The last thing we’re going to discuss in this series is what caliber? And what ammunition?
This is probably the most hotly debated topic amongst concealed carriers, and it is sure to draw the ire of at least half of our audience. No one wants to acknowledge that they made a poor choice — or worse, that their caliber isn’t “manly enough.”
To each his own, as they say. But I personally have a floor when it comes to caliber. I don’t go below 9mm. This is usually the part when some rocket scientist chimes in with “.22LR kills millions of people every day” or “Maybe you should stand in front of my .25 Auto and let me shoot you; see how good it feels, tough guy.”
Bullets do strange things; so does shrapnel. Just because there is at least one known case of a soldier being killed by a staple, as the result of weatherstripping hitting him in the head during an IED attack, doesn’t mean we should all switch to 15-grain bullets.
Historically, yes, the Mossad has killed a lot of people with .22LR. And yes, a .380 ACP is better than nothing. And, yes, all handgun bullets are underpowered compared to rifles. But what we are looking for is the bullet that has the highest chance of success, balanced with enough capacity to deal with our problem, and controllable enough to shoot well. In concealable-sized autoloaders, this usually comes down to a choice between 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP.
Check out all the episodes in this series:
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 1 Stop The Nonsense!
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 2 Revolver or Pistol for CCW?
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 3 Fighting with Edged Weapons
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 4 Lights and Lasers!
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 5 Holster Selection & Where to Carry
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 6 Red Dots vs Iron Sights
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 7 Truck Guns
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 8 Training Program
- 9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 9 Ammo Selection
First, let’s talk about 9mm. The FBI recently said that 9mm is as good as .45 ACP for disabling assailants, or some other lawyer-speak term for shutting down bad guys. Neat.
Asking the FBI what round kills the best is like asking a Nun what positions from the Kama Sutra she likes. How the hell would they know? Not to slight the Feds, but they investigate mostly white collar crime. In the modern era, they aren’t exactly getting in gunfights on the regular. A street cop, that is an opinion worth listening too. A Fed in a tweed coat? Not so much.
Let us also not forget, it wasn’t that long ago the FBI told us 9mm wasn’t nearly good enough, we needed full bore 10mm. And then we needed .40 S&W. Now they are back to 9mm, but it bears examination that agents are issued Glock 17s. When we are talking about full-size, double stack guns, I agree, 9mm is good enough. But I can also shoot really fast, so if it doesn’t start out good enough, I can get it to where it needs to go. Threat eliminated.
.40 S&W is my favorite round for pistols because it is a very happy compromise of speed and bullet size. It weighs a nice 180 grains, which is less likely to be deflected by bone or other stuff compared to 115-grain 9mm. Lots of them still fit in the magazine, at least in a double stack.
And finally, our old pal .45 ACP. Biggest of the common calibers, with a fat 230-grain projectile. Hollow points look like you are chucking ashtrays down the hallway. The mythical beast, used by both Wyatt Earp and your grandfather at Iwo Jima. (I know the Wyatt Earp part isn’t ACP. Let me have this one.) Guaranteed to stop a Rhino at three paces. I don’t have any full-size guns chambered in .45 ACP, but it is what I carry. What? How?
Simple math. Almost every concealed carry gun that is actually small is a single stack. So not carrying .45 ACP usually yields me one extra round if I switch to .40 S&W or 9mm. All other things being equal, I will go with the one that makes the biggest hole. The “+1” isn’t worth it to me. If I only get a very small amount of bullets, I pick .45 ACP every time.
There are a million arguments to this. It was recently stated “Get 3 five-gallon buckets. Put a 9mm-, .40 S&W-, and .45 ACP- size hole in each. They drain almost at the same speed.” Maybe, but if we are still betting with other people’s money, let’s start adding layers to those buckets. Dollars to donuts, the 9mm gets defected first. 40 vs .45, I don’t know. We have a strange velocity vs surface area fight on that one. But the .45 ACP hole is still bigger. Proper expansion might make all of that negligible, but the nice thing about .45 ACP — it doesn’t get any smaller.
Two things you need to be sure of. One, go test them in your gun. Make sure they run. If it’s a new gun and new ammo, I would run at least 50 rounds to make sure they cycle correctly. The time to find that out is the range, not in a shootout with MS-13.
Number two, even if you have to make a special trip to an indoor range, make sure they have low flash powder in them. I have shot very expensive ninja-grade expanding death stars that look like a flamethrower is pushing them toward the target. Fun, but blinding! It is worth your time to fire a few off in the dark before you have to fire a few off in the dark.
Personally, I like Federal HSTs, mostly because they have a huge government contract with DHS. I might not need it, but it is good to consider for a civil suit. Carrying the same stuff as your local police department is about as good a defense as I can imagine.