The Great Gun Caliber Debate

ammunition caliber

The caliber debate rages on. Do your homework and pay attention to your results. Photo: author

In self-defense circles, the great caliber debate has raged on forever. As firearms technology has progressed, the variety of bullet designs and launch platforms has doubled, tripled, quadrupled … and more. Today, we enjoy an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to guns and ammunition. The downside is that it may be harder than ever to choose the right caliber for personal and home protection.

“Experty-type” people are often no help, offering everything from the ridiculous: “I carry a forty-five ‘cuz they don’t make a forty-six!” to the completely useless: “A handgun is for fighting your way back to the rifle you shouldn’t have left behind in the first place!”

What to do? After all, there isn’t much to go on. The bulk of empirical evidence suggests that getting shot by damn near any handgun is incredibly dangerous, but then many variables kick in that make it impossible to identify an objectively “most dangerous” caliber choice. This is why I finally stopped looking at the tools — they’re all pretty similar — and started focusing on the person using those tools.

high explosive round

See that little white puff in the distance? That’s a 105mm high-explosive round impacting. Photo: author’s collection

Fit and Feel

As we all know, fit and feel are very important when selecting a handgun. Just as shoes that are too big or too small will adversely affect our comfort and speed when walking and running, a handgun that is not a good fit will limit our ability to shoot well and consistently. But feel can’t be overlooked either — after all, there are lots of different shoes in our size that we just don’t like and are never going to buy and wear.

Feel also has a place in caliber selection. When I was a soldier, I worked as a Forward Observer, which means I located targets and acted as the eyes of the artillery or air support to destroy those targets. In this capacity, I saw thousands upon thousands of big high-explosive rounds do their thing, usually from a couple kilometers away. At that distance, they aren’t very impressive. Unlike in the movies, there is rarely a big exploding ball of fire. There’s usually just a big geyser of dirt that lingers in the air for a while. A volley of several rounds might impact the same general area, resulting in a whole lot of dirty haze floating around.

My point is this: the sight of the artillery shells exploding did not communicate their violence, even though I knew what kind of havoc they were causing on the ground. It was the concussion — coming like a tidal wave seconds after the impact — that told the story. It was a thunderous crash accompanied by a stomach-lurching sonic tremor that seemed to originate in my own pelvis and burst outward. I didn’t just see this power … I felt it!

firearms recoil

Recoil must be experienced and then managed. Photo: author

Energy and Force

As I shoot a gun, I feel the blast and recoil transmitted back to me. The more blast and recoil, the greater the sensations of energy and force. The more energy and force available, the greater my belief in its ability to affect my target. Of course, there is a limit to how much energy and force I can actually handle. It really comes down to finding a caliber over which I can exert maximum control but one that still earns my confidence with its energy, which I feel every time I press the trigger. It should go without saying that I am not going to figure these things out by reading articles and watching videos. I can only discern where this is going to be by shooting live ammunition through real guns. Alternatives and enhancements such as dry fire and laser simulation have a place in my defensive preparations, but only after I’ve done the live-fire homework.

Think back to your earliest shooting adventures, or any time that you’ve seen a novice taking their first shots. Shooting a gun is a startling experience, and we often hear beginners exclaim that they didn’t realize it had so much … power! And for most of us, it isn’t too difficult to equate what we feel on the one end with something that is happening on the other. When we first began shooting, whatever gun we fired grabbed our attention. I recall being surprised at how much effort and focus it took for me to fully control and shoot with precision that little Winchester .22-caliber gallery gun. And I found a sense of accomplishment and empowerment: that trusty Winchester and I could hit what we aimed at, no doubt.

winchester rifle

My nifty little Winchester — the rifle that started me thinking. Photo: author

As time went on, my shooting experiences broadened and my tastes and interests evolved. Today, as a somewhat seasoned and definitely jaded gun junkie, that little Winchester is still a hoot to shoot. The difference is, while I will always respect and enjoy it, I’m not sure how quickly I would place my trust in it as a defensive firearm. The pop of that little rimfire round inspires noticeably less confidence than the bang from its bigger brothers.

Science and Faith

Caliber selection is really a kind of subjective alchemy that I believe consists of one part science blended with two parts faith. The science takes care of itself sooner or later, because it embodies objective things such as gun fit, gun operating system, and all those bullet design, weight, velocity, and diameter factors that we know will contribute to some greater or lesser degree.

