Ammunition

The Myth of Handgun “Stopping Power”

Xtreme Nuke Ninja Ammo!

This article originally appeared on March 8, 2012.

I enjoy a good sales pitch. Part of being an American is being oversold on everything. This vacuum picks up the dirt that other vacuums leave behind! This home gym will give you a flat stomach by exercising just 10 minutes a day, plus it folds under your bed for storage! This ammo has so much stopping power that the government tried to ban it from civilian purchase! Yeah, right. When it comes to ammunition selection for personal defense, we need to separate real from hype before making a purchase. If you make a bad purchase on a vacuum or a home gym, you are likely to be a bit embarrassed. Making a bad purchase on defensive ammunition could have dire consequences. Let’s talk about some fundamentals so you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Xtreme Nuke Ninja Ammo!
Would you trust your life to Xtreme Nuke Ninja? Better do some basic research first.

Four terms need defining for us to understand how bullets work.

  • Penetration
    The amount of tissue—bone, fat, and muscle—that a bullet passes through.
  • Permanent Cavity
    The amount of empty space—the hole—left in the body behind the bullet.
  • Temporary Cavity
    The momentary expansion of the permanent cavity stretching as the bullet’s kinetic energy is transferred to it.
  • Fragmentation
    The separation of the bullet into smaller chunks, or pieces, which leave the permanent cavity and spin off in different directions.

Regardless of velocity, the bullet crushes the tissue in front of it as it penetrates or tunnels through that tissue. After the infamous “Miami Firefight” of 1986, the FBI set a minimum penetration requirement of 12 inches for their ammunition. This became the industry standard. All bullets penetrate and leave behind a measurable permanent cavity, even the .22 LR. All bullets also create a temporary cavity, although actually measuring it is nearly impossible. Fragmentation is dependent on two factors; bullet design and velocity. Impact velocities above 2,000 feet per second can cause fragmentation in full metal jacket bullets with thin jacketing, such as M193 5.56 NATO. Soft point or hollow point rounds may also fragment at the same velocities.

In rifle rounds, fragmentation accounts for a lot of the bullet’s ability to destroy tissue and stop bad guys in their tracks. Making slower pistol rounds fragment requires specialized bullet designs that fragment very easily. The problem with these rounds, such as the Glaser Safety Slug, is that they fragment immediately without penetrating. They are advertised as being safer to shoot indoors because they won’t penetrate walls and kill innocents on the other side. This is true! However, a round that can’t penetrate two layers of brittle sheetrock isn’t going to devastate a 250-pound man coming at you with a crowbar either. It will break up immediately upon hitting his skin, shower the first few inches of fat and muscle with little specks of lead, and fail to reach his vital organs. This is not what we want. At this time there is no magic pistol round that is safe when you miss, but “knows” when it hits a bad guy and decides that now is the time to penetrate and then fragment. Any round capable of penetrating tissue to FBI minimum standards is also capable of penetrating doors and walls. Fragmentation in pistol rounds falls into just two categories, won’t happen and fragments without penetrating.

The temporary wound channel is another factor we honestly can’t count on with pistols. Because it is known but not measurable, it has become the center of all sorts of marketing smoke and mirrors. For example, Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition was named for the concept of “hydraulic shock;” the idea that tissue not actually touched by the bullet could still be damaged by the “energy dump” or “kinetic energy transfer” of the bullet’s velocity to the surrounding tissue. The “energy dump” was the given reason why bad guys would be “knocked down” by the new hollow-point technology of rounds like the Hydra-Shok. Of course, there is no such thing as “knock-down power” with pistols, because no pistol knocks the shooter down when fired. Newton tells us that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, the recoil your hand feels when you shoot a pistol is roughly equal to the amount of energy the bullet has as it leaves the muzzle, just compressed into a smaller, denser, much faster projectile. Getting shot by a handgun will not physically knock you down. I’ve been told it feels like being hit by a fastball, followed by a terrible stinging pain coming from your insides. Hydra-Shok is quality ammunition with a long track record in law enforcement and civilian use, but it physically cannot knock the bad guy over like we always see in the movies.

Tissue damage done through hydraulic shock is small even in many rifle calibers. In pistol calibers there is just not enough kinetic energy transferred to surrounding tissue to make any significant difference at all. That leaves us with penetration and permanent wound channel as the two ways pistol calibers consistently damage tissue. If penetration were all that mattered, we would all be carrying full metal jacket rounds like the military does. Of course, penetration is not everything. The military issues those FMJ rounds because under our interpretation of the Hague convention, hollow points are inhumane and contrary to the laws of war. The USA never signed the Hague convention but follows it strictly anyway, while other countries that did sign it have long since abandoned its outdated rules. I suppose the Hague Convention is why you’ll never see the USAF lobbing poison gas bombs from hot air balloons. For those of us who are not stuck in the 19th century, modern technology has provided the hollow point bullet.

.45acp Gold Dots
A few .45acp Gold Dot jacketed hollow point bullets, two unfired and six that have expanded.

A hollow point bullet fired from a handgun is designed to flatten out as it penetrates through soft tissue, staying in once piece but forming a “mushroom” shape with a wider diameter. This means less penetration than FMJ, but a bigger permanent wound channel. If penetration still meets the FBI’s required 12 inches, you get the best of both ways that a handgun bullet realistically damages tissue. What we want out of our handguns is 12 inches of penetration through soft tissue with the largest permanent wound channel possible. This maximizes our chances of directly damaging something vital.

This is the part where thousands of .45 ACP shooters smugly say, “That’s why I carry a .45, it puts ‘em down with just one shot.” I have seen this assertion many times on our Facebook page. Folks, you must hit something vital with any handgun bullet to quickly stop an assailant. A good friend of mine was in a shootout two years ago and was hit three times with .38 Special Speer Gold Dots before he even began to return fire. He scored two hits on the bad guy with .45 ACP Winchester SXT rounds (the ones that known as “Black Talons” back in the day) and the assailant ran off. The police followed a blood trail for eight hours before finding the bad guy hiding in a closet. Both men survived. My friend was the star witness at the bad guy’s trial, where they sentenced the bad guy to life in prison plus 30 years. The .45 ACP did save the day, but it did not physically stop the assailant. He simply ran away because someone was fighting back and his revolver was empty.

Handguns are not nearly as powerful as the movies, the media, and the firearms industry itself want you to believe. Regardless of your caliber of choice, train often, shoot fast and accurately, and be prepared for a life-threatening fight that continues after you’ve emptied the magazine. When deciding on what ammo to carry, do your own research and don’t believe the hype!

Tell us what you think about handgun stopping power in the comment section.

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 (196)

  1. Seems some people have size issues and think that bigger but slower moving and less ammo pistol is going to magically kill a person. There is plenty of hard science showing the .45 and 44 mag for all its impressive boom is not a man stopper at all and tend to pass thru in many cases. Paramedic will also attest to this. 10mm now that seem to be one of the best of both worlds.

    I am all for people using what ever fancies their little minds but hard science show reality and that is what counts. Shot placement is the king not size; since most people don’t actually practice and are terrible shots they figure if I have a huge GUN I should just fine. So keep on running around with your big gun for what ever reason you want its all the same. 19 round in my pistol will give me more chances to live another day. Plus there are so many new and innovative ammo types on the market that there is no reason to think that bigger is still better.

  2. I think a lot of the write up about 45 cal (I assume they always mean 45 ACP) sounds like it has been taken out of context. For instance, if they shot him 14 times, it almost sounds like he was wearing some kind of body armor. So, the discussion should be changed in that direction to discuss what can get thru body armor effectively to bring someone down very quickly. And it seems pretty unlikely that 14 rounds did little to stop him if he indeed had no body armor.

    But the real issue is what kind of load was in those 45 ACP cartridges. I have built a very nice Excel file that shows the ballistics for many hand gun calibers. The biggest thing I learned in making this is that loads very GREATLY for many calibers. Also, the barrel length and even design of the gun will impact the muzzle energy (stopping power).

    I have a 357 Mag Ruger Blackhawk revolver , and a Ruger 45 colt/ACP (both single action) revolver as well. The .357 loads can vary in the muzzle energy from 400 ft. lbs. to 976, the 45 ACP muzzle energy can vary from 330 ft. lbs. to 640, and the 45 Colt (LC) can vary from 250 to 1,300 (this kicks QUITE a lot)! So, what were the ‘cops’ using that day or regularly? (Atomic is the manufacturer of the powerful 45 ACP ammo.) Another factor in stopping power is the bullet itself – how much damage does it do with its opening capability, or is it armor piercing, or is it hardened lead, etc. I have metal piercing 357 cartridges, and these would go thru most body armor within a reasonable distance (say 50 ft.).. The super powerful 44 Mag max’s out at 1,700 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (probably on a 7.5″ barrel). All the other ballistics figures I relayed here are with 4.5″-5.5″ barrels.

    So, in conclusion, it seems that a high powered 45 ACP would stop most people in most cases, other than perhaps those with body body armor. The hallowed 9mm is a pea shooter in respect to any power, and my research (my Excel file) show the 9mm to vary between 310 and 418 for muzzle energy. But to have greater chances of stopping an assailant, use high powered calibers, like the 357 Mag, the 44 Mag, the higher powered 45 colt.

    If anyone is interested in this Excel ballistics file, please send me your email address.

    Vincent (vlavalle@ix.netcom.com)
    PS Various portions of the military are thinking of going back to the 1911/45 ACP type of gun and replacing the 9 mm weapon.

  3. “At the core of his desperate firefight was a murderous attacker who simply would not go down, even though he was shot 14 times with .45-cal. ammunition — six of those hits in supposedly fatal locations.”

    “In this free-for-all, the assailant had, in fact, been struck 14 times. Any one of six of these wounds — in the heart, right lung, left lung, liver, diaphragm, and right kidney — could have produced fatal consequences…“in time,” Gramins emphasizes.”

    “When the suspect bent down to peer under the car, Gramins carefully established a sight picture, and squeezed off three controlled bursts in rapid succession.
    Each round slammed into the suspect’s head — one through each side of his mouth and one through the top of his skull into his brain. At long last the would-be cop killer crumpled to the pavement.”

    http://www.policeone.com/police-heroes/articles/6199620-Why-one-cop-carries-145-rounds-of-ammo-on-the-job

  4. The caliber of bullet has less to do with lethality than your ability to properly place your shot. A .single .22LR head shot can result in a fatal wound—just ask Bobby Kennedy. Your poorly placed, multiple, body hits with a .454 might leave you being the victim. An old gunfighter who guarded the Texas Border during the Mexican Revolution days but lived to die of old age at 83 believed ” Big and fast is good—but accuracy is everything”. I would argue that the very best self defense pistol and ammunition caliber combination is one that you WILL carry and consistently practice with to the point you will place disabling and if necessary fatal wounds in the vitals of your attacker while under duress and adrenaline rush.

  5. Will all due respect, all this talk about the caliber for self defense is a little absurd! A miss with a .50 cal. is a non-impact shot, except maybe for the loud bang. A bulls eye (a vital organ) with a 9mm will have an impact, three of those even more. I much rather have 16 9mm shots in my gun than 7 big 45 cal. After all, there could also be more than just one attacker.

  6. “My side weapon in Vietnam was a 45 acp (230 grain) ?, I can testify at 30 yards , a .45 will do it;s job , meaning kill.I had to use it twice in my 13 month tour, both times one shot -one kill, since then I have always carried a .45 pistol.USMC”

    First let me thank you for your service to our nation sir.

    But as I recall Charlie was small person, WE are larger people in the US for the overwhelming majority any way. It dos make difference.

