best bullet caliber sizes to use

Bullet Caliber Sizes: What Should I Use?

What's The Best Bullet Caliber Sizes To Stop An Attacker?

If you are carrying a handgun for self-defense then anything under .35 caliber is not going to do a good job. Ammo in the .22, .25 and .32 calibers, commonly called “mouse gun” calibers, will not stop most motivated attackers.

The only benefit is that the handguns are lighter to carry.

At the Middle of the scale, we have the .38 calibers which can be difficult to hold when firing and sometimes unreliable.

In my opinion, the best bullet caliber sizes are the .357 Magnum and the .38 Special. Because they are revolvers then the rate of fire can be reduced to some degree. I would avoid the .38 snub nose revolvers due to their small grips and poor sight's.

Next to consider is the 9mm, .40 and .45 which should stop most attackers with a single shot compared to two shots with the lower caliber handguns. These calibers are currently the most popular choices for concealed carry. Next lets look at some of the terminology used around bullet sizes.

Bullet Terminology Explained

Caliber

First of all lets talk about the diameter of a gun barrel which is measured in hundreds or thousandths of an inch.

As an example a .45 handgun has a barrel diameter of 0.45 inches and so will need a .45 bullet caliber  (in metrics 11 mm). The diameters of barrels can also be referred to in metrics such as a 9mm handgun.


Centerfire or Rimfire

Rimfire

Rimfire bullets have the primer built into the rim.The firing pin strikes the primer located in the rim and ignites the propellant powder. They were invented in 1845 by Louis-Nicolas Flobert from France. The most commonly used rimfire caliber is .22 with the main advantage being they require low pressure from the firing pin resulting in light and low cost firearms.

Image

Centerfire

The name says it all. Centerfire cartridges will have the primer located in the center of the cartridge. They have thicker cartridges than the rimfire and are preferred by the military as the thicker cartridge makes them safer to handle.

Centerfire cartridges are used for most calibers these days apart from the smaller sizes. They can withstand higher pressures due to the thicker cases which in turn gives the bullet a higher velocity.

Image

The centerfire was invented in 1829 by another frenchman, Clement Pottet. However, the design was not perfected until 1855.

Handgun Capacity

The capacity of a handgun can give you one of the easiest comparisons. The calibre of the handgun is going to determine how much ammo it will hold. With 9mm rounds being smaller than .45 you are going to fit more 9mm into a cartridge than the .45 rounds. Using the table below we can compare the carrying capacities of Glocks;
ModelCalibreHolding CapacityGun Weight
Glock 179mm1732.12 oz
Glock 22.40 S&W1534.42 oz
Glock 21.45 Auto1338.30 oz

Compromising

The laws of physics dictate that you cannot have a big bullet with high velocity. To achieve high velocity you would need a small bullet. So we are forced to make a compromise.

Most law enforcement have been using the .40 Smith and Wesson from 1990 when the FBI popularized the use of them. This model was chosen by the FBI as it was a compromise. It had more capacity and less recoil than a .45 Model but with more power than a 9mm.

Recently the FBI have changed to the 9mm as they say it is more accurate and faster and of course a better compromise. Other law enforcement agencies will probably follow the FBI's example and it gives you a good example of what to buy. This should not stop you from trying out other options though.

Why The 9mm Is So Popular;

  • Reliable
  • Widely available
  • Holds more ammunition
  • More accurate
  • Good range of ammunition options
  • Lasts longer
  • Affordable ammunition
bullet caliber sizes chart

Pros & Cons

9MM

There are a large number of firearms available that accept the 9mm round. This has become the favorite among self-defense calibers.

Pros

  • It is a good compromise caliber.
  • Ammunition is readily available and most stores stock it.
  • It is sold in a number of options such as FMJ, frangible and hollow point.
  • The caliber has become one of the favorites due to its accuracy, easy control, low recoil and all this in a lightweight handgun

Cons

Input your text here! The text element is intended for longform copy that could potentially include multiple paragraphs.

