sacred cows, the second serving.

Since my tongue-in-cheek piece on the suck factor of the most popular gun designs was such a rousing success (and because I want to see how high I can drive my stats counter), here’s a sequel.  This time, I will take reader Eric’s suggestion, and tell you why your favorite caliber sucks.

Ready?  Here we go!

9mm Luger:  European popgun round that’s only popular because the ammo is cheap for a centerfire cartridge.  Cheap ammo is a good thing for 9mm aficionados, because anything bigger and more dangerous than a cranky raccoon will likely require multiple well-placed hits.  Wildly popular all over the world, mostly in countries where people don’t carry guns, and cops don’t have to actually shoot people with theirs.

.45ACP:  Chunky low-pressure cartridge that hogs magazine space and requires a low-capacity design (if the gun needs to fit human hands) or a grip with the circumference of a two-liter soda bottle (if the gun needs to hold more than seven rounds).  Disturbingly prone to bullet setback, expensive to reload, fits only into big and clunky guns, and a recoil that has an inversely proportionate relationship with muzzle energy.

.40S&W:  Neutered compromise version of a compromise cartridge.  Even more setback-happy than the .45ACP, and setbacks are much more dangerous because of higher pressure and smaller case volume.  Manages to sacrifice both the capacity of the 9mm and the bullet diameter of the .45.  Twice the recoil of the 9mm for 10% more muzzle energy. 

.357SIG:  Highly overpriced boutique round that does the .40S&W one worse: it manages to share the capacity penalty of the .40 while retaining the small bullet diameter of the 9mm.  Noisy, sharp recoil, and 100% cost penalty for ballistics that can be matched by a good 9mm +P+ load.  Penetrates like the dickens, which means that the Air Marshals just had to adopt it…only to load their guns with frangible bullets to make sure they don’t penetrate like the dickens. 

.38 Special:  Legacy design with a case length that’s 75% longer than necessary for the mediocre ballistics of the round due to its blackpowder heritage.  On the plus side, the case length makes it easy to handle when reloading the gun.  This is a good thing because anyone using their .38 in self-defense against a 250-pound attacker hopped up on crack will need to empty the gun multiple times.

.32ACP:  Inadequate for anything more thick-skinned than Northeastern squirrels or inbred Austrian archdukes.  Semi-rimmed cartridge that is rimlock-happy in modern lightweight autoloaders.  Doesn’t go fast enough to expand a hollowpoint bullet, and it wouldn’t matter even if it did, because the bullet would only expand from tiny to small-ish.

.44 Magnum:  Overpowered round that generates manageable recoil and muzzle blast…if you’re a 300-pound linebacker with wrists like steel girders.  Often loaded to “Lite” levels that turn it into a noisy .44 Special while retaining the ego-preserving Magnum headstamp.  Considered the “most powerful handgun cartridge in the world” by people whose gun knowledge is either stuck in 1960, or who get their expertise in ballistics from Dirty Harry movies.

10mm Auto:  Super-high pressure cartridge that beats up gun and shooter alike.  Very brisk recoil in anything other than all-steel S&W boat anchors, with a shot recovery that’s measured in geological epochs for most handgun platforms.  Often underloaded to wimpy levels (see “.40 S&W”), which then gives it 9mm ballistics while requiring .45ACP magazine real estate.

.380ACP/9mm Kurz:  Designed by people who thought the 9mm Luger was a bit too brisk and snappy, which is pretty much all that needs to be said here.  Great round if you expect to only ever be attacked by people less than seven inches thick from front to back.

.357 Magnum:  Lots of recoil, muzzle blast, and noise to drive a 9mm bullet to reckless speeds in an attempt to make up for its low mass and diameter.  Explosive fragmentation and insufficient penetration with light bullets; excessive penetration and insufficient expansion with heavy ones.  Still makes only 9mm holes in the target.

5.7x28mm:  Ingenious way to make a centerfire .22 Magnum and then charge quadruple price for the same ballistics.  Awesome chambering for a police weapon…if you’re the park ranger in charge of the chipmunk exhibit at the zoo, and you want to make sure you can take one down if it turns rabid on you.

