Reader Anner writes:
Fair warning: what follows is many paragraphs of pure ballistic nerdism. It also follows some assumptions and processes that would probably give my college statistics professor a stroke.
I recently had some time on a business trip to sit and ponder the merits of various calibers, concealed carry platforms, and the wealth of data we enjoy these days. Folks such as ShootingTheBull410 and LuckyGunner Labs have done us an incredible service in applying terminal ballistics research to the types of handguns and barrel lengths we routinely carry.
I’ve had a long love affair with the idea of carrying a .357 Magnum revolver. A smooth DA trigger, a legendary cartridge, and the pride of training to employ a classic (if possibly outdated) design…it turned into an emotional drive.
I tried several makes, models, and barrel lengths: J-Frames, K-Frames, a Rhino, SP101s, an LCR, and even a Ruger Vaquero. The footprint and weight of the smaller models compared favorably with a subcompact or single-stack pistol, but were torturous to shoot with the ammunition I wanted to use. Larger and heavier models were more comfortable to shoot, but a brick on the belt.
I had a Ruger LCRx, 3” barrel, .357 Magnum and a set of XS sights in the online shopping cart of my local FFL, ready to purchase. When I returned home to pick it up, it would be my final attempt to find the perfect balance of weight, footprint, handling, and shoot-ability.
However, I needed to research if those fiver rounds really had the terminal effectiveness to justify replacing a pistol with seven to ten rounds of capacity.
While I didn’t use any data from his study, Greg Ellifritz provides an excellent background on what I call “second-order” data. It’s a study on how humans reacted to instances of being shot, with all of the variables we can’t replicate in ballistics gelatin: psychological stops, sober or drugged assailants, etc. It’s worth a watch.
LuckyGunner Labs has some ammo on their hands, and performed a standardized test of common self-defense calibers into Clear Ballistics gelatin. I applaud Chris Baker and his co-workers on their extensive testing and impeccable presentation. You can see their work here.
DATA COMP – ROUND 1
The purpose of this data comparison is to compare the terminal ballistics of various calibers fired through concealable handguns. Two exceptions are the 10mm and .357 SIG tests, which used full-size handguns. To standardize the data as much as possible, not all loads LuckyGunner tested are displayed.
Displayed loads had to meet the following criteria:
1. At least 4/5 rounds fired in the provided barrel length expanded, demonstrating proper terminal function in a self defense role. A round was NOT excluded if it failed to meet the 150% expansion diameter desired; if it appeared to expand to (or close to) its design limits, it is included, and the audience can conclude if that’s ‘enough’ expansion.
2. Loads penetrating outside the 12-18” ideal range (generally due to over/under-expanding) are shown. By focusing on proper bullet function (expansion) instead of penetration, the audience can determine if they’re comfortable carrying a load that expanded beautifully but under- or over-penetrated.
3. Generally, does the load satisfy the requirements of something I would carry? Not that I would actually carry it due to other factors, such as availability or reputation of a specific manufacturer, but does the performance observed generally demonstrate good self defense load characteristics?
4. By eliminating loads that did not perform as designed, we can focus on how effective each caliber is when loaded with a specific bullet design and pushed to a velocity typical of shorter barrels.
The intent is to draw conclusions on the terminal effectiveness of the caliber by assuming proper terminal function/expansion, and then comparing the degree of expansion and penetration…yes, it’s a caliber wars session. Sharpen your spears. Once a specific caliber shows the desired performance, I can choose a carry platform and select from individual test data for the best carry load.
1: S&W M&P Compact, 3.5” barrel
2: Kimber K6s, 2” barrel
3: Ruger GP100, 4” barrel
4: GLOCK 27, 3.42” barrel
5. Kahr CW45, 3.64” barrel
6: GLOCK 42, 3.25” barrel
7: GLOCK 20, 4.6” barrel
8: GLOCK 31, 4.49” barrel
LOADS MET CRITERIA is the number of loads that met the above criteria; LG TESTED is the number of loads LuckyGunner Labs tested, representing an illustration of the commercial availability of self-defense loads in that caliber.
A high percentage of tested loads meeting my criteria does not rule it out as an effective carry caliber; it does mean I’ll be picky about which load I carry.
Units: Weight (Wt) in grains, muzzle velocity (MV) in ft/sec, muzzle energy (ME) in ft-lbs, Penetration in inches of Clear Ballistics Gel after 4LD (4-layer denim), Expansion in inches, Volume in square inches as a product of the ‘cylinder’ of penetration and expansion.
All numbers are averages of a total of five (5) rounds fired into the same gel block.
“+P” designations only applies to the calibers specifically noted (9mm, .45 ACP, .38 Special); other calibers in that row are standard pressure. Loads offered in original designs and bonded designs are designated as such. SB = Short Barrel, T&D = Train and Defend, SJHP = Semi Jacketed Hollow Point, GD = Gold Dot, VC = V-Crown, LSW = Lead Semi Wadcutter, Rem = Remington, Win = Winchester
DATA COMP – ROUND 2
Are your eyes bleeding yet? Here’s a summary of the above data.
PENETRATION AND EXPANSION
1. .380 ACP is a weak and consistent under-penetrator, requiring careful carry ammo selection. Solid bullet designs, such as ARX and Lehigh may be the best option if you must carry a .380. These will ensure adequate penetration and still deliver a respectable wound track via mechanisms unique to their “Phillips-head” design. ARX Inceptor is significantly cheaper than Lehigh designs, and generally available in local gun stores. See ShootingTheBull410 videos for more information; his results contradict some results seen here, specifically the performance of Hornady Critical Defense and XTP.
2. .38 Special was a surprising under-performer. When it did expand, it barely met the minimum penetration. Carefully choose your carry ammo, and carefully evaluate that little 5-shot snubbie as your primary carry option. Every decision in this arena is about risk mitigation; in your everyday life, a 5-shot snubbie may be more than you ever need.
3. Look at the performance of 9mm vs. both barrel lengths of .357 Mag…what?! Practically identical penetration and expansion, despite the .357 Mag’s 60-180 ft-lbs more energy at the muzzle! Now, we are talking averages across a wide variety of bullet designs and powder types/charges. However, think of the mystique surrounding the .357 Mag, particularly with Remington (or Federal, though that’s not represented in Lucky Gunner’s data) 125gr SJHPs. They’re impressive, of course, but averaging out a spread of .357 Mag self defense loads essentially produces 9mm terminal performance. Now, consider that the 9mm test barrel was 3.5” while the revolver test barrels of 2” and 4” don’t account for the 1.6”+ chamber length. A 4” barreled .357 Mag will possess an OAL significantly longer than a subcompact 9mm pistol, and generally produce identical terminal performance.
1. Does .357 Mag still destroy 9mm? Absolutely it does…in longer barrel lengths. .357 Mag is a high pressure round with lots of powder to burn. Comparing data from Ballistics By The Inch, .357 Mag screams out of longer barrels and continues to gain velocity as far out as 18” barrels. 9mm is efficient in handgun-length barrels, and plateaus around the 12-14” barrel mark. A 16” barreled .357 Mag carbine will humanely take deer out to 150 yards, while a 9mm AR carbine is best-suited for plinking or home defense at more modest ranges. Each caliber functions most efficiently in different barrel lengths. In a concealed carry discussion, 9mm performs just as well as .357 Mag.
2. What are the practical effects of pushing a .357 Mag out of a 2-4” barrel? Muzzle blast, limited capacity, and recoil. The extra expanding gasses and un-burned powder that escape out of the muzzle never helped accelerate the bullet, and are still shooting forward at extremely high velocities. If the gun is stationary at time = ignition, the combined momentum of the bullet, gasses, unburned powder, etc. are all conserved as an opposite motion of the revolver, slamming into your wrist. A cartridge that burns every bit of powder and has a small pressure differential at the muzzle will produce little additional recoil over a factor of the bullet’s weight and velocity. This is the major difference between .357 Mag and 9mm handguns in terms of muzzle blast and recoil. Other factors, such as the slide of a semi-automatic pistol retracting or a polymer frame flexing, decrease the impulse (change in momentum over time…time is increased so maximum force is decreased to deliver the same overall momentum).