    Yet any gun that saves your life becomes ‘the best dam handgun ever made’ This is natural and nearly inescapable. It is how I feel about the SW Model 76 🙂

  7. My side weapon in Vietnam was a 45 acp (230 grain) ?, I can testify at 30 yards , a .45 will do it;s job , meaning kill.
    I had to use it twice in my 13 month tour, both times one shot -one kill, since then I have always carried a .45 pistol.
    USMC

  8. I have studied 4 cases where a person was shot point blank in he forehead by .45 ACP and not only did it niot stop them, thy were not even seriously injured.

    In all 4 cases despite being shot from less than 6 bft away the bullet FMJ spi\un around the skull and never penetrated th brain case

    IN another case two low lifes shot it out one with 19111 the other with Raven .25 auto.. The Raven guy fired once and his gun jammed, the 1911 guy fired all 7 shots. The 19111 guy died in seconds after mh fired from that .25 auto bullet severing his left ventricle.

    The Raven.25 auto shooter went to the bus stop, then to transfer bus stop to gt to the hospital where 4 1911 45ACP slugs were taken out of him. He was released two days later.

    The fact is no handgun is powerful enough to stop a person immediately for medical reasons. .Only a bullet that enters the brain case or severs the left artery or ventricle has chance of on shot stop.

    Also actual field data show the .357 Magnum JHP has better stopping record than .44 Magnum JHP.. Actually if you understand te physics of stopping power on would expect this too. The 44 Magnum over penetrates and leaves less energy expended in the area of the major organs.

    1. Peyton I don’t know where you get the “field data” you speak of, but your statement that a 357 magnum has more stopping power than a 44 magnum is nonsense. With the proper load and the proper bullet, the 44 magnum can expand just as easily as the 357 can, and yet it will expand with a wider and deeper wound channel. If for instance a 357 was a whole different configuration of cartridge, like if the case was fatter, making it some super magnum with extreme velocity, that’s when a lower caliber bullet can do more damage than a bigger caliber. But the 44 magnum is the same proportion, yet bigger, making it a more powerful and damage creating cartridge than a 357.

    2. SS! I agree that this is controversial topic. And the cass I looked at 14 shootings with the .44 Magnum and twice that many for the .357 is not sa large sample space. However, these results reflect the same thing I se in 10% gelatin test I conducted for major ammo mfg .

      The .444 Magnum seemed to b overpowered and thus the TSC was too far from the vital organs and not fully developed.

      Having said that I imagine reduced powder charge and lighter bullet in ..44 Magnum could do as well as the .357 Magnum.

      Now where the .444 magnum would do better than .357 magnum in stopping power is if the man shoot were very large such that his organs were where th maxima of the TSC occurred.

      Hence If i was worried about a bear attack and could only have handgun I would prefer the .44 Magnum. over th .357 Magnum. But the .357 on a human being attacking me.

      Both are powerful loads and about as good as you can do wih a handgun.

    3. Peyton your last reply makes more sense to me. I agree with your reply.

      BTW I own a Ruger Super Redhawk 44 magnum and was shooting Underwood Ammo (240gr JHP and 245gr FMJ) with it for the first time yesterday. That’s about as powerful of a load that you can get. I could feel it.

      Just for the record though, the gun I keep closest for self defense is a Glock 10mm, also with Underwood Ammo, 180gr and 200gr Hornady XTP JHP. I know about the 10mm FBI history, but I’m a 10mm believer and let’s just say it’s somewhere in between 357 and 44 magnum.

  9. 45 acp has too much hype, it aint all that great, a 40 beats it, but the 10mm kicks somr azz, so does 454 casul, 45 wont go thru any type of barrier and some dummies say its the woods gun for bear lmao get ready for one really pissed of bear, oh and a free 45 to someone who comes along after the bear is thru eatin.

  10. Stopping Power…the ‘magic bullet’. My personal and undivided opinion about big vs. smaller bullets (i.e.: .45 vs. 9mmis) is this:

    a) It’s how well you hit the target/threat that makes the difference.

    b) I’d rather have more smaller shots in my gun than a few big ones.

  11. Has anyone done an evaluation on the RIP ammunition by by G2 Research. Its supposed to provide a 6″ spread and 15″-17″ penetration in FBI gel?

  12. . “…No brain in here”? Lol good comment!

    The first case I discovered the guy was cursing our his wife across the kitchen table when she fired from there. The guy grbped his head saw the blood, hesitated a moment, then still kept up right on his tirade against here.

    Yet I also saw a case where a armed robber fired his .25 caLIBrE cheap zinc framed RAVEN AUTO ONCE IN THE AIR TO Scare the patrons into compliance.

    The small bullet went through the ceiling and stuck an office worker above in the left ventricl, she died all but instantly

    Calibers , velocity and weight of caliber do strange things the pysicss are not as simple as most people think.. But no handgun is really adequate to drop quickly an animal as large as a human being as quick as hi powered rifle does an Elk or even a Deer.

    And sometimes that Elk or Deer runs along ways before dropping.

    A human armed enemy needs needs a second or even less to kill you even after you have fatally shot him. It’s tactically worth thinking on.

  13. All wish we had them back–The days themselves I mean. The Thompson is still a crowd pleaser where ever you go; especially being on the right end of one. Was, and still is a excellent Street Sweeper and overall equalizer. Best to tone down the cyclic rate though from 750 down to 500 or so. My Mac 10 is claimed by some as a 950+bullet hose; but I never had time to count or disprove it.

    1. I admit I do not miss my service that much, my youth at that time yes, some good comrades in arms yes, but on the whole it was horror show for me personally. I carried a SW 76 smg not an M16 as I was technically a civilian I also could use HP ammo. I wiaah I could have had Thompson except for the heavy weight in 100% humidity and hot temperatures in SEA. But I am grateful I got back pretty much on 1 piece and pray for my brothers that did not. Yet I am noit religious man, but I like to think a spiritual one.

  14. Hi Martin, I carried a M1 carbine in Korea and later a M2 (selective auto) hated them both because of knock down. Found a Thompson on a dead gook (they could get them we couldn’t go figure.) He had three long mag’s on him. I think I used more .45 ammo then the rest of the company together. A great up close up and personnel weapon. Some one mentioned getting hit in the head with a .45 and it didn’t penetrate. Someone was lucky in my book. All that I saw with .45. head shots lost their mind. I did get hit with a Chink burp gun. I had a winter parker on and felt this sting in my right side. The round didn’t break the skin but left a bruise mark and I found the bullet in the fabric. Ah younger and crazier days, wish I had them back. Semper Fi J.

  15. I agree completely! Thos perfarmance stats are completely blue sky for any hand guns, even 10″ barrel guns! I have been tabulating ammo for hand guns (and a few rifles) and the fps numbers are rifle number with much bigger cartridges than you can fin in these hand gun calibers. The Max 357 for a 6’5″ barrel I have found online (with MUCH research) is 1775 ( Armscor Percision FMJ 125 gr) producing 874 ft. lbs. or muzzle energy. The typical high velocity 357 MAG muzzle fps is between 1,405 – 1,560. Buffalo Bore has one cartridge supposedly with a 1,700 fps muzzle velocity with 125 gr bullet that produces 802 ft. lbs.

    Vincent
    09-06-14

  16. Thankyou for your service. I was Army then and there. Funny that you said that. My father was an instructor during WW 2 and was showing the then new Recoilless rifle. Was test fired ahead of him not on “Q” and almost put his eye out. Had to wear Coke Bottle glasses after that. Other guy was Court-martialed and drummed out. Speaking of other thing. I traded a half viet, half french land owner a M16 for a WW 2 Thompson with 2 sticks and a 50 rnd. drum. When back @ base–wheres your rifle–I said Jammed–rapped it around a tree. Dissasembled it to my duffle bag and off I went back to the Land of the Free.

  17. I have a Matched pair of Walther PP’s with consect. serial numb. from Germany @ Ulm Do on the Rhine. I bought from a loca Dept. store @ 21 in .32 acp. (Blued) in wood box with 4 mags.–those were the days–all gone now. Still have them–retired them–probley never shoot again. Will sell someday for right price, but not yet.

    1. That is truly a treasure Martin! Walther got the pointing ergonomics right and even the smaller PPK points very well for me. Easy to conceal too but might my goal is to never have to use it for real.

  18. Payton; I know of a man called Cpl. Barden USMC in a fire fight with the VC ran out and picked up a wounded Marine, slung the injured man onto his shoulders when a VC ran out stuck his rifle in Barden’s chest and fired. Barden took the rifle away from the gook and beat him to death with it all the time with the wounded man on his shoulders. Under stress many can do what would seem like super human. I carry a G21 .45 with 12 JHP which I can get off in under 4 seconds. If I have an attacker that doesn’t go down with that and I survive my next carry will be a .75 recoilless rifle. Semper Fi.

  19. “I used to carry one of my Walther PP’s,”

    CZ made copies of both the Walther PP and the PPK.

    The PPK clone is the P64 and PP is CZ83. I have had lot of the Watlers issued back in the day but I actually prefer the CZ clones and the PPK in 9X18 Makrov id mt EDC Best of all maybe they are now C&R pistols so oyu can get one in excellent shape for $240 or so with C@R license.

    The 9X18 is not aqs good as a 9X19 ((mm) but it looks bettweEN in 10% gelatin than the .380 acp or .32ACP

    AFTER ALL THE SHOOTINGS i HAVE INVESTIGATED i’D SAY MOST ATTACKERS STOP THE ATTACK WHEN THEY ARE HIT, NOT BECAUSE THEY CAN’T MEDICALLY CONTINUE, BUT BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO BE SHOT ANYMORE. Sorry about the sticking caps key.

    Now to open the can of worms. the .45 ACP is not the manstopper people think I have seen 4 cases where a person was shot p[oint blank in the forehead with 1911 in .45 ACP (FMJ) with virtually no ill affects or any slow down in his attack.

    The reason was the 230 grain bullet poking along at just 850 fps went around the skull and did not penetrate it..

    But even .22 lr if it penetrates the skull will most oftenl cause collapse.

    In another case the guy was shot by 5 230 ge .45 at distance of 9 feet. He went down the stairs, out to the bus strop and waited for a bus that took him to transfer bus stop that then took him to the hospital where the 5 rounds of FMJ were removed. He wlaked out 2 days later just fine really.

    I am not saying I feel under armed with my old Nam issue 1911, but its no ray gun good people.

  20. Where are you getting that data? That is some powerful ammo. Need to take about 800 fps off each one I think, unless i am reading your post wrong

  21. I’m not questioning your article on the “controversial bullet”, but what caliber are you referring to and where do you get the info on the effect of this bullet? (3 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ channel in ballistics gel in addition to the >12″ channel)? All I could find is the manufacturer’s description:

    .357 Magnum
    Velocity: >2100 FPS
    Kinetic Energy: >490 FPE
    Accuracy: 3 ½ “W x 12” D

    9mm
    Velocity: >2000 FPS
    Kinetic Energy: >450 FPE
    Accuracy: 3 ½ “W x 12” D

  22. A .22 to th head is the assassin’s choice – whether he is Special Ops or a Mob’s hitman. The .22 bounces around a guy’s skull like a pinball and turns his gray matter into guacamole.

    There is a controversial bullet mainly because nobody has tried them yet. Made hby Liberty ammunition, it sends a 50 grain round downrange at 2000fps that fragments but also has a solid core that continues on for another 12″ or more. The fragments create a 3 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ channel in ballistics gel in addition to the >12″ channel.

    On unobstructed gel, it seems to overcome the limitations of fragmenting or frangible ammo.

