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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.

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  1. “Which caliber is best?”
    Well, for plinking, training a newbie, or gopher hunting, the .22LR, pretty obviously. For bear or rhino hunting, not so much…
    Looks like it kinda depends on what the situation is, don’t it?

    • The only proper first comment to this titled article would have been you advocating a particular caliber to the exclusion of all others as ‘best… period.”

        • I was CCing the 8mm Nambu chambered in a type 94 (I figured its best to have a gun with two ways to fire it just in case the trigger breaks off); but I have recently discovered the Moore Caliber .32 Teat-fire is superior at all ranges.

    • Now see there, ya ruined all my fun LOL (not really). I was going to say that yea for hunting situations, caliber does indeed matter, in that you want to kill the animal with as few shots as possible, preferably 1, without blowing whatever you are hunting in half.

      For self defense, it’s pretty much the same thing. If you have to kill a subject which of course you really don’t WANT to, do it with as few rounds as possible. A 22, short of a head shot is probably just going to piss off whoever you are shooting at until they just keel over from loss of blood. Better to have something bigger, at which point as the OP said, it’s whatever you are comfortable shooting and shooting well with.

      My personal preference is a 9mm. They are not overly large guns but not tiny either. Since I have large hands, I like having a larger frame gun, the slide on the smaller ones tend to tear up the web of your hand if you have large hands because it always seems to creep over the top of the grip. That’ll sure as hell put a crimp in your shooting day.
      Other people might like a small .380 or even a .45

      I like revolvers ok, but not really for home defense. I like having more than 6 rounds. I also like having the mags that I can just drop and load another, rather than having to deal with a sixgun speed loader.

      So anyway, that’s my take on the whole what caliber is best issue and I’m sticking to it.

      • I’ve read hunters who claim to be able to reliably hunt deer with .22 (head shots), and saw a video someplace about english game wardens popping them on the skull to drop culls- something about stunning or hitting a particular spot that works.

        I’ve even read some claim that Native Americans in AK use them to shoot polar bears, if need be, supposedly because they know where to hit that works. I dunno about that, but hey I am not a Native American in AK, either.

        Anyway- we all know the One Gun to Rule Them All is the G23, so Matt and I can at least agree on ammo. And the Wally White Box was pretty much always available or at least, last to go from the shelves, during the Great Ammo Shortage, so there is that. The rest of you can carry on.

        • Reliably I doubt it, there is simply too much head mass for that tiny bullet to get through to kill a deer sized animal with anything more than an up close ear shot or spine shot at the back of the skull. Yea who is going to get that close to a deer. Now that said, you can knock an animal out with a head shot from a .22 (if you are lucky), we used to do that with hogs on the farm until one day the shot didn’t go quite as planned and the hog didn’t fall. Anyway from that point forward a 30-30 was used.

          As for a Glock 23, go right ahead. Personally I just plain don’t like them (any Glock). I don’t like the safety it has which really isn’t a safety at all. It’s a shame too, because I hear they are reliable as heck. Give me a gun with a standard trigger and I’m happy.

        • Charles, thanks for the reply. Yeah, the trigger safety is not like a manual safety- its really a drop safety. And there are a number of stories and a youtube out there about how people have shot themselves putting them into holsters or pockets where something to caught up in that trigger safety and puulled the trigger.

          Dont forget the famous “have to pull the trigger to disassemble” problem which has embarrassed too many LEOs.

          I train with my finger off, indexed on frame above trigger houseing, just touching slide until on target, AND ASSESSED before pulling trigger- ie OK to KILL?

          my mental go/no-go for CA legal use of force-
          its my version of the A in BRASS. Breath Relax ASSESS Squeeze Surprise.

          Ability- can he hurt me (with that gun, baseball bat, knife?)
          Opportunity- close enough? (this is variable)
          Intent Imminent- is he going to do it RIGHT NOW?

          YES, YES, YES, THEN the finger goes on trigger, squeeze, surprise.

          My old USMC and LEO trainer teaches finger on trigger as you bring it up.
          I dont do it that way, on purpose- and we agree to disagree,
          because I am not a cop, or a marine,
          and I want to take that half second extra to be sure-

          and maybe I am wrong- appreciate the tips, here-

          but its my last “safety” for the safety thats not on trigger, until its ready to squeeze.

        • While I would never hunt big game with a rimfire, that’s the way we always butchered our beef on the ranch growing up. My Dad showed me how at about age 7. Just draw an imaginary “X” between the ears and eyes from directly in front, and shoot that spot with a .22 solid. A perfect brain shot that drops even steers greater than a thousand pounds like a rock. I mean like a ROCK, they fold up like you threw a switch, at almost free fall speed. Don’t even twitch. So a rimfire will kill huge creatures instantly, assuming that you have them in a pen and can wait a bit for the perfect shot…..