3. This project started with a desire to prove that the power and terminal performance of .357 Mag justified its capacity handicap. I truly want to carry a revolver for self defense…but I can’t ignore all the drawbacks of .357 Magnum at zero increased benefit vs. 9mm.
4. Out of a 4.49” barrel, .357 SIG produced higher muzzle energy than .357 Mag out of a 5.6” barrel (4” barrel + ~1.6” cylinder). .357 SIG demonstrates nearly identical expansion as hotter .357 Mag or 9mm loads, but uses that extra energy in driving the bullet deeper into the gel. Given the cost and availability of ammo and decreased capacity, I see no practical benefit over 9mm offerings. If you need the impressive penetration of .357 SIG, consider buying 9mm ammo that will deliver the same effect, such as copper/fluted slugs from Lehigh. You can have the same terminal effect without a dedicated .357 SIG platform. You can also use a .357 Mag with a longer barrel to bump muzzle energy, though at the cost of decreased capacity and less concealability.
5. 10mm is poorly represented in the final results, a factor of weak factory loads. If you carry a 10mm for self defense against human attackers, consider that you’re accepting more recoil, costlier ammo, and a handgun that’s harder to conceal for little terminal gain. However, 10mm excels with the right ammo in specific applications. Actual 10mm spec loads from Underwood or Buffalo Bore provide excellent 4-legged game loads, for defense or offense, in situations more prone to open and comfortable carry. Lehigh solid copper bullets loaded by Underwood punch through vehicle bodies and other barriers with ease, potentially providing armed security or gate guards a lightweight option to backup their rifles. Outdoorsman can have a 15+1 pistol with 200gr hard cast loads for black bear or mountain lion defense.
6. Here’s the fun part. On paper, .40 S&W is a self defense champion, a spectacular mix of penetration, expansion, and magazine capacity. Significantly better performance than 9mm, just shy of .45 ACP performance, and boasting higher capacity in firearms closer in size to 9mm than .45 ACP. But you knew all that, didn’t you? So why is .40 S&W no longer the law enforcement darling it was just a decade ago? I’ve owned several, shot them side-by-side with every other caliber in this comparison, and ended up selling all of them. Several models of 9mm and .40 S&W pistols are identical in size, providing a perfect comparison. The G26 was a pussycat, the G27 was a snappy beast. The XD-S in 9mm was a little snappy, but manageable by even smaller shooters; the XD-S in .40 S&W removed layers of skin (the grip texture is aggressive). The Kahr P-40 hurt, the CW-9 didn’t. With every .40 S&W model I carried, I found my first-shot accuracy on steel, split times, and general performance suffered. 9mm offers a more pleasant experience, and more confidence that I can quickly and accurately place rounds on a bad guy. With solid performance from several modern 9mm defensive loads, I don’t see the benefit in sacrificing a little capacity or shooting comfort for a .12” wider bullet in gel.
7. .45 ACP…along similar lines as the 9mm vs. .40 S&W discussion, .45 ACP in small handguns has rarely been as brutal as .40 S&W. It can be stout, especially in the slim and aggressively-textured XD-S, but the impulse is slower and felt recoil is smoother…almost like a shove rather than the .40’s piercing jab. .45 ACP threw up some impressive averages, with the widest expansion and penetration right in the middle of an ideal 12-18”. In terms of FBI terminal ballistics, it’s the runaway champ. Individuals will need to consider limited capacity and felt recoil vs. less powerful calibers, and how that translates into making effective hits on a bad guy in a timely manner. However, with a quality .45 ACP self defense round, I sincerely doubt any failure to stop a bad guy can be blamed on the choice of caliber.
The FBI’s “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness” report noted that handgun rounds generally do not have the energy to create the same type of trauma as rifle rounds. Skin, organs, and internal tissue are extremely resilient and difficult to actually tear or destroy. If you’ve ever field-dressed medium game, you know how tough heart, lung, and muscle tissue can be.
According to the FBI, we can only rely on the narrow channel of damage that an expanded handgun bullet produces; meaning, a round placed into the left lung of a bad guy isn’t going to create a violent over-pressure and collapse his right lung. With a rifle firing an effective load for a given situation, we may see trauma extend well past the bullet’s narrow path.
Therefore, I calculated the total displace volume of each round, approximating that volume with a cylinder. The height of the cylinder is the penetration, while the radius is half of the expanded diameter. This does not take into account the displaced volume before the round is fully expanded; in those first couple inches of gel, before a hollow point functions and expands, a .45 ACP will be displacing roughly a half-inch wide hole.
Reviewing slow-motion function of many hollow point bullets in gel, most quality designs are fully expanded after 3-4”. From that point on, the average .45 ACP is tearing a 0.73” wide hole. However, we’re just calculating numbers here to compare terminal performance among handgun calibers, not to set any testing standard for what displaced volume bullet designers should strive to meet. Therefore, simplifying the calculation for all calibers keeps the data comp even.
All included data averaged out to 4.6in2. The three classic semi-automatic carry loads (9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP) averaged 5.6in2. .45ACP ruled the roost here, with an impressive 2.5x the displaced volume of .380 ACP. 9mm and .357 Mag (out of both 2” and 4” barrels) were identical. What does this mean? At the risk of confirmation bias, it appears .45 ACP does a lot of damage. Science.
I’m sincerely saddened by the results of .357 Magnum out of short barrel lengths. I badly wanted to justify carrying a Ruger LCRx with a 3” barrel, boasting the muzzle energy of a freight train and the terminal effectiveness of a Ma Deuce. Alas, my Walther PPS M2 with 147gr HSTs is just as likely to stop a threat, all without the muzzle blast, recoil, and limited capacity of the LCR. My wife and my credit card are both content with that result.
I’ll admit to packing a .380 ACP when it seems appropriate. I’m now more motivated to stick with a ‘real’ caliber whenever possible.
I’ve tried .40 S&W in several platforms, and since wandered away. I value performance out of tiny carry guns in a pragmatic sense, but when other calibers deliver nearly the same or more performance and allow me to place good shots faster, I can’t justify the trade-off. This data gives a hearty endorsement to .40 S&W starting when the bullet meets gelatin, but not enough to pull me back in that direction.
I’m still torn on .45 ACP. My XD-S is an excellent carry platform, one of my favorites. It allows me to throw on a weapon light for nightstand duty, doubling up purposes while on road trips or camping. Even with a 7-round extended magazine, I don’t know if better terminal performance balances out the significant drop in capacity vs. a similarly-sized 9mm.
I ran some additional comparisons on 23 potential concealed carry platforms, some I own and some I do not. I compared width, length, height, barrel length, caliber (using average displaced volume as a metric), capacity, etc. Each metric had a score; for example, heavier weight or lower capacity handguns received penalties.
The P365 won by a slim margin, but I won’t carry it for obvious reasons. The XD-S in both 3.3” and 4” barrels tied for second place, and likely my ‘forever’ carry gun combo. The Rex Zero 1 and GLOCK 20 were right behind the XD-S family. The loser by a wide margin was the Ruger Vaquero…poor fella, it’s nothing personal.
If you stuck with me all the way to the end, I appreciate your patience.
Interesting write-up. One comment on the glock .40 platforms: They are under-sprung, as a legacy of their heritage in the glock 9mm platforms. Replacing the recoil spring with one that is just a couple of pounds heavier will knock down the “snappy-ness” of the .40 and make it much more pleasant to shoot, even in solid +P loads.
The .40 S&W has been my primary go-to for many years, since sadly retiring my first carry gun, a model 19 s&w 2.5″ .357, when I came to similar realizations as you describe here.
I may try that out. I really like the .40 S&W for all of its efficiency and features. If it’s just a spring to soften the one issue I have with the caliber, that’s an easy fix. Thanks!
I did not know that 40 cals came in plus+ ammo.
They don’t make 40 +P, if you look at the table, any of the lines with +P in it don’t have any numbers for 40. 40+P is effectively 10 mm.
I have a keltec sub2000 in .40 cal. In stock form it has unpleasant and slightly jarring recoil, so out came the mods.