    There are also jacketed hollow-points that arfe advertised as having enough power to penetrate through hard barriers like auto glass and walls. If that’s true, then, when does the tip begin to mushroom? It also sounds like a round that would not be safe to use at home.

    a self-defense round should be able to penetrate a heavy jacket made of denim, leather, or some other dampening material and still leave the majority of its kinetic energy in the body of the bad guy.

    We are constantly told to aim for center-mass (an ocxymoron), but there are situations like someone wearing a heavy coatr or body armour where a shot to the pelvis will be more immediate and effective in keeping the bad guy from moving.towards you or away from you.

    Head shots are very hard to do under the stress of a surprise attack – especially if there isn’t enough time to draw your gun and bring it up to firing position.

    It’s been well-documented that an average man can cover 21 feet (7 yards) in 1.5 seconds in a normal sprint. Think about that.

    It’s one of the reasons why they teach you to start moving away from your attacker diagonally, towards an area of cover. You have to give yourself enough time to withdraw your gun and also make yourself less of a target and less accessible.

    I recall reading that the average distance in which defensive carry incidents occur is from 3 to 6 feet. Situational awareness and practicing what your next moves would be should someone enter the danger zone are probabvly the things that CCW’s do least and should do most.

    FGolks at the range like to brag about their tack drivers and how they put six rounds through a quarter-sized hole. That may be impressive from an accuracy standpoiunt, but if all those rounds when into a guy’s shoulder where no damage to any vital organs is sustained, six won’t no much better than one.

    Now, if you had six shots scattered across the chest with an average MOA of 8 inches, it won’t win you an Olympic medal, but your chances of hitting a heart, a lung, a liver, a stomach, a spinal cord will be a lot higher than driving your “tacks” through a non-lethal area of the body, and your odds of stopping the threat – tghe whole purpose of carrying – will be maximized.

    I’d rather have a spread than wind up dead.

    1. Sorry for all of the typos, but my fingers have been stiff as boards after spending the afternoon at the range. I feel like I’m typing with pencils.

  23. I used to carry one of my Walther PP’s, of a Matched pair in the cargo pocket of my Army fatigue jacket/shirt. Loaded with WW .32 acp Silver Tip hollow points. If needed to, you can strip that gun down with one hand blindfolded. Get that truck running board anti-slip tape and attach it to both sides of the slide. Put the pistol between your knees. Trigger guard down to one side, pull back and up, remove slide and recoil spring–Done!. Only first shot is Da, rest are SA. One in the spout and a full mag inserted. Hammer Drop safety on. Ready for freddy in an instant.

  24. I fully agree with you! If an aggressor or attacker is that close, as in smashing your car window, a couple of 22 LR in the face will most likely ‘discourage’ the jerk from proceeding to rob, insure, or kill you. Of course, a drugged up raging bull 10 yards away charging you with a machete is a different scenario. There I’d rather have 9mm or heavier.

    The other thing is this ‘warning shot’ thing. If looking in the barrel of your gun doesn’t make a guy apologize and leave the scene, then a shot in the air won’t probably do it either – and since your bullet will ultimately come down somewhere, you might hit an innocent person with it, maybe even a child.

    If your life is really and truly being endangered by someone swinging a knife, machete or maybe something like a craw bar at you, in a serious attempt to hurt you, pull your gun and shoot the jerk several times, but once he’s dropped the weapon and seized attacking you, stop shooting immediately and call 911, keeping your gun pointed at the attacker until you hear the sirens getting close. Drop the magazine and put your gun on the ground before the cops get out of the car. Stay calm and hold your empty hands up, facing them. Explain what has happened and fully comply with the cop’s orders, even if they cuff you. Remember, they don’t know what happened and have to sort everything out first. All they see is a possibly dead guy and you with a gun.

  25. I agree, the gun you can carry comfortably is the one you most likely will have when needed. A .22lr (especially in CCU Stinger or Quick Shot) is a better round for SD than many think It is the minimum yes but its easy to carry and very manageable in recoil.

    I have some trouble with assuming a person or persons menacing you will stop with a warning shot though. Also they can run to the cops and have you arrested for felony menacing or brandishing. THis can happen even if you do not fire the gun.

    You have to be able to show that 10 The threat was immediate, life or serious injury threatening and 2 Otherwise unavoidable.

    But if there is more than one potential assailant you have “disparity of Force” yet that also means their are more bad guys telling their version of what occurred “we just asked for a dollar and he drew down on us” we weren’t doing anything to bother him he just got scared and fired a shot”

    But the bottom line is oyu have to do what you think is need right then and there to get home that night.

    1. I agree with the bottom line – do what it takes to protect yourself and family. I had an incident in a very anti-gun state on the east coast. My wife and I were being cased for what I believe was an intended car jacking and/or robbery. (I was lying down in the back seat so I don’t think they seen me until they were right up to the car) I knew that my CC was not recognized there and hollow points are also illegal; however, I had already made the decision that if they broke our window I was pulling the trigger. I knew I would be arrested and charged had that happened. That time is the closest I have ever come to actually using my gun in self-defense.

      I wanted to clarify my earlier statement though. I did not mean to imply that I would fire warning shots. In fact, all of my training has been is that one must be prepared to fire if you are going to pull your weapon. I was merely surmising that although a .22 does not have a lot of stopping power, most perpetrators will not persist with their attack if someone is shooting at them.

      My point is that many new CC permit holders buy a large caliber firearm only to discover that it is difficult to carry it. In that regard, a .22 cal in hand is better than a .40 cal left at home and when firing at someone it will most likely stop the assault; an average marksman shooting at point blank range will most likely hit what they’re shooting at.

  26. Every firearm ends up liking certain brands of ammo over others. Theres a thousand variables in Ammunition. It sounds like a product defect to me take it back and demand your money with whats left. I Know, no returns on ammunition they say. If its off that much by a horses ass theres something wrong. Complain to the Corporate Office or file a complaint with the state attornry generals’office and the Better Business Bearue. I have a S & W revolver that for a long time I couldn’t hit a barn with it, but my friend could nail it every time. Go Figure?. Unburned powder in rifle throat, bullet/cart. not in battery completely, bullet undersized jumping the rifiling, brass not to SAAMI specks?, Primers not properly seated for consistant ignition (Sounds like this is it to me?). They only test 1 or 2 from every lot because if one is bad there all probley bad from that lot.. Inconsistant powder levels in the cases. Etc., etc., etc. or a double charge that could blow up your gun?. I know a guy who double charged his S & W Mod. 39 autoloader with reloads that he made and blew off part of his jaw and $5000.00 worth of dental work later. I told him those loads were way too hot for that pistol, as he Shrugged it off–Ten minutes later–OOPS!, Oh well!.

  27. Get the Speer Plastic Hulls that use a standard pistol primer with a supplied plastic bullet . Was in packs of 50 yrs. ago but now?. Do they even make it?. I used to make my own for quick draw in the house using cut down brass and bullets made from Hot Melt Glue sticks. Heat the mold, spray it with Pam and squirt the glue in and let it cool. Hit the sprue, tap the mold. The brass cases are cut down to about .5″ and you have to drill out the primer pocket hole to 7/64th of an inch. Can be creative and add a Pinch of Bullseye powder if you like. A Friend showing off years ago shot a hole in his car door that way OOPS!. Fill a cardboard box with phone books or ? to make a bullet trap, add a target and off you go. Naturally, it wont cycle an auto but a revolver works just fine. Now recoil obviously.

  28. I have personally witnessed the result of a .357 magnum Glaser “Safety” Slug fired from the rear of a house, through a wooden paneled kitchen wall and into a living room. The bullet traveled 35-40 feet. The paneled wall was about 20′ feet away. The entry hole in the wall was a nice neat .357 inches. The exit hole was a massively splintered 4″. In the front door and closet door adjacent to it had hundred of tiny lead shot and copper fragments. That round would probably behave different going through drywall or a human body, but after seeing that, I am not ready to call it “safe” by any measure.

    As to the general discussion, I have seen one shot kills with a .22 and a .38 snub nose, and .380 ACP (all fired from less than 10 feet into a vital organ). That said, most people in a gunfight are wounded and go to the hospital, some live, some don’t. Anybody who is counting on the caliber of their gun, or even their marksmanship to be an instantaneous attack stopper is kidding themselves. Civilians possessing a firearm for self defense should consider it a neutralizer that will help them get to a safe situation and allow law enforcement to do their job. There is nothing wrong with having a high capacity mag equipped pistol, but it should not be purchased with the idea of getting into a protracted gun battle. I would choose my self-defense firearm on the basis of reliability (easy & ready to use under stress), convenience to carry (you have it when you need it), and controllability (can you put 2-3 rounds in a torso 20-30 feet away in 2-4 seconds?).

    1. I agree. I am not an expert on rounds or penetration; however, I carry a Beretta .22 or sometimes the LCP 380. I prefer the Beretta but I have been concerned about the stopping power of the .22

      The reason I like these guns is because they are small enough to carry. I have a .357 as well as a SW.40 but I never carried them because of the their weight and size. I also figure that in MOST situations the attacker is looking for an easy target – if the victim fires shot it will probably end the assault.

      In my opinion, a person needs a gun that they will always have with them and one they are confident they can hit with.

    2. You are 100% on the money with your advice John and it certainly mirrors my own.

      It might also be said that “A pistol is not a rifle”. Rifles bullets can be three times faster and heavier…and even they can fail to stop an attacker at times. But your odds are much better with a rifle it just isn’t practical for concealed or even open carry except in a war zone..

    3. i disagree with the idea of a rifle being heavier most 44 mag rounds 357 mag and the list goes on my point being the fact is most pistol round are heavier except for most of your auto pistols but i am a revolver guy.

  29. I’m a big guy and like big guns, but I’d rather have more rounds in my magazine than a large caliber when it comes to self defense. That’s why I carry 9mm. The trick is to shoot fast and accurate from different angles, which for a ‘regular’ person isn’t easy to train, definitely not at the shooting range. Do it at home, by yourself, with a safe and empty gun. Make something your target (TV, lamp, etc.) turn around quickly and shoot at the target immediately. Lay on the floor and do the same, or on your knees, etc. etc. Of course you can’t really see any impact holes, but it’s in my opinion a good mental and muscle training.

  30. Yeah. Its all getting a little Heady @ 12:45 a. m. now. Get it, clean it, use it. It will all be OK in the end. If you run out of ammo–Throw it–you might get a TKO between the eyes.

  31. Yes, Jurys and courts like that one about 2 in the torso and one in the head. He has fallen down and he can;t get up. Is he still standing after 2 in the torso so you can still put one in the head.

    1. Yes Martin, he is still standing, because those three shots are fired in one to three seconds, most likely only one. Stuck to what you know. Benefit from the experience of others. Or not.

  32. A big heavy bullet traveling like Slo Gin seems to work pretty well. Like my truck. Its Old, its rusty, but 2 times heaver than they make today.

  33. Those types try to get you when your asleep late @ night or in the morn. Who can know what happens when those things occure. Who pays attention to a siren or a car alarm anymore. We have become placent and desensitized in our lives because of hustle and bussel. Our ancenstors lived with fear of existence on a daily basis way back when.

  34. I load /ed Hornady XTP’s in the past in all my/wifes reloads over the years. WE both Trust my Reloads.in 10mm glock and her 92f baretta. Proven effective and velocity is always a factor. Loading both fmj’s and rn 9mm & hp. Old advertising ploy, change the name a little or create a new one and sell the same product @ a higher price . I. E., as in most other consumer products this is the standard, not the exception. The proof is in the pudding. Every time they change the packageing; the product gets poorer, they give you less and raise the price. Was Advertising major in college. Thats steel jackets in bullets & cases, aluminum jackets and such in other. Its all bottom line in the end. Snake Oil with opium in western days cures all. High and feeling good.

