Best Pistol Caliber Carbines
These six carbines are short, handy, and light, making them great for close-quarters and home-defense applications.
There are plenty of good reasons to consider a pistol caliber carbine. Generally short, handy, and light, they’re great for close-quarters use, and depending on your environment, might make for a perfect home-defense option.
Compared to a pistol, the longer sight radius with irons and three-point hold (two hands plus shoulder) make them easy to shoot accurately. Plus, most modern carbines come with at least a top rail that lets you mount any kind of optic you want, while others also have attachment points for laser sights and gun lights.
Most models offer good capacity, quick magazine changes, and the pistol caliber offerings come with a lot less blast, noise, and concussion. Loaded with modern home defense handgun ammo, they can be formidable defense tools that are easy to handle.
Besides, with their inherently light recoil due to the significant size and weight compared to the cartridge, they’re fun (and inexpensive) to shoot.
Let’s take a look at a few options:
CMMG Banshee 45 ACP
Action: Semi-Auto • Caliber: 9mm, .45 ACP, .22LR, .300 BLK • Capacity: Various – Uses Glock magazines The Banshee makes a great suppressor host. Shown here with a SilencerCo Osprey 45. CMMG
The CMMG Banshee is the new kid on the block. Actually, it’s a family as the carbine comes in 9mm, .45 ACP, and even .22LR. It also comes in 300 Blackout. OK, so one and a half family members aren’t pistol-caliber carbines, but that’s one of the things that makes the Banshee interesting.
The design is based on the Modern Sporting Rifle concept with bolts, carriers, charging handles and the like. However, the 9mm and .45 ACP versions use a radial blowback system that looks like a gas-driven system and fits in the same receiver real estate, buts operate differently. The net effect is a very cool system.
The Banshee is available as a legal pistol, complete with a Tailhook MOD 2 pistol brace, or as a short-barrel rifle (SBR) with a full stock and vertical foregrip.
The barrels on both 9mm and .45 ACP versions are short—very short— measuring just five inches, which is shorter than many full-sized handguns, so be careful with your support hand.
CMMG Banshee 45 ACP
The Banshee’s uses Glock magazines, so you can mix and match capacity versus magazine size. To add more rounds to the .45 version, check out the Kriss magazine extension kit. It reconfigures a standard Glock 45 ACP magazine to go from 13 to 25 rounds.
We’ve been testing the .45 ACP Banshee for the past couple of months, and it’s super handy, not to mention a perfect suppressor host. The short and compact design stays that way, even when adding six or eight inches of suppressor up front.
Relatively new on the market, the Ruger PC Carbine is a joy to shoot. We tried out one at the 2018 SHOT Show and found it virtually recoil-less. It’s got some weight to it, and that’s a good thing, as shooting any type of 9mm ammo through it feels more like a .22 LR than 9mm. That’s nice for comfort, but supremely helpful when trying to get shots on target quickly. No bounce or flip means that follow-up shots are effortless.
The name of the Ruger PC Carbine is flexibility. It’s a takedown rifle, so it easily “breaks” in half for easy transport or stowage.
Want to carry one in a pack or keep it in the car? No worries. It also takes “pistol carbine” to the next level with magazine compatibility.
Out of the box, it will accept Ruger SR Series or Glock magazines using magazine insert adapters. If you want to use yours with Ruger American magazines, you can order an optional adapter from the company. The idea is to match your pistol, so you only need to carry one type of magazine. Controls like the magazine release and charging handle are ambidextrous as well.
The PC Carbine also provides sighting flexibility. The barrel section includes iron sights, so it’s ready to go out of the box. The receiver features a rail segment so you can easily mount a red dot sight or scope if you like. To top things off, the barrel is threaded, so adding a suppressor is simple.
This handy carbine is not new—it’s been out for years, yet it remains on the leading edge of “cool” pistol caliber carbines.
What I like most about it are the smooth and ergonomic contours. However, even with the rounded polymer stock and fore-end, the CX4 Storm allows flexible attachment of accessories like vertical foregrips, lights, lasers, and optics.
There is a full-length aluminum rail along the top between the fixed front and rear iron sights for optics. There’s also a retractable rail segment under the muzzle if you want to add a light or a laser up front. If you don’t, it’s out of the way. Using adapters, you can also add rail segments at the three and six o’clock positions.
