“What is the best caliber for self-defense?”

It is very important to evaluate and use the appropriate bullet weight or grain for the purpose and application of your particular pistol

Many factors and the interrelationships of bullet grain, muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, penetration, expansion, recoil, and terminal ballistics for any specific load and handgun affect a shooter’s results and accuracy

A grain (gr) is the basic trojan weight measurement of bullet mass

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

The grain on the ammo box is often misinterpreted as gunpowder measurement, when it really just means the weight of the bullet

A bullet weighs 1/7000 of a pound or 1/4375 of an ounce

So a 124 grain bullet is 028 oz

A typical pistol ammo box will list the caliber number, then the grain, and sometimes the muzzle velocity with the foot-pounds of energy

Some 9mm Self Defense Bullets, Muzzle Velocity and Muzzle Energy

The amount of ammunition you choose has a significant impact on many factors, so choose your pellet and its performance carefully

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

Comparing 9mm JHP bullets from any two given manufacturers can differ significantly in terms of muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, and even accuracy

Tip: It’s best to experiment with different loads and grain weights for the particular handgun, its characteristics, and your particular marksmanship and personal characteristics

See the chart below for the various typical grain weights, expected muzzle velocities and energies of various 9mm JHP rounds compared to a common Frangible round

Also note the comparison of different types of Sig Sauer JHP 9mm bullets varying in grain sizes from 115, 124, 124+P and 147 grains

9 mm ammunition type and pellet 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 Protection 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 goals with different bullet eyes

The shooter must know its primary purpose, use, or application in shooting, such as concealed carry, home defense, long range shooting, hunting, or other personal protection

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

Understanding each projectile’s bullet grain, muzzle velocity and muzzle energy, and tailoring it to each shooter’s characteristics and preferences will lead to optimal results

There are many factors to consider when evaluating balls and mixing all the variables to get the best hits and overall results

Factors to consider when evaluating all self defense bullets

Some factors to consider for your specific use and projectile weight expectations:

Of course, competition shooting and precision hitting are different from the ranged fun and quick hitting of self-defense in melee

The considerations for game hunting at 100 yards are different than personal protection at five yards

For concealed carry and self-defense, you need to find a target at standard distances of three to seven yards to stop the threat

Shooting skills and variables: Hand strength, grip used, characteristics

My personal comparisons between light and heavy grain bullets

Lighter projectiles strike from below at close range

In most of my 9mm handguns, I have found that lighter bullets such as normal and high pressure +p loaded 115 rounds travel faster, are flatter, and generally hit the target lower at close range under 25 yards

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

Heavier bullets hit higher at close range

On the other hand, with my and the specific 9mm rounds and ammo I’ve used, I’ve found that heavier bullets such as 124, 124+p, and 147 grains travel slightly slower, stay on their flat trajectory for a shorter period of time, and then start dropping , but usually only hit the target higher at close range, under 25 yards

At a certain time and distance along the trajectory, the heavy balls fall below the lighter ones, mainly due to differences in the trajectories

The bullet’s trajectory as it leaves the barrel of the gun forms a parabola that intersects the points along the line of sight twice

In self-defense at seven to ten yards, the heavier bullet will still rise above the pre-fire sight and will hit higher than a lighter and faster bullet that later left the barrel in the muzzle arc and remains stability for distance

At greater distances, say 50 yards or more, the heavier bullet has passed through the midpoint of its arc, then falls faster due to gravity than the lighter bullet, and then hits the target lower

For me and my 9mm handgun, my physical limitations and most specialty lighter manufacturers’ bullets, I found less force on target and felt more “recoil” from the lighter bullets

Lighter cartridges have less penetrating energy, and the energy affects actual handgun recoil, which is different from an individual’s “perceived” recoil

Again, there are many variables that affect this, so you may want to try different bullet weights in your gun based on your shooting skills, characteristics, medical limitations, and use at different distances

For self-defense, shoot your own 9mm handgun with 115 grain and 147 grain bullets up to 25 yards, just in case you find, as I did, that the heavier 147 grain bullet hits the target higher almost every time

Conclusions about heavy grain and light grain bullets

There is no doubt that the type of handgun in question, the weight and caliber of the bullet used, the distance to the target, the target and the shooter’s abilities are significant factors in the selection of self-defense ammunition

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

Try different weights of bullets and types of ammunition in your specific self-defense weapons and draw your own conclusions about the cartridges to use before you accidentally use your weapon for personal defense

Tip: Probably the most important reason to choose a heavier and larger bullet for self-defense and threat stopping is the increased energy and power at the target, which improves terminal ballistics, including accuracy, penetration, and range

But get the correct bullet weight for your needs and the gun

Bullet pellets and types used by the author for self-defense

Among other things, I use these bullets and weights, velocities and energies (not in particular preference) for my 9mm self-defense handguns

Because of the inconsistencies in the muzzle velocities and energies of different bullet pellets, it is important to match them up and practice with your specific self-defense handgun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success in making your own conclusions and decisions about bullet weight for your specific goals, weapons and characteristics

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

The advantage of lighter grain bullets is speed and straight, short-range trajectories, they are less stable at longer distances, less general expansion and penetration, and the time spent in the barrel is reduced due to the increased speed

Lighter grain bullets have less penetrating energy and power when they hit the target, are affected by wind gusts, generally have less overall actual gun recoil than heavier loads, hit the target lower at near parabola ranges, and tend to have sharper recoil

Heavier grain bullets have the advantage of higher power and penetrating energy, greater flight stability at greater distances from the weight, and better expansion and penetration (such as better threat stopping and more humane kills for the hunter at long range)

Heavier pellets are less wind resistant, slightly more accurate and generally more penetrating at shorter distances, slower, and have more effective gun recoil depending on the manufacturer’s higher load

* This personal opinion article is for general informational 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 instructor for proper instruction on shooting and firearms use and self-defense , and concealed carry

Tags: bullet eye

Scroll to Top