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Teaching (Firearms)

Understanding Gun Calibers

Making sense of the various calibers of firearms is as complex as clothes’ sizing. Hopefully someday the bureau of standards will uniform sizes of everything according to millimeters. Firearms began to size its ammo during the Civil War when rifle bores went from balls to bullet cartridge shapes. The width of the bullet gradually formed a caliber number. In 1895 Winchester designated the bullet weight in the cartridge as .30. But this fell out favor when the smokeless cartridges became popular. The diameter was measured .30 and the year 1906, hence the 30.06. The .06 stands for the date of its introduction.

Later cartridges were all the same diameter such as the .221, .222, .223 but different lengths. So .22 shorts and .22 longs indicated one was short and one was long. .44 special and .44 magnum showed difference in power. Variations of this method exist today.

Metric calibers are expressed with an x between the width and length making for a better accurate description; for example 6.5 x 55 equals the bullet diameter of 6.5mm and case length of 55mm.

Some military issued rifles have propriety ammo not sold to civilians. The length of the barrel divided by barrel diameter on ship guns is the caliber. This is called the bore to barrel length ratio is called caliber. For example 5”/51 caliber (length is 51 inches, while the width is 5inches). Early artillery of 19th century cannon balls was classified by weight mass hence the 2lb balls were called 2 pounders. Artillery was labeled as 2, 3,4,6,8,9,12,18,24,32 pound balls (pdr), were the most common iron balls which is measured in an English weight. Modern small arms range from bore size of .17 (4.5mm) up .50 caliber (12.7mm). Paintball guns are typically .68 (17mm).

Common Calibers in inches and their metric equivalents ( source).

U.S. Caliber Metric Equivalent Typical actually bullet diameter Common cartridges




.17 Remington, .17 HMR



.177 lead .175 BB

Airgun and BB gun .177 caliber


.218. .220, .222

.223 etc




0.223-0.224 inches

.22 long rifle, .223 Remington (5.56mmNATO), 5.7x28mm




.243 Winchester, 6mmRemington, 6mm airsoft BBs




30-06, .308 Winchester, American .30 caliber

.32, .325



.325WSM, 8mm Remington magnum, 8 mm airsoft. .32 rifle

.32 .328


.32 handgun cartridges

.38, 380. 357, .35



.38 special, .380ACP, 357Mag, .35




.40S&W., 10mmauto




.44 magnum




.45 ACP Handguns, .451 autos and .452 revolvers.




.454 Casull




.460 Weatherly, 458 Winchester Magnum




.480Ruger, .475 Linebaugh




.50 AE, .500S&W, .50Beowulf. Desert Eagle, S&W X-Frame, Alexander Arms


12.95 mm

0.510 inches

.M2 Browning machine gun and heavy machine guns. Long range rifles made by Barret Firearms.

Gauge is the bore diameter.Several cartridges designed originally for rifles and shotguns are also chambered for large handguns.

These include: .218 Bee, .22Hornet, .223 Remington, .30 Carbine, .30-30 Winchester, .410 Bore, .444 Marlin. .45-70 Government, .50-70 Government.

Shotgun Ammo

.410, .28, .20, .16, .12, 10 gauge.

The gauge designation comes from the old English measurement of cannon balls. Thus a 12 gauge shell is 1/12th the weight of a pound. The number of lead balls in a 12 gauge shell is 12. The number of lead balls in a 20 gauge shell is 20. The .410 is the smallest of the shot shells with 10 gauge as the largest.

Number of lead balls in one pound

diameter of lead balls


0.78" (19.7 mm)


0.73" (18.5 mm)


0.66" (16.8 mm)


0.62" (15.6 mm)


0.55" (14.0 mm)


The 20 and 12 gauge shot shells are the most commonly used.

The .410 is not measured by gauge but by bore. It is the smallest of the shot shells. There are some pistols that also can shoot a .410 and are especially popular for shooting snakes. A .410 shot shell can be put in a .45 caliber pistol that is chambered for this use.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A 12 gauge shotgun shell in a translucent hull, allowing the contents to be seen. From left to right: gunpowder, over-powder wad, shot wad, #8 birdshot, and over-shot wad.

