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Man on the Street: What’s the Best Cartridge for Self-Defense?

by G&A Online Editors   |  May 18th, 2014 53

Opinions surrounding the best rounds for self-defense vary as widely as the guns that chamber them, and there’s likely no definite answer in sight — but when the time comes to protect ourselves, a .22 in the pocket is better than a .45 in the safe.

G&A wanted to find out which cartridges are most commonly carried these days, so we asked NRA Members what kind of firepower they prefer to pack. Check out our web exclusive video, then join the debate about your favorite personal defense cartridge in the comments below.

  • Nagabhushan Varadaraj

    Best cartridge suitable for Defense depends on the individual selection-weight-capable to sustain & carrying.!! Best is the 9 m/m to handle Bad’s & unlawful around !!This is popularirly used by Men of Action for Defense.!! Further Depends on the Law & capability of an Individual mostly.!! smaller bores Cannot stop or wound on attacks. of fatal Nature.!!
    Nagabhushan .varadaraj -Yore sportsman-.Mysore-karnataka-India.


  • Andy Entrekin

    I agree with what I think the previous commenter is saying. There is no objectively “best” round for self-defense unless you try and define a “normal” person – there are too many variables involved. What’s best for me may not be (ha – probably isn’t) best for you. And when it comes right down to it, to paraphrase the intro to this article, a peashooter in my pocket is better than the perfect load sitting in my safe. As I’ve asked people in similar discussions before, a .22 may be small, but do you want to get shot with it? I know that doesn’t address the issue of the drug-crazed, adrenaline-filled maniac, but those are thankfully rare in the areas I choose to frequent.

  • BahiaBob

    It’s all about effective stopping power.Just use a pistol with a caliber that contains a 4 or 5 in the number and you can’t go wrong.

    • txkevin

      a .25? A .50 would certainly stop but what about the person behind the person and on the other side of the wall of the person you are shooting at?

      • F R B

        You are right where I am on this discussion!
        YES, I can carry a .44 Magnum with RIPPER rounds that will tear a whole big enough to eat lunch thru…but what about the RULE to be aware of what is around and behind your target??!!
        Are you in a shopping center parking lot, or at the Mall…with innocent shoppers of all ages in every direction?
        OR are you at home, with empty forest across the street from your home?
        So…”self-defense” means more than just what you would like to have if you are in an empty warehouse, or if you live on a farm that is miles from any neighbors, or if you live in an apartment complex with thin walls…
        That being said… what I carry is a light-weight Walther P22 in my pocket, and a .40 S&W Taurus PT740 in a concealment holster on my belt, with 2 extra magazines.{a Sneaky Pete} That gives me “options” depending on the situation. The .22LR can give me a FAST first shot or 2, and time to get to the PT740. And the .22LR offers a change to stop the threat WITHOUT blowing someone apart or serious injury of innocent people around me! [And just may be all that is needed!] If MORE is needed, the PT740 can be put into action quickly and much more lethally…with special Defense Rounds for stopping power!
        At home…a Nitro Magnum Shotgun with 3 1/2″ 00Buck — 8 rounds of 15 count 9mm pellets at 1300fps… A definite Threat Stopper.

        • txkevin

          No doubt in my mind a 12 ga Buckshot is the ultimate defensive weapon In close to moderate distances if space and beyond the target is not a concern. Its is interesting that you would choose to go for a .22 first over a .40 though.

        • ddenehie

          if you ever have to use that 44 the court will rip you a new one. Time and again standard calibers that law enforcement use with standard factory ammo let you off with out a civil lawsuit or criminal charges as long as you follow the law. A snubby 357 , nine or a small frame semi auto, even a .45 will not let the prosecution claim you were deliberately trying to do maximum damage instead of just protecting yourself. Been there, know what can happen in court

        • trg

          Wow, you guys who live in the country all pack a lot of firepower, but you’re the also the demographic who don’t have to worry about a break-in or a bad guy intruder. Gotta be ready, though, right! A 44 mag is for guys with small d—s, or as a side arm in Alaska. Try firing it in your house, you’ll splatter your idiot drunk friend, get locked up for 25 years, and you’ll be deaf (and dumb).

