be light, handy, and compact.

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  • Shootability C
  • Ergonomics B
  • Reliability A+
  • Value A+
  • Accuracy C

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Travis Pike

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KelTec SUB 2000 Specs

  • Capacity 10-33 Rounds
  • Caliber 9mm
  • Sights Adjustable Iron Sights
  • Overall Length 30.5″
  • Length (barrel) 16.25’’
  • Weight 4.25 pounds

KelTec SUB 2000 Review

The Gen 1 Sub 2000 was one of the first big boys in the PCC world and set a hard to beat standard in the PCC world.

The Sub 2000 is far from fancy and features a simple blowback action and tube style design.

What sets the Sub 2000 apart is the fact that it can fold completely in half.

This folding carbine is perfect for easy storage and transportation needs. The ergonomics are somewhat odd, and the trigger is nothing to write home about, but the weapon works.

As a pure blowback gun, you get a heavy bolt and spring that make cocking and racking the weapon a challenge, so be aware of that.

The Sub 2000 makes use of common pistol magazines, and you can choose between various options to include Glock, SIG, S&W, and more. Caliber wise you get a choice between 9mm and 40 S&W. The Sub 2000 is also remarkably affordable but can be tricky to find at times.

Check out our full review on the KelTec SUB 2000 here!

KelTec SUB 2000 Pros and Cons

  • Affordable Design
  • Usess Common Magazine Platforms
  • Folding Design Makes Storage East
  • Modular Handguard and Picatinny Rail for Easy Accessorizing
  • Heavy Trigger
  • Stiff Recoil Spring
  • Odd Ergonomics

KelTec SUB 2000 Gun Deals

#6 Henry Big Boy X : Best Lever Action

Henry-Big-Boy-X-Featured-Image

Henry Big Boy X

A lever action-styled PCC chambered in 44 magnum that provides plenty of opportunity for customization and accessories.

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  • Shootability B
  • Ergonomics B
  • Reliability A+
  • Value C
  • Accuracy B

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Travis Pike

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Henry Big Boy X Model Review

  • Capacity 7+1
  • Caliber 44 Magnum, 45 Colt, 38 Special/357 Magnum
  • Sights Factory Red/Green Fiber Optics
  • Overall Length 36.3″
  • Length (barrel) 17.4’’
  • Weight 7.3 pounds

HENRY BIG BOY X MODEL REVIEW

Tactical lever gun sounds terrible, and as Mossberg proved with their Zombie series years ago, it very well can be.

However, the Henry X series is taking a more refined approach to the tactical carbine and aiming at folks in restrictive states looking for a competent home defense firearm.

The Big Boy X is a pistol caliber variant in the easy series.

It comes in 38 Special/357 Magnum, 45 Colt, and 44 Magnum. Regardless of caliber, each gun can hold 7 rounds and is tapped for a variety of modern tactical features.

This includes a rail for lights, an optics rail for red dots, high visibility sights, and a threaded barrel. The furniture is polymer for durability and weight-saving design, and the Big Boy X is a very modern lever gun.

The side-loading gate allows you to top off your lever gun as you fire and gives you the ability to keep the gun going well beyond the initial seven rounds. The X series presents a pistol caliber carbine in an old school cool approach. It’s not for everyone, but we’d be remiss not to include something as cool as a lever gun on this list.

Henry Big Boy Pros and Cons

  • Cool Lever Gun
  • Comes in Multiple Calibers
  • Very Customizable
  • Heavy Trigger
  • Odd Ergonomics

#7 Hi-Point Carbine : Best Budget Choice

Hi-Point-Carbine-Featured-Image

Hi-Point Carbine

A surprise contender on our list that shows great reliability and value for those shopping for their first Pistol Caliber Carbine.

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  • Shootability C
  • Ergonomics B
  • Reliability A+
  • Value A+
  • Accuracy C

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Travis Pike

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Hi-Point Carbine Specs

  • Capacity 10
  • Caliber 9mm, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto, .45 ACP, .380 ACP
  • Sights Fully Adjustable
  • Overall Length 31″ or 34″
  • Length (barrel) 16.5’’ or 17.5″
  • Weight 6.25 pounds

Hi Point Carbine Review

Yep, a Hi-Point made this list. I know it’s tough to digest on a list full of excellent weapons.