My two parts faith are:

1. Faith in my ability, through training and practice, to efficiently control my gun and its recoil.

2. Faith in the power of my ammunition to deliver the needed force.

jacketed hollow points

Modern jacketed or bonded hollow-point bullets are a must, regardless of their caliber. Photo: author

The binding agent that holds science and faith together is logic, which at some point needs to support my faith. In this context, logic tells me that a modern center-fire handgun is a better choice than a flintlock pistol for personal defense. Contemporary automobiles are better for day-to-day convenience than horse-drawn buggies, and restroom facilities beat outhouses, no contest. Logic also demands that the bullet in which I place my faith is of the modern jacketed or bonded hollow-point configuration. These are the only projectiles designed for the purpose of efficient personal defense, and our faith in the subjective feel of our defensive caliber must assume their use.

The faith in caliber selection also includes my admission that I don’t have much information about a self-defense shooting that isn’t happening yet. I am therefore trying to predict what my little handgun bullets will contribute to a big, ugly, immediately dangerous and completely unknown situation.

As a private citizen who doesn’t go out of his way looking for trouble, I also put considerable faith in not being around dangerous people doing dangerous things in dangerous places. However, there may come a time when the definition of what is “dangerous” isn’t up to me. The attitudes, techniques, and tools that I have chosen through research, critical thought, and personal experience will be on the line. My gun and ammunition must be paired with logic and evidence to have earned my trust for the coming moment of need. And in armed self-defense, that’s a pretty good description of faith.

Comments
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67 Responses to “The Great Gun Caliber Debate”

  1. Steve Glenn

    It couldn’t have been said much better….. I would agree that the VERY BEST defense weapon is the one that each individual feels the most comfortable with. A bad situation is going to be stressful enough without your firearm adding to it.

    Reply
  2. Gerald Murphy

    An excellent paper. It parallels a study completed and the results published in Active Response Training: An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power. The study and paper were completed by Greg Ellifritz.

    The study is summarized in an excellent You Tube Video: The Best Handgun Caliber – A Real World Study.

    To summarize, Mr. Ellifritz’s concludes, after analyzing an extensive number of defensive incidents, that caliber is less important than having a gun you feel comfortable with, shoot well and can hit what you are shooting at.

    Reply
  3. Brian

    As a police officer in Southeast Washington DC I observed many a shooting victim when crack was new to the street . The 22 LR accounted for more expired victims than I would have expected . Sometimes with just one round . I believe in not only practice but sound training . But above all it is constant situational awareness that will keep you out of trouble . Use your head and save your behind . Carry and train with the best you can afford . Anything is better than nothing but common sense says if you don’t put yourself in a seedy part of town at 3 Am asking directions from a dude wearing a hoodie behind a Chinese carryout you wont have to pull your 380 and buss a cap .

    Reply
  4. David j Werner

    i really appreciate you taking the time to articles like this, hopefully enough people, the right people, read and take the knowledge to heart that you have expressed. i cannot count the number of men that i have talked to about self defense that belief if they carry a big caliber gun they will ‘win’ the fight. most of them for the most part do not train. i also 100% agree with your statement “Just as shoes that are too big or too small will adversely affect our comfort and speed when walking and running, a handgun that is not a good fit will limit our ability to shoot well and consistently” i will use that in future conversations. i never considered that when trying to explain the importance of having a new gun buyer ‘try on’ several guns before making the purchase. not to mention the major importance of this if they plan to only buy one gun. i have seen many people buy a gun that they have ‘read’ and article about and it is the ‘magic’ gun. it is very frustrating and i take it as a challenge to increase their knowledge of the subject, usually to late (after they make the purchase).
    Keep up the great work.
    Dave

    Reply
  5. Tony Rodriguez

    I started to carry 45 Cal. 1911 over 44 years ago as MP and went to 9mm as MP and hated the 9mm. But I own two 9mm guns today, but still love carrying the 45 cal. because of the stopping power. But if you have 380, 38 cal., 9mm 10mm, or 45 Cal., don’t matter if you don’t train with it. I have seen people around me talk about the gun, but never training – so why have them? As law enforcement for the last 44 years, you need to train as much as possible. The weapon is the last thing you want to use, but when it comes down to it you better be proficient with your shoots and that is better than the size of the bullet any day.