Most shotgun shells are designed to be fired from a smoothbore barrel. Rifled barrels have become popular for deer hunting because the slug or sabot is more accurate and has a longer trajectory. Rifling is unsuitable for firing shot, as the rifling causes the shot to form a hollow "O" shape in flight.

Similarly, shotgun manufacturers selling shotguns in the United States select their own appropriate standards for setting steel hardness for shotgun barrels and for velocities of steel shot shell loaded ammunition

Shot sizes

Shot shells are loaded with different sizes of shot depending on the target. For skeet shooting, a small shot such as a # 8 or #9 would be used, because range is short and a high density pattern is desirable. Trap shooting requires longer shots, and so a larger shot, up to #7½ would be desired. For hunting game, the range and the penetration needed to assure a clean kill must both be considered. Shot loses its velocity very quickly. Small shot, like that used for skeet and trap, will have lost all appreciable energy by 100 yards or meters, which is why trap and skeet ranges can be located in relatively close proximity to inhabited areas without risk of injury to those outside the range.

12 gauge birdshot shotgun shell.

Birdshot sizes are numbered similar to the shotgun gauges; the smaller the number, the larger the shot. Generally birdshot is just called "shot", such as "number 9 shot" or "BB shot".


Nominal diameter

Pellets per oz (28 g)

Quantity per lb.




.23" (5.84 mm)



.22" (5.59 mm)



.21" (5.33 mm)


.20" (5.08 mm)




.190" (4.83 mm)





.180" (4.57 mm)





.170" (4.32 mm)


.160" (4.06 mm)





.150" (3.81 mm)





.140" (3.56 mm)





.130" (3.30 mm)





.120" (3.05 mm)





.110" (2.79 mm)





.100" (2.54 mm)

.095" (2.41 mm)




.090" (2.29 mm)




.085" (2.15 mm)



.080" (2.03 mm)




Table from Wikipedia.


Get Your Gun

Matt stood there with that deer in the headlights “Oh No” look on his face.  I stood facing him, arms akimbo and with the demeanor of a drill sergeant.  It was Christmas and he was 7 years old.  He had his new Red Rider BB gun shouldered, the muzzle of which was two inches from his now laughing little sister’s forehead.  He had pumped up the BB gun and had delivered a poof of air to her forehead.  He knew this was the death knell of his BB gun ownership.

Lowering his head in shame he held the gun up to me like a burnt offering, expecting mercy.   The mommy in me wanted to give him mercy but this was too important of a teachable moment.  

“Happy Birthday, son”, I said.  He looked up saying, “What?”  That was not the response he had anticipated.   “You have just made this your birthday present,” I replied.  His birthday was five months away.  He started to protest but didn’t bother.   He knew he deserved it.

I vividly remember my first gun.  I wrote about it a year ago in the article “The Prodigal Gun”.  There is an inexplicable thrill that goes with acquiring a firearm.  I got that excitement, and I’ve seen this happen to many people: that euphoric, toothy smiling sparkly-eyed, endorphin-filled joy of gun ownership.

That first gun was a .357 Ruger revolver with a six inch barrel and a wood checkered handle.  At first I was afraid of the beastie.   With the kids down for naps, I mentally circled the revolver like a cat sneaking up on an unknown threat.   I imagined the gun might do something dangerous on its own – like spontaneously combust, or sprout legs, turn, and shoot all by itself.

The lady in this photo is my daugher in law, Matt's wife, Felicia and this photo was of her when I taught a firearms safety course where she got her hunter safety certificate.
I scoured the instructions and manual before handling it.  I explored its parts and functions.  I cleaned it with the spanking new cleaning kit that had formidable sounding stuff like Nitro Solvent, Gun Oil and a ramrod.    I signed up for an NRA Pistol course because I was afraid I might shoot myself in the foot before I could figure out how to protect myself against a would-be intruder.

