Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is the best defensive pistol to carry?


This question comes up at every gun shop, every gun show, and every time two or more shooters get together. It's the old 'Ford vs Chevy' argument, although it can feel a little more like 'The Hatfields vs The McCoys' at times.

"What is the best pistol to carry for self defense?"

Like my dad used to say, "Now There's a hole with no bottom!".

At the risk of opening a can of worms, stirring them up, and spreading them out across the gun shop floor...... here is what 'Ol Carteach thinks.

My ideal carry pistol? One that works, one that is on me when I need it, and one that's sufficient caliber to likely deter someone who wishes me harm. In other words, carry pistols are like tools in a tool box. The right tool for the right job, or at least as close as one can get. Notice, there is nothing here that says a carry weapon must be a revolver, or must be self-loading. There is nothing here that says it must be made of steel, or plastic, or even from melted down barbie dolls. It need not be cheap, nor expensive, nor pretty, nor ugly. It need not have a whiz bang laser, nor a flashlight, nor dual matching cup holders.

A defensive carry weapon must work, must be there, and be big enough to do the job at hand. More than that is personal choice (not that that's a bad thing).

'Must Work' means the pistol needs to be reliable. In this case, reliable is usually determined by the number of rounds the weapon can go through without a failure of any kind (not directly related solely to ammunition faults). A not uncommon notion, and one I subscribe to, is that a carry weapon should be able to digest thousands of rounds in a row without a single hiccup. Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands.

Revolver shooters may look at this number differently, and with good reason. Solid, old school, double action revolvers have a reputation for reliability that is unmatched. This statement may drive some Glock shooters into fits of frothy fury, but it's no less the truth. With fewer moving parts, robust designs, and no safeties to get in the way, revolvers have earned their reputation for dependability. Not that wheel guns are infallible, no.... they are far from that. No machine is free from all failures forever. But.... a good quality revolver is the standard others are measured against.

Weighed on the scales of reliability, revolvers as a genre have an edge. Not a big one, in these modern times, but there is a measurable lean to the wheelies side of things.

Most importantly, and back on the topic, carry weapons need to be reliable. This means their owners, if they really care, should be shooting them a lot. Not a box a year at the family Fourth of July picnic, in between the hot dog course and the pie extravaganza..... but several hundred rounds a month, if at all possible. Many defensive shooters believe a carry pistol should have a solid thousand rounds through it, without a glitch, before it is really dependable enough to be relied on.

In this area of concern, there is no substitute for round count. Folks who carry, and do it with forethought and reason, need to spend quality trigger time with their weapon. Should it not be true, should it suffer failures of any kind.... then it's time to move on to another weapon. Allowing for a short break in time, several hundred rounds or so, a serious weapon simply should not fail to work afterwords.

This is not to say that failures don't occur. They always will, as we are dealing with machines. Machines break, machines fail, and machines are only as good as their designers skull sweat and their owners care. If you have one steel ball.... you are pretty safe in that it's not likely to fail. As soon as you introduce a second steel ball and let it touch the first... all bets are off and it's just a matter of time till they fail. For that reason, good shooters practice for failures. Reload drills, failure to feed drills, and even 'move to a backup gun' drills.

Now, once we have a reasonably reliable weapon, where should we keep it? The answer is really very simple. A defensive weapon needs to be on you, or where you can lay your hand on it RIGHT NOW. That's it, pure and simple. Anything less means your defensive options are diminished tremendously. Understand... it's all about time. The time it takes you to move your weapon into service, Vs the time it takes a bad guy to surprise you and take the advantage. If your 'time to armed' is less than the bad guys 'time to overpower', then you may win. If not, you are likely to lose. 'Time to armed' means weapon in hand, ready, aimed at the threat. A weapon anyplace else but there mean
s you are not armed yet.

