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The .40 S&W

Growing up in Northeastern Utah where hunting and fishing and just being outdoors I had always had regular access to firearms, rifles in particular. Up until I was able to legally purchase my own firearms I had zero experience with pistols outside of .22 LR plinkers. When I moved out on my own I wanted to get into shooting but didn’t have the money for both a rifle and scope being a broke college kid. I decided a handgun it would have to be for me! Plus it was something I’d always wanted to learn how to shoot and would be a handy tool to have in the house if I ever found myself in a situation where I might need to defend myself. I began to search for a handgun and instantly felt paralyzed trying decide on what cartridge and felt completely lost on where to even start. I leaned heavily on the advice of my friends who shot fairly regularly and often heard, “pick your poison, 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, but stay away from .40 S&W!” Since I had zero experience and just wanted to minimize my handicaps out of the gate, I heeded their advice and did not even look at the .40 S&W rack at my local sporting goods store. A few years later, I realized how these words have resonated over the years and how I’ve ended up with a few handguns both chambered in only 9mm, and .45 ACP. I realized in this day and age….I had been prejudice against the .40 S&W! I had not even given this cartridge a chance, and it made me wonder, why not the .40 S&W?

One of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard about the .40 S&W is that it is a jack of all trades but a master of none cartridge. It did not have the ammo capacity capabilities of 9mm and did not have the stopping power of the .45 ACP. The improvements of defense bullet construction and ability to reach higher velocities from innovations in new gun powders in 9mm Luger has convinced many military and law enforcement agencies to make the 9mm Luger their standard issue pistol cartridge. It was also hard to replicate the heavy hitting hole-punching abilities of the .45 ACP without a complete overhaul from the ground up. Another big complaint that always seem to get thrown into arguments against the .40 S&W is that recoil is just too strong to shoot accurately. Probably the biggest nail in the coffin for .40 S&W at least in the civilian market was that since it did not have the economy of scale of either the .45 ACP or 9mm, it made the .40 S&W relatively high. High cost per round makes it very tough to practice with for those of us supplying our own ammo.

What many consider to be a drawback of .40 S&W, is more of a best of both worlds situation in my eyes. The 9mm and 40 S&W have similar velocities, yet the .40 has a larger diameter bullet so at similar velocities the .40 will almost always have the energy delivered on target advantage. The .40 S&W was after all designed as a law enforcement cartridge. The .40 S&W is a cartridge that was instrumental in converting law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to semi-automatic from .38 revolvers. Heavier weight bullet offerings in .40 S&W can also generate energy on target on par with .45 ACP and all while carrying 50 percent more ammo in the magazine. With enough training, adverse effects of recoil can also be mitigated. In fact, many competitive shooters choose to shoot the .40 S&W since it meets power level requirements for Major pistol divisions. Ammo costs can also be controlled through purchasing remanufactured ammo such as that from Peak Performance.

All in all, I just don’t see why .40 S&W gets such a bad rap. It is a cartridge that is can be used in competitive shooting, defense, and also as a general target settings and due to its versatility will never really be out of place. Many have said that the .40 S&W’s time has come and gone, I however disagree. The firearms industry seems to be a cyclic industry where what was once old often becomes new again. In my opinion, the .40 S&W fell out of favor because for most new shooters like I once was getting out and shooting well from the gate was a priority, but the fact that many competitive shooters still choose .40 S&W makes me believe that a lack of training and practice can make a slug out any cartridge. Maybe the .40 caliber renaissance as a competitive cartridge is around the corner? Could a spike in popularity in target shooting spark a wave of new bullet technology similar to what has happened for 9mm Luger? I certainly hope so!