    Reply
  6. Rob

    I am 82 years old and have been shooting since I was twelve years old. The first pistol I shot was a Colt 1911 then it only came in .45 caliber. First shot, I still remember it, I was told before I fired it how bad the recoil was going to be. I was five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds. So, I made sure I had a proper tight grip. Guess what? The recoil was not as bad as promised. Over the years I have shot lots of different pistols, a few rifles and one shotgun, which I hated. Now I am 6 feet two inches tall and 199 pounds. Over time I have come to believe caliber doesn’t matter. Shot placement is all important. So, my first love was the colt. Today I still carry a pistol chambered in .45. Specifically a Glock 30. It fits my hand perfectly and I shoot fist sized groups at 7 yards. Only been carrying 6 years. The Glock is super reliable. I have only had one malfunction in all that time, a stove pipe. My belief is shoot what ever you can properly and most importantly SAFELY. Remember my three rules: 1. Shot Placement 2. Shot Placement 3. Placement!

    Reply
  7. Rand

    Some years ago , I was called in to see a “man” who was shot by a girlfriend using a 22 caliber handgun. He walked in limping. The bullett struck his clavicle went down into his chest and proceeded to go into his left leg , existing one inch above his patella. He was 6 foot 3 inch and around 320 pounds. Didn’t kill him, but surgery wise , he had his sternum cut into , and the incision ended above his umbilicus . That is a lot of surgery , and the next four days he paid dearly for the post surgery pain and then healing. Poetic Justice , yes?

    Reply
  8. Frederick Noble

    I’ve done a lot of research & still have confidence in 38 special Hydroshocks will do the nod at self- defense distance given accurate shot placement.

    Reply
  9. Lon Loren

    Hand guns are powerful tools. With any power tool when you disrespect its power it will hurt you. Just ask Aleck Baldwin. Handling fire arms the responsibility goes along with them.

    Reply
  10. Andy

    I can carry a 9,38/357 or 45 thru the week, the one I use when I need it is the best for the job. Depends on how I am dressed and where I am going. Always hollow point ammo.

    Reply
  11. Thomas Lenard

    I read the below comments and agree with them all. It’s got to feel right. Ease of knowing where the safety is if there is a safety or a triger safety. Know your weapon. I have a friend that has over 12 guns and allot over 6 or 7,000 rounds. Yes, he is a Vietnam vet but he has not fired the first round out of any of the guns in his home arsenal. ?????
    Next note; My daughter finally bought a 9mm because that’s what the guy at the gun store suggested. This is a person that has no use for a gun but finally realized that she and her husband should have one; thank you Lord.
    I made a mistake when I took her to make range. I thought letting her shoot a lower caliber round would ease her into a more powerful caliber. WRONG !!!! I let her shoot my 380ACP, WRONG because I felt it was less powerful, WRONG again. She did shoot the 380 and had a melt down, Little gun feel but very powerful for the size. The range officer was understand and let her use her 9mm. I thought that would have been too much for a notice. Well, the size of the gun and the power related to both issues and my daughter had no problem with the more powerful caliber. Less is not necessarily better. She did well once she realized the power of the gun relative to the size.
    Just one more issue to consider when choosing a defense caliber.
    Side note: is a friend would practice on targets 25 and 30 meters away. That’s OK but most attacks occur between 5 to 10 meters away. I had to explain to him that one might not be able to identify a treat that far away so why would you shoot a person at such a long distance for other than target practice?? Even if you accept that, you still need to practice shoot at multiple distances with accuracy at the closer distance so you can have an advantage at close range.

    Reply
  12. PETER

    It has been said to use the largest caliber that you readily handle; if that is a .22 then by all means carry it. A good hit with a .22 as better than a miss with any caliber.

