Personal Defense

Wound Potential Over Capacity — Hits and Bullets Matter

Chiappa .357 Magnum revolver on an orange silhouette target

Many shooters have come to regard ammunition capacity as more important than wound potential. While a reserve of ammunition is a good idea, a fast and hard hit is more important. Any boxer will tell you that a number of light blows do not equal one heavy blow. Let’s look at some of my experiences and what led me to this conclusion.

The attitude of many shooters is to look down on the pistols that do not have a fat, double-column magazine. Recently, I was enjoying firing two vintage handguns at the indoor range. Each was about 50 years old. I was really putting my foot down with the 9mm pistol and tearing out the X-ring at 25 yards.

Smith and Wesson Shield EZ pistol on a pink silhouette target
Among the best-balanced, fast handling, and overall well-designed handguns is the Smith and Wesson Shield EZ. The magazine holds eight rounds of 9mm. There is a new version that holds 10 rounds of .30 Super Carry.

The fellow in the adjoining stall asked what I was firing. I showed him a full-size single column magazine 9mm, the Smith and Wesson 39-2. He seemed surprised to see this handgun doing so well. On the bench was a Llama Martial revolver in .38 Special. Not state of the art and not high capacity but each is very easy to shoot well.

The budget is sometimes close to the bone, but I own several modern high-capacity pistols. I simply enjoy good reliable firearms and don’t consider high capacity to be the overwhelming attribute of a defensive firearm. Some very good handguns are overlooked and passed over because they do not have 15 rounds in the magazine or cylinder.

My preferred carry gun is a Commander-type 1911 .45. It feels right under the jacket and is easily concealed but chambers a cartridge with proven wound potential. High probability is high.

Some feel that low-capacity handguns are somehow inferior to other pistols. Most modern high-capacity pistols are efficient and reliable. A young shooter may think the double-action revolver is as outdated as an old west gun.

I don’t think a trained shooter is at the disadvantage some would have us think. That is, if the shooter has trained for a realistic scenario with the revolver. Training is the key. Some folks train in a way that sets them up for a lot of misses.

Kimber 1911 handgun with a leather magazine carrier for two mags
If you are concerned with a running gun battle — a very rare occurrence — carry spare ammunition!

Proper Training

Training that includes hosing the target down is bankrupt. The first two or three shots will decide the gunfight. Missing a lot isn’t an option. Morally and legally, you need to solve the problem with a minimum of well-placed shots.

I have strong opinions I regard as conclusions when it comes to personal defense. Many writers stay neutral — that is the safe route — and only provide data in a report. That’s fine as far as it goes, especially if we are talking about bird hunting, game shooting, or target shooting.

Did the firearm function? How was recoil? Was it as accurate as expected? Context is important. What will the handgun be used for? It is a house gun, range gun, or a carry gun. Handguns are defensive and reactive firearms, not offensive firearms.

Bob Campbell shooting semi-automatic handgun at an outdoor range
A 9mm handgun is easy to control with practice and may offer good hit probability. But don’t rely on high capacity to solve the problem. Rely on marksmanship.

I have mentioned poor training often. Repetition is good. Drawing, firing, and hitting the target is important. I don’t recommend drawing and emptying the magazine into the target. Drawing, firing two to three rounds, re-holstering, and then repeating the drill is more important.

Boring? If you think so, then your training is just a game. It takes time and work to become proficient. Bankrupt training and practice lead to a false impression of what is needed.

Shooting a lot is enjoyable. It is fun to fire quickly and get hits. It teaches recovery and recoil control. But an accurate first shot should be our focus. We should fight a dependence on aftermarket triggers and optical sights that are not service grade. The handgun should be well balanced. If it is too large, it will not be carried. If it is too light, we will not perform will with it.

Two medium-sized six-shot revolvers
Among the best balanced and useful revolvers are these medium six-shot revolvers.

Handgun Selection

The gunfighter’s gun of the previous century wasn’t a high capacity 9mm. The Smith and Wesson Military and Police .38 Special got into more fights than any other handgun. The revolver may not be more reliable than a Glock, CZ, or 1911, but it is far more tolerant of poor ammunition.

With the current crop of ammunition being take what you can get, this may be important. When we are training with low bid ammunition, we need reliability. That’s not to say that a quality 1911 will not feed lead semi-wadcutter or hollow point bullets on demand. Pistols must have a properly fitted and polished feed ramp.

The handgunner should understand application and the defense mission. At the short ranges — usually encountered in a defensive action — a revolver is reliable and will function even when thrust into the opponent’s body and fired time after time.

The modern shooter respects high capacity over wound potential.

This may be a mistake. We should not rely on how many bullets you need to deliver but how well they are delivered. Keep your mind loaded as well as the handgun.

