Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 5

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More energy can be a good thing – as long as it actually does something useful.

Last time we discussed the concept of the hollowpoint as a way to increase the frontal diameter of the bullet in the target. I also introduced the idea that it takes energy to expand the bullet, energy that is also needed to push the projectile into something that it needs to reach.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet to expand, it doesn’t happen by magic. Somewhere the energy has to be found to deform the metal used in the bullet, and that energy can only be found in the bullet’s own movement. If there is too little to start with, there won’t be enough to carry the bullet on its path.

If the cartridge has insufficient energy the expanding bullet will stop forward movement too rapidly, resulting in very shallow wounds that may or may not be effective. This tends to explain the lack of expanding bullets for the venerable .38 Special cartridge – there just isn’t enough energy to drive a bullet deeply into the target and expand it at the same time.

How do we get around this problem? Well, the first alternative is to simply switch to a cartridge with more energy. In the case of the .38, we could bump up to the .357 Magnum. The .357 certainly has enough energy! Of course, that energy reserve comes at a price: greatly increased recoil and muzzle blast, which reduce the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple combat-accurate shots.

The other alternative is to make a higher energy version of the cartridge we already have. This time-tested approach results in what’s know as “+P” ammunition, which is the designation for a cartridge loaded beyond what is considered “normal” pressure. The idea is to increase the energy delivery of that cartridge to accomplish a specific task. Generally, it works pretty well!

You’ll see criticisms on the internet of some +P loadings, usually centered on the idea that “it’s not much of an increase in power.” If you consider what we’ve explored in this series so far, you’ll realize that it doesn’t have to be a “lot” – it just has to be “enough”! If a cartridge at normal pressure can’t quite deliver an expanding bullet to where it needs to, but a +P version does, then that is sufficient for the task at hand.

Remember: if the energy doesn’t do something useful, then it is wasted from our perspective.

Get away from the idea that you need vast increases in power for defensive applications. You simply need enough power to perform the Twin Tasks. Is it better to have a large reserve amount of energy on tap? That’s a question that only you can answer, after being honest about your own abilities and needs. Everything comes at a price and needs to be considered relative to the goal at hand.

In the next installment we’ll bring together the things we’ve discussed, and look at the tradeoffs you need to consider to pick your “ideal” self defense cartridge.

(Remember to click the “Stopping Power” tag to see all the articles in this series!)

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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