Loads and Logic — Big Calibers Rule!

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Concealed Carry, General

There is a tremendous interest in research and development of defense loads for handguns. The majority of offerings use some variation on the jacketed hollowpoint bullet although a new trend is toward bullets that have a cutting mechanism. JHP bullets may have a soft lead core bonded to a jacket designed to stay together as they expand, or they may have a traditional cup and core construction that expands more quickly. Some, such as the Federal HST, are highly developed and offer impressive expansion.

9mm and .40 S&W Glock

9mm or .40? It takes about 20 percent more practice to master the .40.

The competition in designs is interesting and comparing the Winchester SXT to the Hornady XTP leaves one with the impression that a great deal of research and development went into these bullets. An interesting development is the Hornady Critical Defense. This bullet uses a polymer nose cap that is driven into the bullet as it meets resistance, instating expansion.

I see these loads offered at gun shows and gun shops by those with no knowledge of how they work to a public with little idea of the dynamics of wound ballistics. This isn’t surprising because very few writers have any idea concerning wound ballistics. Quite a few modern JHP bullets do not offer sufficient penetration for all around defense use, in my opinion, and they will expand too early. A hollow nose and lead core do not constitute a great defense load all on its own.

I have tested many loads that do not expand at all in media, others that expand well, and a very few that offer a good balance of expansion and penetration. Bargain basement loads, especially the foreign loads, offer bargain basement Testing and Evaluation. The major makers offer bonded core designs that meet FBI criteria. Among these are the Winchester SXT and the Hornady XTP. These companies also offer faster expanding bullets such as the Winchester Silvertip and the Hornady Critical Defense.

Man shooting a pistol in nid recoil

A .45 +P has more recoil than standard and can be a bear to control.

The personal defense bullet should be designed to penetrate in the worst-case scenario, not the average scenario. Some like to limit penetration in buildings, apartments and street scenarios. The real problem isn’t over penetration. Once a bullet strikes the body, unless it is a FMJ bullet, it will expand and most pistol bullets stay in the body or exit with a fraction of the force they began with.

The real problem is a bullet that misses. That isn’t an over penetration problem, it is a problem of missing. Wild shots the opposing attorney will call them. The folks at Federal Cartridge have done a great job at designing bullets, but you have to put this bullet where it will do the most good. Now, back to the problem with recommendations on choosing bullets.

The lack of experience in interpersonal combat doesn’t stop folks from commenting on pistol bullets and effectiveness. A lack of experience doesn’t seem to be a burden in commentary. As an example, I have never shot a moose and cannot comment on moose hunting, or polar bear for that matter. I could do no more than look over ballistic tables and hope for the best. Any recommendation I would make would be limited by my experience. Consulting tables or reading articles by those with no more experience than you, and then postulating on the best choice isn’t the scholarly approach.

Micrometer of bullet

Expansion in artificial media is easily measured. Even modest expansion increases the wound channel considerably as tissue is cut rather than pushed aside.

Many editors—not my editor, a very experienced individual—allow scribes to submit monographs on subjects about which they have no experience. It is OK to compare ballistics and fire off the bench but not to comment that due to the properties of this or that bullet the .380 ACP is now an acceptable defense load. Or that the ‘9mm now equals the .45.’ This is junk science. This is a disservice to the reader and professionally bankrupt.

I think that perhaps we should examine the history of personal defense cartridges before we proceed because this is a very interesting and valid study. Unfortunately, too many do not have the time to study factual events and stack up articles in gun rags. In the time before hollow point bullets, bullet mass meant the most—and still does in the opinion of many. A horse pistol was designed to drop a horse just past saber range and both horse and men fell to such pistols. There was another component, however. The soft lead ball often expanded.

When Colt introduced his small caliber .36 revolvers, they were useful at short range because the lead ball expanded and did a lot of damage. They were similar to a good .38 Special lead hollow point. However, at longer range where the bullet did not expand effect was poor. The .44 Dragoon, and the later .44 Army, solved the problem. The soft .457-inch ball of the Colt Army at 900 fps is as effective a combination as anyone could ever field. The .45 Colt was designed to drop an Indian war pony at 100 yards if need be. In many battles, more horses than men were killed. This continued to be an important consideration well into the Mexican Revolution.

Cross section of a Hornady Critical Defense bullet

The Hornady Critical Defense bullet is a remarkable bullet.

The .45 ACP was designed to meet the same criteria as the .45 Colt. A consideration for far flung troops was that the .45 ACP be useful against mounted troops and also Jaguars in the jungle. A more modest cartridge, the .44 Special, was designed as an accurate and mild shooting big bore. This cartridge succeeded famously and perhaps those that hot-rodded the Special did it a disservice.

