The Top 10 calibres across Australia

Scott Heiman

Sitting with mates around a campfire the conversation turned to the question of our firearm ‘wish lists’. Given we were a group of people from similar personal or professional backgrounds, it probably wasn’t a surprise there was a lot of commonality between our respective inventories. Many mentions were made of a jungle carbine or sniper .303 SMLE, others with their eyes on a heavy barrelled .308 Win. Then one of the group said he was considering a .45-70 Government.

As this bloke is seen among us as being a thoughtful individual, and we know he isn’t a collector, we were a bit surprised. “What the hell for?” we asked.  His answer: “Just because...” This simple response provoked conversation that kept us engaged well into the night and raises an issue around prioritisation. We can’t have everything in life ‑ so what criteria should we apply to a decision to buy a firearm?

Know your needs

The key reason we baulked at the mention of a .45-70 Government was we couldn’t work out what need our mate was trying to satisfy. Our campfire consensus was this was a bone-crushing, slow-moving, heavy short-range cartridge. While we reckoned it would work well in close country when facing a grizzly bear or on horseback during a civil uprising, we agreed this was an unlikely scenario in the circumstances.

A situation closer to home would be the hunter operating in the north dealing with the prospect of buffalo or in the west with a camel at a stretch. For our mate, the best justification centred on the fact he lives on an escarpment area with a high population of deer and pigs within Gondwana-style wet sclerophyll forests. So yes, on reflection we could see a situation where a short-barrelled lever action might be just what the doctor ordered.

Look downstream

With broad justification for the .45-70 settled the issue turned to the downstream costs associated with the firearm. Dealing with a calibre that isn’t conventional, ammunition can be expensive and hard to find in local gunshops. On hunting trips we’ve had trouble simply finding SG, SSG or solids for a 12-gauge or .410 shotgun, so we reckoned our mate could be up against it with the .45-70 Government.

And much as you’ll have better luck servicing a Hilux in remote Australia than you would a BMW, there’s a lot to be said for buying a firearm with a make and calibre that’s popular enough to support widespread opportunities for repair and accessories. Failing that, if your choice is unorthodox it’s a good idea to spend the money to buy a reliable piece of kit to minimise the need for aftermarket support and enough ammo to see you through the apocalypse, or at least before the price goes up (again).

So where does the collective wisdom of the blokes’ campfire brains trust leave us? Well, as the light of dawn began to flicker on the horizon we reckoned we’d nailed it: Buying a firearm is a bit like getting married - sometimes commonsense isn’t the main driver. But it’s always best to take a leap of faith consciously rather than by accident. So start by knowing your own needs ‑ and the potential consequences of choosing weird. If you do this you’ll be well on your way to achieving a happy long-term relationship, regardless of what your mates think.

Top 10 calibre computations

The campfire discussion had us thinking about what would be the Top 10 calibres in this country. Suggestions went in and out of consensus like bees around a hive so when we arrived home we figured we’d bring some certainty to the issue. We took up the challenge to request every firearms registry across this great land to present their facts. Emails, phone calls and (for most states) Freedom of Information requests ensued.

Ultimately only three states (Queensland, NSW and Tasmania) actually answered the question we put to them: ‘What are the Top 10 calibres in your state/territory?’ Queensland and NSW were quick to respond and Tasmania eventually came up with the goods. While WA agreed it had the capacity to run reports on their Top 10 most common calibres, they actually provided their overall Top 20 most common firearms, which is not the same thing. ACT had a stab at the problem providing a list “that seem to be more popular than others. We are unable to give you a breakdown.”

Victoria directed us to the generic data available in their annual report (total number of firearms and licences but no breakdown on type) and we were surprised to be told by the Northern Territory the data wasn’t available. The South Australian registry took our FOI fee months ago but are “still working on it” despite several unanswered prompts via email and phone.

Table 1: Top 10 calibres in Australia

Queensland, NSW and Tasmania (2018 aggregated). The results from these three Firearms Registries are compared to each other and listed below. Given that Tassie has less than two per cent of the country’s population, we weighted the data by population density of the states.

 

Rank

Qld

NSW

Tas

Combined ratings

1

22

22LR

12G

22

2

12G

12G

22 Rimfire

12G

3

177

22

22 Mag

177 Air

4

303

177 Air

177 Air

223

5

410

410g

223

410G

6

223

223

243

22 Mag

7

308

223 Rem

303

303

8

243

22 Mag

410

308

9

22 Mag

303

308 Win

243

10

30-30

308 Win

270 Win

30-30

 

Table 1(a) Top 10 calibres registered in Queensland (2016-18)

We weren’t sure what to make of the fact our Queensland friends’ preference in calibres didn’t change at all over a three-year period. Perhaps readers have a view?

Rank

Calibre - 2016

Calibre - 2018

1

22

22

2

12G

12G

3

177

177

4

303

303

5

410

410

6

223

223

7

308

308

8

243

243

9

22 Mag

22 Mag

10

30-30

30-30

 

Table 1(b) ‑ Top 10 calibres in NSW (2018)

Rank

Overall

Rifle

Shotgun

Pistol

1

22LR

22LR

12G

9mm

2

12G

22

410G

22

3

22

177 air

20G

22LR

4

177 Air

223

16G

357 Mag

5

410G

223 Rem

40mm

177

6

223

22 Mag

28G

357

7

223 Rem

303

10G

9mm Luger

8

22 Mag

308 Win

9mm shotgun

38

9

303

243 Win

12-bore

44

10

308 Win

22-250

14G

38 Super

 

Table 1(c) ‑ Top 10 calibres in NSW (2016)

Rank

Overall

Rifle

Shotgun

Pistol

1

12G

22LR

12G

9mm

2

22LR

177

410G

22LR

3

177

223

 

177

4

223

303

 

357

5

303

243

 

38 Super

6

243

308

 

38 Special

7

308

22-250

 

357 Mag

8

410G

30-30

 

9mm Luger

9

22-250

222

 

44

10

30-30

17 HMR

 

45

It’s interesting that NSW segregates .22LR and .22. We assume that ‘.22’ is a combination of .22 short and .22 air rifle. The same applies to .223 and .223 Rem which are ‘one and the same’. If looked at together the .223 Rem would increase in the popularity stakes in NSW. This could, in turn, bring the .243 into their Top 10 overall, which we think is realistic.

