Handgun Cartridge & Caliber Comparison

pistol cartridge comparison

It’s critical to load the right caliber ammo in the right firearm to avoid accidents. If you’re new to this, just sit back and relax. Because at the end of this handgun caliber comparison guide, you’ll know which cartridge is best suited for your gun.

What is a Caliber?

Caliber is the diameter of a bullet at its widest point. Calibers units are classified into Imperial (inches) and Metric (millimeters). For example, the 32 Auto has a bullet diameter of .32 inches, while the 9mm Luger has a 9mm bullet diameter.

Handgun Cartridge (Caliber) Comparison

Cartridge Name Most Common Bullet Weight Drop at 25 yds (cm) Wind Drift at 25 yds (cm) Muzzle Velocity (m/s) Muzzle Energy (Joules) 25 yd Energy (Joules)
9mm Luger 115 grs 1.6 2.5 360 483 420
32 Auto 71 grs 3.3 1.3 274 172 161
380 Auto 95 grs 2.6 2.2 299 275 249
38 Special 130 grs 3.3 1 271 309 294
357 magnum 125 grs 0.7 2.6 439 780 662
40 S&W 155 grs 1.6 2.2 354 629 556
10 mm 180 grs 2.2 1.4 314 575 537
44 Magnum 180 grs 0.7 2.7 445 1155 965
45 Auto 230 grs 3.3 0.8 271 548 525
45 LC 225 grs 3.5 1.2 262 500 481

Handgun Caliber Guide

9mm Luger

The 9mm Parabellum, famously known as 9mm Luger, is one of the most popular pistol calibers in the US.

It’s also used by the majority of law enforcement agencies in the country, including the FBI. In 2014, the FBI stated that the 9mm is more effective in combat than the .45 ACP and .40 S&W.

Aside from its efficiency and a muzzle velocity of 360 m/s (115-gr bullet), the 9mm is also very affordable and has mild recoil. It also has minimal wind drift and drop at 25 yards, which can be easily compensated by an efficient red dot.

.32 Auto

The .32 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) or .32 Auto is a light-kicking, less common cartridge that’s great for catching and killing small game.

The .32 Auto usually chambers lightweight and compact pistols that are suitable for concealed carry. Some gun owners think that this caliber is not powerful enough to be used for self-defense, while some prefer this round because it comes with small, easily concealable guns. Size aside, a 71-gr bullet propelled by the.32 Auto is powerful enough to travel at a speed of 274 meters per second, yielding 172 Joules of muzzle energy.

Overall, the .32 Auto is a reasonable cartridge choice for your CCW or your backup gun.

.380 Auto 

Despite its short efficiency range and low stopping power, the .380 Auto is compact and light, so it’s a popular cartridge choice for pocket guns.

The .380 Auto generates greater muzzle energy than the .32 Auto and has less bullet drop at 25 yards, but is less powerful than the 9mm Luger. Most gun experts don’t recommend it as a self-defense round because it lacks penetration power. 

.38 Special 

First produced in the late 19th century, the .38 Special is a popular revolver round. It’s more powerful but is slower than the last two calibers we discussed, with a muzzle velocity of only 271 m/s (130-gr). 

This low-pressure round is commonly used for concealed carry and self-defense because of its accuracy and manageable recoil. One downside of the .38 Special is that it doesn’t always expand accurately particularly if fired from a short-barreled revolver.

.357 Magnum

In 1934, Smith & Wesson wanted to develop a cartridge more powerful and with a longer case length than the .38 Special, which led to the birth of the .357 Magnum.

As one of the most powerful rounds today, the .357 Magnum yields 780 Joules of energy at the muzzle and can fire a 125-gr bullet at 439 meters per second. That’s why it’s a famous round among cops for their backup guns; and civilians love to use it for self-defense, target shooting, and hunting. As for its recoil, it becomes manageable after a while when shot from a medium-frame revolver.

