Recommendations regarding handgun ammunition for self defense follow:
The .22LR is both a revolver and a pistol round.
In a perfect world, the intended victim would be relying on a caliber larger than the .22 for self defense. In such a perfect world, why would one need to defend themselves in the first place? Consider the .22 to be an imperfect solution to a real world necessity, or put differently "something is better than nothing". The diminutive .22 makes sense with citizens reluctant to pack or carry a larger caliber handgun. Some fine .22 caliber pocket and target autoloaders exist, and 6-, 8- and 10-shot .22 caliber revolvers are great handguns. Use .22LR ammunition.
Because ammunition is cheap, shooting is very affordable with a .22 caliber handgun. Marksmanship is crucial with a .22 in a defensive situation, so practice drawing your firearm and rapidly peppering objects from ten to twenty-five feet away. Cans, melons, and discarded bowling pins make ideal targets. Bowling pins used to be free, but now a nominal cost is usually involved to obtain them.
The .22 autoloader must be kept free of gunk, dust, and grit to function reliably. Make sure to keep the firearm meticulously clean and properly lubricated.
Replace unused .22 ammunition in the magazine at least every six months or so because it tends to misfire or hang fire when subjected to temperature and weather extremes over a period of time. It is strongly recommended that you visit Handguns: Self Defense to review safety issues surrounding potentially dangerous hang fire rounds.
Magnum Caliber: (.22 Winchester Magnum Rim Fire; WMR)
A number of manufacturers make fine single action revolvers that are capable of selectively shooting either .22LR or .22WMR ammunition. This is accomplished by means of interchangeable cylinders of different lengths, each intended to accommodate either the .22LR or the .22WMR. The barrel of the gun is suited to either caliber since they are both .22.
Double and single action revolvers are available in .22WMR and very high capacity autoloaders exist in this caliber.
(Automatic Colt Pistol) Caliber:
The .25ACP cartridge was developed as an alternative to the .22LR for use in small autoloaders. The .25ACP is a center fired cartridge. It provides a degree of dependability not found in the .22LR, which is a rim fired cartridge.
Which of these calibers, .22LR versus .25ACP, should an individual consider purchasing for "serious" use as a self defense round? Neither. Consider the .32ACP to be the minimum acceptable caliber.
The .32ACP, chambered in a pocket autoloader, is a viable choice when ability to conceal the handgun is an issue.
Penetration can be expected to be in the range of 6 to 8 inches.
.380ACP Caliber: (9mm Short, 9x17mm, 9mm Kurz)
The .380ACP, or "three eighty auto", represents a higher level of self protection insurance when compared to smaller calibers.
Fine quality single and double action pistols are chambered for this round.
Penetration of the .380ACP ranges from 8 to 10 inches.
Caliber: 2-inch Barrel
The "snubby", a snub nose 2-inch revolver, has a long history as a favorite of the law enforcement community for concealment. It is also extremely popular for CCW permit civilian carry.
Ammunition labeled +P (for extra pressure) should be used only in revolvers approved by the manufacturer for such use.
Accuracy with a light weight snub nose revolver is extremely susceptible to the uncomfortable recoil and muzzle blast produced by +P ammunition. The gun is much more controllable in rapid fire with standard pressure rounds.
"Short barrel" JHP ammunition is a "next generation" innovation that seeks to minimize unpleasant levels of recoil from compact, light weight handguns. Cartridges in this class still provide proper bullet expansion and adequate penetration.
The ability to control a snub nose revolver is greatly improved by the addition of after market rubber grips to replace the wooden factory grips, if so equipped.
of .38 Special rounds fired from a snubby can be expected to be about 10 to
Special Caliber: 4-inch Barrel
The admonition concerning +P ammunition is again reiterated: restrict the use of +P loads to revolvers certified for +P use.
It is common to practice with standard pressure loads and carry +P ammunition when packing for self defense. Be aware that the recoil of a +P round is severe, and can inhibit accurate repeat shots. If standard pressure ammunition is used for personal protection, proper shot placement and rapid delivery of subsequent hits is enhanced.
of .38 Special rounds ranges from 11 to 12
Parabellum Caliber: (9mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm NATO, 9x19mm)
The 9mm is the world's most popular pistol cartridge for both civilian and military use.
Ammunition for the 9mm Luger is available in three pressure classes: standard pressure, high pressure "+P", and ultra high pressure "+P+". High and ultra high pressure rounds should be used only in newer firearms manufactured to handle these loads.
In FMJ, with a one shot stopping success of only 63%, the standard pressure 9mm Luger is not a superlative defensive round. Use ball ammunition for practice and training. Use JHP for self defense if it cycles reliably in your autoloader.
The 9mm NATO is the cartridge currently used by the U.S. Armed Forces. It is 124 grains, FMJ.
The specifications for the 9mm NATO round call for a pressure that is approximately 10% higher than that of standard 9mm Luger ammunition . The higher pressure produces increased velocity and energy, which are conducive to reliable cycling in both pistols and carbines chambered for the 9mm.
The 9mm NATO can be considered to be roughly the equivalent of a +P 9mm Luger, and thus should be used only in modern firearms designed for +P ammunition.
9mm cartridge exhibits penetration of 10 to 14 inches.
This pistol cartridge is a relatively new design that attempts to emulate the performance of the powerful .357 Magnum revolver round. Although an excellent cartridge on its own merits, it doesn't quite attain that goal.
is 10 to 12 inches.
The .357 Magnum, in 125 grain JHP, is unquestionably the most effective handgun cartridge in existence. Its proven ability to produce one shot stops exceeds that of any other round, including more powerful cartridges such as the .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum.