However, the Hi-Point carbine has always been a simple but reliable carbine option at a rock bottom price.

The Hi-Point carbine series is a standard blowback design and only comes in a rifle configuration.

The gun comes complete and ready to fire with a set of sights, as well as an optic’s rail.

There are plenty of accessory rails for adding lights, lasers, and more. The stock sports a built-in recoil buffer too.

It’s a very simple rifle that’s always kind of ugly. That being said, it works, and it costs less than 300 bucks.

I would choose this carbine over a dirt-cheap AR 15 because I trust it to work.

The Hi-Point series comes in various calibers, including 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP, 10mm, and even 380 ACP. The carbines use the same magazines as the pistols and are plenty cheap. The Hi-Point series doesn’t excel in most categories, but at the end of the day, it’s functional, reliable, and affordable.

Hi-Point Carbine Pros and Cons

  • Excellent reliability
  • Great Value
  • Cheap Magazines
  • Not Too Accurate
  • Ugly
  • Not as Fun to Shoot as Other PCCs

Best Pistol Caliber Carbine Buyers Guide

Pistol caliber carbines are some of my favorite firearms. They’re cheap and fun to shoot, so I probably own more than I need. While PCCs may not be for everyone, they are excellent firearms and weapons in general.

What Exactly is a PCC?

PCC stands for pistol caliber carbine. Simply put, it’s a rifle designed to fire a pistol caliber round. That round can be anything from a 32 ACP to a 500 S&W magnum. In modern parlance, the term PCC can also elude to SMG based pistols.

These fit the legal definition of a pistol but are quite a bit larger than most standard handguns. The smallest of these subguns is the MPX Copperhead, but it’s still huge compared to a Glock 17. These aren’t technically carbines, and I call them subguns, but they are often grouped under the PCC Category.

For simplicity, when we say PCC today, we mean the traditional pistol caliber carbine that meets the legal definition of a rifle and the SMG based pistols that are much bigger than most pistols.

Why Do You Want a PCC?

Maybe you are not specifically shopping for a PCC. Perhaps you considering all of your firearm options. Or maybe you simply don’t know the benefits of a pistol caliber carbine. Whatever the reason is, we are going to list their benefits as well as their downsides to give you a more complete picture.

Cheaper Ammo and (Sometimes) Easier Logistics

Pistol ammo is almost universally cheaper than rifle ammo. Sure, magnum calibers exceed that, but for those looking for a standard 9mm PCC, the price difference is significant. Oftentimes 9mm can be close to half the price of 5.56.

Besides ammo, some PCCs use standard pistol magazines. Glock is the most popular, but SIG, Ruger, and S&W magazines in PCCs are not unheard of. This can simplify your logistics in numerous ways. First, if you own a pistol that uses the same magazines, then bam, you already have a source to draw from.

Second, the magazines are not proprietary and, therefore, easier to find and often cheaper. This makes the logistics of buying a new platform a bit easier.

Super Short and Super Light

Pistol caliber carbines have the ability to be much lighter and even shorter than most regular rifles. Even full-sized PCCs with 16-inch barrels tend to be much lighter than rifle caliber rifles. When you look at subguns, you can go shorter and even lighter.

The Banshee Mk17 weighs 4 pounds and 10 ounces and is 18.9 inches long. PCCs can have super short barrels without a loss of ballistic performance. A 9mm PCC with a 5-inch barrel is much more comfortable to handle and shoot than a 5.56 AR 15 with a 5-inch barrel.

This creates a very small and competent firearm that’s easy to handle for most shooters. Smaller shooters or shooters without a ton of strength benefit greatly from lighter and shorter weapons. PCCs are often a favorite of shooters with arthritis or limb injuries in general.

Pleasant to Shoot

Because they are so much bigger than a standard pistol, PCCs tend to be incredibly comfortable to shoot and handle. Recoil is minimal, as is concussion. Rifles in rifle calibers with short barrels become very loud, with a massive concussion and muzzle blast that’s not present in short-barreled PCCs or subguns.

The mild recoil, noise, and concussion make them a lot less scary if you are a new shooter and much more attractive to those looking for an easy handling and fun gun.

