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Different Ammo in the Same Gun…Kaboom?

Your revolver is a .357 magnum, but people say it shoots .38 special.

Your new AR-15 says it can shoot 5.56x45mm NATO, but your friends say just pick up a box of .223.

What’s going on here?

Has the world turned upside down? Don’t they realize we’re dealing with BULLETS here?

Popular Rifle Calibers, Part I
Popular Rifle Calibers, Part I

Have a cup of tea. Let’s talk. It’s possible that a firearm chambered for one round can safely fire another.

There could be any number of reasons for this. Some guns, like the Taurus Judge, are designed to do that, and with some, it’s just a happy coincidence.

Common Examples

The best example of this is the .357 Magnum revolver. You see, back in the long-long-ago, the 1930s, police officers were issued .38 Special revolvers as their sidearms.

About this time, bullet-proof vests were just coming into being and gangsters were using their car doors as cover during shoot-outs.

.38 Spl ammo

Well, .38 Special couldn’t pierce body armor and it wouldn’t go through car doors, so police departments looked for a solution.

Smith & Wesson provided one in a new round that used a standard .38 Special bullet but with a lot more power behind it. It was dubbed the .357 Magnum.

Best .357 Mag Home/Self-Defense Ammo
25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The bullets have the same diameter, but the .357 could punch through the new body armor that was showing up on the streets.

As mentioned, the .357 Magnum has a lot more power, which means more pressure.

Regular .38 Special revolvers couldn’t handle the pressure, which meant that .357 Magnum revolvers made specifically to handle the load had to be developed.

Python Short barrel side
A Colt Python in .357 Magnum with a 2.5-inch barrel and a custom trigger done by Grant Cunningham. (From the collection of Diane Walls.)

As an added safety precaution the length of the .357 Magnum case was extended by 1/8 of an inch. This way, a person couldn’t load and close a .38 Special revolver with .357 Magnum ammunition and accidentally blow themselves up.

But because the diameter of both bullets are the same and the pressure in a .38 Special is less than that of a .357 Magnum, a .38 Special round can be safely fired in a .357 Magnum revolver or lever gun.

So to sum up in one sentence: You can shoot .38 Special in .357 Magnum guns, but you can’t shoot .357 Magnum in .38 Special guns.

Got it? If you want to learn more and get some great ammo recommendations, read our Best .38 Spl & .357 Mag Ammo article.

Under Pressure

Pressure is the big determining factor because a firearm rated for one kind of ammunition may have features beyond safety designed specifically for that round.

For instance, the 5.56x45mm NATO and the .223 Remington look the same, but the 5.56 is loaded for a higher pressure to increase velocity.

Chambers that are designed specifically for .223 have a narrower leade (the unrifled portion of the chamber ahead of the rifling) and a steeper angle of rifling. This is because the .223 was designed primarily for accuracy.

Popular 5.56 and .223 Ammo
Popular 5.56 and .223 Ammo

The 5.56 was designed to deliver more power and reliability, so the leade is wider and longer to allow more build-up of crud and a more gentle angle of rifling to accommodate the power of the 5.56.

Bottom line, .223 Remington is always safe to shoot from a 5.56 NATO chamber — but you should avoid sending 5.56 ammo through a .223 chamber.

For all the details read more about AR-15 chambers and get the whole story on .223 vs 5.56 NATO vs .223 Wylde: Will Your Gun Blow?

What about .308 and 7.62x51mm?

There’s a similar issue between .308 Winchester and 7.62X51mm. The .308 is a hotter load and the headspace is different from that of the 7.62. 

So while they look identical and people will say you can use them interchangeably, they’re different rounds.

Popular .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm Ammo
Popular .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm Ammo

Generally speaking, you can safely shoot 7.62mm in a .308 rifle, but you’re taking a risk going in the other direction.

These three examples aren’t the only ones out there.

Like with the .357 Magnum example above, you can shoot .44 Special (I bet you didn’t even know there was a .44 Special, huh? Learn something new every day!) in a .44 Magnum, but not the other way around.

Dirty Harry Happy

Taurus straight up advertises that you can shoot a .45 Long Colt or a .410 shotgun shell in their Taurus Judge. It’s just a matter of knowing what you can fire from your weapon safely.

Conclusion

Like a lot of things with firearms, it all comes down to safety. When in doubt, use the ammunition that’s stamped on the firearm. But it’s nice to know that there are other options out there.

Know of some other firearms that can shoot two different cartridges? Tell us about them in the comments! Any other questions…we cover almost everything in our Beginner’s Guide to Guns.

Want to learn more about calibers and bullet types? Check out our Common Calibers Guide.

