The .40 S&W Comeback: Great for Personal Defense and Available During the Ammo Drought

The best feature of the .40 Smith and Wesson today might be its falling popularity. That means quality handguns and ammunition are available now when other calibers aren’t. After the FBI’s adoption of the 9mm, the .40 has lost favor with law enforcement agencies, but it is still around and remains a very good self-defense cartridge.

.40 it is still available and a very good self-defense cartridge.

The .40 S&W, also called .40 caliber, was a popular caliber for law enforcement duty pistols for 20 years. This means that police trade-ins are available providing lightly used quality at affordable prices. Less popular than 9mm, there is still a wide selection of .40 S&W ammunition for training and personal defense when other calibers are sold out. Despite conventional wisdom, gun buyers, new and old should consider the .40 S&W.

The .40 has more energy but the same sized pistol in 9mm will hold more rounds since the cartridge is smaller. A pistol chambered in .40 S&W holds more rounds than a.45, but the energy of the .45 ACP is higher than the .40.

There are many other .40 platforms that use handgun mags. AR conversions like the Stern Defense and dedicated AR Glock magazine lowers can use .40 with the simple addition of a .40 upper and .40 mags. Stern Defense models can use SIG P-320, S&W M&P, and Glock mags if you already own them.
Black Creek Precision dedicated lower uses Glock magazines like this KCI USA drum.

It is useful to look back and see why the .40 was so popular for so many years. This is not another caliber debate. Do your homework and your range work before picking a handgun caliber. When you do pick one, remember, it is rude to talk about politics, religion, or handgun caliber at the supper table.

CMMG‘s Resolute 300 Series carbine in .40 S&W with a KCI USA drum magazine. It is a joy to shoot with plenty of energy for practical work. Law enforcement asked for a .40 S&W carbine that used the same magazine as their Glocks. CMMG answered the call and tamed the recoil with Radial Delayed Blowback. This system delays and reduces the velocity of the bolt so that powerful pistol cartridges like .40 S&W can be used without a heavy buffer system.

All around the internet, .40 S&W ammo is available in dozens of different loads. I didn’t find any .40-caliber ammunition at my local box stores, but I did find several cases at my local gun shop. It was priced slightly higher than what is available from online retailers, but there are no added shipping fees and I walked out of the store with it.

Kahr CT 40
The .40 S&W strikes a solid balance between energy and magazine capacity.

The .40 S&W was specifically developed to duplicate the performance of the FBI’s reduced-velocity 10mm cartridge and fit into medium-frame (9mm size) automatic handguns.

This Rock Island double stack 1911 in .40 cal is powerful and accurate. Not every shooter can handle this much steel.

Since the 1900s, the .38, .45, and 9mm had been the main cartridges for law enforcement and the military in the United States. In the early 1970’s Whit Collins had a better idea. He wanted to rechamber the 9mm Browning Hi-Power in a more powerful cartridge.

The 10mm round on the left shares the 0.400″ caliber bullet with the .40 S&W round on the right. There is a .142″ reduction in overall case length, resulting in less powder capacity in the .40 S&W. The .40 uses a small pistol primer whereas the 10mm cartridge uses a large pistol primer.

Collins originally considered the .38 Super, but read Jeff Cooper’s concept of an ideal cartridge of a .40 caliber bullet weighing 200gr moving at 1,000fps. After much study of geometry Collins began looking for existing rifle cases that had the right dimensions and could be trimmed to proper length a Browning Hi-Power magazine.

New ammo tech like this SIG .40 S&W ammo are another good argument in favor of carrying .40

Cooper approved and helped Collins get his idea to Guns & Ammo. By 1972 a Browning Hi-Power chambered in .40 G&A was test-fired. The loads being fired consisted of a 180gn bullet at 1,050fps out of the 5″ barrel.

