The smallest caliber on earth is the one in your hands when you’re being attacked.
The biggest caliber on earth is the one in the bad guy’s hands when you’re being attacked.
What caliber has good stopping power? The answer is that 100 Caliber is good for stopping power and a rocket-grenade launcher is not too shabby either.
The best caliber is the one you will carry with you. If a full-sized 1911 .45 caliber sidearm is too much to lug with you everywhere, then you will go places without it. And the way the world’s chaotic randomness seems to work, you will have left that beautiful 45 caliber home the day the baddies hold up Starbucks with you in the path of the cash register.
So the most reasonable answer is this: The best caliber is the largest one you will consistently carry.
What About the Little .380?
Well, James Bond carries a Walther PPK which shoots .380. Who are we to argue with 007?
People often ask me about which caliber they should carry. The first rule of a gun fight is always have a gun! That is why owning a gun that is too large for you to have with you at all times is ridiculous. Carry the largest caliber you will carry consistently. If that is a .22, or .380, or .38 Special, or 9mm, or .40, or .45, then great — carry that!
Many myths abound about caliber and stopping power. Most are just myths. Nobody would dare say a 9mm has greater stopping power than a .45 and yet many have been shot with a .45 and were hardly fazed and many have been shot with 9’s whose heart beat lasted less than a half second afterward.
A .22 right between the eyes turns off the lights far faster than a .50 caliber to the stomach.
I would rather be missed by a .45 than hit by a .22!
After the first rule — always have a gun — the answer for you is truly what are you comfortable with? A .380 has more recoil (“kick”) than a .45 shot out of a full-sized 1911. Can you handle the recoil? Do you have problems with one or more hands or arms that might make a difference?
In other words, there is no best caliber for everybody. And the larger caliber does not mean better. It all depends. So do what is best for you and when you do that you will have the best caliber for you. Stop getting caught up with caliber; get on the range and start practicing with whatever you have to carry.
The Arguments Will Continue If I Have My Way
One reason I am asked about caliber a lot is because I make fun of 9mms. I like to go around repeating things I’ve heard and sayings I’ve made up such as, “A 9mm is well and good until somebody loses an eye,” or “A 9mm is fine as long as you’re not trying to shatter glass or shoot through cloth.”
I’m a .45 bigot and I used to carry a .50. I like to tell people, “It doesn’t matter what caliber you carry as long as it begins with a 4.”
But I like to kick beehives as I walk by just to keep things stirred up too. When I’m having fun dissing “small” calibers it’s just to keep things stirred up.
And 9mm is my biggest joke target. (And .223’s, aka 5.56, the rifle caliber most-loved by foreign enemies of the United States. I’ll let you figure out why that is funny unless you own an AR-15.)
My Biggest Kept Secret
The biggest secret on earth (don’t tell anybody) is that I bought a 9mm for my wife to carry! I trust 9mm to be enough protect her.
The man I’ve learned most about guns from on earth, Gabe Suarez, carries only a 9mm. If it’s good enough for Gabe Suarez then I can’t say too much against it.
I prefer a .45 because of the low recoil and the huge stopping power, but especially in the hot summers of Oklahoma concealing a huge .45 isn’t the easiest thing in the world. And yet, some drugged-up baddies can go a long time after being shot by anything less than a .40. Running at you with a knife, for example, inertia will keep many of them running towards you after you’ve put lots of shots through them. Very few can run towards you after a .45 round or two… and yet…
More and more baddies wear bullet-proof vests in their “businesses.” Hitting someone between the eyes is all well and good until you’ve seen how difficult it is to hit a moving target. The best thing we can hope for is a chest shot — or “center of mass” as they call it — and hopefully the baddie drops or we get a chance to put one between his eyes in the old “double tap” (more accurately known as a “deliberate pair” according to the Father of Modern Defensive Pistolcraft, Jeff Cooper who founded the world-renown Gunsite).
To be sporting you should always shoot two warning shots in the chest before putting one between his eyes.
And yet, all joking aside, any shot on any given day by anybody of any caliber might have no effect, partial effect, or full effect and one cannot predict what will happen. One can only make educated decisions ahead of time.
And always bring that gun to the gun fight. Since you are probably not a prophet who can predict when you’ll find yourself in the middle of such a fight, always have your gun.
Ammunition Quality Means As Much or More than Caliber
Whatever caliber of weapon you choose, get the best ammo you can find for your gun. Find a gun shop you trust and ask them for your top options. Routinely check out the gun magazines to see what new ammo has recently been tested for self-defense effectiveness. Don’t be cheap here! Don’t worry about paying a lot for each box. Practice with a few rounds to get a feel for the ammo every once in a while.
Then get lots of cheap ammo. By “cheap” I mean buy it by the case for a good quantity discount and places such as AmmoMan.com usually has great prices and free shipping. Practice with the cheap stuff but keep a spare magazine loaded with the good stuff to carry.
Keep your carry gun clean and well-oiled (not overly oiled). This is what you protect your family with. Practice with it.
If hitting a target out to about 15—18 yards is difficult with the weapon you choose to carry (18 yards and beyond can be difficult for smaller guns), your sights might need adjusting. Also, a Crimson Trace laser sight might be your best answer. Crimson Trace laser sights allow smaller guns to hit where you aim as long as you hold steady as you press the trigger (never squeeze… press back until it fires).
Once you determine the gun you will have with you and can shoot best, and once you get high-quality ammunition to carry, I would not worry further about caliber.
The Every Other Bullet Trick
Consider getting both hollow point and ball ammo if both are available in a high-quality ammo you select for carrying. If you stack your magazine so that every other round is hollow and every other round is ball, you have a great set of rounds on hand for various conditions.
Depending on layering of clothing and leather outer garments, sometimes hollow-points don’t penetrate. The ball ammo doesn’t always tear up the body enough to damage and stop big or drugged-up attackers.
By using both, you get the best of both worlds as you shoot to end the attack.