Stopping Power: Do You Really Need a Large Caliber?

One of my main reasons I started “Heels and Handguns” is to document new things I learn and to share what I learn with others so we can increase our collective knowledge about firearms and other interesting topics. When I went to buy my first pistol (mostly for home protection) I was advised over and over to get something with good “stopping power”. I am in the Navy, a very male dominated group, even today (although it grows more diverse every year). Several of my buddies told me to get at least a 9mm, and my most trusted gun advisor told me, “You need a .45 – for knock down power alone.” When it came down to it, I bought an XD45, and never regretted it. When I pull the trigger, I can feel the power, it has a kick and I have no doubt it will take a guy down if the time comes. I also know that there are some people, kids and ladies who might be intimidated by a firearm and might think a .45 is a bit much. For those people, I usually tell them to try a .40 or a 9mm or various other similar sized rounds I never tell them to get a .22 for home protection, although they are cheap and fun to take to the range.

That was until…  I heard an episode of my favorite podcast, The Survival Podcast (one of the best all around survival education resources). The premise of this podcast (by Jack Spirko) is not only surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, but mainly just living well and surviving day to day in an ever changing world.

In episode 855, he gave a very detailed talk (geared toward the beginner shooter) about caliber, gauge, ballistic coefficient, and other terms described in a very practical way.  All this was very interesting, and while I already knew a lot of what he said, I did learn things I had wondered about but hadn’t yet fully understood.  The part that made me pull my car over and start taking notes (ahhh…. the life of a blogger) was when he quoted a non-scientific study done by Buckeye Farms association.  It was called “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”.  Basically, Greg Ellfritz, over a 10-year period, kept track of stopping power results from every shooting he could find. He talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot.  There is A LOT of data in his report, and you can read it here.  Jack Spirko got my attention in his podcast when he said that, according to this study, a .22 actually had a higher percentage of fatal hits than most large caliber pistol rounds.  This really got me thinking.  Listen to Jack Spirkos explanation of Greg’s data.  It is enlightening!

I am not going stop recommending a bigger caliber, but I think at the end of the day if you have any gun – it just might do the trick.  What are your thoughts on this topic?

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14 thoughts on “Stopping Power: Do You Really Need a Large Caliber?

  1. I have always liked the .22… it’s easy to find, cheap to by, and depending in the ammunition can either hit like an exploding .38 or harder.

    While I love 9’s, the .40 & .45 are to much on my hands…

    So I”m glad to see this posted by someone else!

  2. Sara, I agree – there is so much to love about a .22. I love my 45, but after putting a few magazines through it, I really start to feel like I am “working”. And, when I have to go buy ammo – it REALLY kills me. I guess that settles it, more small caliber shooting for me too!

  3. This was a good article. I’m glad you have started this site. I like to promote it and am very pro 2nd Amendment. I encourage my female friends, as well as male to add this site to their home page. I post and share every opportunity that I get and encourage cc.

  4. One can get the “job done” with most any caliber, shot placement is everything, and if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at with a .45 it won’t help you. Home Defense Guns have been discussed to the point most anyone can, with research make an informed decision, CCW is another matter. The FBI and ammo manufactures have more data on ballistic results than one could read in a year, do a search and read the conclusions then make an informed decision on caliber vs bullet weight vs bullet speed.

    I can’t disagree that a 22lr has killed a lot of people, I do wonder though about its ability to STOP an attack. The bad guy may die but is that before or after the crime? I’ve shot a LOT of animals with 22lr using very accurate/modern hollow point ammunition so I can say this with some experience. You better hit where you’re aiming, if you don’t even something as small as a squirrel doesn’t die with a gut shot right away. So using it against a bad guy in a much stressed situation doesn’t seem like a good idea to me when I have different choices available. I also believe looking at what law enforcement uses isn’t always the best idea due to the other concerns they have such as over penetration, cost and availability among others (shoot through cars doors often)?

    Lil Chantilly let me respectfully make a suggestion with reference to your point about the feeling of “working” after shooting a few magazines of .45. If you shooting 230 grain +P ammo thru your 45 lighten up a bit, practice with something that won’t beat you up as bad. Training at the range with your primary Home Defense gun is an EXCELLET idea but not if it induces pain and suffering (FLINCH)! Try something milder in the 185 grain range while you practice all the while using the same gun you may one day depend on. It is also VERY important to run some of your Home Defense rounds thru your pistol while practicing to ensure reliability with that ammo.

    Imagine this (just for fun) You’re walking thru the very thick woods, when out of nowhere a BEAR, WOLF, COUGER , BAD GUY comes charging at you from about 10yds (ok make it 15)!!! You have to draw your weapon, establish some degree of stability, establish your point of aim and fire your weapon. How much time you have depends on how quickly you can get the other details done. Maybe one shot with a big heavy 44mag is the answer or three with a short fast 9mm you get to choose what’s best for you (choose wisely). One other detail that’s worth thinking about is…..What if you miss?

    There is a popular saying, “A modern 9mm hollow point may open up to the size of a .45, but a .45 hollow point doesn’t get smaller”.

    1. I like everything you’ve said here but the part about the squirrel. My granny told me if you can’t hit a squirrel in the head don’t bother shooting at it cause there won’t be anything left to eat.

      Just sayin’ 😉

  5. Loved your post! I, too, listen to The Survival Podcast and have this queued up for later on tonight. While I do fall into “the larger the caliber the better” mindset, I always go back to my .22 when I work on my form, getting myself back to basics. A .22 may be enough of a deterrent during a home invasion (considering the sit) for some, but I feel safer with my CZ-75b in 9mm. 🙂

  6. I have studied pistol ammo for about 27 years…. I’ve trained 5 cops who’ve been in gunfights and a few soldiers. All the “modern” defense pistol ammo works very well. What counts is placing it where it needs to go. There is no commonly used pistol round that will guarantee a one shot stop (you need a shotgun or rifle for that). But what’s important is to have a gun with you when you need it.
    If packing a .45 just won’t work, them bring what you can.
    the fatal .22 shots are most often done with rifles…which are easier to aim.
    A Ruger 10-22 might be more effective with a calm good shot, than a .45 in the hands of somebody who’s freaking out and misses.

  7. I usually recommend a .22lr to anyone who is a beginner and for everyone who doesn’t have a good knowledge base with firearms or who are small, weak, or scared of larger calibers. Always say sticking cold steel in someones face they’re not gonna be looking at the muzzle size. Better a .22 you’re comfortable and confident with than a .45 that you’re scared to pull the trigger.

    1. it occurred to me to mention that despite our smaller bone and muscle mass/volume measurements, women do have better fine motor skills… which makes aim a little easier to learn.

  8. i agree with dr. martin facklers opinion. he says shots have reach vital areas to work and to do that they need to penetrate deep enough to reach them. next most important factor is bore size.

    1. Will, i f I understand you, you are saying that for a shot to reach a vital area, it needs to have enough of a load behind it, and that it needs to have a big enough diameter to do damage on the way out.

      I don’t agree with you… While I think a big load and large diameter will make a “kill” shot more certain, if you can’t hit the target with a big gun, and you spend a couple of minutes recovering from the recoil, you can’t be effective at all. I’d much rather be able to hit my target consistently and quickly than depend on my ability to recover quickly from shooting a calibre that’s more than I can physically handle.

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