Pistol caliber carbines are kind of like pet monkeys. Everybody wants one until they give it a little thought and realize all the obvious drawbacks. Using a less effective pistol cartridge in your rifle pretty much defeats the purpose of choosing a rifle for a given task in the first place, right? Well, maybe not. PCCs have some obvious advantages and we’ve already looked at a few of them; convenience, low cost of ammo, and the undeniable fun factor. For this final installment of the series on PCCs, I want to highlight an advantage of these rifles that I rarely see mentioned, but which could ultimately lead to a resurgence in their popularity in the near future: PCCs can go places that other rifles cannot.
I don’t mean that their compact size allows you to stroll around with one hidden in a violin case (although that is undeniably cool). I’m talking about the fact that the very aspect of PCCs that is their biggest disadvantage, the use of “underpowered” cartridges, also allows them to be used at almost any shooting range in the country, indoor or outdoor. This might not be a big deal if you’ve got 12 acres of vacant Wyoming wilderness out your back door, but that’s not the case for most shooters today.
Once upon a time, the majority of guns in America were owned by folks who had easy access to huge tracts of land on which to shoot these guns. As our nation’s rural landscape has become increasingly more urbanized, it’s become a real pain to find wide open spaces where shooting is safe, legal, and polite. Factor in that the rapidly increasing percentage of the gun-owning public live in major metropolitan areas and it should be no surprise that the 80+ million gun owners in the US often have a hard time finding a place to shoot the 300 million guns that they collectively own.
Rifles, in particular, are difficult to accommodate. They’re loud and powerful, which creates some logistical issues for using them on indoor ranges. If you were to take your centerfire rifle into one of the few indoor ranges that actually allow it, you’ll quickly find that the distance you’re able to shoot is a tiny fraction of what the rifle is capable of. That may or may not bother you, but then the overwhelming sound of firing your rifle in a tight enclosed space will likely leave you with a severe headache before you make it through your first box of ammo.
Shooting outside is much more pleasant, but even outdoor ranges often have restrictions in place that limit the type of shooting allowed with centerfire rifles. I’ve personally encountered outdoor ranges that only allow benchrest shooting, or restrict “rapid fire”, or don’t allow shooting on the move, or any other manner of shooting outside of what you’d find in a 1920’s era Boy Scout rifle match. In many regions of the country, precious few, if any, shooting ranges have provisions for rifle owners to regularly practice the kind of marksmanship and rifle handling skills taught in defensive carbine classes or required in action shooting matches. The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the country right now, and they’re ideally suited for these kinds of dynamic shooting activities, but we’re severely short on places to practice them.
At many of the same facilities that place heavy restrictions on centerfire rifle fire, pistol shooters are able to set up their own creative practice stages. They can fire from any safe position from prone to sitting to shooting on the move. Controlled rapid fire with pistols is often welcome, and numerous competition leagues can host events. Nearly every shooting range in the country is open to handgun shooters, and where handguns are welcome, so are pistol caliber carbines. When the sign says “no rifle calibers”, PCC owners can just grin and blast away.
Now, I would like to think that the amazing surge in gun ownership in the U.S. will lead to the creation of numerous new outdoor shooting facilities, especially ones that accommodate all of the awesome black rifles that we all own now. I would like to think that having more gun owners around means that non-gun owners will be less likely to freak out and drop a lawsuit when they build a new McMansion next door to the local 100-year-old shooting club. But the realist in me is reluctant to hang on to these hopes for long. As much as I love shooting outside, the future of our hobby may very well involve us embracing indoor shooting ranges, or possibly smaller outdoor facilities. This is already the reality for many shooters who have limited shooting range choices, and handgun or rimfire shooting may be the only options available to them. With PCCs, they can at least practice with a rifle that’s still “serious” enough to be useful for home protection.