The “one shot stop” myth is the biggest fish story in firearm circles on the Internet today. There are no reliable one shot stop statistics for handgun calibers PERIOD. END OF STORY.

I cringe every time I read posts like 45 ACP knocks people over, 10mm removes extremities, the 9mm hole is too small, or that the 380 bounces off people.

The only way to immediately stop a threat is to hit the Central Nervous System (CNS). Shot placement is what achieves this, not caliber. As a result of this myth, there are many pages of research and analysis as well as arguments on the Internet in an attempt to conclude which caliber is the best. I think all handgun calibers suck; however they are all acceptable for self-defense use due to the size of the firearms they are carried in.

I must preface that shot placement is paramount. People argue penetration, expansion, temporary cavity, permanent cavity, energy and velocity in regards to effective calibers for self-defense. These debates predate the Internet itself, born at gun shop counters, or dark corners of gun range snack bars. Regardless of what these debates conclude, advances in self-defense ammo and training supports any of the calibers, noted below, for self-defense. I believe a well-trained individual with a 380 and proper ammo is more dangerous than an unskilled individual with a 45 ACP. If you cannot skillfully place rounds on the attacker, you cannot effectively end the fight. I will concede that bigger bullets and more expansion yield more trauma; however heavier bullets, more recoil, larger grips, and heavier weapons must be considered. If you cannot shoot them effectively you are not taking advantage of the benefits. Some people just cannot shoot them due to physical limitations or disabilities.

Proper self-defense ammo and training are the only way for you to improve shot placement. There is no wonder caliber. The best caliber is the one you shoot the best and most accurate, from a static position and one-handed while on the move. Punching pretty holes from a static position on paper is in no way related to the stress and adrenaline of a real attack. The main goal, if forced to use a firearm in self-defense, is to shoot until the threat stops. The only way to do this is to either incapacitate the CNS, and or create so much significant trauma and blood loss, the attacker loses the will to keep attacking you. Results may vary. Drugs, alcohol, body size and strength, mental state, and anger or adrenaline levels can have many effects on the individual attacking you. That is why it is important to be proficient with your firearm. Be well-rounded in your training and train in not only basic marksmanship, but point shooting disciplines and force on force scenarios if you can. Train your body and mind as well. As a recent high-profile self-defense case showed us, the firearm is just a tool in the self-defense toolbox not the end all to stopping an attack or avoiding one altogether. You need to use your brain and train your body as well. You need to not only make the smart decisions to avoid attacks but have the physical strength and stamina to survive threats and attacks to you and your family if you cannot avoid them.

Below I am going to speak to the common myths for each self-defense caliber I own as well as make a case for their effectiveness. I am sure to piss some caliber fan boys off. Please remember there is always going to be a scenario where the caliber failed for one reason or another. There are so many variables such as barriers, body size, shot angles, metallurgy, bones, clothing, etc. All of these variables can change the performance of a bullet from one shot to the next. That is why I feel that any of the below calibers are more than adequate for self-defense. I am only going to address the caliber in a self-defense aspect and only in an expanding hollow point bullet. I will also try to provide data for common concealed carry barrel lengths. I will also use the FBI standard 12″ of penetration in ballistic gel as a baseline for comparison. Note all tests will have been done under ideal conditions. Most tests are from different sources I have found on the Internet. Not all tests are done in controlled environments. Some are bare gelatin, others are gelatin and layers of denim. I suggest you do further research before selecting your carry ammo. This is for informational purposes only.

I also want to recognize a few of the biggest gel testing sites I compiled my info from:

Pocket Guns and Gear Blog

Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing

TNOutdoors Youtube Channel

The owners of these sites have put out a lot of hard work and effort to provide a treasure trove of ballistic data for the general public.

Now onto the calibers:

380 ACP

THE MYTH

Oh, little 380 aka 9mm Kurz. A watered down pansy round. Bounces off of people and just pisses them off. Does not penetrate enough. You are better off throwing a rock at your attacker than you are using a .380. Only women and limp wristers use 380. There is no way I would be caught dead carrying a .380 because if I were carrying during an attack, I would be dead.

THE REALITY

In that I feel all handgun rounds are marginal in effect, the 380 in my opinion is about as small as I would go for a self-defense caliber. Advances in JHP technology, metallurgy, and powders have allowed this little bullet to achieve adequate penetration and expansion to be recommended for self-defense. Most people like to recommend using FMJ loads as to increase penetration, while that is true, there are manufacturers that have improved penetration and expansion in this cartridge for hollow point offerings to where I feel comfortable carrying them.