40 S&W

Popular among law enforcement agencies and has a good record of stopping attacks.

Pros

  • There is a wide range of handguns made for this caliber.
  • One shot will stop a person in most cases.
  • Large bullet but still fast

Cons

  • Difficult to control for some persons due to its sharp recoil.

.45 ACP

The .45ACP has a good combination of stopping power and accuracy with moderate recoil and low muzzle blast from handguns. The low muzzle velocity gives the bullet a tendency to drop over long range but this is not a problem when used in handguns as they are typically used in close range self defense situations.

Pros

  • Available in most stores for a reasonable price
  • good selection of ammunition options.
  • Guaranteed to stop anyone attacking with one shot.

Cons

  • Requires a larger gun to handle the ammunition
  • Can be slightly harder to conceal.
  • Possibly to much recoil for some in smaller semi-automatics.

64
Leave a Reply

avatar
21 Comment threads
43 Thread replies
2 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
49 Comment authors
CenterPointeBarcroftRichard M AllenP. MillsTyler Kavanaugh Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Richard M Allen
Guest
Richard M Allen

I carry a Dan Wesson CCO 1911 in .45ACP and I have found that if you take enough time to practice the the heavier 1911 you can attain very good to great accuracy up to 25 yards and have the stopping power to take a 300 Pound assailant off his feet with one shot. I am disabled and need the assurance of the heavier round to ensure that no one get’s close enough to actually touch me. With the 1911 .45ACP I have exactly that. Although it can carry only 7-rounds it stops that 300 pound assailant in their tracks.… Read more »

Tyler Kavanaugh
Guest
Tyler Kavanaugh

What about .50

J David
Guest
J David

By no means an expert, but consider a long forgotten cartridge not mentioned here. The 38 Super +p in some brands of ammo has more muzzle energy than the .45 acp. .40 s&w and beats the 9 mm. .38 special and does it with less recoil. The 357 sig. and 357 mag. both beat the 38 super +p but both have more muzzle blast and recoil.

CenterPointe
Guest
CenterPointe

Love my Colt 1911 .38 Super.

David
Guest
David

Nothing finer than the 45 ACP. It is definitely a cartridge for those who want to stop an assaliant with one shot.

JimR
Guest
JimR

For home self defense keep a shot gun handy aka Hall Sweeper. 1. Handgun first and most importantly is the ability to hit at 15 to 21 feet accurately without using the sights. I practice with my ccw handgun and a laser cartridge. Can’t say how many door knobs, light switches, and other various objects at varying distances I have shot developing the feel. Practice drawing and firing from your carry holster. Don’t aim but develop a feel so the gun hits where you are focused. 2. Carry self defense rounds and do live fire practice with them to be… Read more »

Johnny
Guest
Johnny

Just as a FYI, I work in a large city trauma center. Recently, I very large male (around 320 lbs) was brought into our ER with a GSW. The round was a .380. It penetrated his chest, went through 1 rib, through the lung, through the scapula, and exited cleanly through his back. I was very impressed with the damage that the .380 did. I can’t say anything bad about that caliber anymore.

Duke 1860
Guest
Duke 1860

Well, there you go, after reading many acocount’s of differant peoples and differant cal. hand guns, target picture , and placment, I dont think that you can replace target accusation. End of story. period. Fire a handgun that you can handle, make your rounds go safley downrange, and hit your target many times, body mass, and head shots if you can. I dont know about you, but I dont want a bunch of 98 HP. hornet’s on my butt, much less my head or body!

CenterPointe
Guest
CenterPointe

My Bersa Thunder .380 CC is my favorite CW. Always with me.

