Guest Post by T. Wrangler

A while back, Kenny posted a hickok45 video comparing handgun ammo:

And his more recent post on “mouse guns” got me thinking about carry guns.

I spent some time collecting thoughts to present here.

Selecting a Defensive Sidearm 

Part 1

Standard duty/service sidearms at one time were usually .38 caliber double action revolvers. 1911s and some large bore revolvers were also common. For backup or undercover a .38 snubbie was considered adequate.

(It is worth noting that .38 SPL ball ammo was deemed ineffective by the military. The .45 ACP 1911 was selected as a replacement. “Victory” model military revolvers were also produced in .45 cal.

It may be no coincidence that .45 ACP ballistics are similar the .45 “Long” Colt.)

The 4″ L-frame S&W .357 might represent the best evolution of the service revolver. It has much to recommend it but it is not particularly concealable.

High capacity “wondernines” became popular but fell out of favor after the Miami shootout.*

A search for more effective duty weapons and ammunition ensued. The FBI developed protocols to define ammo performance. Those test procedures have resulted in modern handgun cartridges that are far superior to older defensive ammo.

It may be impossible to state for certain which is the best. In general, it may be safe to say that bigger is better, and one should be well served by any premium cartridge provided it functions reliably.


The increased availability of Carry Permits has created a large market for self-defense handguns, and manufacturers have responded with many new models to fulfill the demand.

For personal protection tradeoffs will have to be balanced. Among these are concealability, action type, carry method, capacity, reliability, caliber and threat level.

Selection of a suitable holster is a related subject that must be based upon one’s individual needs. Features to consider include concealment, security, comfort and access, and will require some trial and error.

To avoid mishandling one will want a sidearm that is simple to operate and safely carried with a loaded chamber.

The decision might break down to a choice between a .38 Spl revolver or a .380 ACP semiauto.


The S&W 640 is a stainless DAO J frame snubbie with a 2 1/8″ barrel. Concealed hammer with fixed sights so it’s not snaggy and can get into action quickly. Chambered in .357, it accepts a wide variety of ammo. But at only 5 rounds capacity is limited and reloads are slow and fumbly. Full power magnums are snappy but recoil can be tamed somewhat with aftermarket grips. Some ammunition designed to reduce flash is marketed for use in short-barreled guns. There is little one can do to reduce muzzle blast.

More on this subject here:

There are other similar revolvers, including J frame Smiths, Colt’s Detective Special and Ruger’s LCR snubbies. The 6 rd Kimber K6s has an innovative design that significantly reduces cylinder width. The new Colt Cobra might catch on, too soon to say. K and L frame Smiths, and Ruger GP and SP models have larger frames and are more difficult to conceal.


The Interarms PPK/S .380 is a reasonable choice. (I wouldn’t recommend those produced by S&W or Umarex.) Narrower than the J-frame and the doublestack Beretta 84, so easier to conceal. Hammer drop safety allows safe carry on a loaded chamber. DA first shot, same as the snubbie. Capacity is 7+1. Slide locks back on empty and mag drops free. There is no mag disconnect. Since I found the right grips this pistol fits my hand perfectly and points better than the 640.

Other .380s include Colt Mustang/Pony and derivatives, SIG P230 and P238, Kahr, Ruger LCP, Bersa Thunder, Mauser HSc, Beretta/Browning BDA .380 and S&W Shield.

An extensive test of .380 ammo here:


The handgun must be a personal choice. Reliability, durability, and simplicity should be key considerations when choosing a defensive handgun.

Beyond its design and execution is how it fits the operator. One that feels “right” will instill confidence. Instead of adapting to a pistol that does not fit, select one that suits you.

The 1911 is the yardstick by which combat handguns are measured. A testament to its enduring design, it remains hugely successful a century after its introduction. A large aftermarket has grown in support of this legendary platform.

1911s are available in many variations and price points, too many to list.**

Dan Wesson 1911s seem like a good value- quality build, sensible features and priced appropriately.

Kimber has a couple of suitable pistol lines in .380, 9mm and .45 ACP, and several other companies make subcompact 1911s.

Glocks and Springfield XDs are offered in multiple calibers and configurations. A glance at some of the other poly-framed semiautos will suggest they are based on Glock designs.

