The Caliber Wars…

The caliber wars…

9 40 45

L-R 9mm, .40, .45 Hollow Points

My perspective, for what that is worth.  This was what we did on INDEPENDENCE Day… And this is in response to a couple of emails and for my grandson.

I own guns in all three of the major calibers in the ‘war’, 9mm, .40 and .45; so I’m speaking from personal experience and knowledge based on my years of shooting these guns.

First the numbers games…

When you look at SAMMI pressures both the 9mm and .40 come in at 35,000 PSI and the .45 comes in at 21000 PSI; so right off the bat the 9mm and .40 are more ‘powerful’…

Next is size- 9mm is .355in (identical to .38 special and .380); .40 is .401 (stand alone), and the .45 is commonly considered to be .451 (copper jacket) or .452 if lead. In the bad old days, e.g. SAA it was a .454 diameter because they were all lead bullets and tolerances on barrels weren’t quite as good as they are today…  And some .45 rounds weighed up to 255gr.

Now lets look at bullet weight 9mm comes in a range of weights, 95, 115, 124 and 147gr choices and FMJ (round nose), hollow point and semi-wadcutter. Muzzle energy and velocities vary but 295-326FP and 950-1000FPS in normal power ranges; +P and +P+ an range up to 1500FPS.

.40 comes in 135, 155, 165, 180 and 200gr choices and FMJ (round nose), hollow point and semi-wadcutter. Muzzle energy and velocities for 180gr vary but 360-400FP and 950-1000FPS are the averages; +P and +P+ an range up to 1200FPS.

.45 comes in 165, 185, 200 and 230gr choices and FMJ (round nose), hollow point and semi-wadcutter. Muzzle energy and velocities vary but 230gr normally falls in the 352-404FP and 830-890FPS range (yes you can get higher velocities up to 1200FPS with +P and others)

With the different weights and FPS, you get a different ‘felt recoil’ for each round, again just taking the heavy rounds (Courtesy of Chuck Hawks fine work HERE)

You get the following-

Round                     Pistol Wt.     Recoil (FP)           Recoil (FPS)

9mm 147/1000FPS     2.0                4.6                           12.2

.40 180/1027FPS       1.5                10.4                          21.2

.45 230/850FPS         2.25                7.9                          15.0

Now common sense dictates the higher the number the ‘more’ the felt recoil…

BUT, that does not tell the whole story. Due to the powder loads, the felt recoil is sharply different between the three, and sometimes even within the same caliber. A ‘faster’ powder will exhibit a more pronounced felt recoil than a ‘slower’ powder. E.g. for you old farts that ever got any of the IAI 9mm “UZI marked” rounds back in the 80’s they had a VERY fast powder, and kicked like a mule out of a standard 9mm pistol. I never ran the chrono on them, but I’d swear they were up around the +P+ range for power, even though they were marked as ‘standard’ rounds.

Shooting the pistols below at the range with the 9mm/147gr, .40/200gr, and .45/230gr rounds yielded the following comments from me and a friend (9mm guy, doesn’t own a .40 or .45) that was also shooting that day.


L-R C&S 1911, Glock 22, BHP

Round comments as we fired them and I scribbled notes…


Me- Easy to shoot, some muzzle flip not too pronounced (BHP), maintained control of the gun easily, back on target fairly quickly

Him- Didn’t bother him, felt comfortable, some muzzle flip, easy control, back on target quickly


Me- Sharp felt recoil more of a ‘snap’, quite a bit of muzzle flip (G22), louder, felt like gun twisted, slow back on target.

Him- Sharper recoil than 9mm, more muzzle flip seemed to be trying to ‘rotate’ gun, definite increase in time to get back on target and felt like regripping was necessary.


Me- Push rather than snap on recoil, nominal muzzle flip (all steel Colt CDR), easiest to control, back on target the quickest.

Him- Softest ‘felt recoil’ to him, big muzzle blast distracted from muzzle flip, less control than BHP, middle of the three getting back on target.

Here is a video we shot of recoil, starting with a 22/45, then BHP, then Glock 22, then .45 CDR, then Kahr P-9 for small carry 9mm reference.

recoil sequences

And here is the difference between a G17 (third Gen) and Kahr P-9 for grip size and width.  Smaller hands ‘may’ find the smaller pistol easier to control, even with the additional recoil.


So for what it’s worth, this is my foray into the caliber wars, and we all know for every ‘one shot stop’ out there, there are multiple ‘shot X-teen times and still fighting’, regardless of caliber.

Bottom line, IMHO, shoot what YOU are comfortable with and can afford (get as good a pistol as you can) in that caliber.  YOU are the final arbiter of the caliber best for you, not us…

Lastly, this old saw- “Bigger is better, but shot placement is EVERYTHING.”

Remember, Bobby Kennedy was murdered by a POS with a Iver Johnson revolver using .22 Shorts (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, then it was a .38 by the security guard, or… or…).

