Mouse fart rounds for self-defense? .22 .380 .38 .32

We’ve got an interesting mix of shooters and instructors today and people with WILDLY different needs and capabilities.

As an example, the capabilities, best technique, and “best gun” for someone in their 20s-30s who is spending an hour or two a day working out and an hour or two every week JUST on their grip strength is wildly different than someone struggling with recovering from a hand/wrist injury, arthritis, carpal tunnel, or other grip issues.

I’ve seen swings in grip strength between shooters of as much as 6X!

To think that the same gun, caliber, and technique will work for both is crazy-talk.

As with everything in life, dosing is key, and we want to try to match the dosing of recoil to what the shooter is able to manage effectively.

So, what are some guns that will make shooting more fun, training more effective, and the shooter with lower grip strength more effective in a lethal force encounter?

Here’s 5 options:

  1. .38 special wadcutters. I got turned onto this by a couple of former Southern California cops…one from my church and Darryl Bolke. .38 is an anemic round, but with wadcutters, it tends to cut a hole rather than squirt through. In a low-velocity round like standard pressure .38, the wadcutter has a better chance of getting adequate penetration than a hollowpoint.
  2. .32 Long wadcutters. This, again was something that Darryl Bolke turned me on to because of hand injuries he was/is dealing with. A subcompact revolver in .327 magnum (Ruger LCR) can hold 6 rounds in the same size cylinder that would hold 5 .357 or .38 rounds. The .327 magnum lets you carry several different .32 caliber loads, including hot .327 magnums and easy .32 long wadcutters.
  3. .22 revolver. Rhett Neumayer was the guy who got me to admit that I carry a .22 loaded with Federal Punch fairly often. Part of it is 8 shots in a j-frame/LCR size revolver, but I’ll get to why in a second.
  4. Beretta 71. Former FBI FTU instructor, Bruce Cartwright turned me on to this jewel of a gun. It is a small, easy to shoot .22 semi-auto with a rich, rich history of being used for serious work.
  5. .380. Another round that is typically thought of as under-performing. Ammo selection is key. Low velocities cause hollowpoints to under-penetrate and I suggest hard-cast lead from Buffalo Bore. .380 sucks…Buffalo Bore makes it suck less. A lot less.

What makes these under-performing rounds OK?

It’s based on a couple of things…first, that all defensive handgun ammo sucks and is relatively ineffective when compared to carbine or rifle ammo.

9mm and .45 suck slightly less than .380 and .22, but not THAT much less.

No matter what defensive handgun caliber you shoot, stats from Greg Ellifritz’s analysis of 1,800 shootings show that it pretty much takes 2-3 solid hits to stop a threat, regardless of the caliber. (In fact, statistically the .22 performs better than the 9mm and .45…but there are other factors beyond the numbers)

So, then the question becomes, which gun/caliber/load combination will allow you to put those 2-3 hits in a vital zone quickest? Not 1 hit per second, but 2-3 or 4 hits per second?

This is where lighter recoiling pistols/loads shine. A .22 can allow a shooter with relatively average or low grip strength to put 2-4 TIMES more critical hits on target per second than they can with a full-power defensive load. And 2-4 TIMES more wound channels in vital areas will typically result in a quicker incapacitation than 1.

This is also true when shooting 1 handed, with your pinkie hanging off the grip, or with a bad grip. In fact, the worse your grip issues, the more forgiving a light-recoiling cartridge will be.

Kind of a funny and counter-intuitive point that Rhett Neumayer brought up is how the minimal recoil of these mouse-fart rounds means that there’s a lot less difference between dry fire and live fire. As you know from reading what I put out, the higher the fidelity between training and reality, the better you’ll perform.

What about you? What do you think about under-powered guns…either for a primary or secondary carry option?

Questions or thoughts? Let me know by commenting below.

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  • Todd

    Reply Reply February 23, 2023

    Very interesting article. I’m intrigued with the .22 revolver advantages. Can you say a little bit about why you use .22 Federal Punch? Thanks.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 24, 2023

      A few reasons…

      1. They spend the money to create a reliable primer/cartridge…as opposed to the cheapo (but awesome) milk carton rounds.
      2. It shoots well from my revolver. I can hold hand sized, 8 round groups at 25 yards. This is beyond the expectations or claims of Smith & Wesson.
      3. The semi-wadcutter profile tends to crush a little better than round nose bullets that tend to squirt through. It also tends to get a little more penetration than .22 hollow points.

      • Todd

        Reply Reply March 4, 2023

        Thanks for your additional insights – always helpful!

  • ariel

    Reply Reply October 14, 2022

    I get that sometimes someone can’t carry something larger, and that risk profiles differ. However, it’s also worth noting that Greg Ellifritz’s data (referred to in the article) ALSO SHOWS that calibers under 38/380 had TWICE the FAILURE rate as those 38/380 and above. Just saying. Don’t cherry-pick the data. Just about anything will work if a psychological stop is all that’s necessary.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 15, 2022

      I really appreciate you bringing this point up and, to be clear, I was not cherry picking.

      1. “Milk carton” box .22 rounds have exceptionally high ignition failure rates. They’re cheaper and fun, but not reliable. .22 rounds made for more serious purposes have reliability rates that are comparable to defensive centerfire ammo.