Yerffej
Guest
Yerffej

There is a lot of information in these article paragraphs that is just not true!! The bestest and safest thing to do is to go to a training class, or classes. Live fire training classes. It was mentioned above that the “smaller calibers” are not good ammo / calibers, because they will not stop an attacker. A motivated attacker if memory serves me?. That is not necessarily the case. There are many variables in play in any & every attack situation. I’ve done a pretty fair amount of shooting up until the present day. I have seen some truly bizzare… Read more »

Victor Persinger
Guest
Victor Persinger

Any one have any thoughts where a .357sig fits in these categories?

William Parson
Guest
William Parson

.357 sig is an auto loading round designed to replicate the ballistics of .357mag. it is typically fired from the same frame gun as a 40 S&W and usually only requires a barrel change on .40 to make it a .357 sig.

Barcroft
Guest
Barcroft

U.S. Air Marshall caliber of choice.

John Tilo
Guest
John Tilo

Bullet caliber sizes are very important because every bullet have different nature when a person fires a bullet then due to its recoil and pressure he will also miss his target but if the will using its own caliber like i am using 9mm then they won’t miss. So its and ideal approach to select the caliber wisely but many people don’t focus on these aspects. I have found an interesting article for you https://www.virginiaccwonline.com/best-caliber-self-defense/

Cary Weather
Guest
Cary Weather

A Deputy Sheriff told me early on in my quest to get my CCW, that a hole in a body is a hole in the body and that once you kill someone, you will always be a killer. I have zero patience for the machos who utter garbage about killing a bad guy dead. With my .22, I have 11 chances to hit my attacker and with segmented rounds, that makes the potential for 44 holes in the bad guy, that is if I’m not shaking like a leaf when it comes time to defend myself and blowing high velocity… Read more »

Rick T
Guest
Rick T

You need to learn from history. Over 30+ years ago a farmer in Arkansas shot a home invader 17 times with a 22 rifle (mostly hits to the torso). The invader subsequently stabbed the farmer to death and his wife to death before running 1/4 of mile before the invader died from blood loss. Yes the farmer had “killed” the invader, but he certainly didn’t stop him. You want to stop someone or kill them. BIG DIFFERENCE

Agonis Payne
Guest
Agonis Payne

Some history lesson. 17 hits with none to the head… He literally would have done better swinging the rifle like a bat, ’cause shooting it wasn’t his thing. If he hit his attacker 17 times, then some of those initial shots slowed the guy down, enough to start placing/landing headshots, especially with a rifle he apparently had good recoil control over. This article implies the evaluation of the best weapons to use in a situation of minimal advantage. This is NOT the situation you describe above. He and his wife paid for his lack of adequate competency with his rifle.… Read more »

Gino Rodeghiero
Guest
Gino Rodeghiero

Todays Ammo is better than the ammo 30 years ago.

Elijah Browning
Guest
Elijah Browning

Even if we were somehow using more powder per bullet, .22 is not going to stop a charging man unless you’re a very good shot under pressure. Most aren’t.

jason biggs
Guest
jason biggs

their has been a lot of deer taken with a well placed .22 shot in apalachia

nick
Guest
nick

Bought my wife a Browing 1911 22 caliber. She wanted something to shoot that was not loud or have a kick. She loves it and will hit you center mass at 21 feet, which is the closest I told her to let anyone get to her in a situation. I know several people who say it will not stop the intruder. Well if she had something larger like my 9 or 45 she will not want to fire it because of the recoil and will probably not hit the bad person and no one has ever been killed by a… Read more »

michael
Guest
michael

This is a guy that thinks before he acts! Im glad you told this story. The most deadly weapon in the world is any weapon in the hands of someone who is afraid to use it properly, doesn’t know how to use it properly, or thinks they know how to use it properly. You were wise with your choice sir. And with some time spent getting to know the firearm, I would bet that will have all the confidence to upgrade to something more powerfull. But whats important is the person holding the firearm be comfortable enough to use it… Read more »