Easy to Suppress

Pistol caliber carbines are excellent suppressor hosts for a few reasons.

First, pistol calibers are very easy to make subsonic, so ammo is widely available without paying a high price or having issues hunting it down. Supersonic ammo leaves a telltale crack even when the gun is suppressed. Subsonic ammo keeps things quieter.

Second, pistol caliber suppressors are often more affordable than rifle suppressors.

Lastly, if you take the subgun or the SBR route, a PCC can have a short barrel with a relatively short suppressor. This creates a combination that can still be shorter than any standard rifle.

Allowed At Pistol Ranges

You may live in an area where the only local ranges are indoor ranges. Most indoor ranges only allow pistol calibers due to relatively short ranges, the confined space, and how much more powerful a rifle round is than a pistol.

These ranges will still allow you to use a PCC and get your training in. Another significant benefit is the fact you can use pistol rated steel targets. These are a fair bit cheaper than most rifle rated steel, which is nice.

The Downsides of a PCC

Like anything in the gun world, there are always compromises. With all the benefits of PCCs comes a few downsides worth noting.

Still Only a Pistol Caliber

The biggest downside is that you are still just shooting a pistol caliber. Pistol calibers are nowhere near as powerful as rifle or shotgun rounds. Pistol caliber carbines are easy to shoot as rifles, but the round lacks substantial power and range.

At 50 yards and in the PCC can rule. From 50 to 100 yards, you start to deal with some substantial problems with bullet drop and a loss of energy from most pistol calibers. Even the most powerful magnum caliber pistol rounds can’t touch a rifle round. You can’t get the same penetration from a pistol round, and all-around ballistically, they are significantly weaker.

Proprietary Magazines

Remember that “sometimes” I mentioned regarding easier logistics? Well, sometimes, they are harder. Some PCCs use proprietary magazines, which can be expensive. Not always, as the CZ Scorpion shows us with affordable magazines aplenty.

However, guns like the MPX and the various MP5 clones have magazines that can cost upwards of 50 bucks a pop.

Caliber, Caliber Caliber

Which caliber is best is always a big question with a long answer full of nuance. What caliber should youtube a PCC in? Well, if you just want an affordable, capable, and easy to find caliber, 9mm is the way to go. 9mm is plenty cheap, and the defensive loadings are very capable. Subsonic 9mm is also quite common for suppressor use.

If you want a caliber that can take advantage of a PCC’s longer barrel and ability to be more accurate, then the 10mm might be the cartridge for you. The 10mm has good power out to 100 yards and is relatively flat shooting.

If you take a slightly different route and utilize a cowboy-style lever gun, the 357 Magnum guns can shoot the cheaper 38 Special for more affordable target practice. While the word Magnum sounds intense, in a rifle, it’s rather pleasant and soft shooting.

There are some niche calibers you could argue walk the line between PCC and rifle round like the 5.7X28. They can be pretty neat but pricey and difficult to find. If you take this route, just keep that in mind.

If your round of choice isn’t mentioned here, don’t feel left out. Most common pistol rounds will work fine in PCCs and function well for defensive shooting. Rounds like the 40 S&W and 45 ACP simply don’t do anything special worth mentioning. They are functional, potent, and capable, but more expensive than 9mm and weaker performers compared to 10mm.

If you have handguns in a particular caliber, then you may want to match your PCC caliber to your handgun caliber for simpler logistics.

From a Defensive Perspective

Many may wonder, is a pistol caliber carbine a good choice for home defense? Well, yeah, as like any gun, they need to be a quality gun before they are trusted as a home defense tool. However, I do believe PCCs are an excellent choice for home defense.

They are lighter and easier to handle than a rifle, with less recoil and less concussion. If you’ve never fired a 5.56 rifle inside a building, you’ll be absolutely shocked at how loud and forceful it is. The blast is brutal, as is the noise. When you’re in a fight, it doesn’t matter much, but preserving your hearing is nice.

This leads us back to suppressors, which can be equipped to a short PCC without making the gun overtly long. You can use easily suppressed subsonic ammo in defensive loadings that are perfect for home defense.

Pistol rounds don’t hit like rifle rounds, but with proper ammo selection, they are still capable and effective defensive rounds. For people with reduced strength, a PCC they can fire accurately and easily multiple times is better than a rifle they can fire once.

