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On Her Own: Subcaliber Carry Guns

The conventional wisdom for concealed carry guns is to choose the largest caliber that you can shoot accurately. Certainly, you should never carry anything smaller than the traditional service caliber of 9mm, right? While that might be ideal, there are all sorts of good reasons why you might want to carry a smaller caliber, even something tiny like .22LR. Let’s talk about a few.

Not everybody is able to shoot a service caliber well, with quick follow-up shots on target. You might be inexperienced behind a gun and not have the resources to practice regularly. You might have a temporary or permanent physical limitation.

You simply might not like lots of recoil or noise, and that’s OK too. The largest caliber you can accurately shoot doesn’t come with an asterisk about a minimum size, even if it might seem like that when you wade into concealed carry equipment debates.

Another part of the equation that often gets ignored is that you need to be able to comfortably carry and conceal your choice of gun. While the current state of the art in holster hardware and knowledge can enable someone to carry larger and heavier guns than they might expect, there are limits. You might have a smaller body or need or want to wear more form-fitting clothing.

You might need to conceal to very high standards because of the negative consequences of someone spotting your gun. You might, again, have physical limitations that influence how much gun you can carry without pain or unbearable discomfort.

A subcompact or micro gun might be the only way you can make carrying work for you and your lifestyle.

Physics works against you with those smaller guns, though; larger calibers have lots of recoil in them. Smaller calibers in equivalent size guns will always be more enjoyable to shoot and easier to shoot proficiently.

Since training and practicing with your concealed carry gun is important, choosing one that you want to take to the range is worthwhile, not to mention the fact that you’ll see more success when you don’t need to struggle as much to make your tools work for you. You might be capable of shooting that larger caliber accurately, but that doesn’t mean you’ll do it as well as a smaller caliber in a smaller gun.

Being able to shoot well isn’t just for range time. You’re responsible for every round you fire in self-defense. Missing a bad guy can mean you don’t stop their deadly attack in time. It could also mean that you injure an innocent person in the path of your bullet. No matter the caliber, you still must place each round precisely.

If you need to choose the subcaliber version of the gun you want and are able to carry so that you can make your hits, that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for your safety and the safety of those around you.

Of course, none of that matters if the gun doesn’t function reliably when it matters. An occasional malfunction is fine when you’re just plinking for fun, but that could be the difference between life and death when it comes to self-defense.

You also need ammunition that can cause sufficient damage to physically stop an attacker quickly. Accurate placement is necessary regardless of caliber or type, but some kinds of ammo are certainly more likely to be effective than others.

Fortunately, firearms manufacturers have continued to drive development of high-quality subcaliber guns and ammunition. There are a number of choices for .22LR, .380, and other smaller caliber pistols now, with Beretta, Ruger, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus all releasing new or redesigned options in the last handful of years.

Not only are many of them highly reliable, but they’re also including features you’d expect in any other defensive pistol, such as optics-ready slides or manual safeties that can be operated under stress. They’re starting to look like typical concealed carry guns and act like them too.

Ammunition choices have also broadened, as well as understanding of the best choices for smaller calibers. Quality control, performance, and reliability are ever increasing.

While you may need to do some experimentation with a particular brand of ammunition and your specific pistol, that’s true of any gun you might want to carry. Regardless, with good shot placement (which is more likely with a pistol you train with and can shoot well), you can expect adequate ballistic performance to stop a threat even with something less than a service caliber.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s OK to carry a gun that’s not the “best” one according to the internet. Smaller subcaliber guns can be easier to shoot well, allow you to carry with more comfort and better concealment, and still work well enough to stake your life on.

Instead of feeling stuck with a gun that you leave at home because you don’t practice with it and don’t like carrying it, why not compromise with a gun you can shoot and carry regularly?

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3 Comments

  • Michael Bane says:

    Brilliant work from Ms Evans. Only hits count.

  • glenn says:

    I totally agree with the content of this article. most people never think about what happens when they miss. how many 11oz 357 magnums have been sold? how many people never even fired them? I used to hear ” I’m not gonna be thinking about the recoil when my life is in danger” . maybe not, you are gonna miss, and where are those bullets going?

  • Keger Jupit says:

    Could not agree more. Any gun you carry, is better than the one you left on the nightstand.

    Some of my friends make fun of the “mouse fart” rounds, yet every time I invite them to stand 10 feet away & take a bullet to show me how weak these rounds are, they always turn me down. Hmm…

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  • I totally agree with the content of this article. most people never think about what happens when they miss. how many 11oz 357 magnums have been sold? how many people never even fired them? I used to hear " I'm not gonna be thinking about the recoil when my life is in danger" . maybe not, you are gonna miss, and where are those bullets going?

  • Could not agree more. Any gun you carry, is better than the one you left on the nightstand.

    Some of my friends make fun of the "mouse fart" rounds, yet every time I invite them to stand 10 feet away & take a bullet to show me how weak these rounds are, they always turn me down. Hmm...

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