My kids were age 3 and 5 and I had experienced an “incident.”  A burglar had tried to break into my home when I was alone with the kids.  I heard a noise outside my bedroom window at 2am on a summer’s eve and I knew what it was… someone trying to pry the screen off the window.  I could see their shadow on the blinds.  My adrenalin charged, I was shaking, sweat poured out of every pore.   My primal reaction was run out a side door as fast as I could and escape but with two little kids, there was no way.

Fortunately the burglar failed his break-in attempt but the evidence was there the next morning:  a can of opened snuff under the window, and a significant hole in the screen from a sharp instrument.

Feeling like a helpless victim first scared me and then made me angry.  I not only had myself but also my kids to protect.  The next week I bought that .357 revolver.

Once I got over the fear, flinching and angst of having something so powerful in my clutches (or in my nightstand or under my pillow), something in me came alive that I did not fully understand at the time.  There was something about that gun:  the weight of it; the sound of its metal snapping when I dry fire practiced; the feel of releasing the swing out cylinder and the tight snap when it shut; loaded and ready; the way the cartridges slid into place; the smell of gun powder at the range; the fire that leapt from the muzzle when shooting at dusk.  Everything about it seemed akin to some nature inside me that had not been tapped or touched before.  I shot thousands of rounds with that gun.

Soon I bought more guns:  a Browning Citori Over/Under 20 gauge shotgun;  two more shotguns; several rifles and my favorite gun, a Thompson Encore one shot 7mm-08 break action 14 inch barrel Dirty Harry cannon blaster that evokes ooo’s and ahh’s at the shooting range.

I loved shooting so much I enrolled in NRA and DNR Instructor Training so I could better teach my kids and others how to shoot.

After my son’s birthday that year, the NRA asked if I would make a televised statement about gun safety in the home, and further asked if a television crew from a local station could come to my house to interview me and the kids.  They did, and Matt proudly demonstrated safe gun handling, and he recited the three rules for kids and guns:

1. Stop don’t touch
2. Leave the area
3. Tell an adult

After the TV folks left, my son reverently put his Red Rider BB gun back into its case.  Days later, a package arrived.  It was his Grandpa Kistler’s vintage 22 rifle.  My son was awed and looked to me for the okay to handle the gun.  He had learned to respect firearms as not being toys.

He removed the magazine and clicked it solidly back in place with his palm.  It made that wonderful metallic “ka-chink” sound and he got that gleeful, gun-inspired grin on his face.  Now 26, I saw that look on his face again last fall.  I was visiting the kids and he called me into the den of their home.  He stood there, all 240 pounds of him, holding a new pump action shotgun he just bought.  He pumped the empty gun twice, waiting for my approval, and with that familiar euphoric grin on his face.  “Ooooo”, I cooed. “Nice !”

He handed me the shotgun, showing me it was unloaded and I fawned over it for a bit.

These events went through my mind recently because my husband just bought his first hand gun and I just bought my first semi-auto pistol -  His, a Kimber .45 and mine a Glock 9mm, each with night sights.   That same euphoric feeling is there for us.

I just joined the Isle Sportsman’s Club so we can both shoot, and for me so I can take students there for my Firearm Safety Classes.

“Get Your Gun - and let’s go shoot!”  You don’t have to ask me twice.


"Almost a Cop"

Women’s Firearm Safety Class at Minnesota DNR Headquarters.

Each year it happens. I feel very "official" in my Firearm Safety Instructor uniform shirt as I drive to teach our first Firearm Safety course of the season. There are no police officers in my family, so this is always a curious experience for me. While in my vehicle, the uniform shirt appears to be, and at first glance can easily be mistaken for, a police officer’s uniform. Cars speed past me, take one look at my arm patches and thinking I am a police officer, slam on their brakes and zip into the slow lane. I always chuckle at this while at the same time getting a sudden devilish sense of power. I rest my arm by my window so the patches are more visible, just so I can watch the lawbreakers do their ‘speedus interruptus’. I imagine that real police and conservation officers see this hundreds of times a week. I find it amusing. However, teaching Firearm Safety is serious business, and the uniform speaks for that.