This notion of 'time to armed' must be balanced against risk, and against social need. As I sit writing this, I am perhaps twenty feet from a substantial house gun... a
twelve gauge pump action shotgun, tucked away in a safe and concealed position. Am I armed? Sadly, the answer is no... or least "not very well for the situation". I know from experience that someone can be on the front porch without my knowledge, and through the front door far faster than I can vacate this chair and get to that shotgun. But, should I have that weapon leaning against my chair, as I write? Or, perhaps in my lap? No, that would be unreasonable, given the threat level right now, which is approximately 'zero'.

The single best place for a defensive handgun to be is on your person. That is the one place it's best suited to fulfill it's role.... defending your life in a violent encounter. In keeping with this thought, some consideration must be given to the size and shape of the carry weapon, as opposed to other factors. How does the carrier dress? What environment are they in? How much weight can they comfortably bear all day without fatigue or irritation?

Above all else, a weapon left at home in the safe because it was unsuitable to carry... is no longer a defensive weapon. The words "Leave me alone, I own a gun!" will carry no weight when shrilly screamed during a violent encounter. A defensive weapon has to be on the person to be of use, and this means it must be suitable to the situation. If the only possible carry position is on a neck cord, with the weapon hidden under a tank top, then so be it. In that case, the weapon must be small enough, and light enough, to be carried so.

On the other hand, most adults who can wear any type of loose clothing can carry a full sized (and full power) pistol on their person without too much difficulty. There are any number of quality made and well designed belt holsters. There are belly bands, pocket holsters, 'Grip Clips', shoulder holsters, and purpose designed carry bags. There is clothing specially designed for wear with concealed carry. There are... options... many options, and very few real excuses.

It's in the 'carry arena' that semi-auto pistols gain an edge over revolvers. A modern defensive 'pistol' can carry ten rounds of .45 ACP in a reliable weapon that's flatter and lighter than most snub nosed .38 Special revolvers. Moving to even lighter calibers, such as .380, gives automatics the decided advantage. There is an entire new genre of very small, very light pocket pistols built around the .380 cartridge. Plastic bodied, double action only, minimal carry signature.... all designed to BE THERE in your pocket, because they are just so easy to carry. True, the .380 is not a mighty power house of defensive thunder, but even a pipsqueak .380 (in the pocket) beats a .38 in the safe.

My opinion? The largest reliable pistol you can carry, comfortably concealed all day, that is the way to go.

The last criteria, that the weapon be in sufficient caliber to perform it's job, is at the heart of a never ending discussion. What caliber is too small? What is too big? What is too 'unusual'? What has the best terminal ballistics? What has the best track record?

Carteach has definite thoughts on the issue. Consider what we ask the defensive pistol round to do. Ideally, it should be able to deter or stop someone from violently attacking. How does it do that? A pistol round works primarily in one way... it punches holes in people and things. If it's large enough, fast enough, or heavy enough, it can cause shock and trauma in addition to punching holes, but the very least a defensive pistol round must do is punch holes in people. Deep enough, and damaging enough, to deter an attacker (with luck).

On the low end of the scale, the .380 auto is considered the bottom rung. With modern ammunition, it has the ability to gain a bad guys attention. It certainly will not 'blow them twelve yards backwards, doing flips all the way', but a solid hit with one should let a bad guy know they made a serious error in the victim selection process. At the very least, it should cause enough pain and disruption to allow the victim to escape. At the worst, it may result in a dead bad guy. The same can be said for both the .32acp and the .22 rimfire, but both those rounds have a sad record in shutting down attackers. Kill people, eventually, sure. Deterring violent criminals bent on personal destruction? Not so much.

In the revolver realm, the .38 special is generally regarded as low man, although the venerable .38 Special +P 158 grain FBI load has a reputation as a man stopper.

From there, the field is wide open.... right up till the cartridge becomes just too strong for the shooter to efficiently and accurately handle it. There are some who regard the 9x19 parabellum as 'too harsh' in recoil, while others shrug off the muzzle blast of a .44 magnum as tolerable. The real consideration on top end is what can the shooter handle well. Too harsh, and accuracy suffers tremendously, especially as the shooter becomes afraid to practice.

