Low Capacity, High Efficiency

Bob Campbell shooting the Ruger SR1911 Commander

The trend in handguns has been toward increased capacity. Many revolver designs have even gained a cartridge or two. However, high capacity doesn’t always mean greater efficiency. A smaller grip than is possible with high capacity handguns may make for more comfortable shooting and less stress in trigger reach. There are jurisdictions that limit magazine capacity. While we do not agree with this law and find the restriction onerous and un-American, the law must be respected until we can change it. I am not going to be a test case, and if your head is screwed on correctly, you will not either.

Bob Campbell shooting the Ruger SR1911 Commander
The SR1911 Commander handles like all 1911 handguns—fast and accurate!

It doesn’t work to download the magazine. The magazine must be a low capacity variant in these jurisdictions. I don’t think I use the word low capacity very often; a less derisive term is standard capacity. Let’s look at some of the most formidable handguns that just happen to be firearms with a capacity of nine rounds or less.

Springfield 911

The Springfield 911 .380 ACP is practically an ideal backup. Some will deploy it as a primary firearm. This handgun features a crisp trigger and excellent sights, making for easy hit potential at moderate range. The pistol’s grips allow excellent adhesion and abrasion when firing. The pistol is supplied with a six-shot, flush-fit magazine or seven-shot extended magazine. The pistol has proven reliable and accurate enough for personal defense to 15 yards or so. Loaded with the Hornady 90-grain XTP, this is neat little handgun that is concealable for anyone.

Colt Detective Special

The Colt Detective Special is long out of production but it is a very smooth handgun that is as accurate as most four-inch barrel revolvers. This snubnose .38 Special isn’t a hideout but a formidable carry gun for front line use. Modern loads such as the Hornady Critical Defense 110-grain +P are accurate and give the .38 Special an edge. This is a six-shot revolver scarcely larger than most five-shot revolvers.

Smith and Wesson L Frame Plus

The L frame is a seven-shot six-shooter or wheelgun. The new style action seems a bit faster than the original six-shot revolver. The locktime feels shorter with the seven-shot variant. This three-inch barrel custom shop revolver illustrated is among the best-balanced handguns I have ever owned.

Smith and Wesson 7-shot L frame and Ruger Commander .45
The Smith and Wesson 7-shot L frame may be the author’s favorite revolver. The Ruger Commander .45, top, is a formidable self-loader.

This 686 Plus is reliable in harsh use and very accurate. It exhibits high hit probability and good practical accuracy. From a solid benchrest, I have a fired a five-shot, 1 ¼-inch group with the Hornady Critical Defense 125-grain loading at 25 yards. Accurate, light enough for constant carry, and with .357 Magnum power, this is a great revolver.

Smith and Wesson Model 69 .44 Magnum

Dirty Harry would have to modify his vocabulary to deploy this revolver. “Did I fire four or did I fire five?” doesn’t quite have the right ring. Just the same, the five-shot Model 69 Combat Magnum is a formidable handgun. Virtually the same size and weight as the seven-shot .357 Magnum, the .44 Magnum is a good packing gun for defense against the largest animals. For personal defense and home defense, the piece may be loaded with a .44 Special load such as the Hornady Critical Defense. I have added Hogue grips to make recoil with full power magnum loads bearable.

SIG Emperor Scorpion 10mm

Based on the proven P220 design, the Emperor Scorpion SIG features a steel frame, night sights, smooth double action first shot action, and modern corrosion resistant finish. The P220 10mm is among the most accurate self-loading pistols I have fired. With the Hornady 155-grain XTP at 1,355 fps, this is a formidable defense handgun. I load the 180-grain XTP for use in the wild.

SIG Emperor Scorpion 10mm right profile
The SIG Emperor Scorpion 10mm is a first class, all around, outdoors handgun. For home defense, it is a potent combination. A light rail and night sights make for good tactical utility.

With the 180-grain load, this piece has broken 1.5 inches for a five-shot group at 25 yards consistently. The 10mm is a powerful loading but in this 48 ounce handgun the 10mm is a pleasant handgun to fire. For a heavy-duty handgun that hits hard and is accurate to 100 yards or more, it is hard to beat the SIG Emperor Scorpion 10mm combination.

SIG P220 .45

If you are worried about reliability choose a SIG P series handgun and relax. If you are concerned with stopping power purchase the P220 .45, load it with the Hornady Critical Defense, and practice. The P220 is among the most accurate factory .45 ACP pistols. Recoil is straight back and the S curved grip makes for comfortable shooting. This nine-shooter is proven in service for decades.

Honor Defense Honor Guard

This handgun is among the bright spots in recent introductions. Reliable, sturdy, easy to shoot well, and well made of good material, this single-column magazine 9mm is a straightforward defense gun with good features. The grip treatment is excellent. The extensive cocking serration treatment is good and a bright orange dot front sight makes for excellent hit probability. The pistol is plenty accurate and controllable. Loaded with the Hornady 115-grain Critical Defense loading, the Honor Guard offers a high degree of protection.

Honor Guard FIST pistol right profile
This is the Honor Guard FIST with integrated stand off. If there were ever a better close range combat handgun, I have not seen it.

Ruger SR1911 .45 Commander

Ruger offers two Commander-size pistols—one with a steel frame and one with an aluminum frame. The steel frame pistol is more comfortable to fire but the lightweight version is lighter on the hip. A lightweight .45 such as this requires more practice but the benefits of a 28-ounce 1911 with a high hit probability and real wound potential are worth the effort. This is an eight-shot .45 with high hit probability and reasonable accuracy. I don’t load +P ammunition. The 980 fps Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense load is ideal.