After adding a comfy rubber buttsock, tridelta muzzlebrake and various recoil-reducing odds-and-ends from M*CARBO, it shoots as softly as my cz scorpion (i.e. extremely pleasant and fun to shoot). And since that .40 is coming out of a 16″ barrel it has the terminal balistics of a 41 magnum.
Thank you for confirming why I still carry (at times) a .45 ACP chambered weapon. Won’t stop carrying an LCR in a jacket pocket though…too handy coupled with the ability to fire five rounds from that pocket.
“The P365 won by a slim margin, but I won’t carry it for obvious reasons.”…and those ‘obvious’ reasons are?
Design issues. I’m at 600rds through mine without serious issues, though the early signs of two catastrophic issues are starting to show. Tim at Military Arms Channel has excellent videos describing those issues and how to tell they’re starting to appear.
Even if I get to 1000rds and it still runs like a champ, I’ll never know if the next mag is where the trigger spring is gonna die.
My plan is to run it until it breaks, send it in to Sig so they can install all of the “upgrades” they’ve done along the way, and then I may trust it enough to carry it.
Add: Sig has incorporated several changes to the design over the past few months without releasing a “Gen _” designator, a recall, or a voluntary upgrade notice. Those changes seem to have fixed most of the issues.
A P365 born in the latter half of 2018 is probably solid. Mine was not.
Horse puckey! My P365 has 1700+ rounds on it with zero issues (purchased 21 March 2018). The primer drag has not gotten worse (or better), no spring issues, no barrel peening…nothing negative!
After 300 flawless rounds (200 mixed FMJ and 100 JHP) I started to carry it most of the time as my EDC…additionally, the little LCR is my BUG in jacket weather (weak-hand pocket).
Tim at MAC is NOT the definitive voice on everything firearm related. His videos are painful to watch as he is constantly off-track and blatantly pushing products his manufacturers / supporters supply, provide in kind or pay for.
By your own rationale you will never trust it enough to carry it, “… I’ll never know if the next mag is where the trigger spring is gonna die.”
Other than your vapid P365 comment it was a thoughtful, well-written analysis of cartridge potentials and pitfalls.
Pretty much this. I have a Feb 18 build 365 with over 2K rounds and have had zero issues that weren’t ammo related (1 FTE that was from a batch that had 3 FTE’s in a G19). The primer drag talk is silly and the “barrel peening” I have seen seems to be an issue with coating, not design. I Love my 365 and trust it 100%. For the record I loved my G19 and hated several other Sigs (Original trigger P320, MCX and ffs the Mosquito…) so no fan boy here but there is no other carry piece on the market that works better for me than the P365
I have switched back and forth between the 9mm and 45 cal. I will be carrying the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 45 soon. I am carrying the CZ 75 Phantom 9mm around with me with an extra clip. Even though the Phantom is just 29oz, with the extra bullets it weighs a lot more than the Shield 45 and less conceivable. I will keep the Phantom 9mm as my truck gun, but the 45 shield will be on me at all times. I love that legendary 45, one bad ass bullet.
I’m a total Glock guy, but I own a 45 Shield – it’s a terrific pistol. Controllable for recoil, excellent accuracy – I really like it a lot.
I’ve pretty much gone to Federal HST for all carry handguns (except 380 – sorry, they missed the mark there), it has excellent performance over a wide barrel length range – they did a great job on it. There’s a reason they call the 45 HST the flying ashtray.
The link is to a paper (2004 date) with a concise history of LEA (Law Enforcement Agency) firearm practices, weapons and training. I find it somewhat amusing that the much vaunted FBI got rid of their 9 mm’s after the Miami Shootout and went to a .40 (originally the 10mm and then the .40 S&W)…most LEA’s in the USA followed suit and went .40 or .45…now the pendulum has swung through another oscillation and the FBI is hawking the virtues of the 9 mm…and everyone is rushing to follow their lead (again).
Absolutely agree with your choice of ammo. I carry the 230 gr HST in .45, the 124 gr HST 9mm in my P365 and the 130 gr HST .38 Spl in the LCR.
A couple thoughts on the 9mm vs .357 comparison; first, most .357 loads are loaded well below maximum pressure while 9mm is frequently loaded beyond max pressure (+p). Both rounds have a max SAAMI approved pressure of 35,000psi but the .357 has twice the case capacity (i.e. you can put twice the powder behind the .357 slug as you can the 9mm slug). So to compare the capabilities of the two rounds you need to compare the Buffalo Bore, Double Tap, etc. stuff in .357 to the run of the mill 9mm. Now you’re looking at 600+ ft/lbs of energy out of a 3″ revolver, which for comparison carries much like a 4″ semi-auto pistol. So now you’re looking at a boost of 250-300 ft/lbs over the 9 rather than 60-180. That said, not everyone is going to be happy with the muzzle flash and recoil (especially in a lightweight revolver like the LCR) those loads are going to generate.
The second point is one I don’t have empirical data on, but considering that you can push your finger right into ballistics gel, I don’t think it’s an accurate medium at low speeds. I suspect you can subtract at least 3 or 4 inches when it comes to penetration in flesh. So I’d prefer penetration on the long end of the FBI’s 12-18″ scale.
So what’s the optimum carry load for a .357 in a 3″ revolver? Personally I carry a 36 ounce 3″ GP100 and I don’t mind the extra recoil of the hot stuff, but scaling down to a 21 ounce LCR would probably rule those loads out. Looking at the Lucky Gunners data, I like the Remington 158gr. SJHPs. Remington’s SJHPs have a lot of exposed lead and scalloped jackets and will expand very reliably, but the 125s expand a little too much for good penetration. LG shows 14.2″ of penetration for the 158s from the 2″ and 19.9″ from the 4″. In a 3″ you should expect about 500ft/lbs of energy and 17″ of penetration while expanding to around .6″. And they have the advantage of being economically priced, so you can afford to spend all the range time you want with your carry load. Of course you still have to get the job done in 5 rounds, but this is well beyond the performance of any 9mm, even in +p.
Thanks, Gov, I knew you’d get that out there before i got to it. When i saw 510 ft-lbs from a 4 inch barrel I knew something was wrong. I have no problem with 9mm, but even a 75 percent loading like the Remington 158gr SJHP will produce a couple hundred ft-lbs more from a given barrel length than 9mm.
Anyone interested in this subject should watch Paul Harrell’s video of 9mm vs 357 magnum. When he shoots his human analog with 357 magnum the difference in terminal effect from 9mm (or 40 and 45, for that matter) is substantial.
Is the data incorrect somewhere? LG provided a bullet weight and MV, and I calculated ME based off of those. If the numbers are incorrectly transcribed from LG’s test data or I incorrectly calculated ME, please let me know.
Lucky Gunner only tested one full pressure (non +p) load in .357 magnum, a Buffalo Bore loaded with a 125gr Barnes XPB and that was measured at 1644fps out of the 4″ for a ME of 750ft/lbs and 1425fps from the 2″ for a ME of 563ft/lbs. By those numbers you’d probably be around 650ft/lbs from a 3″. All the other loads are loaded to well below SAAMI max pressure.
As the Gov said, the overwhelming majority of 357 magnum ammo is loaded well below full pressure, and the use of that ammo skewed the results. A full pressure 357 magnum load should produce high 600 to low 700 ftlbs from a 4 inch barrel, so it was clear that the test data used underpowered ammo, not surprising as it is ubiquitous in this caliber.
It’s the same reason a lot of people say 10mm is more powerful than 357 when it isn’t. Full pressure loads of both produce similar muzzle energy, but full pressure 10mm loads are somewhat more common than full pressure 357 in factory ammo.
600+ from a 3″ barrel, 700+ from a 4″ and upwards of 800ft/lbs from a 6″. .357 has the edge over 10mm in the same barrels. The 10mm market is also flooded with reduced power loads. A lot of people think those reduced power loads are the full power ones in .357, though.