Kahr, CZ, Walther, FNH, S&W M&P, Springfield’s 911, and SIGs (the 365 looks promising) are popular.

Tri Star, SCCY and the Bond Arms Bullpup have been making a splash lately.

Ruger has a generally well-regarded product in nearly every market niche.

Those with injuries or other physical limitations might find the S&W .380 Shield EZ, or a tilt-barrel Beretta 86 easier to operate than other semiautos.

Any of these might be satisfactory, and many are priced well under $500.00.

Do your research and buy the best you can afford. Some brands have spotty reputations for quality. It may be prudent to wait until a new model has been on the market long enough to demonstrate its reliability.

Do not overlook pre-owned guns.

Police trade-ins and some surplus military guns are worth considering. SIGs, Glocks, S&W revolvers and Gen3 semiautos are occasionally available.

Best to avoid cheap junk and obviously damaged or neglected guns. If possible, try before you buy.

Be aware that replacement parts for discontinued models may be hard to find.

Desert Eagles, Lugers, Nambus, Broomhandles, Nagants, Webleys, Enfields etc. are not ideal choices.

Makarovs might suffice, with some reservations regarding ammo.

Don’t bet your life on a gun made of pot metal.

Tiny .22, .25 ACP and .32 guns may be better than nothing. Derringers, Heisers, NAA mini revolvers and semiautos, Seecamp, Beretta Tomcat and AMT Backup pistols might fall into this category.

Get to know the weapon. Read the manual.

Learn how it works and how to maintain it.

Test for reliability and accuracy with different types of ammo.

Practice until you can handle it with confidence.

Seek qualified instruction and training if necessary.

Educate yourself about legal matters relating to carry and use of firearms.

Always practice safe handling.


You will notice a lot of misses by the agents. (This was also true in the 1996 North Hollywood incident.) Draw your own conclusions.

See part 2 for the survivors’ reflections:

Their comments about weapons and tactics are especially valuable.


** If you are burdened with too much money look to Wilson, Baer, Brown or Nighthawk.

If you have plenty of time and money, check here:



Part 2


I am a machinist with a lifelong interest in firearms and related subjects, what you might call a dedicated student. I try to stay abreast of developments and innovations in the industry. (They come fast these days)

I have managed to accumulate a respectable collection of weapons produced within the last 100 years or so. I find the technical advances and design evolutions fascinating, especially those of John Browning.

I am impressed by old-school gunsmiths- Armand Swenson, Frank Pachmayr, Bill Wilson and Jim Clark Sr.

Some opinions, based on considerable research and examination of a wide variety of firearms:

There is no ideal weapon, perfect for every occasion. (This applies to knives and holsters as well.)

A simple, robust design will pay off in reliability.

Reliability is more important than match-grade accuracy. (But special purposes will dictate specialized tools.)

A small gun is easier to conceal but harder to control.

Sturdy fixed sights are best for carry guns. Choosing a favorite type will take some trial and error. (This applies also to grips.)

Best action type for a defensive carry gun may be DAO. (DA/SA and SA demand more attention from the shooter.)

Striker or hammer-fired action type is about a toss up. But a hammer can eliminate some guesswork.

I shy away from pistols equipped with trigger safeties only.

I prefer the S&W cylinder latch to those of any other DA revolver.

Speed strips are easier to carry than speedloaders.

When in a hurry, a quick mag change is your best bet.

When comparing ball ammo, bigger is better; flatpoint better still. (That advantage decreases with expanding ammo.)

Overpenetration is a waste of energy. Insufficient penetration might be worse.

Regardless of ammo choice, a miss is worthless.

There is no such thing as a magic bullet.

Plastic guns have proven durable and are reasonably priced. But I prefer machined metal.

Rather than applied finishes such as Teflon or Cerakote, I prefer hard anodize on aluminum, and nitriding or plating on steel.

Blued steel is pretty, Parkerizing is probably more durable.

Matte stainless seems a happy medium.

MIM parts are tougher than most people think. If one should break, by all means replace it with a machined part.

I prefer gimmick-free guns, mildly upgraded to suit myself.

