A Primer on Pistol Calibers for Self-Defense, Part 1: The Basics

PHOTO_20160318_214140

I received this email from a reader a little less than a week ago:

Hi!  I’d love to see a series of articles on the advantages and disadvantages of the various pistol calibers from the perspective of the concealed carrier.  There’s a lot of conflicting opinions around for those of us who are trying to choose a caliber and don’t have trouble with the recoil of any.

Thanks.

Robert C.

Your wish is my command, Robert. I will be happy to give a short run-down of my current understanding of pistol caliber effectiveness. My readers should note, though, that there are still things to learn on this subject, and I am not an accredited expert. Still, I’ve done quite a bit of reading in this area, so I feel reasonably confident presenting the following.

FBI Firearms Training Unit Chief John C. Hall wrote, in the forward of the 1989 paper Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness:

The selection of effective handgun ammunition for law enforcement is a critical and complex issue. It is critical because of that which is at stake when an officer is required to use his handgun to protect his own life or that of another. It is complex because of the target, a human being, is amazingly endurable and capable of sustaining phenomenal punishment while persisting in a determined course of action. The issue is made even more complex by the dearth of credible research and wealth of uninformed opinion regarding what is commonly referred to as “stopping power”.

Handgun Wounding Factors identifies four mechanics of ballistic wounding:

  • Penetration, the length of tissue through which the projectile passes,
  • Permanent Cavity, the volume of tissue that has been destroyed by the projectile as it passes through,
  • Temporary Cavity, the temporary expansion of the permanent cavity by stretching due to the transfer of kinetic energy of the projectile,
  • Fragmentation, projectile pieces or fragments that are impelled outward, which may sever blood vessels, muscles, arteries, etc.

However, Handgun Wounding Factors notes that this last, fragmentation, typically does not occur in pistol calibers as the velocity of pistol rounds is too low to facilitate it with projectiles that provide adequate penetration. In addition, the effect of the temporary stretch cavity on the human anatomy is secondary at best, if not insignificant. Pistol calibers therefore wound primarily through the first two mechanisms, penetration, and the permanent cavity. In other words, the basic terminal effectiveness considerations for the civilian when choosing a handgun round should be: “how deeply does this round penetrate, and what volume of tissue does it crush along the way?”

The current state-of-the-art technology for achieving the optimum balance of these characteristics for handgun calibers is the jacketed hollow point bullet. This is a bullet featuring an empty cavity in the nose, which creates forces on the bullet’s core and jacket when penetrating the target, causing the bullet to expand into a wide flower-like shape which crushes the maximum amount of tissue. This allows a much wider permanent cavity than the size of the bullet (and therefore complete round) would suggest, and also helps prevent over-penetration, reducing the risk to innocent bystanders.

Although I have given this simple distillation of the problem, it is still, as Chief Hall said, a complex issue. An example of this complexity is given in the 2012 paper Physical Mechanisms of Soft Tissue Injury from Penetrating Ballistic Impact:

The results show that bullets of the same caliber can have very different wounding potentials based on penetration into 10% ballistic gelatin. Sometimes bullets pass through intermediate barriers such as heavy clothing, wood, metal, wallboard or auto glass before penetrating tissue. In such situations, the bullet tip can be altered, changing its penetration and energy loss characteristics in tissue [44].
Sometimes these changes may be unexpected. For example, when the 127 grain Winchester Ranger SXT (Fig. 2B) passes through steel, its penetration depth in gelatin increases from about 36 cm to 43 cm. Its tip is compressed as it passes through the steel so that it does not expand much in the gelatin and does not lose as much energy as quickly. In this example, the force-penetration profile (and resulting wounding) will look more like that of a 9mm FMJ (Fig. 2A) that has not passed through an intermediate barrier.

In other words, the penetration and permanent cavity of a given projectile are interrelated. A projectile that does not expand has less resistance, and will penetrate deeper, while one that expands to a great degree will have more resistance, and penetration may suffer. Further, calibers that produce less energy, such as for example the .380 ACP, do not have as much force behind the bullet, and their penetration while expanded can suffer as a result. Calibers that produce more energy, such as the .357 Magnum, for example, may have surplus force and can overpenetrate even if good bullet expansion is achieved.

So then, what is desired is a caliber that has enough energy to expand to the maximum possible diameter, while still penetrating to the desired depth. For most people, that “desired depth” is the FBI standard of 12 to 18 inches in ballistic gelatin, and I can think of no reason to argue with that figure. In concert with this, we need a bullet design that gives the maximum expansion at the operating velocities of that cartridge given the barrel lengths of common platforms, and the best consistency of expansion through common barriers such as auto glass, sheet metal, plywood, denim, and especially human ribs.

Next time, we’ll take a look at how these considerations shake out with regards to common calibers and projectile designs, so be sure to check TheFirearmBlog.com for more!



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


Advertisement

  • M.M.D.C.

    You are a brave man, Nathaniel.

    • nova3930

      given equal penetration, which most modern JHPs achieve roughly, and capacity I’d rather have a bullet that expands to the greatest diameter possible, which usually means a larger caliber. Thing is you can’t get equal capacity in the same weapon with larger calibers, smaller rounds facilitate larger ammo capacity, and nobody in a gunfight has ever complained about having too much ammo

      • Really it’s not like your gonna eat the person after you rip him/her into 50 million pieces by an expanding or disintegration bullet. Just really hate the mess afterwards..

        • M.M.D.C.

          Note to self: don’t mix bath salts and hollow point ammo.

          • LMAO….

          • Kinda wonder if it’s like paint balls. can you put your hollow points in the freezer?

          • M.M.D.C.

            Whatever floats your boat.

            I accidentally put a magazine full of Federal HST through the wash. Took them to the range and every one lit off just fine. Good to know. 🙂

          • LOL I would hope. If I has a box of federal munitions and they got wet, I would want my money back. if reloads, well you need to stop reloading, because you suck. 🙂
            Watch though some idiot will take some 22 long rifle brass and try to freez it. and see. it will go BANG and knock down the can still.

          • I once told a friend, polish your brass, especially before we go out hunting. helps keeps water from tarnishing the brass, and reduces jamming. which both are true right?
            Went over to his house later that nigh, he had a can of polish and about 300 laying there, and his hands were dirty as Heck. I asked and he said.. Doing what you told me, polishing my brass, 1 at a time! LMAO.
            Got to admit they were pretty and shinny. LMAO…

        • Billy bob

          Mmmmm…long pig.

          • Bill

            tastes like chicken?

          • Yuck you guys.. dang. it was a play at, why do you need a 9mm hollow point? Like what do you need to protect your self? I didn’t expect you actualy talking about eating people. LMAO
            I don’t use a Jacketed hollow point when I go hunting! Was what I was getting at. Jeez.

          • checkmate440

            Frog legs I believe.

  • Paul White

    Oh, is this what we’re gonna do today? we’re gonna fight?

    Caliber wars are like the invasion of Panama; messy, nasty and don’t really accomplish much

    • Bill

      Don’t forget Grenada, but at least everyone got a medal.

    • Edeco

      Everybody here is full of it! The only suitable handgun SD round is the 38-40 (38 WCF). All others are just for European military officers to summarily execute their own guys with if need be.

      • Bill

        In a Webley-Fosbury.

        • Edeco

          Of course; long, bottle-necked cartridges and a top-break are the perfect combination.

      • Shinypartsup

        Hey! I love my .38-40 Winchester 1892 with black powder hand loads. Don’t disparage my home defense choice!

    • Aldo1887

      Or they’re like a Seal song on the jukebox in a country bar,, for Profiling Purposes..

  • Lol

    Federal 9mm HST 147 +p, Speer gold dot 147, Barnes tac-xp 115 +p+.

    Honorable mention to Winchester ranger 127 +p+.

    My preference is for gold dots as they are bonded and expand more consistently than HST while not quite reaching the same diameter in expansion. I also like to believe speers QC is better while federal has lied and cheated with lots of exaggerated data on their performance tech sheets.

    147 gold dots are not loaded to +P like the HST, giving up about 70fps at the muzzle.

    147 vs 124, a 147 will penetrate further, expand at lower velocity, and typically have more energy/efficiency as it will have a longer dwell time/time in the barrel for a more complete burn. Not to mention being sub sonic which makes it more accurate 🙂

    • If you like the Barnes ammo, you should check out the Cor-Bon DPX 115gr +P. Same Barnes bullet. I can always seem to find the DPX, the Barnes branded ammo is harder to find (at least where I am). TN Outdoors’ gel test produced great results.

    • Zippy2003

      Speer and Federal are owned by the same company. Have been for quite sometime.