A point should be made concerning these revolvers. Recoil was manageable, even comfortable, in revolves such as the Smith and Wesson Triple Lock .44 Special and the Colt Peacemaker .44-40. None gave sharp recoil. The balance of weight for the caliber was respected. A .38-40 revolver with 200-grain bullets at 900 fps kicks much less than a lightweight .40 auto with the same or better ballistics.

The .44-40 will equal the 10mm auto but do so with much more comfort in the firing hand. Recoil is a push and not sharp at all. The .38 caliber double-action revolvers at 30-35 ounces were light to carry and fast handling. They proved ineffective against outlaws and most famously against Moros in the Philippines.

two revolvers with wood grips

Once heavy loads were introduced, revolver grips were painful to the shooter—the Ahrends grips (lower) on the Magnum are arguably among the best for recoil control.

Heavy loads were developed for the light .38 revolver and for the first time recoil became an uncomfortable part of the personal defense handgun. Smith and Wesson developed the Magna grips and custom makers such as Walter Roper developed excellent custom designs. Recoil became bothersome in some revolvers. The .357 Magnum was developed and then lightweight revolvers such as the Colt Trooper and the Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum were chambered for this cartridge. Wound ballistics, penetration and accuracy were excellent by any standard. Recoil was stout and weapons wear unacceptable for long term service use. The revolvers did not blow up—although some suffered cracked forcing cones—but small parts broke and the revolvers went out of time. In actuality, they were a handgun to be carried much and fired seldom.

When I was a young cop, the FBI released a study that confirmed what many of us knew—a service handgun over 36 ounces became a burden on the hip. The FBI’s service handgun had to be lighter for constant carry. This isn’t a problem in a 9mm handgun. The adoption of the 9mm in police work led to more missed shots than ever and also a severe problem with wound ballistics.

The 9mm proved less effective than the Winchester .38 Special 158-grain lead SWCHP—much less so. Hit probability was poor compared to well-trained officers with the .357 Magnum. Development in loads led to a few outstanding choices that give excellent results. As an example, the Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ exits the Glock 19 at 1245 fps.

1911 pistol in Galco shoulder holster

Good load bearing gear is essential. It doesn’t get any better than this Galco shoulder holster. Weight is spread out over the shoulder and the holster carries both the handgun and the magazine positioned for ease of access.

I have on file a solid dozen examples in which only one shot was needed to stop a felon. I have on file five more in which a single shot was probably all that was needed but two or three were fired. No service cartridge has a better record than this specific loading, but the 9mm is all over the map otherwise. A few others such as the Federal Cartridge 115-grain JHP +P+ at 1340 fps have similar histories.

A new cartridge was introduced to solve the problems with the 9mm. It is worth noting that the 9mm +P+ loads I find historically and provably effective did not meet FBI penetration criteria. The loads in 9mm that do—the 147-grain Subsonic loads—have not proven effective in shootings across the board. So, the 180-grain JHP .40 caliber was developed to meet FBI criteria for penetration, offer superior wound ballistics, and also fit into a platform that was comfortable for all day carry.

The .45 offers superior wound ballistics but it is big and heavy, a legitimate complaint. .45 recoil isn’t a problem in a 40-ounce pistol. It becomes tiresome in lightweight handguns. After shoehorning the .40 into a 9mm pistol, recoil became a problem. The .40 generates sharper recoil than even the .45, many of us feel. The standard 180-grain JHP is the most controllable. The lighter and faster loads are a problem in the lightweight automatics. So, the various agencies have continued to run in circles, it seems, for over 100 years.

Shooter at indoor range with fiery muzzle blast

The Magnum is a great cartridge but muzzle blast and recoil may be disconcerting.

After realizing that the small bore isn’t ideal for personal defense, they develop reinstate or reinvent a big bore that will do the job. It is interesting that high velocity small bores—the .357 Magnum and 9mm +P+—may prove less than ideal due to muzzle blast, recoil, or weapons wear but solve many problems as far as size and weight go.

The reasonable alternative seems to be a 38-ounce .45 with standard pressure loads. The Hornady 185-grain XTP offers modest recoil for the caliber but excellent ballistics. This combination offers the same power factor as a 180-grain .40 at 1,000 fps but recoil in the steel frame .45 is lighter and weapons wear hardly a concern. Inexpensive practice loads are plentiful.

When certain criteria exist—such as a need for effect at longer range or greater penetration—the .357 Magnum is another choice I make. When hiking I do not feel naked with a Peacemaker .45 and feel closer to the earth and history than with a polymer frame handgun. Emotional attachment and a sense of history are important to me, perhaps not to others, but it works.

Bob Campbell shooting 1911 9mm pistol

The author finds the 9mm easy to control and a joy to fire.

