Revisiting Handgun Caliber and Ammunition Choices

It has been over a year since my last article comparing defensive ammunition and there have been some interesting new offerings when it comes to defensive ammo. You may or may not have read any of my previous articles on choosing a handgun caliber and effective ammunition for personal defense. I’ll just do a quick review here.

bangyouredeadNot everyone agrees on what it takes to stop a determined aggressor because, frankly, there is no way to know. One person might run at the sight or mention of a gun, while a person high on drugs or an adrenaline dump or just criminally insane would act exactly the opposite. There are as many psychological factors that may come into play as there are physical ones. The argument is frequently made, “any gun is better than no gun” or “a gun you will carry is better than a gun you will leave at home.” You’ve got to make your own decision about that, but don’t make it out of ignorance. Do the research. Find out what really happens in the real world.

The chances are pretty slim that any of us who are civilians who carry every day will every need to use our firearm. But if we do, I intend to have one that will be up to the task. Back when I was actively hunting, many of the game laws for hunting animals such as deer or wolves required a firearm/cartridge combination that produced a minimum of 400 ft/lbs of energy on target. This was the law in many states. That always seemed to me to be a fairly accurate measurement of what it might take to really get a man’s attention if he was a determined aggressor out to hurt me.

What does 400 ft/lbs of energy mean?  Well, it’s how hard a bullet strikes a target and it’s a factor of how much the bullet weighs and how fast it is going. The general understanding is that stopping an aggressive human (or animal) is best done by causing a lot of damage to major organs and/or loss of blood. That’s done with modern defensive rounds by insuring they both penetrate and expand, or if they don’t expand, they produce a lot of lateral tissue damage.  There is no such thing as one-shot knockdown. If there were, the laws of physics would require the person shooting the bullet would also be knocked down.

But we can get someone’s attention while poking holes in them by hitting them VERY hard with the hole-poking bullet. So, I look for that 400 ft./lbs. of energy. I want them to know they were hit, long before the effect of the bullet gets their attention through tissue damage or blood loss.

Using manufacturer’s published information, along with that published by Midway USA I charted the ballistic information available for all of the handgun calibers. The last time I did this I just indicated the top 5 using ft/lbs of energy as the ranking factor. This time instead of just listing the top 5 as far as terminal ballistic performance, I listed all of the examples I could find. This will give you a chance to compare the ammunition you’ve been using to others that are available in the same caliber.

There are couple of newcomers included here that have very impressive ballistic performance, though they’re not in the same category as typical defensive rounds. Instead of expanding, they dissipate their energy on target laterally through something called hydra-static shock. They hit with so much energy they cause a lot of lateral damage without expanding. Those two are the Polycase ARX rounds, also marketed under the Ruger Label and Liberty Civil Defense rounds.

One thing I want you to be careful about when choosing your ammo, and this is depicted on these charts in some cases, is you have to look at more than brand. The same brand of ammo has different ballistics depending on bullet type, bullet-size and other factors we may not see, such as the type of powder they use. So if you’re choosing Hornady or Sig Sauer, or Fiocchi and others, make sure you check the terminal ballistics for the actual cartridges you’re buying.

Here are the semi-automatic charts:

.380 Ballistic Comparison

9mm Ballistic Comparison

40 S&W Ballistic Comparison

45 ACP Ballistic Comparison

357 Sig Ballistic Comparison

10 mm Ballistic Comparison

38 Special Ballistic Comparison

327 Magnum Ballistics Comparison

357 Magnum Ballistics Comparison

44 Special Ballistics Comparison

44 Magnum Ballistics Comparison

The chart below shows a comparison of the calibers from least powerful as far as ft/lbs of energy on target to most powerful. There are two lines on the chart. The blue line represents the most powerful cartridges I was able to chart for each of the common handgun calibers used for personal defense and the red line represents the least powerful for each caliber. As you can see, there’s a range of differences, as I mentioned above.

For example, Sig Sauer’s V-Crown ammunition is pretty popular and I shoot it myself, especially because I’ve got several Sig Sauer handguns. But in 9mm alone, I’ve got to be careful when I pick up a box of Sig ammo to load in my carry gun. The 124 grain is their best in 9mm at 374 ft/lbs. Not quite up to the 400 ft/lbs I prefer to carry, but it’s close. Sig Sauer V-Crown 9mm 115 grain, however, only produces 359 ft/lbs of energy and it’s 147 grain offering in the same caliber is at the bottom of the chart with only 317 ft/lbs of energy.

comparecharts

Author: David Freeman

Professional dedicated to training and equipping people to live safely in a dangerous world.

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