    Reply
  13. Craig

    I have been shooting handguns and rifles for more than 50 years. And within those years I’ve found that control along with practice, practice, practice, does more for one’s effectiveness than any choice of caliber. And as much as anyone can practice, a real, live, fire fight is always going to be something different. The whole idea is knowing how to shoot the gun; where to aim, how to aim, how to pull no jerk the trigger, etc. Did you know that most law enforcement fear the 22 and 357 mag more than any other caliber. The little 22 just rattles around in you head mixing up the grey matter with the white matter. The 357 mag penetrates most but the best (expensive) body armor. All the other calibers depend on who is behind the gun.

    Reply
  14. Martin

    As a private citizen who hopes to never have to use a firearm for self-defense, all I can add is: Practice, Practice, Practice! Learn to use your firearm to the best advantage.

    Reply
  15. Skip

    Just remember, President Reagan, John Brady, a Secret Serviceman and a DC policeman were shot with a .22. Brady died several years later of related wounds. The others survived put were all taken out of the picture that day. The caliber you are comfortable and can shoot well with is the one to use. I would not want to be shot by any one of them.

    Reply
    • Dean

      I’ve been shooting for over 75 years and have fired most handgun calibers. The best recommendations I have are quite similar to many if not most of the others who have posted here. Your choice should be what you are comfortable shooting.

      A lady cousin carried a tiny North American .22 magnum for her personal defense weapon. She had to use it once when a guy slammed her into the side of her car grabbing her purse and running. She had the .22 magnum in her hand and shot when the thief had just opened his car door. She said she saw something fly off his gut area, and he was gone. Of course she reported it to the police. Two weeks later they found the car beside a bayou (of course it was in Louisiana) that had a lot of blood on the driver’s door panel and the seat. The police told her that the driver would have gotten very thirsty, as that happens when you lose a lot of blood, and he went to drink out of the bayou and a gator probably got him.

      Caliber is important when it is something you can shoot well. I would carry a S&W .500 magnum if I could conceal it. Concealability is required for a CCW and that limits choices somewhat. They all have stopping power, but some require many hits, unless the first hit is a vital point on the body which you can’t count on under the pressure of the moment. Practice makes it more likely you will hit where you intend to.

      .380, 9mm Kurz, .38 Special, .38+P, .38+P+ and .357 are all 9mm with varying abilities. All of them can be good choices. I tend to go with a .357 and .40 S&W, both being concealable in several models each and packing as much
      punch as is needed for a one shot put down and easy to control for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, . . . shots as needed.

      Reply
  16. Jon

    After using a 38 revolver as a sidearm for 20 years it would be one of my favorites, however the one that I have fell in love with is a 9mms auto. I find it very comfortable to shoot and am sure that it punches all the impact needed for defence.

    Reply
  17. Eric Phillips

    If I ever am forced to shoot a fellow human being, my biggest fear is that a round from my gun might miss or over- penetrate and hit an innocent bystander. I therefore want ammo with sufficient knock down power that I will need as few shots as possible to stop the threat. Since I normally wear a dress shirt and slacks when carrying, I use a pocket holster. This could possibly cause a semi- auto to malfunction from lint. My solution is to carry a five shot revolver (a Ruger LCR) loaded with 357 magnum JHP’s. Not only is it likely to knock a grown man down with one shot, but the sound and muzzle flash are enough to strike the fear of God into nearly anyone.

    Reply
  18. John W Bletsch

    I have carried a number of different pistols in 9mm. .40SW, .45ACP, 380Auto, & even .32ACP. I had a Bond Arms .45LC/.410. Other than the 380 & .32 I didn’t feel under gunned with any of the others. I always load with bonded hollow points or EFMJ rounds. I see any loads that meet FBI protocol and dangerous to use in self defense because of the potential for over penetration. Again, caliber is not as important as how the ammo acts in shooting data. That’s just my opinion for what its worth.

    Reply
  19. Sheldon

    Know the profile of the gun you carry. A 9mm or .38 special won’t serve you on the trail against a predator. A.45 makes a shorter bigger hole; a.357 magnum destroys tissue like a meat tenderizing mallet. Don’t confuse killing power with disabling power. NEVER plan defense with hardball; use expanding bullets. Recoil works against you. Revolvers seldom “jam”. A flacid wrist assures an automatic WILL jam.

    Reply
  20. Busterdog

    Practice, practice, practice with a variety of ammo different sizes and calibers is the only way you can really truly figure out what’s best for you. Mine goes back and forth between 380 9 mm in 45 caliber. But I found for every day carry a good 124 gr jacketed hollow point will usually exceed its purpose.