10 mm Auto

The 10mm Auto is a lightweight but super powerful cartridge that was used by the FBI during the ’80s but was replaced shortly due to its unmanageable recoil.

The 10mm Auto also excels in terms of speed as its fired 180-grain bullet travels at 314 meters per second. This flat-shooting cartridge is also widely used as a hunting and self-defense round because it delivers deep and fatal penetration.

.40 S&W

Inspired by the 10mm cartridge’s potential, Smith & Wesson developed a cartridge with the same performance, initially intended for law enforcement use.

The .40 S&W performs almost similar to the 9mm Ruger in terms of drop and wind drift at 25 yards, as well as muzzle velocity. But when it comes to muzzle energy, the .40 S&W is the obvious winner, yielding 629 Joules energy when firing a 155-grain bullet.

The .40 S&W also has better penetration than the 9mm because it loads wide and flat bullets. However, because of its power, .40 S&W-loaded guns throw nasty recoils so they’re brutal to fire.

.44 Magnum

The “Most Powerful Round” title goes to the .44 Remington Magnum, and most gun owners will surely agree with us. The .44 Magnum can send a 180gr bullet flying at a speed of 441 meters per second, yielding muzzle energy of 1,155 Joules!

This large-bore cartridge is capable of bringing a bear to its demise because of its precise shot placement and deep penetrating power. And while it’s true that there are more powerful rounds out there like the .460 S&W Magnum, the .44 Magnum has more controllable recoil.

.45 Auto

If you’re one of those guys who wants to find out which is more powerful between the .45 Auto and the 9mm, here’s what you need to know.

The .45 Auto or .45 ACP produces a muzzle energy of 548 Joules, while the 9mm only yields 483 Joules energy. Don’t get us wrong, the 9mm is powerful enough to kill a large-sized game and it definitely fires faster bullets than the .45, it’s just that the .45 ACP delivers more fatal blows.

However, if capacity is your priority and you prefer small-caliber bullets, you should consider getting a 9mm. That’s settled, then.

.45 LC

OK, so the long Colt memes are a bit thin . . . .

Originally developed as a black-powder revolver cartridge, the .45 Long Colt (LC) functioned as the official US military handgun from 1873 to 1887.

The .45 Colt possesses almost the same ballistics as the .45 ACP. Its 225-grain bullet has a muzzle velocity of 262 meters per second, generating 500 Joules muzzle energy. That’s a small decrease from the .45 ACP’s 271 meters per second muzzle velocity and 548 Joules energy at the muzzle for a 230-gr bullet.

FAQs

What Is The Largest Caliber Handgun?

The 600 Nitro Express is the largest caliber handgun in the world with a bullet length of 3.68 inches. That’s why it’s usually used for hunting extremely large-sized games in Africa such as elephants.

What Is The Most Accurate Handgun Caliber?

Among our listed handgun calibers above, the .44 Magnum gets the spot as the most accurate. As it only drops by 0.7 cm at 25 yards and only drifts by 2.7 cm at the same distance.

More importantly though, can you shoot it without flinching?

What Is The Most Powerful Handgun Caliber?

When it comes to power, the .44 Magnum remains the best, with its 180-grain bullet generating 965 Joules of energy at 25 yards.

What Is The Best Caliber For A Handgun?

The .44 Magnum has accuracy, speed, and power. But, capacity and recoil considerations lead many to choose 9 mm or something more practical for day to day use.

What Is The Best Handgun Caliber For Self-defense?

If you prefer compact and lightweight pistols for easy concealment and don’t care much about penetration power, we recommend the 9 mm as the best handgun caliber for self-defense. Although, the 380 is great for easy concealment.

Conclusion

Now you’re ready to start shooting! Remember, always use the correct ammo for your gun and refer to our guide above or seek professional help whenever you’re uncertain. And never experiment on loading other calibers that are not recommended for your firearm, even if they fit into your magazine, as this may lead to accidents.

If you own a 1911 pistol, improve your accuracy with these 1911 red dot sights and mounts.