Is There A Best Caliber For Self-Defense?


It’s fascinating (or frustrating, depending on your point of view) to see the way that people in any interest group bicker. For example, talk to any group of people who play guitar and ask them which guitar is best, and you’ll get all kinds of answers (ask them which guitarist is best if you want to see them get into a fight with each other).

The same thing happens when talking to a group of people interested in guns. You’ll get a variety of answers if you ask which firearm is best.

But what if you asked people which ammunition is best for self-defense? Would you get a variety of answers? Well, like anyone else involved with firearms, a writer named Eve Flanigan has some strong opinions on this topic. Flanigan goes after some of the assumptions people make about what is trying to be accomplished in self-defense shooting when she writes,

To defeat a common myth from the start, self defense shooting does not have killing as its purpose. The sole purpose of a lawful self defense shooting is to stop the attack. Despite what movies and TV would lead us to believe, only one in six people who sustain gunshot wounds die. Also counter to typical media portrayals, a single round fired from any caliber handgun has less than a 25 percent likelihood of stopping an attack. Odds go up substantially—to about 63 percent—with two shots.

With that in mind, Flanigan notes that there are a variety of ammunition types (hollow points, full metal jacket, etc.) along with a variety of calibers (9mm, .45, etc.). But the stopping power of hollow points, to a large extent, evens out the playing field of smaller caliber ammunition for the purpose of self-defense.

So, what ammunition should you use?

To answer this question, think about the purpose of using a firearm in self-defense and the lack of likelihood of one shot stopping an assailant. And, then, consider something else that Flanigan mentions:

Shot placement, followed by a sufficient number of rounds to deflate the assailant’s determination or physical capability, is far more important than caliber.

Think about this. What will make the difference is more likely to be whatever ammunition helps you to hit accurately and more than once (Flanigan notes that one hit with a handgun caliber of any kind “has less than a 25 percent likelihood of stopping an attack” but that a second hit increases those odds to roughly 63%!). In light of this, you need to evaluate your choice of ammunition based upon what you can use and still maintain accuracy over multiple shots and also, what kind of firearm that ammunition choice will necessitate (certain ammunition requires larger firearms than other ammunition which can make one firearm better for concealed carry versus another firearm).

So, which ammunition should you use? Use the one that allows you to take accurate shots repeatedly and allows you to conceal your weapon if you are carrying concealed. Whichever choice you choose, make sure that you get comfortable with that ammunition at the shooting range so that you can use it effectively when you need to.


  1. Whichever caliber you can fire and stay on target with the best. So many factors, more opinions than actual facts, and fanboys of not just the caliber, but the gun you carry. Some believe that the 1911in .45ACP is the end all, be all gun. Others claim the Glock, Sig, HK, Walther and on down the list is the best. Revolvers v. Auto-Loaders, it goes back and forth.
    In reality, what you choose to carry needs to be based on what you can most easilly present, aim and fire in a way that the movements you make are practiced, smooth and quick. If you can’t present your weapon efficiently and quickly, your chance of survival goes down with every second that passes. The same holds true for not just your at battery position, but aquireing your sight picture and squeezing the trigger, and follow up shots until the threat is negated. If you choose a caliber that’s too heavy for your skill set, your chances of survival go down again. Some calibers produce heavy recoil and some have mild recoil. The gun firing whichever caliber needs to be ergonomic and of sufficient weight and design to offset the recoil from the cartridge you fire. Anything can be carried, but if concealing your weapon is a must, your choices shrink depending upon many factors that vary person to person. Even a big guy like myself, 6’3″ 210 lbs, is limited in how I conceal. Carrying a full size revolver or auto-loader can be done, but it’s often not the most comfortable choice. For close to 25 years I carried a Walther PPK/S in .380 as my CC weapon. Small, easily concealed, my 2XL hands require modified or special grips to comfortably use the PPK, but that wasn’t a problem. Because of its pinned barrel, it’s one of the most accurate guns I own. .380’s on the low end of defense rounds, but modern and effective loads do exist. Why did I retire the gun? Vision, plain and simple. Anyone familiar with the PPK knows that replacing the factory sights will require extensive work by a competent gunsmith, as both the front sight and rear dovetail require machining to adapt. An expensive proposition and one for which there is No return to its original configuration. So after some study, I chose a Sig P365. Sizewise, it’s very close to the PPK. With the 12 round magazines, holding the gun isn’t an issue. I’ve now gained a 5 round increase in capacity, with a larger caliber, and the Sig’s stock sights, a tritium sight, fairly pops for my aging eyes, especially in low light conditions. The P365 has a bit more recoil, but not a huge jump in recoil, so it was fairly easy to adapt to. The Sig also has the advantage of after market accessories such as a light or laser (a laser is something I may eventually may go to as my eyes continue to age).
    If a .22LR is all your capable of handling, then carry it, but your shot placement becomes more critical as you go to smaller calibers, and there’s not a wide selection of Defense Ammo for anything less than .380, although .32 ACP is seeing some defense loads by companies like Hornady and Speer.