I don’t like finger grooves on handguns.

I don’t like forward slide serrations either. Best to keep fingers away from the muzzle.

I doubt flattop slide treatments significantly reduce glare.

1911s have enough safeties; S 80 “improvements” are unnecessary. (A lightweight firing pin couldn’t hurt.)

I won’t have a keyed safety lock mechanism.

I’m no fan of mag. disconnects but wouldn’t bother to remove one.

All guns are always loaded. So treat them that way.

I prefer guns that can be field stripped without tools.

Any advantages of an FLGR are offset by more complicated disassembly. One might try a flat-wire recoil spring instead.

Buy quality mags.

If a 1911 doesn’t run, check the mags.

If that doesn’t work, consult your Kuhnhausen manual.

Still in doubt? Let a pro work on it.

Buy plenty of ammo.

Test it in your gun.

Then buy more.


You can learn a lot from old-timers. Read Rex Applegate, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, Massad Ayoob and of course, Col Cooper.

See if you can get veterans to talk about their experiences before it’s too late. (RIP, Dad.) Some stories might surprise you.


The internet is full of ignorant crackpots posing as experts. It also serves as an echo chamber that magnifies some issues which then become common “knowledge.” It is useful to read any comments to help sort out the nonsense.

Below are sources I have found trustworthy.

A wealth of info here:

including Cooper’s Commentaries:

And here:

(scroll down the sidebars for various topics.)

Nice collections here, with some descriptive text:

Also worth mention are Forgotten Weapons,, CalGuns, Ammoland, and S&W, 1911, and other forums for specific subjects.

I glance at TFB and TTAG from time to time as they can react to current developments faster than print media. I comment at TTAG occasionally in spite of some flamers and trolls that infest the comment section.

Just for fun- a huge inventory of small arms video reviews here:

Entertaining and informative, includes test firing and commentary.

Some YT reviewers are worth a look, no doubt you have favorites.


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17 Responses to Guest Post by T. Wrangler

  1. Sanders says:

    Good write up!

    Mom has been hinting around that her Taurus 605 snubby in .357 is getting too heavy in her purse.

    I’ve been studying up on the Ruger LCR in .327 Fed Magnum, and it sure looks promising. Ballistics aren’t too far from the .357 magnum.

  2. Winston Smith says:

    #1 is “Can you hit with it consistently”? If not, everything else is mental masturbation.

    Shoot and Carry the most powerful gun/round you can consistently perform #1 above with.
    I see lots of older folks (good shooters) stepping down in caliber as they age. The Right Choice for YOU changes over time.

  3. Ray says:

    The .45 ACP was chosen by the US Army because it replicated exactly the ballistics of the .45 S&W “Schofield” revolver round, that was the US Army standard load for ALL .45 revolvers in the 19th century. (.230 grain RNSL @ 800 FPS ) . The standard for the .45 LC 19th century loading, was a 250 to 255 grain RNSL over 40 grain of BP delivering 1000 FPS from a standard 71/2 inch army revolver. The 51/2 inch colt .45 SAA of the 1890’s was always issued with the Schofield load. Almost every sight on the internet has some degree of misinformation. Original military publications are the ONLY safe and reliable outlet for information regarding military arms and ammunition. Many sights are pure opinion with little or no original military documentation. Although very entertaining, sights like “Forgotten Weapons” “Military Arms Chanel” and the “History Chanel” are often 50% opinion 30% myth and a heaping load of misinformation. They are entertainment. Not historic research.

  4. Chris Mallory says:

    The little .380s get a lot of attention, especially from females. They are easy to carry and conceal. You can conceal a Ruger LCP in anything more covering than a string bikini. But, especially with the Ruger LCP and SW Bodyguard, you need some manual dexterity and hand strength to use them. As small as they are they can be difficult to rack the slide and even the .380 is snappy in the LCP. It is not a fun gun to shoot and unless you are a masochist you will not practice with it very much.

    Last summer I was in the Rural King looking at new toys and an elderly lady was looking at an LCP. She had so much RA in her hand, knuckles swollen up the size of walnuts, that I really doubted she could handle any firearm, but especially not an LCP. I suggested the LCR would probably be a better choice. Since it had a little more to hold on to and it did not have any worries about racking a slide. I gave her husband a free pass to the indoor shooting range I use sometimes and told him to go rent her a couple handguns to see what she could actually use.