When it comes to power, the revolver hits hard. The .38 Special with heavy bullets far outstrips the .380 ACP handgun. The .357 Magnum, with proper loads, outperforms the 9mm or 10mm. The .45 ACP offers a good balance between control and wound potential. The .45 operates at low pressure, delivers modest muzzle flash, and offers good wound potential.

1911 Commander .45 ACP handgun cocked and locked
This Commander-size .45 offers excellent balance and wound potential for those who practice.

Personal choice and the training budget mean a great deal in handgun selection. A modern, new-in-the-box handgun, with a good warranty is always the better choice. Don’t discount the easy handling and reliability of a revolver. Don’t feel that high capacity is superior to eight or nine well delivered shots. The person behind the sights is most important.

Long Guns

America’s rifle, the AR-15, features 10, 20, or 30-round magazines. I like this very much in a long gun. On the other hand, I will not compromise reliability by adding a bulky magazine with enough rounds to finish up an Israeli police action.

As for shotguns there is little in a compromise inherent in shotgun choice. Wound potential depends on the load. However, some choose an unwieldy shotgun with no natural point. They justify their choice because they can hang detachable magazines on the shotgun.

semi-auto shotgun with black background
Shotguns still rank as a top choice for home defense. Load selection is critical. you also need to pick a firearm with a natural point of aim.

I prefer a tubular magazine that allows me to top off the magazine as needed or quickly change to slug loads.

Don’t compromise hit probability. You won’t need those extra rounds in all probability However, any time you are forced to defend yourself, even if you only need one shot, you will need to shoot straight.

Asking, which is most important capacity or shot placement, is not really a choice at all. But how many of you are guilty of carrying more rounds than you need under the guise of “capacity is paramount” as the author suggests? Alternatively, for those who operate under the credo that it is better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them, how many do you feel is enough for a pistol? Share your answer and keep the conversation going in the comment section.

  • A semi-automatic handgun and a revolver both with wood grips
  • CZ P-01 9mm handgun right profile
  • 1911 Commander .45 ACP handgun cocked and locked
  • Three Smith and Wesson J frame five-shot revolvers
  • Two medium-sized six-shot revolvers
  • Chiappa .357 Magnum revolver on an orange silhouette target
  • Bob Campbell shooting semi-automatic handgun at an outdoor range
  • Bob Campbell in a combat shooting stance aiming a snub nose revolver with a two-handed grip
  • Kimber 1911 handgun with a leather magazine carrier for two mags
  • Smith and Wesson Shield EZ pistol on a pink silhouette target

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

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

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

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

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

Books published

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

Comments (21)

  1. Bob, a good article, and as always, you have given great food for thought. I recently had a discussion with a friend concerning how many people carry hi-cap guns as well as multiple magazines for those guns. I have pointed out to many people that there are not that many police shootings where that many rounds are needed.

    When I was overseas, things were very different. There were guys who were willing to shed some other stuff in order to be able to carry enough ammo to greet any and all personnel who might try to throw us a surprise party of the ambush kind. I must admit that now, as far as the gear I carried back then, I would not be able to even shoulder that ruck, let alone the two medic bags and other extraneous items gear that might be needed when we did our little forays into the boonies for a week at a time, sometimes longer. If I were to find myself in that situation again, I probably would still feel compelled to carry that much ammo.

    But, that was almost 50 years ago. I have not had occasion to actually engage another person since that time. There were some situations where the possibility was raised but, in those cases, removing oneself from the vicinity was the most prudent thing to do.

    Being armed is a mindset more than anything else. I know a guy, another vet, who has a tee shirt that shows an AR on the front with the words, “This is a Tool.” On the back of the shirt it says, “I AM THE weapon!” And just because I am not carrying a gun on my person, does not mean I am unarmed. There are several EDC tools that stay with me wherever I go. Being completely unarmed happens only when I am in the shower or in bed. But there are a number of tools nearby and easily accessible.

    I do not carry every day because some days the risk is minimal and I will not be out and about. I am careful where I go and I pay attention to things that many people ignore. I am amazed at how many people have their face stuck into their phone and have no clue as to what is going on in their vicinity. I have tried maintain the practice of what Col. Cooper called Alertness, as well as other principles he outlined in his essays and books. I highly recommend his “Principles of Personal Defense for everyone who carries or is thinking about carrying. It will give you insight even if you do not carry every day. I started reading his stuff back in the 70’s shortly after I got out of the Army and have collected a variety of his quotes. One that I have used several variations of is “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” That can be modified to fit a variety of audiences if they are not musically inclined.

