handgun ammunition ammo
Dan Z. for TTAG
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Caliber wars — gun owners arguing over the relative merits of various calibers of self-defense ammunition — are an ugly, protracted business. This article will do nothing to reduce the hostility and much to increase it. Oh well. It’s hard to talk about personal defense ammo without touching off a skirmish.

A gun owner’s choice of caliber for personal defense is a serious business. After reading the text below, I recommend reading the comments as well. Try out different handguns in different calibers and don’t get “married” to a particular choice. There just may be a better gun/ammo/holster combo out there, somewhere.

fmj 9mm range ammunition ammo
Dan Z for TTAG

1. 9mm

Gun gurus once considered 9mm Luger ammunition to be underpowered, best for shooters who couldn’t or wouldn’t “man-up” and shoot the big boy .45 ACP caliber cartridge. Not anymore.

In terms of “stopping power,” the experts now see it as something of a wash. The smaller and faster 9mm bullet offers more penetration than a .45, while the .45 offers greater expansion — it makes bigger holes — than the 9mm. But in terms of recoil, there’s a significant difference. And improved bullet designs have made 9mm pills much more effective in recent years.

According to gundigest.com, the recoil generated by the G19 generated 4.76 foot-pounds of recoil compared to the G21’s 7.21 ft-lbs. This confirms what experienced shooters will tell you: it’s easier to hit what you’re aiming at with a 9×19 round than a .45. And when it comes to self-defense, shot placement is king.

There are other confusing variables. A smaller 9mm handgun is harder to control than a heavier .45 pistol. But generally speaking, most shooters are more accurate with 9mm than they are with .45 (or .40 caliber ammunition). Add in the lower price of 9mm target ammo and the carry capacity enabled by the round’s smaller size and it’s easy to see why 9mm parabellum rules the self-defense ammo roost.

Hornady Critical Defense .38 SPL
Dan Z. for TTAG

2. .38 Special

Revolvers remain ideal for new shooters, especially those who don’t or won’t train or hit the range. Which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of American gun buyers. While revolvers come in some astoundingly powerful calibers (e.g. .44 Magnum), those guns generate the same accuracy-robbing recoil described above. And then some.

A wheel gun chambered in softer-shooting .38 Special will get ‘er done. While the .38 Special surrenders speed (about 300 ft./sec.) and energy (about 150 ft.-lbs.) to the 9mm, so what? A modern hollow-point .38 caliber bullet still generates more than merely adequate penetration and very controllable recoil (when shot from anything other than a lightweight snubbie). And it sidesteps the prodigious recoil of .357.

The .38 Special’s only real drawback: capacity. Most revolvers chambered in .38 hold either five (for small guns) or six rounds. That’s not a lot of ammo when you consider the fact that handgun rounds [in general] aren’t particularly lethal, and that many attacks involve multiple assailants. Even so, the .38 Special round makes revolvers viable, if not ideal (is there even such a thing?) self-defense for millions of Americans.

10mm personal defense ammunition
Josh Wayner for TTAG

3. 10mm

Let’s say recoil isn’t an issue. You know how to control it. You could shoot .45, but you want greater capacity and, crucially, the most effective man-stopping commonly available handgun cartridge money can buy. That would be the same round the FBI chose for its agents: 10mm. Right until they didn’t.

The Fibbies bailed on 10mm when they discovered that many of their employees couldn’t shoot the round accurately. It’s worth repeating: the 10mm cartridge is a stout round, serving up roughly 50 percent more recoil than a .45.

The payoff for a 10mm handgun? Power. Depending on the ammo, 10mm generates some 650 – 750 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy, compared to around 350 – 450 ft.-lbs. for a .45. You’re still better off with a rifle, and shot placement is always the thing, but 10mm is the the ammo hunters depend on in bear country.

One man’s opinion. We know you have your own. Let the comment deluge begin . . .


This article was originally published in 2017.

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  1. Nonsense, we all know that real stopping power doesn’t start until the .950JDJ. If you can’t lug a hundred and twenty pound rifle around, you aren’t man enough to defend yourself. /sarc/ Obviously.

  2. There are way more than 3 best ones. There is lot’s of context in the world.

  3. There is no best. They each have their positives and negatives. It’s all circumstantial if not more about personal preference.

    Ya don’t give a 125lb inner city female a .50BMG anything.

    .22LR is not adequate for hunting Black Bear.

    A higher round capacity might be needed for some situations but useless in others.

    If your going for an inside the pants holster of some type, an AR pistol will not conceal well.

        • An experienced observation, no doubt.

          And .45 acp HURTS a lot more than 9×19 ANYTHING. Pain stops fights.

          Also an experienced observation.

      • My wife is 125 lbs and has shot the 50AE Desert Eagle. Of course we dont live in the inner or anything city. Not sure I would let her carry it though, she can barely pick it up and she cannot charge it.

  4. The best handgun calibers for home defense or concealed carry are: 9mm 115 grain, 9mm 124 grain, and 9mm 147 grain.

    • Nope. 5.7 is the future. 5.7 is smaller, faster, lighter, shinyer, newer, and more powerful then any 9mm load. New is always better. 5.7 is everything 9mm wishes is could be. 5.7 is the 6.5 creedmoor of pistol rounds. Place 5.7 and and 9mm next to eachother, which round is taller? That’s right. 5.7 is will soon leave all handgun calibers in the dustbin of history. Might as well get one now because in a couple of years, the ONLY handgun ammo you’ll be able to find on shelves due to its overpowering popularity with young shooters will be 5.7.

      • With guns STARTING at over $700.00 and ammo at around $1.00 per round, I’ll take the old school route. 9mm for me all day long. Thank you.

        • Dood. Buy a reloading press if you shoot a lot. $250. Today, I cranked out 150 rounds of 9mm 147 Fed HST equivalent. That’s $120 on the open market.