In 1973 Cooper and Collins explored the idea of a longer cased .40 caliber round developed for large frame .45 platforms. Whit Collins continued working on his .40 G&A and Jeff Cooper began work on his .40 Super. In 1978 Cooper helped conceive the Bren Ten semiautomatic pistol, and his .40 Super evolved into 10mm Auto. Bren didn’t last long, but the 10mm would be re-born.

In 1978 Jeff Cooper helped conceive the Bren Ten semiautomatic pistol and his .40 Super evolved into 10mm Auto. Bren Ten image from GunsAmerica.

The true genesis of the .40 S&W was on April 11, 1986, in Miami Dade county Florida. Eight FBI agents and two bank robbers engaged in a fight to the death. FBI Special Agents Jerry L. Dove and Benjamin P. Grogan were killed, while five other agents were wounded.

The two robbery suspects, both with military experience, William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt, were also killed. These were bad men armed with an S&W M3000 12-gauge shotgun and a Ruger Mini-14. They had decided they were not going to be taken alive.

After the Miami Shootout in 1986, the FBI invented modern ammunition testing and led the law-enforcement movement to .40 caliber. The FBI is very conservative and has one of the best ballistics labs in the world.

The incident has been intensely studied by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Despite outnumbering the suspects 4 to 1, the agents found themselves pinned down by rifle fire and unable to respond effectively. Although both Matix and Platt were hit multiple times during the firefight, Platt fought on and continued to injure and kill agents.

The subsequent FBI investigation blamed the failure on the poor stopping power of their .38 and 9mm handguns. They started the process of testing 9mm and .45 ACP ammunition seeking to replace the 3″ barrel Smith and Wesson Model 13 with a semi-automatic pistol. The semi-automatic pistol offered increased ammunition capacity and was easier to reload during a gunfight.

The FBI was satisfied with the performance of its .38 Special +P 158 gr cartridge. Ammunition for the new semi-automatic pistol had to deliver terminal performance equal or superior to the .38 Special FBI Load. The FBI developed a new series of practically oriented tests involving eight test events that reasonably represented the kinds of situations that FBI agents commonly encounter in shooting incidents.

The FBI ultimately selected a downloaded 10mm using a 180-grain jacketed hollow-point bullet fired at 950 fps. Even downloaded, this was a very hot load, unsuitable for the average agent.

It proved to be an excellent ballistic combination, although the long case was a problem. The 10mm round required a large-frame pistol. At that time, there were only two manufacturers making large frames, S&W and Colt.

The Smith & Wesson 1076, chambered for the 10mm Auto round, was chosen by the FBI.

The FBI contacted Smith & Wesson and requested they design a handgun to FBI specifications, based on the existing large-frame S&W Model 4506 .45 ACP handgun, that would reliably function with the FBI’s reduced velocity 10mm ammunition. This became the Smith & Wesson 1076, chambered for the 10mm Auto round and it was chosen by the FBI.

During this collaboration, Smith & Wesson’s smart guys soon realized that downloading the 10mm to meet the FBI specifications meant less powder and more airspace in the case. They found that by removing the airspace they could shorten the 10 mm case enough to fit within their medium-frame 9mm handguns.

Working in a secret joint project with Winchester Ammunition they developed a cartridge with identical ballistics to become known as the .40 S&W. When loaded with a 180 gr bullet, it produced the same ballistic performance as the FBI’s reduced velocity 10mm cartridge.

The .40 S&W was specifically developed to duplicate the performance of the FBI’s reduced-velocity 10mm cartridge and fit into medium-frame (9mm size) automatic handguns. The .40 S&W cartridge debuted January 17, 1990, along with the new Smith and Wesson 4006 pistol.

Ironically, the Glock 22 and Glock 23 pistols chambered in .40 S&W were announced a week before the 4006 and beat Smith & Wesson to the market in 1990, with the S&W cartridge. Clever marketing has S&W in the very name of the round. The new guns and ammunition were an immediate success.