  5. snuffy says:

    There is also a conversion kit for .45ACP to .460 Rowland. Supposedly gives performance similar to .44 Mag. Then there is .50 GI. Not sure what the claimed numbers are on that. For those with oil money, or politician money, there’s this.

    • Sanders says:

      The .460 Rowland conversion is on my short list for my XD45 carry pistol. I figure with that and a set of Heinie Straight 8 tritium night sights, and it’ll be good.

  6. pigpen51 says:

    T Wrangler,
    I am just a retired steel maker, in other words, a foundry worker. So I have only my own limited experience to draw upon as to offer as input. So what I can ever advise, comes often from the shoulders of the giants whose shoulders that I stand upon. The list of those who yo respected are also the list of some of my go to best and smartest gun people, that I listen to.
    I relied upon a Taurus Millenium Pt111 Gen 2, 9mm for several years as my carry gun. I have since begun to carry a 1911 made by the firm Shooters Arms in the Philipines under the brand name ATI. It is a commander length pistol, and is the most accurate gun that I have ever shot, for me. I have had guns that others have shot well, but this is the one that I shoot the best.
    This post was absolutely a favorite for me, having so much information that I can trace down at my own pace. And the admonition to buy ammo, once you get your guns set is exactly what I am doing. I have about 1,000 rounds of 9mm ball ammo, with a couple hundred rounds of carry self defense ammo. I only have about 200 rounds of .45 acp ball ammo left and 50 rounds of .carry ammo, so that is a work in progress. I have 1,000 of .22, but I am trying to buy when I pick up more .45 acp, since it is running only 20$ a brick of 500-525 rounds. I hope to never get caught low again.
    Plus, I just finished putting my M1916 Mauser in .308 caliber, so I have to get going on a hundred or so rounds of that, plus some hunting ammo for it. Then, I have to start over replacing what I shoot, and try to build it even more.

  7. Bill N. says:

    There is a reason police departments don’t use a .380 as a service pistol. Its penetration is inadequate with expanding bullets and FMJ have a small wound channel. I have had the opportunity to study with some very knowledgeable people who consider the 9mm and .38 Special either inadequate or the minimum one should use for a defensive pistol. Considering how well the FBI did in the 1986 Miami Shootout using 9mm’s and .38’s those that think they are inadequate may be right. While there have been advances in the design of bullets since then the performance of bullets varies depending on the circumstances and bullet selection becomes more critical the smaller the bullet. With the advent of guns such as the Glock 43 and Kahr PM9 there isn’t a lot of reason to select a .380.

    Concerning revolvers one thing that people overlook is their ability to fire in awkward positions where you might be “limp wristing” the handgun such as grappling with an attacker like the case involving Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. In cases like that, a revolver is more forgiving of awkward shooting positions and will fire as long as you can pull the trigger where a semi-auto will often malfunction.

    • Wirecutter says:

      When I first started shooting handguns back in the early 80s, the 38 was the absolute minimum for self defense. Now it’s more common to find people shooting them instead of 9s, 40s, and 45s.
      Their big defense when I bring that up is “Would you want to get shot with a 380?” My response to that is “Can you hit me with your 380?” knowing that 90% of the time, they can’t. The little fuckers are just hard to shoot.
      Bottom line – use a gun you can shoot and will stop somebody reliably.

    • crazyeighter says:

      I still get a chuckle every time I see this scene where Bond James Bond has to give up his beloved .25 Beretta for that .32 PPK.

  8. JNorth says:

    Since I’m more likely to need to deal with 4 legged problems I carry a .357 Mag, an LCR most of the time but I have a 6″ S&W Model 19 that I carry when I don’t care about concealment.

  9. H says:

    Regarding the handy little SIG 238 in 380, there is also the nearly identical SIG 938 in 9mm. 8 rounds of 9mm trumps most any 5-shot revolver in my opinion. I carry a 938 in the summer and a full sized gun when it’s jacket weather, and depending on where I’m at, a full sized gun any time things might get sketchy.