      You forgot to mention length of barrel. That will have an affect on velocity and thus expansion of hollow points. The 147 grain bullets are a lot better in duty size pistols as opposed concealed sized pistols with short barrels. Do a Google review on ballistics with short barreled concealed sized pistols, as that’s the topic of this article (ammo to be used in a concealed carry gun)

      Shootingthebull410 over at YouTube seems to have a never ending review to find the “best” 9mm for a three inch barrel. Which is certainly enlightening.

      But yes, pretty much stick to any premium American made self defense handgun ammo and you really can’t go wrong with what you choose. Things have changed a lot over the past some 30 years.

      • ostiariusalpha

        The HST has yet to be bested on any STB410 video.

        • jng1226

          Although he jokingly moved the crown from the HST to the 147 Ranger T because it penetrated slightly further in his testing protocol, which he personally places more emphasis on. The Ranger T had a smaller expanded diameter than HST which he concludes accounts for the deeper penetration. He concludes you can’t go wrong with either and it is a matter of personal preference. I do believe the potential wounding effects of the Ranger T “talons” are slightly better than HST and competing designs, so that’s what I carry. Tough to find though.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Getting greater penetration through inconsistent expansion is not necessarily a good thing, though I really should have mentioned the Ranger T bullets. If you discount the dud bullet, then the Ranger’s penetration averages out to 15.875″, which is just over an inch more than the HST. That’s kind of a toss up between them at that point; they’re both pretty good bullets.

      • Lol

        Thank you for the atk correction. According to their own data, gold dots meet the 12″ after auto glass while HST typically stops around 9″.

        I still think bonded gold dots are where its at

  • Jim

    It really would be best to point out in a caliber selection primer that the effects of ALL handgun ammunition is marginal at best, from a medical and practical standpoint, and that most handgun wounds are survivable with proper medical care. This means that most of time, a threat is not going to stop immediately, regardless of the ammunition selection. Training to shoot-until-stopped, and training to be aware of 3 dimensional anatomy and target selection are critical.

    While choosing to purchase and use a modern, high-quality round is important and will result in better effects than cheap or obsolescent rounds, anatomy awareness and training are far more useful in improving the average shooter’s ability to stop a threat reliably and quickly.

    • Bill

      You won the interweb for the day. Rest assured that anyone without common sense, in other words the vast majority of the population, will ignore you.

      • Jim

        Obviously. But perhaps one would rather that the moronic masses didn’t pay attention to good information and evolved by natural selection (or ceased to exist) as a result. Either way, I am happy to provide information merely so I can watch others choose to fail to pay attention and be amused at the results.

        • Billy Jack

          I am in awe of your misanthropic lust of schadenfreude. Live long and prosper good sir.

          • Jim

            Misanthropy would require one to give any f**ks about the general human population, apathy and generalized exasperation don’t really qualify, and schadenfreude implies gratification from suffering…I merely said amusement, the main distinction being the level of attention paid to or continuing interest in said suffering.

    • Zippy2003

      +1

      I like how they’ve been saying this since 1911 and again in 1989. And still we keep arguing about size, weight and speed…..

      It’s all about the training and shot placement. Plus, hollow points have negated the differences in size, velocity and weight. Training, better technology and most importantly increased knowledge will be a lot more effective than anything else.

      • billyoblivion

        Guys always argue about size, weight and speed. It’s what we do.

        • Bill

          That’s what she said.

    • gunsandrockets

      Yep. No magic bullet for handguns. And no magic handguns.

      I’d say the most important factor is selecting a handgun with fits the specific individual shooter. There is no such thing as a ‘best handgun’ which is best for everyone.

    • BrandonAKsALot

      Excellent post. Terminal ballistics are all that important in SD. You aren’t going to shoot once and wait for cavitation to win the fight. HP’s are nice to limit penetration, but this whole concern of wounding etc with pistol rounds seems rather pointless in most situations.

    • spiff1

      Well said – shot placement, which comes with good practice technics is the real quest.

    • James Massman

      Definitely agree. Watched an FBI training video from ’80’s many years ago where the instructor berates the trainee for NOT firing enough rounds to cause sufficient blood loss to drop the suspect. Shot him in chest 7 times to get him to drop to knees… finally.

  • Lol

    There’s nothing to talk about. All pistol calibers perform nearly identical unless you’re going to carry a 10mm.

    9 gives you faster follow up, more capacity, and less weight of a .40 or .45 while losing less than 50 foot pounds.

    Come on guys, this is 2016.. The FBI created .40 and went back to 9mm!!

    If youre a big boss, get a 10mm! Just make sure to shoot once a week..

    • Bill

      A shoot-off, so to speak, between the 10mm and the 125 gr. JHP .357 Magnum would be the beans, even though round guns aren’t hip and cool anymore. I’m amazed at the number of agencies that stepped back from a proven effective round to a ballistically inferior round in the early 80’s, just so they could shoot more without reloading.

      • Nashvone

        Don’t like wheel guns? Get a Coonan!

      • gunsandrockets

        I have to admit I’m liking the idea of a full size 1911 in .357 Sig caliber.

        • Bill

          Schwing! The best of both worlds.

          • gunsandrockets

            For now I will just have to settle for my RIA in .38 Super ACP.

          • Bill

            Kinda Schwing! I’m not sure that the .38 Super was ever factory-loaded to it’s full potential.

          • gunsandrockets

            Yeah, factory loads suck. And I don’t reload. Well, I don’t reload yet.

            So I’m going to buy Buffalo Bore ammo. Expensive, but what the hell.

            .38 Super is a good fit for Commiefornia, because of the law here banning magazines with more than 10 rounds.

      • CommonSense23

        Whats amazing is how people who get into gunfights start wanting to carry more ammo.

        • Bill

          I carried 4 speed loaders, or two speed loaders and spare ammo in strips or loops so I could selectively load, and 4 spare mags for my 1911, and a backup gun. Gunfights aren’t new, plenty of them were fought and won prior to the development of the doublestack magazine. Quantity of ammo is no substitute for quality of tactics or marksmanship.

          To use a boxing analogy, the only people disappointed in a first-round knockout punch are the spectators. And bettors.

          • CommonSense23

            Do you feel you are a better combat pistol shooter than guys from Delta Force?

          • Bill

            I’m assuming that you are referring to SFOD-Delta, as “Delta Force” was a Chuck Norris movie, and I don’t know, I’ve never shot with any of them. I do know that when I roll out with a rifle, the pistol is a secondary weapon and I don’t carry a bazillion rounds of ammo for it.

      • Gecko9mm

        It sounds like you were an officer who was into firearms. I’m sure you know plenty of officers who aren’t into guns, and the vast majority aren’t. So, I have a hard time that you are surprised at this. Seriously, think back to most of the cops you knew who weren’t into guns or had horrible quals. And think about them with a 686 and two speed loaders vs. a Glock 17 or Glock 23 and two 15 rounds mags?

        • Bill

          There’s anecdotal evidence, and a report floating around somewhere that I’ve lost track of, that indicates that increasing the capacity of a pistol increases the number of rounds fired, but not necessarily the number of hits, which remains dependent on skill and marksmanship. So more rounds are fired, but the percentage of hits remains the same, which means more misses. Add in things like contagious firing and we get cases of 40 or 81 rounds being fired at a perp, the vast majority of which miss, or hit other people, or other cops.

          You are exactly right – most cops aren’t into guns and have to be drug kicking and screaming into training or qualifications. Qualifications doesn’t really show any difference between round and flat guns because stages are set numbers of rounds. I guess theoretically if you give a bad shooter a pistol with higher capacity, they might get more hits by luck or chance, but that really rubs me wrong as a trainer, from a professional and ethical standpoint. I’m more than happy to do remedial training with anyone whose having problems; in fact I enjoy the challenge. But each cop, and I would go so far as to claim that each gun owner, has to take responsibility for their own fate, and either learn to get hits, or suffer the fate. Spray and pray is not a viable policy.

          • James Massman

            Reminds me of a news story 12 – 15 years ago when LEOs raided a motel room with multiple perps, no-one hit and over 30 empty cases retrieved…

          • Gecko9mm

            Yes, this is a training issue and officers who can’t shoot with a 686 aren’t transformed with a Glock 17 either. What would fix that would be more training and quals but yeah, that’s not going to happen.

            Spray and pray has happened with a wheel gun too, it just means a horribly long reloading sequence between sprays and a good chance of the officer dying when he or she runs dry.

            It’s like the argument with 870 vs. patrol carbine. Why even issue 870s anymore when a patrol carbine is easier to train up and safer to use for all?

