By Mor E. Caubell
A while ago my daughter expressed an interest in law enforcement. So I asked her if she wanted to go shoot a handgun, she did, and we arranged to meet one of her Cop friends at a local range.
After her initial shooting experience she asked me the question “Which is the best ammunition for home or self defense?” Actually I think her question was, “Which is the best bullet?”. So after a short conversation to zero in on what she really was asking we got to the question of this article.
This question, by the way, is the beginning of many heated discussions on the web, at parties or around the dinner table. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Sign on to almost any blog and ask, which is better 9mm or .45 then sit back a watch the debate.
To head off any flame wars, let me state that this is my opinion and you will have to do your own research and come to your own conclusion.
To begin, there is one truth that I have discovered from a lifetime of purchasing things. That is “there is no such thing as the perfect x”. You can replace the “x” with whatever it is you are looking for. Be it cameras, cars, bullets or whatever. You the purchaser will have to decide on various compromises to get to your own decision.
In cameras for example, you might want the best picture and be able to see the results immediately after taking the picture. Typically the best picture taking cameras are film based, but you can’t see the results immediately. So you will have to compromise on one of your requirements.
In cars, let’s say you want to drive fast, carry 8 people and 4 sheets of plywood. Sad to say, you will have to decide which of your requirements are most important and which ones you will compromise on because I don’t think Porsche makes an 8 passenger pickup truck with an 8 foot bed that can go 120mph.
But back to the question “Which is the best ammunition for home or self defense?”
The quest for the perfect bullet is enough to keep even the most ardent re-loader searching for a life time. A re-loader, by the way, is a person that assembles their own bullets out of the separate components of bullet, powder, case and primer.
My personal belief is any caliber handgun that you will practice with and carry is better than the one you don’t like to shoot, so you leave it home.
That being said, there is a whole mass(M) times velocity(V) formula that many use to compare stopping power, or knock down power between calibers. You can look that up if you are really interested.
Some people (read “men”) believe the only calibers worth carrying will stop a bad guy with a single well placed round. I would suggest, that a single well placed round of any caliber will stop a bad guy. Notice I didn’t say kill, as my intent is not to kill anyone, my intent is to stop the bad guy from hurting me, my family or my loved ones.
For brevity I’ll only list a few of the most common calibers. Caliber is measured in millimeters(mm) or fractions of an inch, expressed as .xx or .xxx.
Example list of common handgun calibers: .22, .32, .38, .357, .380, 9mm, 10mm, .40, .44, .45, .454 and .50.
How to decipher the information on the ammo box.
There will be the caliber of the ammunition, which is then followed by some letters or words like: lr, S&W, ACP. Which tell you more about the ammunition, lr stands for long rifle and I’ve only seen it on .22 caliber ammo. S&W stands for Smith and Wesson, ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol. Also, there are lots more than these, but way to many to list here.
There will be the weight of the bullet, or projectile measured in grains or gr. You’ll typically find it listed something like 115gr, 124gr or 147gr.
There will be the type of bullet, FMJ for Full Metal Jacket, JHP for Jacketed Hollow Point. There are others to be sure, but these are the most common.
That leaves the amount of powder used in the round. It’s the pressure created when the powder burns, that pushes the bullet down the barrel. Standard pressure loads aren’t marked in any special way but if it’s marked +P that is a higher pressured load than standard, and a +P+ is higher still. Don’t forget the M x V thing, the faster the bullet travels, the more the gun will recoil. Read the manual or check with the manufacturer of the handgun before using high pressure loads. The handgun must be designed to handle the extra pressure, if it’s not bad things can happen.
Like I said above any caliber handgun that you will practice with and carry is better than the one you don’t like to shoot, so you leave it home.
Some things to keep in mind:
- As you progress from the smaller .22 caliber to the larger .50 caliber, the recoil will increase, it’s that whole M x V thing.
- As you progress from the smaller to the larger caliber, the cost of the ammunition goes up.
- As you progress from the standard pressure loads to the higher pressure loads, the cost of the ammunition goes up.
- As you progress from the smaller to the larger caliber, the handgun itself will get bigger and heavier.
- As you progress from the smaller to the larger caliber, the cost of the handgun itself goes up.
But it’s not all bad news when it comes to size, the larger and heavier the handgun or the more mass it has, the more energy it takes to move it. That means a bigger handgun will recoil less than a smaller, lighter handgun if they shot the same bullet.
My standard recommendations for deciding on which caliber to shoot and carry are as follows:
- The ammunition must be currently and commercially available.
- The ammunition must cycle reliably in your semi-automatic handgun. If you carry a revolver, this doesn’t apply.
- The ammunition must be the equivalent of what your local law enforcement types use.
- The ammunition for carry must match the practice ammunition.
For example I carry both 115gr, 9mm and 230gr, .45ACP, JHP. So I shoot both 115gr, 9mm and 230gr, .45ACP FMJ.
Now you’re probably wondering why I shoot two different calibers. It’s that size thing again. As it’s darn near impossible to conceal a full sized .45 caliber 1911 pistol while wearing a Speedo, the bulge is just too unsightly. But a small 9mm, can get tucked in just about anywhere.