Handgun Caliber: Which Is The Best?

I’ve talked about rifle calibers a few times, but, just in case anyone missed that, I’m not a fan of 5.56mm NATO and its civilian equivalent, .223. I’d like to see an intermediate caliber become the standard, but, until then, my vote goes for 7.62mm NATO every time. It’s heavier and generates a lot more recoil, but the effects on the target are worth it.

So I know this is going to be controversial, especially to a US audience, but I don’t feel the same way about pistols. Obviously, I’m not suggesting a .22 as an ideal handgun caliber, but is bigger always better? Not really. I don’t like the 7.62mm NATO just because it’s bigger than 5.56; I like it because it’s big enough and the smaller round isn’t. When it comes to handguns, my choice is always going to be 9mm NATO, because it’s big enough.

.45 ACPThere are definitely more powerful handgun rounds available, with the most popular for semiautomatics being the .40 Smith & Wesson. This is a derivative of the slightly older and hotter 10mm, with a slightly shortened case to prevent confusion and a reduced charge. Popularized by Glock, the caliber has been adopted by the FBI as a replacement for the problematic 10mm and is now used by the US Coast Guard in the SIG P229. It’s become popular with police departments as well. The .40 is definitely a very effective round, delivering about 10% more energy than a standard 9mm, but to be honest the difference in target effect is marginal. In exchange, you’ll usually lose about two rounds of magazine capacity. It’s a trade-off and ultimately up to you. One thing to watch out for is that the .40 does need a large feed ramp and it’s relatively prone to case ruptures. If reliability is important to you, go with the 9mm.

No doubt some of you are thinking, “Hey, isn’t the .45 ACP the most popular high-powered handgun round?” No, it isn’t. Here’s the bit that’s going to raise hackles: .45 is significantly less powerful than 9mm. Yes, it has a heavier bullet in a longer case, but it’s a low pressure round. The 9mm and .40 are both high pressure, rated up to 35,000 psi of case pressure, but .45 tops out at 21,000 psi. That’s a huge difference, and the result is much higher muzzle velocity for the smaller caliber. Military .45 ammo delivers 352 ft lb to the target; military 9mm hits it with 420 ft lb. You can get hotter .45 loads, but 9mm can be pushed much further. A really fast .45 +P+ can push past 600 ft lb, but there are 9mm loadings that get 680. It’s simple physics; a bullet half the weight only has to travel 41% faster to deliver the same energy, and 9mm usually has a velocity edge of better than 50%.

Personally, I love the M1911; it’s a beautiful design and it’s served well for over 100 years. It’s not a sensible weapon for most people though. It has a limited magazine capacity and fairly hefty recoil and, while those might be acceptable compromises if you were getting more power, they don’t make a lot of sense if you’re getting less. With a 9mm, you can carry more rounds ready to fire, you have a better chance of putting them on target and with a good JHP they’ll hit a lot harder. It’s just physics.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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