By Eric J.

So, which carry handgun caliber is the “best”? After exhaustive research in the comment sections of various blogs and online forums, I have determined which cartridge is the best for self defense carry. Behold, the classic argument is settled for all time . . .

The .380 ACP is admittedly weak but it’s totally worth it if the only gun you can carry is a small one. But if you’re going to carry something that size, you might as well go for the reliability and versatility or a .38 special revolver.

Then again, .38 special itself is wholly inadequate as a service/defense cartridge when using traditional lead round nose bullets and is downright anemic compared to the .357 magnum.

The .357 magnum is fantastic, but has fairly stiff recoil and of course a revolver only holds 6 rounds, so you should go with the lesser recoil and higher capacity of 9mm Luger automatic.

The 9mm Luger is perfectly acceptable and has a good track record, except if you think it doesn’t or it isn’t manly or you use 147 gr ball, in which case the .40 Smith and Wesson is a good round, combining larger diameter than 9mm Luger and more energy than .45 ACP with less recoil than a hot .45 ACP load.

Of course if you’re going to step up to .40 S&W from 9mm you might as well go to .45 ACP because it is larger than .40 S&W and has less snappy recoil and is more manly/patriotic; besides which, contrary to what I just said the .40 S&W really combines the worst of .45 ACP and 9mm Luger, as it has higher recoil than 9mm Luger and smaller diameter than .45 ACP.

But .45 ACP bullets don’t go very fast and are overrated because what really matters is hydrostatic shock, which is where the .357 SIG comes in: less recoil than .40 S&W and .45 ACP and terminal ballistics like .357 Magnum.

Unfortunately, .357 SIG is kinda snappy and has intimidating flash and blast; it’s also super-expensive so maybe 9mm Luger is a good choice for gentle recoil, low expense, and lower muzzle blast.

And none of this matters if you won’t carry the gun, and that is where a small subcompact automatic in .380 ACP comes into its own and [RETURN TO BEGINNING]

(And if you, dear reader, happen to have an opinion on this matter, I’m sure you’ll be so kind as to educate us all in this post’s comment section.)

194 Responses to P320 Entry: I Found the Best Self Defense Handgun Round!

    • None of the common pistol rounds you mentioned produce hydrostatic shock. They don’t move fast enough to generate it.

      • Actually thats not true,Massad Ayoob talks frequently and documents that the .357 sig does produce hydrostatic shock and defies the physics on paper. Police departments found that it had the lightening bolt effect similar to the old .357 magnums and dropped violent felons even when they were hit in non vital spots. They are not really sure how it does what it does. You can look up the Massad Ayoob pod cast where he and his friends talk about the .357 sig.

      • Exactly, thats exactly what they talk about in the podcast. The the real world results don’t match up with the ballistics on paper. There is something that is not being quantified in the ballistic experiments. This is what I found to be so fascinating in the pod cast. They discuss that according to the ballistics on paper, it should not be doing what its doing in the real world. I found the podcast link.
        Let me know what you think. I hate when internet couch commandos talk shit about things they don’t know about and i don’t want to be one of those people. I’m just sharing information of what I’ve run across and I have to pay attention to Massad Ayoob when he gives a compelling argument about something.

    • Every bullet traveling more than a 100fps creates hydrostatic shock. All hydrostatic shock is is flesh pushing against more flesh hard enough to damage it because it can’t get around the bullet fast enough. Slow rounds create very little, fast rounds create a lot. A 230gr. 45acp (for example) creates very little hydrostatic shock and must rely mostly on crushing flesh directly in front of the bullet. 55gr. 5.56 rounds on the other hand create a great deal of hydrostatic shock. Otherwise there’d be no difference in lethality between a .22LR and a .556.

    • or 9mm

      : o

      im fcking tired of hearing internet commandoes praise the mythical 357 sig unicorn thinking it is some sort of improvement over the big three.

        • I dont worship him on the holy altar of gunliness if that is what you’re saying.

          That is a appeal to authority logical fallacy.

    • 9 m hollow point135 gr with 1200 fps and 431 lbs impact at 50 feet has the same knock down as 40 or 45 and almost as much as 357 less recoil lighter smaller easier to conceal more accurate and larger ammo capacity i carry 9 m and will stick with it

  1. lol

    Talk about a circular argument. If you start at 9mm, you end up back at 9mm. Start at 40, back to 40, etc, etc…

    I’m throwing my lot in for 50 BMG.