As far as caliber is concerned, Carteach's thinking is.... The biggest that will fit the pistol you will carry, and not so big that you won't practice often. As for the rest, there is a good argument that can be made for every single cartridge out there, and each will have supporters and detractors. When it comes to tools in the tool box, chose the best you can, and one you have faith in... if such is possible.

Putting all this blather into real world reality, here are 'Ol Carteach's choices: For everyday carry, a Glock G-30 in .45acp. It's reliable, reasonably powerful, surprisingly accurate, easy to shot well, and on my large body it simply vanishes under a loose shirt. The full magazine of heavy .45acp loads is comforting, as the round has a long track record of success in defensive shooting. Over 100 years worth, come to think of it!

For backup, or times when I cannot carry on my belt, a Taurus model 85 .38 special snubnose with +p ammunition. The old snubby is one of the original Taurus imports, and I have owned it almost 20 years now. It's had thousands of rounds through it, and is quite reliable. For carry, it snuggles into a belly band and simply goes away, even under a loose T-shirt.

There are others in the Carteach CCW stable, but those two account for 98% of regular circumstances. Each pistol gets used, fairly often, and trained with under various situations. Neither is a target pistol, a plinking pistol, nor a hunting weapon. They are defensive concealed carry weapons.... and ones I have faith in.

What do you chose to carry, and why?


snowdog said...

Glock 26 for me, and Walther PPS for the fiancee. Both 9mm, because she's more comfortable shooting that than anything bigger (she's kinda on the smallish side ^.^ ) I use 9mm as well because we're no where near wealthy, and with range trips every week or two it's cheaper to use the same type ammo.

K. Erickson said...

I no longer carry as a matter of religious conviction; however, when I did, my two carry guns were the medium frame Glock .40 and a Rossi .357 snubbie loaded with .38 +P Federal Silver Tips. Which was on my person at any given time depended on clothing and circumstances.

ZerCool said...

I'm a wheelie-guy most of the time, and living where I do, concealment is paramount. A S&W 642 stuffed with 129gr +P HydraShoks lives IWB for me. The round butt pretty much disappears, no beavertail or hammer to snag clothes, and sufficient power for any social event I'm likely to encounter.

It's a tremendous plus that it just points and shoots Right Where I Want. I've never felt like I was muscling or fighting the gun to get a sight picture; it's just there.

When I feel the need for more firepower, either a S&W 4053 (8+1 of .40S&W) or a Gov't 1911 (7+1 .45ACP) - still IWB.

I don't have a plastic pistol in my safe yet, and I'm starting to get the urge to fix that, with a strong preference for the Springfield XD40 Compact.

If open carry is an option (out of state), either the Gov't 1911, or a S&W 5946 (15+1 9mm) in an OWB rig.

Old NFO said...

Kahr P-9 or G26 in 9mm, or Colt Agent 129gr +P; if open carry, 1911. Since I wear coat and tie most of the time, and am in/out of government buildings, a paddle is the holster of choice (Don Hume).

Sherm said...

Most of the day I have a Ruger P97 in 45 acp in a briefcase an arm length away. It should be sufficient for most any encounter. I keep a Ruger LCP in .380 in a rear pocket whenever I'm awake and dressed. Sometimes the P97 is more than an arm length away.

D.W. Drang said...

The largest reliable pistol you can carry, comfortably concealed all day, that is the way to go.
Add: "...which you can shoot well..." and you'd have my stock answer.
I alternate between a S&W 442 and a Colt Combat Commander.

WV: tasters. Well, I wasn't going to, but now I'm thinking about opening a bottle of wine...

Joel said...

1911 .45, every waking minute of every day. I used to carry a PPK .380 when I had to go concealed, but the law recently changed so concealed carry is no longer illegal without a license so now when I go to a big town I just put on an IWB and an overshirt.

Anonymous said...