If there is any downside to using the .357 Magnum for self defense, it would relate to muzzle blast and recoil. Controllability is extremely important in follow-up shot placement, and self defense requires that shots be fired rapidly and accurately.
For those uncomfortable with conventional .357 Magnum rounds, there exist a variety of "reduced recoil" cartridges that are equally well suited to self defense. Some "next generation" JHP ammunition has been designed to produce lower recoil without sacrificing the desirable properties of bullet expansion and penetration. Little is lost by using "more temperate" ammunition.
Note that a .357 Magnum revolver can shoot both .357 Magnum and .38 Special ammunition. A .38 Special revolver can only shoot .38 Special ammunition.
For those owners of a .357 Magnum revolver that is still equipped with factory wooden grips, consider installing recoil-absorbing, ergonomic rubber grips. The difference in control afforded by these grips is enormous, and greatly aids rapid and accurate shooting.
For self defense, avoid soft points, semi-wadcutters, or JHP ammunition with heavier bullets like the 158 "grainers" and above. These types of .357 Magnum cartridges are better suited to target shooting and hunting. The recoil of the heavier bullets is correspondingly severe, possibly inhibiting follow up shots and accuracy when used to defend against aggression.
For practice, the all lead bullets are acceptable. However, there are better choices, as the shooter will quickly discover when it is time to laboriously clean the lead fouling from the gun.
When selecting .357 Magnum cartridges for self defense, an individual will be well served by choosing JHP, 110 to 125 grains, made by any of the top six American ammunition manufacturers.
12 to 13
Smith & Wesson Caliber:
This relatively new pistol cartridge is an excellent, potent self defense round.
The lighter bullet choices in this caliber, manufactured by any of the top six producers, have the edge over the heavier 180 grain loads. Recoil of 135 to 165 grain rounds is also less.
Penetration can be expected to range from 10 to 14 inches.
Caliber: (Medium Velocity Load)
A relatively recent development from the 1980's, the 10mm pistol cartridge hasn't performed as well as its designers intended. It never attained the tactical success, or popularity, achieved by 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45ACP JHP ammunition.
the heavy recoiling "full power" load, the 10mm is a hunting
cartridge that exhibits excessive penetration for self defense.
.41 Magnum Caliber:
excessive power and severe recoil of this revolver round tend to limit its
usefulness for self defense. Better choices exist.
.44 Special Caliber:
.44 Magnum Caliber:
Now considered a "classic", the Smith & Wesson model 29 revolver chambered in .44 Magnum was the favorite of Clint Eastwood in his big screen "Dirty" Harry Callahan detective roles. Even Clint has moved on. His character in the must see movie "Gran Torino", a crusty Korean War vet contending with multiculturalism, favors his .45ACP Colt 1911A1 pistol.
Keep in mind that a gun chambered for .44 Magnum is also capable to shooting the .44 Special. The reverse is not applicable.
muzzle blast and excessive recoil characterize the .44 Magnum. Rounds
also tend to over penetrate. These qualities are not ideal for self
This caliber is extremely popular with both civilians and law enforcement alike. It gets the job done.
Until 1985 when it was replaced by the 9mm NATO, .45ACP was also the sidearm caliber of choice for the U.S. Military.
For self defense, rely on JHP ammunition if it cycles reliably in your pistol.
Although it is a traditional pistol cartridge, the rimless .45ACP can also be fired in new model revolvers chambered for this round through the use of moon clips.
Penetration of .45ACP is 12 to 14 inches.
For self defense, a good double action revolver is preferred to a single action cowboy or hunting gun.
Check out "Selection of Caliber" for additional insight into handgun caliber choices that are best suited for personal protection and home defense.
In summary, you would be wise to select a pistol caliber in the "better" or "best" rankings and load it with JHP bullets. Proven self defense pistol calibers include 9mm, .40 S&W and .45ACP. As mentioned previously, these calibers are the overwhelming choice of those in law enforcement. The best revolver round is the .357 Magnum. Should recoil tolerance be an issue, investigate the "very good" revolver round, .38 Special. The "good" .380ACP should be considered a minimum loading for a pistol, unless you wish to pack the "fair" .32ACP in concealed carry due to the small size of pocket pistols chambered for this caliber.
Other calibers exist, and many are suited to self defense. For example, some law enforcement agencies like .357 SIG. The .327 Magnum is a new revolver round. Will 10mm take care of business? Sure. The point, however, is that less popular ammunition calibers aren't superior to more popular, ubiquitous calibers. Recall the school yard taunt: "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you". Well, that's the case with the proven, popular calibers.
An addition factor to consider when selecting a caliber for self defense is that popular ammo is relatively easy to acquire. It is going to be on the retailer's shelf nearly everywhere. Military calibers are perhaps the most widely available. Obscure, less popular calibers are going to be harder to find. Depending upon where you live, this may not necessarily be a significant problem in good times. After all, if local suppliers don't carry a particular cartridge, there are always on-line vendors happy to ship. When catastrophe strikes and hard times come, those with firearms chambered for "unusual" calibers will be running out of ammunition quickly if they haven't had the vision to stockpile.
Be sure to check out the "next generation" JHP ammunition introduced for civilian self defense and law enforcement use by the top domestic manufacturers. In addition to further enhancing bullet expansion properties over some "pioneering" JHP products, newer JHP cartridges may offer additional benefits like reduced recoil or low flash (to minimize night blindness). Again, make sure JHP ammunition cycles reliably in your pistol. Otherwise, you have to go with FMJ (ball), which doesn't provide as much stopping power as JHP within a given caliber .