Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More On That Unanswerable Question

American Mercenary has an interesting piece that relates to Sunday's talk about 9mm vs. 45, Energy, Momentum and Lethality.  He points out the problem with the energy plots like the one I used is that energy uses velocity squared so it gives more favorable results for fast bullets than it does for bigger, slower ones.  Momentum is mass times velocity, so it gives less emphasis on velocity.  Right behind "shot placement, shot placement, shot placement" is penetration, and he argues momentum from big bullets moving slowly has more to do with that:
Ever wonder why the classic Safari cartridges have heavy bullets at or below 2,400 fps?  416 Rigby, which is arguably the "Gold Standard" for a "stopper" has a 400 grain bullet at 2,400 fps, the 375 H&H the "Golden Standard" for medium bores has a 300 grain bullet at 2,400 FPS.  Now there are plenty of newer medium and big bore rounds out there, such as the 375 RUM and 458 Lott that have increased velocity over the old standards, but even the "new" wondermagnums are judged against the old standards.
Of course, the FBI has standards for penetration tests when shot into ballistic gelatin.  There are places to go online to see gel test photos, videos, you name it.  It appears to me that all the major calibers, in modern hollowpoint designs penetrate adequately. Whether they behave adequately in a real self defense situation is the subject of endless discussions based on - thankfully! - few real measurements.
(image from a document I found online a couple of years ago, called, "Beginner's Guide to Carry" from concealedcarryforum.com)

AM concludes with this:
To sum it up, no matter what round you are using, heavier bullets are generally the better bet for lethality on large game.
Like overweight hippies on PCP.  


  1. I used to be much more opinionated on pistol rounds, but the more I learned the more I found out that there are very few "unsuitable" cartridges out there, even the diminutive 32 ACP can exceed 12" of ballistics gel with some loads. And that is with loads barely over 100 ft/lbs of energy.

    Even 40 gr 22lr will penetrate over 10" of ballistics gel. Which gives it an edge over the 25 ACP believe it or not. Gives that 30 round Keltec PMR-30 a serious nod as a defensive tool. Mind you that bullet expansion isn't really an option with these rounds, but they will penetrate to CNS vitals.

    If you can accurately put the shot, and the bullet has enough momentum to penetrate to the vitals, then that is good enough.

    But with handguns I believe in the "big hole" theory of lethality. The big hole theory is that "bigger holes bleed more" so if you miss a CNS shot the bad guy bleeds out sooner. But a "light" gun you can shoot like the dickens beats a hand cannon that you can't control every day of the week.

  2. For many years, the mantra has been "location, location, location" - in other words, placement. It certainly is true that proper placement beats caliber and velocity applied in an inappropriate or ineffective location.

    When you are talking handguns at usual combat distances - usually measured in feet rather than yards - and frequently with little or no warning, placement becomes problematic. Snipers can aim for that small brain stem shot, especially on a target unaware of their presence, but it is much more difficult to achieve precise placement in a face-to-face shootout or attack.

    At that time, big bullet, big hole really IS the order of the day. Recoil is usually not an issue, especially if the shooter has practiced at all. Most women can easily shoot a 1911A in .45 caliber once they realize it isn't going to jump out of their hand or hit them in the forehead. The ergonomics of the Glock and SIG .45s reduce felt recoil as well, although grip thickness can be a problem for the ladies. (This can be addressed by a G36 or 1911A or other single column .45, and most .40 cal pistol fit them even with the double column magazines. That is why the .40 was developed in the first place - small female hands.)

    We all practice to be as accurate as we can, but we simply cannot count on having the same time to shoot with accuracy (especially with that gushing adrenaline dump) in a sudden confrontation on the street or in your bedroom after awakening to a noise in the night.

    Practice with a serious caliber handgun - .40, .45, preferably, although with the proper modern ammo like Speer Gold Dots or Remington Golden Sabers, even 9mm, .38 +P or .357 can be effective. Please leave the .380 and .32 as a last-ditch back-up choice. I've seen bad guys shot with those who didn't even know they'd been shot.

  3. Sorry, just a quick PS: A rancher friend of mine had a large ewe who broke her leg (compound, through-the-skin fracture) jumping out of a blocking chute while we were sorting. When we put her down, it took four .380 rounds point blank into her brain to kill her. The first three stunned her, but she started twitching and struggling when we hung her to slit her throat and drain her. The fourth round finally killed her.