The 380 ACP cartridge fires a .355″ bullet. Which is the same dimension as the 9mm. Another john Browning design, there are a few JHP loads that have achieved the 12″ of penetration or close to it in ballistic gel tests. Here are some:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion Inches

Firearm Barrel

Federal 90 gr Hydra-Shok JHP

843

142

12.2

.43

Keltec P3AT 2.7″

Federal 90 gr Hydra-Shok JHP

893

159

12.5

.50

Kahr P380 2.5″

Buffalo Bore +P 90gr JHP

1129

255

11

.61

Keltec P3AT 2.7″

Winchester Ranger 95gr JHP

877

162

10.8

.65

Kahr P380 2.5″

Hornaday FTX 90gr JHP

874

153

11.2

.44

Keltec P3AT 2.7″

Cor Bon 90gr JHP

956

183

10.9

.65

Keltec P3AT 2.7″

Speer 90gr GDHP

909

165

12.6

.45

Keltec P3AT 2.7″

I feel the 380 has a place in everyone’s carry rotation. It offers a small, lightweight, highly concealable package. It is better to have a firearm when you need it and if you tend to leave your larger calibers at home due to size or weight, then this caliber may be for you.

380 ACP PROS:

  • Low recoil
  • Small and light platform
  • Easy to conceal and carry

380 ACP CONS:

  • Not as much penetration as other calibers
  • Not as much expansion as other calibers
  • Lower capacity due to small platforms

38 SPECIAL

THE MYTH

The 38 Special. An over-sized case with an underpowered load from the bygone days. It needs more rounds than the gun carries to stop the attacker so better be good at reloading it fast. It won’t stop a drugged up attacker so you better be fast on your feet after you throw the gun at them. Plus if it doesn’t start with a 4 it is not worth carrying.

THE REALITY

The 38 Special, with the right load is a proven self-defense round. It has been stopping attacks for more than 100 years. It is low recoil, easy to shoot and has a wide range of weights to choose from. You can go as light as 90 and as heavy as 200 with a variety of velocities. it is easy to reload for target practice and the recoil makes for long enjoyable range sessions.

The 38 Special cartridge fires a .357″ bullet. The same dimension as it’s newer and bigger brother the 357 Magnum. There many loads that have achieved the 12″ of penetration in ballistic gel tests. Here are a few of them:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm Barrel

Buffalo Bore 125gr GDHP

940

245

12.2

.52

S&W 642 1.875”

Buffalo Bore +P 125gr GDHP

1091

330

12.9

.54

S&W 642 1.875”

Buffalo Bore +P 158gr SWCHP

1006

355

13.0

.58

S&W 642 1.875”

Speer +P 135gr GDHP SB

877

231

11.2

.58

Ruger LCR 1.875”

Corbon 110gr DPX JHP

1072

281

13.1

.53

S&W 642 1.875”

Federal 147gr Hydra-Shok JHP

892

260

16.2

.43

S&W M60

2”

Remington Golden Saber +P 125gr JHP

886

218

13.8

.62

S&W 438

2”

The 38 special offers a small, easy to shoot platform and should not be overlooked. Most snub nose revolvers chambered in the caliber are lightweight and easy to conceal. This is definitely a caliber to consider when looking for a small handgun.

38 SPECIAL PROS:

  • Accurate
  • Small Platform
  • Easy to conceal and carry

38 SPECIAL CONS:

  • Lower capacity
  • Lighter guns have more recoil
  • Requires more training to become proficient reloading as it is only available in a revolver

9x19MM

THE MYTH

The 9mm is a euro-trash pansy round. The U.S. Military only went to it to save money and conform with the new world order. Most nines hold so many rounds because you have to empty the magazine out to stop the threat. Women and recoil sensitive losers own nines. If you carry a 9mm you better be an expert shot. Plus, if it doesn’t start with a 4 it isn’t worth carrying.

THE REALITY

The 9X19mm Parabellum or Luger has been around for over 100 years and has been used in both law enforcement and military capacities. It is low recoil, easy to shoot and offers higher capacities in smaller, lighter packages due to its size. It has been a proven fight stopper and is a very popular round world-wide. It is fun to shoot, accurate, and easy to reload.

