Before purchasing a handgun, you should have a good understanding of what caliber would best fit your needs. Although there are as many calibers as ice cream flavors, smart caliber choices for women can be narrowed down to just a handful. We are going to focus on what I consider to be the top five:
- .22 LR
- 380 Auto (.380 ACP)
- 9 mm
- .38 special
- .45 Auto (.45 ACP)
Comprehending calibers isn’t very difficult. Do you carry a .38 special or a 9 mm? Or for you tough girls out there, maybe a .45 semi auto? Simply put, the numbers referenced refer to the caliber of the handgun. By definition, caliber is a unit of measurement that is measured in hundredths or thousandths of an inch, or in millimeters. When referring to a gun, the caliber is the approximate internal diameter of the guns barrel. I say approximate because this measurement is not always exact. A 9 mm, for example, could have a barrel diameter of a few thousandths of an inch more to accommodate the ammunition. Caliber also refers to the size of the ammunition itself. Here it measures the bullet diameter of the cartridge, which means the diameter of the projectile that leaves the barrel.
Bullet caliber is relative to handgun caliber. Just like you can’t fit a “D” battery into your tv remote, you can’t fit 9 mm ammunition into a .22. While some ammo is interchangeable, most is not. It would not be wise for you to test this out. You just need to know that if you have a 9 mm pistol, you need to buy 9 mm ammo.
And now, a little disclaimer so that any gun guru who finds my sight won’t flog me. There are a multitude of different types of ammo within each caliber. For example, I have placed an “LR” after .22 to designate that “Long Rifle” is the kind of ammo most modern .22 caliber handguns require. Yes, the ammo actually fits both rifles and pistols. And “ACP” stands for “Automatic Colt Pistol,” and is just the correct way to refer to that ammo. Even if it is not being used in a Colt.
If you are a new shooter, or have had a bad experience shooting a handgun, the .22 caliber is probably the best starting option for you. Do not dismiss it’s small size or stopping power! The .22 is a great caliber choice with which to learn proper shooting techniques! It is very accommodating to a woman’s smaller hands, and has minimal to no recoil. It is small in size, fairly easy to conceal, and the ammo is super cheap. Like 5 or 6 cents a round cheap. This is a very fun gun to shoot, and it’s accuracy is outstanding. Many people frown on the .22 as a self defense weapon, but it can take a person down just like any other gun. Shot placement is the key. You have to hit something important to drop a guy. Think between the eyes or in the heart. Even when you master the .22, and are ready to move up to a larger caliber with more stopping power, I would advise you not to to sell or trade it. Keep using it to improve your accuracy, or even better yet, take a new shooter under your wing and help eliminate her fear of guns. Or do like I do and use it as a barn pistol. With .22 shot shell ammo, it makes for an awesome barn rat and snake terminator.
380 AUTO (.380 ACP)
The 380 is known on the street as the “pocket rocket,” because this is one of the few handguns that easily fits into your pocket. A step up from the .22, this gun’s advantage lies in its very compact, thin, lightweight size. It is very unintimidating looking, has a mild but manageable recoil, and is extremely easy to conceal. It is much easier to manage than a larger caliber pistol, and when something is easy to shoot, not only will you be more inclined to shoot it but your accuracy improves. A lot of experienced shooters use this as their back up pistol. Believe it or not, people do often carry more than one gun on their body, and the 380 is an excellent choice for this. Smith and Wesson is about to come out with a new M&P Shield 380 EZ, which promises to have an easy to rack slide, easy trigger pull, and easy to load magazine. I am already a huge fan of the M&P 2.0 series, and this gun has me excited. It will be my next purchase.
The 9 mm pistol is the most popular personal defense caliber in the United States. It is carried by a sizeable majority of US police forces, and also by the FBI. It has a mild/moderate recoil, and also easily fits into a woman’s smaller hands. This is the caliber is where stopping power starts to significantly increase. Modern advancements in ammunition technology has brought this caliber a long way from where it used to be, even convincing the FBI to change from their .40 calibers back to the 9 mm. But from a woman’s perspective, the 9 mm is an impressive all around handgun that strikes a balance between manageability, recoil and stopping power. In other words, it is easy to hold, shoot, and take out the bad guy. 9 mm’s come in full, compact and micro sizes, and are fairly easy to conceal. The ammunition is also readily available and affordable. One of the great advantages of a 9 mm over other calibers is its magazine capacity. My Smith and Wesson 2.0 Compact 9 has a 15 round magazine, and I always carry two more loaded magazines with it. This gives me 45 rounds at my disposal, practically at a moments notice.
I read somewhere that a .38 special is wildly inaccurate in the hands of a new shooter. I find that is wildly inaccurate in my hands too, and I am not a new shooter. The .38 special pretty much has 5 yards to zero inches of accuracy. That basically means that if your threat is more than 15 feet away, it is most likely that you will miss. When presented in a lightweight, snub nosed frame, the recoil is not fun either. Perhaps the two hardest things to overcome with this weapon are the heavy trigger pull and the fact that it only holds 5 rounds of ammo. This means that it is harder to control and you have to manually unload and reload after firing just 5 shots. While it is light and easy to conceal, and does have real take down power, this is probably not the best choice for a novice shooter. The only reason I included it here is because so many women seem to favor this handgun. Until they shoot it. I had a student in a Basic Pistol class say the .38 special was the first pistol she ever shot. And the last. She never picked up a pistol again, until that class.
45 AUTO (.45 ACP)
While not the largest caliber made, the 45 Auto is the king of carry calibers. It is a big pistol, and challenging to conceal. It is both heavy, and loud. The recoil is manageable for most shooters, but not for all. It has limited magazine capacity, and is one of the more expensive handguns to shoot. However, even with all of this said, the 45 Auto is a great pistol for personal defense. The knockdown power and wound damage are impressive. Not only that, it is a very easy pistol to shoot, and I find mine at least to be very accurate. I did carry my 45 for years in my purse, before streamlining down to a 9 mm on my body. There is an old saying about this pistol, “the 9 mm takes your life, but the .45 takes your soul.” This is a great gun to keep by your bedside or under the seat of your car. Don’t forget to take it out for target practice, as it really is very fun to shoot!
As you can see, there are many calibers to choose from when deciding to purchase a self defense handgun. There are several more popular ones, like the .357 magnum and the .40 caliber, that I chose not to discuss today for various reasons. Not that they aren’t good choices, just probably not the best choices for novices. If you have questions on either of these, any of the above mentioned, or are considering something completely different that was not mentioned here feel free to contact me! Happy Shooting!