The controls and grip are designed for “feel” compatibility with Beretta handguns, so controls like the magazine release are right where you already expect. The charging handle and cross-bolt safety are also reversible.
Like other pistol caliber carbines, the CX4 is designed to maintain magazine compatibility with your handgun. It accommodates 90-series, PX4, and 8000-series magazines with an adapter, so it’s a good pairing if you prefer Beretta pistols.
Kriss Vector Gen II CRB
Action: Semi-Auto • Caliber: 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 10mm, and .45 ACP • Capacity: Various – accepts Glock magazines in all calibers The unusual appearance is a result of the “vectored” recoil system which directs energy downward. photo from Kriss USA
The Kriss Vector sports its cool name for a reason. The standout feature of the Vector series is the unique recoil redirection system. While most rifles and pistols direct recoil energy straight back to the shooter, the Kriss Vector uses a bolt system that “vectors” force backward and down at about a 45-degree angle. This serves to help keep the muzzle on target. It also allows for a low bore axis, and that helps the user control the carbine too.
The Gen II CRB is a little like a Modern Sporting Rifle in that its made of upper and lower receivers – except the roles are reversed.
The upper part features stock, trigger controls, and the receiver rail segment. The “lower” receiver contains the action and the barrel. By swapping this lower section out, you can quickly change calibers of a Vector CRB.
The company offers this carbine in 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, 10mm, and .45 ACP, so take your pick. The Kriss Vector also uses Glock magazines, so regardless of caliber, magazines are easy to find and affordable and will pair with the world’s most common handgun platform. The CRB has a uniquely cool looking 16-inch barrel, so it legally qualifies as a rifle. While it seems like it requires a tax stamp, it doesn’t.
There’s no rule that effective and useful pistol caliber carbines have to be all space-agey is there? Rifles like the Henry Big Boy Classic are arguably the very fist pistol caliber carbine designs. Originally intended to match a user’s sixgun caliber, today’s versions of the lever-action rifle are widely available in calibers like .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum / .44 Special.
The Big Boy Classic might appeal to those who appreciate America’s original rifle design and those who feel more comfortable with a manually operated action.
Like a pump shotgun, a lever action rifle requires no fancy “semi-automatic” systems to make it go. Crank the lever, and you’re off to the races. If things are a bit dirty, just operate the lever with a bit more enthusiasm.
The Big Boy Classic looks the part with its wood stock and brass receiver and supporting furniture. The sights will never run out of battery power and that brass bead up front is easy to see against a wide variety or target backgrounds.
The Big Boy Classic holds ten rounds in the tubular magazine located under the octagon-shaped barrel. For mine, I’d have a tough time choosing between .357 and .44 Magnum. Perhaps both?
The Big Boy series also features many other models with various features and in various calibers.
IWI Tavor SAR 9mm
Action: Semi-Auto • Caliber: 9mm • Capacity: 32 rounds You can’t get much more compact than a Tavor Bullpup SAR. photo from Tavor
One of the most compelling reasons to get a pistol caliber carbine is for their naturally compact and maneuverable nature. That, combined with less noise and blast than a small rifle-caliber carbine makes them ideal for close-quarters use.
The Tavor bullpup designs make compact carbines even shorter while still maintaining legal rifle status—meaning no special paperwork or tax stamps required.
The barrel is 17 inches, yet the overall length is just 26.125 inches. Compare that to a standard Modern Sporting rifle which will measure 32 to 36 inches with the same length barrel.
The Tavor SAR, made by IWI, uses proprietary polymer magazines that hold 32 rounds of 9mm.
The carbine has a charging handle on the left side front with a 45-degree angled rail segment on the opposite side for light or laser attachment. On top is a full-length receiver rail for optics but it does come with folding sights with a rear aperture and front Tritium post.
IWI Tavor X95 9mm
The updated Tavor X95 is more compact and streamlined with controls that are easier for AR shooters to get used to, including a magazine release button activated by the trigger finger. The non-reciprocating charging handle has also been moved farther back and to the side of the rifle.
The X95 features removable polymer sections that cover available rail sections at 9, 3, and 6 o’clock positions. The folding iron sights are still there.
The rifle version is available in .223 standard, but also comes chambered in 9mm. Conversion kits are also available so users can switch back and forth from rifle to pistol calibers.