SKILLS: 9mm VS. .45ACP: The Ultimate Caliber Conundrum

This debate has raged for decades, but it’s  important  to settle for yourself when choosing a defensive caliber., Read what some of the best have to say HERE

pistol calibers compared


SOURCE: Team Springfield Armory 

And here we go again … you already know that you can’t go wrong with either of these classic calibers. But it’s a debate that continues to create controversy among shooting enthusiasts everywhere. Each round has its pros and cons when compared, yet each remains a staple among firearm fans.

Read on for not just some of the same old argument (there’s some of that), but considerations from our Team Springfield™ SMEs on which caliber may be the best for you.

45 compared to 9mm
There is more to answering this question than just the 0.095 difference in bullet diameters…

The greatest attribute of the 9mm cartridge is that it has the easiest-to-manage recoil. Pair this with the weight of a full- or mid-sized pistol, and handling will prove to be comfortable and pleasant. And this combination is also a perfect gun for brand-new shooters to start with.

If you don’t want to go broke buying range ammo, then 9mm has your back. Due to its prominence among our military and law enforcement communities, and popularity with civilians, the 9×19 is the most commonly-encountered pistol round world-wide.

This and the relatively small amount of material used in the manufacturing process also makes 9mm the most economical center-fire pistol round currently available.

When it comes to personal defense, the 9mm is more than ready to do the trick, especially with hotter +P (increased velocity) hollow-point loads. Its lighter recoil makes follow-up shots quicker, and the smaller size gives 9mm pistols additional round capacity.

Team Springfield™ SME Ivan Gelo, is a huge fan of the .45, but knows that much of the comparison bullet “data” stems from bullet performance technology that is over 25 years old. Like most tools, equipment and devices, bullet technology has grown by leaps and bounds over that same period, especially in the area of the 9mm pistol round. Ivan says that, “Old 9mm technology was related to the .45 and the concept of the heavier bullet; hence the widespread use of the 147 grain 9mm bullets. With advances in technology though, the more common 9mm 124/125 grain +P loads have substantial stopping power. So with greater mag capacity and the lighter ‘carry’ weight, the 9mm benefits are easy to argue.”

If you have any physical limitations, i.e. carpel tunnel, tendinitis, loss of hand-strength, etc., Team Springfield™ shooter Kippi Leatham recommends the 9mm over .45 without question: “I shot larger calibers through many of my competitive years. My first competition gun was a 1911 .45 — and I loved it! Eventually though, over several decades, I developed tendinitis in both elbows. With continued proper strength training and a decision to shoot exclusively 9mm pistols, my elbow injuries are no longer an issue.”

So if you have physical limitations or pain, don’t continue to damage your body or create discomfort in exchange for greater stopping power. In Kippi’s opinion, a well-trained, competent and confident 9mm pistol owner is easily able to defend him or herself should the need arise.

The terms “stopping power” or “knockdown power” are concepts popular with the self-defense crowd. The .45 regularly is considered to have more stopping power than a 9. It’s a big reason why it was adopted alongside the 1911 for U.S. military service back in the day. While its velocity is slower than 9mm, what you lack in speed, you more than make up for in a larger and heavier projectile.

To its fan base, the .45 is the best round for law enforcement and personal and while the .45 does obviously have more recoil than 9mm, that is the cost of increased power.

Curiously, decades later the US Military also adopted the 9mm and widely replaced the .45 with it, but for more reasons than power alone. Many Spec Ops groups did not change, and retained the .45 for its greater power.

Team Springfield™ Captain Rob Leatham says, “My position on this subject is well documented: I like the .45. While currently, I do shoot more 9mm in competition than anything else, it’s because of the rules and subsequent advantages the lower-powered, lighter-kicking 9 has. For defensive use, especially in a mid- or full-sized, easily controlled pistol, I would choose the .45 every time.”

Steve Horsman — Team Springfield™ Expert Prepper — has multiple guns in an assortment of calibers. But he does have a preference when carrying for self defense. He likens the .45ACP v 9mm debate to hunting. Steve states that choosing a 9mm for self defense, with the higher-capacity, lighter kick, and lighter-weight, is like him choosing to hunt elk with an AR 15 with a 30 round magazine. “No one in their right mind would ever use a .223 for elk hunting; they would more likely choose a .308 [minimum]-caliber rifle. Given the choice, I will pick the bigger bullet with more power every single time.” Magazine capacity alone cannot and will not substitute for power and accuracy.

Apple pie, baseball, bald eagles, and .45ACP! This cartridge has a proven track record in America that dates back over a century. It was trusted by the United States through two world wars, and, while its use among the military and LE agencies has lessened more recently, it still serves a large role in many specialized units, as well as remaining a favorite of many civilians.

Supply of this cartridge should also be high. The .45 auto has been around for double-digit decades and while pricier than 9mm, the large quantities in which it’s produced makes it easy to find.

To summarize, both the 9mm and the .45ACP are great self-defense rounds. Though a 9mm pistol will hold more rounds, the .45 ACP definitely packs more punch.

So as with most things firearms related — pick your preference: heavier and more powerful cartridges with more recoil OR a caliber that allows for greater capacity, less recoil and a lower cost to shoot.

