9mm Luger vs. .45 Auto

I don’t understand. Or maybe I do because most folks base the performance of defensive handguns on what they have heard and read over the years. After all, few of us have any real world experience with regard to how effective a particular handgun / ammunition combination is at stopping a bad guy when compared to another.

About the only way we have to compare options is to look at terminal performance. I compared the terminal performance of 10 popular, 9mm Luger and 10 similar, .45 Auto loads in 10 % ordnance gelatin. Here are the averages:

CARTRIDGE        IV           RD         EF          PEN

9mm                   1222      0.60″     1.68       14.55″

.45 Auto             989        0.66″     1.46       14.97″

Difference          233        0.06″     0.22       0.42″

IV = Impact Velocity, RD = Recovered Diameter, EF = Expansion Factor, PEN = Penetration

What does this mean? Due to the higher impact velocity and greater amount of expansion, the 9mm will on average produce a larger stretch cavity. The .45 Auto on average will penetrate about 1/2 inch deeper and bullets will have a recovered diameter of about 0.06 larger than a 9mm. (That’s a difference of less than the thickness of a quarter.)

But what about energy you say. Well, average 9mm kinetic energy at the average impact velocity was 381 ft.lbs. Average .45 Auto energy at the average impact velocity was 426 ft.lbs; a difference of about 10%. When you factor in recoil and magazine capacity, I just can’t really see a lot of difference. Modern bullets that have been optimized for the 9mm put it on a much more equal playing field with the .45 Auto.

Now, I’m sure COL Cooper, if he were still here, would give me a good lashing for this as many of you might as well. However, facts are facts. For a more detailed look at the terminal performance of these two cartridges as well as others, check out an upcoming article in American Rifleman. It will compare the actual terminal performance of 100 loads. Not sure when this article will run, but I’ll keep you posted.

Hey, I carry a Colt Commander in .45 Auto most often but if it were a 9, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

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About gunwriter

Born and raised in the West Virginia hills, Richard literally grew up in the woods. He has chased coon hounds until daylight, waited out whitetails perched high in an oak, canoed the New River and hunted from the Montana Mountains to the Green Hills of Africa. During service in the Army and later as a municipal police officer and Special Agent with the railroad police, Richard obtained numerous certifications in small arms instruction. He has trained military personnel, law enforcement officers and civilians in the application of firearms for defensive, competitive and recreational use. Richard won the West Virginia Governor’s Twenty Award for law enforcement, the West Virginia National Guard State Pistol Competition and earned his Distinguished Medal with pistol. Badge turned in, Richard is now a contributing editor for several magazines. He was the compiling author of the book, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter and conceptualized and contributed to Selecting and Ordering a Custom Hunting Rifle. Richard also contributed a chapter to the John Velke book, The True Story of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Richard has patents on a riflescope reticle and a revolutionary bullet testing media. A hillbilly at heart, Richard lives on Shadowland - his shooting range in West Virginia - with the most understanding wife in the world, their three kids and a very protective ridgeback hound.
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8 Responses to 9mm Luger vs. .45 Auto

  1. Wayland Pluhar says:

    In my uneducated opinion, the reasoning behind what many people feel are inadequacies in caliber choice, 9mm vs. .45 auto, .223 vs. caliber of choice, really fall to information gathered from the military’s use of early design ball ammunition, and not the modern day defensive ammunition the the everyday consumer has at his disposal.

  2. Great comparison Richard. Don’t think many people realize how close they actually are.

  3. cominco says:

    I have a .45 US springfield 91911A1 and am very happy with it. were I to have my way would have both but according to the figures above there is not a lot of diffference but the penetration really counts. greg

  4. Mike Wodjenski says:

    Excellent write up! In God we trust, all others must bring data, is my motto. I look forward to the full comparison article.

  5. RG says:

    Why are there reams of articles about how ineffective the 9 is versus how effective the 45 is at least against humans? After years of reading this stuff I am of the opinion people walk away from 9 mm hits but fall down dead from 45 hits especially in wars. I personaly wouldn’t want to be it by either or even a 22 for that matter.

  6. RG says:

    I hadn’t read these other comments/statements before I left my comments. These others make sense. I am anxious to read your full comparison article.

  7. bill slusser says:

    WHEN I USED TO SKATEBOARD, I GUESS I WAS ABOUT 14 YEARS OLD, I TORE MY ANKLE UP AND THE blood pressure loss FROM THE CAPSULE IN MY ANKLE BEING TORN OPEN WAS ENOUGH TO BLIND ME, SO THAT I HAD TO STAND HERE AND ASK, “SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME SIT DOWN MY EYES ARE WIDE OPEN AND I CANNOT SEE. I AM IN EXTREME PAIN SO UNBELIEVABLE YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND.”

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