Firearms manufacturers, both local and foreign have been saturaring the civilian self defense market with nothing but polymer framed striker fired micro compact pistols like the SIG P365, the Springfield Hellcat, the Glock 43X, et cetera, et cetera.

Chambered in 9mm, these so called micro nines are typically light weight because of their plastic frame and have a high capacity magazine that holds 10 or more rounds. And there are a ton of reasons why they have become so popular, chief among which is they’re typically priced lower than all metal pistols. 

These pistols have fewer moving parts and polymer is more readily available and much easier to work with compared to steel or aluminum. For those reasons, micro nines are cheaper and faster to build, and manufacturers are able to sell them for less as a result.

One other reason they’ve become so popular is because of the 9mm. Just over a decade ago, the 9mm was just one of the big three popular pistol calibers, the other two being the .45 ACP and the .40 Smith & Wesson. But with the advent of modern bullet technology and the impact of the pandemic on the global supply chain, the 9mm is now in a league of its own.

But the 9mm has one problem. Even with modern bullet designs resulting in improved terminal performance, it is still ballistically weak. If you’re in bear country and you need something to defend yourself with against the big two legged critters that live there, what are your options?

In this topic, I’ll talk about seven of the most powerful handguns you can carry for when you need something with significantly more power than your average micro nine. Without further ado, let’s begin.

7: Ruger SP101 Model 5784 .327 Federal Magnum

It was some time in 2008 when Federal Premium Ammunition introduced the .327 Federal Magnum, a .31 caliber rimmed centerfire cartridge for use in revolvers based on the now dying .32 H&R Magnum that was released in 1984. 

The .327 Federal Magnum is technically not a magnum — what it is, is a super magnum, because the .32 H&R Magnum, as its name suggests, is already a magnum version of the original .32 Smith & Wesson Long which dates back to 1896.

With the .32 H&R Magnum as its parent case, the .327 Federal Magnum uses a stronger case that is an eighth of an inch longer than its parent case but with a thicker web at its base and thicker case walls with a different metallurgy and heat treatment process so it can handle much higher pressure levels. 

To be specific, the .32 H&R Magnum case is rated for up to 23,500 PSI, while the .327 Federal Magnum is rated for up to 45,000 PSI which is almost double the pressure levels of its parent case. This makes it more powerful than the 9mm.

Ruger SP101 Model 5784 .327 Federal Magnum

The hottest .327 Federal Magnum load, the Speer Gold Dot 115 grain, can achieve a velocity of 1,316 feet per second out of the Ruger SP101’s 3-inch barrel, which amounts to 442 foot pounds of muzzle energy. 

With only six of those in the cylinder, the Ruger SP101 may not have nearly as much fire power as a Glock 43X, but it is highly concealable. And if you know what you’re doing, you can make those six shots count. But if you can’t, you can always purchase speed loaders from Pachmayr, HKS, or Speed Beez.

6: Smith & Wesson Model 340 PD .357 Magnum

Long time subscribers of the site know that I have a love hate relationship with the Smith & Wesson Model 340 PD. That’s because everyone I know who has shot full power .357 Magnum loads from it developed a flinch, myself included. But that doesn’t mean it’s a poorly built or a poorly designed pistol. 

On the contrary, the level of innovation and craftsmanship required to build such a strong but ultra light weight revolver far surpasses similar offerings from any of Big Blue’s wheel gun manufacturing competitors. Indeed, the company knew it was on to a winner when it secured a patent for its scandium aluminum alloy process.

The Smith & Wesson Model 340 PD is a really tiny snub nose designed to be carried a lot but shot a little. Built on the company’s J frame, it is an EDC piece from the get go. Because it weighs only 11.8 ounces, you can carry it around all day without feeling sore. 


But it has to be said that there may be times you’ll totally forget that you’re carrying anything at all because of how light it is, and that can become a problem. Still, even with its absurdly super light weight, you can still load it with full power .357 Magnum loads. The pain of recoil will matter very little when a bear is about to maul you to death.

5: Coonan Cadet .357 Magnum

With the 9mm and possibly the .380 ACP being the only exceptions, any cartridge that uses a bullet with a diameter that measures anywhere between .355 thousandths to .357 thousandths of an inch will never be a popular choice among people who prefer to carry a semi automatic over a wheel gun. Take a look at the .38 Super, the 9×23 Winchester, the .357 SIG, and the 960 Rowland, all of which sounded promising, but none caught on no matter their proposed merits.

That’s because if you need a semi auto pistol cartridge that utilizes a .355 caliber bullet with more stopping power than a 9mm, there’s a pretty good chance a 9mm +P+ load will fit the bill, because it has practically the same ballistic performance as the four cartridges I mentioned. 

But what if the 9mm +P+ is still not enough and you don’t want a big bore pistol caliber like the 10mm or the .45 ACP? Then you can carry a handgun chambered in .357 Magnum, though most of those are revolvers. Yes, most — not all.

Coonan Cadet .357 Magnum

There are three semi auto handguns that can chamber and shoot .357 Magnum safely — the Desert Eagle, the LAR Grizzly, and the Coonan. And of those three, the only pistol that can be easily carried is the Coonan, specifically the Coonan Cadet version with a barrel that measures only 3 and three quarters of an inch. 

It’s only slightly bigger than a commander size 1911, but it packs a wallop. The only problem is the company went out of business so you’ll need to scour the Interwebz if you want one.

4: Springfield XD-M Elite Compact 10mm

As the .40 Smith & Wesson is dying a slow and painful death, its parent cartridge the 10mm is seeing a continuous resurgence in the past couple of years. Every year you see a couple new semi automatic pistol models chambered in 10mm from different gun manufacturers, and it’s not hard to see why.

