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I am having a hard time trying to decide on a caliber for a defensive handgun

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by gomakemeasandwich, Aug 20, 2007.

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  1. gomakemeasandwich

    gomakemeasandwich member

    Aug 17, 2007
    This is kind of a long post, just to let you know in advance.

    I currently own a Bersa Thunder .380, which, even though I think is a good handgun, has a caliber that I think is just too small for serious defensive carry. Therefore, I have thinking about moving up calibers, with this tentative list in mind to consider: .38 Special, 9mm, .40, .357 Magnum, .45.

    Part of my considerations have been about stopping power, part of my considerations have been about price (of both the round and the gun), and part of my considerations have been about capacity (how many rounds each gun can hold). As you can probably tell, I am all over the place with my choices.

    The .38 Special I know isn't much of a step up from the .380, but the heavier bullet with a Chicago load makes it worthy of consideration in my mind. Plus, a gun I found for $170 for it that seems reasonably good (it's a revolver) helps as well.

    The 9mm is my current frontrunner for several reasons: it's cheap, recoil is low, you can carry more rounds in a magazine, and with several loads, it compares favorably with the more powerful calibers that I mentioned (though not on par).

    I have never been a fan of the .40 caliber, I'm not sure why. It compares well to the .45 and even the .357 Magnum, but there is just something about it that I don't like (maybe because it was the first handgun round I ever shot, and it was in a Glock, which I don't like. I shot the same round later in one of my friend's S&W autoloaders and loved it). I can't really explain it. With that said however, recoil is manageable, and I can shoot accurately with it.

    The .357 Magnum is always hailed as the ultimate manstopper, but I am not sure I need something that can punch holes through a car. I have honestly never shot the .357 Magnum, but I think I can control its recoil. Still, I don't think I could line it up for a second shot as quickly as the 9mm or the .40 caliber.

    As for the .45, I am considering it mostly because it its service history. I don't think the .45 offers so much more than the .40 caliber that I should deal with the extra recoil of the .45, as well as the reduced carrying capacity. Still, my friend bought a Ruger P90 and I simply loved that gun. It's a large handgun with limited capacity, but the feel of it and how it was balanced (it is heavy, but the weight is well distributed) convinced me that I could probably get off a second shot at the same rate as a 9mm or the .40 caliber.

    Now, with all of that said about the calibers, price is probably the main factor. I am not rich, so I don't plan on spending more than $350. That probably puts me into the range of the Ruger automatics, used .357 revolvers, and .38 Special revolvers. As I said, I am not a fan of Glocks, and I like the Ruger autoloaders, so I have no problem with picking up a Ruger autoloader. Any of the P series Rugers would work for me.

    Still, I have also heard a lot about the Springfield XDs, which every person I have talked has described as one of the best autoloaders out there. I handled one, and while I like it more than the Glock, I don't think I am as comfortable with it as I am a Ruger. I know that the XD would push me way out of the $350 range, but I am willing to spend more if I absolutely feel it is the right gun.

    As for revolvers, I know that they actually violate one of my considerations (carrying capacity), but I have to consider them too because of the calibers I am considering, as well as the price and reliability that they offer. On revolvers however, I am a little lost, since I am more familiar with autoloaders. I assume that any used S&W that I can find for $350 will probably be a good bet, but I really don't have a starting point for them, beyond S&W.

    With all of this said, I am considering the .38 special, because it is cheap and I think that the round can compare with a 9mm for stopping power. Plus, the gun that I found for it is a very nice gun to handle, and I think I can be accurate with it. I think it will either be that or a Ruger autoloader in 9mm, but I worry that the 9mm even isn't much of a step up from the .380 (after all, the .380 is also known as (and basically is) the "9mm short"). When I make my purchase, I just want to make sure that I pick something that I can depend on, which is why I have all of the contradictory thoughts about all of these rounds.

    So, if you have made it this far and still want to offer your opinion, please do. As you can probably tell, even though I favor certain rounds, I am far from decided on a round, so I value any opinion. Thank you.

    Also, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.
  2. LSCurrier

    LSCurrier Member

    Jan 16, 2005
    Long Island, NY
    .45 ACP in a 1911 would be my recommendation. It worked well for the US armed forces for over 60 years.

    .357 Magnum will work well too - if the recoil is not a problem for you.

