Just as with religion and politics, firearms facts are often distorted and exaggerated. Very often some things that sound reasonable are repeated so often and for so long they become accepted fact. After 13 years as a police officer, I arrived at a point where I operated mostly on skepticism. If you’re lied to enough, you come to expect it. When I started writing for gun magazines on a regular basis, applying that same modus operandi of “verifying everything I heard” just come natural.
One of the first old wives tales I questioned was the suitability of the .223 Rem. as a deer cartridge. After years of testing the terminal performance of most every cartridge in gelatin and other mediums, it was clear to me that those old wives didn’t know what they were talking about. Dozens of dead deer have proven that. Along the same vein, it’s often said, “The .223 Rem. isn’t legal for deer hunting in most states.” I questioned that and after some extensive research I found that 35 of the 50 states allow hunters to shoot deer with the .223 Rem.
Another common misconception when it comes to firearms deals the grand old .45 AUTO cartridge. Some believe it is the be-all, end-all of defensive handgun cartridges, and various gun writers, non-gun reporters and Hollywood have all helped to perpetuate this myth.
The truth is that when it comes to the big three defensive handgun cartridges – the 9mm, the .40 S&W and the .45 AUTO – the actual terminal performance differences are so slight that medical examiners can only determine which caliber cartridge someone was shot with if they can recover the bullet. Given the best bullets, the tissue destruction levied by these three calibers/cartridges is very similar if not indistinguishable.
Here’s the thing: Modern defensive handgun ammunition is all designed to meet the same performance standards that were established by the FBI. They want bullets to expand as much as possible, still penetrate at least 13 inches, and be able to do so even after passing through various barriers such as clothing and wall board.
The smaller caliber 9mm and .40 S&W can compete with the .45 AUTO and equal its performance, given the above criteria, because they operate at pressures which are 35 percent higher. This additional force allows the smaller caliber .355 and .400 bullets to expand and penetrate just as well as the .45.
In the end, it all comes down to shot placement and the mental and physical state of the bad guy who is getting shot. There is no magic cartridge, and there’s no magic bullet, in any caliber or for any cartridge. What there is, in the real world, is a lot of misses, and sometimes the added magazine capacity of the 9mm and .40 S&W over the .45 AUTO is a good thing.
Your best recipe for survival is avoidance. If that doesn’t work, be first and be accurate as many times as possible until it is all over. The .45 AUTO may have set the standard, but it is not magic.