      • You get 1-up for the 6.5 Creeeeeeedmore pistol reference. Well Done. And yeah, 5.7 is reeeely close to 5.56.

      • 5.7 doesn’t penetrate enough to be effective.

        9mm , 357 mag and 10mm are the way to go.

        Honestly my 10mm isn’t that bad recoil wise. But it’s a Glock 40 A BIG ass gun with a big ass spring.

        • My G29 kicks like the proverbial mule, but the first semi auto handgun I EVER fired was a Colt 1911 45 in the Marine Corps at 18, it was also the first time I ever shot any handgun bigger than a 22…. It took me a week to start obliterating the bull at 30 yards. the G29 took a couple of days and the addition of the longer G20 mag with an extended floor plate and a grip extension for more stability and I can hit a silhouette target in the chest 16 out of 16 with 185 grain HP or FMJ at 50 yards, any one of which would be fatal (not bad for a 4″ barrel, 220 grain hard cast lead (swapped in a Wolf barrel) gets a little crazy after the 5th or 6th round at that distance but extremely efficient inside 30 feet which is why I carry that round…. True believer in why go big if you can go bigger… I added the guide rod laser and it hits where the laser points within half an inch at 30 feet (inconsequential with a 10 MM lead round)

  5. Felt recoil impulse is a function of weight. I prefer to use energy output per ounce of pistol weight as an MOP. If you are shooting 45 Auto +p from a full size 1911 platform the recoil impulse is less than a G17 firing 9nm +p.

    Bigger holes are better than smaller holes and with today’s JHPs 45 Auto makes proportionately bigger holes than FMJ. However, 9mm is popular because most people are using light weight polymer framed pistols, cost, modern JHPs are good enough and capacity may be important.

    • “ Bigger holes are better than smaller holes and with today’s JHPs 45 Auto makes proportionately bigger holes than FMJ. However, 9mm is popular because most people are using light weight polymer framed pistols, cost, modern JHPs are good enough and capacity may be important.”

      Depends on what you are shooting. Definitely not the case with bears.

      • The subject is self defense. If I am worried about big bears I am grabbing a shotgun and loading up with slugs.

    • You left out; a 9mm might expand, but a 45acp never makes a hole smaller than a .451″. I like big holes, big holes let the fluid out faster. And with newer JUPs and Hyper-Velocity ammo, I like 45acp that clocks out at 2,000fps from my full size 1911 and fragment as the enter the target.

      I do have a 9mm, but carry the same kind of ammo in that as well.

    • Yeah .45 seems to be poo poo’ed online, like they’re trying to push it out of existence.

      Meanwhile in reality and at the range it remains quite popular.

  6. Funny thing is that I was carrying a 9mm G17. Then bought a 10mm G20 for the bear around here in NW MT. Then, last summer, I found, alternating guns every other magazine, that I shoot the heavier G20 as well as the lighter G17. So, right now, I am carrying the G20 with solid cast bear loads loaded, and a second magazine with self defense ammunition. The thing is, I don’t really want to be shooting anything besides bear with those bear loads, because they are specifically designed for penetration. That means over penetration in normal situations. The solid cast are primary, because I am likely to have less time to reload in the case of a bear attack, than probably in the face of a threatened attack by the other predators in the area. I switch to straight self defense rounds when I know there aren’t any bears in the vicinity, such as in a big city.

    • Are you shooting the cast lead through the polygonal barrel on the G20, or do you have an aftermarket barrel? My experience in shooting cast bullets through a G20 for USPSA competition was that the barrel leaded up fiercely. I don’t know if their policy has changed, but Glock used to specifically discourage use of lead bullets – plated or jacketed were the way to go.

      • “I don’t know if their policy has changed, but Glock used to specifically discourage use of lead bullets – plated or jacketed were the way to go.”

        What good does a thin electroplate you can easily scratch off with your fingernail do over cast lead?

      • There’s a good reason for using jacketed rounds. Non-jacketed high velocity cartridges (+P and magnums) made of cast lead can leave fouling deposits. The lead buildup degrades accuracy and is a pain to clean.

        • One word for you: powdercoating. Wait, that’s two words!
          My cast 240 gr bullets at 1450 fps, or 300 gr at 1250 fps leave clean, shiny bore in my .44 mag Super Redhawk.
          I also shoot powdercoated bullets out of .40 s&w Tanfoglio Stock which has polygonal barrel with the same results. And 9mm out of AR15 pistol and heavy 300BO with a different upper. Even in 7.62×39 and 7.62x54R powdercoated lead works fine, but the accuracy is meh.

  7. Ahh, yes! The Caliber Wars! We cannot allow for any respectable amount of time to pass without dredging up this old axe.

    10mm – the One Caliber To Rule Them All
    9mm – the most common and versatile
    .45 ACP – the Greatest Generation’s favorite
    .38 SPL – your Granddaddy’s favorite
    .357 Mag – your answer to Granddaddy’s favorite
    .44 Mag – Dirty Harry’s answer to Granddaddy’s favorite
    6.5 CM – Thanos’ favorite, because there was a spot on his gauntlet for a seventh stone

        • In 1957, IIRC, two El Segundo cops were killed with .22 shorts. The guy got away and was only tracked down in the last decade or two, due to the FBI getting the national fingerprint database on-line. Some cop in CA decided to run the prints of the cold case and got a hit.

          .22 short can kill.

        • Sure, a rock flung from a sling can kill. There are a lot of things that CAN kill.
          I prefer something that can kill a little more reliably than a rock or a .22 short.
          Just saying.

    • I am a Granddaddy. I have found that in bog standard factory made handguns I do my best shooting with the K frame .38.

      For purely self defense I prefer the 9mm in a full cap magazine with a side of j frame as needed.