      • BahiaBob

        Even a .25 can be a man stopper. Ever been shot in the knee cap with a .25? The intense pain brings even the biggest guy down and incapacitated. But I digress. Carry what’s comfortable but. at home, go for the gusto.

        • cabin cowboy

          It takes a remarkable shot to be able to consistently hit big bad guys in the knee caps with a 25 ACP, It also works to shoot their finger nails off.

          • BahiaBob

            Don’t get stuck on stupid. Every gun has an appropriate use. You wouldn’t use a 9 iron as a putter. Or do you? The little .25 Raven I own is only good for close quarters self defense in less than 10 feet. At that range, I don’t even have to aim to hit the knee caps of the aggressor. Of course, if you can’t hit a target at that distance, hire someone who can teach you. Also, I wasn’t referring to the .25 in my original post. Those who got on this jag after my post are really either dumb as a rock or dangerous to themselves and others and should be prevented from even owning a firearm.

          • allen

            don’t forget if miss the knee just go for a bigger target like his private parts 2 or 3 times with a 22/25 and its over.

    • wastool

      Like .25acp. Nothing like making the bad guy say ow, knock it off, that almost hurt.

      • BahiaBob

        I wasn’t referring to a .25 cal in my post and you either are stuck on stupid or a simpleton. Tell you what tough guy, let’s shoot you in the knee cap with my .25 and watch you eat crow. Sheryl Crow.

  • reh

    I carry a 22 oz Kimber 1911 IWB and I don’t have a sense of it being heavy at all, hardly noticeable. So I’m not sure what the problem with carry a reasonable size gun is. My choice is a 9mm.

  • TriggerJerk

    In spite of all the “my caliber can beat your caliber” arguments soon to follow, the best for self defense is whatever you have with you at the time. Keep your head up, stay alert, avoid bottomless pits, and don’t look like food. Other than that, anything belt-fed will do.

  • wgchinn

    If you believe our VP a shotgun fired through the door, but a shotgun has been described as an assault weapon. So if you live in California it is shot from a handgun with microstamping capability with no more than 10 rounds. Oh, they don’t exist. If you live in NYC it only has 7 rounds so that must be safer. According to Mr. Bloomberg you should believe in your police department. But according to recent 911 tapes they may not show up either.

    So the best according to the pundits may be a Louisville Slugger, but not in wood. But a metal bat may be out of the financial capability of the poor so I guess prayers… you say that isn’t allowed either?

  • therealzircon

    Ah, the old Chevy vs. Ford arguments. The BEST caliber to carry is the one you have with you. Any gun is better than no gun.

  • txkevin

    I read a report on police “One Shot Stops” a year or so ago. Some rounds of .45 acp were clearly credited with the best “One shot Stop” record at about 95 & 96%. Following close behind that were some rounds of .40 S&W in the 165 gr weight (golden Saber I believe) in the 94% range. The best 9MM rounds (all +p) trailed this by a bit at 91%. I suppose the question is how valuable are the extra rounds afforded by the smaller calibers to achieve a hit. I really like the .40 S&W with its near .45 performance and extra capacity of 1 to 2 rounds in a small pistol.

    Of course police don’t carry all calibers and a 1 shot stop can occur with a shot to the hand technically. Still, it is a real life benchmark that can be referred to beyond what you happen to be carrying. If interested..

    • txkevin

      I wish I knew how 10mm stacked up….. Probably over penetrates.

  • GlovesQ

    Wife uses 9mm (buffalo bore)
    I use 95 ACP (buffalo bore)
    I think anything above .380 ACP and anything smaller than .454 casull will do it.
    Others I would trust: 40 S&W, .357 magnum & 10mm

    • txkevin

      I do NOT want to get shot by a 95 ACP.

      • cabin cowboy

        Me neither, probably expands to 1 1/2″

  • trainman

    Used to have this discussion (argument) with a old friend all the time.
    We decided that the best way to settle this is for all these experts to get their guns,
    shoot each other, and then decide what bullet hurts the most.
    How about it guys?
    By the way,,, I love my .416 RIGBY. Any challengers?????

