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There has been a move recently to the 9mm Luger in law enforcement circles. I can’t say the .40 S&W ever really caught on in concealed carry, but I have trusted the .40 for some time.

I am certain the 9mm is easy to shoot well. I am also certain the .40 can be too much in ultra-compact pistols. I am equally certain that cops will be dying because of inadequate calibers.

The cycle is a regular one, and there will be a panic to adopt the .40 S&W, .45 ACP or .357 SIG again. Perhaps adopting a modest-recoiling load like the .40 165-grain Hydra Shock, a 165-grain load at 180-grain velocity would be a better answer.

But then, I am not the one in charge. In .40 S&W service-size and compact pistols, good control and accuracy potential is there. In subcompacts, momentum takes a toll.

Among the things I have learned in researching wound potential, is that only actual damage counts for anything. The wound potential of a cartridge depends upon the level of penetration, the diameter of the bullet and bullet expansion.

Larger bullets make bigger holes. Coupled with the constant of adequate penetration, a larger caliber always has more potential to do damage, cause blood loss, and shut down the adversary’s body.

The only repeatable and verifiable means we have of gauging wound potential is by studying the effects of a bullet in artificial media. So-called stopping power studies involving secret sources and anonymous reports have a validity of zero.

The standard of evidence required in traffic court would not allow their admission. Lab results in comparing loads matter. As for the actual expansion of hollow-point bullets in bodies, they cannot be counted on 100 percent.

Hornady and Remington .40 S&W Ammo
If you choose the .40 for defense, standard-pressure loads should be used in compact handguns.

Why the .40?

Among the most successful handgun and cartridge combinations of the past 30 years has been the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge and service-size handguns.

The SIG P229, GLOCK Model 22 and the Beretta PX4 Storm are among them. This caliber has proven as effective as a handgun cartridge is likely to be.

Handguns are not very powerful compared to a rifle cartridge, with the “weak .38” and “strong .45” more alike than different when compared to a rifle.

Shot placement means the most. Just the same, .40-caliber handguns have demonstrated good to excellent all-around results. The question of control has come up from time to time, but in my experience it relates primarily to subcompact pistols.

Interestingly enough, the .40 S&W is already much less popular than the 9mm Luger or .45 ACP among civilians compared to the .40 caliber in police issue. The .40 simply did not catch on as it did with those in uniform.

I have seen many .40 S&W handguns come through my concealed carry classes. Those firing service-size platforms in .40 have done well, while those using subcompact pistols have not.

The GLOCK 27 and compact XD pistols in .40 caliber are often too much pistol for most shooters to handle the recoil in rapid-fire. For female shooters, recoil can be startling.

We know the subcompacts are difficult to manage with this high-intensity, big-bore cartridge, but what about service-size pistols? Beginning with GLOCK 23-size pistols, the .40 Smith & Wesson offers a manageable system.

The same might be said of the SIG Sauer P229 in .40. The goal of the .40 wasn’t to produce a weapon that is as controllable as the 9mm, because we had the 9mm.

The goal was to offer superior wound ballistics. The .45 ACP is always an answer, but the size, weight and perhaps more importantly grip width of full-size, service-grade .45 ACP pistols was deemed too much.

I like the .45 ACP cartridge, but my hand size does not allow me to handle the big frame GLOCK pistols well. Most of us can handle the GLOCK 17/22 frame well.

SIG P224 .40 Caliber
The SIG P224 is an overlooked jewel in .40.

Power and Control

A power-factor rating was developed to compare handgun calibers. It has been used as a rating for Major and Minor rules in competition and also to gauge the suitability of a handgun for personal defense.

The weight of the bullet is multiplied by the velocity and then divided by 10,000 to come up with the PF. For example, a 200-grain bullet at 1,000 fps would have a PF of 200.

While the PF doesn’t consider weapon weight, it is useful to compare the recoil of various cartridges. Many shooters feel that a PF of 200 is the upper level at which a shooter can control a handgun well.

A PF of 150 to 170 is better for accomplished shooters. The difference in recoil between the 9mm and .40 does not reflect a considerable difference in control with a trained shooter.

Recoil and report mean you are firing a powerful cartridge. It must be controlled with proper technique.

When you consider the balance of expansion and penetration in the .40 S&W cartridge and the frame size needed to contain the 10mm or .45 ACP cartridge, there is a consensus that perhaps the .40 is the ideal cartridge and the larger calibers may represent a point of diminishing return.