  8. Everyone perceives recoil differently, but I’ve never found .45 to be a huge leap from 9mm in terms of felt recoil. It’s noticeable, particularly in lighter handguns, but I find it to be less a of a difference than between 9mm and .40 S&W.

    • It’s really a different kind of recoil impulse. Kind of hard to compare the two. It doesn’t seem that much harder to control 45ACP as compared to a 9MM.

    • I’ve shot my 9mm SW Shield back to back with a .45 Shield and was pleasantly surprised by how controllable that .45 was. I shot just as fast and just as accurate with it too.
      The .45 had a little more ‘thump’ to it but that’s the thing; it was a ‘thump’ and not a ‘crack’, ‘pop’ or other sharp recoil pulse. It was very easy for me to control and get right back on target with.

    • And it really is ergonomics and weight related. Example – My 3” 1911 in 45 recoils less than my p938 I
      With 9mm, and my wife claims the 45 is easier for her to shoot than her sig p238 which is 380… it’s amazing what 6 ounces and a hand filling grip can mitigate.

  9. Actually I’m in agreement, and as a matter of fact I have two snubbies, along with baby Glock and a big daddy Glock… all in the above calibers.

    Oh yes, and the big daddy Glock also shoots the shorter & weaker centimeter round quite well.

  10. I’m not a physicist nor did I stay at a holiday inn, but in all the slow mo video i’ve seen, the reaction is straight back into palm until after the projectile is gone from the barrel, then all sorts of mechanical actions begin to flip the muzzle but by that point the bullet is already on its merry way.
    Follow up shots may suffer getting it back to point of aim but it seems that once its in battery it goes where it was pointed. Rinse and repeat.

    • This would be a great comment if only you had stayed at a Holiday Inn.

      I heard a trainer say that he can get newbies to hit the bullseye on their first shot. They begin to miss after that because they’re anticipating the recoil.

    • guntotindem,

      Ahh, you have touched upon the real dynamics of recoil which involves both Physics and human action.

      I shoot 9mm Luger (with 115 grain bullets) and .40 S&W (with 165 grain bullets) equally fast and accurately. The only difference is how hard I pull my hand back down after recoil to get back on target. I pull down relatively lightly after 9mm and relatively hard after .40 S&W.

      This became apparent when I started rapid fire practice at a human analog paper target. I had been shooting .40 S&W exclusively for practice, about 2,000 rounds in total. I shot nice “combat accuracy” groups (about 8 inches in diameter at 10 feet). Then I switched to 9mm Luger in a handgun of the same size and weight. My rapid fire practice was a vertical shot string going lower and lower. The simple explanation: I had trained myself exactly how hard I had to pull my hands back down after .40 S&W recoil to be back on target and used that same amount of force when shooting 9mm Luger. Of course 9mm Luger doesn’t recoil as much, which means that I was pulling down a little too hard, which means that each successive shot was a little lower than the previous shot.

      Once I “recalibrated” my brain to 9mm Luger’s reduced recoil, I was shooting the same as .40 S&W — same combat accuracy during rapid fire and the same firing rate.

    • With a 10 MM you don’t need a second shot if you can shoot (with multiple assailants you are changing targets anyway and with a 10 MM precision is not as important as just making impact with the target)….. EDC Glock 29 10 MM w/G20 mags 16+1, Bedside Ruger P90 45 ACP 8+1, ankle carry backup SCCY 9 MM 10+1… Wife carries a Taurus Millennium 9 MM 10+1…

    • .40 is very obsolete. Unless we are talking about the used gun market because every police agency is getting rid of their .40s.

      • According to you, but according to the US Border Patrol, they carry 40s&w and according to the top 10 largest Police Departments, some agencies issue 40s&w. Los Angeles Police, Houston Police, Detroit Police, Boston Police, and most agencies allow officers to choose their preferred caliber. Look it up, Out of the 10 New York and DC only allow 9mm. Police Sidearms The Handguns of America’s 10 largest departments May 18, 2018. If you prefer 9mm..it’s Ok, McDonalds sells the most burgers, are they the best? If you want to compare performance ( ballistics101.com )

        • Agreed .40 is no where near obsolete! First of all .40 still goes bang when you pull the trigger. Secondly you get far less passthroughs with .40 as opposed to 9mm. More % of energy transfer is a good thing. Third I don’t even want to get hit with a well placed spit ball let along any caliber bullet.

          I’m a .40 guy and I’m sticking to my guns!

      • That’s what they said about .357 magnum. The very fact that police trade-ins are so affordable will ensure that .40 is here to stay.

  11. The .45 remains very popular even with many publications thumbing their nose to it. And as much as people adore the 10mm on blogs I rarely see them on the range.

    • Last time I was at the range, the guy next to me at the bench let me try his G20. Great gun.

      Alas, I’ve already streamlined all my gats to 9mm and have no intention of buying more. Even my .40 S&W ammo is only being consumed for practice at this point, and then that gun (plus a couple boxes of +P ammo) will be resigned as an extra “secret cache” gun, to be buried in a bugout waypoint location.

      • I like to diversify my caliber portfolio because, “variety is the spice of life”, and, after the recent ammo run we saw with the Shanghai Shivers panic, 9mm, 38 special and 357 mag disappeared pretty quick, but I was still able to find 45 ACP and 44 special in decent quantities.

        • I own several calibers, and like you, I noticed that the not 9mm is more readily available lately. I usually carry a .45 and even when I retire it in favor of a lighter recoil (gettin’ old…) I’ll always keep it around. The terminal performance stats are arguably close on the popular calibers thanks to bullet technology. If we get to a time where ammo is scarce, .45 will do the job better than .380 or 9mm if range (hardball, FMJ, wadcutter – whatever) ammo is all you have. Modern defense rounds are great, but you won’t be casting them in the garage from old wheel weights.

