What is the best caliber for self-defense?

It is very important to check and use the correct bullet or pellet weight for your specific handgun purpose and application

Many factors and the interrelationship between bullet particle, muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, penetration, expansion, recoil, and terminal ballistics for any given load and handgun affect the results and accuracy of a shooter

A grain (gr) is a basic Troy weight measure of mass for ammunition

It is not the weight of the entire cartridge but only the projectile or bullet that leaves the barrel

The grain indicated on an ammo box is often interpreted as the measurement of gunpowder when it really only represents the weight of the bullet

A grain weight of a bullet is equal to 1/7,000th of a pound or 1/4375th of an ounce

So, a bullet weighing 124 grains is equal to 28 ounces

A typical pistol ammo box shows the caliber number followed by the grain, and sometimes the muzzle velocity with pounds of energy

Some 9mm Self-Defense Bullet Grains, Muzzle Velocities, and Muzzle Energies

The particular ammo load selected significantly affects many factors, so choose your bullet grain and its performance carefully

The 9mm Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is a common self-defense round, so I’ll focus on it

A comparison between any two given manufacturer’s 9mm JHP rounds can vary greatly in muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, and even accuracy

Tip: It is best to test different loads and grain weights for your use with your particular handgun along with its features, along with your particular shooting skills and your personal characteristics

See the chart below of the various typical particle weights of various 9mm JHP rounds, their expected muzzle velocity, and energy, compared to a standard Frangible round

Also, note the comparison of different types of Sig Sauer JHP 9mm rounds with grains varying from 115, 124, 124+P to 147 grains

9mm Ammo Type and Bullet Grain Muzzle Velocity- Ft/sec Muzzle Energy- Ft-Lbs

Sig Sauer 124+P GRAIN Elite V-Crown M17 JHP1198395

Hornady Critical Defense 124+P GRAIN  FlexLock JHP1175380

Federal Premium LE 115 GRAIN Hi-Shok JHP1160344

Hornady XTP 115 GRAIN JHP1151341

Federal Premium 124 GRAIN HST JHP1150364

Federal Premium 124 GRAIN HST JHP1150364

Federal Personal Defense Punch 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Speer Gold Dot 124 GRAIN JHP1150364

Hornady Critical Defense 115 GRAIN FTX JHP1140333

Federal Premium 135 GRAIN Hydra-Shok JHP1060337

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Sig Sauer 147 GRAIN JHP985317

Match Shooting Targets with Different Bullet Grains

The shooter must know his primary purpose, use, or application when shooting, such as concealed carry, home defense, range plinking, hunting, or other personal protection

The shooter must identify the optimal caliber for the individual’s physical characteristics, medical limitations, grip strength, comfort level of recoil feel, and other preferences

Understanding the bullet particles of specific rounds and their muzzle velocities and muzzle energies and matching them to the characteristics and preferences of each individual shooter will lead to optimal results

There are many factors to consider when evaluating ammunition and combining all the variables to achieve the best hits and overall results

Factors to Consider in the Evaluation of All Ammunition for Self-Defense

Some of the factors to consider for given use and expectations for bullet weight are:

Certainly, competition shooting and identifying target hits is different from range plinking fun and up-close combat self-defense quick target hits

Considerations for long-distance game hunting at 100 yards are different than personal protection at five yards

For concealed carry and self-defense at standard distances of three to seven yards, hits on the target to stop the threat are necessary

Shooter Skills and Variables: Hand Strength, Grip Used, Characteristics

My Personal Comparisons Between Light-Grain and Heavy-Grain Bullets

Closer Bullets Less Impact

I have found in most of my 9mm handguns that lighter bullets, eg, 115 grains with normal and high pressure +p loads, travel faster, are flatter, and generally impact on a target less than close ranges, less than 25 yards

Distance, reduced time in the barrel, stability, drop point, arc of movement, and speed are key influencing factors

Heavier Bullets Effect Higher Up Close

On the other hand, for me and my particular 9mm gun and the particular rounds used, I find that the heavier bullets, eg, 124, 124+p, and 147 grain bullets are quite slow , stay on their flat trajectory for a shorter time and then begin their descent, but generally affect the target only higher at close ranges, under 25 yards

