What is the Best Self Defense Caliber?


What is the best caliber for self-defense? This is one of the most loaded questions within the firearms community today – yes, pun intended. Highly debated, each caliber holds strong opinions from those who believe they have found the absolute answer. One inquiry with Google alone will bring forth a plethora of articles and videos containing facts and statistics supporting whichever flavor of ammunition the content creator deems best. In my own humble opinion, I believe the best caliber is whichever the individual is able to handle depending on their own personal needs and situation.

In the current age of technology and having the ability to access information within seconds there has been a shift among firearm owners over the years. That shift has taken many people from properly educating themselves, to randomly reading whatever the internet springs forth first.  We must realize that just because an article or video gets published it does not mean it is accurate information.  We need to continually vet the educational and training material we come across to really be able to make important decisions.

Choose a caliber that’s best for you.

When it comes to finding the best caliber for self-defense there is much to be considered. Rather than discuss the scientific facts that go with each caliber, I feel there are more important aspects to begin with – especially for newer gun owners. Once these aspects are established it will narrow the field of ammunition choices and hopefully spur the individual to properly educate themselves from reliable sources. This is the very heart of responsible gun ownership.

Some of the most common carry calibers are .22 LR, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and 10mm. Prior to selecting an ammunition caliber you need to establish which firearm works best for you. If you favor revolvers your ammunition selection will come down to .38 Special and/or .357 Magnum. If your revolver is chambered in .357 Magnum you can utilize both calibers, but not the other way around. Revolvers are a perfect example of the point I want to illustrate.

357 Revolvers are powerful, but may not be the best choice for you.

Some gun owners want to protect themselves but don’t regularly go to the range. For them a revolver is a best choice as it tends to be one of the simpler platforms to shoot. Most would suggest that this person use .357 Magnum as it is far more powerful. It also produces greater recoil that certain shooters cannot handle. It is the same point concerning the other calibers. The .45 ACP lovers will tell you this caliber is much better than the 9mm. .45 ACP also has more recoil, so if you are not able to handle it, or it just proves to be difficult on your hands, you are not going to enjoy shooting it. When enjoyment stops so does practice and training which leaves you unable to proficiently defend yourself.

This type of scenario can be played out multiple ways with each caliber and tons of firearms. Every individual is different physically and living in different situations. There is not “one perfect answer”. Yes, scientifically certain things have been proven with ballistic studies when it comes to velocity, penetration and cavitation, etc. – but finding the best caliber for self-defense has got to be dependent on the individual and what works best for them.

22LR is better than nothing.

I will say however, that I do not personally recommend .22 LR for an everyday carry or defensive round. Can this round be lethal? Absolutely and it has been proven time and time again. It is however a rimfire cartridge versus a centerfire cartridge. This means that the primer compound is located within the rim of the cartridge, which is why it is called “rimfire.” In a centerfire cartridge the primer compound is located within the center of the casing. The design of the .22 LR round makes it a bit more unpredictable. That said, if this is the only round you can possibly handle, it is better to have something than nothing.

The question of which caliber is best is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ammunition debates, opinions, and choices we need to make. What grain is the best? Should I use FMJ (full metal jacket) or defensive ammunition? Which ammunition creates a bigger threat for over-penetration? There are many questions and endless “subject matter experts” to provide what may or may not be correct answers. The first step is figuring out what your own individual needs and preferences are. Once that is established seek out legitimate, well-vetted professionals to help you with the rest. In all honesty, I feel that every shooters focus should be training—don’t get hung up on calibers out of the gate.  In short, if you cannot hit your threat the subject of caliber becomes a moot point. The best caliber for self-defense is simply the one you can handle the best.



Karen Hunter

By Karen Hunter
Karen is a firearms instructor, industry consultant and contributor to GetZone, Athlon Outdoors and BRCC. Follow Karen on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website at thekarenhunter.com




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