    • commander rock solid

      i carry a 44mag “Desert Eagle” but my new 460 magnum is a definite show stoper and knock down power is unreconcible with any other weapon/ just becareful the person behind the target will get hit also
      sml raleigh nc

  • darmstrong

    I hate stuff like this. There is no such thing as “best”. What is best for one person in one situation may be the worst choice for another person in another situation. ANY caliber will work if used right, no cartridge will work if used incorrectly.

  • txkevin

    I would disagree that the Best caliber is the one you have with you. That is perhaps the most Effective caliber or that is to say the absence of any caliber is 100% ineffective. The best caliber is the one that best combines stopping power, capacity, accuracy, rate of fire, and stays limited to the intended target, in a package that is usable and does not discourage carrying allowing it to be effective. Stopping power alone does not mean best. A .44 Magnum is a fine stopping power cartridge but its size is not conducive to having it available when you may need it ( thinking concealed carry). Similarly .22 has tons of capacity and great carry size but it is not likely to shut down a threat quickly without a very specific lethal hit.

  • The Wiseman

    Glasser “Blue Nose” in .45 ACP

  • Big E

    I carry a Colt Defender in 45 acp in a Fobus owb holster. I hardly know that I have in on. I feel that for the best defense it is PRACTICE..PRACTICE and PRACTICE. The size of the bullet is of little importance if you cant hit what you aim (?) at. Shooting a persons hat off with a 50 cal is no better than done with a 22. Be proficient and accurate with what ever you choose as your defense weapon.

  • Rich

    Imo- the best would be what your the most comfortable with. I’m a revolver guy- I go with a Taurus 85 loaded with Hornady crit defense 125gr hp 38+p.

  • Pete

    The Best Cartridge for Self-Defense is the one you can shoot most accurately. I like the .45ACP because it’s a proven man-stopper with correct bullet placement.

  • roadking2000

    I’m 5’4 & 180 lbs, so I am limited on what I can conceal. I carry a North American Arms 5-shot .22 Mag mini gun loaded with Hornady ammo, all of the time. It fits easily in my pocket & is very easy to conceal. If I am able to dress for a bigger gun, I carry a S&W M&P Shield .40

  • roadking2000

    In the nightstand drawer lies the best semi-auto pistol I’ve ever owned : a full-size S&W M&P 17+1 9MM, full of Hornady Critical Defense ammo, with 2 full clips in the drawer also. I’ve shot over a thousand rounds through it, using various brands of cheap ammo. It has never failed to fire and is deadly accurate. Right out of the box it was ready for business.

  • RonaldMcDonald69

    .22 LR out of a target pistol. Quick, accurate follow up shots. Reload and empty again. Anyone looking for trouble will think twice. And you don’t have to worry about mowing down your family or your neighbors.

  • Frmr JrHd

    I am reminded of a scene described in Ian Flemming’s James Bond books where Bond is being castigated for his early choice of the .25 Beretta. His reply was simple: “It will kill if you put the holes in the right places.” I would say it is the caliber of what ever the weapon you are good with is and can keep concealed. I would also add that the Corps taught me to put two center mass, look, and if it was still vertical, one in the head. Of course that was with Geneva’s required FMJ 9mm. Civilian hollow points, especially the latest generations of them, make even the 9 a power house!

    • William Azzara

      Yea, back in the 60’s I was a Bond fan, carried a Beretta Jetfire .25 in ankle holster, it was capable of consistent head shots out to 7 Yds. Also loved my PPK .380 with Super Vel 95 grain hollow points. off duty. On duty my S&W Model 66 .357 Mag 4″ loaded with Super Vel .125 grains. (Super Vel was first factory loaded hot HP. Prior used special hand loads. Winter I had a upside down shoulder holster with S&W Model 60 .38 snubbie, and a .357 2 shot derringer in my front right leather jacket pocket. (They loved me at county jail when bringing in a prisoner, check your firearms :)

  • Johnny Nightrider

    If you have a handgun and a Concealed Weapons Permit.Than its the biggest caliber you can shoot well out of a handgun you carry concealed.For me that would be my Glock 19 9mm with a 15 round magzine and another 2 15 round magazines on my hip concealed.Using Corbon 100 grain Pow R ball ammo or a 115 or 124 grain JHP new from a good ammo company like Magtech,Corbon,Black Hils,Federal,Remington,and some others.Though test your defense ammo before carrying it in your concealed defense handgun.