    Reply
  21. Eric

    Carry and depend on the weapon you’re.ost proficient with whether it’s a 22 or 50 caliber.

    Reply
  22. idrogojuan3

    Bottom line, first know you’re self, then your gun and ammo. Know you can hit what you aim at.

    Reply
  23. Konrad Lau

    I keep bumping into videos and articles titled something like, “End of the 9mm, 40cal. and 45ACP Debate”. The majority of arguments and presented data rely on new projectile design, propellent (powder) formulations and manufacturing techniques that ‘…make new 9mm ammunition the ballistic equivalent of the 45ACP’. They go on to show gelatin blocks with wound channels, chronograph measurements with energy calculations and shot timer records for multiple shots on target as proof of their contention(s).
    Perhaps the most common argument used against the 45, is its “… higher degree of difficulty to control” repeated rounds on target rapidly. Now, the newest crop of 9mm uses projectile weights ranging from the standard 147 grain full metal jacketed to the high pressure/high velocity/low recoil light projectile 115 grain Critical Defense type loads which achieves these wunderkind results.
    My problem with this rational is the automatic factoring in of the NEED for multiple hits on a target to stop a threat. The entire idea, in fact the proven ability of using the 45 in combat, was to disable or remove an opponent’s ability to conduct operations against the good guy…with one shot. Why, pray tell, are we so focused on hurling vast quantities of lead downrange all the while knowing multiple hits will be required to stop a potential threat? I just read a handgun review wherein the manufacturer supplies in the package not one but two 24 round magazines! Remember, we are not talking about a machine pistol or carbine but a handgun. What citizen goes armed for combat against a regiment of assailants? My natural inclination would be to think that if I needed all that firepower to defeat two or even three assailants, I need more range time practicing and/or I need a more effective caliber handgun. To carry the 24 round magazine concept to its conclusion: Why not have a 100 round .22 caliber handgun that doesn’t recoil too badly?
    One topic never discussed in these diatribes against the 40 and 45 is the obvious point that if the new technologies and processes benefit the 9mm so much, it would seem a logical conclusion those same advancements would benefit the “ancient” and “now decrepit” 45ACP even more so. Yes, manufacturers have applied all their technical powers to the venerable 45 and have once again made the 45ACP the standard by which all others are judged, that much better.
    All this caliber question requires is the application of common sense. If a person goes into a gunfight carrying a caliber he or she knows will require multiple hits, why consider this caliber as a choice for defense of life? Carrying a handgun on a daily basis is decidedly NOT convenient. If one is going to subject ones’ self to those headaches, why handicap your chances of success should the ultimate need arise?
    I ask only one more question: Why, after using the 9mm Parabellum for 33 years in American military service, are the United States Marines re-issuing the 1911 Government Model in 45ACP?
    I can tell you why.
    It’s like the fellow said, “It just kills bugs dead.”