As for the current trend toward the 9mm, I understand that many cannot spare the time and money for sufficient practice. That is understandable. But you have to keep a degree of practice up with any caliber or handgun combination. Practice drawing from concealed carry and hitting a man-sized target at 10 yards, on demand, in 1.5 second. Hit the target in the center. There is no excuse for miss in this drill. Set up multiple targets and address steel plates at longer ranges.

A level of proficiency may be reached with the 9mm that makes for a high level of protection. You may be able to defend yourself well but have no illusions. The laws of physics cannot be changed but suit personal whims. As the Pythagoreans stated All Things Are Numbers. For hundreds of years, people have used flawed math and logic to support one hypothesis or the other to suit their opinions and it isn’t valid. Big bullets do more damage. More tissue is displaced, bones are more likely to be broken by big bullets, and more blood is let out. Measurements are exact. This is mathematics. Physics includes a healthy dose of philosophy, but common sense must rule.

Are you a fan of larger calibers for self-defense? Did the author get it right? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section, and bring the evidence to back up your points where possible.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (170)

  • Lee Anderson


    +1 on the underwood ammo. I shoot the .45 xtreme defender +p and feel well armed


  • Barry L Bartelt


    Light flashy loads light recoil springs high tech earpro and monochrome jellybeans


  • Dark Angel


    While I carry my 1911 in .45 ACP, most of the time, I sometimes carry my ‘mouse-gun’ .22 NAA revolver, when concealment is an issue. Better something than nothing. However, I love the feel of the .45 and it’s weight is very comforting. There have been times, though, that I have thought of going bigger. I have long been a fan of the .454 Casul(?) and .50 AE, though the weapons that fire these rounds are massive and present concealment concerns. Yet, I adhere to Elmer Keith’s; “If it ain’t big, it ain’t crap” comment. This being said, I’m not sure if the slight gain in so called, ‘knock-down’ power is worth the extra weight. Guess, the next time, I get my hands on a Ruger Alaskan, I’ll have some serious thinking to do. But, bigger is always better, especially in portable fire power, ‘hand guns.’


    • Barry L Bartelt


      Get a baby .380. I’d rather that than a rim fire all day, and not much larger. ..


    • Dark Angel


      My NAA revolver is approx. 4″ x 2 1/2″. Never saw a .380 that small. There is however a 2 shot derringer in .45 LC that was offered some years ago about the size of my revolver, that would be idea. Haven’t seen or heard of it in years. Like the .44 mag. that was offered about the same time, perhaps, it was just TOO much caliber in such a small platform. Like the .44 mag., when you looked down the bore, there was only 1/2 inch from round to muzzle. Don’t imagine it had much accuracy except at 5-6 feet. But thanks for the feedback.


  • Barry L Bartelt


    Great point. In my ignorance I fired a round in a traffic tunnel under a train overpass. My right ear still feels it some. The sound was unreal loud. Careful. I’d rather not imagine a .357 or other loud load


    • Stan - The Man


      If anyone knows how Hollywood gets away with the noise factor, I’d sure like to know. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and the Russian agent in “The Bourne Supremacy” simulated shots fired in a tunnel and also from the car’s interior. Even blanks have to be deafening. My ears hurt thinking about this.

      Excuse me, did you say something?


  • Stan - The Man


    Okay, I get the love of the .45 thing… personally, I enjoy the .44 Special which I imagine could be loaded with + P loads if fired from a magnum, though I’ve never heard of it being done.

    Aside from likes or dislikes, and I’ll remain on-thread since this is still a topic for “Big Bore” lovers, I hear debates over performance, recoil, ammo and mechanics, but I never hear (pun accidental) anything said about the relative “Kaboom Factor” — better known as the price shooters pay in noise level for whatever powder charge they shoot.

    In my army days, I had an issue with some alley cats getting into my trash cans, so I purchased an S&W .38 Chief’s Special and stood ready- in-waiting in my car for my little pals to show up. (I was living in the country.) When one of the rascals showed up, I fired my 3″ barrel revolver from my car window, only to soon thank the Divine Power Above for my having spared my hearing since I shot just outside the window rather than inside the car.

    I had always seen movies include cop and robber chases with firefights between cars, with some shots coming from near-inside the car. Believe me, my ears felt the concussion of my ignorance! I was immediately made aware of the consequences of firing from an enclosure, such as a car, home or apartment. Imagine a parking garage!!!

    A deputy friend of mine suffered permanent hearing loss while on a drug bust when the bad guy surprised he and his partner by firing a .380 while they were all in the reverberating acoustics of a tiled bathroom.

    I sincerely wonder how many shooters ever stop to think of what might happen to their hearing if they choose to defend themselves in enclosed quarters.

    This topic should keep everyone busy for awhile. (Remember, this still relates to “Big Bores”!, so don’t get mad!)