In May 1997, the FBI officially adopted the Glock 23 Gen3 finger groove and rail in .40 S&W pistol for general agent use.

Other than a .142″ reduction in overall case length, resulting in less powder capacity in the .40 S&W; the 10mm and .40 S&W are identical in projectile diameter, both using a 0.400″ caliber bullet. The .40 uses a small pistol primer whereas the 10mm cartridge uses a large pistol primer.

Glock has a whole family of .40s. Meet the new Gen5 models of the G-27 and G-23.

The 40 S&W, has nearly identical accuracy with the 9mm but it has an energy advantage over the 9mm and more manageable recoil than the 10 mm Auto cartridge. The .40 S&W and the 9 mm Parabellum both operate at a 35,000 psi (240 MPa) SAAMI maximum, compared to a 21,000 psi (150 MPa) maximum for .45 ACP.

There are a number of quality .40 caliber handguns available on GunsAmerica, you may have to search, but you can find your gun with a little patience.

The size of the XD-40 is a dependable and proven design which handles recoil well. It has minimal external controls.

The .40 S&W became more popular than the 10mm due to the ability to chamber the shorter cartridge in standard frame automatic pistols designed initially for the 9 mm Parabellum. The problem here is that pistols designed for the 9mm are damaged by the high pressures and high energy of the .40 accelerating wear. Many shooters experience increased felt recoil often described as muzzle flip.

The H&K USP is unique in that it was specifically built for the .40 cartridge.
Even unconventional guns like this Bond Arms derringer are available in .40
The FNH FNX-40 is a variant of FN’s Modular Handgun candidate for the U.S. Army trials.
SIG’s Classic line, like this P229 are available in .40. The P229R in .40 was the duty weapon of DHS for many years.

The .40 has been there for a generation of cops. It was conceived by none other than Jeff Cooper himself and developed with some careful science. With improvements in 21st-century ammo, it is even better. While .40 S&W’s recoil and magazine capacity can be challenging, shooters will find that this is a small price to pay for availability and performance. Today might be the best time to buy one.

Plenty of .40s left for us. In 2016, the FBI selected the Glock 17M and 19M, variants of the G17 Gen5 and the G19 Gen5 in 9mm. The FBI states that the Critical Duty 9mm 135-grain load was the most accurate 9mm round that they had ever fired.

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About the author: Mark Miller is a former Customs Agent and a Green Beret who served in Afghanistan and a number of other live fire locations. A student of firearms and shooting, he is an FFL and a SOT. The guiding philosophy of his life is that terrain and situation dictate tactics and the enemy always gets a vote on any plan.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Dale Alexander March 26, 2021, 3:24 pm

    How can I purchase some 40 Cal ammo, 248 730-2597 Thanks.

  • Charles Gohde February 8, 2021, 1:12 am

    I love my G27 gen4 for daily carry , it’s accurate and the .40 is a great hard hitting round. Now if I can find a reliable outlet for buying more ammo it would make my day.

  • Tony February 5, 2021, 8:44 pm

    The .40 is just about the perfect round. I have had Sig. and Glock duty pistols in this caliber for years. I have used it in PPC matches, bullseye, steel challenge and other matches. It works best with a 165 grain bullet weight.

  • Liberty's Advocate February 1, 2021, 11:59 pm

    After carrying a .38 Special 5 shot Snub Nose as a CCW holder for over 22 years, a Sheriff who was a personal friend of mine suggested he could get me an upgrade through the department. This was shortly after the .40 S&W made its debut, and I started carrying a S&W 411. I carried that 10 years and replaced it with a Springfield Armory XD-M .40 S&W, replacing that with my current Sig Sauer P320C in .40 S&W a year before the military selected the P320 9mm as their standard M17. I have never carried a 9mm because law enforcement at the time was unimpressed with its performance, and I don’t mind the sharper recoil. I have always been happy with the performance, variety and availability of the .40S&W ammo.
    Now the availability of ammunition is a definite plus.

