The proliferation of handguns birthed a bevy of handgun calibers to compliment the hand-sized firearms. From rounds designed for revolvers to cartridges that work for home defense or hunting, the list of handgun calibers is nearly endless; however, a handful of calibers stand out above the rest as the most popular handgun calibers. Guns.com consulted Ammunition To Go to get the low-down on which handgun calibers are crowd favorites.
5) .380 ACP
The offspring of John Moses Browning, the .380 ACP round has been a popular cartridge for self-defense since its debut in the early 1900s. Introduced by Colt in 1908 in their Colt Model 1908 hammerless pistol, the .380 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge, or ACP, delivered less recoil making it a manageable round to shoot. Perfect for pocket pistol carry like with the Ruger LCP or Sig Sauer P238, the .380 ACP remains one of the most popular rounds for those seeking a smaller pistol/round combo as a backup gun or concealed carry option.
4) .38 Special
The .38 Special comes courtesy of firearms powerhouse Smith & Wesson. Developed in 1899 as an upgrade to the .38 Long Colt, the .38 SPL became synonymous with policing. Serving as the standard service pistol cartridge for law enforcement’s agencies across the U.S., the .38 SPL served loyally beside police officers from the 1920s into the 1990s. The .38 SPL is best known for offering manageable recoil paired with accuracy in a variety of shooting disciplines to include target shooting, competition, hunting and self-defense. The .38 Special can be found on guns like the Smith & Wesson 642 and Ruger LCR.
3) .40 S&W
The .40 S&W saw the teaming up of two gun makers, Smith & Wesson and Winchester. Developed as a law enforcement cartridge, the .40 S&W rose up in the aftermath of the 1986 FBI Miami shootout after two special agents were killed and five were wounded. The agency was on the hunt for a 10mm load to chamber in a semi-automatic pistol, which it had looked to Smith & Wesson to fill. Smith & Wesson opted to design a smaller 10mm cartridge that would match the 10mm ballistically, and thus, in 1990, the .40 S&W was born. The .40 S&W remains an option for concealed carriers and personal defense handgun owners looking for a power-packing round in Smith & Wesson’s own M&P, H&K VP40 and the Sig Sauer P320.
2) .45 ACP
Nothing causes as much drama as tossing the .45 ACP into any round debate. With die-hard, rabid fans who swear by the round it’s no surprise that one of the most popular handgun calibers is the venerable .45 ACP. Developed in 1904 by a name already on this list, John Moses Browning, the .45 ACP first appeared alongside Colt’s Model 1911. The two platforms are almost synonymous with each other with 1911s and .45 ACP fitting together like peanut butter and jelly. The .45 ACP round has seen two World Wars and served as the sidearm for many military and police agencies due to its power. The large caliber slips seamlessly into self-defense and concealed carry applications and has proven why it’s a favorite of many gun owners. Though most know it for its 1911 pairing, the .45 ACP has made its way into striker fired handguns as well, appearing on platforms like the Glock 21, Sig Sauer 220 and Beretta PX4 Storm.
It’s no surprise that the 9mm round dominates the top spot as the most popular handgun caliber. Developed in the early 1900s by Austrian designer Georg Luger, the 9mm cartridge is the most widely used round in the handgun realm. Capable of running alongside full-sized handguns, compact pistols and even pistol caliber carbines, the versatility, affordability and prevalence of 9mm has secured it a top spot in gun owners’ hearts. The cartridge, which is especially popular among concealed carry and self-defense enthusiasts, can be found in some of the most popular defense handguns like the Glock 19, Sig Sauer P365, Smith & Wesson Shield and Ruger LC9S.