  2. Amen. I’d also add that my caliber choices have centered on what is cost-effective to buy / reload and what is available to get in quantity (Avoid .400 Cor-Bon, etc)… I shoot a lot and as Paul said shot placement will trump caliber all day.

  3. But Caliber wars are fun to watch! I’ve got both(9 and 45) and like them both. I like to shoot the 45, but my 9mm is my carry gun.

  4. Obvious answer #1: The caliber that works best for you.
    Obvious answer #2: The caliber that you can buy at the store.

    Because of recent events (ammo shortages) and other realities of gun ownership (like the potato chip that nobody can eat just one) encompassed by obvious answer #2, multiple calibers are the best…..

    • I guess it’s time to tell my Wife that I need a .40…. Can I cite this as a justification?

    • I have two carry guns for that reason. I generally carry the Beretta Nano 9mm, but when 9mm couldn’t be found for half the year last year, I switched to 9×18 Makarov. It wasn’t ballistically as good as the 9mm Luger, but I could buy ammo at my LGS and practice with it regularly. My new years resolution this year was fewer guns, more ammo, which should allow me to weather any coming shortage storms.

      • What do you have that fires 9×18? I have a P-64, and my son has the E German Mak I sold him. Aside from .22, I shoot the 9×18 better than anything else I’ve tried, especially out of the Mak.

  5. Yeah, handgun caliber wars are stupid. That’s why the handgun gets me to my safe where I keep my rifles. 300 AAC Blackout, cuz America!!!

  6. Sure rev. No real disagreement here. May I add check out “Terminal ballistics as viewed in a morgue”. Some interesting reading for someone who had been a cop & a morgue worker. He would argue for the bigger the better. But I haven’t shot anyone so perhaps everything we write is CONJECTURE & not carved in stone.

    • The problem with all the studies and ballistic tests, and the point of the article, is that they don’t show the ones that missed.
      The one that you will actually carry and can hit something with, is the best for you.

    • Just keep in mind those posts were made almost 10 years ago, and there have been substantial improvements in defensive hollowpoints since then that make the differences between the major handgun calibers largely academic. IMO go 9mm or .45, .40 has been rendered irrelevant. Also keep in mind that the vast majority of subjects showing up on the autopsy table are gangbangers who were shot by gangbangers, and these types rarely use premium SD ammunition. If you’re talking about hardball and 20 year old hollowpoints like Silvertips and Hydrashock, then caliber might matter a little bit.

      • Because the .45 and the .40 have not see any boost from the advancements in JHP technology?

        45 does more damage than a 40 does more damage than a 9. That is academic. Further caliber arguments degenerate into “rounds on target”, because the recoil follows accordingly.

        • “45 does more damage than a 40 does more damage than a 9” is true in a largely theoretical sense.

          The question then becomes “how much more?” and “does it make a difference?”

          The answer to “how much more?” is “so little that nobody can determine the difference in actual bodies with any degree of reliability.”

          The answer to “does it make a difference?” is more a question of faith than fact.

      • My point people are still made of flesh, blood and bone. Nothing you said of improvements in technology changes that. My question is would you rather be shot with a 380 or 9 or a 45( or 357)? And why do you think “only” 14 died last week in Chicago after 82(?) were shot. And I also echo the point made after. The technology of 40, 45 and 357 kept pace with the 9. All things being equal I would go big. But I don’t CARE what anyone else carries.

        • It bears repeating since it does matter this is a post I had made on when someone asked is the .45 obsolete:

          Lets take a 3 different Glocks all of approximately the same size but one in 9mm, one in .40, and one in .45 caliber. Glock 17, 17 rounds of 9mm, Glock 22, 15 rounds of .40 S&W, Glock 21, 13 rounds of .45 ACP.

          9mm bullets measure out at .355
          .40 cal bullets measure out at .400
          .45 cal bullets measure out at .4515

          Following the standard measurement for figuring out the area of a circle
          9mm is .099 of an inch
          .40 is .13 of an inch
          .45 is .16 of an inch
          This is obviously worst case scenario wadcutting slugs with no bullet taper.

          9mm shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 1.782 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.
          .40 shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 2.08 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.
          .45 shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 2.24 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.

          It tallies up to a mean difference of .458 of a square inch between .45 and 9mm, .16 of an inch between a .45 and a .40, and .298 of a square inch between .40 and 9mm.

