The Great Caliber Debate

.40 or 9 mm? Is .380 too small? Is .45 really going to stop the threat better than a 9 mm?

Check out what Kevin Michalowski’s take on this:

Of the most common sizes of handgun calibers, which is your favorite? Tell us why below!

  • .22 LR
  • .380 ACP
  • .38 Special / .357 Magnum
  • 9 mm
  • .40 S&W
  • .45 ACP

0 voters

I shoot the .40 S&W primarily because of the combination of mass, velocity and deep penetration without major worries from over penetration.

I’ve shot hundreds of animals with handguns over the years and being a bit of a bullet performance freak I autopsy every one I can even if we’re not going to eat it.

To hit the vital structures that quickly incapacitate you must have the necessary penetration.

Penetration alone however does not do it, you must also have significant internal damage so choosing the right bullet makes all the difference.

FMJ’s fail to stop threats quickly quite frequently because they produce a small clean hole all the way through doing little damage and transferring little energy to the body.

I agree with him on shot placement of course. If you miss the vital structures of the body you’e not going to quickly incapacitate the threat.

Caliber is certainly not the only factor but it is definitely a major factor because all else being equal the bullet delivering the most energy to the vital structures is going to have the greatest effect.

Bigger holes also give you a wider margin of error when the shot is not perfect.

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Not going to lie, the cheaper cost of 9mm won me over from 45acp. I still like both a lot though. But I like all of them…

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Other than .22lr you can’t shoot anything cheaper.

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Cost was one of the biggest factors for me when I started carrying my 9mm. As a new father, money was very tight, but I felt protection was vital for my family. Also, the compact size allows me to conceal easily. I know you can find good compacts in other calibers, but the price was significantly higher from what I found at the time. Now, I just focus on good shot placement. That will be the key if I ever have to use my gun in defense.

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I voted for “9mm”. I chose that caliber for my EDC, and for my eventual BUG, for two primary reasons. First is that the round is more affordable and widely available with a wide array of options for self-defense rounds. Second is that with the way 9mm defense rounds are designed to perform upon penetration, they are more efficient when considering the amount of effort I have to exert to put multiple rounds on-target in a short space of time to achieve maximum effective results. I’m not saying that 9mm is the cheapest everywhere ever, or that it is the “most efficient” round out there for someone else. Simply that for me I find the ammo cheaper where I live (minimizing cost of range days) and that for my hand size and grip strength the 9mm pairs well. In reality, I don’t think caliber matters as much as training, comfortability, and control while discharging your chosen weapon.

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9 mm for me. Recoil is easy to handle and control and there is always the cost in involved when visiting the range: It is very inexpensive to buy.

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Huh. Somebody forgot to put .38 Super, hereafter known as .38 Superb, on the poll. :grinning:

Personally, I am fine with anything 9mm and bigger. Not that I am volunteering to be shot by a .380 or .22 either, just my preference.

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I carry a 45, but I voted for .38/.357. Why? Versatility.


From paper target, mouse fart .38 wad cutters, all the way to flame throwing, deer killer 180 grain .357 mag. Just shy of the BIG predators, .38/.357 can be used for defense against whatever is stalking you. Or, whatever your stalking. A new shooter can handle a big gun in .38 all day, and .357 had an excellent record for stopping Johnny Badguy for 84 years and counting. Guns in this caliber range from pocket lightweights, to full length rifles.

Good defensive round, good hunting round for small and medium game.

Way underpowered though for bears and big hogs, especially boars that have up to a 4" cartilage shield in their skin from behind the shoulders, across the chest and neck.

We’ve pulled as many as a dozen pistol and rifle bullets out of the shields of big boars that never penetrated and had healed while the boars went on to live long, happy and productive lives.

We killed one back in the 90’s that was walking around with a couple of large .30 cal rifle rounds and several loads of .00 and 000 Buck shot in him.

I’ve seen quite a few guys find themselves in deep trouble shooting big hogs with .357, .40, and .45’s.

You wouldn’t believe the looks on hunter’s faces when they pull the trigger thinking they’ve made a perfect shot only a split second later realizing all they did was make him mad and that he’s now charging straight at them.

Shot placement on large hogs is absolutely key and most don’t realize where the vulnerable places are; just below and behind the ear or behind the shoulders through the spine.

That’s why I wouldn’t trust it for the big predators. Where I live, we don’t have those. Maybe a small black bear, or a cougar. Most likely encounter would be wild dogs or coyotes.

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Just pointing out the limitations. I once saw a state trooper empty two cylinders full of .357 mag into a big boar which then treed him till I put the boar down with a 45-70 which was the only rifle I had handy at the time.

He was carrying two more speed loaders but dropped his patrolman special on the way up the tree.

We ended up having a good laugh but it could have ended up really badly.

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I prefer .45. However, I carry 9mm because of how much cheaper it is. The extra shot or two is nice as well.

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I noticed that a number of people in this thread chose 9mm because of cost. Have any of you concerned about cost considered reloading? Once you get past the initial cost of the reloading equipment, you can produce reliable and consistent handgun cartridges for about half the cost of commercial. I don’t recommend using hand loads for everyday cary, but you can’t beat them for training, practice and plain old plinking. One of the main factors you have to consider is your time. I am retired and can spend several hours a week at the reloading bench. I not only reload to shoot, I shoot to reload.

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I actually have heavily considered reloading for cheaper days at the range. The two reasons I don’t do it already are initial setup cost, and space. I currently live with my girlfriend full-time in an RV. It isn’t our dream home, but we’re working on that, lol. For now, it keeps us housed. I get a house with a garage or detatched workshop space and not only will I be setting up my leather shop again but I’ll be investing in some reloading equipment. I’ll still stick with my 9mm though.

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The difference in grip size can make a huge difference for may as well particularly with double stack models.

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if you have room for storage you can always buy your reloading gear one piece at a time then when you move into that real home just be sure you have a room to set it up in.

Look at the Dillon 550 and 650.

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Ditto WildRose….re my regular carry gun and I enjoy shooting it, .40 S&W all the way.

Having said that I have 9mm’s and 45’s as well (that I carry occasionally when I work RSO) and my nightstand gun is actually a PPQ 45. Why 45 for home defense? I can have a handgun that makes larger holes (than 9mm or .40) with similar recoil because I have it on a larger frame (and I’m sooooooo accurate with that gun, it’s really nice).

But why debate? Use the caliber you shoot best and will practice with the most and if you have the luxury to do so, shoot multiple.

Variety is the spice of life.

I have heard that people with very limited space have converted and an old entertainment center into a reloading station. Entertainment centers are fairly cheap to purchase, look nice sitting in living area or bedroom and no one will know that it is a reloading station unless they open it up. WildRose is correct Dillon presses are among the best out there. Redding, which I use, also makes high quality equipment.

If you are looking to minimize your startup cost, look on eBay. There is usually a lot of entry level equipment for sale at reasonable prices.

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I have primarily grown up with .357 magnum, .380 auto, .38 Special, 9mm Luger and .40 S&W. I stopped .357 because it wore me out after a few shots. .38 wasn’t as bad but for the limitations of the number of rounds in a wheel gun. .380 isn’t bad but ammo costs a lot more than a 9mm and is without any major benefit. .40 was great when i carried it, but 9mm has come a long way, as have other calibers, and 40 is pretty expensive too.
9mm has become my caliber of choice. There is a lot of good, effective ammo at reasonable prices and it is available all over the world.