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Handgun Calibers [Definitive Guide + Videos]

Quickly learn the pros/cons of the 10 most popular handgun calibers. We'll also cover average price, recoil, and recommended self-defense ammo for each.

    Quickly learn the pros and cons of common handgun/pistol calibers.

    Popular Pistol Calibers
    Popular Pistol Calibers

    We’ll also cover the average price, recoil, and recommended self-defense ammo for each.

    And for the ones we shoot regularly…some videos!

    Some Quick Terminology

    Don’t worry…we’re not going deep into the weeds with these definitions. But you’ll need some to make sense of everything.

    What is Caliber?

    Caliber is the size of the bullet’s diameter and it can be measured in both inches and millimeters (mm).

    Most of the time if there’s no overt “mm” at the end, it’s in inches.

    And a little bit of terminology…”bullet” is just the metal projectile while the whole thing is called a “cartridge.”

    9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147gr)
    9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147gr)

    And how about the parts of a cartridge?

    Parts of a Bullet Cartridge
    Parts of a Bullet Cartridge

    And deconstructed in real life…

    Deconstructed 9mm Cartridge
    Deconstructed 9mm Cartridge

    Now…we can move on to some numbers we’re using to rate the upcoming calibers.

    Bullet Weight

    Measured in grains (gr) which is a really small unit of measurement. 7,000 grains make up a pound.


    Speed in feet/sec that the average round exits the barrel


    Measured in Joules (J), a very rough approximation of the destructive power.

    Since each caliber has a range of different bullet weights and velocities…we’re choosing the most popular loads…or going with a range here.

    Handgun Caliber Guide


    1. .22 LR

    .22LR Round
    .22LR Round

    The “twenty-two” long-rifle is a teeny tiny round but don’t let its size fool you.

    It’s the most common round out there and is a “rimfire” instead of a “centerfire” round like all the other ones coming up.

    Rimfire vs Centerfire Primer Strike
    Rimfire (L) vs Centerfire (R) Primer Strike

    This just means the firing pin hits the rim instead of…the center.

    Centerfire vs Rimfire Primer
    Centerfire vs Rimfire Primer

    The recoil is barely there and it’s a great round to start off as a beginner.

    Still deadly though…these tiny rounds apparently have a habit of bouncing around inside the body and hitting vital stuff.

    But not really known as a good defensive round that will quickly end a fight (Best .22 LR Ammo for Plinking, Accuracy, & Hunting).

    • Bullet Weight: 30-40 gr
    • Velocity: 1200-1600 ft/s
    • Energy: 140-160 J
    • Price Per Round: 4 to 7 cents

    2. .380 ACP

    .380 ACP Round
    .380 ACP Round

    This small round is known as the “three-eighty” ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) but is sometimes called the 9mm Short or 9mm Kurtz. It’s very popular as the caliber of choice for small pocket pistols but offers much less power than 9mm Luger up next.

    Here’s me with a Bersa Firestorm .380:

    You can check out our favorite loads in Best .380 Ammo and also some of our favorite .380 Pocket Rocket Guns.

    • Bullet Weight: 90-95 gr
    • Velocity: 1000 ft/s
    • Energy: 275 J
    • Price Per Round: ~25 cents

    3. 9mm

    9mm Round (115gr)
    9mm Round (115gr)

    The 9mm Luger or Parabellum is my personal favorite and is carried by 60% of the police forces in the US. The FBI has returned to it, and the Navy Seals recently adopted the Glock 19 chambered in 9mm.

    Here is the G19 in action…

    Mild in recoil, affordable for lots of training, and small enough to have a good-sized magazine (~17 for full-sized handguns).

    There’s a decently wide variety of weights. For plinking ammo, I prefer 124gr over 115gr for slightly less snap.

    9mm (115gr vs 124gr vs 147 HP)
    9mm (L to R, 115gr vs 124gr vs 147 HP)

    Plenty of flavors of hollow-point self-defense ammo that are very effective (Best 9mm Ammo: Self-Defense & Range).

