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Ode to the .40 S&W

Yea yea. I know what most of you are going to say about this one in the comments already so I want to formally take the time to DISAVOW any positive things said about the .40 S&W below-Shawn


By Luis Valdes


My personal G22, bought it through Lou’s Police Supply in Hialeah FL one week before the Gen 4s were publicly unveiled at SHOT Show.

O .40 S&W, you are being driven from your throne! Thou, from when you graced the world, the world has loved and hated thee. 10x22mm is your measurement. Both strong and true. Sadly many have insulted you as short and weak. You pack the punch needed. With the capacity wanted. Thou many claim to hate you. My love for you is true.

The .40 S&W released to the world on January 17, 1990; has since that day been credited as the Second Coming by some and hated as if it were the Anti-Christ by many. The haters claim that the cartridge is too snappy and has too much recoil yet at the same time make bold statements that it is short and weak. Though which is it? Too power or too weak? Come on now! Out with it!

The .40 S&W is neither. It is perfection. The cartridge replicates the most popular Old Western Cartridge of the era and not of Hollywood. The .38-40 Winchester; considered for its day an “all-around” cartridge. It was actually a heeled .40 Caliber projectile and was later attempted to be modernized by the great John M. Browning himself with the 9.8mm Colt cartridge in the 1911 for the Romanian Army contract at the turn of the 20th Century. Even further, the original design for the Hi-Power was to be a striker fired pistol chambered in a .40 caliber projectile replicating the 9.8mm Colt and the .38-40 Winchester. But Mr. Browning’s passing lead to the Hi-Power falling into the hands of Dieudonné Saive (designer of the modern Hi-Power, SAFN/FN-49, FN FAL).

Time marched on and folks toyed with the idea off and on until a gentleman form South Africa came to the United States. Mr. Paul Liebenberg; many know him for his work in S&W’s Performance Center and the excellent craftsmanship he has done. But when he first came to the US he started working for Pachmyar Gun Works. He worked on a side project known as the Centimeter Cartridge. It was to replace the .38 Super for IPSC and was also part of what Whit Collin’s went into making the .40 G&A. Collin’s wanted a replacement cartridge for IPSC when he worked on the .40 G&A with Col. Jeff Cooper.

Well, Mr. Liebenberg left Pachmayr and founded his own company; Pistol Dynamics. From there he made a friend; Tom Campbell. Campbell and Liebenberg worked on the Centimeter Cartridge and tried to get S&W interested in it. Which eventually happened. Then president of the company; Steve Melvin approached Liebenberg about converting a couple of their new 3rd Gen 5906s. Liebenberg obliged and the .40 S&W that we know today was born.



The energy of the .40 S&W exceeds standard-pressure .45 ACP loadings, generating between 350 foot-pounds and 500 foot-pounds of energy, depending on bullet weight. Both the .40 S&W and the 9mm operate at a 35,000 pounds per square inch SAAMI maximum, compared to a 21,000 pounds per square inch maximum for .45 ACP. The .40 S&W was originally loaded at subsonic velocity (around 980 ft/s (300 m/s)) with a 180gr bullet. Since its introduction to the shooting market, the cartridge has been on the market with various loads, the majority being either 155gr, 165gr or 180gr.

Right now everyone is flocking to 9mm, especially after the FBI ditched the .40 S&W. But what many don’t realize is that the .40 S&W is actually still a better cartridge since the new FBI load is a just a rehashed 147Gr Speer Gold Dot load and the super-hot 9mm loads that the internet claims beats .40 S&W far exceeds the pressure curve due to these being +P+ loads.

The .40 S&W still is the best due to three reasons.

1. You can get mild loads that rival 9mm powder puff plinkers
2. It still has better barrier penetration than 9mm and .45 ACP
3. You can get loads that rival some 10mm Loads

And this is still all in a compact lightweight pistol that is smaller than any 10mm and .45 ACP chambered gun. The .40 S&W is still my personal choice when it comes to personal protection against two and four legged game. With my G22 I get 15+1 in a gun that weighs less loaded than an empty 1911. Follow up shots are easy and the pistol handles like an extension of my body. I compete in GSSF with my G22 and even bring out my G24 for bowling pin matches and hunting.





My personal G24 also doubles as my bump in the night gun for the home.

I have carried a Glock 22 as my primary duty gun in the majority of my LE career and it has never failed. The .40 S&W has and will do the job. The golden standard 180gr JHP from Winchester, Speer, Remington, Hornady, and Cor-Bon are all dependable.