I think the shortcoming here is only observing the permanent cavity created in ballistics gel and assuming that a 9mm does just as much damage as a .357 because some 9mm rounds will create a similar permanent cavity. True a rifle bullet traveling at 3000fps is going to create a lot more ‘hydrostatic shock’ than a handgun bullet traveling at 1500fps, but that in turn creates a lot more than a bullet traveling at 850fps. The simple fact is that a body absorbs that energy through destruction and damage of tissue. If a body absorbs 600ft/lbs of energy it is going to suffer more damage than if it absorbs 350ft/lbs of energy.
Also, I prefer to compare a 3″ revolver to a 4″ semi-auto or a 2″ revolver to a 3″ semi-auto since that’s a more accurate comparison for ease of carry. Technically the revolvers are still longer but the curved grips don’t inhibit carry much, the biggest factor is the length from the muzzle to hammer spur vs the length of the slide.
Back in the day before we knew better, conventional wisdom on handgun stopping power held that reliable effective “hydrostatic shock” was achievable for defensive carry of LE duty and/or concealed carry handguns, and that “man stopping power” was generated by “bigger”, “faster”, or a combination of the two.
Though many hard-heads remain convinced of the irrefutable ballistic gospel preached in the 80’s & 90’s (45 ACP & 357 mag are man stoppers), those of us willing to learn something new when confronted with facts have accepted, sometimes reluctantly, that Dave Spalding, the FBI, and many others know what they’re talking about; defensive carry handguns are not particularly effective man stoppers. Handguns inflict negligible “hydrostatic shock” or “wound channels”, and the bigger and/or faster a handgun round becomes, there’s at some point a performance curve where weight, ease of carry, excessive recoil, shot placement, and over penetration factor into the defensive effectiveness of a handgun. To paraphrase many top U.S. military and LE operators “The reason you carry a handgun is to fight your way to a rifle”.
Within a few years, all LE will be carrying a 9mm loaded with ammunition as good as or better than Federal HST. The hard heads will still insist that 45, 40, & 357 are better ballistically, and they’ll still be too hard headed to admit those round aren’t better enough to make much of a difference, and lose out to modern 9mm ammo completely on shot placement and control.
Ted, I don’t disagree, and do feel 9mm is a fine choice for anyone, but check out that Paul Harrell video I mentioned before. The extra damage caused by 357 may or may not be enough to matter, but it is unquestionably a significant increase in tissue damage.
I mostly carry an LCP II, so I am certainly not overly biased toward heavy calibers, but to say there’s little or no difference in performance is not supported by the evidence I’ve seen. Whether or not it’s enough difference to make a difference is very hard to quantify.
‘…there’s at some point a performance curve where weight, ease of carry, excessive recoil, shot placement, and over penetration factor into the defensive effectiveness of a handgun.’
Well with that I’m in total agreement. Like the relationship between velocity and energy, the ‘hydrostatic shock’ (for lack of a better term) also goes up by a factor of 2. Double the speed of a bullet and you quadruple the energy. A .357 round going at 1500fps is only going to generate 1/4 the hydrostatic shock of an equal weight bullet going 3000fps. But it’s also significantly more than a slug going 1000fps. Otherwise, somebody’s going to have to explain to me how two bullets are caught by a body and the one with 700ft/lbs of energy doesn’t inflict more damage than the one with 350ft/lbs. What happens to all that extra energy?
BTW, I’m mostly a full power .357 fan because I’m a revolver fan, especial mid-large revolver fan, and my philosophy is that if you’re going to limit your ammo supply you should make the best of every shot. Certainly the higher capacity and lower recoil of 9mm weapons is a viable alternative to my preference.
Governor Le Petomane,
Not necessarily. Most human tissue groups are amazingly elastic. The extra foot-pounds of energy from .357 Magnum may do nothing more than stretch elastic tissue farther than 9mm rounds without actually causing any more damage. It all depends on whether or not the extra velocity/energy of a .357 Magnum bullet exceeds the maximum allowable elasticity of human tissue in the path of the bullet.
Think of hurling a steel ball bearing into a large rubber band. The faster the ball bearing’s speed when it hits the rubber band, the more rubber band will stretch in response to the ball bearing hitting it. As we all know, the rubber band will just return to its normal size whether you stretch it a little or a lot as long as you do not over stretch the rubber band (at which point it never returns to it original size or outright snaps). So it is with human tissue. For all we know, the higher velocities of .357 Magnum may just stretch human tissues farther and cause more soreness hours after the wound without increasing incapacitating trauma.
‘It all depends on whether or not the extra velocity/energy of a .357 Magnum bullet exceeds the maximum allowable elasticity of human tissue in the path of the bullet.’
If it didn’t, it wouldn’t create the (potentially) same permanent cavity. This difference is about the same as taking 4 100mph fastballs. Sure, those fastballs won’t penetrate the flesh, but if you took 4 100mph fastballs to your torso, you’d be rolling on the ground in agony for hours. Probably break a few ribs. And that’s on top of being shot with a 9mm! Permanent cavities represent total destruction of tissue, but temporary cavities represent damaged tissue. Ripped muscle and ruptured blood vessels are not insignificant damage. And it’s not like the 9mm doesn’t disrupt some tissue without damage either.
Uncommon sense. But you don’t need to permanently wound something to incapacitate. If stretching the rubber band, say, temporarily disrupts nervous system or circulatory system functioning (even if there’s no permanent wound) that’s a significant benefit.
That’s a problem with BG testing (and really all testing). There’s really no good measure of the effect on a functioning human of being hit.
All in all, I’d err on the side of having more energy dumped into a target in the same penetration (and those studies floating around on handgun lethality back this up).
“Those studies on handgun lethality back this up.”
Nope. I forget the author who gathered data on several handgun calibers: all calibers were pretty much equal. Surprisingly, .22 LR was one of the most lethal. This website featured an article with that data roughly three years ago.
” I forget the author who gathered data on several handgun calibers: all calibers were pretty much equal. Surprisingly, .22 LR was one of the most lethal. This website featured an article with that data roughly three years ago.”
As a general rule, when I see research that flies in the face of logic I question the veracity of the researchers’ conclusions.
If your interested in being re-educated Drew, you need to watch these.
I got schooled trying to prove my Agency was flat out wrong in the decision to replace the mighty 357 Sig with 9mm. Turns out they were right, the modern 9mm duty ammo like Federal HST is so close in ballistic performance with significantly less recoil that translates to more well placed shots on target. 357 Mag became obsolete for duty use 3 decades ago and now the 357 Sig, 40 S&W, & 45 ACP are as well, it might take another 5 yrs for that to sink in with many civilian & LE shooters, but it’s a fact.
uncommon_sense here’s the study. Nowhere NEAR 22lr coming out on top. And despite being executed by anti-gunners, there’s interesting data here.
A typo I didn’t catch prior to submission: a high percentage of loads tested by LG and then shows means a good selection of self defense loads. A low percentage would mean the individual must be picky about what they carry.
Also, the formatting under conclusions should have used numbers first, then numerals. Where the numbers restart at “1” consider that an indentation.
Also, I’m overseas on this trip and my VPN keeps cutting out. I’ll continue to reply to comments as long as the connection holds.
“The P365 won by a slim margin, but I won’t carry it for obvious reasons.“
I’m not sure that I know what those “obvious” reasons might be. The P365 is an excellent handgun, has won many awards, and sold an incredibly high number of units in its first year of production.
If I had to guess, I would venture you are referring to the relatively few, and overly-publicized, issues that some of the first units to market had, what, almost a year ago? From what I can gather on Sig forums, those issues have been definitively solved for at least the past half year. And owners of defective units: upgraded and repaired, 100% free of charge.
There is no longer any reason to be hesitant to trust a new production P365. I suspect that a competitor-funded slander campaign is the sole reason “obvious reasons” still exist to not carry one for self defense.
New production models may be solid, I wouldn’t know.
The issues were well documented in numerous forums, by individuals that bought the gun hoping it would succeed.
I have no interest in bashing the gun. I paid my own money for it and sincerely wanted it to be the last carry gun I ever bought. It’s a perfect balance of size, capacity, and features. The grip is outstanding.
I look forward to sending it to Sig so I can receive it back and possibly never think about those issues again. If it’s all fixed and the symptoms disappear, I’ll change my tune.