    That being said, when I carry, I only carry the magazine that is in the weapon. I have a loaded 7 round magazine and one in the chamber for all of my 1911’s. I have had people ask me why I do not carry more magazines for a reload. My usual response is I do… but, only when I am out in the woods where I am more likely to have interaction with feral NON-human critters that present themselves to me and take exception to my presence. Feral hogs are not always receptive to humans who they meet on the trail, but I have yet to see one stick around after feeling a hefty round slung in their direction. We will usually find it later in a decomposed state, frequently surrounded by vultures. There are also feral dogs out there that, being feral, have no fear of man. They learn to fear the gun, usually too late.

    I also point out that in the bulk of the literature, there are seldom more than 6 rounds expended in a gun fight. It is disturbing to me when I see people who speak of engaging a bad guy with almost an air of anticipation like it will be a good thing. The only good thing that can happen in a gun fight is the good guys are still alive and, hopefully, physically uninjured and the bad guy(s) were thwarted from their dastardly deeds. Even then, there may be unseen scars that are incurred here that may not evidence their presence until after time has passed and one has had time to analyze what went down. This takes time and they will not be as evident as soon as many people believe they should be. Being in a gunfight is not something to be lusted after, as I have heard in the voice of some who talk about it.

    If one is carrying, they should neither seek out instances to engage for the sake of engaging, nor should they shirk from responding if the call to protect oneself or others is sounded. There are too many stories of those who sought to engage others in situations where later the jury could not see what the individual claimed to have seen and deemed that time in prison was warranted. In many cases, restraint or even retreat is warranted and in those cases, retreat is not a shameful act, particularly if it prevents having a felonious assault or homicide charge being leveled.

  2. Old Fart 61– Excellent! Thanks for reading and your comments.


    A lot of comments on multiple attackers. There is a huge difference between mowing folks down and defending yourself against armed attackers. Noone is capable of a defense against six simultaneous armed attacked. You will be dead if you dont get to cover at the first sign of trouble. A well trained shooter may make a successful defense against one or two attackers. If all are similarly well trained it is cancel Christmas. Lots of doctors may repair bullet holes but no person can bring back the dead. Think ahead!

  3. “3 seconds – 3 yards – 3 rounds” Train like hell – climb up and down a flight of stairs at least 4 times or run a 25 yard shuttle at least 2 times – then shoot 3 rounds at 3 yards in 3 seconds. Doesn’t matter if it’s 22LR to a 44 magnum. If you can’t hit 2 out of 3 in an 8 inch target circle after doing the above with the gun you plan to carry then you are not training correctly.

    Defensive shooting is your last resort after failing to pay attention to a developing situation. Your goal is to get yourself and loved ones out of harms way as fast as you can. Exchanging gunfire and popping of 10 or more rounds is dangerous and you will likely find you have hit innocent bystanders instead of the BG. And you will have to live with that – if you in fact survive.

  4. Bubba statistics are used by rascals to impress fools. The 22 pistol is nearly worthless. Stopping power studies are for the most part fantasy or hoax

  5. In my mid 70’s I love my 45 single stacks and have practiced with them for years but in the past year I have grown fond of the 327 Fed. Magnum. It is to the revolver what the new 30 carry is touted to be to the auto, same bullets. All the data says the 327 will do what the 38+p and mid loaded 357 will do and I shoot it much better than either, plus it gives me 1 extra round. Six loaded and two 6 rd. stripper strips. If I can’t get it done with that I,ve wandered too far. Shoot straight, shoot often,and practice all the essentials.

  6. Unlike the police we are held accountable for every round, we don’t have district attorneys that fix things for us. 2nd Someone said U never say I brought too much ammo, just think how many BBs u can carry. Lastly I have also never heard someone say that bullet killed him too dead! Lets hope that none of us ever have to use our weapons for anything other then fun.

  7. In a firefight, no one ever said, I have too much ammo. Also, Prepare for the worst makes you prepared. I interpret both to mean (1) no one knows when, where, or how many bg’s will attack you. (2) having enough ammo to defend yourself against multiple attackers gives you a better chance at survival

    I always practice two to the chest, two to the head, pause, evaluate. Shoot again, if needed. Against one bg, that might be all I need, 4 shots. Against 3 or 4, or 6 attackers, I might need 20 to 30 rounds to survive.

    I usually carry a P365 with 12 plus 1 and a spare 12 rd mag. 25 total. I feel confident with this amount. Any more bg’s than that, and I should have evac’ed earlier on, or I am in deep, deep kimchee.

    What are the chances of being attacked by 6 bg’s? Well, what are chances of being attacked by one bg? No one knows.

  8. I carry a Springfield XD-9, 7 + 1, I always keep it chamber and I always carry 2 extra 8 round magazines. I use Hollow points in all my C/C weapons, I sometimes carry my XD45 as my primary and use the XD9 for a backup. But no matter how many you have or how much ammo you have not knowing how to use it makes it useless. Training is the key, I’m 61 years old now and train every chance I get, my whole family Conceal Carrie’s. Remember it’s a deadly tool that’s meant to save your life but it can’t do it on on.