          This does not take into account penetration depth, merely the amount of surface area displaced by the bullet. So there is a case to be made that the size of the bullet even at a reduced capacity, will not hamper the exterior area displaced. Any inference beyond this needs to be dropped as any other comparison would require bullets of the same weight fired at the same velocity to get a comparative analysis of penetration.

          This is a fellow posters response:

          Lets take a 3 different M&Ps all of approximately the same size but one in 9mm, one in .40, and one in .45 caliber.

          9mm bullets measure out at .355
          .40 cal bullets measure out at .400
          .45 cal bullets measure out at .4515

          Following the standard measurement for figuring out the area of a circle
          9mm is .099 of an inch
          .40 is .13 of an inch
          .45 is .16 of an inch
          This is obviously worst case scenario wadcutting slugs with no bullet taper.

          9mm shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 1.782 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.
          .40 shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 2.08 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.
          .45 shot into a target assuming none of the shots overlap will take a surface area of approximately 1.6 square inches with a loaded mag and a round in the chamber.

          Using M&Ps shows that what platform you run makes a difference.

          Using HP expanded diameter:
          45 = .43 | Mag = 4.73(6.02 in glock)
          .40 = .36 | Mag= 5.76
          9mm = .30 | Mag = 5.40

          Shows why you should not use FMJ! I was shocked at the difference between fmj and hp.

          Now back to my own thoughts.

          Ultimately emptying a mag into someone should not be required if you are getting clean center of mass hits every time however there is this thing called Human will which if the person that is being shot decides he isn’t going to go down without a fight you may have to keep shooting until exsanguination forces his brain and body to quit.

  7. “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, ”

    Gotta call this bogus principle out here. While I grasp the meaning behind the physical reality that long arms are superior ballistically to handguns, its also physical and practical reality that most of us simply cannot EDC an AR15 on our daily travels as non uniformed people. Hence the need for handguns which cam easily be concealed.

    That also means if trouble comes calling, that’s what well have to use to resolve the problem. There will be no “shooting your way to a long arm.” Mr Waingro Jr. and his buddies are unlikely to grab a pizza while you wait to unlock or acquire your long arm from whatever storage medium its in. Even police officers with a shotgun in the trunk or cabin of the car seldom have the luxury of time to unlimber it while under fire. As demonstrated by the noble example of former Staff Sgt. Andrew Brown at Fairchild AFB among others, a handgun can be used against a rifle armed bad guy at 50+ yards quite ably so long as the user has the skill.

    Which leads back to Pauls good point that caliber wars are irrelevant. We are different people with different needs and different size hands. We may as well debate what shoe size is best for self defense use.

  8. .40

    If you don’t have a big-er-ish bore-round then you don’t have an adequate platform to modify it, i.e., hollow points and still have decent mass. They didn’t even make an FBI qual’d 9mm round until ~ last year, and it’s basically an expensive round created using technology developed by NASA to use against its astronauts that drive cross-country in space-diapers to see their ex-boyfriends.

  9. This video is a little on the long side (and contains graphic content, FYI), but is about the best source I’ve seen for the real truth of gunshot wounds / handgun ballistics since the source is an anesthesiologist lecturing on the treatment of gunshot wounds and fact vs. myth:

  10. 10mm: Because you need one mm for each article in the Bill of Rights. Because, the FBI found the freedom caliber too hot to handle. Because if you miss the muzzle blast will incinerate them. Because, you can get loads as hot as magnum loads, or as lite as 9mm loads, giving you a lot of flexibility. Because these reasons are as good as any other reasons for picking a caliber.

  11. Indeed. I like to post statistics and facts by people like Gregg Elfritz, who is hated because of his research, and a particular COPS episode (where a guy was shot in the chest with a .22lr and giggled for a few seconds and died) to get the caliber warriors ruffled. When in absence of facts, call names!

    • I’ve been fortunate to only witness one firearms death (drug shooting in Camden, NJ), and that was done with a .22 handgun, one shot at very close range, right through the chest and out the back. The guy was incapacitated instantly, died within a few minutes. .22LR will do in a pinch.

    • I would say on the institutional level “caliber wars” might make some sense (altho I wouldn’t use the FBI as an example; IMO they switched from 9mm basically to excuse the numerous tactical errors that helped lead up to the disastrous results of the “Miami shootout”). On the individual level, I have to go with Mr. McCain’s ultimate conclusion.

      • My recollection of the Miami shootout was that the FBI agents were using .38 special revolvers.

        • “Of the eight agents at the scene, two had Ithaca Model 37 shotguns in their vehicles (McNeill and Mireles), three were armed with semi-automatic Smith & Wesson Model 459 9mm pistols (Dove, Grogan, and Risner), and the rest were armed with Smith & Wesson revolvers. Two of the agents had backup revolvers (Hanlon and Risner) and both would use them at some point during the fight.”