YMMV, IANAL, Didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn, paid for my own damn ammo… yada, yada…

Edit- LL reminded me about wound channels vs. ballistics, here are two references for your perusal…

Excellent .pdf that gets to the bottom line of wound ballistics…

More numbers, covering all the handgun rounds out there…


The Caliber Wars… — 25 Comments

  1. Now let’s talk wound channel size… but you’re right — speed is fine, accuracy is final.

  2. Due to Carpal, my wife can’t rack my Kahr 9 so we got her a revolver (steel frame SP-101) in .357 so that she can shoot .38+P for less felt recoil.
    Is that convoluted or what?

    • My wife enjoys shooting my 1911, but can’t load the magazines for it.

      I bought her a S&W TRR-8 357 Mag revolver, and she loves it.

      And I taught her how to use the speed loaders for it, and she can reload almost as fast as I can drop a mag and insert a new one.

  3. Wow, fascinating. Very interesting in that the comparison to recoil, bullet size, power, etc does not always equal what you (me) thought it might.

  4. LL- Thanks, I ‘knew’ I was forgetting something… edited to add references for that!

    Ed- Not really, and for some folks that IS the solution!!!

    N1- True, many myths out there…

  5. Experienced recoil in a semi-auto handgun is also a function of recoil spring. Matching the tension of the spring to the particular type of ammunition (ex. +P) that you’re shooting can make for a better experience, thus better accuracy.

  6. LL- Yep, but “I” was trying to do basics here, and stay out of the +P and +P+ stuff… That would have confused the hell outta the grandson… 🙂

  7. Yeah, personal experience is as big a factor as anything else. My daughter’s plastic fantastic Ruger LC9 (147gr rounds) produces roughly the same felt recoil as my all-steel 1911A1 (230gr rounds). Go figure.

    Excellent job at explaining the basics & then some. Thanks.

  8. Rev- Bottom line, it’s the weight. Shoot those same 147gr rounds through a BHP and it will feel like NO recoil by comparison. That is why I threw the Kahr into the recoil video as it’s also a 9mm, so you can see the difference at a little over a pound vs. a 2 pound BHP.

  9. The grandson needs to know that you are supposed to eat what you kill, unless the kill is made in the inner city.

  10. Since I’m down to one revolver, this is interesting, but academic. Most people find my Charter Arms .44 Special unpleasant. Usually, one five round load is it. A few enjoy it, and will shoot all my ammo if I let them. Me? I just try to be competant withwhat I have.

  11. Great points across the board. This particular argument always seems to come with a good dose of testosterone thrown in. 🙂 Your final point is all that matters . . . can you actually shoot what/where you are aiming. Finding the “off switch” is what is truly important whether using a 9mm or a .45ACP.

  12. LL- Yep, that training is happening this year, he gets to go deer hunting.

    WSF- Understood, and the bottom line is correct!

    Bill- Thanks!

  13. I’ve been a fan of the 45 and 1911 platform since I fired my first one in the Marines back in 73. My daily carry gun is a Llama X1-A 45 from the 70’s. It will digest any ammo you can feed it and the only time it fails, it’s a ammo issue. I also have a new High Standard 1911 Executive .45 that I carry when I’m not working.

    I have been looking into getting a 9, preferably a Beretta M9 or a Taurus equivalent. I’ve never owned a 40 and so far haven’t felt the need. The best reason to consider a 40 is because if TSHTF, that’s the ammo that the “enemy” will be carrying. I do still like my old Ruger Security Six. 6 rounds of 357 goodness.

  14. Robert- Understand and agreed, “I” would look at a Glock, but that is because “I” don’t like Berettas, but that is a personal choice. And I still have a few revolvers too! 🙂

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  16. Nice report and well thought out. I totally agree with this statement: ” shoot what YOU are comfortable with and can afford (get as good a pistol as you can) in that caliber”. My Mother can run the dickens out of a .32 long revolver. That is what she carries. Not bad for a 71 year old!

  17. H&H- Thanks!

    Keads- Yep, semi-autos are NOT for everyone, as commenters have noted. I’m probably actually more comfortable with a revolver than a semi-auto myself…

  18. And to really confuse people you could always fire a .355 bullet out of your 1911 .38 Super. But that would just be obnoxious.

  19. I concur.
    Use what ever caliber you can comfortably handle.
    A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a 9mm,.40 or .45 caliber

  20. Best caliber?

    Simple. It’s the one that comes out of the end of the gun you have the most practice with (or, the one you can most effectively hit the target with, in the unlikely event this gives a different answer).

  21. Like you said, use what works well in your gun, what you enjoy shooting, and what you shoot well.

    Nothing wrong with having a little from column A and a little from column B, though. Sometimes you can get 9mm at a good price, sometimes .45. Sometimes all you can find is .40.