Certainly control, magazine capacity and compactness favor the .40-caliber handgun.

I have tested quite a few handguns cartridges using water jugs as the media for penetration and expansion.  Water jugs are six-inches wide and results are usually within 10 percent of gelatin results in penetration and expansion.

Although not as precise as gelatin, you may wish to check if the duty load also performs well in a subcompact and water is a good cheap basis of comparing loads.

In any case, gelatin isn’t a human being, and water is simply a means of comparison. I think that the .40 performs as designed, penetrating to an ideal depth while maintaining good expansion.

The .40 is also more consistent from load to load as far as results go, while the 9mm may run a deviation in penetration from seven to 18 inches, per my testing of many loadings.

Until the laws of physics are revoked, the .40 will remain an excellent all-around choice for duty and personal defense use.

This long slide GLOCK .40 is as good as it gets in an easy-shooting .40.

At present, there are a number of quality police trade-ins in .40 S&W at a bargain. It isn’t unusual to see GLOCK pistols — and sometimes the SIG P-series — on the used shelf for less than 400 dollars.

In new handguns, the Taurus G2C, an improved version of the original compact pistol, features a proper recoil spring for controlling the .40 and is priced just a bit over 200 dollars.

I recently picked up a full-size Beretta PX4 Storm for less than 250 dollars. The .40 is a fine defense cartridge, increasingly affordable, and may even be effective in animal defense.

The .40 S&W is too good to be overlooked. If you favor the smaller type .40 pistols, stick with load such as the Hornady Critical Defense, a purpose-designed defensive loading. Remington’s Ultimate Defense may also be useful.

Testing the .40 S&W

In order to demonstrate the power and accuracy of the modern .40 S&W, I turned to one of my favorite ammunition companies.

Buffalo Bore offers hard-cast loads for maximum protection against animals, rapid-opening hollow-point bullets for personal defense, deep-penetrating loads and all-copper (lead free) hollow points.

There are many choices. I recently tested several Buffalo Bore loads in my vintage Springfield P9 full-size .40 S&W pistol. The results were very interesting.

Buffalo Bore .40 S&W Caliber
Buffalo Bore offers excellent power and reliability in .40 Smith and Wesson caliber.

Among the most interesting load is one using the Barnes 125-grain XP bullet. The TAC XP exits the Springfield’s barrel at just shy of 1400 fps. The .40 closely mimics the .357 Magnum with this load, but with a larger diameter bullet.

My choice for personal defense would be the 155-grain hollow point. This load is rated +P and should only be used in larger-frame .40 S&W handguns. 1290 fps beats most factory loads by 100 fps.

This isn’t a loading I would recommend in small-frame handguns, the shooters ability to handle recoil is the limiting factor. In the big CZ-type Springfield, recoil is in .45 ACP class. Accuracy is excellent.

I really like the performance of this loading. A standard loading for the .40 is the 180-grain weight. The Buffalo Bore load expands well and penetrates up to 20 inches. The 180-grain JHP exits the Springfield at a solid 1120 fps.

This is an exceptional loading, well suited to service use. Buffalo Bore offers a line of Outdoorsman loads for use in animal defense. Many of us like to travel in the great outdoors and are concerned by wild animals.

Most are not dangerous, but the frequency of animal attack cannot be disputed. It takes a lot of penetration to break down a big cat or a bear.

Few of us can afford a special-purpose .44 Magnum or .454 Casull for field use, and then there is the problem of expending enough ammunition to master the handgun.

Buffalo Bore offers hard-cast loads in the popular handgun calibers.

A hard-cast bullet isn’t simply a lead bullet, far from it, but a bullet alloyed with other metals to produce a very hard bullet that doesn’t lead the barrel, offers excellent accuracy, and drives deep.

The .40 Smith and Wesson 200-grain Hard-Cast Outdoorsman, standard pressure, drives hard at 990 fps. I attempted to test penetration but gave up. The bullet sailed through 48 inches of water.

This is good penetration and applicable for animal defense.


The .40 Smith and Wesson offers real performance as a service load, personal-defense load and even an outdoors load.

It is better than most would think, and a solid choice for a dedicated handgunner.

Do you like the .40 S&W cartridge? Tell us why or why not in the comments section below!

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