Picking a gun the wrong way: choosing a caliber by silly rules-of-thumb.

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We have a lot of trite phrases in the defensive training world, and one of them sets my teeth on edge: when someone asks how they should choose a gun for personal protection, the usual answer is to “pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well.”

It’s nonsensical, and I’m tired of hearing it.

The problem is how to define “well”. Are we talking in terms of accuracy? If so, I contend that anyone can shoot any handgun caliber “well” – at least for the first shot. If we’re talking group size, given sufficient time between shots I’ll hold to my contention: anyone can shoot any handgun “well” if they have enough time to regroup between presses of the trigger.

I’ve heard the variation “….the biggest caliber that you can handle.” Same thing – what do you mean by “handle”? I’ve seen many guys at the range who claim to be able to “handle” large-bore Magnums, but it’s clear they have significant trouble with recoil control. Obviously there’s a difference between what I consider control and what they do, which illustrates my point. Without criteria, there’s no way to evaluate whether the person can “handle it” or not. Again, most people can handle any gun for a single shot. What about the second, third and fourth?

Some have apparently figured out that “well” and “handle” don’t mean anything and say instead to “pick the biggest caliber that you can shoot quickly and accurately.” How quickly? How accurately? With any gun/ammo combination, given a specific set of environmental variables, there will be a certain balance of speed and precision which the shooter can achieve. A .454 Casull will have one, and a .22 LR will have another. Which one should the person pick? Which balance of speed and precision is best?

As one goes up in caliber or power, at any given level of precision the shooter’s speed will decrease. How far along that line should the shooter travel before settling? There are many examples of arbitrary tests that people take to determine these things (so many shots in so many seconds with a minimum score), but they’re contrived. Take a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun; any given shooter may be able to use the 12-gauge and pass a qualification, then logically conclude that it’s the largest gun that he can shoot quickly and accurately. However, if that same person shoots the same course with a 20-gauge, they’ll find that they can shoot it faster with the same level of precision. Which, then, is the better choice?

Starting to get the idea? These statements – and their variants – sound profound, but they’re not. Unless very specific criteria are defined they mean nothing.

-=[ 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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