  12. If bullet designers do their jobs properly, penetration will be similar for all three cartridges. What will vary is the terminal diameter of the bullet.

  13. Any handgun caliber is a compromise.

    Rifles are best if one knows there is a gun fight in their near future.

    • Undoubtedly. Although full house .357 and especially .44Mag really wake up in rifle carbines

      • A lever action rifle + sidearm combo both chambered in .44 Mag is a magic ticket, yessir. I would not be disappointed if those two were my SHTF setup instead of my .300 BLK + 9mm.

        • I Haz a Question,

          There is no doubt that .44 Magnum provides excellent defensive as well as offensive capabilities within limited range (about 100 yards). You really have to step up to a significant rifle caliber (such as .243 Winchester or larger) to achieve significant gains in offensive capabilities.

          The ONLY downside to a .44 Magnum revolver and rifle combination (for both defense and offense within 100 yards) in a bug-out scenario is the weight of the ammunition. A paltry 500 rounds of .44 Magnum ammunition is HEAVY — and probably weighs about the same as 500 rounds of 9mm Luger plus 500 rounds of .223 Remington.

        • Bashing on .44 Mag?

          ♪♫ Every party needs a pooper; that’s why we invited youuuuu… ♪♫

        • I Haz a Question,

          I love, LOVE, LOVE me some .44 Magnum. I may or may not have multiple revolvers and rifles chambered in .44 Magnum. My children and I may or may not have taken at least five white-tailed deer with rifles chambered in .44 Magnum.

          All I am saying is that .44 Magnum is not be the best choice for a bug-out caliber if you do not have a huge trailer and towing capacity to haul it.

        • I Haz a Question,

          This is going off on a tangent somewhat — you mention a handgun and rifle caliber combination for a SHTF scenario.

          A good handgun and rifle caliber choice for a SHTF scenario actually depends on the specific ugly scenario. If we are talking about a foreign military invasion, a multiple terrorist attack, and possibly even a motivated spree killer, then you would want big/effective calibers. If we are talking societal collapse (cough, result of governments destroying economy/society in response to COVID-19, cough), then even the smallest calibers will be totally fine. Why? In a societal collapse ANY caliber gunshot wound is likely fatal, whether due to blood loss in the first day or due to infection days later, since hospital care is likely unavailable. That being the case, no one in anything even remotely close to a sane mindset will roll the dice, even with .22 LR. At that point, if you have to be highly mobile, then a .22 LR handgun and a .22 LR semi-auto rifle would arguably be the ideal combination since you could easily carry 2000 rounds in a backpack without slowing you down.

        • Oh, I know what you mean. Just teasing.

          I myself am really comfortable with my .300 BLK pistol AR, plus G17 combo. I also have a .22 pistol and .22 semi-auto rifle, and would not feel defenseless if that’s what I was stuck with if the balloon went up while I was away from home. The back-and-forth opinions seen all over this page is just part of the love/hate relationship with the Caliber Wars discussions, which is why I poked fun at the topic itself in my first comment at the top of the forum.

        • Ruger PC Carbine and SR9 in 9mm makes a great home defense combo. Both use the same magazines. 4 – 18 rnd and 4 – 30 rnd magazines fit nicely in my bug out bag.

  14. If I was going to carry a revolver, it would be in .45 Colt with 250 gr lead cast bullets. Or maybe some 200 gr FTX hollow points….

    • I’ve been lusting after a double action revolver in 45 colt for quite some time, but the looks like I’m Pretty much alone in this seeing as double action 45s are practically nonexistent outside of the S&W model 25.

        • I think you mean the S&W ‘Public Defender’.
          If I’m not mistaken, some if not all of the models are milled for moon clips to use .45acp as well.

  15. 9mm gives more penetration than .45 ACP. Since when? I’ve been on the range with Federal/CCI Spear a couple of times shooting various bullet types/calibers into 10% ordinance gelatin. All things being equal they both had about the same penetration. Around 14″ if I recall correctly. As you would expect .45 ACP made a larger wound channel.

    • I think a lot of people these days who write about guns online have more experience watching YouTube videos then actually going to the range and shooting stuff. In my actual experience shooting real objects at the range with different calibers, bigger calibers cause more damage. Every time.

    • Loved it not sure if going the Glock or sig route when NYS deigns to grant me my right to buy one.

      • Sig P226 shoots like a dream, points great, outstanding DA/SA trigger. A little bulky for summer carry, though, I must admit. I haven’t tried the corresponding Glock, but I definitely prefer the Sig to my G19 in 9mm. Hope you get one or the other soon!

        • Any experience with the 320 sig and how it compares to the 226? I did like the Glock 31 but a bit of extra frame weight could be an improvement and more in line with how I got used to a Beretta 92/M9 over the years when I could handle anything freely. And on the goofy side of the factors ease of caliber conversion will come into play as it is less effort/cheaper to just put multi caliber on my application than add more.

  16. Dude, 10mm is a meme round with a cult following, that is comes in two forms; aenemic factory loads that hit 40 S&W spec, or hot loads that comparable to 357 or 41 magnum, which a lot of people don’t want to shoot regularly.
    Quit trying to make 10mm a thing.

    • And the funny part is that 10mm producing traditionally strong energy, say in the 625 ft. lb. range, is not really a lot of recoil at all in most 10mm guns. “People don’t want to shoot it” mostly because of boring mythology like yours. Remember in the 1970s when men in America were still masculine, and not limp-wristed types such as yourself? They would shoot .357 all day long at competitions, and many even .44 magnum. And now you have you guys going on and on about how hard it is to control a .40 or 10mm, both of which are embarrassingly easy to control. I trained a high school girl on a G20 and not being filled with mythology such as yours, not really knowing anything at all about firearms, she didn’t hardly notice the recoil difference above a .45.