  35. Happiness is hitting the Target! with any good load. Max flash in dark environment is consideration and so is hearing afterwords. Especially while your in court defending your rights and not having to say EH!, What did you say, what was that again.

  36. I’ll give you 3 cents. The are possibly a hundred senarios and variables in any hunting situation or self defense. Not going over them here, but, not that odd in retrospect. A Few: rain, body armour, sitting, standing, running, awake from sound sleep. Etc., etc., etc.

  37. I think I saw those @ a wal-mart somewhere. I almost bought one, but, got distracted down the road somehow. Although, @ 300 yrds I would prefer to use my Win. Safari grade Bolt gun in .375 Holland & Holland .

  38. I fire a couple mags. or cylinders full of Jacketed after a Lead bullet Extravaganza shooting session simply to strip lead out of the barrel/s before cleaning. Used to shoot my Colt Python custom colt tuned with 125 grn. soft or hollow point loads in front of 19.6 grns of WW 296 powder. Gun has a Lapped barrel making the grooves more like a glock pistol, but not quite that much. Tough on my small wrist/s. Went to a Lyman #158 swc with crimped out to the bottom groove. A gas check bullet in front of 6 grns. of WW231 powder.in .357 mag. brass. When you could get .38 spc. once fired military brass (Yes, they used to have it). Resulted in a good +P .38 spc. load.

  39. I make shot loads for my S & W .45acp revolver with cut down .30-06, or .308 rifle brass in .5 moon clips. Works good for snakes. I use #7.5 shot simply because I have a lot of it.

  40. Good article. Im fairly new to shooting. I’m having a problem with the winchester white box ammo from Walmart. It’s just for target practice, but when I use the federal or tulammo I can hit an 8″ target at 15 yards pretty much every shot. Then I load up that winchester white box and can’t hit the broadside of a barn. Not ragging on winchester, but that particular ammo to me, is worthless. If anyone else has this problem, it’s not your pistol and it’s not you. Try another ammo.as for me, I’ll never buy that crap again. Happy shooting everybody.

  41. I dont know. A deer can run a mile before bleeding out unless, as you say, shot placement, Heart or Lungs Directly. A Grizzly Bear will slap off your head and eat you before he dies after a good meal. I heard the story once about the guy who shot the Grizzly Bear up the nose canal with a .22 rifle and the bullet whent directly to the brain. I never smoket that kind of pipe before either. Shoot him with an Ice bullet and die from water on the brain.

  42. Is he, or her behind door #1, door#2, or door #3. That sounds OK i guess, but I prefer a small hole going in and a Big Ragged hole coming out.

  43. Yes to all. I have a Ruger .44 Mag. Carbine I like to use and a .30-30 Lever action for the same purpose. Problem is–you can’t shoot them both @ the same time– unless somebody invents a bracket that bolts both of them together. Great for followup shots

  44. The perception that you mentioned about being shot follows what I have heard others say is a very accurate description. Although the choice of their words was “Being stabbed with a Red Hot Poker”. He, a Marine @ Long Beach, ca. naval base used those words exactly. My intent is not to knock anything down, just end it then and now.

  45. This is just what i’ve been saying all along for a long time. Nobody is going to wait for you to assume the Weaver Stance and take a deep breath. Quick snap point shooting almost comes natural if you have done it for a long time. But like anything else, if you don’t persue it on a regular basis you will definetley lose that edge.

  46. Fact: The 9mm has proven to be sufficient enough for virtually every military and police force in the world- EXCEPT the US. Isn’t it weird that a caliber that sucks so bad has gained such worldwide acceptance? The blame game- if you shoot someone with a 9mm and it doesn’t stop him, its because its a 9mm. If the same happens with a 45, magnum, whatever, its because he was on drugs.That’s how it works. And why is it that the freakishly big guys supposedly take more power to stop? Does a 300 lb steroid using weight lifter have less need for things like blood flow and functioning heart and lungs than a 150 lb twerp? To me, the common sense approach is to use a reliable weapon in a reasonable caliber (9mm or larger for autos, 38 sp or larger for wheelguns for those still living in the 19th century) that you can hit with accurately and quickly. Practice as often as you can. Select hollow point rounds from a reputable US manufacturer that function reliably in your gun. Plan on using more than 1 round. That’s why the gun holds more than 1, for crying out loud. I know they are expensive, but do you really care? Center mass until the threat is eliminated. In my opinion, people overthink this too much.

  47. I strongly believe in remington golden sabers for my 1911 and my hi point 4595, I use both 230 grains and +P 185’s, the penetration is as good as any other hollow points and expansion is excellent and the hard brass jacket makes for good feeding and massive damage from the angled knife edges on it. I have done my own jell ballistics testing and I feel it out performed almost all of the more expensive ammo and you can buy it at very reasonable prices and get 5 more rounds than most others.

  48. What about a. 6 ft 4 in 300 lb dude charging you right after he robbed a convenience store , possibly high? Will it take 6 shots to put him down or will one round , say a. .45 hollow point, be enough ?

  49. From my limited experience during the Korean war when attacked by the enemy the M-1 carbines were not very reliable to bring down a rushing enemy but we didn’t have that problem with the Garand M-1 (heavier ammo) or the 30 cal LMG. I was fired upon once by a burp gun and had a heavy parker on and the round that hit me stung but did not penetrate my skin. In the heat of the moment I didn’t realize I was shot. only two times I had to use a pistol for defense once was when a gook tried to bayonet me and we wound up wrestling some and I got my side arm out and fired as it touched his nose and the other was when I jumped into a trench and landed on top of a Chinaman equal surprise to both of us and after a few seconds of rolling around I managed to get my .45 against his chest and fired. In both of these time it was one shot and that was ‘all she wrote’ for those two people. I guess that is why I carry a sub compact Glock .45 I have no reason to get into any ‘gun fight’ but if some SOB jumps me he had better be able handle a full mag of Hydra-Shok. J

  50. I guess you could call it “put down” power. As a youth in 4-H we went to a slaughterhouse. A worker put the barrel of a .22 rifle up to the head of a 1000 lb cow. After he pulled the trigger that cow hit the floor so hard she bounced.
    Bullet placement is key. Our farm was plagued with wild hogs. Once we captured one in a trap. My dad emptied a .30-06 into that boars head, nothing, just a pissed off pig.

  51. Practice in at booth at a firing range indoors has some value over not shooting at all for sure. But almost none of the skills needed to hit targets with the use of sights have any value in an actual gunfight or SD shooting.

    Having said that , years ago when I trained some NAVY SEALS (remember military combat is different than civilian SD) it was amazing what they acquired in pistol shooting skills in the rubber house. Naturally they knew they could not use sights but even point shooting most of them could breech the RH and instantly hit dead center the playing cards predesignated. As in “The clubs are the terrorist the hearts are the hostages” they would not know where the cards were before they stormed the rubber house.

    But those guys would shoot every day and each man went through 5000.rounds of pistol ammo each 6 days. How many of us can afford that either time or money wise.? And even they acknowledged that level of shooting was a ‘perishable skill’.

    Scenario based training will show you immediately that most range skills have no value in an actual dynamic SD shooting.

    But most people are in near subconscious denial that they will ever have to use their gun in a real SD situation. So they put all kinds of ‘accessories’ on their pistols, some of which will handicap them if they had a real shoot out and all are pretty useless anyway (trigger job, accurizing as bbl etc, opening magazine wells etc)

    Green lasers are something I have been working with for some time now under scenario based training and I am still sort of ‘on the fence’ there. Some people they help a great deal though. There main value is when you are not directly under attack and are shooting at bad guy who has a hostage.

  52. “Of course, there is no such thing as ‘knock-down power’ with pistols, because no pistol knocks the shooter down when fired. Newton tells us that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, the recoil your hand feels when you shoot a pistol is roughly equal to the amount of energy the bullet has as it leaves the muzzle, just compressed into a smaller, denser, much faster projectile. Getting shot by a handgun will not physically knock you down. I’ve been told it feels like being hit by a fastball, followed by a terrible stinging pain coming from your insides.”

    This is actually a myth. The science you’re talking about is valid, but that does not mean that you can’t be physically knocked down by a handgun round. Think about it this way. Can you be knocked down by a push or a punch? Yes. It depends on your balance and where you are hit, etc. There is an equal and opposite reaction, true, but the weight of the gun absorbs some of the momentum and the shooter, presumably, is poised and ready to withstand that force and absorb it with minimal movement and without losing his balance. The target, presumably, is not. Everyone understands that a push or a punch can theoretically knock someone down without knocking the pusher/puncher down. Much in the same way, a handgun round can theoretically knock someone down without knocking the shooter down.

  53. Hydro static shock can not be counted on, that is expanding bullets do not expand if the cavity is plugged up on the way in by say a letaher jacket. But hydro-static shock that is hollow point expanding bullets are the first choice for SD ammo.

    Also practice is good yes, but remember you can;t use the sights of a pistol in a gunfight ot almost any any situation where you life is on the line and the other guy is going to kill you. If you doubt that, then don’t because after several hundred actual shooting investigations, and running my adrenal; stress driven scenario based fiream course stresshootin.com for 23 years I have yet to have anybody say anything other than they could not even ‘think’ of using the sights or even ;knew the pistol had sights”.

    Your lower brain won;’t let you look at anything under high adrenal stress but the guy about to kill you. So learn to point shoot by having both eyes open and tunneling on the target (this will be the way it is under adrenal stress anyway) and then punch the psitol out and with the unfocused barrel in your basic filed of view as your eyes are on the target (bad guy) fire.

    I routinely get people who have never shot a gun in their lives hitting in the kill zone at 25 feet or more in as little as 10 minutes of instruction. Laser cartridges that fire the laser when the hammer falls on the ‘primer, actually a switch) are very good training tool to learn “point shooting’

    Most people have never even pointed a gun at another human being in their training, so are they prepared to do so for real? Was it really even SD training or just ‘marksmanship’ and ‘gun safety’ training ?

    None of this is theory or speculation with me. Find people who have been in gunfights and know that reality, but also be aware that ‘false memories’ can be formed under adrenal stress.

    Jim Cirrrilo my mentor here had been in a dozen gunfights and killed mot felons than that as NYS police detective in the stake out squad and elsewhere.. He told me he never really used the sights and tghat handguns rarely stopped a person right away. Even 12 gauge buck shoot and .223 can fail in that regard.

  54. Stopping power is irrelevant if you don’t/can’t hit the target/object. Countless police, Swat Team & FBI firefights have illustrated this point.
    Practice with what you shoot and shoot with what you practice.

  55. Being a New Hampshire whitetail hunter, I can agree. I have seen deer drop quickly with a 223, and with .30.30 (the most popular round for hunting here) but a friend of mine also shot one full in the chest at 20 feet with a 7 mm Rem Mag, nosler partition hunting load he uses for Moose (he did not have any .30.30 ammo on hand that day)
    It took three of us 13 hours to find that deer in these thick woods. It ran at least 1/2 mile through some of the thickest underbrush and even open water swamp you can imagine.
    I think ballistics and ‘stopping power’ is pretty much like most other things. We would love the ‘perfect formula’, and we use whatever data we can find to ‘prove’ it, but real world experience is never cut and dried. Personally I think it is just as important to believe in the ammo and caliber you carry. Peace of mind is needed a lot more than actual killing ever is.