  9. I’ve been debating the same question. I have a S&W 2″ 640, .357, several 1911’s and a Glock 43 that’s become my main carry. Bill’s spot on with the long guns. And I’m considering carrying the 640 in lieu of the 43. I’m not convinced, though, because I’ m not sure that the 2″ .357 will take advantage of the round, making it significantly more powerful than the 9mm in a 3″ barrel. The 43’s advantage is reloading and concealability. In the end, I need to get a better holster for the 640, compare hits, and time to draw and…which I’m likely to carry more often.

  10. I retired from LE, a few years ago from the Southwest. My agency allowed many different calibers, until it became too expensive to stock all that different ammo. Ended up switching to either 9mm (Smith and Wesson M&P’s) or .40 caliber (Glocks). 870’s for supervisors and AR-15’s as well.

    The SW M&P, out of the box was the choice of most officers as with me I was able to qualify without practice right out of the box, a great gun!

    The AR’s were set up with only tac lights, ecotech scopes and 30 round mags. Great thing about Ecotech’s where ever the red dot was, you were going to hit. Iron sites as a backup.

    We were always taught, one shot one kill (a training mentality from the USMC)!

  11. Not so sure about caliber size over round count. I got some stats the other day that were surprising.

    .22 one shot stopped attackers 60% whereas 9mm one shot stopped attackers 47% of the time.

    Obviously an intentional planned attack by armed attackers would suggest large caliber for home protection or zombies. But for the average angry attacker or opportunist a. 22 lr seems quite reasonable…

  12. Tonya Hurley said “Death by a thousand paper cuts.” Bella Twin killed a world record size grizzly bear in Canada with a .22 single shot rifle. Size can matter, and so can placement. This is not black and white.

  13. Sorry – I need to repeat the old line “A solid hit with a .25 ACP is better than a miss with a .45 ACP”. We have the advantage of modern bullet design/construction that has greatly improved performance. BUT – If you can’t put 5 rounds into a 4″ circle, at a distance of “X” feet, then anything you carry is not the right firearm for you. Now in my 70’s, I find that a 3″ “J” Frame model 60, with .38 spl. Critical Defense 110 grain rounds is so much easier for me to handle than “AIRWEIGHT” revolvers or any size 9mm. P.S. – Years ago I purchased a RAVEN .25 pistol and was able to hit a ~6″ balloon at distances between 35 – 40 feet consistently. Still, I rather use the Critical Defense 110 grain rounds in my all steel model 60. A solid hit with the .38 Critical Defense 110 grain is way better than a similar hit with a ,25 ACP – 50 grain FMJ. P.P.S. – Purchased my 1911 and S&W model 60 30+ years ago, and with a little TLC, they still look like new. Even with proper care, I didn’t age as well as those properly maintained firearm. DANG!

  14. We are cursed by the marxists in NYState to ten more reason to exit this state..and I’m desperately trying to do so soon-er! No surprise:we also have an excess of leftist lawyers/judges/ academia/bureaucrats/media.When this idiot state went down to ten rounds,I went up from 9mm to 45ACP in an auto,and from38Spec/357Mag to 45Colt in a revolver.

  15. imho, first n foremost SHOT PLACEMENT. If you suck, that’s what high cap is for. If you need 10+ rounds for many perps, you’re in really deep shit. W that said, my preferred carry is 365XL. It’s a tad larger than my g43, but double the capacity, so why wouldn’t I…now we’re at 13 rounds of 9mm followed by an additional mag we’re set for some fun!

  16. My only complaint with this article is the statement that the .357 is better than the 10mm. They are very similar ballistically and I think would perform similarly if used for defense.

  17. I agree with the author I tried from law enforcement in 2015 when I first started my career in 1989 the standard issue was SW model 10 with 6 loaded and 2 speed loaders or speed strips depending on agency requirements. The agency i retired from issued Glock 22s and required every officer to have 45 rounds on his or her belt. we were allowed to carry personal arms but they had to be 40 sw or 45 acp the round requirement was still at least 45 rounds which meant 5 10 round mags for my 1911. This leads to a spray and pray mentality and you can see it at the range during qualifications. It’s hard to convince a young cop that is not the always the fastest shooter who wins the gun fight but the guy who can place his first rounds accurately while under fire. I have multiple firearms in my little home only 2 handguns a ruger 22 for pests and a 4 inch Dan Wesson 357. I agree on long guns the AR15 is great in a light carbine configuration don’t hang so much crap on it it’s no longer light and handy. Now for shotguns I once had an old sergeant tell me his 870 spoke a universal language. A good pump shotgun vigorously charged when heard by bad guys can deescalate many situations without even firing a shot. I like this article good and valid points.

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