Like the 380 the 9mm fires a .355″ bullet. There many loads available that have achieved and exceeded the 12″ of penetration in ballistic gel tests. Here are some select loads:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Corbon DPX +P 115gr

1153

339

14.5

.54

Glock 19

4.02”

Federal Hydra-Shok 147gr JHP

981

314

15.1

.59

Glock 19

4.02”

Remington Golden Saber +P 124gr JHP

1106

337

12.7

.64

Glock 19

4.02”

Speer +P 124gr GDHP SB

1119

345

14.0

.57

S&W Shield

3.1”

Speer +P 124gr GDHP

1090

327

15.5

.56

S&W Shield

3.1”

Winchester Ranger-T +P

124gr JHP

1102

334

12.5

.73

Kahr PM9

3.1”

Hornaday Critical Duty +P 135gr

978

287

15.0

.53

Kahr PM9

3.1”

The 9mm offers one of the best balances of cost, performance, and magazine capacity and it is no wonder it is one of the world’s most popular cartridges.

9MM PROS:

  • Accurate and flat shooting
  • Higher Capacity
  • Lightweight

9MM CONS:

  • Less energy than larger rounds
  • Lighter guns have more recoil
  • Smaller sectional density

40 S&W

THE MYTH

The 40 short and weak was an answer to a question nobody asked. It does nothing the 9mm or 45 cannot do. If it doesn’t blow up in your hand due to high case pressure and lack of case support you will be lucky. It was developed by the FBI for women and man pansies who couldn’t handle the mighty 10mm. It has so much recoil that follow-up shots will go all over the place hitting innocents. Thank god it is high-capacity, you will need it.

THE REALITY

The 40S&W was developed specifically as a law enforcement caliber. With this in mind, attention was paid to ballistics, capacity, and weight. The goal was to come up with a reduced velocity replacement for the 10mm that fit into a 9mm frame size. The results were favorable as many law enforcement departments and agencies have adopted this round as a standard and many effective loads are available for it. It is a little snappy with recoil for some making follow-up shots harder and long-range sessions tiring. It requires extra training to become proficient.

Like the 10mm the 40 S&W fires a .40″ bullet. There many different weight loads available. Here are a few of them:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Hornaday Critical Defense 175gr

960

358

13.25

.57

Glock 27

3.46”

Winchester Bonded 180gr JHP

965

372

17.0

.66

Kahr PM40 3”

Winchester Ranger Bonded 165gr JHP

1006

371

16.0

.55

Kahr PM40 3”

Hornaday Critical Duty 175gr

959

357

20.0

.52

Kahr PM40 3”

Cor Bon 165gr JHP

1151

485

11.8

.71

Glock 23

4”

Winchester Ranger SXT

180gr JHP

894

319

12.6

.62

Glock 27

3.46”

Winchester Ranger Bonded 165gr JHP

996

363

13.5

.57

Glock 27

3.46”

The 40 S&W splits the difference between the larger bullet 45 ACP and higher capacity 9MM and it offers great performance in light packages. It has a proven track record on the streets among law enforcement and is a more than adequate self-defense caliber.

40 S&W PROS:

  • Excellent ballistics
  • Higher Capacity as compared to 45 ACP
  • Lightweight

40 S&W CONS:

  • Can be reloaded to high pressures, which have resulted in some issues with some firearms
  • Lower capacity as compared to 9mm
  • The smaller the gun the higher the recoil

45 ACP

THE MYTH

The 45 slow and fat takes up magazine space and barely fits a human hand. If you need more than 7 rounds I hope you enjoy carrying boat anchors with nalgene bottle sized grips. It is way too slow to penetrate any barrier and it bounces off modern car windows. If you have to shoot past 25 yards forget it, it drops like a rock.

THE REALITY

The 45 ACP is another time proven defensive round that has proven itself both on the streets and in combat. It was designed as a military round first and foremost. While running at lower velocities, the round penetrates and expands to cause large wound tracts. It is a great fun round to shoot. Easy to reload and readily available. Nothing beats target practice with a nice 5″ 1911 single stack platform.

The 45 ACP fires a .451″ bullet. Here are a few factory loads:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Federal Hydra-Shok 230gr

815

339

12.7

.72

Glock 36

3.78”

Speer 230gr

GDHP SB

775

307

14.3

.62

Glock 36

3.78

Hornaday +P 230gr XTP

794

322

12.3

.66

Glock 36

3.78

Federal HST 230gr JHP

800

327

11.5

.87

Springfield XDS

3.3”

Cor Bon DPX +P 185gr

901

333

10.4

.78

Springfield XDS

3.3”

Winchester Ranger-T +P

230gr JHP

858

376

13.0

1.00

Springfield XDS

3.3”

Buffalo Bore +P 230gr JHP

964

475

17.5

.63

Colt 1911

5”

The 45 ACP is yet another classic John Browning design that has excellent ballistics. Hampered by lower magazine capacity, the round is a proven self-defense round and still in use by military and law enforcement today. Everyone should own a handgun chambered in this American classic.

