I woke up this morning thinking, “I’d like to start a really big
fight.” Having already discussed topics like Glock vs. 1911,
Concealed vs. Open Carry, and whether or not an external safety is
necessary, I thought, “People might get really mad if I start
talking about the right caliber for the concealed carry pistol.”
Right now I can almost hear the floorboards creaking as those who
worship at the altar of the .45 ACP begin taking up defensive
positions. The 9mm guys are patting their big, fat, heavily loaded
magazines with pride. The aficionados of the .40 S&W can’t decide
where they want to enter this fight. The .357 Magnum guys are
planning on creating an alliance with the .357 SIG shooters. The
folks who carry .380, .32, and .25 ACP are trying not to appear hurt
when they say, “The first rule is to have a gun.” And those five
guys who bought .45 GAP are taking a break from searching for ammo
to prepare their rebuttal of every other argument that will be
Bullets. Ammo. Rounds. Capacity. Firepower. I don’t care what you
call it, everyone seems to have a different idea of what works, how
it works, and why it works. The FBI established a protocol for
testing ammo and if the ammo you produce does not meet those
standards good luck trying to sell them to large police agencies.
Funny thing is, several different types of ammo can and do live up
to the FBI standards. That, of course, leaves room for argument.
The laws of physics cannot be broken. Every action creates an equal
and opposite reaction. Which means a big, powerful bullet provides
you with big, powerful recoil. Who cares if you can shoot through a
Buick if the recoil is so punishing that your follow-up shots sail
wide of the mark? Then again, if you really need to shoot through a
Buick (something like 80 or 90 percent of police shootouts occur
near vehicles), you’d better be able to control that recoil, or make
sure your first shot hits that tiny little spot that will shut a bad
guy off like a switch.
I have heard it said, “No person who has ever been in a gunfight has
ever said, ‘Gee, I wish I’d had fewer bullets.’”
But lots of bullets can lead to the idea that any incident requires
lots of shooting. Thank you Miami-Dade and NYPD.
So, let’s play “Would you rather…” Would you rather get shot once
with a great big bullet or three times with little bullets? Me
neither. Rule No. 1 is not “Have a gun.” Rule No. 1 is “Look for
My final example is one I use all the time. Remember the old man in
the Florida Internet Café? Two punks came in; one with a gun, one
with a ball bat. The old man started shooting with his .380 and
neither one of those bad guys stopped to say, “That little gun don’t
You may one day run into that fabled “determined attacker” who will
just not go down. (There is a cop in Illinois who shot a man 14
times with a .45 ACP; seven times in the chest. It was the headshot
that finally ended the fight.) But the reality of most gunfights is
that bad guys don’t check the caliber because they understand that
incoming rounds have the right-of-way.
So, my suggestion is this: carry the gun you are most comfortable
with and can shoot accurately. My duty gun is a .40, because the
department requires that. My carry gun is the same model in 9mm,
because, well, I got a good deal on it.
I think being a good shot will serve me better than arguing over
caliber. But, let’s hear it. What do you carry and why? Remember, no
name-calling. This discussion is here to help people learn more.
Handgun Cartridge Chart
not the smallest round by far, it is the most common tiny
round. It’s also sometimes called “twenty two long rifle”
and “twenty two rimfire”. The rimfire term is, once again
something for another article but 9 out of 10 times when
you hear someone talk about a rimfire, they’re talking
about a .22LR.
light and stupid cheap. You can get 500 of them for around
$15 and carry all of them in a fanny pack or the leg
pockets on your cargo shorts (you’ll look weird, mind you,
but still). The recoil is almost non-existent which makes
it a great starter round for someone who has never shot a
gun or is uncomfortable with the noise. The low price of
the bullets is also great for learning sight pictures.
I mention they’re tiny? These things are only a few steps
up from a pellet gun round. They can kill, don’t get me
wrong, but they’re mostly for killing rats, snakes and
birds. They’ll kill an attacker for sure but it might take
a shot or six.
Slightly larger than the .22 and slightly more
powerful....though not much. There are quite a few guns
that use this size but the ammo is more expensive and
you’re not getting too much added benefit other than the
inherent reliability that comes with center fire casings.
more stopping power than the .22 but it’s kind of like the
difference between stabbing someone with an icepick or a
knitting needle. Both do the job, but one will leave an
ever so slightly larger hole.
thing as the .22, really. It’s a tiny round and I’ve yet
to use a .25 caliber gun that didn’t work like crap. I’ve
used a few flawless .22’s, however. I don’t know why that
we’re getting into the beefy sizes. Personally, I would
never use a gun with anything smaller than a .380 as my
primary carry weapon. Sometimes called a “9mm Short”, it
has seen a major boost in popularity recently thanks to
the various “pocket pistols” that have come on the market.
This is also a very controversial round. If you ever want
to troll a gun forum, just go there and ask “which is
better: a .380 or a 9mm?” or “Does a .380 have enough
stopping power to use it as a carry?”. Watch the arguments
start. It’s entertaining.
bullet has relatively low recoil and, at close range, good
penetration. They’re a great carry weapon size, in my
author Massad Ayoob once said of the .380 "Some experts
will say it's barely adequate, and others will say it's
barely inadequate”. This is a low power round. Because of
the nature of the bullet and the guns that shoot it, it’s
going to be relatively useless beyond close-ish range.
personal favorite. Also called the “9x19mm Parabellum” and
the “9mm Luger”, if there was a “Goldilocks Round” this
would be it. The very first gun I bought was a 9mm.