Sig 229 in 9mm is my favorite choice. Kel-Tec PF9 when I can't conceal the 229. 9mm because it meets my cost/effectiveness curve.

ASM826 said...

Ruger SP101 is my usual choice, especially in summer. I understand all the choices, and was carrying a Springfield XD in .45, but this is a lot more concealable, and has been absolutely reliable.

ke7cjw said...

For me it depends on the situation. If I am going shopping in the summer I will carry something light that is easy to hide in a pocket like a Ruger LCP, or Taurus PT22, If I am going out in the woods where the potential for a run in with a wild predator is possible then I want a good .357 or .44 Magnum. My two most common carry guns are a Ruger SP101 ,357 Mag or a Browning Hi-Power 9mm,

DesertRat said...

Colt CCO or S&W Model 65 as primary, S&W 642 as Backup.

Sometimes I used to just carry a Kel-Tec P32, then I had a situation where I felt I might really need a gun. Now I don't feel comfortable unless I have a .45 or a .357 on me.

treefroggy said...

I carry a 5 inch folding knife. I live in The Peoples Republic of Maryland.

Gawd I hate this state.

brett said...

I'm a wheel man. Ruger SP 101 3in., fixed sights and depending on the day .38 +p's or .357's. I grew up shooting revolvers and they feel natural to me. I like semi auto's but they seem like alien technology. K.I.S.S :D

Crucis said...

Most of the time, I carry a S&W snubbie in a pocket holster loaded with .38spl 158gr JHP or LSWCHP. The other times, I carry an Officer sized .45acp during the summer. Occasionally during the summer when the .38 isn't appropriate, I'll carry a S&W M&P9C. During the winter, it's a S&W M13 2 1/2" in a IWB holster.

George said...

Warm weather (70+% of the time in Phx.) S&W 442 electroless nickel, w/corbon 110 gr. hp. Cooler weather gunsmith-built 1911 5" NM slide over Essex frame. Bomars.
230 gr. Hydroshoks

Sigivald said...

It's like asking "what's the best car to drive?" with no reference to the driver or the destination, the road, or the daily tasks involved.

(Or, in my favorite form of the question, "What's better? A pickup truck or a Porsche Carerra?"

Both answers are wrong; the pickup's terrible for hooning around a curvy mountain road, and you'll never get that sheet of plywood home in the Carerra.

The question is the problem.)

aczarnowski said...

For urban expeditions a Kahr PM9 IWB or in my back pocket is my primary. My fallback is a Ruger LCP in my front pocket. If I'm out having beverages with friends I put on a KaBar TDI.

Until you carry an LCP (or KelTec original) you can't imagine how easy they are. They require ZERO change to your lifestyle. If you can't find a way to carry an LCP you should reexamine how you feel about carrying in the first place.

The different setups do tweak my purity meter a bit, and I do need to practice more. At least I will have a tool if a flag ever goes up.

Me said...

I normally carry either a 1911 or an HK P7M13, but I just picked up a Ruger LCP as a back-up and did my first review article on it on my site, so if you're interested in the LCP, come on over and check it out. Like Carteach says, the best defensive pistol is the one that you have with you when you need it.

Anonymous said...

I have never carried, but if I did I would carry either a Glock 26 or NAA Guardian. My reason for commenting is this: I have owned several semi-auto's in my time and never had an issue with any of them, however, the revolvers I have had (good quality guns, not cheap knock-off's) have given me trouble from time to time. So, not sure about the whole 'revolver - reliability' issue. Anyway, I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!

Argie said...

S&W .38 Snub, Bersa .380, S&W M&P .45c

wv: phald - No, I'm not completely phald...yet!

aczarnowski said...

To Anonymous, I ran a NAA G380 for a while. While it is nicely made, I found it far too heavy for the pocket pistol role. I recently ponied up the $300 to fix my mistake with a new LCP. FWIW.

TrueBlueSam said...