The .40 S&W often touted as the armature’s cartridge. I believe it is the other way around. It is the cartridge of understanding person and the true believer of the “master of one gun” mindset. It does everything. You get compactness, capacity, power, and penetration all without the issues of excessive recoil, weight, and price. Folks always complain about the price of .40 S&W. Yet when I go, it costs the same as 9mm. Reloading it on a press is a breeze and it is really a very adaptable cartridge. I can have some powder puff plinkers and some real big game stoppers. I’ve actually used my G24 to hunt hog and deer and that’s with the factory 180gr Winchester Ranger SXT load. For protection from armored meat eaters like Florida’s numerous gators, crocs, and bath salt addicted zombies. The .40 S&W does the job too. A 200gr Hardcast Solid from Double Tap does the job against those pesky marine meat eaters.

The fad of folks jumping back to the 9mm is just that. A fad. Soon enough 9mm will once again be viewed as a useless weak cartridge and everyone will jump onto the .45 ACP or 10mm. In fact, that is already occurring and we see more and more resurgence with those two cartridges. But the .40 S&W just keeps chugging along. After a quarter century of service. This cartridge isn’t going anywhere. Sure, popularity might wane and the “cool” guys might be going to something else. But this dyed in the wool, tried and true devotee ain’t. I’m sticking with .40 S&W and I thank you for leaving me more options on store shelves when the panic buys come. While you’re all turning tricks on a street corner for a 50rd box of Remington UMC 9mm or .45 ACP. I can calmly walk into a Walmart and walk out with my .40 S&W.

PS – Fun History Fact:

Glock was the first company to have a commercial product chambered in .40 S&W on the market. They beat S&W to their own game. When the cartridge was unveiled at the 1990 SHOT Show, Glock reps were able to get a few samples and designed the Glock 22 and released it to the market before S&W had the 3rd Gen 4006 out. The first agency in the US to adopt the .40 S&W was not the California Highway Patrol (which many credit as doing so since they were the first to adopt the S&W 4006). It was the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; otherwise known as SLED. You can look it up in the November 1990 Issue of Shooting Times.

16 thoughts on “Ode to the .40 S&W”

  1. I don’t hate the .40 S&W. I certainly don’t love it.

    The brutal truth is that I just don’t see a valid reason for the very existence of the cartridge. It solves neither the problem of the 9×19 being under-powered, but giving a high magazine capacity, or the .45 ACP having too small a mag capacity and more recoil for some shooters. The knock against the 10mm was that it had too much recoil for the people the FBI recruits. The .40 is in this nether-region middle ground that’s neither fish nor fowl.

    What was needed was a cartridge that would give .357 Mag penetration, with a mag capacity of 15 or more. An example is the 9×23 Winchester: It gives .357 Mag performance, with the magazine capacity that police wanted, and with less recoil than the .40, 10 or .45 ACP.

    Reply
  2. I was never that interested in the 40. Already had a 9 and 45 when it came along. I did go ahead and pick up one of them during the recent LEO turn-in flood. $250 for a M&P with three mags? It can live in the safe for the rest of my life as a “just in case I need something that runs on available ammo” option and I’ll consider that a good deal.

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  3. The author rightly points out that .40 does nice dual-duty as a woods cartridge and a town cartridge. If you never go in the woods, 9mm is likely superior. While far from a grizzly cartridge, heavy .40 will do a nice job outdoors in the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. (Essentially: Where grizzlies don’t roam.)

    If you want/can afford a woods gun, there are probably better picks, but if you don’t want/can’t afford a woods gun, a new load for your .40 will do the trick.

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  4. I read the first part singing the praises of the shorty 40 in a foppish voice and got a good chuckle out of it. Never would have figured .40 for bowling pin matches or hunting but I could see it doing in a deer with the right bullet handily.

    Nothing against it, as said above I too seized on a bunch of cheap police trade in guns back when they were almost paying you to take them should I never feel the need for some panic buying cash or, more likely today, they’re in my “now everyone has at least a sidearm” house party box should we need to defend the mighty walls of Fort Dancer.

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  5. Yeah, well, far be it from me to start a ruckkas. But.

    Everybody who doesn’t see the point of the 40, please stand up.

    Good. Nice to see all of y’all.

