Understanding Handgun Calibers

If you’re in the market for a brand new handgun but are stumped as to which caliber you ought to pick, look no further than this quick and easy guide to picking the right pistol caliber for you. 

From the most basic handgun calibers available to the revolver calibers best suited to certain types of shooters—we’ve got you covered. Today, we’ll discuss the following top 10 pistol bullet sizes:

  • 9mm Luger
  • .380 ACP
  • .22 LR
  • .40 S&W
  • 10mm
  • .45 ACP
  • .38 Special
  • .44 Remington Magnum
  • .357 Magnum
  • .454 Casull

Let’s take a closer look at these ten handgun calibers.

9mm Luger

The 9mm pistol caliber is one of the most popular and widely used handgun calibers on the globe. 9mm bullets feature diameters of .355 inches weighing in at anywhere from 115 to 130 grains. Once discharged, a 9mm Luger travels at approximately 1,100 to 1,200 feet per second.

9mm rounds fire fast and are significantly larger than some of the other pistol bullet sizes we will discuss, making them ideal both for shooting at the range and for self- defense

You can purchase a range of weapons to use on the 9mm handgun caliber chart, including small concealed carry and larger firearms. Another huge advantage with 9mm rounds is that they are fairly cost-effective while also giving the shooter only mild recoil.

.380 ACP

The .380 ACP is one of the smaller pistol bullet sizes, with .335-inch bullets that weigh anywhere from 90 to 100 grains and travel at 1,000 feet per second. The .380 ACP projectile is negligible, so these are often used in smaller, concealed carry guns. 

.22 LR

The .22 LR handgun calibers are rimfire cartridges usually used in bolt action rifles. However, some shooters use the .22 LR in revolvers and pistols. The rounds are fairly minute, so these aren’t an ideal choice for home or personal defense, but perfect for plenty of target practice at the range. It’s important to remember to pack your gun and calibers in a proper gun range bag when traveling to and from the range.

.22 LR rounds are really easy to find and affordable as well, which is why so many individuals prefer .22LR handguns for range shooting. Some people opt to use them as concealed carry weapons, but they are not as ideal for this purpose as a .380 ACP would be.

.40 S&W

The .40 S&W has seen its heyday as one of the more popular pistol bullet sizes but it is still a reliable round for handguns. The projectiles sport diameters measuring .4 inches and weigh in around 135 to 165 grains, firing at approximately 1,100 feet per second.

The .40 S&W has steep competition in the 9mm because the latter provides very similar aerodynamic performance but with a lighter, more compact frame. However, the .40 S&W is still an excellent pick for personal and home defense, or even extensive range practice. 


The 10mm is the largest of the pistol calibers on our list and is one of the largest cartridges on the market, period. The projectiles typically measure .40 inches in diameter and travel at 1,200 to 1,300 feet per second.

The 10mm projectiles harness a ton of energy because they move at such an impressive rate of speed. 10mm are a fantastic pick for hunting enthusiasts because they maintain their energy even when traveling very long distances. The cartridges suffice to snag a deer, depending on how accurate and seasoned your shot is. The 10mm caliber also sports a flat trajectory with decent recoil.

.45 ACP

Very close in line with the 10mm, the .45 ACP has a diameter of .451 inches and weighs in at around 165 to 185 grains. The .45 ACP travels a little bit slower than the 10mm, at 1,050 per second based on the round you pick.

The .45 ACP bullets fire very quickly and are pretty heavy, making them a solid pick for hunting, personal, and home offense. Because the .45 ACP cartridge is so large, these handguns aren’t ideal for concealed carrying. You can shoot the .45 ACP at the range for target practice. However, the ammo is not as affordable as some of our other mentions, so that cartridge size for plinking could rack up your costs quickly.

.38 Special

The .38 special pistol calibers sport a diameter of .357 inches and feature weights ranging from 125 to 150 grains. The .38 has a somewhat slower fire time of 950 feet per second. The bullets are noticeably heavier and bigger than 9mms, but they don’t fire so quickly.

Even so, if it came down to the .380 ACP and .38 Special, the latter has enhanced performance. You could use the .38 Special for range practice, self-defense, and home defense without issue. It is also a pretty popular cartridge for concealed carrying.

.44 Remington Magnum

The .44 Remington Magnum revolver calibers feature .429-inch diameters with grains ranging between 240 and 300. These rounds fire at 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second, so they are not only mammoth but fire at lightning speed. 

The .44 Remington Magnum projectile doesn’t spread as far as the .45 ACP, they fire much quicker and are also heavier. The stopping power of the .44 Remington Magnum is truly a force to be reckoned with, but because the cartridge is so big, it’s not ideal for concealed-carrying weapons. 

However, the .44 Remington Magnum is great for handgun hunting with impressive precision. The size and speed of the rounds also make them a worthy contender for personal and home defense. 

.357 Magnum

The .357 Magnum is also a solid choice for home defense, with .357-inch bullets featuring 125 or 158 grains. The rounds travel at crazy fast speeds of 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second, with harsh stopping power for the target.

The revolvers aren’t particularly large, so some people opt to use them for concealed carrying purposes. They are also really enjoyable to use at the range for recreational shooting.

.454 Casull

Finally, the Casull is another veritable giant in the handgun caliber world. With .452-inch bullets and grains exceeding 300, the 1,500 to 1,600 firing speed is just the tip of the iceberg. If you go with a .454 Casull, you’ll need a very sizeable revolver. Perfect for hunting or defense purposes, the .454 provides noteworthy stopping power paired with incomparable speed.

FAQs About Handgun Calibers

What is the difference between handgun calibers?

Different handgun calibers refer to the diameter of the bullet, measured in either inches or millimeters. Larger calibers generally deal more damage and have a greater range than smaller calibers, but they also tend to be less accurate and generate more recoil.

How do different calibers affect recoil and accuracy?

Generally speaking, larger calibers will produce more recoil due to their increased power when fired, while accuracy is affected by many factors including barrel length, sights/optics used, and even shooter skill level.

Do larger or smaller calibers offer more stopping power?

Stopping power is determined by several factors such as bullet weight/design as well as velocity at impact rather than caliber size alone; however larger calibers typically offer higher muzzle velocities which can help increase the overall stopping power of a round compared to smaller ones with identical bullets being fired from similar firearms.

What are the benefits of using different kinds of ammunition with each caliber?

The type of ammunition used can affect how a handgun performs significantly; different types (such as hollow point vs full metal jacket) can provide different results in terms of accuracy and terminal performance depending on the intended application after leaving the barrel so it’s important to understand which kinds are best suited for each particular situation before loading up your magazine(s).

How does barrel length affect a handgun’s performance in terms of velocity and accuracy when firing different calibers?

Barrel length plays an important role in velocity retention because longer barrels allow bullets more time inside them before exiting out through the muzzle – this means that shorter barrels may cause lower velocities which could lead to decreased performance downrange despite using ammunition designed for higher powered cartridges like .45 ACP or 10mm Auto if fired from shorter barreled firearms such as pocket pistols or snub nose revolvers respectively.

About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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