    Reply
  24. Konrad Lau

    I keep bumping into videos and articles titled something like, “End of the 9mm, 40cal. and 45ACP Debate”. The majority of arguments and presented data rely on new projectile design, propellent (powder) formulations and manufacturing techniques that ‘…make new 9mm ammunition the ballistic equivalent of the 45ACP”. They go on to show gelatin blocks with wound channels, chronograph measurements with energy calculations and shot timer records for multiple shots on target as proof of their contention(s).
    Perhaps the most common argument used against the 45, is its “… higher degree of difficulty to control” repeated rounds on target rapidly. Now, the newest crop of 9mm uses projectile weights ranging from the standard 147 grain full metal jacketed to the high pressure/high velocity/low recoil light projectile 115 grain Critical Defense type loads which achieves these wunderkind results.
    My problem with this rational is the automatic factoring in of the NEED for multiple hits on a target to stop a threat. The entire idea, in fact the proven ability of using the 45 in combat, was to disable or remove an opponent’s ability to conduct operations against the good guy…with one shot. Why, pray tell, are we so focused on hurling vast quantities of lead downrange all the while knowing multiple hits will be required to stop a potential threat? I just read a handgun review wherein the manufacturer supplies in the package not one but two 24 round magazines! Remember, we are not talking about a machine pistol or carbine but a handgun. What citizen goes armed for combat against a regiment of assailants? My natural inclination would be to think that if I needed all that firepower to defeat two or even three assailants, I need more range time practicing and/or I need a more effective caliber handgun. To carry the 24 round magazine concept to its conclusion: Why not have a 100 round .22 caliber handgun that doesn’t recoil too badly?
    One topic never discussed in these diatribes against the 40 and 45 is the obvious point that if the new technologies and processes benefit the 9mm so much, it would seem a logical conclusion those same advancements would benefit the “ancient” and “now decrepit” 45ACP even more so. Yes, manufacturers have applied all their technical powers to the venerable 45 and have once again made the 45ACP the standard by which all others are judged, that much better.
    All this caliber question requires is the application of common sense. If a person goes into a gunfight carrying a caliber he or she knows will require multiple hits, why consider this caliber as a choice for defense of life? Carrying a handgun on a daily basis is decidedly NOT convenient. If one is going to subject ones’ self to those headaches, why handicap your chances of success should the ultimate need arise?
    I ask only one more question: Why, after using the 9mm Parabellum for 33 years in American military service, are the United States Marines re-issuing the 1911 Government Model in 45ACP?
    I can tell you why.
    It’s like the fellow said, “It just kills bugs dead.”

    Reply
  25. Vic vapor

    thanks Andy,

    it’s tough, after learning what the 357mag can do, to try to put big time faith
    in the less powerful… carry
    as much as ya can as often as ya can
    and hope you never have to ever use it.

    My 22mag North American 5 shot, or LCP,
    or Sig p230, or taurus 85 el stand in when the Ruger 357 stays home
    .

    Reply
    • m_kemble

      I carry an 11 oz S&W PD360 (357 Mag). Im small and it has a very hard recoil but after shooting it and practice for the last 5 or so years I can shoot very accurately with it. Takes about 1 second to recover for second/third ect. shots. I wouldn’t recommend for most people but I have been shooting for years.

      Reply
  26. Mike

    M62A Winchester was also my first gun and still proud possession. To your point: I decided I wanted .40SW as my carry gun caliber; loved an all_steel Kahr for its slim profile but couldn’t shoot it well; fatter Glock M23 proved perfect for me. So experiment rather sentiment is the key.

    Reply
  27. Doc Shine

    Well said. With the advancement of small caliber hollow-points there’s no need to carry a 44mag anymore! Carry what you can shoot well, and practice often for control and accuracy!

    Reply
  28. Eugene

    Any caliber can lethal, even a 22 cal. Years ago a police officer in my home town was killed from a single 22 round to the heart. The point is being comfortable & confident with your handgun may make all the difference. I personally use a 9mm, but even a 22 is more effective than a 44 Remington mag if you can’t hit your intended target.

    Reply
  29. Eugene

    Any caliber can lethal, even a 22 cal. Years ago a police officer in my home town was killed from a single 22 round to the heart. The point is being comfortable & confident with your handgun may make all difference. I personally use a 9mm, but even a 22 is more effective than a 44 Remington mag if you can’t hit your intended target.

    Reply
  30. Tom

    Home defense (I live in the country with no close neighbors)–a Mossberg 500 12 ga and a S&W 19 357. Concealed carry–Sig 238

    Reply
  31. Robert McCabe

    Excellent article! Says what my friends and I are big believers in: that ergonomics matter – it’s hard to shoot a gun well that doesn’t fit you; and shot placement trumps caliber – 5 .22’s center mass beat 5 .40 S&W’s that went somewhere other than your target. (Not that I endorse using a .22 long rifle for self defense, but it’s better than nothing, and maybe some peoples best choice.)
    Pick a gun that fits you, pick a caliber that you can shoot well, and practice with that combination.
    A .22 that you shoot once a week is going to give you a lot more confidence when the chips are down than a .40 that you shoot once a year.
    And by all means, go to a range, or find a friend with several handguns, and try then out. Find what fits, find what you are comfortable with, get some training, then practice, practice, practice.