    These were expensive Hornady Personal Defense hollow points, not FMJ rounds. I still carry them, but I do not trust them to stop a bad guy. Hopefully they might slow him up enough for me to get out of the area. I certainly won't reach for them unless my .45 malfunctions or runs out of ammo.

  4. Speaking as a former .40 and 10mm toter who has carried a .45 1911 for coming up on a decade, I have long since become comfortable with the fact that, with modern JHP ammo, there's not spit's worth of difference in terminal performance between 9, .40, and .45. Seriously: Point to me on the Binky Doll where the .40 will drop a man, but he'll just laugh a 9 off.

    Further, unless you're getting your ammo free from work, all using .40 cal over 9mm does is beat your gun up faster and hit you in the wallet.

    So why do I carry a .45? Because that's what caliber the gun came in.

  5. Tam,

    I learned to shoot .45 in the Navy back in 1970, and started carrying a .45 on duty with the San Diego Police Dept back in 1980. I guess that makes it three decades I've been toting one of those around every day.

    Most of the data we have on the lack of effectiveness with the 9mm stems from the FMJs used in the military, true enough. Modern HP design is an incredible improvement, also true. But where do you get your data that actually shows no difference in "terminal performance" between 9mm, .40, and .45? That would surprise me frankly, but I'd certainly be willing to look at some hard data that supports that theory.

    I know you aren't referring to Marshall and Sanow, whose study was flawed and took place before the Miami FBI shoot-out, which was the impetus for most of the new HP bullets being used today.

  6. Damn, I've got to stop these lagging afterthoughts! It indicates encroaching senility :-)

    I could be wrong, as I don't buy any 9mm ammo anymore, but from what I recall seeing in the guns shops and online sources I buy ammo from, there isn't all that much difference in price between 9mm and .45 in the modern hollow point ammos like Golden Saber and Gold Dot. (9mm Gold Dot: $23.49, .45 Gold Dot: $27.49 at Midway)

    There is a significant difference in practice ammo, which is usually FMJ, but not in the modern hollow point ammo Tam mentions. No real savings there. And we all know we do need to practice with what we carry, don't we? At least a few hundred rounds for reliability issues, if not accuracy?

    Also, guns designed to shoot .40 cal don't get "beat up" by firing .40 cal ammo. I have a friend who has put over 200,ooo rounds through his G23, and I don't believe he had to replace any parts in the pistol at all (he is the owner of a firearms training company, Firearms Research and Instruction, formerly out of Maryland, but I believe he now operates out of Pennsylvania.) No problems with the the guns I've owned and/or shot, either. Although my wallet did limp a little, afterwards :-)

  7. Correction: I wrong. Marshall and Sanow's study was actually two years _after_ the Miami FBI debacle. My apologies.

  8. No, Marshall and Sanow are a joke.

    I'm generally deferring to guys who get consulted on ammunition choices by the people who shoot people in the face for a living.

    DocGKR's posts at M4carbine.net are full of good info, f'rinstance.

  9. "Also, guns designed to shoot .40 cal don't get "beat up" by firing .40 cal ammo. I have a friend who has put over 200,ooo rounds through his G23, and I don't believe he had to replace any parts in the pistol at all "

    The G23 was designed to shoot 9mm. It was not designed for .40.

    200k logged rounds in the gun book through a 23 w/no parts replacement? Come on, I was born at night, but not last night. Remember that I've babysat a rental counter for years; I've boxed up and shipped back plenty of busted guns, including Glocks. I'll buy 20k, but no way on 200k. No way. That's fairy tale nonsense.

  10. Wound Cavity is the big point. But the problem with this example is all these rounds are JHPs,I don't have the resources to be stocking up on thousands of rounds of JHPs, most of my pistol stock is Round ball. I'm sure that most people are in the same predicament as me with limits on cost. The best price I can find for a Thousand rounds of .45acp is $345.00($.345 a round)for brass case reloadable round ball. JHPs of any type are nearly double in price. Even JHP bullets for reloading are nearly double the price as standard round ball. Reloading your Practice round round ball with HPs is the only way I can afford to have JHPs for my self defence rounds. If I have to use any round ball for self defence I want the biggest and heaviest caliber I can control. That I beleve would be interesting to see the tests with roundball ammo on balistic jell.