The 10mm is one of the most versatile pistol caliber cartridges on the market today because like the 9mm, its short overall length lets it fit in virtually any magazine. Its relatively slim profile also gives it a small foot print, allowing for high mag capacities in guns chambered for it. And because of why and how it was designed, it can generate significantly higher energy levels than the 9mm.

Some of the most powerful 10mm loads like the ones Buffalo Bore makes can push a heavy 180 grain jacketed hollow cavity bullet out of a 5-inch pistol barrel at a velocity of about 1,400 feet per second, which equates to 784 foot pounds of force at the muzzle. 


The Springfield XD-M Elite Compact only has a 3.8-inch barrel but the same load can still reach a velocity of up to 1,300 feet per second which amounts to 676 foot pounds of force at the muzzle. That is still well within .357 Magnum energy levels.

So why get a Springfield XD-M Elite Compact and not a Glock 20 or a Glock 29? Because the Glock 20 is a full size pistol which makes it a little harder to carry. And while the XD-M Elite is shorter than the Glock 29, it has a longer barrel and 1 more round in its flush fitting mag.

3: H&K USP Compact .45 Super

The .45 Super is an unofficial update to the .45 ACP developed by a gun writer, Dean Grennell, in 1988. Why did he have to do an update? It’s because the .45 ACP is an outdated design as it was introduced back in 1904. It has design limitations that contribute to its lackluster ballistic capabilities by today’s standards. 

That’s because back in those days, ammo manufacturers used black powder which was nowhere near as effective as modern smokeless powders when it comes to generating chamber pressure. 

The .45 ACP’s case is only rated for pressure levels of up to 21,000 PSI. Out of a 5 inch 1911 barrel, factory .45 ACP 230 grain loads can only go up to 850 feet per second, equivalent to only 369 foot pounds of muzzle energy which, by today’s standards, is weak. 

By comparison, the .45 Super’s case is rated for 28,000 PSI, and factory .45 Super 255 grain loads can fly out of the same 5 inch 1911 barrel at a velocity of 1,100 feet per second, generating 685 foot pounds of muzzle energy. 

H&K USP Compact .45 Super

But there’s a catch. Most .45 ACP pistols cannot safely chamber and shoot the .45 Super without an aftermarket barrel and recoil spring. Thankfully, there are a few exceptions, one of which is the H&K USP Compact. With an 8 round mag capacity, it’s a compact but rather beefy pistol that can be easily carried in an IWB holster.

The USP Compact’s manual states that it is rated for +P and +P+, but many owners attest to feeding it a limited diet of .45 Super without experiencing issues. If you’re not going to mag dump a box of .45 Super ammo with it in one sitting, you should be fine. 

2: Glock 30 Converted to .460 Rowland

The .460 Rowland is another unofficial update to the .45 ACP. And before you even ask, yes, “there are other unofficial updates, you can comment below if you want us to make a topic on those. But going back.

Nine years after the .45 Super came out, an even more powerful version called the .460 Rowland was developed by a gun show host Johnny Rowland. With a pressure rating of 40,000 psi, the .460 Rowland’s case was made to be a sixteenth of an inch longer than the .45 ACP’s so there’s no way it will chamber in a pistol that doesn’t have the necessary modifications.

Out of a 5 inch compensated 1911 barrel, Buffalo Bore’s .460 Rowland 255 grain hard cast flat nose can reach velocities of up to 1,300 feet per second, which generates a muzzle energy of 957 foot pounds, over two and a half times that of standard pressure .45 ACP fired from virtually the same pistol size. That puts the .460 Rowland in .44 Magnum ballistics territory.

Glock 30 Converted to .460 Rowland

Out of the Glock 30’s 3.77-inch barrel, the same 255 grain bullet can only manage 1,150 feet per second thereabouts, which translates to 749 foot pounds of muzzle energy, still plenty powerful for such a small pistol, and don’t forget that it has a 10 round mag capacity. This makes the Glock 30 in .460 Rowland one of the most common bear defense guns that Alaskans carry.

1: S&W Model 500 ES

And finally, I get to talk about the Smith & Wesson Model 500 ES chambered in what used to be the most powerful production handgun cartridge in the world, the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum. Yes, it used to be THE most powerful, because it was eclipsed two years ago by the .500 Bushwhacker which came out of nowhere, but that’s neither here nor there.

Out of the original eight and three eights inch barrel of the first Smith & Wesson Model 500, an Underwood 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum 350 grain XTP load flies at a velocity of 1,912 feet per second and generates a whopping 2,842 foot pounds of force at the muzzle. 

The same 350 grain XTP bullet leaves the Model 500 ES’ 2.75-inch barrel at around 1,574 feet per second, which equates to 1,926 foot pounds of muzzle energy. And five of those thumpers in the cylinder are more than enough to defend yourself against the biggest two legged critters in North America.

S&W Model 500 ES

But the Smith & Wesson Model 500 ES can be hard to come by because Big Blue only did a limited run of those revolvers over a decade ago as part of their Emergency Survival Kit gimmick. If you do manage to snag one, be sure to familiarize yourself with its wrist breaking recoil before you even carry it. 

And that’s all I have for you in this topic. Admittedly, there are a lot of other really powerful guns that can be carried for self defense, and I’m pretty sure you all have your own personal preferences. Feel free to sound them off in the comments.


  • Andrew
    Posted March 27, 2023 3:11 pm


  • bad boy
    Posted March 27, 2023 3:13 pm


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