          • mbrd

            well – when you’re right, you’re right.

            that’s some disappointing stuff though…

      • Mazryonh

        By “round guns,” do you mean revolvers? I’m used to hearing them referred to as “wheel guns” instead of “round guns.”

        Suppose 10mm were issued again. Would you prefer to use it from a S&W 610, one of the few revolvers in that caliber?

    • Paul White

      Snub nosed 44 mag! Or one of those Ruger Alaskans in 480 Ruger with the tiny barrel

      • Bill

        Actually, one of my playguns is a S&W 325, an AirWeight N-Frame in .45 ACP with a 2.5 inch barrel, utilizing moon clips. I should carry it more often.

        • gunsandrockets

          Ouch?

          • Bill

            I don’t complain about recoil….in public.

            I traded the stylin’ Ahrend wood stocks that came on it for Pachmyer Decelerators and it still rocks the house.

      • gunsandrockets

        No, not that! How about a .50 GI conversion of the Glock 29 instead.

    • Anonymoose

      If you’re a big boss, carry an AR pistol with a C-Mag!

    • Bill

      Did someone forget that the FBI started with the 10mm, then went to the .40 and now apparently to the 9mm 😉

      In 15 years they’ll be back to issuing .38 J-Frames. Which for the average agent sitting behind a computer all day would likely be just fine.

  • Rob

    I’ve often thought of how small and ineffective certain calibers are…but then I think how much I’d hate someone to shoot at me with them.

    • Bill

      A .25 in the eye socket will probably have a deleterious effect on the rest of one’s planned daily activities….but then I’ve always said that if someone shoots me with a .32 and I find out about it, I’ll be pi**ed.

      • 22lr is often a one shot kill bullet. Get hit in the leg and they have been known to travel upwards and bounce around. People have survived being shot by seven 357 magnum rounds.

        • 6.5x55Swedish

          And people have also taken 20 rounds of 22LR in the chest and been able to walk to the hospital by foot.

          • And died after stepping through the doors.

          • Bill

            And lived after stepping on land mines.

          • Paul White

            doesn’t stop them from hurting you more first

        • Gecko9mm

          You’re not seriuos are you? I think we’d like to see where you’re getting the “often” from. Not to mention how unreliably rim fire rounds are for ignition.

          • FBI studies, medica reports. 22lr had the most percentage of fatal hits after one hit compared to most calibers.

            As for unreliable ignition that is just one handgun not liking the primer cap on one brand of 22lr but will fire another brand one hundred percent of the time.

          • CommonSense23

            What FBI study and medical reports state that. People always bring that crap up, but have never found a source for it.

      • Don Ward

        After you are released from the emergency room, I’m sure you would be upset that someone shot you with a .32.

        • Bill

          I’ve got Jack Daniels, hemostats and superglue, plus a mini blowtorch if I need cauterization. Can’t afford the copay 😉

          • Don Ward

            Hehehehehehe. I wise man once said that he “Ain’t got time to bleed”.

  • Bill

    The basic issue with pistol calibers is that they aren’t rifle calibers.

    • Jim

      Yes…so we all must begin carrying AR15 pistols in standard rifle calibers. Please ignore that guy talking about velocity loss in short barrels.

      • Gecko9mm

        I think his point is that pistol calibers are inherently poor and inconsistent man stoppers no matter the caliber.

        • Username is Gecko9mm, but posts are mostly factual and logical.

          Can’t… Decide… If… Troll…. Or… Not…

          • Giolli Joker

            45 is for trolls.
            9mm is for serious readers.
            😛

          • n0truscotsman

            haha! how convenient! and funny

          • ePoch 270

            Shots fired!!!!!

            (wait, we’re those 9mm shots or .45ACP shots? ☺)

          • Gecko9mm

            Don’t get me started on my mall security job man but it’s better than repairing laser printers all day.

      • Bill

        I showed up to work one day carrying a 30-30 Mare’s Leg like Steve McQueen and got sent to the agency shrink.

        • Giolli Joker

          Did you answer all questions with John Wayne’s voice?

    • Sam P

      Except the oddballs like 5.7x28mm which are sort of both.

  • Devil_Doc

    Pfft… 10mm, FTW.

    • Nashvone

      It cracks me up to watch .40 fanboys get butthurt when it’s pointed out that their favorite round is an anemic 10mm.

      • I wonder how you’d respond to the idea that the 10mm has too much velocity, which reduces the maximum diameter of its expanded bullets while not otherwise improving terminal effect?

        • Nashvone

          If I lived in a cold state, I would welcome the extra velocity to get through the layers of extra clothing in winter.

          • I was being deliberately provocative (although nothing I said was incorrect), and you bring up the other side of the coin: More velocity might compromise the projectiles performance against a naked target, but it might also make performance more consistent when shooting through different barriers, or at longer ranges.

          • Big Daddy

            Controlled expansion. That’s why just adding velocity to a specific design does nothing. And having the right load and bullet for the barrel length.

          • Right you are.

          • mosinman

            aren’t there 10mm HPs designed for the velocity though?

          • The 10mm-.40 S&W relationship is a bit more complicated, but in most cases the bullets in any given caliber are designed for the most common round in that caliber. In some cases they are designed more specifically for multiple given calibers, like for example 9mm and .380 both have bullets designed specifically for them.

          • Big Daddy

            That’s my issue with the 10mm, nothing out there specifically designed for that velocity that I can find. It’s all .40 S&W. You can use the 40 bullet in a 10mm case but you will not get the proper effect of the bullet design. For me a 10mm is best using hardcast bullets in black bear country for protection, Grizzly nothing but minimum a .44 Magnum, that’s what they tell me. Honestly if I had to go into Brown bear country I’d have a .454 casull or better yet a lever action carbine in 45-70. The fact is you probably will only get one shot off maybe two, you better hit or you’re bear food. Many use a 12 gauge with magnum slugs.

            To carry a 10mm for self-defense is not necessary and it’s more about emotional thinking and feeling better about your chances in a gunfight. It’s just not true, it’s just a feeling of being the one not outgunned. Not enough has been done to create a self-defense loading in 10mm to maximize what is there in terms of size, weight and velocity. It has so much untapped potential to make a devastating round. Nobody has done it for a reason, it’s not practical.

          • Mazryonh

            It was a while before reliably-full-powered 10mm Auto ammunition was available from companies like Underwood Ammunition, but it was eventually done. An “optimized” 10mm Auto round would probably reinvigorate sales of the caliber for use in PCCs and SMGs, if it could be made so it would maximize wounding potential up close and still retain enough of that potential at longer ranges while having a flatter trajectory than most other pistol calibers.

          • Nashvone

            Admittedly, 10mm is more suited to wild boar than long pig when it comes to self defense.

          • The only clothing that reliably reduces penetration is made from Kevlar and other aramids.

        • gunsandrockets

          “…too much velocity, which reduces the maximum diameter of its expanded bullets…”

          Reduces the maximum diameter? WTF?

          • CommonSense23

            You can actually have the bullet folding backwards with to much speed. Terminal ballistics is tricky. You need to match the projectile weight, energy, design of the round all to work together well.

          • gunsandrockets

            Too much velocity is more likely to lead to over expansion or fragmentation than such a freak symptom as collapsing the hollowpoint cavity.

          • CommonSense23

            Its not collapsing the hollow point cavity, its bullet reaches maximum diameter for its weight, and energy still keeps pushing the “petals” backwards reducing overall diameter.

        • n0truscotsman

          Yes, but I fear you are kicking the hornet’s nest by that statement.

          Ill await the hordes of enraged 10mm owners/fans to be summoned from the gun forums…(grabs popcorn).

        • Gecko9mm

          There’s probably been far more expended on bullet design for .40 cal loads than 10mm too.

      • Bill

        Huh? So a .44 Special is an anemic .44 Mag, a .38 Special is an anemic .357 Mag, a .45 ACP is an anemic .45 Colt, and a 9×19 Parabellum is an anemic 9×21. All of them work, when the shooter does his or her job.

        • Jerry

          By that reasoning, all of those are anemic .50 BMG.

          • Bill

            And if I absolutely, positively could not avoid getting into a gunfight, I’d like a M2, but can’t seem to find a holster for one that works, nor someone to follow me around constantly as my assistant gunner.

        • mosinman

          pretty sure .38 special came before .357 so .357 is .38 on ultra steroids

          • Bill

            In that case, a .38 Special is a .38 S&W on plain steroids 😉

    • gunsandrockets

      Meh, I want the .300 BLK in a PLR-16 myself.

      • Paul White

        well, TX has legalized open carry

        • Big Daddy

          I live in Texas and I have yet to see anybody open carry. I know some LEO and they haven’t seen but maybe 1 or 2.

