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5 Best Calibers For Self Defense

Man holding a box of 12 guage

The caliber refers to the diameter of a bullet, or the diameter inside the barrel of the gun.

When choosing the best gun or best caliber for self-defense, make sure you are truly comfortable with your choice. Ultimately, while some guns may be ranked better than others for experts, you need to find the best gun and caliber for you specifically. This will depend on the size of your hands, whether you intend to conceal the weapon, the amount of recoil and pressure you’re comfortable with, and at what distances you want to have real accuracy.

If you’re able, go to a gun store or shooting range and try out shooting different calibers. You’ll soon be able to see for yourself which one fits you, your hand, and your goals the best. In the meantime, here’s a list of calibers for self-defense that will give you a place to start.


.380 Caliber

The .380 is a smaller, lighter gun that is usable for most people. Again, when making your self-defense plan, you need to make sure to choose a gun you can actually shoot. This is an accessible caliber that is easily concealed and can be carried without a holster. This is the caliber for most pistols.

The disadvantage to .380 pistols is that smaller bullets make smaller holes, and they are not as reliable as larger guns. For example, if your attacker is wearing several layers of clothing, these bullets may not make it to their skin. But, with a small, usable gun with accurate fire, this caliber is a strong defensive tactic.

12 Gauge

12 Gauge

The 12 gauge shotgun is extremely versatile and a good weapon for home defense. They work well against small and large animals when hunting, and at both short and long distances.

Shotguns are measured in gauges rather than calibers; gauge refers to the number of lead spheres that can fit down the weapon’s bore, and how many of those spheres it would take to make a pound. A larger gauge refers to a smaller shotgun, and a smaller gauge refers to a larger shotgun. For example, a 10 gauge is a larger shotgun than a 12 gauge.

The most common shotgun types are 12 gauge and 20 gauge. The ammunition is roughly the same price, but the 12 gauge has a much more significant spread than the 20 gauge. “Spread” refers to the surface area that shotgun shell pellets hit on their target. The more spread, the more damage the ammunition will inflict. The 12 gauge also leaves the barrel at a faster speed, and can therefore go farther.

It’s worth noting that 12 gauge does have a sharper recoil than 20 gauge. If you are new to shooting, make sure you are prepared for this and can handle the recoil.



The 9mm has been regaining popularity in recent years, especially since the FBI began using them again in 2015. It has a lower recoil than other weapons, allowing for additional bullets to be fired sooner. Since the bullets themselves are smaller, it’s easy to carry more of them if necessary.

This ammo is less expensive than the others on this list. This means you can take your time practicing with this gun before you are presented with a self-defense emergency.

.40 Cal

.40 Cal

Especially compared to the 9mm, the 40 cal does have a much stronger recoil. In order to manage the pressure enough to shoot with one hand, you’ll have to work on your shooting skills. This is because 40 cal shoots larger, heavier bullets. They are generally accurate, and the heavier bullets leads to slightly more stopping power against your target.

.357 Mag

.357 Mag

A .357 mag can shoot three kinds of ammunition, making it the most versatile option. The .357 gives powerful energy, but still gives the user decent control over the recoil. It is widely known to be very accurate even up to 100 yards, and certainly for the close quarters that self-defense emergencies often take place in. Most of all, the .357 is able to tear through multiple layers. This means that it can quickly and humanely take down big game by reaching its vital organs – but it also presents a danger for bystanders who might be behind an attacker.

Choose the right caliber for your shooting skill, concealment needs, and your comfort. Remember: a gun and caliber that you are able to shoot will always defend you better than one you can’t operate.