      • “I trained a high school girl on a G20”
        And let me guess, everyone clapped?
        Now, don’t you have something better to do, like finding a plate carrier that will fit over your beer gut?

      • Totally agree, Today’s metro sexual men complaining about their wrists hurting, and try justifying their choice of caliber as being superior, when in reality it’s adequate, if it weren’t true then why is it their caliber comes in plus p or Plus p plus? If you notice they always say shot placement as if only their caliber is capable of shot placement…

    • Count me in the cult. Those “anemic” 40 S&W rounds hit harder than 9mm +P and hang with the energy levels of a 45 without giving up as much round count capacity as the 45. Good full house 10mm like Buffalo Bore or Underwood out does all but very hot 357 magnum handloads until the barrel length gets up to about 8 inches or so, then the extra powder capacity of the .357 starts to run away from the 10mm. Not up to full power 41 or 44 magnum levels, but it might approach a light load of those calibers. Give me the 10mm capability of 15+1 while hotter than .357 any day. (or even 10+1) if your jurisdiction so requires. Carbines in 10mm with the hottest ammo hit about 1000 FPE, which is spitting distance of 5.56 energy around 1200 or 1300 FPE. If you start looking at “damage potential per magazine” it starts to look really good for a handgun round.

      • Can we not post things without checking facts first please?

        1. Most .40s&w has more energy than most .45acp. Exceptions aside.

        2. Buffalo Bore .357 magnum has slightly more energy than 10mm Buffalo bore in handguns, when you look at most powerful options for each. Don’t need a longer barrel for this to be true.

        Just trying to keep everyone honest, wish everyone would do that themselves instead.

      • Actually I reread your statements and I apologize, you noted the really hot. 357 ammo and didn’t actually say .45 had more energy than .40. I’m an asshole. Gotta hold myself accountable too.

    • If the FBI had more men than “girly-boys” the 10 MM would be the most popular (and much less expensive round) on the market… Let the men worry about the big guns and you go play with your toys… A Glock G29 with extended floor plate G20 mag is 16 plus 1 of 220 grain hard cast lead, blow up your heart firepower… Can’t hit the heart? No problem, anywhere near a major artery and the combination of blood loss and the ensuing attack of diarrhea will quickly (and permanently) take the want to out of the assailant… FYI, you should do at least SOME level of research before you display your ignorance…. 10 MM is already a thing no need to “make” it one

  17. The Calibers Wars debate continues ad nauseum 😂! Way back, 40+ years ago, when I first started shooting pistols, a ‘Nam vet I worked under, gave me some sage advice. He said “Find a gun and caliber you’re comfortable shooting, and practice the sh*t out of it, until you can nearly shoot it with your eyes closed.” The S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum I’d just recently purchased, I took his advice to heart, and ran thousands upon thousands of rounds through that gun. Eventually, I purchased other guns in other calibers, but his advice holds true, no matter what you pick for a defense weapon. You can buy a Lee Bauer Custom shoot ’em up 1911, but unless you practice with it regularly, it’s just an expensive paperweight. Yes, Velocity, Energy and Penetration are important contributing factors in a calibers use as a defensive round, but if you can’t hit an arse the size of Hillary Clinton’s at 25 feet with it, then the caliber debate is moot one. I’m just as comfortable carrying my PPK/S or my Sig P365 or my PPQ M2 in .40 as I am carrying my model 60 in .38 Special or my model 586 in .357 Mag (most of the time it’s the P365 because I love the sights in low light).
    The whole point is accuracy and familiarity with a weapon’s quirks, are what’s most important.
    Just my two cents on the Caliber Debate. Remember, a .380ACP started a World War.

    • Amen! In the late 50’s into the 60’s, mob hitmen in the New England/New York “families” used .22LR pistols. Shots in the head would often cause the .22 bullet to rattle around inside the skull. Thanks to the “64” Gun Law, they were made aware that they should using “bigger” guns. “Gang Baggers” who couldn’t hit the side of a barn, even if they were locked inside it, used .22LR pistols, and would end up getting beat up by their intended victim.

      A drugged up junky can have his heart shot to pieces, but live long enough to hurt/kill you. If necessary, how many rounds can you put into ~3″ in 3 seconds at 7 yards??? When you find what gun/caliber works for you, then that gun/caliber is what you should carry. Even Jeff Cooper agreed that a solid hit with a .22 LR beats a miss with a .44 mag.

      • It’s easy to have the right shot placement for a 22lr when your target is tied to a chair.

    • P.S. As to the start of World War One, the Browning pistol used was chambered in .32 Auto.

  18. For one of the ultimate authorities during his lifetime on the 45 acp. to name the 10 MM as a better round than the 45 acp is saying something. For the majority of his career in shooting Jeff Cooper looked upon it as heresy to claim there was any better handgun fighting combo than the 1911 and the 45 acp. That was until he discovered the 10 MM cartridge and had some input in the development of the current 10 MM cartridge. There are lots of great handguns available for it now, but there is one item missing. My favorite SMG was the original MP5 family of SMGs. It would be great to see H&K do a redo in a beefed up MP5 in 10 MM.

    • Gideon Rockwell,

      You have no idea how badly I want someone to make a nice carbine chambered in 10mm Auto that accepts 15+ round magazines. (When I say “nice carbine”, that excludes the 7 pound Hi-Point carbine in 10mm.)

      If such a carbine ever came to market for retail price at $500 or less, I would most likely abandon .40 S&W as my everyday carry caliber and step up to 10mm Auto and acquired said 10mm Auto carbine as well.

      • TNW makes a carbine in 10mm, but it does cost a bit more then $500.00. I belive it’s $675. I was thinking about getting one of those myself. It would be a nice addition to the semi autos and the revolver I have in 10mm.