    • and thats why the FBI will transition back to 9mm. Why many law enforcement agencies are transitioning back to 9mm. Why the army and armed forces wont leave 9mm. and why special operations of NATO and non-NATO allies use exclusively 9mm, despite having the ability to adopt other calibers.

      Caliber wars are stupid. Go with the round that is the least expensive, produces the lighter recoil, produces the least muzzle flash, and is equivalent to the other big 5 in terms of penetration and energy. That leaves a single caliber.

      • Law enforcement switching back to 9mm? Don’t know about that. Some large agency, and I’m thinking it was Indy but I might be misremembering, just recently switched from 9mm to .45 ACP

        It will be interesting to see what the military transitions to. It will take a while as the selection process is slow.

        • Yup. Colt won the contract on .45 for USMC. It was tdiinva who pointed that out a couple weeks ago, and if you read up on it, theres quite a bit of history there that is unique to the Marines.

          My bet is on the Sig for the Army replacement on the Berettas, based on the language in the document for “more stopping power” and “modularity”. Those who write the RFP generally get the final contract, and that could have come right off the website. 9mm, .40, .45 cal all work with swap outs, like Nicks review points out earlier if you have same serialized frame/trigger housing. That is the Euro civilian “system”, apparently, so that keeps NATO happy.

        • “Yup. Colt won the contract on .45 for USMC”

          Not for the whole USMC.

          For MARSOC only to replace existing M45 frames.

          Its the Colt M45A1.

    • It’s a 96, they just traded the mag and barrel out because they had a big pile of unused 9mm lying around and thought it would make a weird backdrop, like “this guy was using 9mm so he had to drop it and run”

      ; D

  12. See? That Photo proves it, .357 SIG is the best!


    Seriously though… Good post. I think that pic does speak a thousand words, and you hit most of the important points as well… I believe most of the ‘Intelligensia’ are pretty savvy on this and understand all of the factors besides the actual caliber are more important than the caliber itself (within reasonable parameters of course, and with all considerations taken into account). At the end of the day, it’s about the caliber YOU are best able to employ (God forbid you ever have to), in order to have a high probability of successfully stopping said attacker from attacking, with good shot placement.
    Until we get into the 40 KW Plasma Rifle Era, this is always going to be a topic of disagreement. Then I guess we’ll be arguing KW’s and range..

  13. Shooting 40 from my FS M&P just feels natural, all day long.

    But I’ve been considering a 45 cal Glock 30.

    Why? Because it’s 45, that’s why!

    Neener neener 😛

  14. I agree, caliber wars are stupid. Rational discussions about calibers, on the other hand, are great. It’s too bad they are rare as hen’s teeth.

  15. Yup – caliber wars mean nothing. It’s all about stopping power. Where’s the popcorn?

    Overall, I agree – most of the stopping power and best caliber stuff is really just mental masturbation that folks just love to debate over and over like bickering siblings that just love to bicker. It’s the same thing about AR15 vs. Mini-14s. There’s always going to be some rivalry, heated debates, and entertaining reading somewhere as people go 6 sigma particularly in areas where they’re quite attached (like guns).

  16. Felt recoil has a lot to do with it. There are 45’s that are easier to shoot than some 9’s. Everybody is different.
    Probably a good idea would be to go to a range where you can rent various handguns, and try out several guns to see what you can handle the best. If you can’t handle your gun well, you wont be able to put your shots where they count. Three 380 rounds in the chest area beat the hell out of seven 45 bullets the miss entirely!

    • Don’t forget about which political party affiliations are acceptable in order to properly demonstrate the correct level of support for RKBA, whether to move or fight if you live in a state with terrible gun laws, ARs vs. AKs, anything to do with police militarization and, of course, the relative merits of posting Israeli supermodel links vs. exercising restraint.

  17. Funny thing is I train with people who were able to call in JDAM strikes, and did. They had the means and they highly recommend it.

    And then there is the guy who sings the praises of canister rounds from an Abrams. Just think: most awesome shotgun ever.

    • Cannon caliber wars! Your comment brought to mind that Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg ended when the Union commanding officer, faced with Confederate troops crossing the wall at The Corner en masse, ordered double cannister, and fired them (four cannons) at, literally, point blank range. (I’ve been there; the range was ten to fifteen feet.) There was no one left standing.

  18. My wife likes shooting .45 ACP with her 1911. And she shoots quite well

    I like shooting 9mm from my CZ 75. And I shoot quite … Well, I shoot it.

    So, we don’t steal, ah, borrow each other’s ammo.

    Presto – caliber war avoided on the home front.