.25ACP:  Direct violation of the maxim “Never do an enemy a minor injury”.  Designed by folks who wanted to retain the bullet diameter of the .22 rimfire round, but take a bit of the excessive lethality out of it.  Favored by people who don’t feel comfortable carrying anything more dangerous than the neighbor kid’s rusty Red Ryder pellet gun.

Okay, that should cover most of the popular defensive calibers.  Let the flaming begin!

79 thoughts on “sacred cows, the second serving.

  1. Thad Adams says:

    Not bad, not bad at all.

  2. samsam says:

    So, your carry piece is obviously a Thompson Contender in .30-30.

  3. theflatwhite says:

    “32 acp – Inadequate for anything more thick-skined than inbred Austrian archdukes”

    Love that.

  4. John Hardin says:

    Rifle calibers next?

  5. OrangeNeckInNY says:

    LOL. I have 1911s in 10mm and .45 acp. I just got the .45 acp gun today so I haven’t shot it yet. I’ll let you know when I get back from the range some time next week. I do agree that the 10mm is a harsh round, but it’s a hoot to shoot. You need to strengthen your wrists, dude. Carpal tunnel syndrome be damned! LOL

  6. vinnie says:

    Makarov wins both categories obviously.

  7. KingsideRook says:

    Round 2. Nice Work. Hopefully Gunsmith Tom will be here soon to explain about the flaw in 9mm cartridges that let him disassemble them one handed, on the fly, while performing CQC takedowns on perpetrators.


  8. Jim says:

    You know the Blast-o-matic 2000 comes in 2 calibers. The 5.42×61 and the much more powerful 5.43×62. Both easy to find once you convince your gun dealer to stock them. Because no one else buys them.

  9. KingsideRook says:

    By the way, I’m still shooting .45 ACP, no matter how old and fat it is. Might as well show my irrationally partisan side in the comments here, too.


  10. Wirelessguy says:

    You want to be contraversial, discuss the 327 Federal!

  11. “5.7×28mm: Ingenious way to make a centerfire .22 Magnum and then charge quadruple price for the same ballistics.”

    And we get away with it! Not bad for a country whose only military exploits are waiving German divisions through at the border huh?

    (and what a painfully accurate remark that was)

  12. perlhaqr says:

    Re: .38 Spl. Crack, my friend, crack. People get hopped up on crack and go rob stores and mug folks. People high on smack tend to sit quietly in a corner and drool on themselves.

    Now there’s a marketing campaign slogan (for the non-users). “Heroin: users tend to be calm while high!”

  13. .45 Long Colt: just as fat as the .45 ACP, but even slower moving, being only marginally faster than the nutty old farts who shoot the rounds while playing Cowboys & Indians even though they’re on the downhill side of 60. The round has the lone advantage of being able to be used in both the lever action rifles and ancient revolvers used by these costumed eccentrics who believe that firearms design peaked with the Colt Peacemaker.

  14. nonanon says:

    me and my naa22lr thank you for admitting our superiority to all the compensator calibers of the world…beautifully and creatively written, mw.

    and pretty damn funny, ksr…tom? your devastatingly ninjatic response, please.

  15. Eric says:

    Thanks for taking my suggestion! No comments on the NAA calibers?

  16. emdfl says:

    Is there any pistol cartridge that you like, heh, heh? Just wonderin’.

  17. ditto says:

    I take exception to this.
    Nothing in particular but something had to be said.

    However, you hypothisis seems to be leading us down the path that says no handgun caliber is worthy.

    Does this mean that my SBR/AR pistol is the only gun to be had for protection?

  18. Marko says:

    Disclaimer: I carry and reload the .38 Special. All handgun calibers have their drawbacks, but you have to shoot *something*, so you have to find one whose benefits outweigh the drawbacks for you.

  19. Andrew says:

    Sorry, Marko, the sequel, like most, just wasn’t quite there. The Austrian Archduke line made it worthwhile though:-)

    Pretty funny that you still managed to rub some people’s fur the wrong way. Oy, the internet.

    Sorry, but if “defense” is the operative term to your tactics when getting into a conflict you’re already off to a loser’s start.