    Reply
  32. Stephen

    Speaking on handguns I agree caliber is important. Along with that is the firearm . Too heavy most won’t carry. Too light too much recoil and bite (gun shy). Then practice till your arms fall off and I don’t need stand and fire . Set, stand ,walk, draw,and ect. But most of all be safe

    Reply
  33. Roy Denney

    I give my students two pieces of advice. 1. Carry the biggest, most powerful handgun you can comfortably and confidently carry. 2. If that is a .22 carry it because a mouse gun in your pocket is better than a cannon back home in a drawer. Your comfort and ability with the gun is more important than what caliber it is. Bigger is better but carry what you can shoot.

    Reply
  34. Kenneth Porter

    I find that bullet placement is a great deal more effective that bullet size. A 9mm to center mass is better than a .45 to the foot.

    Reply
    • Cws Fan

      Your example begs the question of why not shoot a 45 pistol with the same accuracy as a 9×19? Very little difference in recoil. Lastly, I will admit that with the vast improvement in 9×19 rounds, this cartridge would be superior to swinging a putting iron as a self defense tool.

      Reply
  35. Todd Howell

    I can handle the S&W .500 Mag with ease, but I am 6’3″ and 220 lbs and have been shooting most of my life. There is such a thing as too much power for self defense (unless you are in bear country) because you don’t want your round traveling much past your intended target so you do not endanger others !

    Reply
  36. Daniel

    My advice is always to make point of aim = point of impact. If you do that properly, you can kill with a BB gun. That said, anything that works for the shooter from .380 ACP on up is just the ticket. But it always goes back to point of aim = point of impact. Start from there. Good read.

    Reply
  37. D J W

    Very well written, and concise approach to caliber and gun choice. The shoe analogy is superb. Not only must a handgun, for example, be of a controllable caliber, it must be comfortable in one’s hand. Wonder how effective the new plastic defensive rounds are going to prove to be in practice.

    Reply
  38. Sivispace

    One thing not discussed is environmental factors. Where I live, there are several inches of snow on the ground. It is in the teens. Anyone I may have to shoot will be wearing multiple layers. I won’t carry anything less than a .40 S&W. if my bullet clogs with down, it may not expand. I want that bullet to penetrate and leave a big hole. I can shoot 180 grain .40 all day long. Why settle for less?

    Reply
  39. Rick

    I am and always have been a believer that it isn’t the gun or caliber, it is the choice of ammunition that is the most critical component of self defense shooting. First, find a gun and caliber you are comfortable with shooting. Then practice with ammo which will closely equals the defensive ammunition you will use. For example don’t practice with 115 grain 9MM rounds if your defensive carry round is a 147 grain 9mm round. Practice with ball ammo (full metal jacket FMJ) rounds (that are less expensive) which closely resemble the defensive (hollow point or similar) rounds you will use. This means the bullet weight and velocity are approximately equal. A hit with a 22 is more effective than a miss with a 50 BMG (extreme example). Practice with the ball ammo but make sure you also fire (practice) with your defensive carry rounds as well. This is especially important with a semi-automatic firearm as compared to a revolver. Don’t go by Manufacturer’s hype or here-say. YouTube has a plethora of information on ammunition information videos to explore. Check out “Ammo Quest” or “TNOUTDOORS9” Or MAC (Military Arms Channel) for some solid ammunition information. There are many more, just do some research. Whatever gun/caliber you are comfortable with your odds increase dramatically with the proper ammunition selection.

    Reply
  40. Steve

    As a wise man once said, it is better to hit the pump room with a .22 rimfire than to slightly miss with a .44 magnum. The weapon that one is comfortable with, and who can practice with to become competent is the second-best weapon they can arm themselves with for an encounter. First place goes to a person’s mind-set, and their ability to think themselves through a deadly situation.

    Reply
  41. Michael Twohie

    As a retired military (spec ops) and well trained, my wife and daughters are not. I rely on a 357 small frame revolver for them, so all they have to do is point and shoot. No safety’s no clambering a round just when the overwhelming fear is on you just point and pull the trigger. The .357 or .38+P has a very high take down rate when a round connects. Again this is my theory for my girls.

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    • Michael J Mattia

      I completely agree with the revolver as it’s “One Button Simple” when in a high stress situation.

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  42. Bill

    I agree, my weapon`s have good fit & feel, I have faith in them & myself. Have the inceptor rd`s. in 4 caliber`s & believe they will get the job done,have not tried yet & hope I wont need to.