  56. In general, yes. At the same, unlike a frontal or side shot, or some quartering shots, a rear shot at a deer has a lot more “body” to deal with than on a human. Shot placement is always the final judge of effectiveness in stopping.

  57. Absolutely the .410 slug, in my experience. I hypothesize that the grooves are not deep enough to stab9ilize the .45LC round and they group all over the place. The .410 slug shoots quite well, comparatively. Even so expect far larger groups than with a .45 pistol. Depending on where I carry the Judge, I load 1 my first round to be hv # 4 shot and the rest federal Buckshot 000 buck (4 per round in Federal) and one or two .410 slugs, for snakes that crawl as opposed to walk, I load #9 & one # 4

  58. Granted. At the same time, it is a significant issue in that regular practice is needed to attain and maintain proficiency, and THAT may make cost an issue. Practice with cheap ammo and carry the best works in most ordinary households vs. the wealthy ones. .I recommend ending a practice round with a magazine/cylinder of carry ammo to maintain familiarization with the more potent stuff.

  59. For any & all of you that hunt larger game like deer, and better yet for the ones who have done so for many years & tried diff. caliber rifles, and diff. style bullets. There is your answer to what is the best for stopping a human. OK, you wouldn’t hunt with a .22lr, .300mag is really a over kill unless you are shooting long range, now what style bullets put them down best from your mid range power rifle, same will pretty well go for a human, you can think of the deer’s hair & fat like a persons clothing effecting the bullets performance. Then yes BE A GOOD SHOT — PRACTICE

  60. I have a “circuit judge” which is a carbine, wood furniture and all, with a 5 shot wheel in the middle of the thing. I use CorBon colt 45 +P. It has a 300 grain JSP that skips along at 1300 fps.

    Terminal ballistics support a very nasty scenario within normal pistol range, but a 160 grain 300 AAC will achieve the same mess 3-400 yards downstream. For your consumption, a .410 3 inch mag slug is not in the same class, so I use #4 buck to cover contingencies.

    Basically the Judge series of firearms are good for defense and as a range toy.

  61. Which round would you recommend for the .45 cal/.410 shotshell Judge? I’m leaning towards the .410 HP slug. Is that a better choice that 45 cal HP round? The .410 round is less expensive than 45 cal rounds.

  62. I run Winchester PDX1 in my .45 acp and 9mm. Not to say that it’s the best round, but after seeing that the FBI uses this round chambered in .40 s&w, I feel that it is reliable. The only gun that I deviate from the PDX1 is in my .380 acp, for that I use Speer Gold Dots. I’ve found the gold dots to feed flawlessly in my Kahr P380. Reliable functioning weapon over comparable bullet performance. Very well written article with plenty of knowledge for men and women looking to legally defend themselves and their family. Keep up the great work CTD.

  63. I have had one experience shooting a live target.
    It was a medium size white tail deer, shot at 15 yards with a 240gr.truncated cone from a 44mag. Straight on chest shot sent the deer straight up and over onto its back stone dead. Not Hollywood, buy I was amazed by the results.
    Filleted the heart and only found a fragment from the jacket.
    That being said, doesn’t mean its a good choice for home defense. My two cents…

  64. I have a 357, and though there are some really powerful rounds. I prefer to carry Buffalo Bore’s low flash, low recoil round for self defense. I don’t want muzzle flash blinding me, and I still want my hearing after having to use it.. If I need more, then I have a quick strip of higher power HP, and one of hard case bullets for penetration if needed.. There is No perfect do all bullet, but there can be perfect placement..

  65. I use a .45 acp stoked with fmj’s Nothing better than an entrance and an exit wound. Let’s not forget shot placement.

    1. marcus, one must worry about exit wounds when firing inside a dwelling or crowded area. Deep penetration with proper expansion is better than any exit wound. Proper placement is also critical. If you don’t believe me ask just about any woman!!!!!

  66. I hear this discussed often. I usually end up asking a simple question of those touting the latest mega caliber, super round. Would you rather get shot in the toe with a .45 or the eye with a .22?

    1. Rick; Excuse me I’m a old guy so I get confused easy. Did you mean would I rather get hit in the eye with a .45 and a toe with a .22 as well? Since I was put on blood thinners and bleed easy I would not care to get hit in the eye with anything but if I had to make a choice I would take the .22 which I feel gives me a better chance of survival. I had two situations where I was in contact with individuals one I had a .38 special and one with .45 1911. The 38 was fired in the face and the 45 in the chest. Result was the same both went down and stayed. I have to admit the .38 did a messier job in this instance but who knows what would have happen if the situation was reversed. J.

  67. For years I had my defensive handguns loaded with the Federal Hydra-Shok, but now they are all loaded with either Hornady Critical Defense revolvers or Hornady Critical Duty in pistols. My shotgun is loaded with 12 ga. Critcal defense as well.

    From what I can gather the polymer tip in the hollow point allows for better penetration before expansion, through heavy clothing and such. Have been a Hornady fan for years and trust my life and those that I love to their products.

  68. The old Texas gunfighter’s maxim is “Speed is good, accuracy is everything”. The reason the U.S. Army went to the .45ACP 230 grain full metal jacket bullet in the self loading Browning designed pistol in 1911 was that the .38 caliber six shooter was insufficient in fighting the Moros in the Philippine insurrection. It was a great improvement in imposing fatal wounds but those users that were not proficient with that pistol .suffered.

  69. You mean to tell me that a .45 LC, a .454 casual, a .460, a S&W .500 won’t knock a person down in a revolver? Or a .45/70 in a BFR revolver in a 10″ barrel? Personally I had an accident years back where I was shot with a .41 mag. In the leg and it knocked me down off my feet like King Kong hiring me on top of my head. Didn’t feel it and not knowing I got shot, I wondered what the heck happened. The bullet went in my right knee and exited out my calf. Tried to get up and couldn’t. Not even with my son tring to help. As he ran to get help I thought to myself so much for all those phony westerns with the cowboy getting on his horse and riding off into the sunset. Turned out the doctors said I should have died because the bullet should have went through the main artery but only bruised it and they couldn’t explain why. The knee wasn’t blown to pieces either and they told me God was watching over me that day! Penetration? Line up several people in front of a S&W .500 or .45/70 revolver and see how many fall down. I carry a .45 and feel very comfortable in doing so. If some one breaks into our home my home defender gun changes to a Raging Judge with 6 cylinders that will accomadate 3″ .410 ga. Shells, .45 LC, or .454 casual in any pattern. If the assailant has on a vest I have the .454 in there for such an occasion plus I train at the range shooting head shots just in case.

  70. As a paramedic who’s dealt with a large number of GSWs from a variety of firearms (long, shotguns, handguns), I know it is entirely possible to be struck in the heart. And keep coming for about 90 seconds. Only a neuro shot will bring someone down immediately.

    Shoot until your assailant doesn’t get up anymore. You’re still not guaranteed to have killed him. But, at least they can’t shoot back at you.

    The Mythbusters did a show on ‘stopping power” or “knock down power.” Clearly shows there is no such thing. If you think about how little damage to a handgun round does to a person wearing body armor that prevents penetration (they shot at “human analogs” with vests on, too), it is clear there isn’t much energy transferred to your target.

    Secondary “shock wave” cavities are supposed to rupture hollow organs. I’ve never seen hollow organs ruptured by shooting someone with a handgun. You can be just as dead with a properly placed knife as you can a 10mm round.

    As for me, it’s either a cal. .454 Casull handgun or a 12ga firing 00 buck or slugs. Huge primary cavities.

    1. “As for me, it’s either a cal. .454 Casull handgun or a 12ga firing 00 buck or slugs. Huge primary cavities.”

      But I’m guessing you don’t always have one with you.

  71. First you need to carry a gun big enough to handle substantial caliber and with a barrel long enough to provide enough velocity to do the job well. All this little pocket guns may be just a false sense of security, but I would always conced they are better than nothing.

  72. Knock-down power, et. al. are great things to consider. Neither should we become obsessed with them to be universally applied. Many CCW carriers are not able or not willing to carry the kinds of handguns commented upon above. It falls on those of us who are more experienced to follow the dictum of the first rule of a gunfight being to have a gun. If a weak handed woman is willing to carry a 22LR pistol and use it but can’t or won’t carry anything more powerful, it is incumbent on us to advise them as best we can on practical issues, on what they are WILLING or ABLE to do, and help them become proficient at it. We must deal with what we actually have and not with what we wish we had.

    Whereas my 11A1 or S&W M66 will serves me well when I choose to go armed, a pocket .380 with premium ammo serves when I merely don’t want to go unarmed. Likewise, I much prefer my weak handed wife to carry the small .22 auto that she CAN rack, handle, and shoot (quite well, incidentally), than to limit her to pepper spray.

  73. I shoot a 10mm Glock Mod 20. Bought a Barstow stainless drop in barrel for it with button rifiling so I can shoot the cheaper .40 S & W. Same bullet weights, but shorter case. Put a spacer in your mag to take up the slack.

  74. What about the new R.I.P. 9mm rounds? Watching the videos released so far looks to be the most promising in wound channel and penetration.

  75. this is a very well written and informative and very true article.Thanks for the good advice.I say train as often as you can including dry fire,train to stop an assailant as quick as you can. Two in the torso ,one in the head and keep going until you are very sure the threat is stopped!!

  76. John; seems like you know what you want so this is not to change your mind in anyway. I assume the gun will be for SD and if so that is what I carry for CC. Some questions, CC or OC where you intend carry on your person. What caliber you want. My choice was .45 sub compact Glock 36. at 3 o’clock right hip It is easy for me to hide, has plenty of punch. I buy the cheapest FMJ for practice twice a week 50 to 100 rds each time $15 to $20 a box of 50rds. My SD ammo is Federal Hydra-Shok 230 gr. and I fire a mag of this about once a month. I like the Glock because I don’t have to think about a safety its just point and shoot. Don’t skimp on ammo it is cheap insurance and I would say try what ever you pick before you part with cash. Good luck and stay safe. J

  77. Very educational…seems like all the information that I was picking up about stopping power was wrong. This is an article i will read over many times…

  78. Easy, give your weapon to a 4 year old. One shot, one kill. Of course he is just as likely to shoot you or himself, but someone is going to die.

  79. I don’t own a handgun, yet. This helps a lot. What I’ve gathered so far is that I want a round and caliber combo that produces a wide channel, goes 12″ deep, something cheap enough that I can practice a lot with, and a recoil that gives me the best chance to get more shots on target. Personally, I also want something that goes boom the same way every time (either striker or DA?) and has an external safety. Got it. Time to go shopping!

    1. If this is your 1st carry gun I recommend a revolver. No safety and goes bang every time. My wife carry’s a .38 LCR and it is a nasty little beast.
      If you insist on a semi you do not want a safety to mess with if things go bad. I carry a Walther PPS .40, The mag release takes some getting used to but other than that it is a wonderful carry piece

  80. A comprehensive FBI report on handgun shootings made the point that over-penetration of your ammo is not a serious consideration when deciding what ammo to use: It makes no sense to worry about your powerful bullet going through the bad guy and traveling on to penetrate an innocent person, because most shots in a gunfight, even by the police, miss altogether. Your more realistic concern then is to minimize the stray shots by regular target practice.