          That whole Texas will become the wild west was total bullshit and it pissed me off people actually thought that way. They believed the non-sense spewed by the anti-gun crowd.

          Funny how nobody is talking about how wrong they were about that. Not one anti-gun person has come forward to say they were wrong about the Texas open carry law.

  • VF 1777

    Part 1, huh? I’m guessing Part 2 is where it’s gonna get ugly…

  • Blake

    Awesome article.

    BTW Lucky Gunner’s test is about as extensive as it gets: http://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/
    Read it & draw your own conclusions (here’s mine: there are plenty of premium 9mm defensive loadings that’ll do the job).

    • I am going to talk about the LG test in part 2, for sure.

  • vwVwwVwv

    7.62 tocarev, custom made.

  • Renato H. M. de Oliveira

    Great primer.

    Without entering too much ib the caliber wars, I’d like to offer my 2 cents.

    If we are talking self-defense or LE use, then we are mostly not much, if at all, concerned about weight. Thus, the main 9mm advantage goes away, but this isn’t the full picture.

    The 2 most important things, as mentioned by others, would be multiple well placed hits.

    As years of usage have shown, the .45 can be really good at fast and accurate multiple shots in the hands of properly trained folks.

    9mm can also be very good at both, especially with the mentioned heavier pills at subsonic speeds. Lower recoil makes it easier to do multiple accurate hits with less trainingm

    Therefore, I’d go with 45 for LE and 9mm for self-defense. If the one using it for self-defense has proper training, then go with 45. Gold Dot for both.

    • Kevin Harron

      Law enforcement in the Continental US and well trained unfortunately do not often go together.

      • Renato H. M. de Oliveira

        Not only CONUS cops are ill trained, unfortunately.

    • gunsandrockets

      Many States in the U.S. also limit capacity to 10 rounds, which adds another factor to the discussion. And then there is New Jersey, which does not even allow hollow points.

      • Renato H. M. de Oliveira

        Both the 10-rds limit and no JHP favour .45, even if only with JSP pills.

        • gunsandrockets

          The ultimate New Jersey pistol might be the Glock 20 with the .50 GI caliber conversion — 10 shots of .50 caliber FMJ bullets.

          I think the New Jersey ban goes beyond hollow points and bans all handgun bullets intended to expand. Ugh.

          • Gecko9mm

            I think EFMJ’s are OK there. But yeah, NJ makes California look like Arizona.

          • Navy Davy

            In CA you can only shoot if attacked up close so a .22 up the attackers nostril is your answer.

          • Sianmink

            Filled-cavity JHPs are as far as I’ve heard fine in NJ, so that’s GuardDog (not great), Pow’RBall (Ehhh) and Fed EFMJ (No opinion) Critical Defense/Duty (Yes) available.

    • CommonSense23

      You should google Tim Gramins.

      • Gecko9mm

        Agreed. I really don’t understand the logic of anyone who dismisses the 9mm as a round you must expend three mags to put someone down, but when the same is done with a .45 ACP, they just shrug and ignore it. I remember a “magazine” story I read where it was related that Angel Dust fed person ate 20 rounds of 9mm and was still standing while reloading. Another trooper burns a tube of 12 gauge on him and he’s still standing. Finally, someone runs up and butt strokes him out.

        The lesson? “9mm isnt any a good man stopper.” Umm, really, what about that tube of 12 gauge buckshot?

        In another incident I read on Blackfive, the person relates story of an Iraq that takes most of mag (don’t know how many actually hit) of ball ammo from an M9 and starts throttling the soldier. His LT empties his personal .45 ACP Commander into the same Iraqi who doesn’t care and the LT finally pistol whips the Iraqi bending the trigger guard in the process.

        The lesson: “9mm failed.” Umm, and the 7 rounds of .45 ACP didn’t fail as well?

        • mosinman

          these seem like “rare” incidents, (where you have people absorbing shot after shot )

          • Big Daddy

            It happens all the time. Many, many recorded shootings of people taking a lot of rounds. Many of them were on some drug. but adrenaline is also a factor. The body will keep going if the brain has oxygen even though your heart might not be more than mush. Stories of people hit and running a street block long without a heart.

            That’s why you shoot until the treat is over, whether it’s one round or a few magazines worth. Threat over, gunfight over.

            It’s good to practice failure drills for a reason. Some call it the Mozambique. You fight like you train, it just kicks in. Train correctly and often and you will have a better chance to survive a situation.

          • CommonSense23

            Not that rare. Personally seen a lot of guys soak up punishment you would call bull on if it was a movie or a video game.

  • Arandor Thinnorion

    I’m sure the comments on caliber selection will get crazy, so I’ll just add a brief comment. Don’t forget to factor in capacity. There are people who prefer 15 rounds of .380 ACP to 7 rounds of .45 ACP. There’s the school of thought that more small holes (which still meet the FBI criteria for penetration) give a better chance at a stopping shot than a few big holes. Not to mention better odds against multiple attackers. Also, those with extreme recoil sensitivity are going to prefer the “more holes, smaller caliber” in carry-size handguns. We must always keep in mind that even .22 lr and .25 acp out of short barrel can kill.

  • Big Daddy

    Any testing that does not follow FBI protocol should be considered unscientific and treated as such. Unfortunately so many tests and actual shooting information the public cannot not get, it is only for law enforcement. So most of the anecdotal evidence and opinions are worthless.

    Thanks to the internet if someone wants to they can find enough information from sources to find out the truth. No need for parroting total bullshit.

    There’s a reason everybody is going to 9mm. From cost, ease of training, being able to carry more rounds, less wear on the gun but much more important is the effectiveness in actual shootings. This is not anecdotal this is from trauma centers, surgeons and medical examiners. You cannot tell the difference between the wounds of a 9mm, .40S&W,.357SIG, .45ACP.

    If you have to use ball ammo yes the .45ACP would probably be the best choice. Now that we have modern bonded JHP like the Gold Dot and HST there is not reason to use anything but the 9mm. You carry more rounds, you can get faster follow up shots and it is just as effective as any other round in that class.

    If you can shoot well and handle a full 10mm by all means do so. But so much of the 10mm off the shelf is just a bit hot .40S&W. And you cannot get the higher quality bullet designs. Also it is not recommended you use handloads for self-defense. The FBI stopped using the 10mm for a reason. I love the 10mm as I do the .357SIG and every other round. They all do something well and have a use.

    Everything points toward the 9mm as the common sense choice for a handgun on almost every level for duty and carry.

    • billyoblivion

      > Any testing that does not follow FBI protocol should be considered
      > unscientific and treated as such.

      So what you are saying is that NO ONE else can come up with a scientific protocol for testing ammunition? That the FBI, and the FBI **ALONE** were able to deal with this weighty problem and have developed the *only* possible protocol?

      Look, I’ll grant that much of what is done on Youtube and the rest of the internet is crap science, but I can easily see someone spending a little more time thinking about it and developed different, if not better testing that *does* approach the matter scientifically.

      So while I agree with almost all of what you’ve written, I must disagree sharply with the first sentence.

      • Big Daddy

        And the earth might be flat.

        Unless the entity puts the time and money into testing and scientific research that the FBI has done I cannot take their results seriously.

        The scientific process is one of repeatability. That is one important thing that makes it scientific. If you knew all the protocols the FBI goes through you would understand. They use specific types of materials, tested and retested even the temperature it has to be. That is expensive and I would not consider some guy in his backyard with wet telephones books as scientific and something I would trust my life to.

        The scientific process is the thing more so than the results. The results have proven the scientific process. The results are specific cases of shootings that substantiate the testing of the FBI’s protocols.

        This is an expensive and long term testing done by the FBI. I would trust that over some internet guy with water jugs. Although a few guys on Youtube do very scientific testing by copying the FBI protocols as close as possible,

        If you have a better or close to the testing method or know of one I’m all ears and interested. I have not seen or heard of any.

        • Bill

          While I agree in principle, the FBI is by no means infallible. Plenty of science has been done wrong, correctly. That particular agency has a REAL spotty record when it comes to things like meeting forensic lab standards, following up leads on Saudi hijackers, investigating the wrong scientist for anthrax attacks and keeping Russian spies out of their ranks. They have an institutional aura of prestige that is sometimes earned, and sometimes not.

          The former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and writings by Vincent Di Maio are good sources on wound ballistics.

          • I give my best to William of The Wound Channel and some of the other YouTube wound ballisticians, but yes, it’s the YouTube gun crowd that by and large is spreading a lot of these untruths about terminal effectiveness.

