By Paul McCain
“Which caliber is best?” I pity the poor fool who posts this question innocently on any gun forum or blog. Longtime readers of TTAG know that this question, and posts about it, stir up quite a bit of controversy. TTAG’s own Matt in FL dearly loves tweaking us with his humorously overwrought advocacy for the .40 S&W shot out of a Springfield XD, which, to Matt, is ballistic nirvana. Handgun caliber wars are particularly stupid because the handgun, by its very nature, is a “backup” weapon to be used when you don’t have access to a long gun; shotgun, rifle, or something bigger like an M1A1 Abrams tank or, even better, a JDAM strike. A JDAM is so choice, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up . . .
I’ve been involved with firearms just long enough now that I’ve come to entirely agree with my favorite gun-guy, Hickok45, who, when I first started shooting, was one of the few people who was advocating sanity when it comes to the caliber wars on gun forums. He simply said that caliber is far less of an issue than knowing how to shoot well. A comment that would seem self-evident. By the way, he has an excellent video on what caliber is all about to begin with, for new shooters.
There are so many clichés out there, but they do have a ring of truth: “Better a pocket full of .380 than .45ACP at home in the gun safe” or “It’s the Indian, not the arrow.” Er, excuse me, “Native American.”
I’ve watched boat loads of ballistic test videos from TNOutdoors9 who, in my opinion, has some of the very best ballistic test videos on the Internet.
He definitely shows the — pardon the pun — impact of various calibers from various barrel lengths. But ultimately, at the end of the day, every bullet he shoots into his ballistic test medium does a pretty darn good job of penetrating fairly deeply into the material.
Recently, one of my other favorite video guys, IraqiVeteran, put up a video showing the results of shooting a handgun round at various distances. I won’t spoil the fun, but you might be surprised at what distances one popular handgun caliber penetrates both a ¾” sheet of plywood and the 2×4 pine frame supporting it.
I didn’t bother to read the comments on the video as I’m sure there is a huge caliber war in process there, but I just don’t care. Why? Because caliber wars are stupid.
It’s good for people new to guns to do their own research and dive deeply into as much scientific ballistic data there is out on the Internet, and there is plenty. I know I did and at the end of the day I found myself rather bewildered by all the options, opinions, and points of view.
Ultimately, though, several truths emerge: there is no such thing as a mythical “knock down” power with a handgun round of any caliber. Why? Because a human being in a high-stress situation has so much adrenalin flowing that unless a round goes into his brain, he is not going to be knocked down or stopped by a single shot from any handgun. You can find YouTube videos showing people continuing to fight and struggle even after taking a round to the heart at very close range. A person may take a round into his spine, but can keep shooting when on the ground.
Many tests and after-action reports from shooting incidents repeatedly prove that “one shot, one kill” is the rare exception in a gun fight. That’s why most trainers emphasize putting several rounds into center mass as accurately and quickly as possible, then carefully assessing if the target is down. Not down? Still a threat? More shots until he is.
The best and most effective way to shoot to stop a threat is to work to make the paramedics and emergency room staff’s work as hard as possible, or, to make the autopsy interesting for the coroner. Sorry to be so graphic about it, but that’s the simple truth. We shoot to stop a threat, whatever takes. One shot of any caliber will rarely do it.
At the end of the day, what convinced me to stick with what I choose to use as my EDC and most frequently shot ammo during training classes, etc., is the fact that I wanted a round that allowed me to have the capacity in the magazines I use that I find most comfortable, with the recoil and handling characteristics I am most comfortable with.
Most importantly I choose to use the caliber that, for me, is the one that I can consistently put rounds on target, into center mass “vitals” at various distances, while in various positions, and while moving around in various conditions, under various stress tests and timed drills. I won’t tell you what caliber that is because that’s beside the point.
How about a couple of photos to illustrate? Here are two-thousand words worth of caliber truth:
So, why are caliber wars stupid? Because it’s not about caliber, it’s about YOU, the shooter. If you are having problems controlling your handgun adequately to get good, quick, accurate shots including, yes, follow up shots, then choose another handgun. Or perhaps…it might be the caliber you choose to shoot, but frankly, I think most of the time, it’s not the caliber, it’s the shooter and his/her choice of handgun.
A micro pistol shooting .380 may well be far too “snappy” for effective shooting for one person, while a .45ACP compact 1911 may suit him just fine. If a person can only shoot well and control a handgun or revolver shooting .22LR, which handgun will that person be carrying most of the time? Yes, .22LR. Several well placed .22LR bullets are going to “discourage” most would-be bad guys.
Is .22 a caliber I would personally recommend for home or self-defense? No, but then again, I’m not you. I don’t know what kind of physical abilities or limitations you may have. I don’t know your level of training. I don’t know how well you may, or may not, be able to handle a more powerful round. I don’t know what carry conditions you face in your daily life. Some of us can’t lug around a .50 caliber Desert Eagle in appendix carry.
Shoot often, with what you shoot best. That’s my final word on the subject. Why? Because caliber wars are stupid.