  11. Well, darn. Looks like we lost a number of posts here.

    Tam, I'll try to be more concise this time.

    1) "There's not spit's worth of difference in terminal performance between 9, .40, and .45": where's your hard data to support this?
    I don't know anyone who shoots people in the face for a living. None of us cops did, and I don't know anyone who shoots anyone else on a regular basis except for military, and they use ball ammo.

    2)the G23 was _not_ made as a 9mm. It uses a lot of the same parts, but the engineers at Glock designed it - especially the recoil spring and barrel - to shoot .40 cal. Is it really logical to assume that they weren't smart enough to take into account the different pressures and recoil impulse generated by the .40? Do you imagine they just _might_ have tested what they designed and designed it for its intended purpose, or will you assume they simply slapped a different barrel in there?

    Other companies have made .40 and .45 versions of their original 9mm pistols. The HK P9S in .45 I carried on duty at San Diego PD was a 9mm before they made the .45 version. Do you really imagine the engineers at HK (of all places) would just slap a bigger barrel and a larger mag in the pistol and call it good to go? Or do you think perhaps they might have made sufficient changes, did sufficient testing, to insure it would function reliably, safely with the larger cartridge and forces involved?

    3)No one said anything about someone "laughing off" a 9mm. We are simply talking about the fact that the improvement in the hollow point ammo for the 9mm was at _least_ matched by the improvements in the .40 and .45. Is it logical to assume that the 9mm "caught up" to the others in effectiveness, but that they didn't become much more effective than the earlier HPs and ball ammo too?

    Tam, as far as I can tell, what SiG and the rest of us here are trying to do is to help folks be as effective as possible in utilizing their weapons in self-defense, to protect themselves and their families. We aren't posturing "gun shop commandos" trying to impress each other. Just folks trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially in these times when we all may need to know as much as we can just to survive.

    Where you have facts, hard data, present it. I'm not hidebound, I'll listen. If you have logical reasons to believe something, lay them out. I'll be glad to listen.

    Posting tired old "gun shop" myths about "it's only a 9mm in disguise", and macho "people who shoot people in the face for a living" (what's that, "Spec Ops" perhaps?) doesn't advance knowledge. Sure, it sounds cool, but I think we should be trying to do better than that.

    But I've only been carrying a .45 for three decades, 1.5 of those decades in law enforcement, been a reloader since 1975, and have had some pretty good training outside of law enforcement as well. Maybe I'm just ignorant.

  12. Stopping power is a more complex subject than it first appears. Expanding bulltes are of course better than fmj, but sometimes a leather jacket or even clothing can fill the hollow point and make it fail to expand.

    A .22LR in pisotl is not a logical choice for self-defense, yet almost every Intel outfit uses it for asssinations at close range. This is becasue it can be "silenced' well and they are counting on being point blank and a head shot and the bullet entering the brain case.

    The only two places a buller will medicaly speaking instantly stopa person is the left ventricle of the ehart and a bullet than enters the brain case (regardless of caliber too)

    In sure would not feel underamed with my 1911, "libertaed' by me in 1971, but I have studied 4 cases where a .45 acp was fired point blank into the vivtms head and with no serious ill effects at all as it spun around the skull and did not enter the brain case.

    Pistols are not rifles and no handgun or cartridge can guarantee a stop so immediatte that the enemy can't return fire even if fatally wounded.

    Shot placement can effect and iunstant stop (enter the brain case, left ventricle of the heart) but it is most often the factor we have the least control over too.

    I feel Ok with a JHP in 9mm, 40 SW or 45 acp. But the 9mm is easier to control and somewhat increase more effective shot placement. On the other hand, I am prejudice there too as the only people I have had to kill have all been with the 9mm. Either out of SW Modle &^ SMG or a 92F, the first in Nam the seond in my liqour store.

    I have done 10% gelatin tests of any pitol loadds and calibers for major ammuniton maufaturers. calibers. My conclusion is the 158 grain JHP from 4" bbl or more is the best manstopper we have now. The .40 S&W comes ina close second. The ,45 acp a third, the 9mm slightly behind the ,45 acp. I am refering to expanding ammuniton of course.

  13. Peyton - thanks for your inputs and sorry it took so long to get your reply posted.

    I have the blog set up so that comments to posts more than two weeks old require my approval, and it has been so long since I had a comment to an older post that I forgot to look.