      2. If you fire a single shot, failure rates will almost always be higher with < .38/.380 than bigger than .38/.380. Single shot is key. If you look at the number of accurate rounds that you can put on target PER SECOND, then the numbers change. We're not comparing 1x .38 vs. 1x .22...we're looking at 1x .38 vs. 2-4X .22. If you can put the exact number of hits per second on target with a .22 as a larger caliber, then shoot the larger caliber. Personally, if I compare 9mm in a Glock 26 to .22 in a j-frame, my hits per second are about the same...but if I compare .38 wadcutters in a scandium j-frame to .22 in a j-frame, I'm 2x faster with the .22 and I can do infinitely more live fire practice before it hurts too much to continue. If I only have 1 shot, I'll choose the .38. If I need to stop the threat as quickly as possible, I'll choose the .22. Part of this really became clear to me earlier this year when I had neuropathy in my left arm from COVID. I could not shoot my Glock 26 with my left hand very fast at all, but I could still put .22 hits on target at a fast clip.

    • rod vanzeller

      Reply Reply October 16, 2022

      Under 2000 ftp caliber is irrelevant shot placement is what matters.

    • rod vanzeller

      Reply Reply October 18, 2022

      Train head shots regardless of caliber.

      • Ox

        Reply Reply October 24, 2022

        Sometimes, in order to be able to make a precision shot, you need to slow the head down with center-mass hits. If the center mass shots slow the head down, but don’t stop the threat, then a head shot may be required. Also, for most shooters, a center-mass shot is much more likely to prevent a miss…which is VERY likely, regardless of skill level when you add in movement by both sides and the visual impacts of stress.

        • rod vanzeller

          Reply Reply October 24, 2022

          thoracic center mass, concern with body armor.
          bladder/groin area better target, FN 5.7 with black tip overrides.

          • Ox

            October 24, 2022

            Not a whole lot of concern about body armor for a few reasons…

            1. IF the body armor meets NIJ standards, soft body armor is allowed to have 44mm of backface deformation and still be certified. MANY are not. 44mm is the average distance from the surface of the skin to the surface of the heart…so 44mm of deformation would push the ribs into the heart and displace the heart.

            2. The effect of the wearer depends GREATLY on whether they are wearing a trauma pad, iceplate, or hard plate.

            3. It is rare to see someone take a solid hit to center mass…regardless of what combination of soft/hard/reactive layers they’re wearing…without a change in behavior. It definitely happens, but it’s not the norm. I have spoken with more guys who got shot and didn’t know it than who got hit in their body armor and didn’t know it.

            4. Of guys I’ve spoken with who have taken pistol and/or rifle shots to body armor, all of them had a change in behavior due to the impact. The length of that change of behavior varied from a couple of seconds to “a long time.”

            5. There are several videos available on YouTube that show people being shot while wearing various combinations of body armor. The only thing that’s consistent is how inconsistent the reactions are.

            All of that to say, even if we knew that a bad guy had on both hard and soft body armor, it may be worth putting rounds on center-mass to interrupt their OODA loop, quiet the movement of their head/pelvis, possibly close distance, and create an easier shot to the CNS/pelvis.

  • Kevin Roth

    Reply Reply October 11, 2022

    Let’s not forget the .22 Magnum!

  • David Barnes

    Reply Reply October 11, 2022

    If I knew then what I know now, I’d not own a Glock.

    Multiple pistol rounds are required to stop any threat.

    Several accurate strikes in less than a second, is the difference between going home – or to the morgue.

    Speed and accuracy increases odds of survival.
    Less recoil means greater speed and accuracy.

    Please recommend a EDC .22 caliber pistol.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 15, 2022

      3 options to consider are the S&W 43c, Ruger LCR, and Beretta 71.

  • Bill Schoettler

    Reply Reply October 10, 2022

    As far as I’m concerned, hitting with a .22 is better than missing with a .44 magnum. I can afford to practice a lot with my .22 LR, not so with my 44 Mag. Yes I have both and love to shoot the .22. Shoot it more often, even one handed (OMG, really?). My carry permit lists 22, .380, 9mm, .44 mag and .45 ACP. I can do well with the .45 and would love to carry it BUT it’s big, heavy, bulky and I’m always aware of it. The .22 is inconspicuous, light, equally available and accurate. Just sayin’.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 10, 2022

      All excellent points. Reminded me of the saying, “The .22 I’m actually carrying is better than the .45 at home in my safe.”

  • rod vanzeller

    Reply Reply October 10, 2022

    My edc is the smith 43c you show on the pic.
    Below 2000 fps the only thing that matters is shot placement.
    I train one on the groin and two on the head. Bad guys were bullet resistant vests.
    Some trivia, how did the Mossad insure rim fire reliability on their Beretta 22lr?
    Hint,that company is still in business.

    • Steve G

      Reply Reply July 4, 2023

      How did the Mossad insure rim fire reliability?

      • Ox

        Reply Reply July 5, 2023

        Great question. In short, they use better ammo. There is a whole world of rimfire ammo that most people are unaware of.

        Most people are very familiar with “milk carton” .22 ammo that is designed to be as economical as possible. The priming compound isn’t necessarily applied evenly, the priming compound can break down easily, and the bullets may vary quite a bit in size and weight.

        When you start using higher performance .22 ammo, the reliability is much, much closer to the realiability of high quality centerfire ammo…but the cost is going to be much higher than milk carton .22.

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