They’re fun at the range. They’re good for defense.
Believe it or not...or actually believe it because it’s
true...the 9mm bullet is the same size as the bullet used
in the .380 and the .38 Special (see below). The only
difference between the three is the amount of gunpowder
is arguably the smallest bullet that will result in the
fabled “hydrostatic shock”. The rounds are inexpensive and
they have very low recoil. Many, many guns use this size
as well. A compact 9mm gun can be used for concealed
carry. Most of the guns that use this size can hold on
average 15-17 rounds in the magazine.
still a relatively small round. That low recoil I
mentioned in the pros section also comes with a lower
amount of power behind it. It’s got some stopping power
for sure but there’s nastier bullets coming up that blow
it out of the water..so to speak. Very few complaints
about it otherwise.
what makes it so special? It has a longer cartridge and
more powder in said cartridge but it is a slower, heavier
bullet than the 9mm. Here’s the thing: in the gun world,
slower is a good thing. Think about it this way: although
both would suck, would you rather be stabbed quickly by a
steak knife or really slow with a spoon? Which would do
more damage? The steak knife is going to make a clean cut.
The spoon is going to rip and tear. The .38 special is
like that spoon.
is a nasty bullet. It’s going to hit hard. The FBI used
this cartridge as its standard issue for a very long time.
is a revolver round. You’re not going to find a semi-auto
gun that fires these, as far as I know. If you’re a huge
fan of revolvers then this would be a plus, I guess. I
even carried a revolver for a while but that means you’re
only going to have 5 or 6 rounds at a time. There’s also a
hefty recoil especially in +P versions. I’ll goin
for now, it essentially means “more power”.
Remember how I said the 9mm was the “Goldilocks Round”? If
that’s the case then the .40 is her big, angry, whiskey
drinking sister. Ok, I have no idea what that means but
bear with me. This round has got massive stopping power
and a relatively small size. There are a lot of police
forces that use this round as well.
shoot someone with this round and they will know they got
hit. It maintains its track for a good long while so it
has good range. Ammo is still relatively inexpensive.
you increase the size of the round and its power, you also
increase its recoil. Many people complain about the kick
from this round. But the kick from the .40 is very
manageable compared to...
.44 Magnum and the .357 Magnum
You know that “do you feel lucky, punk” and “go ahead,
make my day” lines that everyone, including you, quote
constantly (and most likely incorrectly)? Clint Eastwood
(real name: Cuddles McGee) was holding a .44 Magnum
revolver when he grumbled those lines. At the time it was
the most powerful handgun in the world (still only second
to the .500 S&W Magnum, as far as I know). These are
pretty much only revolver rounds, although there’s a
couple of rifles that use them. These are nothing more,
however, than their close equivalents (.40 and a .38) with
a massive, almost crazy amount of powder behind them.
bullet equivalent of a sledgehammer. You hit something
with this round and that something is going down. Fun
fact: a .357 Magnum gun can also fire .38 special rounds
but NOT visa versa.
Law says that for every action there is an equal and
opposite reaction. If a bullet is to leave the gun at a
higher speed and power then the gun will react in the
equivalent recoil. Long story short: the recoil is insane.
This is a powerful freaking round and I would not
recommend this for beginners of any sort.
in 1904 by Mr. John Browning himself for the famous 1911
pistol, this round has one heck of a history. This thing
is a big bullet with stopping power to spare. The choice
of many police officers and military personnel for years,
the .45 caliber round has proven itself time and time
again. I could probably do an entire article on just this
power, inexpensive and a lot of guns chamber this round.
If you hit someone center mass with this bullet, they will
drop. If they’re on drugs it’ll take maybe 2 shots. This
is the round to stop someone with. Not much more I can say
with the Magnums, the increased stopping power means
increased recoil. I can tell you from personal experience
that this is not a round to hand to someone who’s never
fired a gun before. One other point is that this bullet
tends to start tumbling at around 75 yards which reduces
its effective range quite a bit. For self defense that’s
not a problem but if you love target shooting at long
distances, you’re going to have to work hard with this
.500 S&W Magnum & .50AE
Even though these are relatively new cartridges, I’ll be
referring to these as the granddaddy of all bullets.
Coming in at a half and inch wide and packed with
gunpowder, these babies are the most powerful shot around.
you are holding this gun, people will run from you. There
will be no surviving a center mass shot from these. Heck,
the .500 is used for hunting bear. A handgun...for
shooting Grizzly Bear. Fire this thing off at a shooting
range and enjoy seeing everyone there duck from the sound.
recoil from either of these rounds is like getting
brofisted from God. We’re talking physically painful to
shoot. Also, if you hold the .500 revolver wrong it can
and will remove fingers (See
Mythbusters Episode #121). I wouldn’t even hand this
gun to my worst enemy to fire as their first shot. I don’t
think you can comprehend the sound and force of one of
these going off. Dang I want one though.
Bullet Diameters, Cartridges And Ballistics:
The below ballistics table will give true caliber of bullet and
bullet diameter, measured in american standard and metric for
popular centerfire rifle cartridges. Rifle cartridge bullet
weight measured in grains, velocity measured in feet per second
and energy measured in foot pounds for the more popular and new
introduced rifle cartridges, factory ammunition ballistics.