Can't carry away from home in Illinois. An old entrenching tool rides in my floorboard; in the woods I carry a hickory walking/tree measuring stick. The boy keeps a long handled 3/8 ratchet with a sparkplug socket for a grip in his car. On the farm I prefer to pack my 5 1/2" Redhawk with moderate .44 loads. My mother in Iowa has a .45 Blackhawk convertible for her house gun, and now has a PK 380 for concealed carry, which she will be able to do on January 1 when the new law goes into effect.

BombthePeasants said...

I carry a Springfield Armory 1911 Loaded, 5", w/ a Checkmate 8 rd. SS magazine, cocked & locked, 9 rounds total; Holster is the Galco N3 IWB, wear buttoned overshirts to work and church, works wonderfully.

James Nelson said...

S&W M&P Compact .40 with Crimson Trace in the fanny pack any time I leave the house. Backups are S&W 442 on the ankle and Kel-Tec P3-AT in one of many places. In the house, there's something within arm's reach no matter where I am. Right now the 442 is on the ankle and a Rossi 720 and a Ruger P97 are both in reach without getting up.

Butch Cassidy said...

I carry a Beretta 96 backed up by an LCP.

I carry the Beretta because it is accurate, fits my hands well, and carries 13+1 rounds of 180 grain 40S&W. In a SERPA or Supertuck, it is comfortable to carry and surprisingly easy to conceal. Some people think I am crazy for lugging a full-frame sidearm around every day, but I honestly am not any more inconvenienced by it than the J-frame I once wore on my belt. It helps that I shoot it far better, as well.

The LCP replaced a S&W model 36 as my back-up gun due to size, weight, and concealability. While a big gun is a breeze to wear on my hip, I do appreciate smaller and lighter in a pocket or on an ankle.

The Beretta used to even be carried at work, but since starting a new job, the LCP rides with me during my shift and the 96 gets strapped on once I get home.

Eric said...

I've evolved from 9mm, then .40s&w, to .45acp. I'm currently carrying a Glock 36 with an extra mag. Working in IT wearing business casual I carry using a SmartCarry. The .38 snub gets the nod when pocket carrying.

Anonymous said...

i carry a S&W 642 or my 442 (same gun in black) with 38+P IWB everywhere i go, especially in the summer. sometimes i carry a mini glock 33 (357 sig)
i wish i could carry my 40 sig 229, but it's pretty heavy..

Anonymous said...

Charter Arms On Duty with a ClipDaw, or a Glock 19 in a homemade AKJ style iwb holster.
For a cheap gun, the Charter shoots great. It hits right to point of aim with 158gr loads, point shoots jutr right for me. At under 15yards, I shoot it better than the Glock.

micko77 said...

Another one from Illinois, I don't carry publicly; on private property my constant companion is an Airweight Bodyguard with Buffalo Bore SWC hollow points. Yes, they'll beat the gun (and me) to pieces if used extensively, so I practice with moderate reloads and can't really arge self-defense at more than 10 yards, at which just about anything out of that gun will stay on a paper plate.

Anonymous said...

My favorite ranch carry gun (no CHL license possession here) is a Star PD .45acp. Very light, 6 shot capacity, in a Bianchi Speed .45 holster, it has no flys on it.

I do have a G21 though, the G30 would be a perfect backup for it.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful article. I like hearing what a particular guy has settled on for himself and why.

For daily, mostly urban carry, I much prefer my Series 80 Colt Officer's ACP in an Uncle Mike's ITP with 2 spare mags (230 grain Federal jacketed .45 hollow-points). I'm a medium-big guy. That's a very concealable and comfortable carry for me. This is 99% of my life outside the house.

For travel - multiple hours of driving (always through states with either full reciprocity with my state's CCW regs or drive-through tolerance), I like one of my S&W Model 19s (125 grain Federal semi-jacketed .357 hollow-points) in a Bianchi shoulder holster under a loose, untucked shirt...less painful and more accessible than any hip or cross-draw waist carry when seat-belted. I carry a speed-loader with the Model 19 (it's not like the .45 isn't in the vehicle - just not on my belt...if I'm out of the car, and 11* rounds of .357 can't buy me a path back to the .45, I've made some serious tactical miscalculations).

