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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Geoff MillerDennis E MeolaJSHDego ChaneyMark D. Aul professional Gunsmith Recent comment authors
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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.

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.

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.

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 »