Let’s Talk Caliber War

So let’s start with some technical stuff. For the below table I simply jumped onto wikipedia and read the load data there and took a ball-park median for muzzle energy. I also simply went up the line with common carry gun calibers, I missed a few big ones, the idea is more to give a scope not to cover every little chambering:
.32 ACP 130 ft/lbs
.380 ACP 200 ft/lbs
9x19mm 460 ft/lbs
.40 S&W 500 ft/lbs
.45 ACP 550 ft/lbs
.357 Mag 700 Ft/lbs
10mm Auto 750 ft/lbs
.44 Magnum 1200 ft/lbs

Again not scientific collection, but it’ll give you a general idea of the rounds relative strength of the rounds, tho muzzle energy hardly translates to “Stopping Power” which is bullshit anyway. More on that later. One thing you’ll quickly notice is that the difference between most of the adjacent rounds is really just statistical noise. Its about 40 ft/lbs between 9×19 and .40 S&W and 50 between the .40 and the .45. Going further the HUGE caliber war of all time is separated by around 100 ft/lbs! Note that the .32 ACP, which most people agree is far too small for personal defense, and it has more muzzle energy than 100ft/lbs. So the difference between the “puny europellet” and John Browning’s “Death Ray” is less power than most people would claim is worth it.

Also let’s note that the difference between .380 Auto which is debated as a marginal carry cartridge, and .44 Magnum is often very unpleasant for most shooters, and stuffed in guns that can be quite difficult to carry and conceal, is 1,000 ft/lbs.

For further reference I decided to look at a couple of military rifle cartridges. First let’s note that rifles tend to have lighter, narrower, and longer bullets going at VERY fast speeds. This causes vastly different behavior in how the bullet interacts with the target. Still the numbers are the same:

5.56x45mm 1300 ft/lbs
7.62x39mm 2000 ft/lbs
7.62x51mm 2700 ft/lbs

So let’s look again at that 1,000 ft/lb gulf between .380 and .44 Mag, that’s about the average difference between intermediate rifle calibers 5.56×45, and 7.62x39mm, and the full-power rifle cartridge 7.62x51mm, and the “Bear Medicine” .44 Magnum has about the same muzzle energy as the “Poodle Shooter”, “Varmint Cartridge” 5.56x45mm.

Of course the rifle rounds will have better penetration, they will achieve speed enough for hydrostatic shock and the longer bullets are more likely to tumble, but they may also over-penetrate, and therefore may still have energy they don’t transfer to the target.

Handguns are handguns, and rifles are rifles. We don’t carry them because they’re death rays, and the military doesn’t even bother to ISSUE handguns to most soldiers, because the rifle is the place to be. We carry handguns because we can carry a handgun, conceal it if we want to or are required to, AND carry a sack of groceries and be able to still grab your car keys out of your pocket. And while there does appear to be a noticeable energy difference between the smallish .380 Auto, and the massive .44 Magnum, really the calibers you may be considering aren’t really all that different.

OK where does that leave us? Well first I just spend a long time rambling to tell you something you probably already knew: The gun in your hand when you’re in fear for your life beats the gun at home or in your car. Carry your damn gun, you just might need it, and a .25 Subcompact will beat the hell out of hiding under a desk and hope the goblin gets bored before he gets around to shooting you. But am I REALLY advocating you to carry a .25?

Nope! And if you’re serious about self-defense I hope you put a LITTLE more thought into carrying more gun before you go for the micro-gun. Caleb made a controversial post about not needing a pocket nine, he makes some good points, the biggest is a hit with a .380 beats a miss with a 9mm any day of the week and twice on Sunday. 9mm is more powerful than .380, if the guns are similar size and weight it means the gun will be harder to control. But a .45 ACP or a .40 S&W are harder to control than a similar sized 9mm. Did Caleb write a post about how you don’t need a Glock 22 or 23 when we have Glock 17 or 19?

Here’s the thing, actual terminal ballistics is really a lesson in chaos. People will talk about ballistics gel, or even chunks of meat, or even live animals in the field, but people are different, and the stuff inside of people is widely different even short distances apart.

Run your hand down your ribcage, feel how far apart your ribs are. Not imagine a round hitting square on somebody’s rib, vs. square between them. The two round tracks of the same bullet will be quite different, and the difference between the two shots is probably much greater than your average offhand grouping on range.

So not only is terminal ballistics about shot placement, but there’s also some dumb luck in there. That’s why we have the adage “What’s worth shooting once is worth shooting twice”. If it comes down to you shooting another person in self defense, you should probably put a few more rounds into your attacker just in case dumb luck isn’t on your side. Also means that reloads are a REALLY good idea.

Still while somebody might take a single .32 hit and drop dead, and somebody might take a few hits from a .45 and still manage to kill you, and recover from his wounds, the law of averages is saying that the more powerful .45 is more likely to have favorably dumb luck than the .32, or even the 9mm.

So if they make a pocket Nine that’s the same size of a comparable .380, and you have the strength and skill to shoot them both, why not pick the more powerful gun? I carry a Commander 1911 in .45, they make lots of similar sized guns in 9mm and .45, and I can shoot them all, but why not go with the .45?