  • Rocco Cavalluzzi February 1, 2021, 10:41 pm

    Very good information. I just bought some .40 Smith&Wesson and you’re post made me happy to realize I made a good decision. thank you very much

  • Ti February 1, 2021, 12:46 pm

    Good article. My foray into 10mm short came in 1991. I purchased an HK P7M10. They weren’t very popular (price?). I liked the safety of the “squeeze cocker”. The slide is/was very heavy. It accompanied me as my truck gun for years. Now it is a museum piece in the safe.

  • Art C. February 1, 2021, 12:34 pm

    I am a retired law enforcement officer who was fortunate to carry a 1076 during part of my career. I shot it more accurately than the .40 S&W double stack Auto that replaced it, the slimmer 1076 grip fit my hand better.

    I am still a 1076 owner and fan.

  • paul February 1, 2021, 11:34 am

    I own a .40, take it from us 40 owners don’t buy one definitely don’t by any ammo it’s all bad bad I say, just kidding but save us some! Pretty much why I bought mine years ago, 9mm was cheaper but none on the shelves or find so I figured what sense would it to be to buy a gun and have no ammo!!!

  • John Boutwell February 1, 2021, 10:42 am

    Hell, one would need to work a second job to buy ammo now days.

  • Lou Fisher February 1, 2021, 10:39 am

    I was told that because of covid the lead mines in South America are almost shut down – If that makes any sense to you then that’s why there are no bullets!

  • Lou February 1, 2021, 9:10 am

    Would be nice if 40 cal bullets were available.

  • Mark Miller February 1, 2021, 9:05 am

    Ammunition prices and availability change constantly. You have you check regularly. Ammo deals quickly come and go.

    • John Boutwell February 1, 2021, 10:43 am

      I haven’t seen a deal on ammo in about a year.

  • TOM BROLLINI February 1, 2021, 8:41 am

    Actually I have enough ammo & reloading stuff to keep shooting & have been, but, I pulled out the 40s, cause I have a ton of loaded up 40s I never shoot, since when I shoot a “4” it’s a .45. So, been doing my combat practice with 40s. We forget it’s a good round, maybe better than a 9, but mine are all TSWs or full size steel & when carrying a pocket gun its a 9 or 38/357 AW, or if big a .45. I think that re-thinking a 40 might be a good idea for some people. FWIW

  • John cliff February 1, 2021, 8:37 am

    So why do we have and ammo shortage right now.Who is buying up all of the ammunition.

    • Tommy D February 1, 2021, 9:30 am

      There are several layers of reasons why we are in an “ammo drought”, but 2 stand out:
      1. We just went through a presidential election. EVERYONE wants to horde ammo guns and ammo.
      2. Covid restrictions have decreased the amount of ammo that can be produced in a given factory, because of “social distancing”, and even lock downs in some areas. There are fewer people on an assembly line, therefore there is less ammo being produced. This doesn’t just apply to ammo, it’s everything. Covid is bad for the economy, and freedom in general.

      • TOM BROLLINI February 1, 2021, 8:33 pm

        I saw a thing with Pres of Hornady & he said they have produced 30% more than 2019 in 2020 & the other makers are doing similarly. Said the demand is extraordinary, more than any other shortage. They are months behind & suffering from shortage of components, just like us.

    • SuperG February 1, 2021, 10:23 am

      7 million new gun owners hitting the market, buying on average 2 boxes of ammo, equals 14 million boxes of ammo sold! Everybody is now prepping for the Biden utopia, so it will continue.

  • Texas Twostep February 1, 2021, 7:49 am

    Everybody has been down on the .40, but the qualities that made it so popular 25 years ago are still there today. Yes, bullet technology has made the 9mm more effective, but it has also benefitted the .40 in the same manner. Whether now or 15 years into the future, the .40 will come back in popularity.

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