  81. I’ve carried .32 autos, .380 autos, 9mm autos & .45 autos over the past 57 years for either back-up or duty weapons, also .38 special & .357 revolvers. They’ all have their own niche, depending on your requirements in a given set of circumstances. I look for the hottest load available commercially which produces the greatest expansion–based on independent tests. Running through the entire mag is consistent with “shoot until you stop the threat.” But a better practice, IMO, is two to center mass and one to the head. I’m also a firm believer in the statistics which indicate the first shooter with shots off is usually the survivor. If you drill to get three shots off, within three seconds, at 3, 6 & 9 yards (On target) you will be well prepared. More than one threat should be anticipated. A lot can be said on the topic of self defense pistol craft, many different theories abound, but for the purposes of your article–I believe controlled accuracy is more important than volume of fire. Conservation of ammo in your mag, think that other potential threat, and tactical mag changes should always be a consideration.

  82. You are right on about knock-down power, I was shot three times with a .22LR and was able to return fire, hit the subject twice and still was able to drive myself to the Hospital. At that time I weighed about 200 lbs. the “energy dump” or “kinetic energy transfer” did damage my spleen. Thanks for the great articles and keep up the good work.

    1. Knock down power is a myth…its “stopping power” we all are looking for…what will break your assailants will to continue the attack!
      Make it hurt make it shock their system. That’s the goal. As mentioned above 2 to the chest and 1 to the head would certainly attain those results…we should all hope to never be in that situation. If so don’t hesitate… Be accurate… And finish it!

  83. Saw off a 12 ga. shotgun with a pistol grip making it an illegal handgun. Because of length and no rifiling in barrel. Load with 12 ga. slugs. Now thats real stopping power!.

    1. A Mossberg 500 12 gauge with a legal 18.5″ barrel and pistol grip will do the same thing…legally.

  84. Well another opinion in the mess. From experience I know what a .45 FMJ will do and can only imagine what a JHP will do. I carry a Glock .45 and if I have to draw I will shoot and if in doubt as they say empty the magazine. I use Federal Hydra-Shok 230 grain and all I want from it is to stop an attacker.
    I have yet to see any ammo or other caliber that I want to rely on. Granted a .22 if held to a temple will stop an attacker, problem very few times that opportunity will afford itself. As far as I am concerned until they make a .70 cal. hand gun I’ll stick with the little .45. J.

  85. Perhaps we ought to change our thinking about Center of Mass and teach people to shoot better and simply take head shots. I think getting shot in the head would knock most people down. That would eliminate some of the debate. It makes me laugh that people spend all this time talking about stuff like this article does when anyone who has had an experience knows that commitment to the task and being able to carry it out can be far more important than all this other nonsense. I could have an RPG but if I freeze or miss the target what good is it. A well placed shot can solve a good many of these debates.

  86. I think that the article named “The Myth of Handgun “Stopping Power” is a bit misleading. Thee ARE handguns will take anyone down, but to respond to this article a bit more intelligently I have to define some terms, then describe the issue that can affect this behavior, and end with some conclusions. Keep in mind, I have never seen anyone get shot in person, so I am just talking ballistic numbers here and what makes sense with regards to “know down power”..

    “Stopping Power” can mean two things: (1) knocking a person off their feet by knocking him/her backwards onto the rear, or (2) upon impact forcing the ‘opponent’ to collapse, and to collapse very quickly (within 1-3 seconds) so that he/she will no longer be a threat, from either the impact itself, or from the damage done by the impact.

    First related factor: First, the energy of a load in any cartridge can vary greatly, depending on the bullet size (its weight) and the amount and type of powder used (giving the bullet it muzzle velocity). The muzzle velocity of the projectile multiplied by the bullet’s mass (its weight) gives the muzzle energy (a formula is used). I have created an Excel file (don’t know how to attach it here, but anyone who wants this can email me and get it) that gives all the bullet info: weight, muzzle velocity, and hence, its muzzle energy, cost, location to buy online, etc. This all relates to its impact power. Most of these ballistic figures are from a 4.5 -5.0″ barrel (generally, the longer the barrel, the more power). 357 Magnum loads (identified in my Excel file) vary from a low end muzzle energy of 410 to 970ft. lbs., resulting in a ratio of 3:1. 45 ACP loads vary from 335 – 639 ft. lbs., overlapping the low & middle loads of the 357 Mag (a ratio of almost 2:1. 45 Long Colt loads vary from 250 to 1,267 ft. lbs., a ratio of almost exactly 5:1 from the weakest load to the highest. 44 Mag loads vary from 750 to 1,698 ft. lbs., resulting in a ratio of 2.3:1, resulting in the smallest ratio between the weakest load and the hottest of the high powered handguns. The Desert Eagle AE 50 Cal load caries from 1,074 to 1,663.

    It is CLEAR that ammo varies greatly in power, and hence ‘knock down” ability. But to put these muzzle energy numbers in perspective, the NATO 5.56 rifle cartridge generates 1,260 ft. lbs. The NATO 762 rifle is a bit more powerful, and comes in at double the muzzle energy of the NATO 5.56 at 2,412 ft. lbs. Both big bore handguns can achieve the NATO 5.56 round, and the 357 Mag is not far behind.

    Factor 2: The type of bullet used will also make a significant difference in stopping power. The more the bullet opens and it has ‘enough’ energy to really penetrate, perhaps thru the whole body, the more the severity of the damage and the more like thee assailant will drop. Jacket Hallow Points are typically the best at this.

    Factor 3: Where the person is hit has a lot to do with ‘knock down power’ also. None vital areas (soft tissue and no bone)) will usually allow the bullet to run right thru, and if the impact size is small and the bullet does not mushroom, it is unlikely to take the person down. Some of these body parts are the hand, just below the shoulder, the stomach/intestines, the thigh, calf. But hitting anyone in almost any bone area or vital organ will probably take anyone down in 1-3 seconds with any of the high caliber loads from the.four high power handguns (357 Mag, 44 Mag, 45 Colt), 50 cal. Dessert Eagle. The hot 45 ACP load may also be affective, in knock down ability, but probably in close range only (15-20 ft.) and would require more careful aim.

    Vincent
    08-26-14

  87. There have already been 57 comments on this article and I don’t think they’ll ever end. Back in the mid 60’s a coworker went to a sportsman’s show and he bought his wife a 22 pistol because of a demo he’d seen. We worked the graveyard shift and he didn’t want to leave her unprotected. Sadly, the police found her raped and murdered in their apartment. They also found a guy who bled to death in his car from multiple gun shot wounds a block away. Their portable TV was on the seat next to him. So much for the 22 as a defensive round.

    After being called to a neighbor family’s house to see what I could do until the paramedics arrived after their son had blown away his cousin with his dad’s 357 I do have a lot more respect for that round. The kids spine was on the wall behind him and It’s something I’ll never forget. I’ve always liked a bigger bore and hollow point rounds for terminating a crisis. Ours is now loaded with Hornady 357 Mag hollow points for maximum shock effect. Six of those and I don’t think you’ll be able to stand up let alone walk away.

    Unfortunately I’ve seen what a 45 ACP round can do to a man. My personal favorite is Winchester’s PDX1 Defender in my 1911. It’s a 230 grain hollow point with a bonded jacket that is designed to do maximum damage. But the 357 and 45 ACP will only come into play after I empty the tube of 00 buck shot on my 12 ga pump. I think you need to have the right tool for the job.

    1. Hank that is some story you have about 22LR and it’s low effectiveness. I could have used that story on another article thread here 2 days ago when I was arguing with 2 guys who love 22LR.

      Again, WOW, that story really is something to take notice of.

  88. After digesting all of the cool posts, I think I’ve got it figured out and I’m headin’ down to Bubba’s Gently Used Military Surplus Emporium and pick me up a B54 tactical demolition nuke. Put that sucker on the perps neck and my worries ought to be OVER. Oh-and I’ll set the yield for “Stun” just to keep them hanky-stompers in the courts from whinin’…..

  89. Just to add fuel to the fire… this also includes handgun sizes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_KO_Factor

    Taylor KO Factor is a formulaic mathematical approach for evaluating the stopping power of hunting cartridges. The term “KO” is an acronym for “Knock Out.” The Taylor KO Factor (TKOF) is a derived figure that allows hunters to compare bullets with respect to stopping power. The TKOF was developed by John “Pondoro” Taylor, a famous mid-20th century hunter and poacher of African big game.

  90. Excellent article! What I want is the kind of gun/bullet combo that Marshall Dillon carried on Gunsmoke. Whatever it was, where ever it hit, it was fatal! LOL! If you have never been in a combat situation (military or police) then you don’t understand the “stopping power” of a round. No range exercise can duplicate that. Accurate, accurate, accurate is the key. Thanks again for the reminder!

  91. I think the 45 is a superior home defence round because 1 low velocity, lower velocity equals lower recoil vs calibers like a 44 mag that shoot a similar weight projectile, low velocity also keeps it quieter still enough to make your head ring indoors but quieter. 2 heavy bullets are better for tissue penetration. About100 grains heavier than a 9mm. 3 ammo is idiot proof jhp even the cheap one go bang every time, and expand while not always as uniformed as expensive ammo. People always say a .223 won’t over penetrate interior walls that’s false. Cheap 556 fmj ammo will fragment consistently, while a lot of .223 HP and sp will not its for hunting and is designed not to. I’ve seen many advertisments showing expansion without breaking apart in the hunting rounds. If a bullet his drywall at 2500+ fps and holds together its not going to stop.
    Just my 2 cents.

  92. Interesting discussion, but I get a lot of “macho” from many of the comments.

    Look, the issue is real simple. If you find yourself in a situation where you are confronted by an aggressor who clearly wants to control and hurt you, then you want to put up a response that will deter that person. Any knife is better than no knife, and any handgun is better than a knife. Size of the round is of minor importance as is the size of the gun; it’s the fact that you HAVE a gun aimed at the person that is the key here.

    If the situation deteriorates further to where rounds have to be fired, then placement is far more important than caliber, as already discussed in numerous posts. But how to get accuracy in a pistol? Lots of practice helps, but the small size of a handgun will always make accuracy questionable–unless the firearm has a laser sight. That’s the key: a laser sight. Makes placement almost a no-brainer.

    Oh, and forget about any of this if you don’t happen to have your weapon on you at the time of confrontation. And frankly, you’ll look like a nut if you carry a 38 around with you all day.

    So, that’s why I carry an itty-bitty NAA 22. It is ALWAYS in a pocket, just like my car keys. It carries five CCI Stinger segmented rounds. It has a laser sight on top, easily flipped on while cocking. 22 is a joke, you say? Youtube is your friend, friend. Look up CCI Stinger segmented ballistics gel penetration. And anyway, it’s the fact you have a gun at all that will deter most creeps. You have to carrying ALL THE TIME.

    1. I love my NAA .22 WMR it’s in my pocket anytime I take a stroll out back. of coarse I am int he New Hampshire back woods, and scaring off a coyote is about the worst thing that you may need it for. But I can hit a coffee can at 10 paces with it no problem. I use Win. 40gr FMJ. Want as much penetration as I can get with the little round. Love it.

  93. I have seen a man get shot in the head at point blank range with a .25 cal auto, and the bullet did not even penetrate the skin. he suffered a concussion and a huge bruise, but nothing more. If you take a .44 magnum and shoot a person ANYWHERE on their body, they are going down, I don’t care if it’s the leg, arm, torso or head, no amount of PCP will enable a person to fight when hit with a .44. Now, we have a 500 magnum, that is over twice the power of a .44. Hit someone with just the concussion blast, and it will rip skin down to the bone, hit them with an actual round, and they will not give a darn what they were doing before, they will be in serious pain. The size of the bullet, and amount of powder and the type of bullet all matter, but in the end, bigger is always better.

  94. @349 and others mentioning “psychological stop”: this is really only useful for LEOs. For citizens who are CCW and not LEO, unholstering a gun for psychological effect is considered brandishing, and may be prosecuted as an assault or attempted murder (depending on the laws of the state).