Interesting exercise but ultimately pointless? I am always up for watching gel tests, but Application and training are far more important than caliber. I cc a model 642 snubbie loaded with .38 +P hollow points. But my cc application is largely in the city of Detroit while in business attire. My main concern is close-up car-jacking attempts and mugging in/near my vehicle, including darkened car garages (where the crimson trace laser may play a factor). This is a great choice for the city but a poor choice for hiking in the western mountains, where my go-to is either a 3” 686 in .357 mag or a 6” .44 mag revolver (both in a shoulder rig leaving movement unimpaired). If I was going to war I’d want a higher capacity sidearm but hope never to need it. There are always compromises and no “one perfect weapon/caliber” for everyone. Find something you enjoy shooting, can carry, and will practice with. Don’t worry about everyone else!
I agree with you. This was 95% a look at how well a bullet performs after its left the muzzle and entered a criminal, surrogated by gel. I added in some personal anecdotes about how each caliber is typically represented in a handgun platform, but tried to keep that to a minimum.
How you as the concealed carrier (or LE, security guard, whatever) place those rounds is an entirely different subject. Mr. Gonzales can speak to that—I’m an mildly practiced handgun shooter at best.
This article is not a catalyst for “caliber war”. It is observed performance and collected data. Provided for review and consideration, not as proof of anything. Prejudices will not be mitigated, myths will not be exploded, anecdotes will not be put in perspective.
Just read and enjoy absorbing information.
Or just delete.
It was also a lot of fun, and a good way to kill an evening if I had to be away from family.
A literature review might have saved the author a lot of time. It seems as if a lot of the speculation goes back to the 80’s. Can we move on now? Any new ideas out there?
I’ve read that literature, all of it I could find. Unless I missed something, there were a few limitations:
1. A focus on duty-sized handguns featuring 4-5” barrels. HP designs are dependent on velocity to function, and the short 3-4” barrels most people carry make a difference in how the bullet performs (or fails to perform).
2. Widely published and available data for individuals to process. Most studies from the 80’s provided general results and broad recommendations, but very few spoke to the merits of a specific bullet design, ideal functioning velocity, etc. Even then, they’re usually based on duty sized handguns.
3. Bullet designs have advanced since the 80’s. Some old classics (.357 Mag SJHP, for example) are still excellent performers. However, HSTs, Critical Defense, and many others are relatively young. Shoot, I had my second concealed carry permit by the time Critical Defense was released.
If analysis of handgun bullet performance out of shorter barrels, featuring test data from such a wide array of calibers and loads, and including bullet designs that are just now old enough to spell their own name are archived somewhere in ye old readin’ books, please inform me.
I first read about stopping power in the 70s – the RII model. They were trying to quantify a lot of previous observational stuff from Hatcher and others.
There was actually much written in the 80s and 90s on stopping power. Mainly by Marshall and Sanow but also Ayoob. Many try tomdiscredit their work but they put excluding parameters on actual shootings to come up with their “stopping power” ratings.
The HydraShok, Golden Saber, and Starfire are all designs from that era and still often perform well today. Likewise, the Remington and Federal 125 grain JHP 357 are still pretty consistent.
I often carry 9BPLE in my pistols which is quite old design and load. I also carry critical duty +P when on the road.
Lots of good options. You just have to decide on whose criteria you like best.
Not much to see here.
I will note the 38 special results in many “tests” are skewed as they fire them in 357 revolvers. That usually costs about 50 fps over firing in a 38 special cylinder.
I would suggest watching the little videos of 38, 357, and 9mm on the lucky gunner site. They may have similar “terminal performance” as to where they come to rest in the gel. What is different is the violence in the penetration. The same rubes who say there is little ballistic difference in a 357 and a 38 fired from a snub are the first ones who will bemoan the recoil and blast of a 357 snub.
There ain’t no freel lunch, more effective cartridges are harder to control. Imagine that.
The next step to this, if anyone would like to volunteer, is to capture that cavity expansion from the slow-mo footage. Expanding the data set to include that measured volume would be interesting. That’s where I imagine .357 Mag or the stouter 10mm loads would shine. Also, it’s where oddball bullet designs such as ARX Inceptor or Lehigh Xtreme Defender/Penetrator would redeem their non-expanding function.
I think some oil ne already has software to measure the stretch cavity.
I watched a video where a guy shot ballistics gel with Marlin in 357. The bullet went 14 or 15 inches. The funny think was it made the block jump a foot off the table and fall to the ground.
I think a little better stopper than a 147 grain 9mm that penetrates 15 inches.
357 out of a carbine length barrel is an outstanding medium game combo. Ballistics by the Inch shows it gaining a solid 600-800ft/sec over the velocities of a typical 4-6” revolver barrel, especially the full pressure loads. I’ve used a Ruger Model 77/357 on several deer to excellent effect. Suppressing 38Spec loads is a riot.
There are two inherent drawbacks to that combo:
1. BC of 357 bullets is usually poor, so velocity drops off rapidly past 100yds. Hornady Flextip LeveRevolution helps in this regard.
2. POI shifts dramatically between loads. When MV can vary as much as 500-1000fps between light 38Spec and max pressure 357 loads, groups at 50yds can move several inches. Mitigate this by zeroing a single load for serious use (deer hunting, for example), and testing some similar loads to ensure they’ll hit close enough to the same POI for your intended use.
Anner…..I use the lever carbine as a general rifle.
It will kill a deer easily at the ranges I hunt.
It is also a hellacious defensive tool on anything with two legs.
With way more precision than a shotgun.
Mine is sighted for for 75 yards with 145 Silvertip 357. Puts me an inch over or under from 50 to 110 yards or so.
Same sighting is dead on for 125 grain 38+P JHP at 50 yards. Has about 1275 fps Remington SJHP on the chrono. Almost no flash, low noise (compared to 357) and recoils like a 22.
Yes! My next project is a slicked-up Cimarron 1873 Trapper levergun, 9+1 as fast as the short-stroke kit can pump out.
357 lever guns are woefully underrated.
I’d be interested in how a LCR/LCRx in 327 Federal Magnum would compare.
Same here. Chris at LG has some test data in an article, but not much. If .327 FM is the rockstar it’s followers claim and it allows an extra 1-2rds capacity, it could be the one cartridge that makes a solid case for carrying a revolver (for me). I’d like some more data points before analyzing it like the above calibers.
I have an irrational draw towards carrying a revolver. I’m looking for a data-driven argument to justify carrying one over a PPS M2, XD-S, G26, etc.
If you are really intent on a revolver (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I love revolvers even though I carry a semi-auto pistol every day), I personally think .327 Federal Magnum is the optimum self-defense revolver caliber if bullet penetration is sufficient.
You get 6 shots instead of 5 shots in small frame cylinders. And recoil is significantly lower than .357 Magnum which increases controllability and accuracy of follow-up shots.
Agreed. I performed some analogous data comp on a slew of carry handguns for myself, including 357 and 327 platforms. The 327’s increased capacity certainly helps boost its overall score. It still ranks below semi-auto pistols that hold as many (45) or more (9/40), but not by much.
Those scores for individual handguns are personal to me and what I value in a carry gun. It wouldn’t add much to an online conversation to post them. I weighted different dimensions and other metrics differently, for example.
One factor not captured in the score is the logistics of adding yet another caliber. I’m sitting at a dozen or more calibers to stock, and adding a niche round is a large hurdle to justify. 327, in all of its flavors, isn’t cheaper than any of the others, so practice ammo with my primary carry gun would be a burden.
However, if the gain justifies the pain, I’m all for it. This is a work in progress, and that’s half the fun.
Realguns.com used to have an article posted on the LCR 327 with some velocity andmgel test result (I think). That site has gone private/pay so I cant find it now.
DocGKR posts are the closest any civilian is going to get to REAL terminal ballistics knowledge.
He’s a legend in the field.
Bottom line. They are all handgun rounds. Woefully inadequate for we want them to do. The only reason to carry a handgun is just that. They’re handy. And a little better than a sharp stick. The answer is, and always has been, bigger, deeper holes.
Your comment is 1000% true in terms of physiological wounding mechanisms. Your comment also fails to address psychological mechanisms.