  19. “EXCELLENT article…what TTAG should be all about!”-SCG
    Couldn’t agree more, wet thought out and well written. Seems far too many articles here have outside agendas, with words like jihadists being thrown around, which really takes away from the value and credibility of the site.

  20. Most of the time, if people try to talk to me about caliber and my choice of it in real life.. I just promptly direct their attention to my S&W 500. That promptly ends most arguments.

  21. JDAM is a great weapon system. However when you have to get rid of a lot of baddies in 1 place, I would use tactical nuclear weapons. Use ICBM; When It absolutly positivily has to be destroyed in 30 minutes or less.

  22. I usually advocate for 9mm because it’s cheaper to practice with, which is a much more tangible benefit than you’ll find in any ballistic chart. But if you prefer a little more stink at the end of the barrel I’m with you there, .44mag and .357mag are two of my favorite calibers. What they lack in round count they make up for by doubling your range of engagement. It’s nice to know I could hit a grapefruit at 50 yards with my EDC.

    • I carry a sr1911 45 acp and a charter bulldog 44 special. But I am 6 ft tall with big hands and have no problem hitting what I want to hit. I say carry the biggest you are comfortable with. My open carry is a redhawk 5 1/2 inch 44 mag. But I also spent 10 years in Alaska where you have to be aware of the bears and the moose.Practice practice practice!!!!!!

      • Well you’d be able to look me straight in the chin. I carried a Taurus PT709 for a while, but it just didn’t feel right. Ended up carrying my Beretta 92fs. Now I’ve moved on to .357.

  23. Its not about the caliber its about the gun. Like how a 1911 is better than a glock. And the ak is better than the AR.

    (Personally I like my s&w m&P’s and my SKS and mosin better than my 1911’s/glock/AR/and rpk, but you can pass me the popcorn now)

    • Yup, with you on the AK over the Barbie Gun.
      Well, actually- I prefer the 870 express with 7 round.

      When you gotta put metal down range its hard to beat having 9 .38 sized pellets in each 00 buck in 12ga –

      do the math-
      thats six mag changes in CA for the AK or AR.

  24. Pretty much any cartridge will kill if you shoot right. I personally go for what I can find/afford; Everything from 7.62×25 (my favorite, especially with the hollow points) to .45 ACP (I like that one too since it is nice when using a silencer).

    IMO, get them all or get the conversion parts for all. If you can’t do that just get a 9×19 since it will handle pretty much all your needs.

  25. Having worked on an ambulance for over 15 years in a city that makes most of “The Most Dangerous Cities in America” lists I can tell you that cheap ball ammo in all calibers frequently does the intended job. Most thugs buy and shoot cheap ammo. I have worked shooting calls where the victim was shot with three .45 rounds in the torso and he was still talking and another where dude was shot in the chest and groin with two .380 ball rounds and quickly died. I carry .380 or .45 depending on the occasion. I feel confident that training and good defensive rounds trumps caliber any day.

  26. Smith & wesson 500
    Magnum revolver with 4 in barrel and wood grips is by all means the best all round weapon

    • People have been killing people with .32 acp more than a century before the 500 S&W was introduced. In other words; I like my wallet and my hearing thankyouverymuch.

  27. Confidence in your ability with your weapon of choice – so long as it’s not false confidence – will go a long way when things get hairy. That takes practice, practice, practice. It’s warm weather clothing season, so I’m packing either my .380 PPK/s or Bersa Thunder depending on where I’m at. Then it will be back to one of those things that Gaston created… that everyone loves to hate!

  28. ” A JDAM is so choice, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up . . .”

    Bueller? Bueller?
    Nice reference man!

  29. Which ever caliber you are willing to practice with and carry. The alanhinMN just posted Jeff Cooper quote on the matter. Whenever someone says that they round you are carrying is not big enough or powerful enough for carry offer them to stand down range and prove it, still no takers!!

  30. My first two defensive handguns were a Glock 19 and a Glock 26. I wanted to get a third gun, but was itching to try a .45, so I got a Glock 30. With a 9-round magazine, I can conceal the G30 as comfortably as I can the G26. When I’m out with the family, I prefer to have my G19 with a spare mag. When I’m by myself, I just take the G26 or G30, whichever one I feel like at the time.

  31. It would behoove the savvy shooter to have a basic understanding of the expansion and penetration capabilities of their particular firearm and ammunition combination. This is true of both self defense shooters and hunters. The proliferation of calibers is many things – redundant, market-driven, niche-filling, and practical. My basic advice stays the same – use the largest, most powerful, most accurate, and most reliable weapon that you can comfortably carry for self defense. For me that’s a .40 Cal Glock 27 / 23 / 35 or Smith 340 with .357 ammo on the way to either a 12 gauge with 00 buck semi auto (off duty) or an AR-15 or M16 (on duty).

