What have you got against .40?

The number 2 complaint that I’ve received about yesterday’s post on the 10 Greatest Handgun Cartridges is “why no .40 S&W?” The number 1 complaint is why not .22LR, but that’s simple – no rimfire cartridges allowed. But back to the .40 S&W, which was excluded from the list because it’s just very great. Look at the other cartridges on the list – the .357 Magnum, the first magnum cartridge. The .455 Webley, which served the British Empire, then the Commonwealth for just as long as the .45 ACP served our nation. They’re significant, they’re historical. The .40…is not.

Gen 4 Glock 35 Arredondo

We’ll start with ballistics, because that seems to be what everyone talks about. There is nothing you can do with a .40 S&W in terms of terminal ballistics that you cannot do with either a 9mm or a .45 ACP. Modern hollowpoint ammo such as Winchester Ranger or Federal HST are all designed to do much the same thing, which is penetrate over 16 inches of gel after defeating common barrier materials. That’s it. That means that your .40 S&W loaded with Ranger JHP is going to do the same thing as a 9mm loaded with Winchester Ranger JHP. Sorry, .40 fanboys. The truth hurts.

Now, let’s talk about historical significance. You could argue that the .40 is historically significant because for a time it was the most popular cartridge for law enforcement in America, and I’d be willing to entertain that argument. However, that still makes it less historically significant than the .38 S&W, which was the standard issue cartridge of the British Commonwealth, and less interesting than the .380 ACP even. It’s really more of a historical footnote – a remnant of a time before agencies and shooters began to understand that “handgun wounds are pretty insignificant in any caliber, so maybe we should worry about shooting better.” It represents the evolutionary dead-end of the 10mm, which is actually an interesting cartridge because of its magnum-esque characteristics and current, dedicated following. But the .40? Well, it’s just sort of here. If it hadn’t been for namby-pamby government bureaucrats, we’d probably never have been saddled with the .40 as is.

There is one thing that the .40 is good and notable for – and that’s making USPSA Major Power Factor while still having a significant ammo capacity advantage over guns chambered in .45 ACP. I find it tremendously amusing that the cartridge most often loved by tactically obsessed shooters finds its most useful roll in gaming.


  1. Veeeery Interesting! Speaking of a Glock 10mm. fan. It takes 2 people to lift my Bag of glock 10mm reloads to the desert in Nev. Bet you never heard of .40 cal. Thompson smg conversions. I have 2 semi-auto versions in the so-called fbi case? w/ drums & stick mags in .40 cal., same bullet, slightly shorter case 9.2 vs. 8.5 demensions or so. Bought a couple Barstow 10 mm glock barrelles I intend to alter so I can fire .40 s&m in my 10 mm. glock. Doesn’t look too difficult.

  2. I enjoy the .40 cartridge in my full sized guns, but find it a bit too snappy in my smaller framed and polymer framed guns. For my smaller guns, I simply converted them from .40 to 9mm with Bar-sto barrels and 9mm recoil springs.

  3. No 22LR is still wrong!
    And why is it that all the people out there will tell you how awesome the .40 caliber round is and that only the best use the .40, all while they possess 9mm conversion barrels to use in those super .40 caliber firearms. I understand the use of 9mm for training due to cost and availability of the ammo. But if you can’t train with the precious .40 then would you really bet your life on it during a dangerous/life threatening situation. I will with my well practiced 9mm and .38 Special.

    1. I have a Coonan .357 auto-loader from way back. Looks like a 1911. Neck down your cases to seat and hold a 9mm bullet with 231 powder and magnum small pistol primer. Lowers case life substantually relagating the brass to light .38 Special loads. But, talk about custom 9mm ammo, Wow, lose a little accuracy, but not significant at handgun combat ranges.