  2. Actually,
    Mr Cochran has hit it exactly right. Caliber is less important than it used to be. I carry a 1911 .45. I also carry a 9mm and I carry a .380 in an ankle holster. I’m comfortable with all of them for self-defense.

  3. I am a retired ER nurse with more than 30 years working in large, civilian inner city ER’s. Before that, I was a medic on a team that did SAR and Recon overseas back in the early 70’s and when I arrived in country, I was issued a 1911A1. And yes, medics carried weapons unless they were conscientious objectors and no one in my unit was. Today, I rely on a 1911 Officer’s model made by S&W. My house gun is a government model.
    I have probably seen more GSW’s than most people in the US who do not work in Trauma Centers and I have many of them beat. Between the Army and the ER, I believe I have some expertise in what works for self-defense as I have seen a larger sampling than most of the general population. I have seen very few fatalities from the .380 and lesser calibers. In my experience, it is completely inadequate for self-defense. It cannot be counted to put someone down even with a head or chest shot; seen it multiple times.
    I have treated multiple people who were killed because they trusted inferior calibers such as the .380 for self-defense. It does not have enough kinetic energy to do enough damage to provide real stopping power unless it is that person’s day to die.
    Having seen multiple people who were not stopped by even 9 mm, I cannot fathom trusting my life to anything less than a 9 and I have not found it to be adequate for too many people. One man was shot in the head more than once with a 9 and survived to kill himself months later while in jail awaiting trial for homicide. I can’t tell you how many head shots I have seen with 9 mm down to .22 that survived, some with no major residual deficits. In my experience, choosing a caliber that starts with a 2 or a 3 usually results in the death of the owner of that weapon, just sayin’.
    I am amazed how many people believe that if they practice at the range, they will be able to do what needs to be done with a smaller bore weapon, not realizing that when that time comes, your reality changes, tunnel vision ruins your marksmanship, your weapon moves wildly up and down with each beat of your heart and everything goes to hell.
    In a study titled NYPD Gunfight Statistics, it showed that over the period, 1990-2000, the average mean hits by officers were 15%, with the highest mean of 25% in 1998 to a low of 9% in 2000. These are COPS who are supposed to be trained in firearms and average 15% hits in 10 years. While practice is essential, it must be under stress. Going to the range and just shooting is not going to work. You have to see how well you shoot with someone yelling at you and have fireworks (literally) going off around you. If you can’t do that, you probably will not survive the real deal. That’s one of the things the Army did back in the Vietnam days and many men found it very unnerving because it was not like the movies or tv.
    For those who cannot handle anything less than a 9, they need to practice with that bore until they have expertise; anything less is suicide. Seen that more times than I can count.


  5. Sorry, But if the person that you have to defend yourself against survives, you will be sued or put in Jail! That’s the fact of the American Justice system! The best Round is one that takes the target down, not piss off. 45 acp works best for that Purpose. over 100 years prove that beyond a doubt!!!!!!!!!!!


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