First-time gun owners, especially those with sizable budgets, have a huge range of gun options to consider. The shape, size, and accuracy of the gun make a significant difference in your ability to use it, and the sheer number of options on the market can make purchasing a small arm difficult to navigate.
Complicating things further is the decision on what caliber weapon to buy. Experienced gun owners have varying opinions about which calibers are best for which purposes. To a certain extent, personal preference plays a role in the decision, but the laws of physics result in ammunition that behaves differently according to its caliber.
When you shoot at targets, you aren’t trying to stop their forward motion. When hunting, you need to stop and kill the animal, but your distance from the prey provides flexibility. Self-defense scenarios require both stopping and immobilizing power to neutralize the threat of the enemy.
Is There a Best Caliber?
In an emergency, your ability to aim and fire consistently will matter much more than the type of ammunition you’re carrying. Even the hardest-hitting ammo in the world won’t make a difference if you miss most of your shots.
No matter what, you should choose a gun you’re comfortable with and spend some time at the range. Try to have target practice sessions at least once a month, if not more often.
The size of caliber also plays an important role in how many rounds you have to defend yourself. A full-size 9mm pistol can usually hold between 15-17 rounds with a standard magazine, whereas .45 ACP pistols typically hold between 6-8 rounds.
The smaller, lights round of 9mm ammo works well in a pistol with a lightweight frame, maximizing your concealed carry potential. However, when it comes to stopping power, larger calibers may pack a more powerful punch with fewer shots.
In the end, some calibers produce better results than others. Some are simply not powerful enough to incapacitate an enemy quickly, even if you hit them in the torso.
Penetration and Cavity Size
The biggest criteria to consider for self-defense weapons are penetration and cavity size. Penetration is essential to stopping an assailant, but the cavity left by a bullet also plays a critical role in the resulting injury. The size of the wound determines how quickly your attacker will bleed out and fall unconscious, which is why hollow-point bullets are so popular for home defense.
It’s entirely possible for a highly motivated assailant or someone who is under the influence of drugs to remain a threat after taking a few small-caliber bullets. This was true in the Miami Shootout of 1986, in which two assailants were wounded multiple times yet continued firing at responding FBI agents.
Penetration and cavity size are influenced by the kinetic energy in traveling bullets. Kinetic energy is almost always lower in rounds fired from pistols than from rifles, which is part of the reason why rifles are preferred for hunting. However, some pistol calibers have the speed and weight to achieve significant kinetic energy.
Excessively high penetration can also cause problems, as highly-penetrative ammunition can travel through an assaulter and hurt bystanders. The best calibers for self-defense achieve the right balance of penetration and cavity size to stop an assailant without causing collateral damage.
Another important criterion to consider is recoil. Larger bullets cause more impactful kicks, which make it harder to fire multiple times accurately. Even if you frequently practice shooting at a range, you may struggle to aim the weapon accurately in a real-life situation.
To be a good caliber for concealed carry, you must find an appropriate pistol that uses it. There are some rifles available with excellent ammunition, but many of those calibers are difficult or impossible to use in pistols. Some calibers are also hard to find in semi-compact or compact pistol sizes, making them much harder to carry concealed inside the waistband.
Ammo must be relatively affordable and easy to obtain to be a good option for concealed carry. Gun owners don’t just need a stash of ammo to keep at home; they also need enough to practice at the range on a regular basis.
Runners-Up: .22 LR, .380, .40 S&W
Although the .22 LR doesn’t hold much kinetic energy, it’s available in hollowpoint versions. This caliber is easy to shoot, thanks to its low recoil, and is available in models that are small enough for concealed carry. It’s an acceptable caliber for novice shooters and those physically ill-suited to handle larger rounds.
Larger .380 caliber bullets are not as powerful as you might expect, but well-aimed shots can take down an assailant quickly. They have a little more recoil than .22 LRs, but not enough to be unmanageable.
The FBI switched to using the .40 S&W after the Miami Shootout, due to its higher stopping power and excellent engineering that made it easier to reload. However, this caliber is not as common anymore, making it harder for owners to acquire ammo cheaply. If you already have a pistol that uses .40, keep using it, as it’s a strong caliber to use for self-defense.
Honorable Mentions: .357 Magnum, .38 Special, and .45 ACP
The .357 Magnum is a popular caliber for revolvers. The .38 Special is similar to the .357 in size, but the .357 is known for its unbeatable stopping power. Both have fallen out of popularity due to the powerful recoil that comes with this size of caliber, but for revolver enthusiasts who loved the cop shows of the 1980s, the Magnum reigns supreme.
Guns with .45 caliber ammunition run into similar issues with recoil. However, if you are used to the high velocity of these round sizes, .45 ACP is a solid choice.
Why 9mm Might Be the Best
The firing power of the 9mm is well-established, which is part of the reason it’s so popular among gun owners. It’s an overall well-balanced caliber that gets results without overpowering its owner.
Because it’s smaller than 10mm Auto ammo, it’s available in easy-to-conceal compact and semi-compact pistol sizes and is comfortable enough for appendix carry. It’s heavier than most similarly-sized bullets and has a higher velocity than the .380, giving it better overall kinetic energy and penetration.
Ammo for this caliber is cheap and plentiful, giving you the freedom to practice on the shooting range. Novice and veteran shooters can choose this option if they take the time to get used to the slightly higher recoil compared to smaller and lighter bullets.
Balancing Power and Safety
In the end, caliber choice is highly personal and isn’t as important as the work you put into honing your gun skills. As important as caliber is the right combination of accessories and a good holster, which makes it easier for you to draw and fire your weapon in an emergency.
We The People Holsters has a huge range of Kydex holsters that have you covered, even if you choose a less-popular caliber for your self-defense needs. We make both IWB and OWB holsters so you can practice concealed carry in a variety of ways.
Our holsters give an audible click when the gun is fully holstered and have adjustable retention for maximum safety. We’re truly committed to providing the best holsters possible, so give us a call at (888) 998-6191 with questions about our products.