45 ACP PROS:

  • Availability
  • Low Recoil compared to 40 S&W
  • Larger holes

45 ACP CONS:

  • Lower magazine capacity
  • Ammo can cost more
  • The smaller the gun the higher the recoil

357 SIG

THE MYTH

357 Sig is a fancy specialty cartridge that not only has the same capacity hindrances as 40 slow and weak, but is the size of the pansy 9mm and 380. It over penetrates and can hit everything behind what you shoot at. Still makes pansy 9mm holes in the target. If it doesn’t start with a 4 it is not work carrying.

THE REALITY

The 357 Sig is a rather new cartridge, developed in the mid 90’s to imitate the 125gr 357 Magnum rounds and fire in a semi-automatic.The necked cartridges make reloading more time consuming and the ammo availability over the counter is getting better. It is fun to shoot in heavier guns but lighter offerings have more recoil. Drop in barrels are available for some 40 S&W and 10mm handgun models making the change over quick without having to invest in a new firearm.

357 Sig bullet weights run from 115 to 150gr. Like the 9mm, it fires a .355″ bullet. Here are some loads for it:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Speer 125gr GDHP

1336

495

14.5

.57

Glock 32

4”

Federal 125gr JHP

1332

492

11.8

.57

Glock 32

4”

Hornaday XTP 124gr JHP

1284

454

14.5

.57

Glock 32

4”

Hornaday XTP 147gr JHP

1180

454

16.9

.50

Glock 32

4”

Underwood 125gr GDHP

1511

634

15.0

.57

Glock 32

4”

Federal HST 125gr JHP

1375

525

13.3

.59

Glock 32

4”

Remington Golden Saber 125gr JHP

1321

484

16.0

.58

Glock 32

4”

The 357 Sig is a newer cartridge with a lot of potential. A little harder to reload, and with less self-defense offerings than others, it offers great ballistics and more agencies are starting to use it. Only time will tell if it will hang around but I think it will.

357 Sig PROS:

  • Accurate
  • Excellent barrier penetration
  • Excellent terminal ballistics

357 Sig CONS:

  • Cost of ammo
  • Not as readily available
  • Necked cartridge harder to reload

357 MAGNUM

THE MYTH

357 Magnum when fired will immediately render the shooter deaf and blind. It has the ability to break bones due to recoil in most snub nosed revolvers. Follow up shots are also impossible so just forget it. It bounces off car windows. Still makes pansy 9mm holes in the target. Again, if it doesn’t start with a 4 it is not worth carrying.

THE REALITY

The 357 Magnum is a high pressure version of 38 Special. It was used by law enforcement for over 50 years and has a proven track record in the field. It is most commonly offered in revolvers although there have been a couple of semi-autos chambered in the caliber. It is my personal favorite revolver caliber and I love reloading it due to the variety of offerings. It can be a pain to shoot with certain loads and lighter revolvers such as the Smith and Wesson air-weights can be down right unpleasant.

The 357 Magnum has a longer case than the 38 Special but fires the same size .357″ bullet. Here are some excellent loads:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Federal Hydra-Shok 158gr

1017

363

16

.37

S&W M60

3”

Speer 158gr GDHP

1047

385

13.5

.50

S&W 686

2.5”

Speer 135gr GDHP SB

1115

373

12.5

.61

S&W M60

2”

Speer 125gr GDHP

1338

497

15.3

.75

Ruger GP-100

3”

Winchester PDX 125gr JHP

1245

430

12.3

.69

Ruger GP-100

3”

Underwood 158gr GDHP

1142

458

21 +

.54

Ruger GP-100

3”

Remington 158ge SJHP

1158

470

13.3

.65

Ruger GP-100

3”

The 357 Magnum has proven itself both in law enforcement and on the streets. After almost 80 years it still is a viable option for self-defense due to the excellent ballistics it can put into small lightweight concealable packages.