When a defender draws a handgun and points it at an attacker, about 90% of those attackers will immediately break-off their attack and leave the area without the defender even having to fire. And of the remaining 10% of attackers who did not immediately leave, roughly half of them will immediately leave when the defender starts shooting, even if the defender misses the attacker. That means handguns, regardless of caliber or how effective it is at physiologically incapacitating a human, will guarantee that the defender prevails without any further physical injuries (upon drawing and shooting) at least 95% of the time.
That is a fantastic result since the desired goal is to save the life of the defender. The fact that several/most handguns are not very good at killing people doesn’t matter because killing someone isn’t the goal.
Absolutely. When I’m taking the family to a very low threat area, such as a community event where many off-duty LE and other friends will be carrying a concealed handgun, I simply pack a S&W 351PD or NAA Black Widow in .22WMR. I’ve still got a G20 in the vehicle for transit to/from. It’s all about risk mitigation.
Sigh, and sigh again. .380 flat nosed FMJ, and there’s an over 99% chance you’ll never have to shoot someone.
Sigh…..go for it.
When people ask me what type of gun and cartridge combo they should consider carrying I generally advise that they find something that delivers at least 350 ftlbs of ME, with an expanding projectile, that they can consistently put rounds into a paper plate with at 15 yds and comfortably carry. Lots of different combos meet those criteria – choose one and carry on.
“I’m sincerely saddened by the results of .357 Magnum out of short barrel lengths.”
There are ‘snubbie’ loads specific for those little-yet-oh-so-painful guys.
Did you try any of them?
I’ve tried many, but to be clear: I didn’t obtain any of this data through my own testing, it was all LG’s data. It includes a few short barrel loads, such as GoldDot. The PDF’s far left column identifies those with an “SB” designation.
Very impressive analysis.
It seems to confirm what I’ve thought for some time. Caliber is largely irrelevant. Other aspects are more important.
Ability to accurately fire follow-on shots quickly.
Ease of concealment (ie weight and size)
I myself still go with the SW 340 most of the time. loaded it comes in under a pound and can be hidden easily. Slower secondary shots no doubt and reloading is always the challenge, but I can forget i’m carrying the thing inside of 20 seconds. and the ability to fire from the jacket pocket without a malfunction is a significant advantage for me in my case.
I am a numbers guy and Anner’s numerical analysis confirms my observations about caliber effectiveness. As a believer in end-to-end analysis I think 9mm is the best choice because of its higher velocity. If you consider target motion even at 10 yards the 30% higher velocity advantage over 45 significantly increases hit probability against a moving target.
And 600ft/lbs out of a revolver? You better hit the target on the first shot because you won’t be getting a second shot.
I shoot full pressure 357 loads on a fairly regular basis, I can make follow up shots relatively easily in pretty quick order. I shoot often, so I don’t find the recoil of 357 particularly potent. My 44 bear loads on the other hand…
Try 3 shots in 3 seconds at 10 yards then get back to me with the results.
“Try 3 shots in 3 seconds at 10 yards then get back to me with the results.”
Hey…I did that and…
Well, I shot a .357 snubbie. Then went out to the coffee bar, had a sandwich and a latte’. When my hand and wrist quit stinging, I went back to the lane, and made the second shot. That required a full wrist wrap, ibuprofen. Then, I went back for the third shot. Tried a two-hand hold. Which resulted in going home with two wrist-wraps, and the knowledge that I ain’t capable of shooting a “real” gun.
Literally just came back from the range shooting Fiocchi 142 grain 357 at ~1400 fps (1420 advertised). Fast shooting groups (from low ready) were all in an 8″ target at 30-40 feet. Plenty serviceable for defensive shooting.
And I’m not a great shot
Not all that bad out of a 2″ snubbie either (shot 2″ and 4″ revolvers)
tl:dr – basically what we already knew from every other study, albeit much more usable detail. Nice work – a keeper article.
Results: .380 is lame, 9mm is the same as .357 from same size barrels, .40 is too hard to hold, and .45 is still king at incapacitating effect.
And carrying a revolver is still a bad idea due to limited capacity, difficulty to conceal at .357 sizes, and too slow to reload. High-capacity 9’s and .45’s are the way to go, followed up by decent accuracy training (because accuracy degrades in combat big time.)
Nice to have my opinions confirmed once again.
I’ve heard/read your statement about accuracy degrading in combat. Not having been in combat (nice being on a ship) does accuracy really degrade? Or do those who are untrained or don’t train enough lose their cool? It would seem to me that just like in sports some people get more focused when the adrenaline kicks in and perform better than average. I would think many in Special Forces would perform even better under stress. Maybe something to test somehow? What do you think?
I wonder how open carry would change these ballistics? SMH
(Many carry both openly and concealed… at different times and at the same time.)
Please, let’s stop separating open and concealed carry unless there is a clear reason to do so. Seriously, there is no good reason to keep hammering “concealed” when simply CARRY will do. It feeds division otherwise.
Not the intent, just a means of clarifying the typical size of handgun tested here.
Good overview for the uninformed. I’ve watched probably all of the videos he touts. Paul Harrell certainly dissents from LG with his “meat” tests(gel does not mimic BONE). And MAC seemed surprised how great 9mm was in a 2″ barrel. I’ll keep my lowly 9mm’s and reserve my AR & mebbe my shotgun for “stopping”power…
I should have mentioned Paul Harrell’s work as well, forgive me. It’s great material. I chuckled at his results with HST, his dry and piercing glare into the camera, though I still load HSTs in multiple calibers and platforms. “You be the judge.”
Wow. In the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed shooting 9mm more than anything else, even more than both 22lr and 45. All the pistols I look at and try to justify buying these days are 9mm. I just like shooting it the best. I guess that’s why I like your article so much. I could now justify liking the 9mm, that is if I needed to justify it to anyone.
Well, well, well… at the end of day… .45 is still king!
Regarding gel testing, do you think we’ll ever see a more accurate test appear? I think it’s fair to accept that fully loaded .357 might do more damage in actual tissue but how do we test that in a way that conforms to the scientific method? Adding pork ribs in front of the gel makes for interesting tests but it seems to me that it’d be inconsistent depending on a whole bunch of factors.
Unless you have a pig farm and don’t mind destroying the rib meat, or America goes all feudal Japan and starts testing weapons on criminals I think Paul Harrell’s meat targets are the closest thing we have available.
Lol, fair enough. I just meant unless we specified pig dimensions, bone density, temperature, shot placement, etc. it’ll be hard to have truly repeatable results. The beauty of gel tests is that it’s easy to replicate providing you keep the temperature and other controlled variables consistent.
What a great article, a lot of information, put forth in a great format. Thank you for that.
I find it funny, consistently when someone mentions the P365. It’s like dealing with
vampires or mother-in -laws…… that being said, one thing I’ve learned from the gun and
shooting environment,if you will, is that everyone has an opinion/predudice/favorite,
when it comes to handguns. Thanks for that, and again, thank,you so much for the
information. Glad to see the .45acp was the king. The Elvis of handgun ammo.
There is one additional consideration that the data does not reflect: caliber/bullet effectiveness AFTER going through an intermediate barrier.
Of course many people do not care about intermediate barrier penetration. Those of us who do care: we need heavy bullets to ensure enough momentum to carry through the intermediate barrier with sufficient residual velocity for the bullet to expand and still penetrate at least 12 inches. And we also need that heavy bullet to minimize changes in bullet trajectory from hitting intermediate barriers at oblique angles.
That is why I carry .40 S&W rather than 9mm Luger. I fill my magazines with cartridges that have 180 grain bullets which do not deflect appreciably when hitting auto windshields at oblique angles. And I still get 15 cartridges per magazine compared to 17 rounds in 9mm Luger. I will sacrifice two rounds of ammunition to get superior intermediate barrier penetration.
The other platform would be .45 ACP whose 230 grain bullets also continue on a straight trajectory after hitting auto windshields at oblique angles. Of course you give up capacity with .45 ACP.
“…caliber/bullet effectiveness AFTER going through an intermediate barrier.”