Michael
Guest
Michael

Actually you are much more likely to have 44 pieces of bullets ricochet off everything half ass solid in your home leaving everybody shot, including yourself and other innocent people that you may be attempting to protect. Home defense weapon of choice should be chosen VERY CAREFULLY. And there are a handful of factors that EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW AND ADHERE TO. Everybodys situation is unique, but certain factors are universal. Your ammunition must be dictated firstly by the environment which you are likely to use the firearm. Got a pistal for home defense that’s accurate at 40 yards huh? Whats… Read more »

Hogbreath55
Guest
Hogbreath55

Well put! Another consideration that coincides with intentional discharge of your chosen deterrent ..as stated previously, situational awareness is paramount, as you will now have lost one of your 5 senses–your hearing. Trying emptying a magazine in your hallway and then tell me you or anyone in your home you are trying to defend can hear you, or will you be able to hear invader movement. Take extreme care after you have drilled the intruder, is the next movement you see hostile of friendly?

JackA
Guest
JackA

Interesting point that deputy sheriff made. Of course, we can only pass judgment on those based on their actions, so from that person’s perspective you only become a killer upon actually having killed someone. Respectfully, I disagree in that it’s not the action that makes someone a killer; it’s the will. Some people don’t have it in them to take a human life willfully and in full knowledge of their actions. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some would go so far to avoid taking a life as to allow their own lives to be endangered. If there were more… Read more »

P. Mills
Guest
P. Mills

USAF SAMTU/CATM Weapons Instructor 13 years. High Standard .22 Supermatic Trophy is my home defense weapon. Practice makes perfect. Plus at my advanced age, I’m still an aggressive home defender if the situation presents . Range time while active shooting, dodging, hiding, reloading etc… makes ” You ” control any home invasion on your terms. Range Practicing, by placing multiple rapid fire head shots on paper at 15 yards using ” Natural Point of Aim ” places you into this control zone thus building confidence. Home invasion is more like 10 -25 feet, so : You Got This ! Our… Read more »

Geoff Miller
Guest
Geoff Miller

Contrary to some blogs; I am considered to be somewhat of a firearms expert as I have taught rifle marksmanship to well over a thousand law enforcement personnel, have fired over 1,600,000 rounds myself, was considered by many to be the best Gun Builder in the world for about 20 years as owner of the JOHN RIGBY company. Having said all that, I can say with some degree of surety that reliability has absolutely nothing to do with caliber for one…….Revolvers are MORE reliable than semi automatics generally . Bullet placement is key PERIOD! Bigger is generally better. Automatics are… Read more »

Justin Dudenhefer
Guest
Justin Dudenhefer

This is solid advice you should highly consider. There is a reason that the revolver has been around for 150+ years and the .38 Special has been stopping bad guys for 100+ years.

Rick T
Guest
Rick T

Bow and arrows have been stopping bad guys for many more centuries than 38 specials. Maybe you’d prefer them 🙂

michael
Guest
michael

Revolver equals less moving parts. Which definitely means less potential for something to malfunction. Easier to use too then semi. You would be amazed how easy it is to loose your bearings when shit gets real and you are suddenly without warning forced into a deadly situation. Anything you can do to lessen your chances of making a mistake will increase also help ease your mind. Because even a fraction of a second can be the difference between living, spending life in prison, hurting the people your trying to protect or making a clean shot and receiving a handshake from… Read more »

Elizabeth Hessler
Guest
Elizabeth Hessler

I’d love to know your opinion of the incident where the police officer (just convicted of 2nd degree murder?) 4 years ago shot the teenager who was brandishing a 4″ blade knife, 16 times with his official weapon?

Dennis E Meola
Guest
Dennis E Meola

What about using a .380 for easy concilment?

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

I personally carry my .380 as a backup carry weapon, although I have no issue as a primary one, either. The ballistics are close to a 9mm Luger, just a less charge due to the 2mm shorter case length (9X19 vs 9X17). My particular .380 carries 7 in the magazine, plus 1 “in the pipe,” i.e., a round already in the chamber. Also, it is a DA (Double Action) only. If push came to shove and you have only that one weapon, by all means, carry it.