    CCW must only unholster if they feel they were in mortal danger, and the weapon must be used in a defensive capacity thus demonstrating the need for deadly force.

    So the psychological stop is not really useful for non-LEO: physical stop to “exsanguination” becomes the only legally-defensible stop.

    Also – one significant point that has been talked around is how likely a round is to hit a vital organ: the larger the round, the more likely it is to impact a vital. I don’t know the stats on this, but it bears including.

    It’s all a combination of sufficient round capacity to have a likelihood of hitting the target (since everyone misses a lot, more rounds=more chances to hit), high enough velocity to penetrate (based on caliber/mass), likelihood of round impacting a vital. Post-penetration isn’t really a concern.

    One final point: everything in life is a compromise – choosing a caliber depends on the variability of the circumstances you expect to encounter. If you are open-carrying in bear territory then a Very Large Caliber, Very Heavy Pistol and a large magazine make sense, if you need to conceal in a city in the summer, then a smaller round and smaller handgun are called for.

    It all depends on the situation.

  95. It is true that all handguns are under powered. One must however distinguish between a psychological stop and a physiological stop when it comes to stopping power with a handgun. You can only rely on a physiological stop, but most stops are probably psychological. Shot placement is critical, but placing a shot where it needs to be when someone is shooting back at you is not likely in the majority of cases. Train, train, train seems to be the answer, but there are different types and levels of training. Unless you are used to returning fire when being shot at, shooting while ducking and taking cover, and possibly returning fire while taking hits yourself, you are not trained to face what you may have to deal with. I agree with a lot of points here, but it is not so clear cut as just saying shot placement and training. Sometimes it is the smarter fighter, not the better fighter that wins.

  96. Thanks for your nice comments everyone. I never shot anybody, hope I never have to, but – if I do – I want the biggest, baddest weapon with the most rounds I can carry, because a lot of lead is going to fly. I’m thinking M1A, but that would be kinda difficult to conceal.

  97. Interesting all. A lot of couch hero comments. It seems that if you could always guarantee a kill shot, most calibers might suffice, but since a kill shot every time is only in the movies or egos, it seems that the most trauma possible to non-vital areas should be the objective. .22 LR in an emergency, 9mm better than nothing, .357, .44, .45 all seem better choices, especially when you consider heavy clothing, shooting through obstructions, deflections etc. Just my half penny worth.

  98. OK, I need something more than ADT for home defense, so what do I select? I was thinking a double barrel 12-gauge plus a .357 revolver…
    I was mugged once, burgled twice, car vandalized and someone was killed outside my house with knife/knifes…

    1. That’s exactly what I have Art, and hard to fault. 12 gauge has plenty of ‘persuasion’, and .357 mag is my own personal favorite handgun round, and revolvers are hard to beat when reliability and ease of operation is most important.

  99. Bah.. penetration/accuracy is all that matters with underpowered weapons.
    Ball for all.. reliability, consistency, penetration.
    1911 .45 fan 230 ball..
    Now 9mm nato ball..

    Hole punching..
    http://www.thegunzone.com/quantico-wounding.html

    45×8=360
    chances for good hit 8
    double taps 4
    pc 4.2

    35×19=665
    chances for good hit 19
    double taps 9
    pc 2.5
    pcx2=5

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.45_ACP#Performance
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9%C3%9719mm_Parabellum#Performance

    Over penetration is over hyped.
    Under penetration will get you killed.

    Above article mentions exit skin=4 inches of muscle.

  100. so given the infomantion given if you have truely powerful lungs a spitwad to the heart is better than say a 44cal. that must be why police officers, who i might add have to kill criminals on a much higher occurence. that when they say we switched to larger caliber handgun for the stopping power because their 38’s or 9’s was not stopping the perpertrators, their just blowing smoke. The truth is the only reason that they ever went to smaller round is that it is easier to keep a smaller round on target, but now they are finding that larger caliber round hand guns do in fact have,”more stopping power”!! This is coming from people who have had many hours longged on the firing range!!! What it truly comes down to is if you had 1 shot to save your family, what would you want a .22lr or a sw500!!!True you may hurt or kill a family member, but what’s the alternative, lose your entire family plus your own life!!!

  101. The Newtonian fact is to have more energy a gun has to recoil more, the lighter the gun the harsher the recoil. So there is a point where a gun is unshootable. Most CCW guns are very light for comfort, but the tradeoff is less energy in the round, or more muzzle flip so slower less accurate follow up shots. With a hollowpoint all energy is passed to the target, so more energy = more damage. Carry the heaviest gun you can with the most powerful ammo you can shoot accurately, with the most rounds in the mag for multiple hits.

  102. I agree that shot placement is critical but I have read several articles that LEOs in a real fire fight hit their target about 10% of the time and my CWP Instructor agreed.As a Paramedic, I treated a perp, armed with a 12 Ga. who was shot at by 3 Officers. 2 had Glock .45GAPs and 1 had a 12 Ga. His non-fatal wounds consisted of multiple superficial buck shot wounds and 1 thru & thru slug wound to the shoulder. I feel comfortable carrying a Glock 23 with a spare Mag and firing JHPs. I practice alot including quick Mag changes. I have considered a Judge with slugs as an ankle back-up. Bottom line is: you have to have enough rounds to hit your target with some degree of stopping power.

  103. As with a hunting round, the size of the caliber is not nearly as important as where you put the bullet. The larger calibers simply give you more room for error AND more recoil to have to deal with.

  104. “Handgun Stopping Power” Evans and Sanow. It is the bible of handgun effectiveness. A good understanding of anatomy is also important.

  105. It all comes down to shot placement. I read a monograph a couple of years ago in which the author, whose name I don’t recall, spoke of the “crush zone” and the “stretch zone.” The larger the projectile, the greater the area in front of it will be crushed ,and, therefore, the more permanent damage it will do. “Stopping power” may not be the most accurate descriptive phrase, but there’s a reason special forces gravitate toward .45 ACPs and 7.62X51s rather than 9MMs and 5.56X45s.

  106. Some handgun rounds must be better at maximizing the characteristics most likely to stop an assailant than other rounds in a given caliber. So my question is where can I find information on which seems to be the most “effective” round for a given caliber bullet given appropriate shot placement. Time, finances, suitable impact medium, expertise, etc. prevent me from buying all available brands and doing my own evaluation. Somewhere somebody must have evaluated handgun ammo for LE or other purposes. Anybody know where to find that information?

  107. Pathologist $.02. In the trade, we are taught pistol stopping power is a complex function of momentum (mass X velocity ), kinetic energy ( mass X velocity-squared/2 ), bullet frontal surface area and shape, and linear-energy-transfer (let). The latter is the rate at which energy is transferred to the target.

    All else being equal, stopping power of slow heavy bullets tends to reflect momentum, as does penetration, lighter, faster ones kinetic energy. The break is somewhere around the speed of sound. The variable seems to be the rate of linear energy transfer, which becomes much higher around the speed of sound in tissue. Bullet shape also plays a role here, with wc’s having a higher Let than conicals. Highest LET are fragmenting rounds.

    As for “shock”– there are reliable reports of it. Best guess is a variation of getting the “wind knocked out of you”. This is now thought to be due to a massive neurologically-mediated simultaneous contraction of the diaphragm muscles and maybe chest muscles in response to a blow. A reflex– like when the doc hits your knee.

    In case you wondered about getting your wind knocked out— The muscles are already completely contracted, which is why you can’t draw a breath until the wave of contraction passes and the diaphragm returns to its resting state.

  108. The timing of this article is great. We were cussing this subject just last night in my back yard. I was being asked my opin on weapons of choice, caliber, etc. I am 65, retired army with LEO experience. In addition, I read military history when I was a kid. I remember from those readings why the M1911 was developed, and why the .45 was the caliber. If you don’t know, research it. I carry a .45 as my choice because of it’s “knockdown” power. When I was LEO, I carried a .357 initially because the veteran officers said that was best, primarily because it would penetrate a windshield. I found that yes it would, but on the street it oftentimes keeps on going after hitting the target. I carried a .9 mm for a very short time, and will not own one, recommend one, and I hope if I get into a shootout, my opponent is armed with a .9 mm vs my .45. I also carried a .44 magnum ( I’m in the sw, and “dirty harry” said it was the “most powerful handgun made”. Well, after loosing my hearing in my right ear, I retired it to the bottom drawer. Over all, in the majority of situations, the .45 will do the job, and not kill the little old lady sweeping off her back porch 3 blocks away. Yeah, the rifle is best, but my favorite is about 24″ long when collapsed, making it difficult to CCW. Love, peace, and vote out the usurper.

  109. If you want more insight into what this article is all about, try “Bullet Penetration+ by Duncan McPherson. It will explain, in detail (maybe more than you need) what the “one stop shot” really is. If you want a guatanteed stop shot, you’ve GOT to interrupt the central nervous system. Good over view article.

  110. Modern defensive hollow point ammunition in 9mm has close to a 90% on-shot stop incidence according to Evans and Sanow. This gives the 9mm roughly the same energy and stopping rate as .45 hardball ammo. Bullet designs and velocity can make a significant difference in performance. I just bought a Walther PPS in 9mm for summer carry. A friend of mine is a homicide detective. He carrys the same pistol. In fall and winter, I may go with my Glock 26 or Kimber Pro Carry when people start wearing coats on the theory that a plugged hollow point may not expand. In that situation, I want to make a big hole. The point is there are many variables in bullet performance and those variables must be factored in. I agree that a rifle or a shot gun are the weapons of choice if one knows he or she is going to a gun fight. Pistol rounds to not stop people unless you destroy the central nervous system. An assailant with a Kbar can be shot through the heart or aorta and still make you just as dead as he will be in six minutes. So if one is using a hand gun, one must keep shooting until the aggressor escanguinates (bleeds out) or goes into shock or cuts the central nervous system. That brings us back to shot placement and the two in the chest and one in the head drill. The only alternative is two in the chest and two in the pelvis which at least puts the assailant on the ground.

  111. So this article and comments from readers settle nothing. The jury is still out about knock down power. I am very accurate with my 9mm, but am just as accurate with my .45’s, so which to carry for self defense? HMMM. I suppose the question will never be answered between placement and bullet size as the most effective.

  112. The FBI testing after Miami was a waste. The best testing had been done over a century before. The FBI knew all this, but acted like they just discovered ballistics. The US Army before the US Civil war developed plenty of ballisitc proof. The Frech Minnie bullet was further proof. Big rounds that hit bone knock people down. Same as shrapnel. If you use a small round and hit a vital, then the effect is the same – as proven by splinter shrapnel at first and second Manasses in 1861 and 1862 and the Mexican war in 1848 and the battle of New Orleans in 1814 an the battle of Cowpens in the Amerian Revolution. The FBI had very bad trainng. They required special training to let a guy cary an S&W 59 – leadership were idiots. Army privates carried a .45 in WWI. Sgt York used it very effectively against moving enemies. The FBI knew this. None of the Miami agents were even allowed to carry a .45 But, they were not an armed force. No FBI brass were fired – they should have been. Handguns are interesting, but mostly psychological. Shot in the heart, a perp has 12 seconds to rumble. That’s 100 yeard dash time. As to flying deer shot with a 30-06, it is called reflex. They get hit, feel pain or the equivilent of a spike, and they do what comes natural to them – they jumo, flip, etc. If you fish, you have seen it from the big boys that thrash and the little boys who also thrash. A rifle shot does not lift a 160 pound whitetail into the air. The deer does it. Watch them fight – they can jump and twist. Watch them when a hound is after them – jump and twist. It’s a reflex. Bow hunters can also comment on this reflex. Horses will suddenly jump if the flies get too bad. Here is what I was taught in the military: if at all possible, call it in and let artillery destroy it or the USAF pulverize it. I agree with the author of the article; my comments about the former very poor leadership of the FBI are my own. Police brass is often concerned about image, not effective deadly force; they use stun grenades, not real grenades. Every cop who anticipates real trouble should be carrying: an AK, a metal chest protecor, a k-bar and a member of the top brass at his/her side. Nothing stops top brass from getting gunned up and going out with the troops. In duress, handguns are a last desperate measure for the law abiding. Ballistics is an ancient science. The gladius had 16 inches of pentration and left a large, permanent wound cavity. A fast moving Roman controlled that 24 foot circle, himself at the center, or his 3 feet in line. It is about training. Best regards.

