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Best Defense Cartridges for Self Defense; 45ACP, .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special & More

Many cartridges have over the years have seen their stint as primary personal defense cartridges. The oldest metallic cartridge weapon used and designed as defensive weapon was the S&W .22 Short. Many No.1 S&W revolvers saw yeoman’s duty as a last-ditch backup weapon during the Civil War. This diminutive round was a black powder round and delivers a 29-grain bullet at little over 1000 fps with 66 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.

Evolving Self Defensive Philosophy

It should be noted that mid to late 19th century self-defensive philosophy differs from what our current ideals for a defensive cartridge. Given the poor medical care available then you never really wanted to be shot, by anything. These ideas were initially developed during the black powder era where velocities were limited by the propellant. Designed to dissuade rather than incapacitate these low power rounds proliferated during this period. The .22 long rifle followed, and modern high velocity loadings have a reputation for incapacitation the excels the .25 Auto center fire. Standard velocity .22 long rifle is about the same velocities as the .25 Auto, with the only a theoretical advantage being the jacket bullet, giving it a slight penetration advantage over the .22 long rifle lead loading available at the turn of the 20th century.

.22 mag, .32 auto, 9mm

High Standard produced a 9-shot .22 Mag snub nose revolver called the Sentinel. The .22 mag has more muzzle energy than the .32 Automatic. The .22 Magnum pumps out 195 foot-pounds versus the .32 Auto’s 133. For a long time, the .32 Auto was a popular police round in Europe, after all Ian Flemings 007 used a Walther PP or PPK in .32 Auto.
Many believe in the US that the .380 Auto the least powered round for self-defense, another European favorite. Also know as the 9mm Kurz or 9x17mm round the 380 amounts to a short 9x19mm. The 9mm Luger or 9mm NATO is the worlds premier cartridge used in pistols and submachine guns. Even Russia has adopted the ubiquitous 9mm. Probably the base round for comparison to other rounds the 9mm Lugar is not a bad round for defense if loaded with good performing bullets. But there are others.

40 S&W & 357 SIG Ballistics

The high intensity cartridges are the 40 S&W and the 357 SIG. The 357 SIG is an attempt to put 357 Magnum performance into an auto pistol frame. A necked down 40 S&W the 357 Mags 147 grain loading is pushed to 1225 fps vs. the 140-grain bullet at 1350 fps for the 357 Magnum. The 40S&W sit between the .355-.357” 9mm/38 caliber range to the 45 ACP. It is a popular and effective high intensity round as it operates in a higher-pressure spectrum than the 9mm or 45 ACP. The more difficult for marginal shooters to qualify with it is considered a very popular law enforcement caliber. These rounds operate at higher pressures and as such many caution that longevity of the firearm will suffer.

45 ACP

The top tier is the 45 ACP. A proven manstopper and still in use by some special operators and many SWAT teams. The venerable caliber is still going strong after its civilian introduction in 1905 and military adoption in 1911 by the US Army. A military round it is a good manstopper with full jacketed military ammunition, better than the 9mm, which depends on expanding bullets for performance. 45 ACP +P cartridges push a 200 grain .454” bullet above 1050 fps.

.327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special & 357 Remington Magnum

The centerfire revolver cartridges dominant in the self-defense area are the .327 Federal Magnum, the .38 Special and the 357 Remington Magnum. Some may include the 44 Special in this arena. Compact guns in the .357” calibers to the 44 Special can be had in compact and relatively small and concealable packages. The advantage of the .32 H&R Magnum and the .327 Federal Mag is the addition of 1 round, 6 versus 5 for the .38’s. Revolvers are available in both 9mm and 45 AUTO with moon-clips as well.

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