  20. tom says:

    Devastatingly ninjatic response:

    As Jeff Cooper would say: At least it’s a gun. (I’ll add that you better shove it directly into the person you’re shooting it at or you’ll likely miss them, hell most people can’t even shoot pocket .380s accurately that have some semblance of sights on them).

    Belly pistol as in “shove it into the person’s belly before you start pulling the trigger”.

    Added benefit, it uses a useful small game round in such a fashion that I doubt anybody has ever managed to kill a rabbit or squirrel with one unless they were pressing it to the animal’s head while it was in a cage.

    —I’ll be off in the corner with my 1911s and K-Frames. If you have to hide a gun that hard you’re living in the wrong state/country anyway.

  21. tom says:

    addendum: They do make cool belt buckles in open carry states just because they are real guns. So that’s a point in your NAA .22’s favor. Cool expensive belt buckle though not as cool as belt buckles with built in mistletoe during this particular season.

  22. tom says:

    Oh, for added “ninja goodness”, I think I’d be more inclined to stick my 5″ belt knife in somebody’s gut than a tiny and hard to operate .22LR micro-revolver that likely would get much harder to operate if you actually got blood on it.

    Wouldn’t want you to be disappointed by lack of “ninja-ness”.

    We aim to please, with precision optics if need be.

  23. sasu says:

    500 Wyoming Express and 500 Linebaugh
    Designed for old farts who think the single action revolver is the epitome of modern gun design and who dream of taking such a masterpiece of engineering to Africa for Cape Buffalo hunting. The real reason for the huge bullet diameter is to make the cartridges big enough to be seen even when not wearing eyeglasses.

    500 S&W
    Smith & Wesson had to design this cartridge because 44 Magnum lost it’s number one position when Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character was overshadowed by more modern action figures like Wesley Snipes as the vampire hunting Blade. Now wannabe action heroes again have a S&W cartridge to lust after.

  24. Jay G. says:

    .454 Casull. Because not everyone can be James Caan in “Alien Nation”…

  25. tom says:

    .454 Casull because it’s not any more effective than .45-70 and operates at hugely higher chamber pressures with much more sharp recoil and muzzle blast. Chamber a tiny revolver in it for the ultimate in lack of control, muzzle flash blindness, and deafness during a gun battle when planning to do battle with bears! Everybody knows that viciously recoiling double-action snubbies are the key to good marksmanship.

    Remember, don’t buy .41 Magnums, because they were actually a rather reasonably good compromise for a handgun hunting cartridge .

  26. john says:

    You left out my 9x23mm. Hm…something like “hard to find copy of an previous round with ballistics somewhat exceeded by an old revolver round”?

    Of course, it hits harder than a .45 ACP, with less recoil and more ammo capacity…

  27. john says:

    Uh, Winchester, that is.

  28. tom says:

    FWIW: The proper handgun caliber for Cape Buffalo is .375H&H Magnum. I have 3 of them barrels now. Quite fun and sure to startle people next to you at the range.

    Sure, a .375JDJ could come close, but it’s still got MORE and it has commonality in ammo with many big game rifles in seffrica so ammo is easy to find in seffrica!

  29. nonanon says:

    golly, tom, thanks for all the info on my little naa…that compensator crack was tongue in cheek of course (old cop joke; the bigger the bore the smaller the d–k)…ya’ll are a little lacking in the humor dept. there at ninja central, huh?

    still, my naa has been my constant pocket companion, as natural as keys and pen knife, for thirty years; your bellygun comment was off however, God forbid i have to resort to it, jammed under the chin or in the ear would be my attempted tactic.

    btw, the ninjatic response i requested was actually for the comment left by kingside rook…

    jtc (dammit, i’m supposed to be on hiatus from this shit…just too tempting, mw).

  30. tom says:


    Jack Weaver put it better when there was discussion to going to major and minor power factors in PPC/IPSC competitions before IDPA was invented.

    What difference does it make in caliber if I shoot the fellow in the eye?

    I was lucky enough to have known people that shot and trained and worked with him.

    He liked .38s and was good with them and didn’t see any advantage in his circumstances to going bigger or smaller because he liked .38s.

    Interesting historical anecdote courtesy of a friend of mine that started out in the old leather slap comps that turned into modern practical pisto shooting.