    Although it’s better to avoid those areas where a full sized gun might be more likely to be necessary.

  10. Chet says:

    About 50 years ago I took a gun safety class for some reason. I had been handling guns from about 10 years old, but for some reason I was in this class. There were two instructors, one guy was there every class and the other, an older guy would drop in and out at random. The older guy was an old retired gun hand who came up as a lawdog and was well respected by the sport shooters who were growing in number. One evening after class I asked him his advice about a carry pistol.

    What he told me was close to what I read above, except in about a 1000 fewer words. He told me, you need to be able to handle the gun naturally, like it was a part of your hand and when you pointed it and pulled the trigger you would hit what you were pointing at. And then I had better have one big bullet to knock them down like a sledge hammer, or be able to fire off so many rounds the perp bleeds out before he strangles me.

    So then I asked what calibers would mean? And he said a .45 ACP or 44 mag for the big bore and for the small bore a 22.

    Over the years I have had some of all those and others. Today I have three guns that fit my hand and all I have to do is point them, not aim, just point. We are talking the distance you are going to usually be working with in a self-defense situation…maybe 15 feet. Or maybe 6 feet. Can you pull the gun and point it to put one in his brain or five in his neck and brain? And then run like hell?

    The three that work for me are an old Ruger Bearcat in 22 LR, a S&W MP 9MM and a Bulldog in 44 Special, which shooting hollow points gets me about the same knock down as the 45ACP, maybe a little more.

    I don’t like shooting a 357. The frequency of the shot kills my ears. For weeks. And since we don’t walk around with ear protection on 24/7 and it’s doubtful you will have time to put some on when TSHTF, part of that comfort-with-my-gun thing is shooting bare eared. Neither the 9mm or the 44 SPL hurt my ears. So it has taken some time, but I found my guns.

    • =TW= says:

      I agree.
      But I wouldn’t ditch my Hi Power just because there are smaller 9s.
      And, after a dozen 1911s, I’m down to (only) four…

      More here:

    • =TW= says:

      I should add:
      The old-timer has it right. And like you said, the process will take some time.
      It has taken over 40 years to sort out my favorites:
      My first rifle was an Ithaca single shot .22 when I was 11. (Thanks, Dad.) This has been passed on to the next generation to make room in the safe.
      My first pistol was a Single Six convertible, presented when I entered high school in ’70. (Thanks again, Dad. And thanks for the Hodaka Ace 100 when I was a sophomore.) I’ll keep the treasured Ruger until I am no longer able to shoot. Wish I still had that Hodaka…
      Various 1911s, all .45ACP. I’d consider one in 9mm but there are plenty other platforms in that caliber. Besides, 1911s and .45 belong together like beer and pizza.
      I’m particularly fond of my BHP and my 3913, and my ’50s vintage High Standard .22.
      Most of my revolvers are .357, as much power as I can handle comfortably, and can run with .38SPL . The .357 Mag works good in my ’94 Trapper.
      I have no affinity for plastic guns but find to my surprise that I can shoot Glocks pretty well. Live and learn…
      Others in my collection are family heirlooms: some lovely old S&W revolvers and a sweet Low Wall in .32-20. An unissued 1917 US Enfield. A ’93 Spanish Mauser in .308 I don’t know what to do with, it’s a wall hanger now. An awesome C96 Broomhandle I didn’t need and seldom shoot. But the price was right. It gets some attention at the range. A DWM P08, same story. A few other bolt and lever action long guns, a couple of shotguns and assorted semiautos I have mentioned here on occasion.

      Bottom line: Variety is the spice of life.

  11. mark says:

    A. carry a gun

    2. carry a gun you can hit what you are aiming at.

    c. carry enough gun: bullet diameter, bullet weight, bullet velocity, and enough rounds in the gun to stop the fight

    Lastly, carry a reliable gun

    E carry a gun you can carry all the time.

  12. dangero says:

    The “wondernines” are back in vogue thanks to upgrades in ammunition. The FBI has done plenty of testing recently to prove it and that’s why you see so many police forces going back to the 9mm from the .40’s. The .45 is still good its just no more lethal than the 9mm and you give up capacity and take on more recoil so it comes in second all things considered.

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