Handgun Stopping Power 101.1
My previous blog was titled “Handgun Stopping Power 101.” I was able to discus several of the major variables regarding stopping power that should be considered common to all handguns. The topics that I considered for that discussion were: Target Variation, Multiple Hits, Caliber, Bullet Configuration, and Mindset & Training. Each category is a story all by itself. But for now, let’s look at caliber and their respective bullet weights that one should consider when carrying concealed. Of course you realize that what type of gun you choose or what ammo you decide to feed it, is usually based on YOUR beliefs and prejudices concerning what works and what doesn’t work for you…or worse case scenario: What your friends believe works best for you.
Here are my thoughts on the subject of bullet selection based on my personal opinions that have been perfectly aged over time.
Rim fire Ammo. If you carry a rim fire gun, your options are limited in more ways than just bullet type. My personal opinion would be to load your gun with solid points (FMJ). Why? In a word: “Penetration.” You have a better chance of having your FMJ penetrate heavy clothing and muscle if you’re going to have any chance of reaching vital organs. Soft point lead bullets (round nose) are great for targets and hollow points do a great job of dispatching small vermin; and that’s about it as far as I’m concerned. Here comes my caveat: Whether you use FMJ or HP, get a brand that launches it bullet at a minimum of 1250 f.p.s. Right now I’m looking at Winchester’s Supreme 22 LR ammo. It propels a 32 grain plated HP bullet at 1640 f.p.s.…OUCH! That hurts!
One of my favorite axioms concerning mouse guns goes like this: Any gun, in any caliber, is better than your best gun left at home. And that any gun includes the .25ACP, which IMHO is the most inefficient caliber one can use for self defense purposes-- bar none. But its still better than no gun.
.380 ACP: This caliber has become extremely popular for concealed carry. One also has to consider penetration with this caliber, since we are still working with modest velocities. Modest velocities and HP bullets do not play well together. However, with advances in metallurgy, bullet design and gun powder, all of the major ammo manufactures have developed decent HP ammo for the .380; specifically: Remington’s Golden Saber, Speer’s Gold Dot, PMC’s Starfire, Federal’s Hydra-Shok, Winchester’s SXT and Cor-Bon. For anyone out there that has been shooting handguns for more than a month, these brands have become household names.
38 Special: For conceal carry, ammo for the .38 Special will most likely be launched from a two-inch revolver--AKA a snub nose 38 or belly gun. I’m going to assume that your revolver can handle +P ammo. And yes, there is an advantage in shooting +P ammo. Namely, +P ammo is loaded to higher case pressure for increased velocity for a more consistent expansion of hollow-points.
Pressures for .38Spl. +P generate between 17,400 and 18,200 p.s.i. for a 110 grain bullet, and propels its projectile at 1337 f.p.s. Keeping everything constant, the pressure produced for a .38 Spl. will run between 16,000 to 16,500 p.s.i. at approx. 1178 f.p.s. Due to the higher pressures in +P ammo, there use should be restricted to guns rated for +P ammo.
Some alloy frame revolvers can handle these higher pressures. In doubt about how your revolver is rated? Check your gun barrel for the +P sign. If you can’t find it imprinted on your gun, than you’re gun is not rated for the higher pressure. Still not sure? Then try reading your gun owner’s manual. You did keep it, didn’t you?
In standard pressure ammo, it’s generally accepted that the 158 grain SWC cuts equally nice holes in BGs as it does in targets. Hornady offers their XTP bullets in standard and +P loadings. Both loads are excellent choices for your snub nose revolver. The bullet weights that have become the standard bearers for this caliber are as follows: 125 grain SWC or JHP, and the 1585 grain in JHP / JHP+P. Hydra-Shok +P, CCI/Blazer, Starfire, Gold Dot and Golden Saber are also brand names that you can count on to perform well, and they have been doing just that for many years. A word about bullet penetration: the FBI considers a penetration depth of 12 to 18 inches, which is approximately the depth of the human torso. Keep those numbers in mind when you read about a new super loading that boasts a penetration depth of 20+ inches. Why? Think about this scenario, especially if you live in an apartment of if you live in a house with a large family:You shoot BG. Bullet goes through BG. Bullet goes through wall. Bullet goes through neighbor or member of your family. End of ‘think.’
.357 Magnum: If you are planning on shooting one of the new “mini” lite alloy frame or polymer frame .357 Magnum revolvers with full power loads, DON”T. But if you are a masochist looking for a broken wrist, then go for it. The .357 Mag is a great caliber and man stopper when it is platformed on an all steel gun (mass to absorb recoil) with a four inch barrel (more time to burn gun powder to generate velocity). With the new lite .357Magnums, I would look for a reduced recoil load. They have become popular of late for obvious reason. Practice often with target loads to save wear and tear on your lite .357Mag. and save the heavier fodder when you’re out ‘n’ about. This is Win-Win scenario for gun and gun owner.
9MM: The 115 and 124 grain bullet are still considered the best choices for this caliber. For personal protection, I would definitely stay clear of ball ammo. It’s great for plinking and practice, but that’s about it. For personal carry, the 115 grain loading by Speer Gold Dot and Fiocchi’s XTP have received good press. In the 125 grain category we have the same players making excellent commercial loads; namely, Remington’s Golden Saber, Hornady’s FTX, Speer’s Gold Dot and Fiocchi ‘s XTP loads.
.45 Auto: In full size guns, one generally favors the 230 grain offerings by Federal’s Personal Defense HydraShoK JHP or Hornady’s 45 ACP +P. In short barreled pistols, consider Hornady’s 185grain XTP load.
Due to advances in gun powder, you can get good performance from a 200 grain bullet coming out of a short barrel, especially if you are using Cor-Bon’s JHP +P loads. Again, stay away from Ball ammo for personal defense. Fortunately Ball ammo is great for everything else.
And now for my personal opinion: Because I respect the laws of physics, it is my belief that heavier bullets traveling at slow speeds do more damage to the human body than light weight bullets traveling at faster speeds…oops, I didn’t intend to step into this theoretical quagmire, but it is, after all, my belief. However, I do try to keep my opinions well founded in fact and common sense, as opposed to hyperbole and pseudo science. Your opinions might be different than mine, and that’s fine with me. It still is a free country…for now.
I also feel well protected when carrying my S&W Model 13 in .357 Mag. or my Sig P-229 in .357 Sig. You do realize that these two calibers are so similar in terminal performance that it would be difficult for the BG to tell the difference.
Warning: The .357 Sig is carried by our very own Texas State Troopers. So if you should ever meet up with one on the highway, please smile broadly and don’t say anything stupid. OK?
The bottom line to all this is one should shoot a gun / ammo combination that you can control and then shoot it several hundred times to instill confidence in your ability to shoot it quickly and accurately. Stopping power depends on delivering multiple hits to your advisory’s vital organs in the shortest time possible. Near misses don’t count.
Shoot fast. Shoot accurately. Shoot often.
Pax vobiscum (Peace be with you.)