    Sorry if I “bogarted” you teasing somebody else.


  31. tom says:

    Without a nod and a wink, it’s hard to tell if somebody’s text is humour or an insult. Fact of the internet, nonanon.

    I like to parry back because on off days it passes the time and beats yard work. You aren’t going to hurt my feelings just like I won’t hurt yours. At least that’s my educated guess.

    Cheers, once again,

  32. […] favorite caliber sucks Part 2 of Marko insulting everyone. Go find out what is an: Awesome chambering for a police weapon…if you’re the park ranger in charge of the chipmunk […]

  33. Mark says:

    My personal carry weapon is the same 4″ .38 spec Taurus I carried for 10 years when I was working as an Armed Security Officer in the Housing Projects of North St. Louis Missouri. I have fired 1000’s of rounds through this revolver with out any problems other than when shooting reloads to check to make sure the primer is seated properly. I carry 2 speedloaders of Golden Saber .38 Spec +P and 2 speedloaders of Hydra-Shock .38 +P, stoking the revolver with Sabers as well. I’ve never had to discharge my weapon at a human being, however the Sabers have put down several injured Dogs, and 1 injured Buck, all were 1 shot lights out base of the skull shots. I don’t know how the Hydra-Shocks would perform as I’ve never used them for that. I carry them as they were “Required” ammunition of the Authority, and when practicing with them they are just as accurate as the Sabers. But as any Firearms instructor would say it isn’t the weapon or the magic bullet, it’s the shot placement. A .25ACP in competent hands can still kill you as dead as a .44 Magnum.

  34. Bob says:

    I’m old and fat, so’s my cartridge of choice.

  35. Heath says:

    Inbred Archdukes…. LMAO.

    Good stuff !

  36. mtsonline says:

    I do live in rather close quarters, and would rather have my non-Sumdood-hitting rounds embed themselves into the wall rather than go visiting my neighbors. And my Beretta 950 bs fits my hand as if a mold was made of it, and given to someone to make a bespoke gun for it.

    What you said about the .25 acp is totally true. But unlike Hollywood zombies, chances are high that whoever I hit with any bullet will either drop, or be disoriented enough to disable with good effect. And if not, life is all about trade-offs, like you said of your .38 round, and I gambled not wisely, in deference of my neighbors’ families’ lives.

    Good article, though. Anyone who gets hyped over someone pointing out the weakness of their tools, whether gun or bullet, is an uninformed fan rather than an objective user of the tool.

  37. brotio says:

    The .25 auto bit reminded me of Jeff Cooper writing about the CIA arming spooks with guns in that caliber. Cooper thought it was a bad idea because people armed with such guns might use them, and if they use them they might actually hit someone with them, and if they hit someone with them AND that person notices it; said person might get angry.

  38. Reuben says:

    .50 AE — the caliber of choice when you absolutely have to spend more to fill up your gun than your car. Not suitable for hunting, due to it’s tendency to start brushfires. Equally unsuitable for carry because it weighs more than some anti-tank rounds. Any gun chambered in it has the twin disadvantages of holding fewer round than a revolver and having a grip suitable on for NBA players and some circus freaks.

  39. Bob W says:

    Cool pages, Barrel lengths, bullet calibers, and bullet speeds. very interesting

  40. […] Marko goes “round II” on why your favorite cartridge sucks, this time.  I lol’d, especially the part where he skewers my favorite round, the .40 Short and Wimpy. […]

  41. SigBoy40 says:

    I think it is time to add you to my blog list.
    Anybody know who can make me an autopistol in 357 Maximum?

  42. Linoge says:

    Please tell me the next round is going to be rifle calibers?

  43. Tam says:


    Everybody knows that if you hit somebody in the pinkie with a round of .45ACP hardball, it will spin them around twenty-seven times before flinging their corpse through a plate glass window and into the street.

    That’s why I carry it.

  44. Chris says:

    I would add that the 40 S & W has the semi-wadcutter head, which doesn’t make much sense for a defensive round.

    At least you didn’t go after the venerable 38 super and 32 H & R magnum rounds.