357 Magnum PROS:

  • Easy to conceal
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent terminal ballistics

357 Magnum CONS:

  • Low capacity
  • Smaller the gun the much higher the recoil
  • Extended training sessions can hurt with lightweight revolvers

10MM

THE MYTH

10MM over penetrates. It is way too powerful for urban use. People who shoot 10mm are overcompensating. It breaks every gun it fires through. Recoil makes it impossible for follow-up shots. Only low powered factory loads are available and give it 40 S&W ballistics. It is a dead cartridge, nobody owns it.

THE REALITY

The 10mm was introduced in the 80’s. After the FBI dropped it for the 40 S&W in the 90’s it lost popularity. It has had a cult following since then and has experienced a resurgence as of late. It is a hard-hitting round with lots of energy. It is easy to reload and fun to shoot depending upon the platform. Some people can be recoil sensitive with it. It is my personal favorite caliber due to it’s versatility and energy.

The 10mm fires a .40″ bullet like the 40 S&W. Here are some great loads for it:

Bullet

Velocity FPS

Energy Ft. Lbs

Penetration Inches

Expansion

Inches

Firearm

Barrel

Underwood 180gr GDHP

1328

705

17.8

.65

Glock 20

4.61”

Hornaday XTP 180gr

1155

533

17.2

.66

Glock 20

4.61”

Underwood 200gr JHP

1261

706

16.1

.68

Glock 20

4.61”

Buffalo Bore 180gr

1335

712

14.5

.70

EAA Witness

4.5”

Winchester 175gr Silvertip

1170

533

16.2

.61

Glock 32

4”

DoubleTap 180gr GDHP

1300

675

15.3

.96

Glock 20

4.61

DoubleTap

165gr GDHP

1400

718

14.3

1.02

Glock 20

4.61

10MM PROS:

  • High velocity heavy grain round
  • Higher capacity than 45 ACP
  • Excellent terminal ballistics

10MM CONS:

  • Not readily available over the counter
  • Has less capacity than 9mm
  • Requires larger framed handguns

To summarize the above data, here is a chart based on the average expansion and energy generated for all of the loads I posted above:

CALIBER

AVERAGE FT LBS. ENERGY

BULLET SIZE INCHES

AVERAGE EXPANSION INCHES

EXPANSION %

.380 ACP

174

.355

.53

49%

38 Special

274

.357

.54

51%

9mm

326

.355

.59

66%

40 S&W

375

.400

.60

50%

45 ACP

354

.451

.75

66%

357 Sig

505

.355

.56

58%

357 Magnum

425

.357

.59

65%

10MM

655

.400

.75

87%

NOTE: The 10mm data was not derived from smaller barrels like the rest of the data so obviously it came out on top energy and expansion wise. I could not find reliable gel test data on the 3.7 inch barrel of the Glock 29. What I have seen chronographed in the past puts the velocity loss at about 8% and energy loss at about 16% between the G29 and G20 barrels. That would put the average energy excluding the EAA witness data at about 542ft lbs giving it 7% more than the 357 Sig and 45% more energy than the shorter cased 40 S&W. I cannot speak to expansion until I see some reliable gel testing data.

Some further notes I wanted to point out on the above data:

  • The 357 Sig generates 55% more energy than 9mm in the same sized bullet. It also generates 19% more energy than the round it was supposed to duplicate, the 357 Magnum
  • Both the 9mm and 357 magnum expand 5% more than the 357 Sig
  • The 40 S&W caliber generates 15% more energy than the 9mm
  • The difference in expansion between the 9mm and the 40 S&W is only about 2% in favor of the 40S&W
  • The 45 ACP and both 10mm expand 27% larger than the 9mm and 25% larger than the 40 S&W
  • 45 ACP generates 6% less energy than the 40 S&W and only 9% more energy than the 9mm
  • The 10mm generates 46% more energy than the 45 ACP and 43% more than the shorter cased 40 S&W
  • The 9mm bullet generates 46% more energy than the shorter cased 380 ACP
  • The 38 Special bullets generates 57% more energy than 380 ACP
  • The 357 Magnum generates 36% more energy and expands 9% more than the shorter cased 38 Special
  • The round with the most energy 10mm, generates 73% more than 380 ACP the round with the least energy
  • The largest expanding 10mm and 45 ACP also expand 42% more than the smallest expanding 380 ACP

As you can see above, modern technology has made self-defense ammo for all of the above calibers more than adequate for self-defense. Nothing can replace training and mindset so whatever you decide to carry make sure you are proficient with it. All handgun rounds are marginal so do not expect the mythical one shot stop. There are definite differences in performance between the seven calibers I presented so do your own research and choose a caliber that you can shoot effectively and accurately and train with it often.

Advertisements