JSH
Guest
JSH

First of all, .22 is NOT useless for self-defense. It’s not as effective as 9MM; but it WILL stop a person if you hit them right. Second, no caliber not even the .45 is guaranteed to stop an attacker with one shot.

Hugh Jorgen
Guest
Hugh Jorgen

I would bet my entire nutsack (which is not much) that just one .50 AE will stop ANY (human) attacker…

Cole Engle
Guest
Cole Engle

One 325 grain hollow point, 50AE, with half inch well’s can just about rip a criminal in half.
But, it can cause lateral damage to by standers, if you have to explode em, place the metallic slug in center mass, ribs, Sternum, where you get effective kill and hopefully your skill won’t frag stand bye’s.

Cole Engle
Guest
Cole Engle

Raging Bull,. by Taurus, nice 360 grain, you drop a bad situation, .375 H&H Magnum can drop a Kodiak Grizzly, 1 shot through lungs, but he is 900 pounds of terror…..if it’s defensive, be objective about placement. Long Colt 255 grain, good mountain revolver, I was chased by pack of timber wolves in Wasatch,U T and WY mountains, I survived thankfully on the north rim trail, you never stop to fight 250 pounds of fangs and cunning, I free climbed cliffs, they they were, rock slides, still found me, lucky after a 9,800 ft., decent I got away from there… Read more »

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

That’s just overkill. I’ve also seen one smartass at the range fire just ONE round from a Smith @ Wesson with a 12 inch barrel. It’s as close to heavy artillery from a handgun as any, replacing the .44 Magnum for the intended purpose of killing big game up close.

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

If you get that perfect shot placement, at the close enough range, it can still kill. And that round is a surgeon’s nightmare, considering it will tumble and worm it’s way thru the human body.

Elijah Browning
Guest
Elijah Browning

The operative term here is “if you hit them right”.
Are you willing to gamble on your being just as accurate in a tense situation as you would be plinking with a .22? Or maybe you should just get a caliber with an actually decent chance of stopping them.

Mark D. Aul professional Gunsmith
Guest
Mark D. Aul professional Gunsmith

I strongly disagree with the author’s negetive review on the 38spl it was the duty caliber for over a century but he highly praises the 9mm i am a professional Gunsmith if you put a pair of calipers to a 9MM it will measure inner bore to inner bore will be .355 where a 38spl is .357 ” a 9MM is basically a European 3 special! He says he does NOT recommend a 38 revolver or snub nose for defense what does he expects the snub nose is designed for close quarters and not long range soo the sights and… Read more »

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

I totally agree with you. I am not a gunsmith, but being retired military and have carried anything from the old issue Browning M1911A1s, .38 Special S&W service revolvers and the M9 as my issued sidearms on my watches (BTW I own an M9 myself), 12 ga shotguns and fired that MaDeuce (MA2), I think I am qualified enough to say the author is one of those “macho” guys who thinsk bigger is better. Trust me, I fired my wife’s .357 Taurus snubnose AND her .38 SPL snubnose, belive me it will get the job done if needed, no problem.… Read more »

adam ghost
Guest
adam ghost

good info , i will just stick to somewhere in the middle , my .40 caliber glock 23 suits me just fine

Dego Chaney
Guest
Dego Chaney

Get another Gun!

Ben
Guest
Ben

A great comparison would be of the size ammo that is around 9mm, or .38, there are a wide variety at this size.

Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.

Ballistically, the larger caliber ammo does not expend all of its energy in flight like the faster ammo. Secondly, the larger frame on the M1911 model .45 keeps the muzzle jump down better than the lighter frames like the 9mm.

Jeremy B.
Guest
Jeremy B.

Ummm… what? Are you saying that .45 ACP has more energy down range than 5.56mm?