  45. Rick in NY says:

    7.62 Nagant Revolver

    Puny .311″ 100 grain bullet, funky jammable “gas seal” cartridges, 7 rounds, slow to reload, stuck cases due to the “gas seal”. Then the ergonomics only a hippo could love. 32 ACP performance with a low-cap mag, slow reloads, and, did I mention, it jams if used?

  46. ATLien says:

    Marko, you the man. Das ist total geil! lulz

  47. Tribal says:

    Please tell me the next round is going to be rifle calibers?

    That’s going to be confusing. I’m used to the next round being the same as the one I just fired.

  48. anon says:

    Say what you will about cartridge effectiveness, but the 7.62 Nagant has probably killed more people than any other round…granted they were all point blank range to the back of the head, but still…

  49. Kim du Toit says:

    When you die, John Moses Browning is SO going to kick your ass…

  50. Skip McManus says:

    So, now I have 8 doorstops?
    When the Zombies show that will only leave me 4/0 buck!

  51. Ted says:

    Heartless Libertarian said:

    “.45 Long Colt: just as fat as the .45 ACP, but even slower moving, being only marginally faster than the nutty old farts who shoot the rounds while playing Cowboys & Indians even though they’re on the downhill side of 60.”

    And it’s twice as expensive.

    But that “downhill side of 50” …

  52. Kristopher says:

    So … does anyone want to hold a target while someone else shoots at it using any of the calibers mentioned? Even the .25 ACP?


    Rule one … bring a gun.

  53. Billll says:

    9×18 Makarov:
    Provides the ballistics of a .380, such as they are, while allowing the Russkis to boast that “ours are bigger”. Glosses over the fact that the bullets are, on average, about 25 gr lighter than the average 9mm europellet. Like the Nagant, it works best when fired from point blank to the back of the head.

  54. Laughed almost loud enough to wake the sleeping child. Most excellent!

    You’ve just gotta do rifle chamberings next!


  55. brotio says:


    With most guns that are chambered for .25 ACP these days, holding the target might be the safest place to be.

  56. Mikee says:

    You completely left out black powder, cap & ball revolvers. At the local range, I once watched a man fire his ~9 pound Remington – five shots in about one minute, then another five in about a minute, only 20 minutes later, after reloading.

    He let me fire it. I aimed, pulled the trigger, waited, waited, waited, and finally was rewarded with the vast cloud of smoke, the slow but remorseless recoil, and the very large hole in the target. I only shot once, as I could stay but an hour and wanted to see him shoot at least one more cylinder full. Oh wait, he could only load 5 cylinders at a time, to avoid negligent discharges.

  57. LEU says:

    I guess your carry piece then, is a 12 ga. sawed-off pump w/ 00 Buckshot, since you dissed all the other calibers?
    Rule I: (from above) Bring a gun.
    Rule II: practice with it until you know how to use it.

  58. Tam says:

    ^^^ Point = missed.

  59. Tony says:

    mtsonline said: “But unlike Hollywood zombies, chances are high that whoever I hit with any bullet will either drop, or be disoriented enough to disable with good effect.”

    Umm… No. Just… No.

    All handguns are underpowered. All of them. Hell, some people have shrugged off hits from main battle rifle caliber rifles, and shotguns, and just kept on going – for a little while, at least. I would rather say that chances are high that whoever you hit with any bullet, there will not be immediate effects and you’ll have to shoot them a second time. (Repeat as necessary.) And does any caliber that does not have the energy to penetrate through a wall have the energy to penetrate through a human skull?

  60. Bill Waites says:

    How do some people actually miss the tongue in cheek part?

    Great post!! Ought to be required reading for every caliber fanboy!!

    I carry the neutered .40 S&W, but I’ve got 16 rounds to make sure at least one hits something vital!! I’m a firm believer in the “keep pulling the trigger ’til he’s down AND not moving” school!

  61. nugun says:

    Some additions:

    .22 LR: The poor man’s bullet. While $15 will get you 20-50 rounds of most any caliber, it’ll deliver over 500 rounds of .22 LR courtesy of Walmart. The good, the recoil is so light you can put 10 rounds into the face of your attacker. The bad, they’re probably still headed toward you.

