4 Defensive Handgun Chamberings You Might Not Have Considered

Everyone knows about the 9 mm, .45 ACP and .380. But have you considered one of these other, less common chamberings?

by posted on May 6, 2024
Deering Defensive Calibers

My advice to 95 percent of first-time concealed-carry handgun buyers, man or woman, is simple and standard: Buy a 9 mm Luger and be done with it. It’s the most popular handgun caliber for very good reasons. It’s relatively inexpensive, it offers a nearly ideal balance between effective threat-stopping power and carrying capacity, and every gun store in the country carries it. But if you’re looking for something a little different—maybe a smaller cartridge with less recoil, or something for a revolver that’s not the usual .357 Mag. or .38 Special—one of these five chamberings might fill the bill for you.

Go Small: The .22 Magnum
Several companies make semi-automatic pistols chambered for the .22 Magnum, and several of the ammo companies are making self-defense-purposed ammo to go in them. This is a rimfire cartridge typically loaded with a bullet that weighs between 30 and 50 grains (for reference, a typical 9 mm self-defense load shoots a bullet weighing from 115 to 150 grains or more). It’s clear by the bullet weigh alone that this round simply doesn’t have as much threat-stopping power as many other self-defense chamberings, but what it does have is a high carrying capacity—you can stuff up to 30 rounds into some of the guns on the market—and really low recoil. On top of that, the ammo is much less expensive than typical center-fire self-defense rounds. If you are new to guns and maybe a little bit afraid of them, and recoil is a major factor for you, this might be one to consider. Just understand that it is a definite compromise in stopping power—but a small gun you can shoot confidently and will carry is better than a big gun you won’t shoot or carry at all.

Less Recoil, One More Round: The .32 H&R Magnum
A number of .32-caliber handgun cartridges have come and gone over the years, with a few sticking around. The .32 H&R Magnum is among the more powerful of them, and it’s designed for use in revolvers. It’s often stacked up against the more common .38 Spl., which is probably the most popular revolver caliber among female carriers. On average, the .32 H&R Mag shoots faster and therefore flatter than the .38 Spl., but the .38 has about 20 percent more energy (in ft.-lbs.). The .32 H&R Mag shoots a slightly smaller bullet, and all else being equal, it will recoil a little less than the .38 Spl. You can also fit six cartridges into a small-framed revolver as opposed to the .38 Spl.’s five. That doesn’t sound like much, but percentage-wise, it’s a considerable increase in capacity.

Pack More Punch: The .30 Super Carry
Federal introduced the .30 Super Carry a couple of years ago with the ambitious goal of competing with the 9mm Luger for market share. The sales pitch is that this chambering bridges the gap between the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger—which it does pretty nicely. It offers basically the same muzzle energy and performance as the 9 mm, but in a slightly smaller overall package, which allows you to load two more cartridges in an equally sized semi-automatic pistol. It shoots a smaller bullet, a .32-cal. one to be specific, typically around 90 to 100 grains, which means it has less recoil than the 9 mm Luger, but Federal’s extensive testing gives plenty of evidence that it matches the 9 mm’s performance. This chambering has been slowly catching on, and a number of companies are now making guns to shoot it. If you’re looking for 9 mm performance with a little more capacity and a little less recoil, the .30 Super Carry is it.

Do It All: The .410/.45 Colt
If you’re not familiar, there are a few handguns on the market (revolvers) that will shoot .410 shotshells, most famously the Taurus Judge and Smith & Wesson Governor. In most if not all cases, these guns can also safely shoot the .45 Colt, giving you serious versatility. Several ammo companies also make specialized self-defense .410 shells these days that are particularly effective. I won’t lie to you: These guns are beasts. There’s just no way to shoot a shotshell, even a .410, out of a handgun without a considerable amount of recoil. But the versatility in mixing and matching loads can’t be beat in specialized scenarios—it’s great for snakes, for example. If your outdoor adventures are such that you don’t know if you’ll encounter four-legged, two-legged or no-legged threats, a .410/.45 Colt handgun that can handle them all might be a good option.

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