          • Giolli Joker

            ShootingTheBull410 seems quite scientific in his approach, and he bases his results on FBI standards.

          • Gecko9mm

            I think the point is the FBI’s tests point to modern day bonded 9mm loads being the best compromise in a pistol. Few other agencies have spent the money to do the research. And unless other agencies are doing the testing and are sharing it, it’s far more reliable than I “like” my 230 grain FMJ .45 ACP because it feels better. The only thing that has proven to be consistent in all these years is that pistol calibers are inherently inconsistently and poor man stoppers.

            And yeah, let’s also point out the FBI is the same agency that blamed the 9mm for its problems in Miami and adopted the 10mm when most agree it was tactics and lack of prep (why no MP5’s with agents.) So that’s fair to argue when they did the light go off?

            At the same time, there doesn’t seem anything to counter the research the feds have done that favors .40, .357 SIG or .45 ACP.

            People really do attached to their pistol calibers more than anything.

          • Big Daddy

            Well said and correct.

            I have done a lot of research and continue to do so. It’s hard to sift through the bullshit.

            No matter what you use nothing beats practice, being able to make the shot and have a warrior mindset, you’re in a fight but with a gun. And of course knowing the law and what not to say to the police. Shoot to end the threat.

            The FBI doesn’t like losing, especially if their agents die, they do get really pissed off. Unlike other LEO agencies especially local law enforcement they do something about their failures. They spend a lot of money and I am more inclined to trust their findings. ATK had to pull theirs on their web site because there was so many questionable stats in them. Things did not jib at all, especially with barrel length and velocity. Great company that spent a lot of money with testing and screwed up by getting lazy with their presentation of their findings.

            You have to look past politics and agendas and sift through the BS. Take emotion out of the equation and use logic. Logic dictates the only thing that counts are hits and hits to the right spot. Being accurate under stress, knowing how to reach vital organs from different angles and using the proper tools for the job. If I had to shoot through objects with a handgun I’d be more inclined to use a .357SIG over the 9mm, they are similar though. That’s what the ATK G2 Gold Dot was supposed to do, not need the .357SIG for what it does best as well as other calibers. It failed because they tried to make one round do everything and that’s a huge problem with these entities, one size fits all.

            The modern 9mm is the bet compromise round, it does everything well, is cheaper and much easier to shoot, the guns are not too big and they do not take a pounding. Especially the non-+P type 147 grain HST, it’s a softer shooting round but not as good in shorter barrels. I would not use it in my G26.

            Also it’s about controlled expansion which people don’t seem to understand. The idea as far as I know is to not over-expand with the pedals pulled back and not to open too soon which would limit penetration.

            I love the 10mm and .357SIG rounds in their respective Glock guns, as much as I do a 1911 in .45ACP. Love them, but I do not reload and I limit myself to what I can afford and what I need. I’m a range guy and self-defense oriented shooter. I don’t hunt. The only .357SIG gun is a G22 GEN4 that I use for .40, .357SIG and 9mm conversion. I do not own a 1911 because the only one I would want is an Ed Brown and I won’t pay that much for a handgun. After shooting one I cannot buy anything else, it was like butter and better than sex. I was spoiled!!!

            I do plan on getting a G41 but I am not happy about the off the self ammo for them. I don’t know if I want to get into reloading.

          • Bill

            And pretty much everyone neglects the fact that the agent who finished the fight in Miami was armed with a .38 Special revolver and a 12 gauge pump gun.

          • RegT

            The lesson learned by the FBI in Miami was that sufficient penetration is the primary requirement, not expansion. If the bullet does not penetrate enough to damage major CNS or vascular tissue, it will be ineffective (even pelvic hits will not prevent return fire), even if it eventually disables the criminal (like a pneumothorax from a lung penetration). Caliber is less significant, other than the obvious fact that a larger caliber will usually provide a larger permanent wound channel, and faster bleed-out (exsanguination).

          • mbrd

            i have not gone to the “see more” option, so please forgive me if this matter has already been covered in the comments

            it seems like the takeaway here is that the inefficacy of handgun rounds for killing via attempt at hitting center of mass (or anything else) is roughly matched by the comparable efficacy of various handgun rounds for putting down or deterring an assailant/perp, and that one should always imagine a subsequent threat requiring disarming, or a shot to the head.

            whatever handgun is the most ergonomic for edc is going to be the most effective tool for self defense training and exercise.

            clearly .45 is the caliber of choice by wound channel, but that does not remotely negate the relative efficacy of a greater magazine capacity in 9mm.

            what really matters is the comfortability of the weapon in the hand of the shooter.

            if i can’t pick up a desert eagle in .50, let alone shoot the the thing effectively, what’s the point?

          • mbrd

            i did not mean to send that directly to RegT… that’s something the website did “for me”.

          • Navy Davy

            I was surprised when I shot lots of .45ACP hollowpoints into pumpkins and they just left a .45 size hole, no expansion at all. Not a one. The pumpkins did not jump either.

    • RegT

      The reason the FBI stopped using the 10mm is because, even with the reduced velocity loads they mandated, most of the agents had difficulty developing sufficient accuracy, _plus_ most female agents were unable to handle the greater depth of the grip. I was employed by the California Highway Patrol when they switched to semi-auto handguns, and they chose the 40 S&W over the 10mm and the .45 ACP for the same reason, due to female TO (Traffic Officer) hand size. Most of the female TOs just could not comfortably grip a pistol designed for the larger (longer) ammunition. Recoil considerations were secondary to grip size.
      They both chose the .40 S&W because the ballistics with the ammunition that was available at the time were superior to the 9mm.

      • Big Daddy

        Yes I am aware of that. But at that time the bullets for any load were still in it’s infancy in terms of design. they did not have bonded JHPs like they are producing now.

        Those days I would have wanted a 10mm if I could even if the loads were light. That would be like a .40S&W+P which would be fine with the ammo of that time. As a young man I could easily shoot it, I had no trouble with a M60 or M2 so…….now I would not carry a 10mm or even a 1911.

        Now of course the 9mm is the best comprise on every level.

        And with those great minds in New York City they take all the advantages of the 9mm and add such a bad trigger that nobody can hit their target.

      • Gecko9mm

        I thought it was because the 1076 just didn’t work wither. (:

        CHP must be the last agency of Smith that is using metal framed Smiths at this point across the entire agency. Can those holsters really be that expensive to replace?

  • US Army (retired)

    I’ll stick with what I have carried since I enlisted in ’68, my 1911A1 .45 cal. I hit what I shoot at with good accuracy and have found out in real life that the mere sight of John Browning’s reliable design is enough to end a fight before it escalates!

  • Anonymoose

    Meh. I still prefer a staggered-column .45 over any Wonder 9.

    • Big Daddy

      Why?

      • Anonymoose

        Because it’s my personal preference to carry bigger boolit, I’m not losing all that much capacity, and .45 recoil is not nearly as much of an issue as some people make it out to be. Also, the old “Glock 19 vs 1911” argument is outdated now that we have hi-cap .45s.

        • Big Daddy

          What ammo are you using for carry?

          • Anonymoose

            230gr Gold Dots.

          • Big Daddy

            Excellent choice.

            I was kind of shocked at how many guys carrying 1911s had ball ammo. Mostly ex-mil., they don’t trust JHP and say the .45 makes bigger holes.

          • Anonymoose

            It does make bigger holes, but with JHPs it could be even bigger…1911s don’t tend to like most JHP ammo, unless they have a ramped barrel or a polished feed ramp though. :

    • Jim

      This thread is about self defense. Several posters above have correctly noted that accurate shot placement is much more important than caliber or the number of rounds fired. But so far no one has connected this with an even more important issue, what happens after you are forced to use your pistol to defend yourself or your family. In my opinion shot placement becomes even more important then. If you must use a firearm to defend yourself, you must make sure that the attacker(s) is killed. Why? Because if he isn’t, you will end up in court and your wounded and recovered attacker will lie and say he really didn’t threaten you and you just shot him because you didn’t like him, or some other lie that puts you in legal or financial jeopardy. That’s why one of your shots should be through the brain stem, a guaranteed lethal shot placement. You only want one account of what happened, your account. You don’t want a lying assailant’s account to be told to the police. That’s why shot placement is paramount.

  • ozzallos .

    Pt2 – Why you should never use 410 for self defense.