At certain points in time and distance along the trajectory, heavy bullets will fall below lighter ones due mostly to differences in trajectories

The trajectory of a bullet as it leaves the barrel of a handgun forms a parabola that intersects the points on the line of sight twice

In self-defense at seven to ten yards, the heavier bullet still rises above the pre-ignition point of sight and will hit higher than the lighter, faster bullet, which leaves the barrel later in the arc of the muzzle flip and stay stability for distance

At longer distances, say 50 yards or more, the heavier bullet passes through the midpoint of its arc and then falls faster, in response to gravity, than the lighter bullet and then hits the a target lower

For me and my particular 9mm handgun, my physical limitations, and for most of the manufacturers’ specific lighter rounds I’ve used, I’ve found less power on target and more ” felt recoil” from lighter bullets

Lighter rounds have less energy to penetrate, and the energy affects the actual recoil of the handgun, which is different than an individual’s “perceived” recoil

Again, many variables affect this, so you should try different bullet weights in your particular firearms with your particular shooting skills, characteristics, medical limitations, and use in different distance

For self defense, shoot your particular 9mm handgun with 115 grains and with 147 grain bullets at 25 yards and less to see if you find, as I did, that the heavier 147 grain bullet hit the target higher almost every time

Conclusions About Heavy-Grain and Light-Grain Bullets

Undoubtedly, the particular type of handgun, the bullet weight and caliber used, the distance to the target, the aim in hand, and the shooter’s skills are significant factors in selecting rounds for self defense self

Consider the main advantages and disadvantages of bullet weight for yourself and your self-defense

Try different bullet weights and types of ammo in your particular self-defense firearms and draw your own conclusions about the loads to use before you casually use your firearm for personal protection

Tip: Perhaps the most important reason to choose a heavier and larger bullet for self-defense and threat termination is increased energy and power on the target, which improves terminal ballistics, including accuracy, penetration, and expansion

But get the right bullet weight for your needs and specific gun

Bullets and Types Used by the Author for Self-Defense

Other than that, I use these rounds and weights, velocities, and energies (not in any particular preference) below for my 9mm self-defense handgun

Because of the inconsistencies in muzzle velocity and energy for different bullets, it’s important to match them and practice with your specific self-defense handgun

Federal Premium HST 124 grain JHP; MV=1150 fps; ME= 364 ft-lb

Speer Gold Dot 124 grain GDHP; MV=1150 fps; ME=364 ft-lb

Speer Gold Dot 124 grain GDHP; MV=1150 fps; ME=364 ft-lb

Sig Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP; MV=1185 fps; ME= 359 ft-lb

Sig Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP; MV=1185 fps; ME= 359 ft-lb

Federal Premium Hydra Shok 135 grain JHP; MV=1060 fps; ME= 337 ft-lb

Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115 grain JHP; MV=1140 fps; ME=333 ft-lb

Good luck making your own conclusions and decisions about bullet weights for your specific purposes, handguns, and characteristics

While the following may not be best for you, here are my conclusions for myself based on my limited experiences and personal preferences for self defense with my specific handguns

Lighter grain bullets have the advantages of speed and straight short-range trajectories, with less stability at longer distances, less overall expansion and penetration, with reduced time in the barrel due to increased those speeds

Lighter grain bullets have less power and energy when they hit the target, are affected by wind gusts, generally have less actual gun recoil than heavier loads, less the impact on the target at close ranges on the parabola, which is generally faster “felt” recoil

Heavy grain bullets have the advantages of increased power and penetrating energy, greater stability in flight at longer distances from the weight, and better expansion and penetration (eg, better stop the threat and more humane killing for the hunter at long range )

Heavy grain bullets are less wind resistant, somewhat more accurate and generally more penetrating at shorter distances, slower, with more actual recoil, depending on the heavier load of the manufacturer

* This personal opinion article is intended for general information and educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek the advice of an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified firearms trainer for proper guidance on shooting and using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry

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