Rick, what happens when you put a 9mm in a 1911 frame? Yes, those exist. But more to your point, Even the weight of the 1911 isn’t enough to make it a better option for quick follow up shots. Take a look at action pistol shooting competitions. 9mm is favored unless it is given a points penalty or forbidden from a category.

Rick T
Guest
Rick T

In action shooting nobody is shooting back.

MrZ
Guest
MrZ

got tired of all the noises and fast talking in the video and moved on…..

Luke
Guest
Luke

“45 guaranteed to stop in one hit” The 45 has low velocity and only a little higher energy. Also requires bigger guns and results in less capacity. Shot placement is the end-all. With more rounds you are more likely to hit something important.

Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.

If you hit your target, you don’t neen more bullets.

Jeremy B.
Guest
Jeremy B.

Real life doesn’t agree with you. It often takes multiple hits (of any caliber) to incapacitate the aggressor. So says the FBI and many other LEOs.

michael
Guest
michael

Maybe you should ask your FBI friends exactly how many times you can shoot someone and claim self defense. In my state of Arkansas, definatley a pro gun state, you can use deadly force if you are protecting yourself, your loved ones, and/or your property from harm. But you squeeze that trigger more than 3 times and guess what, you will be the one facing a jury. A friend of mine got manslaughter and served 8 years in prison because he fired a shotgun twice. The reason the charges stuck…the first shot immobilized the intruder and the second shot was… Read more »

jason biggs
Guest
jason biggs

its all about the man behind the trigger my .45 is very accurate if I practice regularly I am too. and the new defense rounds are pushing close to 1659 f.p.s.

gary
Guest
gary

What is a ‘380 special? Think you meant .38 special,and neglected to reference the .380 ACP at all.

Harry Rainey
Guest
Harry Rainey

Military soldiers prefer the .45 ACP over the 9mm. When one shot usually stops a drugged up terrorist and multiple hits with a 9mm. Military not allowed to use JHP while the enemy does. The Geneva Convention needs to be updated, its old school.

Jeremy B.
Guest
Jeremy B.

– It’s actually the Hague Convention that dealt with ammunition. And the US was not a signatory to that portion. And even if we were a signatory it would only be binding in conflicts with other signatories.

– As a military veteran, I do NOT prefer the .45 ACP over the 9mm.

Mitch Slot
Guest
Mitch Slot

As a military veteran, I definitely prefer .45 ACP for close combat. I’m a good enough shot that I know if I hit the enemy in the vitals; I will destroy my opponent with that one well placed round. For stopping power there is no comparison. I was in the USMC in the early to mid 80’s, just as they were phasing in the Baretta 9’s. For me at least…..I would rather have 7 rounds in old slab sides (my issued M1911) than double that in the Baretta. Guess everybody is wired differently, eh.

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

As a retired Navy member, I qualified on both and yes, the “Gunies” training and scoring me told me I should try to be a sniper. Like anyone who serves or served, you make do with what you got. I have no preference myself, but for comfort out in the “real world”, I like my personal .45 is lighter and is a CZ75 clone both for simplicity, weight and easier to conceal than my own personal M9 (which I love to shoot, but hard to carry concealed unless it’s in shoulder rig).

Bob
Guest
Bob

45…. well….. you should check out the 357 Sig specs. Faster, more foot pounds of energy, smaller, lighter & car door & windshield tested & approved.
What’s not to like?

Doc (FF)
Guest
Doc (FF)

In your opinion.

I have a .45 Expert Rating (USMC). I was happy when they gave me the M9 (Barretta 92). 15+1 and less recoil – more rounds in critical mass at a quicker rate.

Just my opinion.

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

I love mine, but now back in the effed up real world, it’s hard to carry concealed comfortably, unless in a shoulder rig.

Dennis A Tate
Guest
Dennis A Tate

Not to mention 115g FMJs for the 9mm is a light bullet compared to the 230g .45ACP. Twice the weight of the projectile with close to double the energy. What’s going to hit more powefully?