    .17 HMR: What the .22 Magnum should have been. A fast zippy round that will penetrate one end of a raccoon and come out the other, while bringing a bit of your barrel with it. Essentially a sharp pointy .22 that drank too much Red Bull.

    .327 Magnum: Claiming slightly more recoil than a .38 Special and but ballistics closer to the .357 Magnum; the .327 Magnum quite possibly is the perfect self-defense round. Except, we’ll never know. That’s because you can’t find it anywhere!

  62. Matt G says:

    This is why I carry three guns, all in separate calibers, when I go out. Should the balloon go up, I shall fire for effect, and report. 😉

  63. Matt G says:

    Chris said:
    “At least you didn’t go after the venerable 38 super and 32 H & R magnum rounds.”

    What’s venerable about the .32 H&R? Who venerates ’em?

    Well, heck— I’ll have a go, then:

    .38 Super: An auto cartridge made more as a stunt than as a going proposition. First produced in the 1920’s, people who love it are still waiting for it to catch on. Semi-rim design makes for possible rim lock, and many pistols headspace on that tiny little rim, making accuracy a dodgey proposition. If you can find one that will reliably hit a cowboy hat at 50 yards, you’ve hit the lottery. Ballistics that are completely duplicated by far easier-to-find and more-reliable newer .357 Sig round. Still just a 9mm with an inferiority complex. Recoil is completely out of line with the downrange performance.

  64. Matt G says:

    Oops. Almost forgot the .32 H&R.

    .32 H&R Magnum:
    For those whom the thundering power of the .38 Special is too much. Touted as being just as powerful as a .38 Special +P, by those who feel that a .312 caliber, 95 grain bullet at 1030 is as effective as a .357 caliber 158g bullet at 900. Lauded for the fact that a J-frame holds a 6th round of this caliber, the shooter will appreciate this fact when he finds that an 8mm hole is not as good at stopping bad guys as even a little 9mm hole. The title “Magnum” seems to comfort its supporters who point out that it’s a real powerhouse, compared to its diminutive parent cartridges, the .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long. Carriers have been known to smake their foreheads with their palms and exclaim “I coulda hadda .38!”

  65. Matt G says:

    (Er, that last sentence included a confusing word that should have read “smack.”)

  66. Rick in NY says:

    “Essentially a sharp pointy .22 that drank too much Red Bull. ”

    LOL! I have to pass that one on, it’s too pefect! Here’s my take on the 17.

    17 HMR – An itty-bitty varmint bullet housed in a necked down 22 Magnum case that’s doing it’s best to look like a scaled-down centerfire round. What you get is a round that’s great for wildlife under 10 lbs, it’s only half the cost of 223 ammo, is 1/10th as effective, but is not reloadable.

  67. Bill says:

    The Austrian Archduke joke would be funny if it were true, but Princip’s FN1910 was chambered for 380, not 32.

  68. Mikee says:

    If a 32 won’t suffice even for assassinating a mere archduke, what possible good is it?

  69. ishida says:

    What about 7.62x25mm Tokarev?

    Do it next! Do it next!
    Especially since I’m thinking about getting a CZ 52 when I’m old enough to own a pistol, if I’m still legally capable by that time.

  70. PavePusher says:

    .17 HMR – For when a calibre that starts with a “.2” is just to much for you, but you’re too damn lazy to just stab the target with a hat pin…

  71. Mark says:

    Another winner, I laughed my ass off!


  72. I must insist on a lambasting of the “cover into concealment” blather from the “full power” .30 caliber crowd, who get laughed at by Africans who regard .375 H&H Magnum as barely acceptable for threats.

    • Tam says:

      Yes, but hard cover penetration and soft tissue penetration are governed by entirely different parameters: .375 H&H will smoosh flat on a steel plate that a round of .30 M2 ball will drill clean through, while the .30 ball will yaw and stop in a critter while the .375 solid just keeps trucking.

  73. cmblake6 says:

    Got it from ENDO, probably had it before, but today it struck funneh bonz. Brilliant!
    One of MY favorites is the 9×23. All the supposed goodness of the 357, only faster, and in a 1911.
    Heh heh heh, yeah.

  74. 9X23. Just like .357, only 5X the price and impossible to find.


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