Interesting thought. Why would the average gun owner be shooting through barriers? Wouldn’t a barrier between defender and attacker be obvious proof the attacker could not present a deadly threat? That shooting through barriers is reckless?
Some criminals are smart enough to use cover. Also mass shooters.
“Some criminals are smart enough to use cover. Also mass shooters.”
Know your target, and what’s behind it? How does one know what is behind a barrier? (thinking someone seeking cover/concealment behind glass would be as rare as unicorns)
If I’m being shot at by someone who’s behind cover, then I don’t give a shit. Sometimes you gotta roll the dice. I’d hurl a grenade if I had one.
Sam I Am,
An attacker who has a firearm can shoot through intermediate barriers. Thus, an attacker with a firearm is a credible, imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm even if there is an intermediate barrier between the attacker and you.
The most common example would be a carjacker who points a gun at you in your car with your windows closed. Your carjacker could shoot through your glass window or your car’s thin sheet metal door and kill you. Thus, you may decide that your best move is to shoot your carjacker — through the door or glass window.
Another example would be a spree-killer who is driving a vehicle into crowds of people. In that case their vehicle is their deadly weapon and I would be legally justified to shoot them through their windshield or door.
And I suppose this would even apply to an attacker who has breached your home and announced his/her intention to kill you. In that case it may make sense to shoot your attacker through a couch, chair, or even an interior door or wall.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and the above is NOT legal advice. Please consult an attorney to discuss the nuances of self-defense law.
“I am not an attorney and the above is NOT legal advice.”
Understood, and accepted.
You posed some interesting scenarios. Could be some interesting discussion, but I “get your drift.”
My vehicle carry gun is a Glock 20 with Underwood’s load of 115gr Xtreme Defenders. It’ll punch through most anything a handgun is capable of penetrating. For my specific job and the security measures/chokepoints I encounter on a daily basis, as well as the relatively increased likelihood (still very low, but it has happened at other places of similar setup) of a lone wolf attack on my place of employment, it’s a practical consideration.
For such a scenario, the ability to shoot through my windshield, another vehicles windshield or vehicle body, retain a decently straight flight path, and potentially defeat body armor is a huge benefit.
All these days statistics are all fine and good. They really miss two really important points. Calibers can be irrelevant if your shot placement is more important. Recoil management is another issue. Larger calibers seem inviting, the reality is that some calibers ; 357, 10mm, 45ACP, 44magnum; ect. are more gun than some can handle. So choose your caliber wisely. Don’t shoot something beyond your abilities.
The data comp here was narrow in focus by design. Trying to account for all of the things that make a carry gun ideal for one person would result in an article well too long for any reader to digest without falling asleep.
I have other material I’ve saved from other authors or written myself that addresses those factors. It’s a family novel I’ll send to my kids one day, when they’re of age to start carrying.
It seems that the conclusion is to carry a 1911 or P227 (or other .45ACP semi-auto) if you want to have maximum ballistic advantage in a DGU.
Any caliber is good if carried. Every caliber mentioned has been used to stop a threat at one time or another.
Hey! Where’s 45 Colt ??? 🙂
Very nice data though I’d question the methodology of the analysis a bit. You probably shouldn’t pick a CCW based on *average* round performance. You pick a specific round that performs well (and that you can shoot). Like most things, there’s a wide variety of performance and there’s a considerable overlap between 9 and 357. However, if we look at individual round performance, there’s a serious case to be made for 357 (higher top percentile performance). Take, for instance, the really hot stuff. Buffalo Bore +p+ 9mm and their hot 357. The 357 is in 10mm territory (125g at 1600fps) while the 9mm is in moderate 357 territory (115g at 1400fps) out of full size guns. That’s a serious increase- and to be able to go from 380 performance to 10mm performance in the same gun is quite appealing.
On top of that, I question the idea that the “performance was virtually identical”. In a 4″ we’ve got an average of 120 ftlbs being dumped into the target. Now it’s not everything, but dumping that energy into a target is important, even if it doesn’t cause permanent wounding.
That said, I carry both 9 and 357 depending on wardrobe/preference.
Very interesting and really confirms once again that basically all proper calibers can perform admirably.
Start any task with a clear end-state, an objective by which you can determine success or failure. It’s cheesy, but it works.
The intent was a top-down look at how each caliber performs as an average of typical defensive loads, to find a caliber that consistently demonstrates the performance you want in a carry caliber. Let’s say you liked the performance of 9mm and 357 Mag, since their averages were nearly identical.
Now you can take those calibers and compare them in other aspects: typical carry platforms, size/weight, capacity, action/trigger, features (safety, decocker, stock or aftermarket sight options), ability to chamber other calibers, flexibility to satisfy other purposes (hunting, Sunday afternoon plinking), recoil/muzzle blast…everything that would hurt or help you carry it comfortably and employ it effectively.
You now have a caliber and specific handgun that meets all your criteria.
NOW you return to the ballistic data and select some options that meet your specific requirements. That’s the step you suggested.
By starting with an average of the ballistics data, you’ve built yourself some flexibility if that specific load you chose is discontinued, or your LGS doesn’t stock it.
As an example of picking a load first: If you pick .380 ACP because one specific load performs well enough, you may become handcuffed to that specific load; if you run out of it and try others, there’s a good chance those do not meet your original criteria for a carry load.
Am I overthinking this? Will a .22 LR pistol handle 90% of life’s defensive gun situations? Absolutely.
I’m not saying ignore averages entirely. But it’s a fundamentally flawed conclusion to look at averages only and then declare that the 9 and 357 have the “same performance out of the same length barrrels”. While 9 mm can cover most of the 357 range. The top tenth percentile or so of 357 significantly outpaces the highest energy 9 mm.
So, I know it’s not scientific in any way, but I own a pistol dueling tree. .380 SERIOUSLY struggles to flip the paddles around, and .38 special is only marginally better. 9mm is definitely a step up, but it’s not uncommon for it to fail. .45 and .357, on the other hand, send those things back with AUTHORITY. In fact, the force of the impact will often cause multiple paddles to flip at the same time (can’t comment on .40; I don’t own one, nor do any of my shooting buddies).
How that relates to ballistics gel tests and real world performance, I can only speculate. But I don’t, for one second, believe that 9mm = .357 in a carry-sized piece, as I’ve seen first hand how much harder .357 hits. 9mm has definitely come a long way, and it’s what I count on for self defense purposes (it hits the sweet spot: powerful enough, with great capacity and low recoil), but I don’t believe it’s as good as the tests make it out to be.
Being the cynic that I am, I think that most manufacturers engineer their 9mm ammo specifically to meet/exceed FBI gel tests, which DOES NOT EQUATE to real world performance. .357 mag guys tend to be more old school, and thus tend to care less about the 12-18” of gel penetration. They’re more concerned if that 158gr soft point will kill a deer/hog on the spot. If it’ll do that, it’ll damn well take down a two-legged predator.
And, thus, all the advances and technological progress that’ve been made with 9mm haven’t made the jump over to .357. It’s simply supply and demand. Comparing state-of-the-art 9mm HST’s to .357 SWCHP’s is apples-to-oranges.
TL;DR- Get back to me when Federal comes out with a .357 HST
The power of the 40 is absolute,
Get you a 40 and shoot shoot shoot.
With all due respect, carrying a magnum power level gun in less then a full size weapon and expecting 9 mm recoil is stupid. I carry both a 380 & 40 cal pistol. The 380 is a LCP 2 using Hornady Critical Defense. I can’t justify the expense of the Lehigh 380 ammo as I expect to shoot at least a 100 rounds without failure and practice regular with same defensive ammo. The 40 is a Glock 22 gen 4 no light or laser. The Gen 4 seems to have taken care of the spring issue. For me, with no back grip spacer and the extra grip testure negates much of the recoil effect. I use the 180 Remington Ultimate Defense avg penetration 15 ” through barrier and expansion .80 (see lucky gunner ballistics site). Matching the round to the weapon allows me shoot the biggest caliber and make hits…
There was no expectation of such a thing. If I could engineer a .500 S&W platform that weighed 6oz, fit in a pocket, recoiled less than a 9mm, held 30rds, and produced 100dB at the muzzle, I’d be a millionaire tomorrow.
