By Bob Walsh
(This was originally written in 2008. It has been rewritten and updated significantly since then.)
I am going to kick around a couple of things here, caliber and bullet type. I started out in Chapter 1 with the notion that the .38 Special was a reasonable self-defense caliber, especially for a newbie. I stand by that, but it isn’t the ideal choice. Trouble is, nothing else is either.
Everything in the real world is a trade-off. The most effective generally available pistol round is the .357 magnum +P+ 125 grain JHP (jacketed hollow point). It was sometimes called The Treasury Round because it was developed for the Dept. of the Treasury. It has a one-shot stop potential in real world shootings of around 95%. It also kicks like the devil and has a very nasty muzzle blast. Back in the day when the feds were moving A-bombs around in camouflage Piggly-Wiggly trucks the agents who rode guard on them were required to carry .357 magnum revolvers.
The .41 Magnum was developed as the ultimate police round. It was only available in a large frame revolver or later in a very, very large semi-automatic pistol. The 10mm auto in its original loading was very much like the original 41 magnum load. It had more energy at 100 yards than a .45 acp does at the muzzle. I went thru Massad Ayoob’s LFI I course with a Glock 10mm pistol. I didn’t know it until I showed up for the class but he said that he considered it to be pretty much the ideal police uniform duty gun.
The .45 ACP is no slouch, especially with a good bullet. The military hardball load isn’t as great as a lot of people say. New, modern hollow point designs and improvements in powder have moved this load among other pistol loads into very serious anti-personnel cartridges.
The .40 caliber and .357 SIG automatic have a lot of adherents out there. A whole lot of the police market moved into the .40 caliber, and now, with newer and better bullet designs many are moving back to the 9mm, which gives greater ammunition capacity and is easier to shoot well. The point is that there are a lot of good rounds out there but there is no absolute best round for absolutely all shooters and absolutely all situations. You want something that works for you and you have confidence in. The round and the weapon are a package deal. A round you like in a gun you can’t hide and can’t shoot well are no great bargain. That is one problem with the .357 auto, it is a very intense round and can be unpleasant to shoot.
All this being said there are some specific items you should avoid. 9mm military ball has a very high shoot-thru potential. When the NYPD first moved to 9mm they went with this round, over the strong objections of their own firearms people. In the first year they had several shoot-thrus, including a couple that wounded their own people. One killed an innocent bystander. NYPD quickly abandoned the hardball round and moved to a JHP round. The old .38 special RNL (round nose lead) round was in the same general category. I once took a class from the late Jim Cirillo, who was at the time the survivor or more actual police gun fights than any man living during his time with the NYPD stakeout squad. Back in those days he and his partner shot a BIG bad guy, 6-2, 300 pounds, eleven times in the face and neck with the old RNL load. They guy walked to the ambulance, though they had to help him up. None of the bullets penetrated his skull.
There has been a lot of research done into terminal ballistics over the years, a lot of it by the feds. They have come to the conclusion that shot placement in criteria #1 and adequate penetration is criteria #2. Ideally you want 10-12 inches of penetration in ballistic gel. While bullet expansion is nice you should not depend on it happening at handgun velocities. (Bullets are getting much better and more reliable in design these days.) You can argue until the cows come home about which load and which bullet is best. Under the right circumstances almost anything will do the job. Under the wrong circumstances pretty much nothing works. If you miss, no bullet is good.
Another thing you want to do is rotate your carry ammo. You should shoot it up at least once a year. If you carry a lot outdoors in poor weather more often is advisable. Good ammo isn’t cheap but if you pull the trigger and nothing goes bang that is not good either.
I am not a fan of carrying handloads. Most jury members will not be shooters. Most shooters are not handloaders. It would not be that difficult for a devious lawyer or a gunhating D.A. to make you out to be a dangerous nut who was just itching to try out his home loads on some poor innocent person who just happened to cross your path. In addition commercial ammo has a known powder dispersal pattern. It can be determined with fair accuracy how far away you were when you were forced to fire. Your own ammo is not going to be reliably helpful in that regard. It is just one less thing to throw into the mix if things go sideways.
NEXT TIME: Breaking in a new gun.