Mary looked apprehensive as I used the two handed carry to pass the high powered rifle to her in class. "It’s unloaded", I prompted, showing the open action, and handing her the gun. Her eyes worried, hands raised tentatively, and fingers bicycling the air for a moment, she acted as if the firearm was a live serpent. Part of me wanted to hug her as I explained how safe firearms actually are and as I prepared her for the sheer weight of the gun. "Got it?" I asked. "Got it", she replied. She took the rifle from me and we went through safe handling, caliber identification, loading, unloading and features. By the time she was finished, her fear was replaced with respect and confidence - and also with a request for a fitness program to build the upper body strength needed to comfortably handle the firearm. I just grinned.

Teaching Firearm Safety is always exciting for me and my fellow instructors. I learn every time I teach and it is immensely satisfying to watch class participants become more confident and knowledgeable with firearms, archery and hunting. All Firearm Safety classes are unique, but this one was especially so. I had been asked to help teach an all-women’s class of DNR employees who had mostly not hunted or shot a gun before. We had one man in the class, but the rest were females. Most of these women dealt with hunters and enforcement on a daily basis as their livelihood and were in the class to better understand their customers: hunters and the general public. Being the avid shooter, archer and hunter that I am, I of course had ulterior motives to convert the group into nature loving wild women hunters. My team teacher Kurt Moline has a passion for recreational shooting, and he was hoping to impart that on the ladies as well. Students ranged from 18 years old to ladies of all ages who were seasoned employees.

In most of our classes, students are younger males who have had some experience hunting in the field and who perhaps had even handled a firearm prior to taking the class. Some of our ladies however, like Mary, were almost afraid to even touch the firearms initially. But by the end of the class, several women were eager to shoot my Thompson Encore 7mm-08 (AKA the ‘hand cannon’) single shot pistol and other guns at the shooting range. After working with a number of firearms, the women had some very interesting comments. Several noted the need for upper body strength, so I incorporated a segment on fitness and weight training together with an instructional handout. Others found the same things to be enjoyable that I do, like the metallic ‘kachink’ of a gun’s action as you chamber a round and the "kerPOW" of the shot from the larger caliber guns we shot at the range on our field day. Many students were even getting patterns near the bull’s eye. Each lady who shot those larger caliber guns had a big smile after their shots. In class, we used dummy rounds and firearms provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Kurt Moline, a ballistics expert with the BCA, provided these classroom teaching aids.

Also unique to this class was the learning and participation style of adult females. Our usual young male class members are quite easily distracted and require much more disciplined teaching techniques. The ladies were so quick, conscientious, and dedicated with homework, participation, and learning that we ended up completing the course with one full class session eliminated.

Another unique aspect of this class was working around the students’ busy work schedules and custom designing make-up curriculum for classes missed. We improvised by using portions of the MN DNR Home Study course. One student missed the exam day and came to my office a week later for supervised testing. The Internet worked nicely for communication with organizing the class and communicating with fellow instructors and students.

I just received two things in the mail today. One, is a shirt I ordered from Cabela’s for my fellow instructor Kurt, on which to place the Instructor patches I also obtained for him. To date he has not worn an ‘official’ Instructor shirt for our classes and I look forward to hearing his feedback on being "Almost a cop". The other mail item was the student patches and certificates. This is the first class I have ever taught where I really want to hunt or shoot with some of the students in the future. I also look forward to teaching other similar groups at the DNR. Having DNR employees be certified in Firearm Safety not only gains them more respect with the public they deal with, but also helps instill in those employees the passion of the hunting and shooting sports. When you have that passion on both sides of the fence, and especially with women who are a decided minority in the outdoor sports, Safety and enforcement truly become a team effort.

Instructor Team:

Primary Instructors:

Linda Kistler Burch – Business Owner

Kurt Moline – BCA Forensic Scientist, Firearms Examiner


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