      • Hickock45 reviewed a MechTech PCC upper kit chambered in 10mm, and he absolutely loved it and said it’s a quantum leap over the 9mm version. If this were legal in CA, I would definitely have one as my go-to trunk gun.

      • Im right there with you on desiring a quality 10mm carbine. Every one that I have looked at has issues running hot ammo, which is pretty much the only reason I’d want one. 10mm is too variable in its loads to work well in a blowback. If it will cycle light loads, it won’t shoot the heavies well.

        True delayed blowback or gas operated would be needed. CMMG claims there’s works well, but the few reviews I’ve read say it damages the brass.

        Meanwhile, here I sit. 😞. What a great truck gun combo it would be to have a G20 and a carbine that takes the same mags.

      • I’m always amazed at how many old timers can type on message boards all day every day, but still have yet to discover the wonders of a simple Google search.
        I’d leave some links to the dozens of 10mm AR pistols available online, but you guys probably wouldn’t know to click on them.😘

        • Did you see the part where he said “carbine”? Or are you replying to somebody else?

  19. Quite honestly for in the home, I still like my .40 the best out of 9mm or 45ACP, I do have all three. Yes, I’m faster on a mag dump with the 9mm and a bit more spread out with the 45. The truth is, in articles like this we need to stress TRAINING more than Caliber Wars. I don’t even want to get hit by a well placed spitball let alone a powder activated anything. So, shot placement is determined by proficiency. I know .40 is losing steam but, much less passthroughs than 9mm. And it gives me confidence that I have the best of both power and speed…

    So hammer away on my opinion, I’m sticking to my guns!

    • Mike,

      I am in the same camp with you: I personally believe .40 S&W is the optimum handgun self-defense caliber (when shooting it out of full-size handguns).

      You get more expansion and heavier bullet weights for defeating intermediate barriers at oblique angles (such as vehicle windshields) compared to 9mm Luger. And yet you still get 15+ round magazine capacities in a full-size handgun. And the cherry on top: ammunition seems to always be available even during ammunition droughts. What’s not to like?

      As for the lame claims that .40 S&W recoil is excessive: phhblllllttttt. Not true. I have trained women on the petite side to easily control recoil from full-size handguns chambered in .40 S&W. As long as someone teaches proper technique, anyone of average fitness can control .40 S&W and shoot it well.

      • Hey us .40 guys gotta stick together! .40 was all the rage when 9mm just didn’t do, now they beefed up the 9mm so, are ammo improvements for the .40 next?

        Mmmmmwaaaahaaahaaa 🙂

    • I like .40 too. In the winter months, when I can wear a jacket or coat, I’ll carry my PPQ M2 Full Size, and yes, I also feel like I’m carrying the best of both worlds capacity and power wise. S
      Hopefully someday, some manufacturer will come up with a compromise in .40 that doesn’t give up the advantages the cartridge has.

  20. If you are in a self-defense situation a hand gun is not the best chose. Use the hand gun to get to your assault rifle or shotgun.

  21. Ask any Mafia hitman. The .22 short is totally the bomb!

    And remember … always …

    “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”!

    • Believe it or not, a Ruger Mk IV Tactical in .22LR with a suppressor is an excellent choice not only as a training gun but for the close-in work you’re making a joke out of. It’s an outstanding “gray man” gun, or if you choose, you can confidently use it on small varmints under the right circumstances.
      No sonic “pop”, almost as quiet as a .177cal air rifle but more effective. Accurate out to 15-20m.

      …and yeah, I did go there. Someone has to.

  22. Heh, how the first caliber on the list looked:


    …because bacteria are bigger than viruses!

  23. Thfbth! .357 magnum is the one self defense cartridge to rule them all!

  24. Thing NOW IS can you get the ammo you need, and at what price is it NOW compared to several months ago. And are you willing to pay the high prices?

    Ammunition seems to be in short supply or sold out for the most part, in most places, and even the small supply of rare and obscure calibers seems to be gone. The common calibers, for what is now available in limited quantity from some merchants, has had the prices, usually, increased significantly on a percentage basis. Even if you can get an order placed it may be weeks before your order will ever be delivered.
    Heed this article from americanprogress.org, Bullet Control, How Lax Regulations on Ammunition Contribute to America’s Gun Violence Epidemic, Posted on October 7, 2019.

    It’s the game plan and the way forward for the left/liberals/demoCraps. As what are guns with no ammo, or else with ammo so expensive that the quantity purchased is much less than what might have been purchased before the kung-flu [aka Dracula’s(bats’) revenge] took over/radically changed TWAWKI.

    To the important point and the thrust of the article, the ‘crucial component of a comprehensive vision for reducing gun violence in the United States is robust regulation of ammunition’ … And closing, ‘the gaps in the current law regarding commerce in ammunition and the easy availability of uniquely dangerous types of ammunition and high-capacity magazines to civilians’ … And further, a series of policy solutions to address these gaps, including:

    Require background checks for ammunition sales

    Require ammunition vendors to become licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and report bulk ammunition purchases

    Increase oversight of online ammunition sales

    Fully implement the ban on armor-piercing ammunition

    Ban high-capacity magazines and .50-caliber ammunition

    Increase excise taxes on ammunition to support gun violence prevention efforts

    Ban the use of lead ammunition on federal conservation lands


    Reading it at least twice is a good idea. Most will ‘get it’ and will be able to handle it.
    If you think it’s bad now wait until the new ammo taxes are added to today’s prices.

    • They worry about lead contamination, but ignore that copper has its own drawbacks as well. Out of the pot and into the fire.

      Enforcing the ban on “armor piercing ammo” really depends on how they define “armor piercing.” If they are talking about penetrating a standard police vest, then the only legal rifles will be in .22. How is that going to work?