    • Pappy Vanwinkle


      45 should be a winner when it comes to the hearing damage department (after 44 special). The amount of hearing damage is related mainly to the pressure of the round and somewhat to the volume of gas expelled (but mostly pressure).
      44 special 15.5k psi
      45 20k psi
      45+p 23k psi
      380 20.5k psi
      9mm +p 38.5k psi
      40 and 9mm 35k psi
      10mm 37.5kpsi


    • Chuck


      I have a permanent ringing in my ears since 1971, thanks to a drill sergeant who told us that we would all be going to Vietnam where we wouldn’t be wearing hearing protection so we needed to get used to the noise of gunfire. This was immediately after the LT had told us we needed to wear hearing protection before we wen. t out on the range. The DS added that only a Candy@$$ would wear hearing protection on the range. Guess how many of us wore earplugs. NONE that I know of. During my tour of duty, i was exposed to significant amounts of small arms fire, artillery fire, helicopters and other sources of, shall we say, noise that exceed the recommended volume allowance for the human ear. Now, I spend much of my time telling people, “I can tell you’re talking but I cannot understand you…”
      When I go to the range now, I wear inserted plugs and earmuff protectors so I can carry on a conversation with my wife when I get home. I would love to sneak up on that drill sergeant, smack him upside his head, and ask him why he couldn’t hear me coming. Once you start to lose your hearing, it never gets any better. And the VA tells me that my hearing is fine, I just need to go to a quieter environment… Don’t get me going on that…


    • Stan - The Man


      I feel for you, Chuck… I think many of us get exposed to that kind of “DS thinking” in our lives at some point. I am sorry about your hearing loss, but excellent testimony. …Either “the right way, the wrong way, or the Army way”. Some of us, unfortunately, have dealt with the “Perceived Hardcore Army Way”.

      I’m with you on having had to seek a “quieter environment” — I’ll bet many of our bloggers are on the same thread in that pursuit. ; ) Maybe that’s the REAL reason for the popularity of hearing protection.


  • Bob Campbell


    Energy and momentum are not the same.
    Think this over.


    • Pappy Vanwinkle


      Bob, you are correct.
      momentum = mass x velocity
      Kinetic energy = mass x velocity ^2(squared)

      Kinetic energy increases exponentially with speed but momentum only linearly.

      When we feel recoil, we are feeling a momentum transfer, not kinetic energy. This is why the power factor in IPSIC and IDPA is based on the momentum equation rather than the kinetic energy equation. I used the term kinetic energy in my earlier physics post erroneously but on purpose as people in these forums are generally more familiar with that term then the term “momentum”. Since the concepts and equations are closely related despite being the same, I chose to use the term kinetic energy to enhance understanding but notice I used the equation of momentum when explaining it. Maybe that was a mistake. Sorry if I caused any confusion.



    • Stan - The Man


      I’ve done some reading regarding our topic of comparing the numerous variables regarding recoil and comparable energies in support of, or critical of, impact power, stopping-power, killing effectiveness, muzzle flash, chamber pressures, powder variations, bullet profiles — all of which can be a perpetual maze of analysis.

      I appreciate your inputs and the explanations and have come to the conclusion that I did long ago, that each of us has to find the combination that we’re comfortable in trusting to deliver an incapacitating blow to our adversary (– ies), whether intended to be permanent, or otherwise. Each of us has to make our own decision.

      With all the arguments about firearms, it would be my hope we could find a less controversial and gory way to incapacitate human aggression at firearm-relative distances, but such means, at present, are limited.

      In my study and practice of martial arts over 45 years, there are many ways to incapacitate. In martial arts, it’s about knowing what technique(s) best suit(s) the situation.

      Likewise with firearms, our differences in caliber choices must give way to accuracy, for the most powerful firearm is useless if the shooter can’t hit the intended target. We must go with what works for us, but with knowledge and wisdom of the market.

      The formulas for best velocities, impact, and recoil can be argued, indefinitely, but “push to crunch” the choice of caliber must be within the shooter’s realm of personal confidence and control. Few of us will argue against shot-placement being key, so it seems obvious that all of us must find the combination of energy, projectile, and weapon that best suits our “comfort zone”. It is our personal responsibility to acquire the knowledge of the what we can expect from our choices, at our level of individual ability.

      People have been incapacitated and have lifelong disabilities from BB guns. pellet guns, slingshots, and frying pans over the head. I’ve had the privilege of testing most calibers and frying pans over my lifespan, and I know what feels comfortable for me and how accurate I can be with what I have, so I’m going to maintain that concept in mind.

      I don’t have the qualifications to argue all the scientific aspects of shooting, but I do know how accurate I am with my choice of weapon — and what power I’m comfortable with — and to me, that’s all I’m going to worry about — and more importantly, my adversaries better be worried, too.