I also Carry a .38 Revolver, Jay has a similar gun in .357 Magnum. I’ve shot Jay’s Snubbie from Hell several times, and its a handful, but not uncontrollable in my hands. The ONLY reason why I don’t have a gun like his is because I probably bought the 642 AND the 638 in the picture for the price of Jay’s one 360. But if you have the gun and you can SHOOT the gun, why not carrying the more powerful load?

One last point: Confidence. You’re carrying a gun to protect your life, do you want to wonder if the gun is even going to work? I certainly don’t carry a gun until I’ve put several hundred rounds through it without malfunction, if you do the full 2,000 round challenge that’s even better. Why? Because when you need the gun to save your life, you want to know it works. You’re not going to be in a 2,000 round gunfight, but it simply means dumb luck is less likely to find you.

Same goes for your caliber of choice, nobody wishes they carried less gun on a day when they were in a gun fight, and a 9mm JHP may fail to expand when hitting a target, but a .45 ACP won’t contract.

The take away is carry your damn gun, you might need it. And if you’re going to carry your damn gun, carry one that you have real confidence in, and in a caliber that is as powerful as you can proficiently handle.

Be safe out there!

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0 Responses to Let’s Talk Caliber War

  1. SCI-FI says:

    Excellent post, Weerd.

  2. guffaw says:

    I thought Caleb used a coffee cup?

  3. Old NFO says:

    It’s ALL about shot placement on the first shot… Good recap and good points! Whatever you carry, go to the range and PRACTICE!!! 🙂

  4. bluesun says:

    I’ve been really loving my 642 and pocket holster with summer starting here. I’ve even carried it in the pocket of my PJ’s (some old cotton gym shorts). No belt necessary.

  5. Nancy R. says:

    Excellent, helpful post. I ususally go all MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) when this is discussed, but this was concise enough for a n00b to absorb.

  6. McThag says:

    There’s something wrong with my 1911 and Glock 21. The ammo for both guns has consistently failed to contract. It leaves the tube 0.45″ and it’s always at least that big in the back-stop.

    I know what you’re trying to say, but…

  7. Jake says:

    Good post! You have, in fact, reminded me to resume my search for a nice, discreet mag carrier for my P3AT – a reload would be nice if the SHTF, but I don’t have enough pockets in my work clothes.

    McThag beat me to the one thing I wanted to point out – rather than “a 9mm JHP may fail to expand when hitting a target, but a .45 ACP won’t fail to contract” I think you meant “a 9mm JHP may fail to expand when hitting a target, but a .45 ACP won’t contract.”

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yeah typo fixed, thanks.

      BTW have you thought about going the dork route and getting a case for a leatherman or a blackberry or cellphone where you can secret spare mags in plain sight?

      Still I hear you, in hot sunny weather where I’ll be far from store-bought air I may simply concede that all I have room for is my 642 and the 5-shots of .38 +P it can carry.

      I try to carry a reload whenever I can, and generally I carry TWO reloads (at the Gunnie Prom I found as I was getting dressed that the tension screw on my 1911 mag carrier had walked out, and I didn’t have an appropriate screwdriver to keep my mags where I put them, so I dropped the 642 in one of my pockets….and hell, two speed strips in the change pocket in my dress pants! Can’t hurt! 😉 )

      Still a reload or a BUG is nice, but let’s face it, if we were expecting a fire fight we’d stay home, or we’d lug a rifle. So if all you can pack is a mouse gun or a J-frame, that’s better than nothing.

      • Jake says:

        BTW have you thought about going the dork route and getting a case for a leatherman or a blackberry or cellphone where you can secret spare mags in plain sight?

        I have, but so far I haven’t found anything that really works. Everything I’ve found so far is either the wrong size (the P3AT mags are pretty small) or has open corners that you can see the brass through.

        If I had money, I’d see what Dennis at Dragon Leather Works could come up with. Unfortunately, I won’t have any extra disposable cash for at least another few months.

  8. Jay G. says:


    I had no idea the .357 Magnum round stacked up like that. My Snubbie from Hell™ has more power than my 1991A1 compact by a greater margin than a Glock 26 has over my Bodyguard 380.

    Wild, man.

    I do love the Snubbie from Hell™ – because even if you do miss your target, the muzzle flash will light his clothes on fire… 🙂

    • Weerd Beard says:

      .357 Magnum is no fucking joke, especially when loaded to its full potential. Like I said, my numbers are more general as there can be a huge power difference between loads, and that’s just the loads listed on Wikipedia, that’s not counting crazy shit like my 230gr +P loads that push a round at 950 FPS, or the various “Fist of an Angry God” loads from Buffalo Bore or Cor-Bon or other such companies known for steely-eyed loadings.

      • Jake says:

        the various “Fist of an Angry God” loads from Buffalo Bore or Cor-Bon or other such companies known for steely-eyed loadings.

        If that’s not an actual line of ammo from somebody, it needs to be. I want to see that box on my local ironmonger’s shelf.

        “Cor-Bon “Fist of an Angry God” .45ACP +P+”

        I’d buy that just for the box.

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