      We have background checks in California now. According to the CaDOJ statistics produced in a pending lawsuit, some 700 or so prohibited persons were stopped by the system from buying ammo. Meanwhile, perhaps as many as 100,000 lawful buyers were denied because the address at the time they purchased a firearm doesn’t match their current address. The law is written such that you cannot buy ammo unless you have a registered firearm with the DOJ; but the registration records are never updated. So unless your address matches the address at the time of purchase (in the last 20 years for handguns), the system says you don’t own a gun and denies the purchase. Imagine this on a national scale.

      Reporting large purchases is silliness. What make these idiots think that persons intent on a massacre buy all their ammo in bulk? The requirement is vastly over-inclusive and therefore finding a potential maniac is like finding a needle in a haystack.

    • hhhmmm…

      Your typing quite a bit but not actually saying anything at all.

      Please define “high capacity” for us. How high is high? I’m not sure what you mean by “armor piercing”. What are you using for armor? I’m not clear on what you mean by “America’s Gun Violence Epidemic”. Please explain.

      • You’re missing the point guys.
        The leftists keep their definitions intentionally vague and non descriptive, so they can fill in the gory details later, after the lemmings have already approved of something they don’t care to fully understand.
        Make no mistake, it’s by design.
        Whenever leftist politicians talk about “filling loopholes”, what they mean is, they want laws that allow them to employ their own loopholes. Their Death of a Thousand Cuts, on the way to their goal of European style gun control.
        “What about copper projectiles?”
        “What’s an armor piercing round?”
        Good questions, but you’re asking for the wrong reasons. Maybe they’ll want your monolithic copper ‘ExTrEmE PeNeTrAtOrS’ and “ExTrEmE Defenders” next. Right after the steel core green tips.
        “What’s the definition of an ‘aSsAuLt Weapon’?
        Good question. They don’t know the answer.
        But they’ll let you know later.
        “You have to pass the bill to see what’s in it.”
        – Aunt Nancy
        They want it ALL eventually, and nothing short of it. And we need to act accordingly, and no less vehemently in response to their evident pathology.

      • And the term “assault rifle” is already being replaced with the even MORE ambiguous “WeApOnS oF WaR” a term that by design could eventually be defined, and redefined to apply to almost everything you want to own.
        At least twice now on social media I’ve heard some Elmer or another chastise John Q. Gunowner about how Mr Fudd was “smart enough to choose a semiauto Benelli instead of an AR 15”. …..Ummm, DICKHEAD. They want your precious military designated scattergun TOO! Biden says you “don’t need a 9mm”. What does that tell you?
        Half of us need to seriously wake TF up and get with the program.
        White Obama Mama has his head screwed on completely straight.
        Why try to disseminate or distract ourselves from his actual point?
        Burying our heads in the sand won’t do us any favors.

  25. I’ve made my self-defense caliber selections:

    9 mm for EDC.
    .380 for carrying in my pajamas or for visits to client offices where guns are not permitted.

    Why 9mm? Wide range of pistols from which to choose, most of them easily concealable.
    Why .380? Fits in my pajama pocket and highly concealable.

    For me, it is about the gun, not the caliber.

    If I ever go hiking in grizzly country, I may invest in a 45 and make sure I get plenty of practice.

  26. OP said: “The smaller and faster 9mm bullet offers more penetration than a .45”
    What he should have said is “With new projectile advances, 9mm can now provide sufficient penetration with good expansion”.
    However, in terms of stopping power, for hand guns there is no such thing, only shot placement. If you really want to stop an attacker, 12 gauge is king.

  27. The .38 does not belong on the best 3 list, not even close. It old and more or less obsolete, bulky for the amount of energy it delivers. Its saving grace is its a cheap practice round for .357 and it is good enough. I am not saying its bad, but its not one of the best cartridges. There are some awesome revolvers which happen to be .38, but its the guns that are awesome, not the cartridge.

    • I view it much like the 380. Acceptable but on the low end. I am sure there are loadings that make it perfectly viable but how much does it cost compared to a common caliber effective hollow point? Would not turn down a cheap or free one but it’s not on my list of NY purchases to come.

  28. The one and only best caliber for armed self-defense is the one you have loaded in your firearm that you are carrying with you, practice with, and are confident with.

  29. That 300 ft/s that the .38 gives up is a LOT of speed and energy. We’re not talking about going from 2000ft/s down to 1700 where it’s not much of a difference on the whole, we’re talking about around a 25%-30% decrease in speed. And that can result in unreliable expansion. That’s not a good thing and I see no way it belongs on a list of best calibers for self-defense unless you include the +p

    Putting in an expensive and ‘robust’ cartridge like the 10mm but ignoring the .45acp and .357? Come on now.

    Don’t get me wrong, the 9mm belongs on any short list. But proponents sometimes seem to forget that the very same advancements that made 9mm better in the past decades have also been applied to the .45

    • The author included 38 special in an attempt to be original, by appealing to old Fudds, while still excluding the .45acp and .357 mag that they were all expecting to see on the list.
      And your point about advancements applying to ALL calibers, including .45acp is refreshing! BRAVO!! I was almost beginning to think I was the only logical person left in that regard. The same advancements that apply to one apply to all when implemented properly. And a better expanding .45 is still bigger than a better expanding 9mm.
      Sometimes I think people are just trying to disingenuously justify their own shrinking ammo budget. I do see the value in increased capacity though, for the record. But that’s about where the benefit ends, for me.

  30. Check this out, I recently used a G 20SF and built a 9×25 Dillon. Using Underwood ammo it produces 2000fps and 800 ft#s energy.

  31. The narrative usually comes to justify a decision or assign blame.

    The 9mm was thrown under the bus by the FBI after Miami. We need the 10mm!

    After it became obvious that 10mm was tough to control “let’s down-load it”.

    If you’re gonna downl-oad the 10mm, we can make the cartidge shorter so smaller shooter can handle it better.