  • Patrick K Martin

    I want to see a comparison of ALL the various kinds of bullets you can get for each caliber. I want to see how 115gr RN-FMJ 9mm stacks up to .40S&W FP-FMJ, RNLead .38spl. ALL of it. I am a Survivalist and I want to know what is going to work best WITHOUT the high-end Premium Uberammo, I want to know how well I can do with the crap FMJ and other ammo you are more likely to get after TSHTF, or during the next ammo drought. During the last ammo shortage, I had no end of people wanting to buy ammo from me because they couldn’t get anything and I sold off my stocks of Wolf FMJ at a serious premium to the chuckleheads who thought that a couple boxes of ammo made them “Prepared”. Given the political atmosphere in the US today (and the mounting problems in the financial sector) gunowners need to be stocking up and most cannot afford to buy thousands of rounds of high-end JHP’s so they will be stocking up on cheap FMJ ammo, they need to know what THAT does if they need to use it. Every gunrag on the planet will tell them what the latest and greatest superammo will do.

    • HAJ

      My favourite is 45 ACP 230gr full metal jacket. It also easy to reload and there are a wide range or firearms that use this round also there is not much in North America that can take very many hits form it. I wouldn’t use it to go after a Kodiak or Polar bear on purpose but from a good position of cover and close range it will get the job done on these too.

      • gunsandrockets

        .45 ACP works well with simple lead bullets too.

        And large caliber revolvers also work well with black powder!

        • HAJ

          True, but I will stick with S&W 625 and SR1911 I love both of them. But the 625 has the edge in accuracy.

      • fred

        Don’t forget the soul stealing aspects

        • HAJ

          What on earth are you saying?

      • Iksnilol

        No offense, but you need penetration for bear. .45 ACP is one of the worst cartridges to penetrate stuff (heavy, slow, big and round).

        There’s a reason for snub nosed magnums.

        • HAJ

          230 gr 45 hardball has a pretty good results in gelatin test and real world use. At very close range it will take a bear, it’s just not ideal for it.

    • Jerry

      Your presumed ability to benefit from having all that ammo in a SHTF scenario is overzealous. The energy and time devoted to research, amassing the ammo as an individual, and the financial burden is overshadowed by your much more pertinent needs relating to actually learning general survival. Food, water, shelter, and the amenities required to give you not a survival, but livelihood.

      In answer to your question paraphrased as “how well will I do with crap FMJ ammo in the SHTF?”, the realistic answer is that your well-doing is inversely related to your usage of that ammo.

      • Patrick K Martin

        Actually I know very well how the FMJ will work, I would venture to say that most of the people reading this stuff do not. I myself have been doing and planning for SHTF for 40+ years. My point is that all the noise generated in debates like this are always centered on the best ammo (which does indeed render 99% of the debate useless as there is almost no difference between major calibers with premium ammo). My point is that most people DO NOT have a bunch of that premium ammo on hand. Most people do not have the money to stock large amounts of premium ammo, those who do even bother to stock significant quantities have a majority of cheap blasting ammo (Wolf, Privi, or generic domestic ammo). The sheer volume of “My caliber is best” B.S. on the net is epic, so why rehash it? Instead give people information they don’t have, tell them the truth about the cheap stuff. If you are talking about the bottom of the barrel in ammunition types THEN caliber does indeed matter. Also, I myself carry FP-FMJ when I go out in the woods, because JHP is designed to give 12 to 15 inches of penetration in HUMAN flesh and thus is going to be far LESS capable if used on a bear or other large animal so JHP is not what you want in that case.

        Lets stop rehashing and bring some NEW information to the table, that is all I’m saying.

  • BattleshipGrey

    Great idea for a series. In the past I found this pathologist’s article intriguing. It was originally in a forum, but it’s been reformatted for an easier read; http://www.gunthorp.com/Terminal%20Ballistics%20as%20viewed%20in%20a%20morgue.htm

  • gunsandrockets

    I’m curious how a .44 magnum Glaser Safety Slug performs from various barrel lengths.

    Ordinarily, a handgun fragmenting round should be crappy in terminal ballistics. But .44 magnum delivers such so much energy I wonder if it might perform closer to what we see with .223 fragmentation.

  • CommonSense23

    When talking about terminal ballistics people need to realize how much punishment the human body can take.The Tim Gramins shootout, Senior Chief Day, Channing Moss, LT Thomas Norris and of course good old Phineas Gage all illustrate how much punishment the body can take. The next issue is realizing how crappy your performance is going to be. While plenty of people have stepped up to the plate and did well there first time, with varying levels of skill/training, most people don’t.

    • Mazryonh

      I’m not sure Phineas Gage’s famous head injury is comparable to ballistic head trauma. I don’t think the large object that went through his skull had the cavitation properties a bullet would have inflicted on his brain and other cranial organs had it followed the same path. It certainly was a lot slower than modern bullets.

    • TJbrena

      Charles Beckwith got hit with a .50 and survived, IIRC.

  • Edeco

    You will all note that the external ballistics of the 40 S&W look nigh identical those of the 38-40 (38 WCF) on paper, to the untrained eye. *wagging finger* This is no coincidence, S&W don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But just as with the so-called 357 Sig, trying to duplicate the performance of a revolver cartridge in an autoloader is a fool’s errand.

    Now, due to the redoubtable stopping power of the 38-40 contemporary platforms chambered in it can be hard to come by. Gun manufacturers are trying to avoid heat by only chambering lesser cartridges, like when Ruger was all crappy about banana mags. Those among them who are deistically inclined might be worried about the 38-40 being capable of slaying their deities or demigods. So if due to lack of means and/or mechanical acumen you can’t muster a serviceable 38-40 revolver, or ideally a brace thereof, your best bet for practical, effective self-protection is probably one of the new crop of 410-shotshell revolvers.

    • .357 Sig when properly loaded matches .357 Mag pretty closely with the 125gr loading.

      Underwood is doing 1500 fps out of the 4″ barrel, 1600fps out of the 5.3″ barrel. If we extrapolate from here, .357 Sig would likely hit 1650fps out of the 6″ barrel.

      Underwood .357 Mag 125gr is doing 1700 fps out of a 6″ barrel.

      So the cartridges are exceedingly close. And when you compare them by weapon length, as opposed to barrel length, .357 Sig really becomes all the more impressive as a 4″ barrel Glock 32 is 7.36″ long vs a 2.25″ barrel Ruger SP101 is 7.2″ long.

  • Mr. C

    I’m actually curious, how effective are 9×25 Dillion, 7.62 Tokarev, and other assorted bottleneck cartridges from a SD standpoint? I know that they blow through soft body armor, but what about flesh?

    • I’ll get into that in Part 2, but the short answer is that they generally-speaking won’t be more terminally effective than lower-velocity rounds of the same caliber, if we’re talking a straight shot through no barrier into an unarmored target.

      There are loads that are exceptions to this (for example 5.7x28mm 40gr V-Max is considerably more terminally effective than .22 LR HPs), but the muzzle velocity must be extremely high (over 1,500 ft/s, at least) for a pistol for the bullet to both fragment and penetrate deeply.

      • Mr. C

        Thanks for the info. My interest was sparked when i saw the ridiculous speeds that some competition loads can be put to. How do you think a 115gr JHP out of a 9×25 Dillon would do? That is easily over 1800 ft/s.

        • That bullet isn’t designed for that velocity, so it’s likely performance would be undesirable in one way or another.

          Now, having said that, a 115gr bullet designed to fragment at 9×25 Dillon velocities would probably be downright ruinous to the target.

  • Cahal

    I’m certain cave men sat around the fire discussing this until someone said ” I’d rather hit him with a pebble than miss with a rock.”

    • Don Ward

      Projectile weapons. Pfffff.

      “The femur is a fine fellow” ~ Moongazer from 2001: A Space Odyssey

      • mosinman

        Grug say Stick best club, new bone club fragile fad. wood strong. wood club used in Grug family for ever.

        • Bill

          Now invent an expandable wood or bone baton for the cops.

  • TDog

    The biggest you can reliably hit with is the best caliber for self defense. A miss is worse than a mile because that bullet will be going somewhere else – and “to whomever this happens to reach” is a lousy way to address a bullet. I know the person asking the question noted that this should be done without regards to recoil, but that’s a pretty fundamental thing to be ignoring.

  • Big Daddy

    If I remember correctly the Lucky Gunner testing was not up to scientific standards.

    Doc Roberts is the man.

    • The Lucky Gunner testing is not comparable with gelatin testing, but that doesn’t make it “unscientific”. Clear gel is just a different standard, one that’s better for some reasons (the blocks are stable and transparent) and worse for others (they don’t simulate tissue quite as well as ballistics gel).

      The Dentist Roberts, I’m sure I haven’t made a secret of it, is not someone whose word I would take at face value. He seems to have an agenda, and seems willing to bend the truth to carry it out. The man overstates his experience and expertise, and is not averse to fabricating a narrative from whole cloth based on how he thinks terminal ballistics “should” work.