Smith and Wesson Military and Police .38 Special

The .38 Special M&P has been called the Model Ten since 1957. This revolver features excellent balance. It is the ‘Gunfighters Gun of the Twentieth Century’ according to the late Tom Ferguson. It is reliable in harsh conditions and with modern ammunition offers good wound potential. This is the most powerful handgun most shooters that practice on a bi yearly basis are able to use well.

Some of the finest handguns in the world are what we term low capacity. I don’t let it bother me. While the high capacity pistols are comforting in certain situations the standard capacity handgun is a great choice for most of us.

What is your top performing “low capacity” handgun? Share your answer in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (15)

  1. My every day carry is the Walther CCP with Hornaday critical defense loads. Carry in appendix position. Fast on the draw, and accurate on target.


  3. The 9mm is a military round used all over the world, and is in NO way a plinking round. If you want to plink use everyone’s favorite……the .22.

  4. I carry a nickel plated from factory S&W model 19-4 , 4 inch barrel 357 combat magnum wit h walnut grips. This is carried one duty 5 days a week.

  5. Daily carry is Baretta Storm compact 40 cal 10 + 1 G Series Nitron finish with Federal HST 180 grain hollow points. IWB 1 o’clock appendix carry. Sometimes carry my Sig Sauer P220 45 cal 9 + 1 Nitron finish with Federal HST 230 grain + P hollow points. OWB side carry 3 o’clock with slight forward cant. Both retention level 1.

  6. Does anyone know of any documented cases where a self-defending civilian needed more than a few shots? Cops don’t count, since they’re required to do things most of us can usually avoid. I heard about ONE case in the 80’s, where allegedly a druggie took 3 cylinders of 357 before falling down, but that might have been an urban legend.

  7. It took a while to use a single stack mag and heavy trigger well. But if your not putting in huge amounts of practical practice, you should leave the gun in your safe anyway. “J” frames were my sidearm for 35 years until I shot a friends Kahr CW9. Inexpensive, accurate and just as “safe” as a revolver, given you finish the cocking of the firing pin with the smooth pull of the trigger. I highly recommend trying one. You may just like it!

  8. Old school long time revolver buff, especially of those loaded with 357+P hollow points, but like fiting accurate revolvers anywhers from 22 long rifle up to 500 cal.
    A 357 mag hitby a well placed rounds will down any human smaller than our Pacific Northwoods Bigfoot, at leadt I think, so as I have never actually tried to down one.
    The smaller framed stubbys usually have 5 rounds and are essily concealable, but sure as hell not a fun plinker, as after 15 rounds I forget arthritic hand as the pain creeps up beyond wrist
    and everyone under a mile begins to go deaf.
    I am too f’n old to go to war and under almost all scenarios found in States, 5 or 6 rounds and ability to quicly reloab via speed loader, as a just in case they are zombies, all the fire power needed as a self defense weapon.
    Personaly I look upon the 9mm multi round 15-17 rounds semi auto pistols as plinkers, inexpensive and fun to blast clay pigeons, bottled soda, rotten tomatos and oranges and tim cans.

  9. Practically speaking, if you have the misfortune to find yourself in a self-defense situation involving a handgun, and you need more than 9 rounds to finish the fight; you need to seek cover, reload with your spare magazine/speed loader, and use that ammo to fight your way to either safety or a bigger gun.

  10. Bersa Series 95. Pinged a metal target at about a 100 yrds with the Bersa much to the surprise of the firearm instructors at the Sheriffs Dept I worked for. Only 1 shot was needed to tell them how accurate the little pistol could be. Easy to shoot. Shot placement was what I was taught early on. Not to spray and pray. For many years one department I worked for only authorized a 6 shot revolver and 1 speed loader so you had better make sure every shot counted. We had several one shot stops/deaths with our 38’s. in the 70’s and 80’s. We also had to qualify from the 50 yard line back then, but that changed in the mid 80’s.

  11. I
    I’m not a high risk CnC, so I rarely bring a ‘back-up’. I rarely carry more then 7 rounds…G43, LCP2, S&W BG.

    But the LCP2 is one radical firearm if you need either deep conceal or backup. Super easy to shoot. 8 round capacity!! I use it for my EDC frequently.

  12. I keep an older all-stainless S&W 1026 -heavy as a brick, but even with the power of 10mm Auto, it is a stable platform with decent accuracy and the weight takes the hurt out of emptying multiple mags into a target. Upgrading to night sights was easy (and cheap), and even though it is dimensionally similar to a 1911, it is slim enough for CCW duty. S&W offered two interchangeable grips -curved and straight backstrap styles, and with a well-fitted Hogue slip-on, this thing glues itself to my hand. The 10mm itself is an expensive round just to throw downrange, but the CCI Blazer is economical enough to practice with and at 180 gr is the same as my ‘real’ ammunition, although a bit slower. The slim-profile hammer used on mine is virtually snag-free, yet grippy enough to manually cock if I have an objection to the longer first pull of the standard DA/SA, and the true 9+1 capacity keeps it from being ‘dangerous’, according to the Blue Objectors…

  13. I still like my Detonics Combat master. No longer thought to be much, but still hits where I point. Revolvers are nice in keeping brass contained. I never liked throwing brass on the street. If only there was a legit revolver carbine in say 460S&W. That could be nice in Alaska.

  14. I’ll run my Glock G29SF with your Sig Emperor 10mm round for round and even though it might not hold that tight group at 100 yards I can assure you no one wants me targeting them at or inside that range with this big boy for about $600 less… I am also still partial to my Ruger P90 45, I’ve owned that one for nearly 20 years, shoot it regularly, never failed me and deadly accurate to 50/60 yards, comfortable enough for occasional CC but the G29 does the full time duty for that..

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