General Thoughts on Defensive Calibers

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Which is best to have “enough Blade”? That is up to YOU.

A cartridge is an effective “stopper”  if the tissue it damages as well as the panic/strike/shock it puts into your opponent causes him to stop what he is doing. If he is dead or unconscious is irreverent to the discussion. He must STOP. Whether with a sword or a pistol or even a bow and arrow, your opponent may be literally unaware he is injured due to drugs, adrenaline or rage or fear or a combo of the aforementioned. Your job as either bowman or swordsman or pistolman is to “strike” him until he stops or is so torn apart he can not act. Many people have “defeated” enemies only to have them kill in their last gasp once the defender has turned their back. Never take your eyes off your opponent and FINISH HIM.

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This entry is meant as a general overview and my impressions of current defensive calibers as they stand as of 2014 after 40 years of being a student of pistol weapons and 30 years as a WeaponsMaster. I am going to skip the “long histories” and lore of each caliber and stick to its “selling” points. Currently there are on the market some calibers that should die off (looking at you 45 GAP) and some that are only good because they copy (imperfectly I might add)  the revolver rounds that made their place famous. So I will try to limit the discussion to the handful of important ones.

The sub-9mm’s are extreme hideout guns and should barely be acknowledged for their ability to stop. While it is a truism that “every caliber can kill”, that is completely irrelevant to the discussion. Every knife can kill and every rock can kill if slammed into in the most venerable places in the human body hard enough. If the choice is a tiny, unreliable aluminum .25 automatic or the best made fighting knife, at the same weight, which would you want? The .25 isn’t going to be very intimidating nor do much damage, but you can be damn sure an Applegate/Fairbarin knife will be and it never needs reloading, never jams and is far more deadly!

The point is, when does one type of weapon become more effective than other alternatives at the same weight? When does a tiny knife become a saber? When does a rock become a bullet? If you are going to carry a weapon, what weapon will give you the greatest ability to stop the attack at a reasonable carry weight? At what point do you have enough caliber to drive even a tough man to the ground, destroy internal organs or break bones with every shot? Here are some honest answers:

9mm Parabellum:

9mm

A generally good light weapon with the right ammo. Round nose hardball FMJ has always been a poor killer and stopper. Advanced hollowpoint ammo makes it more effective. Can fail to penetrate on car steel or auto glass. Hollow points generally need to be less than 125gr to work correctly because they need speed (energy) to open up. Carry weapons in this caliber generally hold a larger number of cartridges (>10).

.357 Sig:

357sig

 

An improvement over the 9mm in reliability due to its bottle neck shape as well as increased horsepower vs the 9mm. The 125 gr load misses the point though, and that is the tragedy of the .357 Sig. It should be loaded to max pressure with the famous Remington half-jacket (or semi-jacket as the factory calls it)  bullet to mirror the famous .357 magnum load it is trying to emulate. The high pressure case construction fulfills its place as a 357 Magnum equivalent in an Auto pistol, but Ammo companies load the .357 Sig with difficult to open hollowpoints like Nosler and Hornady. The 125gr .357 Magnum load it is emulating got its reputation for opening violently inside the opponent, fragmenting and creating secondary tracks, not for “controlled expansion”. Performance of the factory round was unspectacular and even worse when it is seen that once introduced, Ammo makers gelded the round, dropping off fps in exchange for firearm life. Stupid. Some good manufactures have full pressure loads like Underwood or Winchester but you have to seek them out. Properly loaded the .357 Sig is an excellent cartridge. Choice of the Secret Service. Long barrels (5-6 inch) only make it better!

.357 Magnum:

357

 

Top revolver loading for stopping a gunfight when loaded to full pressure with a 125 grain Remington half Jacket slug (See Above picture, lower right). Developed from the original .38 Special cartridge (which is generally a 9mm in a Wheelgun; now considered obsolete or a back up weapon)  the .357 Magnum is a whole different animal. Accurate, deadly, powerful and a fantastic stopper. Holds the record for the longest distance of a man to man pistol fight at 165 yards. How can you improve on the best revolver round? Can’t do it. Saved the wheelgun from complete obsolescence. A man armed with a fine S&W or Colt .357 is Well Armed. Smith and Wesson makes an N-frame with 8 shots. Marginal for hunting deer unless used in a lever carbine and with heavier bullets. Perhaps the last of the levergun/revolver combos that still works well.