  4. Caleb, despite being a .40 fan, I agree with most of your comments. However, the key point you are missing is historical context. Yes, premium 9mm self defense ammo *now* easily equals the .40, but that wasn’t the case until fairly recently. That’s exactly why the .40 was developed. Agencies were experiencing failures with the 9mm and wanted something bigger that hit harder. Originally, that was the 10mm, but those same agencies discovered that their employees couldn’t handle the 10mm and specified a lighter loading. S&W and Winchester realized that if they downloaded the 10mm to a 180gr bullet @ 1000fps they could use a smaller case and 9mm-framed guns with larger magazine capacities. THAT’s why the .40 took off like a rocket in the early 90s. It offered penetration & expansion (and “stopping power” — now discredited, but a big deal in the 90s) that the 9mm could not. Now that ammo companies have brought the 9mm up to spec., the .40 makes less sense, especially given that the 9mm’s lower recoil allows for faster follow up shots. But at the time it was introduced, the .40 very definitely filled a niche. I suspect that most of us who are .40 fans got into shooting in the early to mid 90s. My Gen 2 Glock 23 is from about 1994 or so, and my Browning Hi-Power .40 is from about 1997. Both have been competition and carry guns, though these days I tend to prefer a 9mm for IDPA.

  5. I’m a 40 fan who started handgun shooting in the late 2000’s. Actually like the way the 40EMP, 40M&P Compact shoot, better than the 9mm variants. My favorite carry gun is my Kahr MK40. I do like my 45ACP 1911’s too, then I would go to the 9mm 3rd. My first handgun was a 9mm, then a 45, the 40 was a distant thought; after I bought one and shot it, the only reason I kept the 9mm was because of cost to shoot. I still shoot the 40 & 45 more often than I shoot the 9mm. The 9mm is my backup at home and someday will likely be gifted to my son, when he’s settled down where can own a handgun and have a carry permit.

    1. Bought my wife a Baretta 92f full size double column pistol back in the 80’s on the same day I bought my 1st. gen. glock 10 mm. Reloaded for hers right away, but hard to find brass for mine. Whew! found star brass at the gun show and bought 5 thous. rnds. of brass. Love the eighties–no high cap. mags in CA. Leaving soon anyway. Always been a 1911 shooter before–and, to me shoot and feel the same in my hand. Needed then to get used to wider hand span holding pistol. Haven’t reloaded 4 long time, but see money in it now with right tools–gearing up again. Hate the loss of my L. A. Dist. sometime back because of a few FFL idiots. (Bowers Wholesale Suppy). The ammo market is being goughed to death by a stand in line list of bottom feeders. I think they both go to the same Oil Refinery Convention. When I bought my Glock, they sold me the wrong gun and almost cost the store/stores their ffl license. Bought a fixed sight gun and got adj. sights and diff.serial numb.

  6. Chad, haven’t you heard, .380s are now equal to .45s. At least according to the marketing hype. Nevermind that the .45’s bullet is 2.5 times larger.

    You see, they are loading ammo with pixie dust now days, making them magic.

    1. atm, no one here said .380 was equal to .40. What was said (and is factually correct) is that all modern service calibers (9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, .357 Sig) are designed to perform exactly the same, thus negating any perceived performance advantage in the larger calibers.

  7. Hmmm….A 9mm and a .45 both penetrate 16 inches so they’re the same ? Except for the fact that the .45 makes a hole twice as big as the 9. Sorry, they’re not the same.

    1. Incorrect! Both bullets will expand to at least 0.60 inches and penetrate 16 inches of gel after defeating four layers of denim.

      Plus, .45 is not twice as big as .355. But math is hard.

  8. “Both bullets will expand to at least 0.60 inches. . . ”

    AT LEAST. Most good .45ACp bullets expand to closer to 0.70, many of them expand to around 0.75 or 0.80.

    At the top end that is almost twice the size hole (Pi*r^2). Figure 1.7x as a decent average.

    But, while 0.60″ expansion is a GOAL of 9x19mm JHP ammo designers, the fact is, they frequently do not get that — only about half of the loads tested here achieve that, and most of those do not get anywhere near the 16″ penetration on a clothed (four denim layers) gelatin block. http://www.firearmstactical.com/ammo_data/9mm.htm

    Of course, you really need to stick with the 200gr and 230gr loads in .45ACP — the 185gr loads tend to open fairly large (like up to 0.86″ or so), but stop well short of 16″.

    I’ll still argue that the differences are FAR less significant than controllability — if you can make 3 good hits with a 9mm in the time it takes me to make 2 equally good hits with a .45ACP, we are destroying pretty much the same total volume of tissue in the same amount of time.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: