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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Harry Rainey
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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.
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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
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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.

gary
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gary

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

Luke
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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.
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Rick R.

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

Jeremy B.
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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.

MrZ
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MrZ

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

Rick R.
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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.
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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
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Rick T

In action shooting nobody is shooting back.

Ben
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Ben

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

adam ghost
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adam ghost

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

Dego Chaney
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Dego Chaney

Get another Gun!

Mark D. Aul professional Gunsmith
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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 »

JSH
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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
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Hugh Jorgen

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

Cole Engle
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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
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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 E Meola
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Dennis E Meola

What about using a .380 for easy concilment?

Geoff Miller
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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
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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
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Rick T

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

Cary Weather
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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
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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
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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 »

John Tilo
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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/

Victor Persinger
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Victor Persinger

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

Yerffej
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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 »