Inside a PCC – Operating Systems

Rifles, shotguns, and handguns all have various systems they operate on. These systems vary from manual action to semi-automatic, and inside, both of those are sub-categories. PCCs seem to have more operating systems than any other platform, and they are typically interesting and worth knowing about because they affect how the weapon functions and how it handles.

Straight Blowback 

Straight blowback is the most type of operation of function for pistol caliber carbines. It’s very simple, affordable, and reliable. The system is used in most SMGs and has been around for as long as automatic weapons have. Blowback operation is what occurs when the rapidly expanding gasses push the shell from the chamber. This is caveman style simplicity. 

With straight blowback systems, you have to find a way to delay the bolt from opening until the pressure is at a safe level to do so, and the projectile has cleared the barrel. To do so, you need a heavy bolt or a heavy spring compressing that bolt. The downside is that straight blowback weapons often have increased recoil compared to other systems.

Also, the heavier bolts make the weapon heavier and can create more recoil due to increased mass moving rearward. A heavy spring makes the weapon harder to operate from an ergonomic standpoint. 

Radial Delayed Blowback 

Radial delayed systems were created by CMMG for the Banshee series of PCCs. The radial delayed system utilizes a bolt with angular lugs that lock into a chamber cut to accommodate the lugs. The angular lugs rotate to unlock, and the time it takes to rotate allows the projectile to leave the barrel and for pressure to drop in the chamber. 

This system eliminates the need for heavy springs, bolts, and buffers. This allows you to have a carbine with lower recoil and lower weight than most. CMMG is the only producer of this blowback operation, but they do sell barrel and bolt systems to allow you to create your own AR-type PCC platform with the radial delayed action. 

Dead Blow Blowback 

Dead blow blowback is a variation of straight blowback designed and utilized by Ruger. This system is used on the Ruger PC Carbine and Ruger PC Charger series. The name comes from a dead blow hammer, which is a tool utilized to prevent damage to a surface and to control strike force. Ruger does through the addition of a tungsten weight attached to their bolts. 

This limits bolt travel and helps reduce recoil due to limited bolt travel. It retains the simplicity of straight blowback without the recoil. The downside is the heavy bolt is still very present in this system. 

Roller Delayed Blowback 

Roller delayed blowback goes all the way back to World War 2 era machine guns. The famed German design has been modified for use in one of the most popular SMG platforms in the world, the MP5. The roller delayed system typically uses two rollers installed on the bolt to delay movement of the bolt by allowing the bolt carrier to move rearward before the bolt head.

This system varies by design but is relatively simple and allows for a lightweight system. They can be used by lightweight and stamped guns like the MP5. The system does help control recoil and limits the need for massive bolts and heavy springs. The downsides are a relatively dirty system that isn’t known for playing well with suppressors. 

Short Stroke Gas System 

Short stroke gas systems are common on rifle caliber rifles but seemingly a bit rarer on pistol caliber carbines. A short-stroke gas piston system utilizes a piston mounted to the barrel with a gas port leading from the barrel to the gas piston. 

The gas strikes the piston, and the piston is driven rearward and strikes a bolt. The bolt cycles rearward and allows the weapon to operate. Short stroke recoil systems are more complicated and costly than regular systems, but they have softer recoil and a high degree of reliability. The only downside to this system is accuracy over long ranges. However, PCCs are not used at the ranges where this is an issue. 

Lever Actions 

The last system is the only popular manual action weapon for pistol caliber carbines, and it’s lever actions. Lever actions require the user to activate a lever between each shot. This lever manipulation extracts, ejects, and loads the next round into the gun. This system is 100% reliable because it’s used by hand and the only chance for a malfunction is from the user or a broken gun. 

Lever actions are simple but do require more practice and training compared to a semi-auto action. Lever action rifles are still quite fast in trained hands and can be easier to obtain in states with restrictive gun laws. Lever actions also allow for magnum caliber rounds to be safely and efficiently used. 

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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1 COMMENTS

  1. I think this article could use a second editing pass. Some things are a little odd. The CMMG Banshee is listed as having expensive mags, but most versions take Glock mags. And the Henry lever-action is listed as having a stiff recoil spring.

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