    Now, remain standing if you wouldn’t mind somebody shooting you in the brisket with one.

    Hey! Where did everybody go??????????

    Reply
    • It’s not that it’s ineffective – no one would volunteer for a 22 Short either – it’s just unnecessary.

      Of course, if we got rid of all the unnecessary cartridges, the firearms industry would fall on its face and we wouldn’t have as much fun. You see, I’m building a 50 Beowulf because…well, just because.

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      • Yes, and more precisely, why not a 50 Beowulf? I can’t think of any reason why not. Personally, I don’t want one but that ain’t the point. You do. You’ll have fun with it and that’s reason enough.

        The 40 may well have been unnecessary and the answer to a question that maybe shouldn’t have been asked. But they were considered necessary at one time so the question did get asked (357 SIG, anyone?) and lots of them got made and they’re still in production and it works for lots of stuff and it’s gonna be around for a long time to come. I have a couple 40’s but they’re not my favorite and they’re not my EDC but if someone has one and wants to use it or finds a good deal on one, there isn’t any reason why they shouldn’t and they shouldn’t be made to feel otherwise.

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  6. Off topic but Im surprised the old M3 light (in the first picture) was discontinued. I always thought it was just fine. light, handy and a super mounting.

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  7. .40 S&W will do the job and if you can find a high quality .40 that’s a screaming deal you are better off with one than buying a lower quality 9 MM or .45.
    A good choice if you are on a tight budget.
    That said my day to day Pistol is a commander length 1911 in .45 ACP and my woods gun is a slicked up Ruger Blackhawk convertible in .45 LC with a spare .45 ACP cylinder.
    My ideal firearm in a gunfight would be a 16″ naval rifle but they are too bulky for EDC.

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  8. The thing with the .40 wasn’t that the ballistics were bad, or that it didn’t make sense. The problem was that it was a shitty cartridge with bizarre pressure curves that nobody knew how to work with, and that the vast majority of .40 pistols still demonstrate “issues” relating to this issue to this very day.

    Shot a friends Glock 23 a lot. That gun was never the gun that my 19 was, in terms of behavior or reliability. The basic design suffered from being adapted over from the 9mm, and the timing/behavior of the gun interacting with the cartridge never quite “worked” right. My second-gen 19 has never had an issue; his 23 went back to Glock at least four times that I know of, and was replaced entirely with a different gun twice, for “reasons”.

    There’s something about the way the .40’s pressure curves, cartridge case, and many of the early .40 pistol designs interacted that led to a host of observed issues with reliability. My friend with the 23 eventually trimmed down a bunch of 10mm brass, resized it, and used that for his handloads, which seemed to function a hell of a lot better than the standard factory .40 loads did. Possibly because the case internal volume was reduced, and there was less stretching at the base of the cartridges.

    I think the .40 was a really bad design, from the beginning–The pressures they were going for had no business being fired from that weak-ass case, and there should have been a larger primer to fire that amount of powder.

    And, frankly, given that the only Glock “Ka-Boom” pistols that I’ve personally witnessed or examined were all .40 or .45, I remain convinced that trying to shoehorn a .40 into a 9mm platform was a huge mistake, and that the same thing done with a .45 crammed into a 10mm frame is equally stupid. Build the gun around the cartridge, and so long as the fucking thing is recoil-operated, don’t blithely change the caliber if the caliber needs locking. The trade-offs you have to make to do a real cartridge swap are not amenable to casually changing from something like 9mm to .40. 10mm to 40? Maybe…

    Reply
    • A guy I—cough—know fires .40 in his Glock 10mm all the time. I’m led to understand that lots of competition guys do it too. The cartridge head spaces on the rim/extractor instead of on the mouth.

      The 10mm is way, way more versatile than the .40, partly for that reason. But it is bigger and longer.

      Reply
  9. “ While you’re all turning tricks on a street corner for a 50rd box of Remington UMC 9mm or .45 ACP. I can calmly walk into a Walmart and walk out with my .40 S&W.”

    Yea but turning tricks for 9mm still requires less Listerine than speaking well of .40 S&W does

    Reply
  10. I have 9, 40, 357 mag, 38, and 45. One of the arguments for 40 was explained to me that the pressures between plinking and defensive/duty rounds is usually similar enough that it won’t have any difference when you fire either. If you only fire light 9mm ball and then carry +p+, there will be a much bigger difference in recoil when it’s time to party.

    Reply

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