  • Rich

    .45ACP seems to win the vote …

  • Zachariah

    Carry the Judge and you have a choice of .45 Colt or 410 shot. The 410 you can get with various sizes of shot, or dump the shot and use your imagination and you can come up with different things to load in the shells.

  • GlovesQ

    Lot of these replies don’t have the right mindset. “I don’t want to be shot by .22″ That’s obvious to any clear thinking individual. However, we are likely talking about 1 or more coked up large guys. What will be a 1 or 2 shot drop?

  • 101nomad

    I have a sticker on my .380, says, ‘my other gun is a shotgun’. For safety reasons I have a sticker on the barrel of my shotgun that says, ‘this end towards the enemy’. I am confident pistol, or shotgun, will do the job, if I do mine.

  • cabin cowboy

    There is only one best hand gun for self defense, that would be the one you have with you, (as long as you know how, and when to use it).

  • einundselbe

    SImple answer: it’s your brain.

  • Joe Piechota

    No pistol round is worth a crap, that is why our Military uses a pistol to fight to their long gun. And by the way, .357 has the best credentials in long term studies. And no, I do not own or carry a .357. And P.S.—There is no such stupid thing as “stopping power” or “knock down power”. In fact, near 80% of people shot with a handgun survive. A round with 16 inches penetration of proper ballistic gel coupled with good shot placement, coupled with movement to avoid incoming rounds spells success.

  • Spencer Patton

    An Army officer told me that he liked the 45ACP ” because it was going slow enough that you could see it coming at you but fast enough you couldn’t get out of the way” He then went on to say if your hit with it your not getting up again. Period.

  • Rocky

    Several years ago a crazed gunman killed four people with four shots from a .22 caliber revolver. This incident occurred 1 mile from my home. A good friend was killed in that encounter. Anyone who thinks a .22 long rifle will not kill instantly does not know what they are talking about. ANY handgun cartridge has the potential to be deadly. Practice and training are the keys to self defense.

    • William Azzara

      I used to shoot at a range with a ER doctor and he said the .22 did the most damage because it would enter one spot and hit bone and deflect around the body doing a lot of damage.

      • txkevin

        That is the theory behind our military use of the small .223 round also. Its wounding ability over its stopping power is desirable in many instances as a wounded person takes more enemy resources than a dead on.

  • gerge gauthier

    Report, Man behind Guns & Ammo Mag, Sportsmen Channel is a Democrat fund riser/

  • Schcotty

    Ask 50 people and you’ll get a number of different answers and reasons for those answers. If you have one you can control and hit with well then use it. Know your arms, ammo, physical condition or limitations and training level.

    Now if I could only find a comfortable IWB holster for my 12 ga. Remington 870.

  • Andy Novath

    Taurus Judge .410 buckshot and a .45 long Colt chaser

  • Fieldkorn

    Because I find belt holsters uncomfortable I rely on other carry mechanisms such as shoulder harnesses for firearms like my .45 Auto and .380 ACP… Obviously when in the summer I am down to a short shirt with no sweater jacket or coat to conceal a belt holster much less a shoulder holster I packed a small lightweight .25 ACP Taurus semi-auto that I can carry in a pant’s pocket or even a sports coat. I’m not about to say this is an ideal carry-concealed weapon in terms of so-called stopped power but it did come in handy recently when I was approached by a stranger who ostentatiously was looking for money.. Feeling threatened, that little mite of a pistol helped make me feel more comfortable and confident in dealing with defusing the situation.

  • scott will

    Anyone knows the best caliber is the one you can get good shot placement from. Im not too worried about bears on meth.

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