Special Report

Handguns With The Most Power

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United States has seen an increase in gun sales in recent years. In 2020, there were 9 million more sales gun sales in this pandemic year than in the previous year and although these figures have dipped slightly in the following two years, the amount of sales is still almost doubled compared to the early part of the century. The increase appears to be driven partly by concerns over personal safety. An October 2021 Gallup poll illustrates that 88% of gun owners in the U.S. have a firearm for protection against crime – up from just 65% in the year 2000. The evolving consumer market has brought meaningful changes to the firearm industry. 

Pistols are the top-selling firearm type in the U.S. nearly every year since overtaking rifles in 2010. American gunmakers produced over 6.5 million handguns in 2020, up from less than 1.3 million two decades earlier. More maneuverable and easily concealed than a rifle or shotgun, handguns – including pistols and revolvers – are well suited for home defense and personal protection in public. But while there are many factors to consider when choosing a handgun, many prospective buyers want the most power that they can comfortably handle. (This is how hard it is to buy a handgun in every state.)

24/7 Wall St. identified the most powerful handguns by using ballistics data compiled by outdoor gear retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse. All 25 calibers with available data on the foot-pounds of energy delivered at 50 yards were ranked here. We selected the bullet weight, or grain, for each caliber, that delivers the most force at 50 yards. This ranking does not account for variations in barrel length and is based on a limited, and not necessarily comprehensive, list of available bullet weights.

The power delivered by a bullet fired from 50 yards ranges among the calibers on this list, from over 1,800 foot-pounds of energy – enough to take large game like black bear and elk – to only about 50 foot-pounds of energy. 

It is essential to mention that handguns are rarely used at ranges exceeding 50 yards, particularly in self-defense situations, and that these calibers deliver far more power at closer range. Nearly every caliber on this list is a suitable self-defense weapon, though some are also appropriate choices for hunting. (Here is a look at the law for carrying firearms in public in every state.) 

Here are handguns with the most power

25. 25 Auto

Source: Courtesy of beretta
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 51 foot pounds of energy (35 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 813 feet-per-second (35 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

24. 22 WMR

Source: Courtesy of Smith & Wesson
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 85 foot pounds of energy (45 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 920 feet-per-second (45 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

23. 32 Auto

  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 105 foot pounds of energy (60 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 905 feet-per-second (60 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

22. 32 NAA

Source: Courtesy of North American Arms
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 155 foot pounds of energy (80 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 933 feet-per-second (80 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

21. 380 Auto

Source: Courtesy of Sig Sauer
      • Approx. power at 50 yards: 166 foot pounds of energy (90 grain bullet)
      • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 912 feet-per-second (90 grain bullet)
      • Common usage(s): Personal defense
      • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

20. 9X18mm Makarov

  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 176 foot pounds of energy (95 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 913 feet-per-second (95 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

19. 32 H&R

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 192 foot pounds of energy (80 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,039 feet-per-second (80 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

18. 38 Special

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 215 foot pounds of energy (90 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,037 feet-per-second (90 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 3

17. 44-40 Cowboy

Source: Courtesy of Cimarron
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 216 foot pounds of energy (205 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 689 feet-per-second (205 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Varmint hunting, target/match shooting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

16. 9mm Luger

Source: storem / Flickr
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 290 foot pounds of energy (124 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,027 feet-per-second (124 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense, varmint hunting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 5

15. 45 Auto

Source: Courtesy of Colt
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 341 foot pounds of energy (185 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 911 feet-per-second (185 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

14. 44 Special

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 349 foot pounds of energy (180 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 934 feet-per-second (180 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

13. 40 S&W

Source: Courtesy of Smith & Wesson
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 387 foot pounds of energy (155 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,060 feet-per-second (155 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Varmint hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 4

12. 45 Colt

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 407 foot pounds of energy (225 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 903 feet-per-second (225 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

11. 357 Sig

Source: Courtesy of Glock
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 418 foot pounds of energy (147 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,132 feet-per-second (147 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense, varmint hunting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

10. 10mm Auto

Source: Courtesy of Glock
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 463 foot pounds of energy (180 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,077 feet-per-second (180 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 3

9. 357 Magnum

Source: szuppo / Flickr
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 510 foot pounds of energy (140 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,281 feet-per-second (140 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Varmint and medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 3

8. 44 Rem Mag

Source: Courtesy of Colt
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 806 foot pounds of energy (240 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,230 feet-per-second (240 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium and large game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 4

7. 41 Rem Mag

Source: Courtesy of Smith & Wesson
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 892 foot pounds of energy (210 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,383 feet-per-second (210 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

6. 480 Ruger

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,024 foot pounds of energy (325 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,191 feet-per-second (325 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium and large game hunting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

5. 50 AE

Source: Courtesy of Magnum Research
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,043 foot pounds of energy (300 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,251 feet-per-second (300 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

4. 475 Linebaugh

Source: Courtesy of Magnum Research
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,229 foot pounds of energy (400 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,176 feet-per-second (400 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

3. 454 Casull

Source: Courtesy of Ruger
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,500 foot pounds of energy (240 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,678 feet-per-second (240 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium and large game hunting, personal defense
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 2

2. 460 S&W Mag

Source: Courtesy of Smith & Wesson
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,673 foot pounds of energy (200 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,941 feet-per-second (200 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium and large game hunting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

1. 500 S&W Mag

Source: Courtesy of Smith & Wesson
  • Approx. power at 50 yards: 1,819 foot pounds of energy (300 grain bullet)
  • Approx. speed at 50 yards: 1,653 feet-per-second (300 grain bullet)
  • Common usage(s): Medium and large game hunting
  • Number of bullet weights considered: 1

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