  2. No, the 10mm because:
    1. You need one mm for each article in the Bill of Rights
    2. 10th amendment states rights yeah!!!
    3. Perfect 10!
    4. The FBI could not handle it. Stupid govt **&%.
    5. If you miss, the muzzle blast will incinerate them.

    • Somebody needs to start manufacturing an 11mm (or even .11 mm!) handgun, so that we can start making Spinal Tap jokes.

    • Reason #1 actually has me wanting to go buy a 10mm now. I may be ordering a Glock 20 sometime in the future…

      • I’d politely suggest a Kimber or other 1911 frame. I have Kimber in 10mm (just got it) and it is effing awesome. I think the weight helps with the recoil. Mine shoots excellent groups, and the recoil is nothing. Of course, I had to really hunt for the Kimber to get it.

        • for the ridiculous price you paid for your kimber I’ll buy two G20’s. Glock 10mm frames handle the recoil quite nicely.

        • And for the “ridiculous” price of a BMW 328i I could have 2 Honda Civics. Both can drive just fine… Does not mean you’ll see me driving a Civic if I can afford a BMW. For the “ridiculous” price of a Benelli Super Black Eagle I could have 3 Mossburg’s. I guess whether the price is ridiculous depends on what you are looking for. I love mine and would not trade it for the Glock, I don’t shoot the Glock very well for whatever reason, and I don’t like scary black.

        • If any of the many Glock’s I have fired produced perceived recoil any worse than than another make with a steel frame I might agree. However they don’t. Of course weight helps with recoil but that Kimber is not a Glock with a metal frame. I would suggest someone interested in a 10mm to try to fire as many as they can before they make their decision. Those that that think the G20 is going to have heavier perceived recoil compared to other 10mm options are in for a surprise.

    • I had a 10mm section, but couldn’t make it fit into the circular arguments I had going very well, so I cut it out :/

    • .40 Super is a clear upgrade, combining the advantages of 10mm Auto with .45 ACP into a round that hits like a lightningbolt from Zeus combined with a runaway cement truck. 135gr JHP at 1800 FPS will kill not only the person you shoot, but his entire paternal line going back 8 generations.

    • I think we all realize that, Paul. But at some point, we all have to make a choice on what to carry. And at some point, someone contemplating the same decision is going to ask us how/why we chose what we chose.

      So there’s nothing wrong with a brief discussion of the comparative ballistics, recoil, mag. capacity, cost, etc. of the various options. There are people new to firearms that today are reading this stuff for the first time.

      I just read an article, written by a woman, arguing that most of the reasons people recommend revolvers for women are invalid reasons. Nothing wrong with such discussions as long as they’re friendly.

      • That has always confused me. Revolvers are hard to use and aren’t lefty friendly (+ snubbies have harsh recoil) – yet whenever someone needs a self defense gat something like the Ruger LCR is always recommended.

        • Agreed.

          Revolvers are not comfortable to shoot.

          Every first time shooter I’ve trained hated the revolver. Whether I had them shoot it first or last, and even with low recoil ammo.

        • Snubbies get recommended because of the 3, 3, 3 rule — three feet, three seconds, three rounds — which is all based mostly on LEO data. Close range may be the rule but there is a good chance that the LEO already had his gun drawn and a bad guy in sight. Traditionally, the cops just didn’t blaze away at the slightest provocation or the presence of a K-9. If the officer did not approach the suspect with gun in hand the most likely outcome was “officer killed in traffic stop, film at 11:00).

          Bottom line: If the bad guy closes to 3′ before you know there is threat you have already lost. Therefore, a private citizen who only carries a snubbie is most likely going to be news item as well.

        • Did you even read this particular article before firing off your snarky comment?

          It was kind of a well written satire of the caliber wars. Worth the read. Dude did a nice job summarizing the, eh, “circular” nature of these arguments.

    • There it is; I wondered how far down I’d have to scroll to see it.

      I knew that by the time I got home from work, Paul McCain would decree that this is stupid. Pack it up, everyone; this topic is now verboten.

      “That is all”. Can you sound any more pretentious?

  3. In my humble opinion the best gun to carry is the one you have with you at the time and the best calibre is the one YOU can shoot accurately!!!

    • Not just Accurately but Repeatedly. Cuz outside a Gun Range you won’t get set up for a Perfect Shot. So if you can’t get a quick an accurate followup shot, your first shot better be from a missile launcher!

      • And the prize goes to a 1911 according to test results published in TTAG. They didn’t test a Hi Power but given its lineage I suspect that might have even less muzzle rise.

    • That’s the answer! Few understand this, and assume all else is equal. The only other thing that matters is shot placement. Where you hit a person is the biggest factor in outcome.