    • Yosemite


      Stan -The Man, Well said!!! What works and proven for each individual in their own manner and choice of weapon and caliber We/One may have at hand at the moment of NEED!!! There is at least one way (perhaps others) that will help a person tame recoil that no one has mentioned and that is “MAG-NA-PORTING”….not everyone can afford…..But it does help. Proper grips also help. Proper stance also helps…but I do believe those have been mentioned.

      Proper training with smaller caliber weapons such as air pistols, .22LR,and working one up to larger calibers definitely is a biggie. I have trained numerous women and others of slight stature that have NEVER fired a firearm. Quite a few could outshoot me with my own .45 ACP 1911 when we were “ready to flee the nest” in their and my opinion. The advent of the FN-5.7 is new player in the game so to speak. The 5.56 NATO was a new player in the game when it came to being. It had issues with the wrong powder , NON chrome lined chambers, and a reputation of NEVER NEEDING TO BE CLEANED……..among other things. After initial failures that cost countless troops their lives or other injury/ies……the 5.56 NATO still reigns top of the line US (and other nations/countries) battle rifle. We have the former Soviet Union also reducing from their 7.62 Russian to their 5.45 Russian as a standard battle rifle. Granted neither have the range of the 7.62 NATO or the 30.06 (Also a NATO Caliber) No one can deny bigger is better when it hits the target……and does instant damage to the CNS or injury to vital organs, and blood loss. I do not know IF there are any stats on the FN5.7 from handguns to any of the other “Major” Calibers. I can say with all confidence…….there is no perceptible recoil from the FN5-7 in the handgun. Granted it has a large size and holds 20 rounds. PART OF TRAINING is to make EVERY ROUND one sends down range COUNT!!! Far too many people that realize they have more than 6-8 rounds will often forget about accuracy and go into “Spray and Pray” mode for lack of better term.

      I love my 1911 and will not trade it for anything else….though IF I ever get the $$$ I will gladly buy an FN5-7 and non issues with depending on it. But that is ME! NOT YOU or anyone else…….What I place my life and trust on, comes with past training, experience, proven data over years, and what has worked and what does actually work for various other people……No matter what you drive it is a vehicle you depend on to get you there and back home safe. We all drive different vehicles or prefer different makes and models……Foreign or Domestic. SMART CAR, Toyota Land Cruiser, whatever……….. Whatever works for YOU is what matters!

      Is the .45 ACP “THE KING” ??? I would in say so. But I also must say…….. While there are other calibers out there that will work when depended and called upon….I don’t foresee “The King” being replaced anytime in the soon/near or far future! Over a Century of proven use in WWI,WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and numerous other countries and “Hell Holes” all over the World, among Civilian uses….There is “no magic” bullet that will do everything. There are bullets that can and do perform better than bullet designs from many years prior to date. Various new designs seemingly come out every year or so…..some good, some great, and some perhaps even greater.


    • Pappy Vanwinkle


      I have come to the conclusion that 45 is the king of the auto pistol cartridges when it comes to engaging unarmored targets that are not hiding behind significant cover.

      Removing all other variables that people like to argue about capacity and recoil I think we can definitely conclude from available evidence that 45 is a superior fight stopper if you only had 1 bullet. I conclude that the reason for this is not necessarily the larger diameter of the bullet but it’s increased mass that leads it to have less propensity to be deflected by bone (have the direction of the bullet changed significantly)

      But I also think we can saw that 9mm is an adequate caliber and although you hear anecdotes about someone continuing to fight after multiple hits it is a rare thing.

      Being able to operate the firearm effectively is of prime concern as many have pointed out and this is where recoil and grip size come into play.

      High capacity, while comforting, is just not needed for the average guy and situation as shooting statistics will confirm.

      The way I see it, if you are deciding between 9mm based on these identified criteria you should ask yourself the following questions:

      1. Can you accurately fire 45 at a speed of at least 1 shot per second (yes/no)
      2. Will the form factor/size of typical 45 pistols work with your primary carry mode/mission (yes/no)

      If you answer yes to both of these questions then you should go with 45. If you answer no to even one of them then you should go with 9mm.


  • Pappy Vanwinkle


    Now I’m thinking 9×32. Capacity of a 9mm and power of 357


  • BIG AL


    Not wishing to be contrary, but recoil is a DIRECT result of energy. Simple physics. Yep, been a 45ACP fan for 50 years. Not about to change! Want magazine capacity, try a Springfield XD or XDM. Up to 16!!! in the magazine, with available aftermarket extension. THAT is one additional reason I am a 45ACP fan.