40 S&W:

40cal

A gelded 10mm AUTO. Early shooting results were so poor that the factories has been “upping” the pressure trying to get it up to a 10mm AUTO level, with some success. Lots of police departments buy them, but they are not the “phaser” they were hoped to be. More cartridges in the magazine than the .45 ACP, but less stopping power. Is that a useful tradeoff? A cartridge built to appease Affirmative Action people and it shows.

10mm AUTO:

hollow-point


Fantastic Power. Extremely effective with the following bullets. 1) Remington GS 165gr. which is a good general bullet for use for both Hunting and defense.  2) The 135gr Nosler which because of its light weight is a maximum speed bullet. 3) 175gr Winchester Silvertip which when loaded to full pressure in handload is also excellent hunting round as well as defensive bullet. This cartridge can be placed 15+ to a magazine that will fit in a man’s hand, shoots flat as a laser to 100 yards with more power at 200 yards than a 45 ACP at the muzzle. It is the finest fighting handgun/Submachinegun cartridge made. Brain child of Col. Cooper, but developed and its performance increased by Dornas and Dixon, makers of the Bren Ten pistol.

.44 Special:

44specrecov

Very fine fighting revolver round that combines large caliber, lower pressure with the complete reliability of a revolver. Can be fired in modern guns chambered for this caliber as well as weapons chambered for .44 Magnum. Accurate and a hard punch. Available in smaller frame weapons as well. A good learning round before stepping up to the Magnum version.

.41 Magnum

300px-41_Remington_Magnum_-_SP_-_2

The last of the revolver cartridges developed for police as a way to get around the general ban on .44 Magnum (as being too Politically Incorrect). Ninety percent of the power of the .44 mag and produced in the last revolver made specifically for the police (the model 58 Smith). Excellent power, limited bullet design and too much for most officers. Still hangs on as an “also ran” cartridge. No inherent negatives, other than requiring discipline to master the power, it was just bad luck for it to be the last police revolver cartridge to be developed at the beginning of the semiauto revolution.

.44 Remington Magnum

44magmf1dirty harry

The most powerful revolver cartridge in general use. Wide spread bullet weights and construction coupled with its power has allowed the .44 magnum to take every game animal in the World. Mixed with violently opening hollowpoints, the .44 magnum is the top defense cartridge that takes a lifetime to master. Any more pure horsepower than this cartridge is a waste, as you are blowing through the opponent, wasting energy on the landscape. Its complete awe in defense circles is illustrated by the movie “Dirty Harry” with the famous “Did I fire Six shots or only five?”. One shot does matter.

.45 ACP:

P1000747

 

.45 caliber  “Automatic Colt Pistol”. Excellent cartridge for taking down a man. Slow and heavy bullet hits and hurts. Huge database of shooting show it just plain works in a full sized weapon. Hollow points work if moving fast enough or are soft enough, but tend not to open in small, short barreled guns or at long range because just not enough speed. Several makers use “trick” hollowpoint designs to get the .45 ACP design to work, but that masks the problem. Gun of choice with this round is the full size 1911. Years of research and testing and design changes have made the 1911 truly a great and reliable weapon.

.45 Colt:

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Surprisingly, this old war horse (meant respectfully) is still around, though the weapon everyone uses (The 5 shot Taurus Judge) is poor. If you are going to go big, go with a Smith and Wesson mod. 25-5 in .45 Colt and get the best of both Companies. Rimmed cartridge from the 1880’s, but always known as a very effective stopper. Large size of case but low pressure reflects black powder origins. Comments about big heavy bullets apply here as well as the 45 ACP and the .44 Special.

 

End Notes:

That’s the list of the most useful ones. The .454 /.500 S&W, .50 G.I. etc. and other specialty cartridges are generally too powerful in terms of recoil, requiring too much dedication for the average shooter (1000 rounds a year) to train up to this level of weapon. The smaller exotics like .38 Super, 7.62×25, and the .400 Corbon, while interesting, are fading into history.

To stop reliability inside a human, the more powerful cartridges must be tailored with middle to low-weight violently opening hollowpoints to work on the human body and not pass through. The heavier weights simply punch through, thus carrying the discussion into the realm of Hunting cartridges. Doesn’t mean an expert gunfighter is “overarmed” with powerful cartridges, it just means he has to load his weapon properly to try to make sure the energy goes into his opponent, not on the distant landscape. Remember that practically every pistol round is weaker than even a small rifle round and of all the personal weapons, the pistol is the most difficult to use with accuracy.

ALL ITEMS DESCRIBED and their sources will be placed o a “Sources” page so that “Anduril” can be duplicated.

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