And as you read above, even our Team Springfield™ SMEs don’t agree on caliber… but they do agree on this:

Whichever caliber you choose, put some rounds down-range, shoot a lot of them actually, and make sure you train on a regular basis. Become proficient with your caliber of choice, because that is the best way to maximize the effect of any firearm that you carry for self defense.

Great video featuring Rob Leatham, Team Springfield Captain HERE

14 thoughts on “SKILLS: 9mm VS. .45ACP: The Ultimate Caliber Conundrum”

  1. the 9 might expand
    the 45 will never get smaller !
    my 1911 holds 14 + 1 of 45 ACP
    My FNX-45 holds 15 + 1 of 45 ACP.
    I’d rather have 15 rounds of 45 then 17 of 9mm

  2. For those of us unfortunate to live in states where there is a limit to the maximum number of rounds that can be in a magazine (Colorado 10 in the mag and 1 chambered), I have to default to 10+1 using a .45 ACP against 10+1 in a 9mm.

  3. “Shot placement makes the difference, caliber makes the decision.” an old saying I take seriously.
    A Texas Ranger once commented if he missed center and hit the shoulder with his 45, it would likely disable the attacker’s arm. A shot in the hip would disable the leg and the attacker would drop.
    The 9 generally won’t do that. I carry a G30.

  4. Seems to me that this whole argument was the reason for the development and subsequent adoption of the S&W 40 cal, you split the difference in everything; magazine capacity, bullet weight, bullet speed, bullet trajectory, muzzle energy, etc. Don’t overthink the issue, its simple.

  5. For decades, I was a tried and true 45 ACP +P carrier, but now, my old hands and wrists do not handle the weight and recoil of my old pals. If I want to “enjoy” range time like I once did, I have to use lighter recoiling calibers. I am still very proficient in shot placement, so after decades of favoring larger bores, I do believe the argument is rather mute. A couple of 9’s in Gold Dot, XTP or HST’s placed into the center chest will end any fight I can imagine. Also, when carrying a handgun on your waist day in and day out, the lighter weight and comfort of my polymer 9’s vs my old 1911’s and even my polymer 45’s with 13 rd mags becomes very apparent. And that is where every CCW and LEO has their weapons 99.9% of their lives. It is a very rare event to actually draw one’s weapon and engage in a self-defense posture, but if or when it ever occurs, I would never feel under-gunned with a 9 in my hands.

    Taking this a step farther and when I desire the old friendship of a 1911, the past several years I have carried either a re-springed 38 Super +P or an original 9×23 Win. loaded with 9×23 Win’s pushing 125 Gold Dots at an honest 1,450 fps. That is a 4 inch 357 Mag in a 10 shot 1911 frame, and the recoil is much less than my old 45’s. Then there are the lighter 15 shot G31’s in 357 Sig with very similar performing handloads. But, even these more powerful rounds are no replacement for proper shot placement under stress.

  6. If you dare to risk a Remington, the RP45 is 15+1 in .45 ACP. However, being a lover of orphans, I have a High Power clone in .41 Action Express. 170gr. 410 bullet @ 1150 or a 210gr. @ 950.

  7. Excellent review.

    Many people overlook grip size is more than length, as in a SA 45; there is also depth, as in a double-stack 9mm.

    Recoil is “felt” and my experience has found the 45 “pushes” during where the 9mm “punches” during recoil.

  8. In my opinion, accuracy “should” be more important than anything else. Example: I’ve been shooting and hunting for 50 yrs. When I was younger, 14 to be exact, a buddy introduced me to reloading. Within 2 weeks, I had MORE reloading equipment than him and ALL of his 3 uncle’s combined. He was a “fastest velocity” person and I was a “most accurate” person. My theory is; “if you can hit your target because you’re afraid of the recoil, why bother shooting “AT” your intended target. In personal “defense”, I would much rather be able to protect my family, by shooting a 10 shot, tea cup size group at 10 yds vs. a 5 shot, pizza size group at 10 yds ANYDAY! So WHATEVER you shoot, in “MY OPINION”, pistol or rifle or shotgun, if you can’t hit your intended target in the “kill” zone, you haven’t practiced enough or you are afraid of your weapon. Always remember 1 thing, you can ALWAYS shoot another day to improve your score on a paper/cardboard target, but can NEVER replace a dead family
    member! As ALWAYS, remember the 2nd amendment for our freedom!

    the recoil.

  9. Great article. Some good points for both. Personally,I carry a .45 acp 90% of the time. A small 9mm for hard to conceal times. I will use the .45 until I can’t handle it well. I will resort to a 9mm after that with little concern. Capacity is a nice feature,but most of the time 1-3 shots will do. Confidence from practice.

  10. LOL! No conundrum. Love’em all, the long the short and the tall, in caliber that is. Like both, use neither, except for fun or competition. Don’t like donating 10mm brass to ranges, unless it is ready for the recycle bin! Not fer everbody, but here’s why mine is neither: – that is 620+ fpe compared to 375-400 fpe, or what most folk pack in their 9 mills or 45s. Legal to hunt deer sized game with, & neither of the other two are! One shot kill on a coyote at a range finder verified 110 yds, and two shots on a running boar hog @ 30 yds, one through the boiler room/heart/lungs, and the last one just behind the ear that sent it tumbling through the water.

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