    • Stan - The Man


      “Not wishing to be contrary, but recoil is a DIRECT result of energy. Simple physics…”

      I accept your “contrary” as a good point and I can see your logic, Al, and being serious about my questioning, maybe it’s just me, but I perceive the recoil to be less in the .38 Super than the .45, yet, ballistically, they have been on record with comparable muzzle energies.

      I purchased ammunition from a Texas company who boosted their muzzle energy stats to extreme heights with the old “Super-Vel” concept of increasing the powder charge and reducing the projectile mass. The recoil was lessened by the fact the mass of the projectile was greatly reduced, but the energy at the point of impact provided comparable force due to the increased speed of the projectile..

      The recoil was less because the powder burn met with less resistance to move the smaller, lighter projectile, thus, less gas pressure was needed to extract the projectile. As a result, the gasses escaped at a greater rate, similar to “the muzzle brake concept” of reducing recoil.. In other words, the boom is the same, but less work is required to move the smaller mass, so, to my understanding, it should stand-to-reason that the recoil would be less.

      Thanks for your rebuttal.

      Do we have a scientist in the crowd?


    • Pappy Vanwinkle


      Science…more specifically physics states that an object (bullet) propelled forwards with a certain force (mass x velocity) will push back on the motivator (in this case the pistol) with an equal and opposite force. This means the energy absorbed by the shooter is directly proportional to the kinetic energy of the bullet. But that is over simplified because it does not take into account the time variable. You see, all that kinetic energy is not transmitted instantly because the bullet does not reach max velocity instantly and it is the difference in the way the KE ramps up between a slow heavy bullet and a lite fast bullet that generates the difference in “perceived” recoil.

      end science.


  • Stan -The Man


    “So, to get things back on track…I was all ready to build my next pistol in 9mm due to my research suggesting that shot placement and penetration was more important than bullet size…”

    Back with you, Pappy… I am one who agrees with you on your reasoning. I know police officers who have wanted more than the 9mm, which is why many justified going to the .40 caliber — and why the .40 was introduced as a compromise between the 9mm and .45..

    Agreeing with your logic, may I suggest the .38 Super round which pushes the muzzle energy to surpass the .45 ACP — of course, depending on the load of the .45.

    My point is that you will have comparable muzzle energy without the ugly recoil of the .45, which has made the Super a favorite of mine. I have mine on a stainless or nickel Colt Series 70 frame. I love it, and
    it’s very accurate, which is why I qualify with it.

    Frankly, I don’t know why the Super isn’t more popular as it has been around for years and has proven lethal against wild hogs, unless you hit them in their tusk. (humor) The evidence was a dated article back in the late 50’s which included a photo of a kaput javelina and a dead wet telephone book. I wouldn’t have wanted to be either one. I couldn’t resist replying to you — agreeing with your perspective about the significance of velocity and mass.


    • JohnClark


      The .38 super is a well established load in competition and was developed to deal with the very real world problem of heavy steel car bodies, 1930’s bank robbers wearing armor and the .45ACP’s inability to penetrate cars and armor making it almost impossible to stop these gangsters who were carrying BAR’s and Thompsons from rolling into a town brazenly robbing the bank and leaving the state.

      But you realize that with modern loads you get equal or better than .38 super performance out of the 9mm right?

      Buffalo Bore a company along with Underwood that make the hottest and most effective defensive loads offer the .38 Super in 147gr +P with an advertized MV of 1150fps

      So its a .38/9mm projectile at 1150 FPS.
      They have a 9mm 147gr +P with an advertised velocity of 1175fps.

      So basically the identical load.
      And Underwoods 147gr +P comes out of my 4.6″ CZ at a very consistent 1200fps.

      Go through modern ammo, start comparing the hottest and heaviest .45ACP .40S&W 9mm .357Sig and whatever other load you want, and you will start to see how little of a difference there is.

      With the hottest 9mm I get identical ME to the hottest .45acp

      And the performance of modern FMJ bullets also closes the supposed gaps between loads even more.

      If you are considering the .45 ACP you have already made the choice to carry a full size gun. I know there are commander 1911’s that are “compact” and that there are plenty of polymer pistols that offer .45ACP or something like the .45 GAP that are very small.

      But the 9mm sucks out of tiny guns with range ammo, and it really sucks with full power loads.

      The 147gr underwoods I chose to use for self defense are very stout out of my CZ85, and its 42oz with 16+1.


    • Stan - The Man


      We’re pretty much on the same page, JohnClark, and thank you for your acknowledgment of the .38 Super history.

      I guess I look at comparisons in a different light than most. Most shooters are looking at calibers being the difference, by name. From my angle, the 9mm bullet encompasses any bullet diameter of that size, to the same hundredth of an inch .