    Hunters should use bullets which penetrate deeply and reliably. In my opinion, the hunter should have 90% confidence in his ability to make a clean shot(s) under field conditions, and have 90% confidence that their given firearm / bullet combination with have a sufficient terminal effect (penetration to vitals with positive expansion) once it reaches the target. There is certainly room for argument and interpretation within those parameters.

    Just as calibers have limitations for hunting, so also do they have limitations for self defense. The proliferation of excellent bullet technology and testing is a resource that can and should be used. For example, the limitations of the .380 are fairly well known. Well, at least to TTAG readers and such. Use the wrong bullet, and you can have serious under penetration with some JHPs or over penetration with FMJs. The 9mm JHP is more effective and reliable through intermediate barriers than ammo made 20 years ago. One could argue that the 9mm and 9mm +P is the best self defense caliber available. Fans of the .40 and .45 can still claim their stuff is the best. Both of those calibers can handily beat any 9mm load in energy and momentum using hot loads. Certainly each caliber uses different bullet weights and generates differing levels of energy and momentum. Any hand loader could attest to differences in bullet weight, powder weights, case capacities, etc.

    What I really don’t have time for is the “you’re an idiot if you shoot 9mm / .40 / .45” types. I have respect for opinions that are heavily based upon facts, history, and reason. If they are based on something else, than those arguments can be just as ignorant as those used by the anti-gunners. As for me, I’d rather be a connoisseur of all sorts of fine firearms and ammunition (and optics, and training, and tactics, and hand loading stuff, and knives, and DGU stories, KJW videos, TTAG, Weimaraner ear-rubbing, scotch drinking, etc.).

  32. Calibre wars are stupid but I won’t be afraid of you if your attacking me with a 50 calibre or higher unless all I had was a 22 as long as you have a 38 or a 45 And enough bullets you can take on anybody although its good to have everything in your inventory

  33. Fighting with weapons is alot of track and field when I turn the corner you won’t see me again unless your a Olympic athlete so go to the gym and stop hiding behind weapons

  34. This link is to a great article about shooting fatalities and bullet caliber. It shows that there really is a difference in what is used. So read the article and when your life is on the line use a rifle. If you can’t get hold of a rifle use a shotgun. If you can’t find either a rifle or a shotgun use a handgun. Any handgun. It doesn’t matter what caliber but pray to God you shoot it accurately, hit a vital spot and that it has at least two rounds in it.

  35. Since I had so much fun in the last controversial posting why not go at again?

    I think we can all agree that your probability of surviving a handgun wound today is a lot better than it was 100 years ago. Why is that so? Is the human body more robust today than it was 100 years ago? Did 45 ACP and 9mm Lugar somehow become less harmful to the human body? I’ve got it! It is the medical care!

    There is a time to death curve for an untreated gunshot wound. It varies by caliber and location on the body and it has remained unchanged since forever. There are wounds that are 1 minutes wounds, 5 minutes wounds, 15 minute wounds, half wounds 1 hour wounds and even 1 day wounds. What has happened is that trauma care gets started much faster and with much better techniques than 100 years ago. Faster access and more effective treatment has blurred the differences in lethality for common pistol rounds. But you have to get that treatment started in time The same wound that would be survivable in Arlington County Virginia where you are minutes away from world class trauma care can be lethal in Marionette County, Wisconsin where you are a half hour away from a small town hospital.

    For those who really believe there is no difference in lethality between the various calibers I ask why don’t you just carry a 22? It is an easier round to shoot well than even a 380. The bluing of lethality between the calibers says nothing about relatively lethality of the rounds but everything about trauma care. Does anyone really believe that Gabby Giffords would be alive if she got the same wound with 45 ball than the 9mm ball she got shot with?

    • tdiinva
      Good observation, medical intervention is also a good reason that the murder rate has gone down but shootings less so.
      Gotta die to be dead.

    • That also means you have a higher probability of a bad guy surviving and suing you for the consequences of him choosing and practicing a life of evil.

    • Yeah, she fvcking could have since two fingernail widths probably isn’t going to make that much of a difference with tissue damage or blood loss

      Ever hear of Bo Gritz? Not a “45 to the head” case but a self inflicted 45 to the sternum…

      • LC:

        I am disappointed that you didn’t flame me…just kidding.