.357 Magnum 125 gr Remington Golden Sabers out of my 3″ Rhino are spectacular.
Easy recoil, plus all the goodness of a revolver (contoured grip for concealment, reliability, second-strike, shoot from contact/inside clothing, consistent trigger pull).
The 3″ Rhino conceals better than my G19 – of course the G19 has substantially more capacity.
I have shot large whitetail deer (over 200lbs before field dressing) and the 9×19 with the Remington 125 grain bullets out of a Glock 19 and it killed them dead with one shot. So you can believe actual kills or play all day with all the gelatin and ballistic mumbo jumbo you want to. I know the 9×19 works and works well, its concealable. recoil is mild, accuracy is good, and capacity is high. There is a reason the 9×19 has been the world standard pistol cartridge for over 100 years and that is because it works.
You missed one thing and that’s shooting pace without sacrificing accuracy. Given same platform, 9mm is going to be faster to shoot to the same accuracy standard than any of the other calibers you mention other than .380.
It’s certainly a consideration, but not the focus of this analysis. Recoil management and bullet placement vs. terminal performance is the primary reason I gradually moved away from .40 S&W. For smaller-statured shooters interested in a carry handgun, I’ve offered up a range of handguns for their sampling. The two favorites by a wide margin have been the G42 and S&W Shield 380EZ. If those individuals never owned another gun, but felt comfortable with those handguns enough to both practice and actually carry them, then no terminal ballistic argument is strong enough to convince them to carry something more powerful, and I’m very supportive of their choice.
Something to think about is the future. First I carried a Ruger Security Six 6in. Then for 20 years I carried a Glock 23. Then I got old. Had problems so down sized to a Glock 19. Then I got elderly. Now I carry a Bersa Thunder 380. (don’t laugh. It has been a really good gun- just over 1K through it- and I can hit with it very well. Key for carrying a 380 is to hit exactly where you want, “fastly”. It fits me the best of any handgun I have owned) Next up is a Smith K-22. It’s tucked away for whatever life throws at me next time. So live for now, but plan for the future.
I had a preview of the future once, when a hand injury forced me to shoot weak hand and then slowly regain strength in my dominant hand.
Easy-recoiling handguns with smooth triggers and simple controls were my favorite. A Ruger SR22 was my training platform for a few days, followed by progressively larger and more powerful handguns.
One of these days, hopefully several decades from now, I’ll have to shelve the hand cannons.
Depends on mission. In town or in the desert, I am very comfortable with 9mm for the reasons stated. However, I spend a lot of time in the bush in the presence of large malevolent furry things. I had an incident where a couple of wolves jumped my dog. She is very fast and agile and got away clean but then bee lined for me with the wolves in pursuit. I was watching this and wondering whether 9mm was enough as wolves are the same weight as humans and a lot tougher. Fortunately, the dog outran them and they gave up. So now I carry my 45 in the woods. I also bought a 10mm barrel for it which I put in if I am seeing black bear sign. For griz country, it is 44M plus bear spray + 12G.
Overall, a very comprehensive article. I’m also a big fan of Lucky Gunner Labs and TNOUTDOORS9 on YouTube. Thank you. However, I do think the velocity/muzzle/momentu energy cannot be minimized as an important factor in terminal ballistics. Ballistics gel is a good way to provide a standard medium for comparison, but I’m still a bit skeptical that it accurately represents real-world results. Ballistics gel does not show the result of barriers such as bone and cartilage that could deflect projectiles having less momentum.
Anyone who has actually shot a deer with 9mm and 357 magnum (such as Paul Harrell) would probably attest that a 9mm pistol, while effective at bringing down a deer, does not come close to the effectiveness of the 357 magnum pistol. All one has to do is to observe knock down steel targets on top of a rack when shooting 9mm +p, 45 acp +P and full house 357 magnum ammo. The 9mm will take down the steel plates, but the 45 and 357 will slam the plates down. Same with a shooting tree setup.
I do think the 9mm +P is adequate for self-defense and feel comfortable carrying it, but I do not think it is as effective as other SD ammo assuming identical shot (wound) placement. I could be wrong, but I would also suspect the harder hitting rounds would increase the potential for a psychological stop. I prefer 45 acp +P in a full size 1911 platform or a 357 magnum in a 5″ S&W 627 with 8 round capacity. Carry both with reloads just in case. Thanks again for a great article.
Before I retired, I was professionally involved in law enforcement ammunition testing and selection, and routinely had access to LEO shooting reports which at that time were generally not made available to the general public. Based on that experience, which started for me in the 80’s, let me just say that things have truly changed, and generally for the better.
I can remember a time and it was not all that long ago, that the 9mm rounds we actually had available in the U.S. were truly awful. They failed to perform well by any standard, whether you were part of the “Jello Junkie” team, or a member of the “Morgue Monsters” in terms of what you believed. The round simply weren’t loaded hot enough and modern high performance bullets really didn’t exist. The “Big Three” offered restricted sale “LE Only” +P+ loads that worked fine, and Peter Pi at Cor-Bon offered a similar load that he would sell to civilians. Early first generation 147 grain loads performed dismally. It was in this era that the .40 S&W, and to a lesser extend the .357 SIG gained traction, because none of us who wore a badge were in the mood to trust a 9mm. Our perception was our reality.
Both the .40 S&W and the .357 SIG, housed in at least a mid-sized pistol (they were never at their best in small guns) are fine choices and as good as they ever were, but I’m forced to admit that they offer few advantages today over a good modern 9mm +P load from any number of manufacturers. Just understand that this was not always true. 9mm advocates like to point to law enforcement “returning” to the 9mm as evidence that it was always a great round, which ain’t exactly true given how American companies used to load factory 9mm. Yes, we have “gone back” to the 9mm, and it is great, but this is the same as going back to your ex-wife after she dropped 50 pounds, had a face lift, and a boob job.
Having said all of that, it is all pretty much ancient history. Starting with the Speer Gold Dot and moving forward, just about all the majors know how to make a pretty effective 9mm round that is controllable for most people and effective enough. The research done during the years of the “caliber wars” brought us to this point, and it is a good place to be. I’m fine in my old fart retirement carrying a compact 9mm loaded with 124 grain HST’s, and to be honest, would merrily carry them on patrol if I was ever placed in that position again. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with a good .357 SIG, a .357 Magnum, a .40 S&W, or a .45 ACP if that is what you have or if it is what you favor.
I take issue with your statement:
In a concealed carry discussion, 9mm performs just as well as .357 Mag.
It just does not make sense. 9mm vs .357 penetration and expansion is the same despite more muzzle energy of the .357 mag. Where did the extra energy go? Something is missing from the calculation and the conclusions made.
You probably heard of Paul Harrell’s video on 9mm vs .357 mag and he got the same results as you did on penetration and expansion. He also demonstrated where the extra energy went. The targets hit with the .357 mag were much more destroyed than the ones hit with equivalent 9mm rounds in spite of equal penetration and expansion. I would recommend watching his presentation.
That is not to say a 9mm might not be a better choice and way performs well enough. Just not even slightly equivalent.
I withdraw my comment. Looked a little harder at the data and see your point that the extra energy is absorbed by the elasticity of tissue which is not overcome with handgun energy enough to be heavily damaged. So it is only penetration and expansion that matters, to a threshold needing rifle energy to exceed.
Doug, you stated it more clearly and concisely than I did. Where I do find value in that extra energy (that doesn’t do significant additional terminal damage) is in penetrating barriers and retaining enough energy on the other side to still function. I kept this to bare gel or 4LD, so unknown exactly how well they function, but it’s far better than nothing.
Also, for a general purpose role (yardwork, hiking, etc), that extra velocity flattens trajectory a little bit on shots taken beyond the (oft-cited, widely-debated) 3yds, 7yds, whatever distance we generally think of in defensive situations. I was clearing brush one day and heard hogs squeal; I was carrying a 2” .357 and went to investigate. I got one at about 30yds (4 shots, one connected, not a great example of marksmanship), the rest scattered. I’m not convinced a lesser caliber would have had the punch at 30yds to get a clean kill.