When it's just gotta be uber lightweight (very rarely but not unheard of), I pack an S&W Airweight (110 grain Winchester .38 special Silvertips) in a fanny-pack with a pair of speed-loaders.

* Yes, 11 (5 in the cylinder + 6 in the speedloader) - I don't carry a live round under the decocked hammer of an S&W unless I'm at the range. Much as I love the S&W line, I have trust issues with the internal safety system of their revolvers.

Nate said...

Sig Sauer P250C chambered in 40 sw....I like the 40 sw round...I carry hornady critical defense rounds...I like the reliability of my sig, and it fits my hand better than my Glocks. I also carry a Taurus 38 sp p rated revolver as a backup piece on an ankle holster....when in the woods however, this changes to my taurus 357 mag revolver, which I wear on my hip.

Jay D said...

Carried a CZ82 9x18 because it was a good buy and ammo was cheap,also a proven mil/police side arm for many years. and the Glock 19 with a good set of day/night sites, both weapons are used regularly in tactical shooting courses.

Anonymous said...

Ruger LCP most days on my person, Ruger Security Six (2 3/4" bbl) in the vehicle

StephenD said...

Myself i carry an XD9 with 16 rounds of 147gr HP's, it's a little on the heavy side but it shoots great.

docmagnum357 said...

smith moel 29, 3 speed loaders,Lyman devastators over 17 grains of 2400. Mild load, 1100 fps or a little better. It is my deer , varmint, snake, pig and two legged varmint load. Will punch all the way through any three hundre lbs animal, except maybe a boar, very accurate, cheap to load, and certainly effective.
I carry it in either a Kramer inside the waistband holster or a Kramer shoulder rig. I used to carry a model 19 .357. I have carrid a 6.5" 629. A s&w Doug Koenig 1911 is my default , go to carry piece. If you don't shoot 100- 150 lbs deer with a 9mm, why shoot 300lbs crack fueled, rage/hate /insanity driven felons with one? two or three 44s will end hostilities asap. Same with .45acp, and 357 in 125 or above grain weight, although i think 158 + p 38 is wonderful, too. just my 2c worth milage may vary...

Anonymous said...

Ruger .44 redhawk all the way.
oh yeah, belive it
6'5 300 lbs

Anonymous said...

The best carry weapon you can ever own is the weapon you actually carry ALL the time (Except where absolutely prohibited)! Time and time again, my friends will be talking amongst themselves and talk about their favorite CCW and then I ask them one simple question...Can I see it? I always get the same answer...No, because it's locked up in the gun safe at home. Carrying a gun for defense is a mindset and lifestyle! You have to carry it day or night, short trips to get milk or driving across the country making sure it is legal to do so in states you pass through. The bottom line is that you have to carry the gun in order for it to be there when you need it!

Carteach0 said...

Agreed Anon.

Anonymous said...

depending on the situation I carry a G21sf with winchester ranger hollow points. At 6'5" 285 it conceals nicely. My other choice is a Rossi M720 in 44spc. with Hornady 180gn hp. Very reliable are both.

RV41 said...

Taurus Judge 3" barrel--loaded with .410 bore Winchester Supreme Elite Self Defense Load Shotshell, 2-1/2" Shell with 12 Pellets of BB Shot and 3 Plated Defense Disc Projectiles

Gym said...

Glock 30 here for 20 years just switched to the 30 S, I love it. I have 2 9mm guns a Gkock 26 and a Kahr PM9, and two 45's a Glock 30 S, and an XDS. I pocket carry the small ones and put the 30 in a holster along with the 26. I alsouse te 19 mags as reloads and the 21 mags as reloads for the 45. I carry for 43 years now, every day, and for me it's a 45 all the time, or a 9 as backup. No eed for all these other calibers that aare really less effective or overkill, like a 460 or 50.