      So, in reality, as pictured in the link below, the 9mm is actually any bullet with a diameter of 9mm, give or take about four thousandths of an inch! The 9mm should be deemed a .35 caliber by name, not a .38 caliber. Of course, differences of performance are linked to the bullets’ weights, case dimensions, propellants, barrel length, twist, and and choice of frame.


      I’m saying that the name doesn’t really matter other than the way the cartridge is packaged. The velocities are based primarily on each bullet’s weight and configuration, how much power can be stuffed into each case, the barrel length, how much pressure the gun can handle, and we must include how much power the shooter can handle, accurately!

      The effective damage is relative to the previous factors, plus each target’s characteristics. Think about the fact that most of our GI’s in WWII were using rifles of .30 caliber, such as the famed 30.06, yet the 9mm is actually a .35 caliber! Isn’t it true, thus, that the damage inflicted by our choice of weapon is more dependent on our choice of propellant, the velocity we attain, and the bullet configuration? Arguments of the effects of “big bore” size, will always remain relative. Why don’t we end these debates by us all driving tanks?

      Rather than debate targets and if one 9mm caliber is better than another, aren’t we really trying to sort the vegetables in a Minestrone soup? The 9mm can be pushed to velocities around 1400 feet per second or more, depending on the bullet weight and guns that can handle the pressures. At that speed, with the right combination of bullet, the 9mm can easily outfly and outperform other calibers. At that point, the debate is merely an “arm’s race” — “I can put more power behind mine than yours”. The real question is, what combination serves the purpose, within the shooter’s capability, of hitting the intended target and achieving the desired result?”

      This sort of debate, JohnClark, makes me tired. I do wish that the entire firearm community would do away with caliber names that don’t reflect the true diameter of the bullet, i.e. the .38 and .44 calibers. Such names have only served to add confusion by misdirecting and providing false images.

      Thank you for your perspective and reply concerning the .38 Super relative to the 9mm.


  • Pappy Vanwinkle


    So, to get things back on track…I was all ready to build my next pistol in 9mm due to my research suggesting that shot placement and penetration was more important than bullet size. I was liking the lower recoil of 9mm for quicker f/u shots and the increased capacity. But I have always been a 45 guy and shoot it quite effectively. Chuck’s comments of real world witnessed shooting aftermath swayed me back to 45. Does anyone on here have real world experience that would refute what Chuck has witnessed re 45 vs 9mm effectiveness?


    • Barry L Bartelt


      In my own exp bullet weight does matter in recoil. Overcoming the initial moment at 0 inertia, slug weight does make some difference. For instance i feel like crit duty +p 220 gr bucks a little harder than Underwood’s loading of a Lehighs 120 gr despite having lower muzzle energy. Ill impart the same energy on a bowling ball hitting it with a baseball bat as I do a baseball given same speed and weight of bat. My hands ARE gonna sting after I hit that bowling ball and Wont after hitting the ball. “Hand sting” here being a measure of felt recoil.

      Id love more real world stuff too if anyone has it. And in closing: .45 is better.


    • JohnClark


      I would go with the 9mm if I were you, for all of the reasons you said yourself, more bullets, deeper penetration, and with modern JHP expansion near equal expanded size of the same design in .45acp
      follow up shots and everything else make the 9mm a very effective handgun.

      You ask for a real world example of a 9mm, I say avoid anecdotal evidence like that as it can be used to argue a case for anything.

      for instance the founder of second chance armor killed 2 men with 5 shots with a 22lr pistol. That could be used to argue that the 22lr is a devastating round up close.

      I could also use it to argue a case for only carrying a 22lr because he was able to shoot one handed and land 4 hits out of 5 shots on two targets with a decent distance between them. something that the almost nonexistent recoil of the .22lr made easier.

      See how little value anecdotal evidence really is? Just because some freak happenstance caused a situation to end one way does not mean you can draw sweeping and accurate conclusions from the “evidence”

      Ive been waiting for someone to finally say that all handgun calibers, at least ones that are actually carried and used for duty are underpowered and not ideal for killing a man. Please lets forgo the “I carry such and such” because if you EDC a .454 casul you are an incredibly small minority, and I just plain dont think its true.
      Even though you certainly would be better off with a rifle or shotgun that is capable of delivering much more energy to the target, that statement kind of misses the point.

      Handguns are underpowered and you cannot rely on them to cause fatal trauma due to the sheer force of impact and temporary cavity formation.
      If you dont hit something vital a bigger bullet wont help

      Is it possible that a larger bullet given the same trajectory as a smaller one could cause a fatal injury the smaller round is not capable of? Yes of course, having an extra mm of expansion diameter could cut an artery a smaller bullet would miss.

      But that is a hell of a thing to bet your life on.

      Even though I hate anecdotal evidence and think its absolutely useless for making any sort of accurate estimation of performance I will give you one.