        It’s not two finger nail widths. It is more mass and therefore more energy transfer. While the FBI doesn’t think the temporary expansion means much but they are not quite right. That temporary expansion ruptures all sort of small blood vessels and damages organs. In a confined space like the skull the temporary expansion has no place to go and causes a lot more damage. Of course shots taken in the brain case have a low probability of survival anyway but I am sure Gabby Giffords is grateful that she took a 9mm ball instead of a 45.

        • You can argue with me all you want, but that doesn’t change the facts.

          Yes, that is the difference. The energy levels are similar.

          I doubt she would have fared that much *worse* if she was shot with a 45. As demonstrated, people do get shot with 45 in regions that are supposed to take them into the next lifetime yet they survive. That is a telling testimony about pistol cartridges.

  36. Isn’t there a line that goes like “We talk .45s, shoot 9mm, and carry .380s…”?

  37. I have auto pistols in

    .22 cheap to shoot (I stocked up long ago)
    .380 Wife
    9mm Home/EDC
    .40 bed side/camping
    for every season turn turn turn
    .45 someday

  38. My 1911 is used to fight my way back to my Garand.

    If I had a Glock 9mm, it would be used to fight my way back to an AR-15.

    If I had a Colt Peacemaker, it would be used to fight my way back to a Henry .44.

    • More accurately you would use your M-9 to get to your AR and use the Colt SAA to get to your Trapdoor Springfield or your Krag.

  39. there’s obviously a point where handgun calibers get a little too small to be THAT reliable at stopping a person or a little too large to be something you carry. but man, beyond that, carry what you feel comfortable carrying and shooting.

  40. I have a 9mm, a couple of .40 and a .44mag. When choosing an EDC gun I went with .40 because it has equal or nearly equal ballistics of the .45 and the gun holds more rounds. Currently 9mm is more difficult to aquire than either .40 or .45. Now for knock down power the .44mag is the way to go but it is really hard to conceal carry a Redhawk. 🙂

  41. So are brand wars as well, I buy what I like or what works for me, I would expect others to do the same.

  42. Looking at gel blocks at the NRA convention, it would seem center fire rifles work best. Pistol rounds pale in comparison.

  43. .22 CB Cap.

    Because guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people. And that bullet won’t kill anyone even if you try really hard.


  44. Why limit yourself to one caliber? I would consider having a 9MM, 45ACP, and a 40S&W since during the worst parts of the ammo shortage I could find at least one of these three types.

  45. My husband bought me a Bersa .380 for Christmas because his 9 mm is to big for my hands. While at the range practicing with my new weapon, which I love, a “gentleman” there told me the .380 is a waste and not worth much. So I asked him if I could shoot him with it. He looked at me in shock and said loudly NO. I then told him obviously it will do the job needed and is not a “waste”. And once he saw how accurate my little .380 is in my hands, he is now always happy to see me and offer me advice on what I can do better which I am forever greatful!

  46. Great article Paul, thanks. One of those hoary tips that works is – find the gun you can shoot, that works for you. By that I mean what I would suggest to new shooters, from my own personal experience, is dont try to over analyze this, or spend too much time online.

    Just go to a range that rents many, and try them all on, ideally with a trusted gun friend, or better, hire someone who can be your training coach. If it feels good and points naturally, and you can hit the target without flinching too much, then thats the one to start with. Shot placement matters more than caliber, and if you have to start with .22, then so be it- it can take years to unlearn bad habits starting with something you cant control, or you learn a flinch from. DON’T get suckered by advice, no matter how well meant, from the Local Gun Store counter clerk.

    First thing you have to do is practice, and if the gun beats you up, and its no fun, you wont go practice after awhile, and then all you have is a very expensive paperweight locked in your gun safe, or worse- sitting around dangerous in a drawer somewhere.

    And get some good coaching by someone who is not a fan-boy of one caliber or another, to work on the basics. You will save yourself multiple hours and thousands of dollars for this simple investment of a couple- three hours and maybe $50 to $100 at first. The NRA has instructors nationwide, or ask around at LGS who is good, that works at, or with the local ranges, who will help you for pay. If you were going to look at one set of youtube videos for KISS – check out Jerry Miculek. YMMV.

    Very naturally, after some time passes you will have a basis for understanding what everyone is saying, and how everyone has an opinion, and they are all different, and you can sell your starter gun, and get something better.

    This is what most people end up doing if they start with the wrong gun, anyway, and learn the hard way, so save yourself some time, money, and frustration doing it this way, with some good help.