    9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST
    9mm 147 Federal Hydrashok HST

    And the caliber for the bulk of my recommendations in Best Handguns for Beginners.

    Best Beginner Handguns
    Best Beginner Handguns
    • Bullet Weight: 115-147 gr
    • Velocity: 1000-1300 ft/s
    • Energy: 500-600 J
    • Price Per Round: ~20 cents

    What’s your take on the ubiquitous 9mm? Give it a rating below!

    Readers' Ratings

    4.88/5 (1574)

    Your Rating?

    4. .40 S&W

    .40 S&W Round
    .40 S&W Round

    The “forty” Smith & Wesson was a very popular law enforcement round with more recoil than the 9mm. However…it’s on the way out.

    It is a shortened version of the 10mm round so sometimes it is derisively known as the “40 short & weak.” Check out our fav options in Best .40 S&W Ammo.

    • Bullet Weight: 155-180 gr
    • Velocity: 1000-1200 ft/s
    • Energy: 575-650 J
    • Price Per Round: ~30 cents

    5. .45 ACP

    .45 ACP Ball vs Hollowpoint
    .45 ACP Ball vs Hollowpoint

    A big caliber that fuels the venerable 1911 pistol.

    Rock Island Armory 1911 GI Midsize
    Rock Island Armory 1911 GI Midsize

    The “forty-five” ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) has legendary stopping power for non-hollow point bullets.

    You’ll hear cute sayings like “9mm only kills your body…a .45 kills your soul.”

    9mm vs .45 ACP
    9mm vs .45 ACP

    People get REALLY into it…so much so we dedicated an entire YouTube video to it:

    Good amount of recoil compared to the 9mm and .40 but feels more like a push because of its slower-moving big bullet. Check out Best .45 ACP Ammo.

    • Bullet Weight: 230 gr
    • Velocity: 900-1000 ft/s
    • Energy: 500-700 J
    • Price Per Round: 25 to 30 cents

    6. 10mm

    10mm Round
    10mm Round

    The big brother of the .40 S&W and much rarer.

    Originally designed to be flatter shooting than the .45 and better stopping power than the 9mm.

    Plenty of kick and energy.  Check out our Best 10mm Guns and Best 10mm 1911 articles.

    • Bullet Weight: 180 gr
    • Velocity: 1000 ft/s
    • Energy: 750 J
    • Price Per Round: ~60 cents

    7. 5.7 FN

    5.7 FN Round
    5.7 FN Round

    A quirky little round developed by FN to easily penetrate soft body armor by sheer velocity.

    However… there are only two guns that shoot it…with the pistol variety being the FN Five-SeveN.

    Five-SeveN with Ammo and Mag 2
    Five-SeveN with 5.7x28mm Ammo and 20 Round Magazine

    You get an above-average magazine size of 20 rounds. But if you’re a civilian you can’t get the armor-piercing variety.

    • Bullet Weight: 40 gr
    • Velocity: 2300 ft/s
    • Energy: 500 J
    • Price Per Round: ~50 cents

    8. .38 Special

    .38 Special Round
    .38 Special Round

    The “thirty-eight special” is not to be confused with the .380 ACP.

    This round is very popular with revolvers and was the standard caliber for police departments from the ’20s to the ’90s.

    Recoil is manageable but not the most fun if you’re shooting with a tiny revolver.  Can be fired in .357 Magnum guns.

    For ammo suggestions, check out Best .38 Special Ammo.

    • Bullet Weight: 110-200 gr
    • Velocity: 675-980 ft/s
    • Energy: 200-320 J
    • Price Per Round: 35 to 40 cents

    9. .357 Magnum

    .357 Magnum Round
    .357 Magnum Round

    Big brother to the .38 Special, it’s slightly longer and more powerful.

    .38 Special vs .357 Magnum
    .38 Special vs .357 Magnum

    You can shoot the .38 Spl in a .357 revolver, but don’t go the other way around!

    Great reputation for stopping power.  Check out our top choices in Best .357 Magnum Ammo.