A further point of interest is the comparison of 2018 and 2016 data. It would seem no one in NSW owned a shotgun in anything but 12 and .410 gauges in 2016. Alternatively, the registry data was incomplete in 2016 which helps explain the changes in almost all categories between the two sets of data which makes them unreliable. Unfortunately we’re also confused by the NSW data with the differing 12G and 12-bore entries when they’re the same thing.

Top 20 most common firearms in WA

Not surprisingly, the humble .22 dominated the charts in WA with eight of the state’s Top 10 most common firearms of this calibre. Indeed, only eight other calibres appear anywhere else on the list. What’s more, eight of the Top 20 WA firearms are single-shot. In terms of firearm numbers, of a total of 44,396 firearms registered in the Top 20, 27,931 of them are .22 calibre. That’s 63 per cent of the total with a further 10 per cent being air rifles. This is data someone might like to share with the anti-gun lobby.

Rank

Make

Calibre

Type

Number of firearms

1

BRNO

22

Bolt-action

6341

2

Lithgow

22

Single-shot

4340

3

Stirling

22

Bolt-action

3643

4

Winchester

22

Bolt-action

3254

5

Lithgow

22

Bolt-action

3025

6

Anschutz

22

Bolt-action

2529

7

Gamo

177

Air

1942

8

Marlin

22 Magnum

Bolt-action

1712

9

CZ

22

Bolt-action

1630

10

Marlin

22

Bolt-action

1592

ACT Top 10

This list is apparently not in order, rather a best guess from around the ACT office.

Calibres

22

17 HMR

12G

223

30-30

243

270

303

308

22-250

Top 10 post-Apocalyptic calibres

Go online and you’ll find numerous ‘prepper sites’ (mostly American) listing the Top 10 calibres for surviving the apocalypse ‑ whether the result of environmental disaster, societal collapse, war or zombie infestation. The underpinning theme is that, in any such event, you may need guns ‑ and guns need ammunition. While in Australia some of these calibres are not sufficiently common to make them particularly useful in an apocalypse, the common prepper lists usually look like this:

1  .22LR: The classic all-rounder heads the list with more bang for your buck, cheap ammo. It’s quiet and light (so you can carry more of it) making it suitable for users who are small, tall, weak and strong alike. This ammunition is likely to be readily available whatever the circumstances.

2  .38 Special: Its inclusion in the list is largely because it’s a popular handgun and former police calibre. So availability is generally not an issue.

3  9mm Luger: Widely used around the world and one of the most common law enforcement/military cartridges. The larger capacity magazine makes it a popular inclusion in the prepper list. In Australia this calibre is common in the Browning Hi Power and Glock 17. A 9mm is generally cheaper than a .45 or larger calibres, has less recoil and higher velocity than a .45 ACP. It is chambered in handguns, sub-machine-guns and rifles and is the standard NATO handgun round.

4  12G shotgun: The incredible variety of ammunition available for this most common shotgun bore makes it perhaps the most versatile of all calibres. Downside is the ammunition is large, heavy and loud with a short range.

5  .223 Rem/5.56mm NATO: This round is popular with small-medium game hunters and military/law enforcement which makes it commonly available before and after societal collapse. Also, it’s safe to fire .223 through a 5.56mm chamber (but not recommended to fire 5.56mm through a .223 chamber).

6  7.62x39mm: This cartridge was developed in 1900 and must be doing something right as it’s still the most common rifle cartridge worldwide. The AK-47 has made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most widely spread firearm in the world, with 100 million Kalashnikov rifles currently in use. Some modern bolt-action rifles from, for example, Savage, Ruger, CZ and Remington also use this cartridge, proving its versatility.

7  .410 Shotgun: Known as a ‘snake gun’ in Australia but its use is wide and varied. The .410 ammo is much lighter and smaller than the 12-gauge, has similar rounds and may prove to be preferred when noise is an issue.

8  .45 ACP: On March 29, 1911, the Colt M1911 .45 ACP calibre self-loading  pistol became the standard pistol of the US Army. Designed by John Moses Browning, it’s known for stopping power. However this large, slow bullet does not penetrate armour to any great extent.

9  .44 Magnum: Formerly “the most powerful handgun in the world” (Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry) there are also a variety of rifles in this chambering.

10  .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO: Being a standard NATO loading makes this calibre common across much of the world, including Australia. It’s accurate and powerful with excellent long-range precision. The Winchester .308 cartridges are typically loaded to higher pressures than 7.62×51mm NATO cartridges so it’s not recommended to fire .308 through a 7.62mm chamber.

Most common calibres in the US

The key difference between Australia and the US is American gun laws are far more permissive than here. So the list includes calibres simply not common in Australia. But if you remove handguns from the list the US Top 10 would include six of Australia’s leading 10 calibres.

Rank

US common calibres

1

9mm Luger

2

223/5.56mm NATO

3

45 ACP

4

12G

5

22LR

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