  3. Tomac

    Tomac Member

    Oct 13, 2003
    Caldwell, Idaho
    If you have a local rental range then rent several different calibers/types and find the one you shoot best, regardless of caliber or action type (only hits count).
  4. 40SW

    40SW Member

    Jul 19, 2007
    New Port Richey, Florida. United States of Americ
    based on what you said, a .357MAG would be an ideal choice. It would allow you to practice with .38 loads and build muscle memory and become more proficient, your confidence will increase as a result.
    The other flexibility is that a .357MAG will allow you full house .357MAG loads as well as very respectable .38+P loads, which can be very effective.
    I would recommend a Ruger SP101 or GP100, these are built like tanks, very durable , accurate, dependable, and fun to shoot. A revolvers capacity is easily augmented with 1 or 2 extra speedloaders. Please dont discount them.
  5. moxie

    moxie Member

    Dec 30, 2002
    Erath Co., TX
    At your price point of $350, you are definitely talking about a used gun if you want quality. In that price range, a used .38 special or .38 special/ .357 magnum revolver is probably your best choice. The Ruger Speed Six, Service Six, or Security Six would be top choices. Also the older S&W model 19 or 65/66 are great. Any of these guns loaded with .38+P rounds or .357 magnum, where possible, will be outstanding self defense pieces. Think about automatics later on. Good, reliable, autoloaders will cost somewhat more as a general rule.
  6. benEzra

    benEzra Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 25, 2002
    Down East in NC
    Given your price constraint, I'd personally go with a Ruger P-series. Those can handle 9mm +P and +P+, which are ballistically WAY superior to .380 (closer to .357), and they are good, reliable guns.

    A good .357 revolver would be a close second for me, I think.

    FWIW, when I "moved up" from a Bersa .380 to a 9mm, I went with an S&W 3913 Ladysmith, because I wanted to retain the DA/SA mode of operation in a 9mm pistol that was roughly the size of the Bersa (I have a CHL). I thought about the similar but cheaper S&W 908 instead, but really liked the features of the Ladysmith and went with it.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2007
  7. Houston Tom

    Houston Tom Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    +1 on the Ruger Security six
  8. highfive

    highfive Member

    Aug 6, 2007
    i'll say 357 too. that's what i carry and you can practice with 38's also. The recoil is not bad at least my opinion and after good practice you will see they're very accurate. I carry a taurus tracker and I love it. Used, it can be in your price range. NIB will be like 60 more. Have fun
  9. earplug

    earplug Member

    Oct 9, 2006
    Colorado Springs
    Since you have the 380 I assume your looking for A carry gun.
    Check out the S&W J frames and check out the revolver forum and 642 club.
    Many small 9MM are available that may fit your needs.
    You have to have A pistol with you when you need it.
    A big service size pistol/revolver will frequently be left at home.
  10. camslam

    camslam Member

    Jul 21, 2006
    Chilling Out in the Valley of The Sun
    If you can handle the .45 ACP, get it. The recoil between it and the .40 is sixes, you get maybe 2 or 3 more rounds with the .40, but you have similiar penetration between the 2 with bigger holes in the .45.

    That is my choice.
  11. kymarkh

    kymarkh Member

    Sep 26, 2003
    Northern Kentucky
    9 is fine

    My take on this: I went with the 9. Of the calibers you mentioned you can practice more with the 9mm for the same amount of money. The practice is more important than the gun. The practice is more important than the caliber. The practice is what will make you so familiar with your choice that handling it becomes second nature. The practice is what is going to be the difference between a hit and a miss. One other thing - you can purchase a box of 9mm carry ammo/Hollowpoints for about the same price as a box of .45 target ammo/FMJ - allowing you to actually practice with your carry ammo occasionally. While it is sad but true, a box of 9mm is cheaper than a box of .380 in my neck of the woods. And there is nothing wrong with Ruger autoloaders if they fit your hands well. Let us know what you decide.
  12. CountGlockula

    CountGlockula Member

    Oct 1, 2006
    In a Los Angeles coffin.
    Get a .40S&W caliber. My motto has always been: "Go .4+ ONLY."
  13. strat81

    strat81 Member

    Oct 6, 2006

    Most handgun rounds WILL penetrate a car door. Even the "lowly" 9mm.
  14. Cougfan2

    Cougfan2 Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Portland, OR
    The practice is more important than the gun.

    +1 All weapons mentioned would be good choices, but it doesn't make a bit of difference what you choose unless shooting it, and shooting it well come as second nature.
  15. fletcher

    fletcher Member

    May 19, 2004
    Don't concern yourself with caliber too much. General concensus is that .380 and larger will do the job. 9mm or larger if you want to be sure (I'd put a good .38 into this category).