    • Bullet Weight: 125-180 gr
    • Velocity: 1200-1500 ft/s
    • Energy: 700-1050 J
    • Price Per Round: ~80 cents

    Even Bigger Calibers

    We’ve got you covered if you like bigger booms.

    Check out our Rifle Calibers Guide.

    Common Rifle Calibers
    Common Rifle Calibers

    Or if nothing but half-inch diameter pistol rounds will do…Best .50 Caliber Cartridges.

    left to right 9mm, .50 Beowulf, and .500 Linebaugh
    (L TO R) 9mm, .50 Beowulf, and .500 Linebaugh.


    These are just some of the most common handgun calibers you’ll see out there. Of course, there are all sorts of calibers that exist that didn’t make the list.

    Popular Pistol Calibers
    Popular Pistol Calibers

    If you want to learn more about bullet calibers and the type of bullets out there (such as full metal jacket vs hollow-point), check out our Bullets Guide. Or if you just want to see our suggestions for the Best Ammo.

    Want to further your gun learning journey? Check out my Handgun Course.

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    53 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      Peter Popper

      For personal protection I use an old .32 revolver. I dip the hollow point bullets into a poisonous substance then seal the hole with paraffin. One of these bullets always kills.

      June 1, 2022 11:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jock Patterson

      Why was ACP started, what's the Automatic Colt Pistol really referring too?

      April 15, 2022 5:14 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      No .45 Colt... no .44 Magnum... no .41 Magnum..... the "definitive guide" is just a list of handgun calibers for urban residents who will never need to shoot anything.

      January 30, 2022 12:43 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        No 30 Mauser pistol cartridge either! They keep reinventing the wheel, when there are plenty of good wheels still out there!

        March 21, 2022 7:25 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      The only reason to carry a 9mm instead of a .380 is to make a hole completely through the perp instead of just messing up his innards. I carry a .45. I wanna stop the perp right effing now not just poke holes in him.

      January 27, 2022 6:17 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Amen to that!

        January 28, 2022 6:46 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jimmy Jones

        Your actually contradiction full metal jacket affliction because the slug that goes thru clean likely doesn't damage as much as the one that stays inside, hops around like a pinball. But certainly you're right and hope you can take jest. Yes. The .45 and a stop sign is more powerful than a el loco -motive.

        March 16, 2022 12:08 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          Yes i can take a joke and maybe I overstated my position a bit. But I still carry a .45.

          March 16, 2022 6:54 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Is there a definitive guide for what is a pistol caliber? 5.7 is on this list, but is it a pistol caliber because a few pistols are made to accept this round? Or was the 5.7 first designed for the FIVE-SEVEN? We've been discussing this at work, and we cannot figure out what makes a round a pistol caliber. The .357 Sig is necked down, so it can't be a straight wall. .45 ACP uses a large primer. What or who decides what a pistol caliber is?

      May 6, 2021 11:07 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        It mostly comes down to what it is most often chambered in. .357 Magnum is by far most common in revolvers, but you can also get lever-action rifles in it. 9mm is by far mostly in pistols and was designed for pistols but 9mm SMGs are almost as old as 9mm is.

        5.7 was designed for the P90, the Five-Seven came shortly after.

        May 6, 2021 11:48 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Alex Myers

        Wheres the 44 mag, this is a joke

        May 29, 2022 11:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Hey, Eric - You had replied in a personal message back to me a few short months ago about addressing the .327 Federal Magnum. I’m still waiting. Thanks, Bro.

      January 11, 2021 7:05 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      What is a .45 GAP??

      November 27, 2020 9:18 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        A mistake Glock would rather the world forgot about.

        November 27, 2020 12:34 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Is the .357 Sig too rare to be discussed in this thread? It would be interesting to see sales figures for .357M, .327 Fed, 10mm, and 5.7FN. Due to some LE usage of the .357 Sig I suspect it's usage is similar to some of those other rounds

      January 4, 2020 4:39 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Fred Testerman

      What about specs for the '5.56x.45mm / .223'; Bullet Weight, Velocity, Energy, and Price Per Round

      December 3, 2019 4:18 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        That is in our Rifle Caliber Guide!