    • Demolition Ranch put a AA battery thru an 870, and it was seriously effective. good sized hole, then near total vaporization.

      it’s in one of their compilation “what crap can i stuff into my shotgun?” videos on YouTube.

    • No – it’s 50 BMG. We all know that even if you miss with .50 BMG the shockwave and air disruption will tear their limbs off.

      • Next time an asteroid makes a close pass, we’ll have a shoot off with 10mm and 50 BMG to see which is really as effective as advertised!

  4. Don’t forget the .22LR which has worst ballistics than all the rounds mention, but is still used in the majority of defensive gun uses.

    Just admit it, all pistol calibers suck! Which is why I’m going with 40mm buckshot fired from an old M79.

  5. Yes indeed I will LOL

    The best gun you can carry and therefor the best bullet for that gun, is the one you are most comfortable with using. After all as you said, if you wont carry it, it wont matter anyway.

    My personal preference is either a 9mm or 38spl/357mag because I really don’t care if a gun kicks or not, as long as I can keep it under control.

        • That is funny Lolinski; I really was thinking of a sawed off double shotgun as a pistol that would rule them all; but you came up with some thing better.

        • Funny? I was being serious. I mean, why buy some whizz bang magnum that I can’t find ammo for without importing it when I can get a revolver that uses the same ammo as my shotgun?

          Also, a huge advantage with the revolver system is that you can suppress it easily due to no mag tube in the way. Just make an integrally suppressed barrel (chop it to 8 inches and make the suppressor extend 12 inches) and a cylinder shroud.

        • Unless you find some way to seal the cylinder/barrel gap any attempt to suppress a revolver will fail.

    • They already have a semi-auto .357 magnum. It also comes in .44 magnum and .50 Action Express. Some Israelis made it when they found their annoying neighbors weren’t being any less annoying when shot with 9s and .45s.

      • The Desert Eagle; the mutant monster that no one wants to admit they have in their gun collection. Or G-d forbid, actually would carry as a self-defense weapon.

        Why is that? Just because it is so big?

        • It is pretty big. I do know of a guy who actually made a custom holster for one and actually managed to conceal it. I guess he determined it was an uncomfortable weapon to conceal though because I heard he went back to his XDs.

  6. You know, this subject has been kicked around for so long there is no definitive answer. Most folks agree that shot placement is more important, and the gun you choose should be one you can comfortably shoot, whatever caliber.

  7. A caliber, much like the platform, cannot be answered with a “one size fits all” mentality. I couldn’t agree more with the best self defense round is the one that comes from a firearm that you will actually carry. If you’re prone to letting your masculinity outweigh your practicality then any hand cannon or the latest greatest invention will do. I tend to lean toward how easy it is to conceal and how well I am able to put rounds on target. And what the heck was the deal with the battery in the pic? Still trying to figure that one out beyond drawing readers in with a hook…

  8. the best defensive round is the one that goes in the firearm your most comfortable and accurate with. size velocity and recoil dont help much if you cant hit what your shooting at. i carry a Kimber SIS custom .45 ACP always have. my wife on the other hand doesnt like my .45 she says its to big for her to carry and she doesnt like the recoil. shes good with it when it comes to slow shooting but when it comes to double taps she’s everywhere. which is why she carrys a taurus pt111 G2 shes more comfortable with the 9 and double taps are always 2 in the face lol

  9. I would have to say that Duracell is the best defensive round. Although I’ve yet to find a gun chambered in Duracell.

  10. The real point is that the best round to carry, is the one you train with. Anything works as well as the next once you become accustomed to it and know its capabilities. I carry a 1911 (.45acp) and a glock 42 (.380acp) for a back up/car gun.

  11. Dan,

    I have started a blog on and would like to feature some of your articles? Would you mind? Please email me or let me know thanks

    • Not a bad round though I prefer 7.62×25 Tokarev. Fun fact: You can convert Nagant revolvers to use Tokarev ammo. Just need to fit a cylinder.

    • “because F@#$k you, that’s why.”

      By far, the best answer to any “caliber war” type question.

      And it also works well with “Why do you NEED 15 rounds, anyway?” or any other similarly worded bleating from an anti.

      No further reason needed. Ever.

  12. I would just go for a sawn off MTS 255. Cut it down to a 8-10 inch barrel and remove the stock. Sure, it holdso only 5 shots but those 5 shots are 12 gauge shotshells so you get some bang for your buck. Also shotguns don’t lose much velocity when cutting down the barrel. I almost forgot; 12 gauge is cheaper than .44 mag and the like.

