Monday, August 1, 2016

Larger handgun calibers: a follow-up

Last week I wrote an article titled 'In defense of larger handgun calibers'.  It attracted a fair amount of attention, and 18 comments (so far).  It also drew a few e-mails from readers, arguing for and against the points I made.  Based on that discussion, I think some aspects of the subject deserve further attention.

The first is that in some parts of the country, magazine capacities are limited by law.  In New York state (the most restrictive so far), they're technically restricted to seven rounds, although I'm informed that provision isn't being enforced at present.  Nevertheless, according to that state's SAFE Act of 2013, even larger-capacity magazines are supposed to be loaded with only seven rounds.  Colorado and New Jersey have 15-round magazine limits.  Several other states and the District of Columbia enforce a ten-round magazine limit, although some (not all) permit owners of pre-ban larger-capacity magazines to retain (but not necessarily use) them.

Even without possible legal restrictions, smaller handguns frequently have a limited magazine capacity due solely to their size.  For example, the Springfield XDS pistol in .45 ACP (my current choice for a large-caliber pocket carry pistol) holds 5 rounds in a standard magazine (probably the only practical choice for pocket carry), or 6 or 7 in an extended capacity magazine (plus one round in the chamber, of course). The 9mm. version of that pistol holds 7 rounds in a standard magazine, and 8 or 9 in an extended one.

Other smaller handguns and so-called 'pocket pistols' (e.g. the Glock models 42 and 43, Ruger LCP and LC9s, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, etc.), and standard 1911-style pistols, are also limited to ten rounds or less in their magazines.  Small revolvers (so-called 'snubnosed' models) are usually limited to 5 or 6 rounds.

Given such capacity limitations, one wants to use the most powerful round that one can control.  Each round has to work harder than it would if one had the luxury of being able to fire a lot of them without worrying about reloading.  In last week's article, I quoted Jim Higginbotham, whose rule of thumb about how many rounds it will take to stop an attacker is "2-3 hits with a .45, 4-6 with a .40, 5-8 with a 9mm".  Based on my own (much more limited) experience, I have no hesitation in agreeing with him as a general rule (although, of course, a single accurately placed - or lucky - shot from even a 'mousegun' cartridge might stop a fight at once;  however, one can't depend on that in the heat of the moment).  Given limited magazine capacity, I therefore want the biggest, most powerful cartridge I can control in rapid, aimed, accurate fire.  Under such circumstances, I'll choose .45 ACP over smaller alternatives, and .40 S&W if I can't have a .45.  In a pocket pistol, I'll select a bullet that performs best out of a short barrel, and preferably one that isn't dependent upon expansion to do its job.  (For example, in a .38 Special snubnosed revolver that's not +P rated, I prefer Buffalo Bore's hard-cast wadcutter round.)

I was initially reluctant to carry a .45 ACP pocket pistol, because when I tested some models (such as these two) I found them very awkwardly shaped and hard-recoiling (to the point of being physically painful) and difficult to shoot accurately.  However, when I tried the XDS, I found it much more ergonomic, comfortable and controllable.  After putting over a hundred rounds downrange through it, I decided the heavier bullet weight and added momentum (discussed last week) of the larger round made it a worthwhile option.  I still carry a small .380 ACP pocket pistol as a backup to a larger weapon, but I simply don't trust the smaller round to do an adequate job of personal defense.  I also have a 9mm. version of the XDS, but out of a shorter barrel, any cartridge is limited in the energy it can generate, even in a +P or +P+ load.  I therefore use it for training (9mm. ammo being a lot cheaper than .45), and carry the .45 for serious purposes.

(By the way:  if you find a .45 pistol heavy in recoil and hard to control, there's a very simple 'cure' for the problem.  Fire a few rounds of .44 Magnum - under trained supervision, of course.  The much greater recoil, blast, flash and noise of the .44 will instantly make the .45 look tame by comparison!  I've used that trick when teaching novices.  Once they realize they can control a .44 Magnum round from a large revolver, and hit the target despite its seemingly overwhelming recoil, they become a lot more comfortable with the .45 ACP round.)

The second element I'd like to discuss is the use or non-use of hollow-point or expanding ammunition.  These rounds are generally more effective at transferring bullet energy to the target and inflicting fight-stopping damage, and are less likely to over-penetrate the target and pose a threat to innocent bystanders.  However, the state of New Jersey forbids private citizens from owning or using them for defensive purposes, and other jurisdictions are considering similar legislation.  If one is restricted to full-metal-jacket or so-called 'ball' ammunition, one loses all the advantages of expanding bullets.  Under those circumstances, the bigger (i.e. wider) and heavier the bullet one fires, the better chance it has of stopping an attacker.  It's not just a matter of weight or velocity, but of bullet area or cross-section.  A 9mm. round has a frontal area of approximately one-tenth of a square inch, while a .45 round has an area more than 50% greater.  That means the larger round doesn't have to get as close to vital organs, blood vessels, nerves, etc. in order to affect them.  Its greater area can compensate, to a certain extent, for a less accurate shot.

The final aspect is one I discussed last week, but would like to re-emphasize.  It's the problem of defense against animals.  If one habitually goes for walks along streets where dangerous dogs might be encountered, or in rural and semi-rural areas where other animals might pose a threat, it's advisable to carry a gun that can deal with their potential attacks.  Last week I cited an incident where my friend Lawdog experienced less than optimal results with an otherwise-highly-rated 9mm. round.  There are many accounts of attacks by dogs where smaller cartridges and calibers did not stop the attack quickly enough to avoid injury to the shooter and/or their own dog(s) and/or others in their company.  That's another area where a heavier cartridge and/or larger caliber has real advantages.  A .45 has often proven effective against big dogs, cougars, wolves, etc.  A 9mm. or .357 Magnum round, even using a hollow-point bullet, has sometimes proven less effective against such threats.