        December 3, 2019 4:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I been around a long time (3 times your age) and to say a round is on its way out.... well, just stick around. The 40 has been in and out over decades. The 45 was the stuff back in the day and then it was and is 9mm now.
      9 is the cheapest so it’s popular. The 40 may slow down but it’s not done. The winds will change like they always do.

      November 23, 2019 1:57 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I feel like the 10mm is underrated on this article. The round you mention is an underloaded 10mm. All the rounds I have are over the ratings you state here. How do you have the .40 s&w posted as higher energy, and velocity?

      October 20, 2019 12:36 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I noticed that as well. Velocities for 180 gr. 10mm is more in the 1250 fps range with a muzzle energy of about 620 ftlbs

        November 27, 2019 10:33 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          The 10mm in the article is a weak load; probably federal american eagle

          November 27, 2019 10:37 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      "[.22 LR] these tiny rounds apparently have a habit of bouncing around inside the body" -- I trust this was sarcasm?

      September 27, 2019 5:15 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        Nope! That is rooted in science, according to Traumatic Brain Injury: Methods for Clinical and Forensic Neuropsychiatric Assessment "Bullets of low-velocity, such as 0.22-caliber rifle bullets or handgun bullets, cause more damage at the site of entry and rarely pass completely through the skull. The bullet may ricochet inside the skull and traverse the brain in various directions. Low-velocity bullet injuries tend to produce complicated injuries. Often, fragments of bone, scalp, hair, or clothing are driven into the intracranial cavity."

        The science behind it is that due to the low-mass and low-velocity of .22LR it has a tendency to bounce off of or be redirected by bone rather than blowing through bone like larger and faster bullets do. Thus, bouncing around inside the body.

        September 27, 2019 5:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tim Bland

      Thanks not only for this "beginner's" article, but your entire website. I appreciate all the info, videos, and equipment reviews. Yours is one of the firsts I go to when I have questions. From Virginia, Good Day!

      September 27, 2019 5:28 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

        So glad we could help out!!

        September 27, 2019 10:47 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Why don't people talk more about the .30 carbine cartridge in a revolver?

      May 31, 2019 2:38 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        William Chapman

        The 30 Carbine is actually a rifle round. It has been chambered to be shot in larger revolvers like the Ruger Blackhawk. The round is very accurate but not particularly powerful. The commercially available ammunition is anemic at best. The bullet choices in both the commercially made and for the reloader are few and mostly FMJ.

        September 12, 2019 5:44 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I always wonder why the calibers in between 22 LR and 380 ACP are mostly left out. 327 FED performs better than 38 SPC and gives you 6 instead of 5 in a simular sized revolver.

      January 9, 2019 8:28 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        to the .327 Fed Mag. I also noticed that the .32 ACP is always left out (I’ve carried that on occasion especially before the dinky .380’s and subcompact 9’s came out) and moving up the scale the .44 Spc is overlooked.

        September 26, 2019 5:52 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          That was a thumbs up to the .327 Fed Mag, BTW.

          September 26, 2019 5:53 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        John Connor

        Agreed. While not as popular as the .380 ACP in the U.S., the .32 ACP still has a following. Given its ubiquity in the 20th century and the following it still has today, I would put it in the list.

        September 28, 2019 10:44 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Kenny D

      The writer obviously likes the 9mm. He said so. But 500 to 700 ft. lbs? A .357 that puts out 1050 ft. lbs.? Few .44 mag rounds reach that level. But aside from the numbers he made some good points.
      As a side note I'd like to see someone with a web sight that helps newbies looking for protection. I've seen too many women buy a 9mm that stays in the bedroom but they buy a sub compact. Kicks really hard for them when size/weight of the pistol doesn't matter. The little pistol intimidates them with the recoil when a larger pistol with the same cartridge wouldn't. I've seen it too many times. Only when carrying concealed is smaller better.

      December 20, 2018 6:40 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        Energy is in Joules, not ft/pounds. 9x19mm commonly falls between 480 and 620 Joules. That would be between 350 and 450ish foot-pounds.