  13. You poor babies. I just found it a waste of time. Like your comments. I wish I could carry the first round in the lineup.

  14. Whew, I thought he was going to say the AA Duracell, in some weird, quasi-Joe Biden was wrong about the shotguns, you only need a flashlight… I got feverish.

    Sun-Tzu, Clausewitz, and many other nameless, faceless other strategists would tell you that the enemy is always going to come to the battle with half of the weaponry/ammunition needed to finish it.
    Don’t get too locked-in to what your favorite carry is.

  15. Maybe those RIP ammunition folks could come up with a AA-battery cartridge, the copper topper hollowpoint. You wouldn’t want the Energizer bunny hollowpoint, overpenetration would be a problem with a bullet that just keeps going and going and going and going and…

  16. There are always compromising, so when I don’t want to strap on my service-size 9mm, then I just slip into some mom jeans and pocket my 9. 😉

  17. Raymond Chandler, author of the Philip Marlowe mysteries, was asked by a reader about Marlowe’s guns. Marlowe started out carrying a Luger, and carried various .38s, Chandler wrote, “But all in all I think my favorite weapon is a twenty-dollar bill.”

  18. Caliber wars are all shit. A warrior shouldn’t have a favorite weapon. Any modern semi auto chambered in a modern caliber pushing a modern jhp will handle almost every task exactly the same.

  19. Clearly the only way I can defend myself is with my .460 S&W Revolver until I fight my way to my .338 Lapua in the closet and then drive to the hangar housing my A10 Warthog.

  20. I think it’s a very simple choice. Have a gun! Shower carry solved also the make stylish waterproof carriers for I-phones. Was able to get a p-64 makarov in 1 today @ the pharmacy only $12.99.

  21. No one mentioned the Obrez pistol in 7.62x54r?
    Hand Howitzer is clearly superior to your puny pistol cartridges.

  22. For me it depends on my mood for the day. If I am going to conceal then I carry my small compact .9mm. I wont go smaller than that if possible. If I decide to open carry that day I may carry my Beretta 9mm. However I balance that out by carrying my .45 XDM with me, especially when I have a lot of expensive equipment with me at the time as it looks more intimidating that the Beretta. To me the Caliber argument is invalid as every carry situation is unique and would dictate a different caliber or weapon.

  23. I DO have a soft spot in my heart for the 45 ACP JHP, though not all that hooked on the 1911’s.
    If I was limited to 10 rounds I’d pick a Glock 30 or something comparable.
    If I was allowed to carry all the mags I could fit in my “pockets” I’d still choose a 9 mm JHP polymer gun that held at least 15 rounds and could feed quality 125-147 gr and also high speed Cor-bon’s plus Glaser’s reliably.
    If I was forced to use any kind of ammo against someone really doped up to the eyeballs on either some uppers or plain adrenaline, hydrostatic shock won’t to diddly. I’d prefer to make large diameter deep wound channels causing as rapid blood-loss as possible and then “easy to shoot” is a prime point.

  24. 357 Sig or 22TCM…. because nobody at the range can mooch my target ammo. I am friendly and generous, so the cost balances back out.

  25. i don’t think he was so much saying what he thought the best caliber was but that the .380 is small enough to be convenient to actually carry anywhere. and while i personally loath .380’s i do agree they are convenient

  26. The best round to use for self-defense is the one in the pistol you are willing to carry with you all the time whether it is .22 short or .50AE.

  27. i personally carry a Taurus .40 w/15rnd mag but then i’m a big guy and it dosn’t really weigh or print on me

    • It never really caught on…in a little revolver it would seem to be ideal. I haven’t seen it on shelves in along time either ( like .22lr ).

    • If I stepped outside the mainstream and considered every significant handgun cartridge I’d be submitting this entry in about a year (and it wasn’t to be taken seriously anyway of course anyway)

  28. .22 Mag for life yo.

    Just kidding, personally I favor .45, but I also like 9 mm and .40. I’m still undecided on the .357 sig and I don’t really haveuch use for a 10mm. Different caliber a for different jobs.
    It’s kinda like the 5.56 v 308 v 6.8 debate

  29. 10mm is a nice round it is to the .40 what the .357 is to the .38. the only reason i dont have one is ammo prices are outrageous

  30. If I can’t carry my Heavy Assault Phaser then the duty falls on my .45 Long Slide with laser sighting…

  31. when we was kids in the 40’s kids could have guns then,a few of us cut down a springfield trapdoor 45-70 and made a pistol of it .worked great except needed binoculars to watch where it was going to come down after it was fired., you could buy them for 7 or 8 dollars then.but that was a weeks wages for a kid then.ammo was a bit of problem but could order it from somewhere back east by rail express only 2.00 for box of 20 of 45 70-500 govt and three dollar train shipping .5.00 total. but oh what fun for us boys .