  113. Great article. I’ve been carrying for many years, and try to obtain new info on what’s best to carry. Every situation is different and what might be best in one might be worst in the other (situation). I carry either my 1991-a1 colt .45 or (as I agree with authors who suggested carrying “the biggest load you can handle and shoot well with”) , my Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .454. It’s my belief that a 250gr rnd hitting with 1800-1900 ftlbs will certainly do some damage even if a critical area is missed. (if what it does to my wrist is any indicator). I only started CCW it for defense since becoming proficient, cause its not something you’d want in a long drawn out firefight.

  114. This article is right on target! For an even more detailed explanation of the science (not opinion) behind effective wound ballistics, check out the government research and analysis at http://www.firearmstactical.com/.

    The quick and dirty priorities of how to choose a handgun for personal defence are as follows:

    1. Choose a weapon platform that is reliable and that you can shoot accurately – if you can’t hit the target nothing else matters.
    2. Select the largest caliber that doesn’t degrade your accuracy – bigger holes in the bad guy is better than smaller holes.
    3. Select the heaviest bullet weight that doesn’t degrade your accuracy – more bullet mass means deeper penetration.
    4. Select the bullet design that has the greatest expansion that doesn’t reduce penetration to less than 12-18 inches.
    Following all of the above may only improve your odds of surviving/prevailing by 1-5% in the unlikely event that you find yourself in a self defense situation that justifies using deadly force, but if it ever happens, I want those few percentage points working in my favor, not working in favor of the bad guy.

  115. I agree that shot placement is critical, but terminal ballistics is very much varied on projectile weight, velocity, and design. Do yourself an experiment; go to the grocery store and buy a full uncooked ham. Take it to the range where they allow it and shoot a .22 into it then a .45 ACP in both HP and FMJ. You then be the judge of which causes more tissue destruction.
    A human hit with a .50 cal BMG will be in pieces no matter where they are hit. Bullet weight and velocity are the variables in terminal ballistics, more specifically, foot-lbs of energy. I shot a deer once with a 180 gr bullet (30.06) with almost 3000 ft-lbs energy and that deer spun one and a half times in the air along its head to tail axis . Field dressing it reveal no heart and some lung tissue. Proof that caliber is vital.

  116. It’s the momentum (mass times velocity) of the bullet that is equal to the momentum of the recoiling gun. Energy (1/2 mass times velocity squared) is much greater for the projectile than for the firearm.

  117. Good article. I would add one more point in caliber selection ~ for the fight in the courts afterwards. Shoot whatever local LEOs shoot. The local load may not be “the biggest, baddest, or best” round for defense, but…It is the most easily defensible in front of a jury. Disarm the prosecution who wants to depict you as some “overzealous gun-nut.”

  118. I am a retired CSI and street cop, with military experience at the pointy end, and currently police advisor in Afghanistan. Every autopsy I ever assisted and crime scene I worked confirms your arguments. I have victims who survived .45ACP multiple shots, including a final execution style shortrange head shot, and other victims who went down instantly and permanently from a single shot, even a .25Auto in two different cases. Shot placement is everything, until you get into exploding artillery shells. Given what I’ve experienced, I’ve (when I have a choice, right now the ’employer’ mandates Beretta 92 and M-4 clone, both with hardball ammo) opted for a Glock 26 with 147gr. premium hollowpoints. The ammo worked every time I observed it in use or investigated the results. Usual expansion equal to .45 HP, controlable and accurate, more shots per given bulk; I shoot Glocks better than other guns. And I carry at least one extra magazine. And I carry a knife.

  119. 9mm with Remington HD Ultra hp’s or Hornady XTP’s. 38 special +P Remington HD Ultra hp’s. and .380 Hornady Critical Defense. All at the same time. Remember in the article where he mentioned continuing the life and death struggle after the gun is empty? I pull out another one.

  120. Excellent article that should be mandatory reading for CC practitioners. A human body hit by a 12 gauge slug or a .30-06 is not knocked down. The direction they fall, if properly hit, depends on their point of balance and body momentum. Movies and TV have created dangerous scenarios in the mind of too many people. Bullet placement is far more important than power. On top of which, too many people carry powerful pistols they cannot shoot accurately. They would be better off with a .22 LR that they could place shots with precision. FBI agents that could not control and did not enjoy shooting the .357 Magnum carried revolvers loaded with .38 Special. Same scenario cropped up with 10mm semi automatics. Too many agents (even a larger percentage) could not shoot the even more powerful pistol. This gave birth to low power loadings which led to the .40 S&W which is so popular. A well known LE Officer wore his gun belt to a social gathering and a lady asked him, Sheriff, Are you expecting trouble? No mamn, If I was expecting trouble, I would have brought my rifle. That just about says it all. The rifle give you “extra range” because you can place shots accurately at a greater distance than with a pistol. Western Lawmen carried pistol caliber carbines and rifles for that exact purpose.

  121. It gets back to newtonian physics. A larger bullet has greater mass. In general, mass x force = energy. Therefore, a slower moving big slug carries more energy than a slow moving small slug. Plus a heavier mass would have greater inertia and therefore penetrate more.

  122. I’m still a little confused.a heavier grain bullet will have more impact,but less velocity.which will have less penetration,some one help me on this.I practice with 220 gr fun 45 auto,I carry 165 gr jhp .am I defeating the purpose?

  123. Mike, of course it’ long. I’m an attorney with an English degree! But seriously, length of a post depends on the reading ability of the audience and whether it catches thier interest. This is an intelligent and committed bunch with more than a passing interest on the subject of staying alive.

  124. El Duderino– there are some good sources for info on the Miami Firefight you can find through google, as well as a Youtube video from an old documentary which depicts it with good realism. Michael Platt is a good example of the role mindset plays in survivability– he was shot 12 times, including multiple shotgun hits, before he finally expired. I agree that the FBI should have brought carbines and I think they underestimated the threat level that day.

    Jeremy Black– a Facebook commenter posted that his .40S&W delivers 400 foot pounds of torque and there’s no way he gets that much recoil through his hands, so Newton’s Law obviously does not apply. Newtons’s law doesn’t apply to handguns! Amazing the things we learn on Facebook!

    Sivispace–Article is already too long. Analytics shows that the vast majority of readers don’t make it past the first paragraph of anything they read online anyway. I think maybe we should start putting ritalin in the water supply. Anyway I completely agree with your comments.

  125. Having been an Army Combat Medic in DS, and a Paramedic for over 20 years in a major city, I have treated 100’s and 100’s of gunshot wounds. I have seen all manner of caliber injuries in both the living and the dead. Caliber means nothing, location means everything! a hit to the cranial occular cavity will put down an attacker with a .22 or a 44 magnum. Hits to any other organs besides the brain require time for blood loss or delfation of lungs, or emotional shock and concious choice of the person to give up, or flee,(psychological knockdown). Dont listen to hype about caliber or gun models, pick the one your most accurate with, have perfect control with and practice regulary.

  126. Great article! The author touches on shooting accuracy but space constraints probably didn’t allow for further exposition. One big issue concerning stopping power is accurate shot placement. High center of mass is the best area to do damage and to hit under stress. I guarantee that a hit bisecting the Aorta would lead to rapid incapacitation pretty darned fast whether it was hit by a .25 acp or a .44 magnum. It all comes down to rapid exsanguination or blood loss. The brain needs oxygen and the blood carries that oxygen. Similarly, a lung shot is fairly rapid in stopping violent behavior. The subject starts coughing up blood and a clean shot through a lung can cause it to collapse and become a sucking chest wound. Below that is the abdomen, kidneys and spleen. These generally do not take a person out of the fight in the short term. Fortunately in the same neighborhood is the pelvis. The pelvis is the suspension of the human body. Put a round through there, the assailant will collapse. He may still feel like fighting but he will be anchored to the ground and unable to move. Of course a head shot ordinary ends a fight as does any Central nervous system hit. However, these are areas that are harder to hit in a gunfight. There is a time and place for them but when you are being shot at and your adrenalin has reduced you to a shaking part blind and deaf blob, go with the percentages and shoot for the high center of mass and pray your hollow point ammunition expands.

  127. Very good article. So nice to see the application of physics in order to dispel both hype and rumors. In considering the quantitative energy produced on the firing end of the equation, one must also consider that the energy that is egual and opposite the energy of the bullet in motion includes both the felt recoil and the energy released by the muzzle blast. Though not highly significant, the energy released during the muzzle blast is energy that counters the down range energy of the bullet.

  128. I used to stress about bullet caliber and make/model…don’t even want to recall the number of hours I spend “researching” and nuking out the details. But then one day, I came across a story of a female dropping dead a 250 lb perp with a .22 to the chest. Now, I only concentrate on shot placement.

  129. A handgun is good for fighting your way to your rifle. Most carry handguns for concealability, but reality says that a rifle is better. And a slug in a shotgun is effective to 100 yards, so if you use a shotgun, know how to change ammo so you can slip a slug in when needed for longer range.

    Of course people are killed with .22’s all the time too.

  130. Informative article. Thank you for your honesty. I buy JHPs for all of my guns (.22, .380, 9mm, .40, .45 and .44 Mag) for their “knock down power”. Sounds like I need to investigate my ballistics and evaluate my choice of bullets.

  131. Great article, I agree shot placement is always the key, like they say in real-estate location, location, location. So train often, train with what you carry and with what you load or shoot. Don’t train with 38 loads and carry .357mag, under stress you will be the one missing the location, location, location.

  132. Good article that hopefully dispels with any of the ridiculous “knock-down” power assertions that may be out there. My CCW is a P11 loaded with Hornady’s new Critical Duty .135gr 9mm ammo of which ‘my research’ has shown to be a very effective round for SD. That being said, shot placement is about all we can train for and after that we simply hope that the bad guy is incapacitated in some way and no longer presents a threat to our safety. Suffice it to say, I am not going to be looking for the assailant to go flying ten feet backwards after he is shot.

    -Cheers

  133. You referenced the Miami shootout. Both perps were only stopped when hit in the spinal cord. The FBI agents were firing .38 Special +Ps, 9mms, and 12g buckshot beyond effective range. They figured they needed penetration b/c you have to go through the body to get to the spinal cord and still have enough energy to damage it. If the FBI agents had brought M16s or even Mini-14s like one of the perps had, it would have been a much shorter gunfight. This too is why most law enforcement agencies have dumped shotguns for rifles, greater effective range, accuracy, and penetration.

  134. Govt. model 1911 .45 with 230gr ball ammo. There are a lot of great rounds out there on the market but the 1911 with ball served me well in the service and I stick with it.

  135. The .45 is my choice. The DPX is my choice ammo for all my handguns. The 9mm DPX expands more that mostly all of the hallow-point .45’s out there.

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