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  43. Michael Reindollar

    I was always told that you should never ben afraid of the weapon that you shoot but you need a caliber that will keep the subject that you are shooting at Down when I picked up my Sig for the first time and hit a 6″ paper plate 8 out of 8 shots I knew that was the gun for me and in a 45 caliber the recoil was not overpowering like a 44mag I knew that was the gun for me

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  44. Joe

    I went through this when I was trying to decide which piece to go with. I was familiar with the 1911 .45 as I carried it in Vietnam. But there was the enticement of the 9 mm having 15 rounds in the mag. I finally decided on the .45, as I came to the same conclusion this article came to: the caliber doesn’t matter quite so much as shot placement. Nice to have the extra rounds, but if they aren’t accurate, they don’t matter.

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  45. Joe Adair

    Great article. Agree with the statement about training and practice. Also staying away from situations where dangerous becomes a common place thing is good. But proper prior preperation prevents poor performance.

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  46. sempertodd

    Good article. I stress to people that they want to try different firearms after they have a solid fundamental foundation. Then decided on the caliber that they can shoot the most accurate with, that is reliable and they have “faith” in. It is not necassarily the caliber that “stops the threat”, but the placement of the bullet.

    Reply
    • DCM

      Sempertodds’s last sentence holds a lot of truth. The difficulty being the time given to aim during a life or death situation. More often than not, it’s a point and shoot situation. For this reason, I feel more comfortable with stopping power. A larger, slower moving bullet like a .45 ACP. I personally wouldn’t carry anything less than a 9mm for personal protection. Granted, it is smaller than a .45 and travels faster when fired but makes up for it with ammo capacity. Either way I always use bonded HP rounds. Hornady makes a great round with the red insert in the HP cavity (shown in a photo in this article) which allows for passing through layers of clothing before expansion. So if your target is wearing a big winter coat, it will pass through without clogging with fabric which would happen on an open cavity HP round. The Hornady round will pass through the thick winter jacket allowing for proper expansion.

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    • Ray RUFF

      Picking the wrong caliber for a hand gun or rifle can cause damage to the piece or blow-up in your hand or face. i.d. should exist when weapon is purchased. Caliber on weapon what equates???

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    • Gary

      I agree. If you have never fired a handgun, start from the basics like a .22 to learn bullet placement and handgun abilities and then try other calibers. Research the bullets. Technology has come a long way. Last is the versatility. An example would be the Glock 22. 40 caliber It has 9mm conversion barrel and a .22 caliber conversion kit.

      Reply
  47. Binn

    When all is said and done, choose the gun and ammo you believe you will be efficient with – what you are comfortable with, not what others “tell” you what you should have. Don’t forget your most powerful ammo – the thinking machine inside your skull.

    Reply
    • Stefan B

      That’s the best of all of the article and comments so far.

      We are all different persons and life in different environments with different threads and different options. Every solution can always be only a single solution for a single person x environment x thread x option – mix, and it will never be a perfect solution, but always a compromise.

      BTW, do not only not forget your thinking! Your emotion will be there, too. And usually your emotions are much faster than your thinking. Keep your emotion in your mind, too. Training doesn’t not only train your body and your thinking. It has effects on your emotions, too – the one way or the other.

      Reply
    • Doug Tally

      Can’t be reiterated enough… try and buy. I learned buying a hand gun that would not eject and load proper once every mag. Experts said I was limp wristing. Could be but I hadn’t heard that since early 70s with S&W mod 39 (1st 9m, dbl stack wood grip). Turns out many 39s needed rework. Nonetheless, why would anyone “without” a limp wrist want a weapon so fragile. The replacement for me was Springfield 45 XDs, zero failures in 1000s of rounds. As for 7 rounds, mentality every shot must be perfect from access to reset. I don’t want the mindset I have 10, 12, 15 round. Caliber .45: 1) same recovery time for me, always has been but I’ve been to Front Sight numerous times, maybe that’s it 2) assailant distance 3′ is 80%, 90% whatever it is… so high stats you will be in reach of the criminal. That’s point, no aim, no recovery, two shots and move on assailant or cover will be innate and right for you. The further the distance, another innate, you will know to aim or take cover. God Bless , say grace and carry.

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