  32. At first I was expecting this article to end with “and that is why the .500 S&W is the only acceptable defensive handgun caliber.”

  33. You guys are totally wrong.

    Without a doubt, bestest overall caliber in history is the 2.7 x 9 mm Kolibri!

    The real advantages are (1) you can carry 50,000 rounds in you pocket without your pants falling down, and (b) if you forget and leave your pistol at home, you can shove a round in a drinking straw and tap the primer with your fingernail.

  34. I have always said that a .380 center mass is 100% more effective than a .40 S&W in the woods. Recoil tolerance is the key, That said, I installed a .357 Sig barrel on my Glock 27 and recoil is less severe than with the .40 S&W, with better ballistics – those being similar to the .357 Magnum. Accuracy is better than the .40 as well.

    It is a win, win. .357 Magnum performance, in an 11+1 small gun. The way to go for sure. More expensive to shoot? Sure, but how much is your life worth?

  35. As a wise woman once said, “If you can hit your target, pretty much any gun will do the trick. Now that’s one to grow on. Say hi to the Fuhrer for me.”

  36. Open carry, Desert Eagle .357 magnum with 2 backup magazines with 9 in each. Concealed carry, one of my 3 .380 semi-auto with spare mags.

  37. The bullet doesn’t matter nearly as much as the gun. Find one that is comfortable to shoot and comfortable for you to carry, then get it in the caliber that is cheapest to practice with.

    A couple .22s to the face beat holes in the wall behind the guy. That said, the smallest I’d carry would be .380 or .327 mag. Anything that or better is a matter of ergonomics and comfort.

    Unless you’re hiking where there are bears. Then 10mm or .44 mag.

  38. How about real modern CC rig the broom handle 96mauser in its orignal .30 Mauser round wooden shoulder stock holster is the way to go with its shoulder sling rig it holds 2 spare stripper clips of ten rounds each for a total of 30 rounds of course you will need to hand load effective defense rounds as only FMJ is sold but just huh ink of the history you will be packing…
    The .30 Luger with its shoulder stock rig should allso be considered along with a shoulder stock rig for the .30 tokkarov the three cartridge being almost the same ballisticly
    The above is all tounge in cheek of course but you should see the niche time muzzle blast these provide…. Quite the light show!

  39. LOL yeah

    (To the tune of Circle Of Life)

    Circle of Guns
    It’s the ciiiiircle of guuuuuuns
    It’s a wheel of fortune
    I can’t make up my mind
    So I keep searchin’
    ‘Till I find my place
    On the wheel of conflict
    In the Ciiiiircle
    The circllllllle of guuuuuunns!


    But yeah, you can debate caliber forever and never reach a decision. I went with 9mm personally only because it’s plentiful, good enough to stop a human being (based on the handfull of military police I spoke with who have actually had to use their guns in defense or combat, though keep in mind they use basically +P+), cheap enough, and should be plenty of it in a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.

  40. 30 oz. Estwing framing hammer with the rip claw and milled face. No need to worry about concealment cuz nobody freaks out at the sight of a hammer. Im joking..mostly..but I caught an accidental glancing blow from one and I damn near passed out. Full force contact would probly drop a freakin rhino.

  41. Never mind, I need to find a holster and a long coat so I can conceal carry my 12 gauge loaded with 00 buck.

  42. 12 GAUGE REINS SUPREME OVER YOU PISTOL CALIBER WEAKLINGS! (have you ever seen the muzzle blast of a 12 ga pistol)????? You can sufficiently B-B-Q your target as well ,and if that flame is where victim is you know you hit im!!!

  43. I love this article, it’s as if you went into my mind(and many others I’m sure) and gone over the same pros and cons of caliber to carry. The fact that you went full circle is the same thing I do/did in deciding what to carry.

  44. The CCI segmented 40gr HP .22lr does wicked stuff to a soaked phone book from a Phoenix Arms HP22A at ~10-20 feet.

  45. Left out NAA .22Mag. If you miss at close range with Gold Dot self defense ammo you will burn their eye brows off with your mini flame thrower

  46. Research shows that .22LR is the best caliber as measured by average number of shots required to stop an aggressor. That is, unless you allow shotguns, and then a 12 gauge wins hands down.

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