    Ammo drought+more recoil = 9mm is just as good as 40 so were going back.

    And thats just the FBI……Bureaucrats and Accountants make most of the decisions about Duty weapons.

    Which caliber? One you can control and hit with. Bigger is usually better but you have know your limitations and parameters.

    • Move .357 mag above .45acp,
      then add .357sig ahead of .40
      and THEN I’m on board!😂👍🍻

  32. A 9mm, .40., .45 or .22 that penetrates the heart or brainstem of an attacker will end the fight. Each are capapble of doing so, if the target is positioned correctly.

  33. Everyone has a favorite and they change like the tide. The FBI went away from revolvers after loosing gunfights to higher capacity semi autos. And the public and many state agencies followed. They chose the 9mm and society followed suit until that didn’t work out so the looked at 10mm and 40 cal. And the public and state agencies followed. These larger calibers have better knock down and good capacity but the snappy recoil makes it harder to get officers qualified. So now the FBI and many other agencies are looking back to the 9mm to get more officers qualified and have better qualification scores. Better scores makes a more confident shooter.
    Pick yourself a quality weapon platform and wear the barrel out practicing and then have your smitty rework back to specs and keep practicing. With practice comes speed and accuracy and self confidence. When you have reached that point, keep practicing with YOUR favorite ammo.

  34. For many years the .45 ACP in a 1911 platform was the only self defense gun and ammo combination for me. Now that I’m an old man with arthritis hands that has all changed. Now a .357 magnum revolver, loaded with .38 special Plus P is my self defense gun of choice. Any semi-auto is painful for me to load, operate the slide and fields strip for cleaning. The revolver solves all of those problems for me. I practice often and don’t feel under gunned. Revolvers are making a comeback and the aging population, that have the same physical problems I do, may have a lot to do with that.

  35. A tie.

    .357 Sig Sauer. 125 grain JHP. Excellent ballistics out of a semi-automatic, if you think you need more rounds. This ammo is now about the same cost per round as .45 ACP

    .357 magnum. 125 grain JHP. The best ballistics and one stop shot percentage of any handgun round. At the personal distances of the overwhelming majority of civilian encounters, this round is king. This ammo is now cheaper than .45 ACP.

    If you’re a cop busting crack houses, or a soldier assaulting jihadi strongholds, these aren’t good rounds. But for civilian self-defense, they are tops.

    • I was about to disagree with you on 357 sig re deployment and I realized I would be splitting hairs on the topic and had several soldiers that had issues handling 9mm. Absolutely agree they make better home defense rounds overall but I wish they were available in greater numbers (and economy of scale lower prices).

    • I would be inclined to agree with you, except that I think .357sig is an IMPECCABLY good round for aerating dope slangers and homicidal occultists.

  36. many of you guys forget or just don’t know that the 38 special is loaded to different power levels. and such are some that get to 357 level. and some just a little under that. it is indeed a powerfull round and gave us the 357 because of the power it was capable of. and since most revolvers will handle all of them it is versital. ( NOT the aluminum frame Colts, they CANNOT be shot with anything but standard pressure. you will get away with a few shots but after about 1000 rounds the frame may crack and the gun is finished. the same for older S&W airweights but not the new ones). and ammo choices today are up to date, and better than before. I usually carry a 38 snub and feel fine with it. and I shoot it well.

  37. Military and police have gone back to 9mm because it makes the most sense in most situations for most shooters.
    Ironically the 9×19 Lugar was invented two years before the 45 ACP.
    Also Ironic is the iconic Browning High Power – the last pistol John Browning designed – was a 9mm.
    9mm has dispatched a lot of good guys and bad guys globally.
    So the Austrians got it right twice in one century…. 9mm Lugar, and 9mm Glock.

  38. Clickbait article.
    Shoot the caliber you can hit with.
    Some of us even prefer the recoil impulse of .45 to 9mm. And like you pointed out, .45 out of a real gun actually produces less recoil than 9mm out of a mouse gun.

  39. Wow… some one got paid for this….
    even if they did it for free…. it cost too much

  40. Give this some thought: ALL Magic Bullets can fail to deliver “magic” depending on their velicoty from YOUR handgun and what the projectile encounters between your muzzle and the BG’s skin. Thereby arriving like a solid/FMJ/Ball. THIS is where you judge the Minimum performance of the cartridge/calibers: worse case! What size hole and energy do you want to delive?

    Now that you made a choice, you can add the magic beans as icing to your choice. So many Lemmings followed the fickled FBI choices blindly: are you small handed and can’t handle recoil? Your worried about “wear” over time? You believe Magic beans will make smaller calibers perform like bigger ones? Yeah, a whole lot of people switched to the 9mm but are using guns with shorter barrels and MOST don’t buy the FBI’s magic cartridge either and almost never in stocking depth quantities.

    Placing all your faith in caliber selection based on magic beans is exactly the same as believing if you have a leathal encounter it will be within three feet and you will prevail with only three rounds.
    VMMV and probably does whether you admit it or not.

  41. 9mm and .38sp are good choices. If I were writing this list, #3 might me whatever the gun you carry chambers.

  42. Lay down your arms, accept your fate. Alligators will turn into butterflies. (I’m meditating in anticipation of the coming New Socialist Republic).

  43. I’M REALLY GETTING TIRED OF THE [nearly weekly] REHASH OF WHICH CARTRIDGE IS THE BEST. I want to know two things:
    1. Which BULLET is bet, and
    2. Which ones will NOT JAM in my guns?
    (Just remember, not all guns like the same ammo!)

  44. You can kill anything on this continent with a .22LR with good shot placement. As someone above said, you can carry a whole lot more rounds and a lighter gun through the woods of that caliber than any other. I would bet on me with my .22 surviving above a lot of others with their big bore guns. And I own and love many big bore bolt action rifles.

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