    Find a platform that you like and can handle well, then work with the calibers available. If you like the Ruger autos, go for it. Any of those calibers will work fine.

    As you mentioned, the used market will be your friend. Don't hesitate to look at used autos also.

    That is the most important thing. Even if you like .45/.357/whathaveyou on paper, if you are not able to make accurate follow-up shots with it, toss it or allot a few hundred $$ for ammo to practice practice practice.
  16. Papaster

    Papaster Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    The Great Republic of Texas
    Have you considered the Taurus 617? 7 rounds of .357 mag. a couple of speed loaders, and you're up over 20 rounds of some of the best power out there. And this revolver will keep you well within your budget brand new.
    That said, you can get into the auto business, and get entry levels like the Sigma series from Smith & Wesson, at under $300, or the Millennium Pro pistols from Taurus for around $300. These are good pistols, and after break-in should serve you well.
    Unless you are familiar with buying used semi-autos, or have a dealer or friend who can guide you that you trust a great deal, I'd be a little wary of any great deals in this market. It's much harder to gauge wear on these pistols than on a revolver. If you're more comfortable carrying semi-auto, get the semi-auto. If you're most comfortable with Ruger, go for it. For me, they're too bulky for concealed carry. But everybody has their own reasons and taste. Good luck and happy pistol hunting!
  17. Rex B

    Rex B Member

    Apr 5, 2006
    Fort Worth TX
    I'm good with the .380, which is what I carry most all the time.
    In colder weather I can pocket a 9mm.
    Both are Keltecs, well under $300 with spare mags, mag pinkie extensions.

    As others have said, if you have it with you always, and can shoot it accurately, it doesn't much matter if the OD of the bullet varies over .07".
  18. perpster

    perpster Member

    Oct 22, 2005
    Used .357 Magnum revolver.

    Meets your requirements in every way I think.

    You can "download" with cheap .38 special and gets lots of practice, "upload" with .357 Mag for defense, or even good .38 +P.

    Keeps your options open with a most versatile caliber, from plinking to hunting to defense.
  19. Scorpiusdeus

    Scorpiusdeus member

    Jun 29, 2006
    Ventura County, California
    Though I'm a .40 S&W kinda guy, if you are comfortable with a 9mm, go for it. It may be the reason you first didn't like the .40 is because you were shooting it out of a Glock. I think Glocks tend to have a kind of Love/Hate feel to them.

    If you have the time and money. try renting some guns, different makes, different calibers ans see what feels best to you.
  20. browningguy

    browningguy Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    Houston, TX
    Anything you mentioned would be ok. I currently have 9mm's and .40's in BHP's (9&40), EAA Witness (9&40) and Springfield XD9.

    The XD is a good pistol, the BHP's are great pistols, and the EAA Witness series may be the best deal going for the money.
  21. md7

    md7 Member

    Aug 18, 2006
    a good used ruger gp100 .357 would should not be hard to find at $350.00 price range. they are some very sturdy guns too. if you are prefer auto loaders, take a look at the CZ 75B. Brand new those guns are around the $450.00 mark. nothing wrong with Ruger auto loaders either, just throwin some ideas around.
  22. Snapping Twig

    Snapping Twig Member

    Jul 7, 2007
    If money wasn't an issue, I'd say go straight to a quality 1911 and the .45acp. That's my personal choice for several very good reasons.

    Many here suggested a .357 and I'd have to agree with them. Price, ammunition availability and dual caliber convenience makes it a winner.

    Practice with wad cutters and try a few magnums every practice session. You can keep the cost low and be well armed.

    The most important thing, regardless of the caliber/platform you select is to practice, practice and practice some more.
  23. 10-Ring

    10-Ring Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    2 things...
    1st -- I would suggest going to a range & shooting the calibers in question so you know exactly what you're in for and have a clearer picture in your mind of what you're buying.
    2nd - I would recommend a small or medium frame 357 magnum so that you could go 38 or 357 depending on your personal needs & circumstances.
    Good luck
  24. theboondocksaints22

    theboondocksaints22 Member

    Jul 29, 2007
    my personal choice is the 45 acp in a 1911 commander 230 g ranger sxt 8+1 .
    you can get a rock island 1911 for around 350 brand new and they are a good gun .
  25. gbelleh

    gbelleh Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    If ammo cost is a big factor, I'd go with a 9mm. If you want a semi-auto, a good 9mm with decent capacity should be plenty adequate for defense.

    If you prefer a revolver, a good used .357 would also be a good, versatile choice that would serve you well as others have mentioned.
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