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42 Leave a Reply

  • Captain Insano

    I have accidentally shot .380 rounds through a 9mm semi-auto handgun. The rounds fired OK but there wasn't enough energy to cycle the slide.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Danno

    Tube fed lever action rifles like the Henry can accommodate 22 short, long, and long rifle at the same time.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • LazrBeam

    And, here’s a humdinger. The .327 Federal Magnum can also fire, in descending order, the following ammo: .32 H&R Mag, .32 S&W Long, .32 S&W, and .32 ACP but you can’t fire the .327 in any of them in descending order. I love me some .327 Federal Magnum because it’s a bad#ss round AND it’s versatility.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Ronald Wilson Cash

    sig 357 and smith and wesson40/

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Soraya sussman

    I have a Smith $ Wesson Revolver, it says I need .38 S&W SPL+p ammo???

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
    • Dave

      You don't NEED SPL+p ammo. It means it is OK to use +p cartridges along with standard 38 special cartridges

      March 16, 2021 5:54 am
      • Gordon

        I gathered from the question that he didn't know what +P ammo was. 38 special +P is designed to be used in a more modern firearm than the older 38 specials. It's a step (although a small step) closer to a .357 Magnum in power. You can find the same thing in .45 ACP.

        March 16, 2021 5:54 am
    • WITE KNIGHT

      +P indicates a little more powder. +P+ is very hot loads. Your pistol is indicating it will handle 38spl & 38spl +P.

      March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Roger Werly

    I have a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 4 1/4" barrel.. It says caliber 40 S&W. Can I shoot the same ammo that I use for my Glock ? probably a silly question but would like an answer. It also sound like I can shoot a 357 cal in that S&W M&P 40. I would appreciate some advice. Thank you

    January 29, 2021 10:10 am
    • Sean

      If your Glock is also 40 S&W, then you can use the same ammo. 357 will not work in either gun, unless you do a 357 SIG conversion. Know that 357 magnum & 357 SIG are different rounds.

      March 8, 2021 2:25 pm
  • Brandon

    How about shooting a 32-20 out of a 357,?

    January 28, 2021 2:29 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      I wouldn't recommend it. .38 Spl and .357 mag only out of a .357 mag gun.

      January 28, 2021 2:51 pm
  • Chris Sourp

    A friend of mine just purchased her first gun. A SW 642. The gun will fire 38 +P. The gun dude sold her a box of .357 ammo. I told her not to use it. Am I missing something here ?!?!?

    January 10, 2021 9:16 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      You are correct, the SW 642 is not rated for .357 Magnum.

      January 10, 2021 1:33 pm
  • Jeremy zielinski

    Hi. Very helpful.
    Next question is Can I shoot a 44/40 in a .45 But are black powder. My dilema is what to buy either the Uberti .357 magnum buntline .44/40 or .45 long colt.
    Purpose is just casual target shooting and I don't want to reload! Many thanks J

    January 8, 2021 4:29 am
  • Jerry butler

    I shoot the xdm 10 mm and see no info on it it also shoots 40 cal but requires cleaning good

    October 2, 2020 6:23 am
  • Michael Bouldin

    I sure wish I knew how to get some 380 ammo. Everywhere I have checked indicated "Out of Stock." Anyone with ideas?

    August 30, 2020 4:13 pm
    • Chrisco

      ammoseek.com

      October 8, 2020 3:02 am
  • Peter Macmillan

    Clear, accurate information. Well done. But the .gif?

    Freedom seeds? Go say that sh*t in Sandy Hook or Columbine. Tell that to the families of police offers killed in the line of duty. Or to the parents of the four-year old killed last week when his Dad's gun went off when they were playing. I own lots of firearms and thousands of bullets, but I don't trivialize them with stupid memes like that one. When you plant a seed, it grows. Bullets tear through whatever they hit, and are designed to kill. Birdshot and buckshot are named for what they kill. Okay, wadcutters aren't, but you get the point. I have a conceal carry permit, but I don't joke around about guns. They are serious. Not everyone should own or carry one, and those who do should respect the destructive capacity of firearms.

    February 7, 2020 9:21 am
    • Tony Lee

      Ay, I second that. I live in AZ, own many guns, support the Second Amendment, but I don't share the militant / fanatical groups' interpretation and practice.

      May 2, 2020 9:47 am
    • Val

      Except that literally the only thing that ultimately stands between the people and the government becoming tyrannical (read: losing freedom) is the people's right to defend themselves. Ergo, to plant freedom, bullets are the necessary seed. Some people use them in evil ways just as every apple seed contains some arsenic. Doesn't detract from the main purpose. Proper use of firearms doesn't destroy; it builds: Food/ livelihood, safety, security, and freedom for me and my family. It's not a stupid meme or a fanatical interpretation if you've been paying attention.

      June 1, 2020 7:30 pm
      • ValsADumbo

        Preach, and misinformation.

        Apples contain cyanide.

        August 26, 2020 9:05 am
      • WEC

        I did. I’m a Veteran. The meme is wrong in every sense. I also carry a gun everyday. It doesn’t shoot seeds, it fires heavy bullets meant to do damage. No crap, the gun is a tool to be respected.