        December 20, 2018 9:26 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Thomas R Foster

          Love y'all, love Pew Pew, but this is America, with screamin' bald eagles and V-8 engines. No more joules. They are not allowed as a form of measurement. Ft/lbs only when measuring bullet energy.

          September 26, 2019 5:20 pm
          • Commenter Avatar
            Stan Lore


            February 15, 2020 1:50 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Common Knowledge

      Your clueless about the 10mm.

      November 20, 2018 1:26 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor


        You're welcome :)

        November 20, 2018 2:14 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          Well, the listed specs are for the 40 S&W strength 10mm. The original Norma loading was 200gr at 1200fps and way more energy in Joules than what you listed. Yes, that ammo does exist (it is like garden variety 40 S&W) but the real 10mm stuff is much more powerful than even the best 40 S&W. My son and I like to shoot 10mm in full size pistols and the extra weight makes the recoil seem tame after a few mags! I am a true 10mm believer, my first experience was a G20C with 15 rounds of Buffalo Bore 220gr at 1200fps, exceeding Norma Specs and just that single mag made it feel like I had been chopping wood all day with a steel handled axe! Full Power 10mm exceeds most of the "on the shelf" 357 Magnum ammo from the major manufacturers. But apples to apples, the 357 can beat the 10mm by a bit. Usually by 100fps at a given weight. If you love 6 shooters, use the 357 Mag. but for autoloaders, 10mm is your best bet! I love and have both, which is covering all the bases!

          May 25, 2019 8:10 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Lisa K.

      Nice visual

      January 2, 2018 11:32 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

        Thanks Lisa!!

        January 12, 2018 5:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Greg Krest PhD

      Nice idea for an article, but as others have said, your numbers are way off. I find it strange that the 10 mm short (40 cal) is more powerful Than the 10 mm. On other calibers you at least give a range, but the 10 mm just gets 575j. Maybe a little more research would be in order before you publish an article.

      December 30, 2017 9:53 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      The information you provided for the 10mm is severely skewed. The 10 mm rounds that were originally developed before the 40cal existed were 1200-1400 feet per second and 6-800 lbs of kinetic energy. Those rounds are widely available at the very few places that even carry 10mm ammunition these days. The round was intentionally made with less powder after released because it was to much gun for the fbi that it was designed for... the 40 cal was the result of making a smaller cartridge because there was to much wasted space after watering down the round. The 10 mm is almost exactly on par with the 357 magnum balisticaly

      November 29, 2017 8:45 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

        Thanks for that, Travis!

        December 14, 2017 12:42 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tyler Wasserman

      Hi, My name is Tyler and I'm 13 Years old,
      Do you think you could send me a few lists of ammo from weakest to strongest, smallest to biggest, including the same info you did in the ones you posted here? (Price, Weight, Velocity, and energy) Could you also send a list of guns, cheapest to most expensive, and maybe in your opinion, worst to best? Thank you so much!

      October 16, 2017 2:05 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Don't do it

        October 16, 2017 3:10 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Tyler Wasserman

          Don't do What?

          October 16, 2017 3:23 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

        Hi Tyler, everything you asked for is here! Beginner's Guide to Guns

        October 17, 2017 3:37 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Tyler Wasserman

          Thank you for all this, but I was wondering if I could find simple lists, as in this post, for the things above. Where can I find that?

          October 18, 2017 4:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      You stated your personal favorite was 9mm and it clearly shows in your inflated figures of the 9mm's performance man....your figure of 500-600j would represent like a 9mm+p++ if there were such a thing....on average, 9mm gets 315-450 with regular ammo & tops out at 500 at the very most with the hot stuff like MagSafe, Underwood, Buff. Bore, etc. Your figures of 10mm are very deflated as well. 575 would be the baseline with the weakest ammo, while it tops out at over 775, so an accurate range of energy would be your 575-785, which is a huge difference. Other than that, I thoroughly appreciate you putting this comparison together for us and really enjoyed your rifle ballistics comparison article as well! Keep up the good work and keep shooting man!

      September 26, 2017 8:15 pm