      He’s not necessarily wrong about some subjects, but I don’t take him as authoritative; I’d rather look to Fackler and the BRL.

      • Big Daddy

        Yup DR. Fackler, just passed. I try to use as much scientific evidence as possible. If done correctly the whole point is that you will get the same results or close. That’s what it’s all about, getting the same results, that’s science. That’s what people do not understand about the process, it’s just a way to consistently measure something. it does not represent actual life situations, but it mimics them as close as scientifically possible.

        The proof is in actual gun shootouts, that backs up the science and it does. The information about those LEO gun shootings we are not privy to, only law enforcement. So we have to take the word of guys who can get that information and most do have agendas, like Mas Ayoob for instance. I have tried to get him to commit himself on things and he will NOT. He lost creed with me.

        So unless the process is scientific I will take them for what they are worth. They have to be repeatable, that is what makes it correct science. Certain rounds have performed well under scientific and semi-scientific testing. The 9mm has shown to be as effective in most situations as any other handgun load. In that the best are 124+P GD, 147 HST and the HST other loads. The 115 loads do not perform well except maybe the Barnes. Critical Duty 135+P is well liked by guys who want consistent penetration through barriers, I was told this by a certain LEO.

        I use either 124+P GD or HST, also 147 and 147+P HST depending on the barrel length.

        I carry a Glock not because it’s the best or I shoot it the best, I actually shoot the 1911 best and like it best. I carry a Glock because it will always go bang even in the worst conditions and I can always find parts for them. I actually really like the .357SIG round the best but it’s not necessary nor practical though.

        • Great post. I too am a part of the Glock Hivemind, hahah, because I appreciate their corrosion resistance, reliability, and ubiquity. I find them tedious and boring, but that’s pretty much exactly what I want in a carry piece. Something I am more romantic about, I will be more likely to fondle or be more affected if I lose it or it is confiscated. So for me, working guns are usually Glocks or clones.

          At this stage in handgun technology, there’s really very little difference between 9mm, .40, and .45, either in effectiveness or capacity. The Glock 17 holds 17 rounds, and the Glock 21SF holds 13, just four less (and the four you’re least likely to need). Either gun has virtually the same grip size. If the 21SF is too big for you, for maybe just a little more, the FNX-45 has taken double-stack .45 ACP gip size to a completely manageable level; I have pretty small hands and find that gun to be totally comfortable.

          So there’s almost no difference in effectiveness, almost no difference in capacity, and almost no difference in recoil. My personal choice is 9mm, because the ammunition is 5-10 cents cheaper, but even that difference is marginal (.45 ACP is still cheaper to shoot than, for example, .38 Special).

          Given that, I will tell people to pick the gun they like, and not worry about caliber. I just did that myself, having bought a surplus SIG P220… In .45 ACP. It seems to be the right gun for what I want to do (I guess I’ll find out for sure), and the caliber doesn’t bother me.

          • Big Daddy

            I think the Glock basically fits nobody so it fits everybody. It took a while to get used to it and once I did I was fine. Then it took a while to not shoot it to the left. Now I’m accurate enough with them. Not nearly as good compared with a 1911. I’m always dead on with a 1911, but for carry they are heavy for me and even though I live in Texas I do not open carry, either it’s a G26 or G19. I’m short, old, disabled and overweight.

            I don’t get along with SIGs all that well, but they are great guns and the SIG 320 is amazing in every way. A lot of agencies are going to the 320 for a reason, it’s the gun the DOD should adopt.

          • Phil Hsueh

            If you live in the state of CA there will be no difference in the number of rounds between a Glock 17 & 21SF, you’re limited to 10 on both. So in CA, magazine capacity is not much of an issue for the most part.

        • Bill

          Street gunfights are arguably the worst way to judge effectiveness, due to the hundreds, if not thousands of variables that arise during them that can’t be controlled for and whose relationships aren’t known, They may have value in identifying trends, but trends aren’t proof.

    • n0truscotsman

      If I wanted advice about teeth fillings, I’d consult Roberts.

      When it comes to ballistics, I can think of far more reliable sources.

      If readers think what I said is a bit harsh, its because the years worth of people treating him as some sort of ballisticians god and ‘the last word’ have made me weary and a bit nauseated.

      • Yup, me too. He seems happy to exploit his position, too, not like he wants to work to really earn the way people think of him. I think when I really lost any romanticism for his thinking is when he photoshopped one of Fackler’s wound profiles for M80 Ball to “illustrate” a through and through 5.56mm wound. Not to say that through-and-through wounds aren’t something that happens, but the way he argued it was misleading and dishonest.

        Since then, I’ve seen him get caught in a few more “mistruths”, such as the idea that 6.8 SPC is totally compatible with USGI 5.56mm magazines.

  • Kivaari

    Over the years I had to put down several dogs and deer. I used .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Special. The only caliber that made a very visible result was the .357. Hitting animals with “hot” .38s or .44s showed a little shaking and not a quick death. The .357 caused horrible wounds with quite a bit of tissue and bone turning into airborne and ugly mess in the air and on the animal. I hated needing to shoot an animal repeatedly. I learned not to take head shots with any gun that causes wounds like the .357 or 9MM +P+ as it will cause ejected material to travel quite a ways, in all directions. When it was someone’s pet, I would lose sleep over it. OK, I should be tougher, but having to kill severely injured labs is not fun.

    • CrankyFool

      I put down one of my pet goats with a 9mm handgun (regular 9mm, not extra-hot). It was relatively clean (shooting from the top of the head at basically contact distance — I was holding him at the time — going through the the top of the skull, brain cavity, and bottom of the skull), and turned him off like a light.

      • You know they made guns special for humane animal dispatch. None of those the op listed were used. 22 lr is often used because it penetrates the skull and bounces around. Those others tend to go through the skull leaving the animal alive.

        • CrankyFool

          In my case, it’s maybe worth noting, A) I’m not planning to put down that many animals — I only had four, now have three, pet goats and they have a good lifespan, and B) This was unplanned.

          I’m unlikely to get a specialized tool for this. My goat gave me all the impression of either dying instantly or at least no longer suffering.

          • A 22 is still the best for not going through the skull but instead bouncing around inside the brain case. Through and throughs through the brain can be survived but typically a brain case bounce house doesn’t.

  • Joe

    Three part series

    Part 1: Big bullets make big holes.

    Part 2: Small bullets make small holes.

    Part 3: Both do nothing if you can’t accurately hit your target.

    • Big Daddy

      And modern bonded JHP have controlled expansion so they open up to make big holes when it counts, in vital organs.

  • Good video worth watching even if it is long.

  • derfelcadarn

    Shoot the gun you shoot best in any caliber you can handle. Any hit with any caliber is exponentially superior to a miss with a cannon and infinitely superior to no gun at all !

  • Rick5555

    Hinermad, I’m a gastro-intestinal surgeon, (Vanderbilt University, Medical Center.), and seen my fair share of gun shot wounds (GSW). Per my department, I’m on call for night work and weekend duty, every 7 to 8 weeks. Usually the residents can handle most things for night work. Thought I get called enough. However, over the weekend, I spend 48 hours at the hospital. Because I will be called in which is usually for a GSW. Per the CDC, NE Journal of Medicine, et. al., Roughly 80% of handgun wounds, the patient survives. I forgot the number for rifle rounds. But what I have observed, is the rifle rounds usually make a clean exit. Whereas, handgun rounds remain in the body. Apparently rifles exit, due to velocity. Speed does defeat objects…especially soft tissue. A patient who was subsequently shot with a 9mm in the shoulder and the round’s final resting spot was located at the terminal ileum…(small bowel). Cases like that are difficult, because of the cavitation distance. Now a question for the shooter. If you had to pick to be shot with 7.62×39 or 5.56mm round…which do you think does more damage? Believe it or not the 5.56mm does significant more damage to soft tissue…again due to its velocity. even a spec of grain can cause server damage when traveling in space at 17K mph. Just see pics of the space shuttle.

    • I think when SHTF and the whole world descends into civil war as God’s written word says it will, without modern hospitals, MRIs,, X-rays, trauma units, medicine, and the highly skilled doctors blessed by God with their skills, even a .22lr anywhere to the torso will be a fatal wound. President Reagan was almost killed by a junk .22lr revolver with a lung shot.

      It will not be a case of IF you will die, it will be a case of how long it takes you to die. In the end only 1 male will be left for every 7 woman, that is a lot of dying.

    • Ben Pottinger

      Any suggestions for GI surgeons in the Cincinnati area? Might need one eventually (I’ve got UC). I’m a big fan of my GI doc but he’s not a surgeon.