  47. I use to be a 1911 hater and hating the .45 came naturally with that sickness. I was a glock guy throughout and I started with 9mm, then .40 and ended up with 10mm. Thought I knew it all. Then 20+ years into shooting I finally gave .45 a try in glocks and loved it, best caliber as for me it is the most accurate I can shoot consistently. Then one day I shot a 1911 and my shooting life changed. I had avoided the 1911 not only because my dad loved it and never let me shoot his when growing up but I thought more mag capacity and striker fire was a good thing. After shooting a friend’s Colt .45 at the range all day and realizing the 1911 platform made me a better shooter not only because I felt the design more comfortable and solid but having less rounds brought me to focus more. I fell in love with it and bought up a few top tier brands with the money from the boat load of glocks I got rid of. I will never go back and now understand the love my dad felt with his 1911s. As for what caliber is best, meaningless. Any caliber will kill if need be, it all depends on what you shoot best with and this does not end with calibers as the type of pistol you use also matters. With 1911 compared to the glock design I am a more accurate and intelligent shooter. And with .45 230 grain I can put it where I want it, tons of stopping power at 900-1000 fps, no need for more in handgun. I thought I was cock of the walk with my 20 round mags of 10mm in a g29, or even the stock 15 in a g20 with bullets flying at 1400-1600 fps. With .45 in 1911 my groupings are tighter, farther and the big slow bullet lets me put it anywhere I want with ease. After schooling myself and being schooled by others .45 is it, whether one uses a glock or 1911 is personal. If I couldn’t use .45 I’d definitely go back to 9mm rather than .40 or 10mm, any other handgun caliber ain’t worth mentioning at least in semi. And to the 5.7 folks, been there done that, not interested.

  48. The practical, real world answers are:

    1. The caliber you can – and are willing – to shoot.
    2. The caliber you can find and afford to buy for practice.

    There have been plenty of formal studies published that show the difference is minimal in the real world.

    As far as the caliber wars? Well, in one aspect of my life, I am a Christian apologist. In those circles we see people arguing about which translation is best. In my opinion, there seems to be a lot of similarity between the King James Only crowd and the .45ACP evangelists. Both groups seem to be so stuck on dogma that they don’t even hear facts, much less are willing to consider them.

  49. The stopping power of a handgun is at the business end, but it has nothing to do with the barrel diameter. It actually sits just above the barrel… it’s called the “front sight”.

  50. well caliber wars stoopid understood, but I live in the last european country where you can legaly carry BUT you have to had only FMJs in your magazine … Im bit worried about overpenetretion of 9mm 124gr FMJ …

  51. I live in the mountains of NY. An old timer, known for taking whitetail with a .22, was once asked if a black powder gun was sufficient to take a black bear. His response was, “Billy, if you hit them where they live they won’t live for long no matter what you hit them with.” Sounds like confirmation to the “which caliber” discussion. Chose a gun you can shoot accurately and hit them where they live!

  52. Caliber “wars” ARE stupid. I’ve been over this again and again, both in the OR and at the autopsy table (many times). I’ve seen a case where a guy was killed by a single .22 short, and another case where a guy was shot at point blank in the forehead with a 9mm by a drug dealer trying to execute him, who emerged with just a small skin wound!

    Bottom line is that by FAR the most important determinative factor is WHERE the bullet hits, not what type it is. If the bullet hits a vital area, you’re done, and if not, you’re not. Period. Consequently, the single most important thing a prospective shooter can do is to make sure he/she can place shots into vital areas when necessary. Caliber is at best a secondary consideration, and also subject to issues of cost, availability, capacity, concealability, etc.

    Yes, of course some bullets and calibers are better than others, but once we get into the category of “service” type calibers (eg 9×19 mm, 40, .45, 45LC, .44spl, .357, etc), **ALL** of these have the energy and bullet profile necessary to consistently reach vital areas. The real world performance differences between the better loads in each of these calibers are not only fairly marginal, but also subject to the usual compromises. EG, more power also typically means more noise, recoil, muzzle flash, expense, typically lower capacity, etc. So even if we stipulate that caliber “A” is a better “stopper” than “B”, that does **NOT** necessarily make it a better choice for personal carry. Higher per-round expense may translate into lower rounds expended during practice, meaning lower skill level, and that’s not really a boon.

    Bottom line, you’ll be well served with any of these calibers, if you can do your part as a shooter. If you want to worry about something, worry about making sure you’re good with your gun, rather than which gun/caliber it is.

    If, for reasons of concealment, availability, or others, you have to go with a “lesser” caliber, I’d say you probably really are better off with either .38sp, .380, or 9×18 (all of which are marginal/low end service type rounds), rather than .22, .25, or .32 (which have low bullet mass and energy, and offer relatively lesser penetration). But again, the .22 in your pocket is better than the 870 in your car trunk, or the .45 on the gun store rack. .22 isn’t optimal, but if the gun itself is reliable, and you know what you’re doing with one, its a *LOT* better than nothing.

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