      My uncle killed a 800+ lb grizzly bear in 1977 with a Browning Hi Power and FMJ ammo.

      He was 24 Bow hunting Elk in Alaska, He startled a bear after sliding down a little hill, he came to a stop like 15 ft or so behind the animal who immediately turned to charge, He rather foolishly tried to draw the bow and get a shot off, he did but it was nothing more than irritating to the bear. He was flattened by a swat that hit him on the right side, he went for his pistol that was in a full flap military style hip holster, He was able to get his hand on the gun and pull it out but the bear started the “bouncing” thing they do with their front paws, and started breaking ribs, the bear stopped bouncing, and then swatting while keeping one paw on him to hold him down, unfortunately this pinned his right arm underneath him, and when the bear started bouncing again he was unable to get his arm free, he got his left hand on his Buck hunting knife and was able to stick the bear in the neck. he lost hold of the knife as the bear stood upright on its back legs, still laying on the ground he was able to free his right arm and shoot.
      Out of 14 rounds 11 found flesh and only 4 were center mass and two of those center mass shots passed through the bear.

      Not bad shooting considering on top of the broken and fractured ribs, and deep cuts from the claws he now had a broken right radius, a fractured right ulna, a broken right clavicle, a compund fracture and dislocation of the little finger and a bunch of smaller bones in his hand were also fractured.

      He said he didnt know anything was broken other than the ribs until he fired the first shot, and as you can imagine that probably hurt like hell. The radius is the bone that runs along to top of your arm in line with your thumb, the one that takes the brunt of recoil , his was snapped in half.

      He was carrying a 9mm with just off the shelf FMJ’s, the deep penetration of those FMJ rounds made it possible to get through all that meat and bone protecting the bears vital organs.

      He said the bear took a few staggered steps back on its hind legs, and then dropped to all 4’s and collapsed.

      So with that “evidence” I could easily make the case for the 9mm being the premier bear gun cartridge for protection.

      The deep penetration of the 9mm performed perfectly in that situation, allowing him to punch through all the pre winter fat and muscle, the ribs and still keep going. The light recoil made shooting while severely injured possible, and the magazine capacity gave him the shots he needed to kill the bear.

      See how easy it is to draw idiotic conclusions based on anecdotal evidence? All anecdotes do is show us what is possible, not what is probable

      Of course the 9mm isnt a great Bear Gun, its better than nothing, and in some freak cases it may actually be better than something like a 44mag, but for the most part a 9mm is far from ideal for self defense agianst a bear. Hell no handgun is well suited to stopping bears, not even the 500S&W.

      If you ever do need to defend yourself with a handgun statistics show its probably going to be within 20 ft, its probably going to take 5-6 hits to stop the attacker and its probably going to take all of your bullets to do so, and you are probably going to land 30% or so of your fired rounds.

      Sadly most of our statistics are from police shootings and police have pathetic training, so if you work at it you can improve those probabilities, giving yourself the best chances of success.

      I say 9mm but thats what I like to carry, I love the 1911 and the .45 ACP, the 1911 is one of my favorite all time guns thats why I own one.

      But when it comes to self defense I choose the 9mm, I compete I know I can be very fast and accurate with it, and I have never been out performed by a .45 while in the “duty” class.

      Shot placement matters most, obviously penetration and expansion are important but a bad shot with a deep penetrating massively expanding bullet of any caliber is still a bad shot.


    • Vincent LaVallee


      This is in response to Lee Anderson’s comment regarding the Underwood 45LC ammo. I have shot the Underwood 45 LC XTP Jacketed Hollow Point (300 gr) that produces 1,126 Ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. Underwood makes one more 45 LC ammo a bit more powerful – the 325 gr Lead Long Flat Nose Gas Check +P that produces 1,267 ft. lbs. which I have not shot. I have a 45 LC Ruger Blackhawk Flattop and I have set the max power limit on this around the Buffalo Bore Jacketed Hollow Point +P 3C/50 (260gr) which produces 1,214 muzzle ft. Lbs., which I have also shot I do not think I would want to rattle my Ruger heavy gun any more than that because this ammo is VERY powerful.!

      The Underwood ammo is a little less expensive, and quite good as well. I have created an Excel file (NOT for smart phones) that lists nearly 300 hand gun ammos in many calibers, which includes pricing, where to buy online, and ballistics! I have over half a dozen people from this forum who have received this file already and are on my monthly email distribution list. There are also some rifle ammo calibers listed, and a few awesome military guns and cannons at the end, just to give prospective. If you would like a copy of the free file, just email me at vlavalle @ix.netcom .com and I will send you the file. If you buy hand gun ammo, this is almost a must!

      Vincent (05-30-2016)


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