      Considering my “experience” with GI issues and the learning I’ve done about that area of the body I can’t help but cringe when they take gut shots on TV/movies and they spend a few days in the hospital and all is well. Any gun shot wound is going to suck. I’d be curious, of those 80% of survivors how many have serious long term issues from the gunshot (chronic pain, incomplete function of a limb, damaged bowel requiring removal, etc)?

  • Aldo1887

    **gets out the popcorn**

  • Bub

    You hit on this a little in the comments, but I have often wondered about firing pistol rounds from long guns from a practical matter. I know there are lots of data on increase in velocity, but I see little in the way of results. Typically the .38/.357 get sited for the benefit of increased velocity from longer barrels. Some other caliber like 9mm I understand don’t get quite the boost that .38/.357 does. My issue is not with velocity, but do bullets designed for shorter barrels preform as intended when fire from longer barrels or do you get increased penetration, fragmentation, etc? You don’t get something for nothing. I know a few companies produce pistol rounds designed for long barreled firearms, but in general when I hear about increased performance it’s for the pistol rounds we are already using and not speciality rounds.

    BTW I’m not a PCC hater. In fact I’ve been looking around for a 9mm to use in competition.

  • Martin Grønsdal

    this discussion is that heated because Obama declared that America will enter an union with Mexico as it’s vassal state, or is it just a debate over calibers?

  • Squirreltakular

    Off topic, but I figured I’d ask here since you guys are awesome: What do you all think about the Taurus Tracker in .44? I have a chance to pick up a 2005 model in like new condition for a good price. Do you think it can handle loads hot enough for brown bear defense?

    • Nocternus

      My experience with all things Taurus has been pretty poor.

    • maodeedee

      For Brown or Grizzly bear defense with a handgun the only thing that will stop the bear is a round that will penetrate the skull an deliver at least 500 ft/lbs that will destroy the brain. Overkill with the larger magnums is nice but not necessary.

      A 16 shot Glock 20 in 10mm with 220 grain Buffalo bore hardcast loads will work and so will a seven shot S&W 586 loaded with buffalo bore hardcast 180 grain loads and both these guns will have better controllability for repeat shots than the bigger magnums

      • Use a bullet designed for killing bears. 454 casull.

      • Squirreltakular

        Thank you! I’ve been wanting an excuse to get a 10mm.

  • CommonSense23

    Did you actually read your first link, and the second one doesn’t work.

    • Yeah 22lr killed more first round then several bigger calibers.

      Second one works just fine for me.

      • Gecko9mm

        Umm, from your first link: “Some people will look at this data and say “He’s telling us all to carry .22s”. That’s not true. Although this study showed that the percentages of people stopped with one shot are similar between almost all handgun cartridges, there’s more to the story. Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds. The one-shot-stop percentage (where I considered all hits, anywhere on the body) trended generally higher as the round gets more powerful. This tells us a couple of things…”

        • Still shows that 22s are deadly as deadly or more deadly then a number of those higher calibers. Look at fatal. Also note less shots were needed for those lower calibers if you had to fire more.

          • Gecko9mm

            Let me highlight this passage again from the study you linked. “Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds.” The one stop shot mentality has mostly been discredited but I still think it has some merit. And the person you cite actually says again: “Take a look at two numbers: the percentage of people who did not stop (no matter how many rounds were fired into them) and the one-shot-stop percentage. The lower caliber rounds (.22, .25, .32) had a failure rate that was roughly double that of the higher caliber rounds.” This means the person has a better chance to stab/shoot you after being shot by a .22 cal. Yes, you can die from a .22 cal. The question is whether the caliber will take the fight out of them sooner rather than later. Also, rimfire ignition. It’s far less reliable than center fire. I don’t know if that’s because of design or because .22 cal ammo is by and larger plinking and varmint ammo.

          • Let me once again one shot one kill higher with 22 then most other calibers including big bore.

            Also once again no failures with rimfire if you test out several brands. Its not the ammo its often the gun not liking one brand. Even centerfire has to be tested out.

          • Gecko9mm

            We can agree to disagree. I want to see more evidence and maybe the author recommendING 22 cal over larger defense calibers which yours does not.

  • Nocternus

    As most of the research is conducted with police service weapons in mind does the shorter barrel length and smaller weapon size in general of concealed carry weapons change the preferred caliber of round for self defense? I guess I am asking do some rounds perform better out of shorter barrels and have less recoil that would be handled better by smaller format weapons common to concealed carry?

    • CommonSense23

      There are rounds designed for full size/carry weapons, and rounds that are designed for compact weapons.

      • Nocternus

        I get that but in the article he is citing research conducted from the FBI with full size duty weapons involved. I don’t think you can simply take the FBI research and then proclaim that will be the best CCW round as the research didn’t take small frame and shorter barrels into consideration.

  • ks

    5.6 x 28 …deserves a second look

  • Cal S.

    9mm, .45acp, 10mm, .380acp, who cares? Let’s all just calm down and go back to hating on the .40S&W guys, ok? I mean, it’s our one common ground.

    /Says he who runs .40S&W…

  • El Duderino

    Nathaniel, good article on a well-worn subject. Maybe a little more on bullet selection? The general trend I see is heavier bullets in the weaker chamberings (to ensure adequate penetration) and lighter bullets with the magnum class (to help prevent overpenetration). Thus the death of the 115gr 9mm as a common defensive choice while 125gr .357 is terrific. .44 Magnum…a Glaser, MagSafe, or 180gr flying ashtray JHP style unless you want to destroy stuff beyond the target.

  • Dragonheart

    OK, here is all you need to know about defensive calibers; “Shot Placement”.

  • dwpittelli

    The paper linked to from this article (“Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness” – HWFE) criticizes an unnamed researcher (I believe Marshall & Sanow and their 1992 book, “Handgun Stopping Power” (HSP)) for rating ammunition without statistically significant numbers of shootings (i.e., 10 stops in 10 shootings). However, HWFE’s conclusions (e.g., penetration should be at least 12 inches, and diameter matters, but energy does not) don’t appear to be supported by any science.

    Furthermore, when I performed a multivariate analysis of the shootings found in “Handgun Stopping Power,” looking at all of the many types of ammo, I obtained strong correlations (r-squared = 89%) showing that stopping power depends on kinetic energy and on the penetration not exceeding 13.3 inches in 10% gelatin (in other words, a bullet that penetrated 26.6 inches would have its KE multiplied by 1/2 because it penetrates 2 times as far as 13.3 inches). An alternate model that works even better (r-squared = 94%), except for ammo that is more powerful than .357 magnum, shows stopping power to be proportional to kinetic energy and recovered bullet diameter (in 10% gelatin). These findings appear to be quite robust because they are based on all of the HSP shootings, rather than a piecemeal look at each caliber.

  • rt66paul

    While all this has been said before, there are places in our country that get very cold. While 9mm is great for most leo work, I wonder what the police in places like winter Minnisota, Edmonton and in Alaska have to say about penetration.
    Many people wear multiple layers when outside, the native population and a good number of “mountain men” wear leather and furs.
    Self protection would be chancy if you used hollowpoit 9mm there – so one round does NOT fit all.

  • maodeedee

    Here’s the basics: The bigger the hole in the hull, the faster the ship will sink.

    45 ACP advantages: Makes the biggest hole. Disadvantages: Hard to conceal and carry 24-7-365 except Glock 36 and XDs

    Smaller Calibers, Advantages: the smaller the caliber, the easier to conceal and carry 24-7-365. Disadvantages: makes smaller holes & might not penetrate far enough.

    • How many people are two feet of flesh before organs?

      • George Peter Anaipakos

        I believe when the 18″ to 24″ figure is used to indicate desirable penetration that figure takes into consideration that the target (“the bad guy”) might be standing sideways to the shooter, presenting a more difficult target to neutralize without sufficient penetration. Just my thought on that.

  • John Wisch

    My EDC is the 40MM HE round. I carry it in a revolver. Yeah, I know, I am old school.
    I carry it because they dont make a 41MM yet.

  • Gecko9mm

    If your point is that shot placement matters, I won’t disagree. Thus easy to control and shoot 9mm with modern bonded rounds = best compromise today. Adequate expansion, and adequate penetration. At the same time, I’m not sure I understand why you think a “number of big bore” fans opinion matters. I’d rather go with logically repeatable testing to meet criteria that works more than non-logical, non-repeatable tests combined with the ability re-evaluate whether there have been improvements or there should be changes made to a caliber and round selection. But then, maybe I should just listen to the people at the range who are wizards too. I always try to take the advice of the gun store clerk or dude two lanes down from me on everything.