So, there are three more factors for your consideration when selecting a defensive cartridge.  As I said last week, I'm not knocking the defensive potential of cartridges like the 9mm. at all.  I carry that round often, and trust my life to it.  However, if magazine capacity is limited, and/or I can't use hollowpoint ammunition, and/or the threats with which I may have to deal are not necessarily on two legs, the bigger rounds do, I believe, have an advantage;  so I'll use them for preference under those circumstances.  IMHO, YMMV, and so on.



raven said...

The XDs in .45 seems to be a powerful, reliable arm. It has one idiosyncrasy however- it can be VERY difficult to eject a loaded round from the chamber, because of the cartridge length. Upon extraction,the round can get trapped between the ejector (fixed in the frame), and the slide. No amount of vigorous "ripping and stripping" will cure this. Some ammo is less sensitive than others, depending on OAL and bullet profile. The fix is apparently shortening the ejector and relieving the ejection port, judging by what people who returned their guns for this issue have reported.

Usually the cartridge gets trapped by the ejector on the rim, and the bullet nose on the upper forward part of the ejection port. IMO, one of these days, some unlucky soul will get the round trapped by the ejector on the primer, and a "rip and strip" is going to exert enough rearward force on the cartridge to discharge it while lodged in the ejection port.

If you have an XDs in .45 this would be a good thing to check, and see if it is a problem. It could make clearing a dud round under pressure almost impossible.

Anonymous said...

where you can't use Hollow points, you might consider Expanding Full Metal Jacket ammo...a pretty good work around....

Uncle Lar said...

First thing I tell a novice is to forget everything they've been taught by watching TV and the movies.
In real life you don't have a special effects team close to hand to make your target fly violently backwards.
Simple truth is the only saving grace of a handgun is that you're more likely to have it when you need it. If you are expecting trouble you carry a rifle or a shotgun. Which depends mostly on expected terrain and engagement distance.
As for banning hollowpoints, I consider that criminal abuse under color of law. Any firearm is a kinetic energy transfer device. You want as much of the available energy as possible applied to your intended target. What you absolutely do not want is to have a jacketed round exit your target and cause harm to people or property down range. Those two factors are why law enforcement invariably now carry hollowpoint ammunition.

Peter B said...

One other consideration. If you plan on getting serious training, pick a carry gun you can shoot several hundred rounds from over a 2-5 day period. With my arthritic joints, I could probably do .45 – if I'm not in a flareup. I've shot 300 rounds of 9mm in a day with a flare. It was not fun, but tolerable. I wouldn't have wanted to be shooting .45 in a small pistol. In the right full size pistol, it probably would have been OK. When it's not the startle from the shot but increasing pain with each magazine, it's hard not to flinch.

Sherm said...

I sorta just had this conversation with my youngest brother. He's in California and trying to decide on a new handgun. I told him that, in addition to my .45, I'd opted for a M&P9c over the Shield because for a quarter inch additional width I got a 12 round magazine with the option for 17 rounds. I would have opted for the Shield if I was still in CA. He bought the Shield.

It was remarkable how similar our purchase experience was. It took me ten minutes to buy my last gun and his is taking ten days. Ten in both places!

Anonymous said...

Limit is 10 rd mag capacity where I live, and capacity is even more limited in some jurisdictions.
So my choices boiled down to:
Revolver 5-6 rds
8+1 in a full size 1911
7+1 in an Officers 1911
(1911s will accept 10 rd mags)
XDs (various calibers and capacities)
Older single stack 9mm generally 8+1.
Doublestack semiauto w/ emasculated magazine.

A singlestack semiauto should prove more comfortable to carry than a doublestack or a revolver
Semis can be reloaded more quickly (Unless you are Jerry M.) and spare mags are easier to carry.

There is little difference in performance between premium 9mm or .45ACP expanding ammo these days. Which do you shoot best?
Consider low-flash ammo, especially in short barrel handguns. You may find muzzle blast from +P ammo excessive.
If limited to non-expanding bullets, consider a heavy for caliber flat point projectile.
(Fed. Guard Dog or similar might be an option in some areas.)
Test for reliable function in your weapon.

Do your homework.


Jim said...

Food for thought. I may have to look into an XDS.

Inconsiderate Bastard said...

When one is magazine capacity limited - Peter mentioned New York's 7 round statutory limit - revolvers start looking not quite as bad.

As one of my club's Range Officers duties often placed me as the only human on 65 very rural acres at dusk (and probably the only human in a 2-3 mile radius) so I selected appropriate tools. I found a deal on a lightly used S&W 329: a 4-inch scandium framed 44 magnum. Not at all fun to shoot, especially with full power loads, at 29 ounces it's very much a "carry it a lot, shoot it a little" gun, but for feral hogs I didn't want any less. Loaded with factory soft points and 3 speed loaders, one with more SPs and two with Buffalo Bore's hard cast SWC +P ammo, I figured anything, in any shape, from 300 pounds on down it was adequate. (I shot ICORE matches and often used a revolver in IPSC, so I was very well "revolver trained" with speed loaders).

I'm lusting over Ruger's new Redhawk in .45 Colt; Ruger revolvers are legendary for strength, and a heavy, hard cast Keith-style SWC bullet in .452" diameter with a large meplat delivered at about 1,000 FPS should be adequate to get anyone's attention, not to mention a variety of strong factory loads in soft point. It's a big gun - any six-shooter in .45 will be - but if Our Friends In Government restricted me to a bare few rounds I'd go with the strongest rounds i could come up with.

And practice the absolute hell out of being accurate and effective with them.

David said...

The XD-S in .45 is considered a pistol for pocket carry, but a Ruger LCP is a "so-called" pocket pistol?