        September 25, 2020 5:13 pm
        • gmm

          The meme is hardly "wrong in every sense" just because it offends your sensibilities. Just because their opinion on something subjective like this differs from yours, that doesn't make it "wrong". You can argue that it might be in poor taste, but saying it's "wrong" is, well, wrong.

          January 1, 2021 8:55 am
    • gmm

      Taking a metaphor, or any figurative language literally doesn't reflect well upon you. So you're a super serious guy who takes everything literally. Great. Not everyone shares your opinion. People make jokes. That doesn't make them unsafe, or terrible people. Great. Get a grip.

      January 1, 2021 9:00 am
  • D.

    you should do an article demystifying ammo grains, ie 115 vs 124 vs 147, for noobs like me. Is one cleaner, better for range, proves more difficult to feed for different pistols, etc. I see no real info on this besides forum talks, where ppl mouth off half of whom are over opinionated. Thanks for your site, it's been my introduction to firearms, very helpful.

    December 3, 2019 6:57 am
  • Peter Marygold

    Can anyone tell me if you can fire a.32 caliber bullet in a .38 hand gun?

    May 27, 2019 1:50 am
    • Peter Macmillan

      Not safely or accurately.

      February 7, 2020 9:23 am
  • Chris

    Anyone know about the .17 caliber rifles ... is there any new product/rifle out that can shoot centerfire variations of the 17 caliber ..... Is there any high-capacity bullet rifles of this caliber
    ... I’m very interested in this caliber and I’m interested in buying a rifle I want to get one that says versatile I’d appreciate any information thank you .

    [email protected]

    January 1, 2019 2:14 am
    • Peter Macmillan

      There are lots of inexpensive .17 rimfire rifles out there. They got popular in the 60s, and they're dirt cheap. The Ruger M-77 is the one I am most familiar with. They're great varmint guns, and their trajectories are flat and accurate. There are a a few new AR-15 style rifles that fire .17, but I haven't used one, and I am not sure what they'd be used for.

      February 7, 2020 9:30 am
  • Heimlich gero

    Can a shotgun have two different bullets that can switch in the same barrell

    December 27, 2017 6:17 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hi, if I'm understanding correctly, shotguns can have a variety of different shells if they are the correct gauge and length. Eg...one buckshot, then one birdshot, then one slug, etc.

      January 12, 2018 5:04 pm
  • M tactical

    We can shot a ak 47 bullets from scar heavy or any other 7.62 weapons

    October 3, 2017 11:15 am
    • Eric Hung

      AK47 rounds are 7.62x39 while the SCARH and other "7.62" guns are 7.62x51mm.

      October 3, 2017 2:58 pm
  • Dennied

    Doing research for genealogy, I came across a 1928 murder/suicide. Long story involving a bigamist and a couple of her "husbands". The death reports say that only one gun was used but the shooter was shot with a 32 cal bullet and the other husband was killed with a 38 cal. I haven't been able to find out anything about the woman. The shooter was a WWI Marine veteran. I haven't found anything on the model gun, other than one newspaper referred to it as a pistol.. So do you think a 1928 pistol could shoot 32 and 38 cal bullets?

    September 12, 2017 9:57 am
  • Kevin

    Thank you for the info. I inherited some 7.62X51mm rounds and needed to know if I could use them in my .308 Winchester rifle.

    May 21, 2017 2:01 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Normally you can do that but I would ask Winchester with the specific ammo to be safe.

      June 5, 2017 12:50 pm
  • Darkman

    Hey Marcus. I checked with bushmaster as I purchased An XM-15 E S in 2016. Yes it will shoot 5.56. I've shot Barnes 5.56x45 69 and 85 grain OTM BT with no issues.

    May 20, 2017 2:46 pm
  • Marcus T.

    I have a XM15 Bushmaster that says 5.56 .223. Can any gunsmith check the leade/throat for me, what numbers am I looking for. Are there other round that I could use for my 30-06 and 30-30.
    The "Basic Bullet Guide: Sizes, Calibers, and Types" was very helpful for me.

    March 26, 2017 7:53 am
  • Adam Seker

    Good article, but the .460 wasn't mentioned. If memory serves; the .460 S&W can also safely fire a .454 Casull and .45 LC. Just thought I'd throw that little addition on the end.

    February 17, 2017 4:02 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Adam, that's great info!

      February 17, 2017 4:48 pm
    • Bruce Berry

      You can not shoot the 460 out of the 454 I have a 454 and 45 the ragging judge pistol that shoots 45 lc and 454 casull and 410 3 inch out of the same cylinder I bought it last year at guns and ammo 800 dollars new I collect guns .460 is bigger just like the 45 a 44 mag will fit in a 45 but the 45 will not fit the 45 I have done proved that .

      February 19, 2018 4:57 am
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