Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why I Never Fell in Love with the .40 S&W

Okay, here's another muddy quagmire for me to wade into!

Yes, I know that the .40 S&W, occasionally known as the .40 Short & Weak, has been hailed as the most lethal round from a hand-held weapon since the RPG, packing the pure stopping power of a cement truck filled with molden lead. You can read the adulatory entry in the Wikipedia or, if you've got some time on your hands, you can read all 11,400 entries in the Google search "stopping power comparison between 9mm and .40 S&W." Yes indeedy, the power of a .45 ACP with the capacity of a Wonder-9! Better than peanut butter and jelly in the same jar!

Okay, so no sane person, given any sort of choice, would opt for a 9mm or a .45 ACP when he or she could have this amazing miracle round.

I've certainly shot enough .40...I competed in USPSA with an STI EDGE in .40, the absolute baseline gun for USPSA Limited competition, and it rocked. I shot IDPA with a .40 High Power . When the first little bitty .40s came out — as it happens, it was a Star FireStar M-40 — I shelled out far too much money for a Spanish gun, sent it to gunsmith Mike LaRocca, who bitched mightily but did a flawless action job on the gun, whined until Tim Wegner at Blade-Tech made me an IWB for the little gun. I carried it for several years and put a couple of thousand rounds through it before I changed first to an STI LS-9 9mm, then the SIG P225 in 9mm.

Now why would I voluntarily "downgrade" myself from this Jedi knight light saber of a round to a plain vanilla 9mm, which as everyone who reads gun magazines knows is only slightly more efficient than a spitball from a 13-year-old schoolgirl?

Okey-dokey...let me step you through it:
1) Sophisticated computer-aided bullet design has drastically narrowed the gap between the handgun cartridges. To a large extent, the drastic differences in "handgun stopping power" have involved comparisons with ball ammo.
2) I'm not a cop nor in the military; I can choose to carry any bullet I want. The military has numerous constraints on their handgun ammo, and so does law enforcement. One of those big constraints is price. I buy the round I'm the most comfortable with — Hornady TAPS — and, yes, it's more expensive than the average bear.
3) My experience has been that I can deliver more accurate rounds faster with either a 9mm or a .45 ACP than with a .40 in the equivalent small frame semiauto. I believe this has to do with the recoil impulse of the .40, which is sharp and nasty in a little gun...and I've shot a lot of them.
4) The .40 S&W has a spooky pressure curve, especially related to overall case length. If the bullet is driven back into the case, pressures can spike sharply. I don't like high pressure surprises, no matter how remote the chance.
5) I HATED developing loads for the .40...it seemed to me to be a far more finicky beastie than the .45 ACP (or the 9mm, which I typically don't reload). When I finally got a load that rocked in my EDGE, the High Power flatly hated it. The loads that ran well and were super accurate in the H-P jammed the EDGE up. The loads that worked best in my single stack STI Trojan sucked in everything else. My experience with the .45 ACP and the revolver rounds found much less "swing" with the same loads in similar guns. My baseline .45 loads work pretty well in everything.
6) There's the undefinable "take it to the range" factor...I always take an additional gun (or guns) to the range no matter what I'm there for, just to do a little practice or plinking when I'm done with my main shooting. I found that the .40s stayed in the safe. Hmmmmmmm...David Caruso would call that a "clue."
7) On travels, I have on occasion had to buy ammo from Wally-World or the random K-Mart...in those cases where I know I have to buy ammo, I invariably carry a .45 ACP and buy 230-grain FMJ ball. .45 ball works.
8) Finally, "stopping power" is wildly secondary to bullet placement. Let me say that again...in a handgun round, bullet placement is everything. What I want in a carry gun is the absolute knowledge that I can deliver the shot with that gun and that load. The little .40s required more from me than the 9mms and the .45 ACPs.
So anyhow, shoot what you want to and what you can shoot well. Your experiences may differ from mine, and you're every bit as correct as me. Not as handsome and scintillating, of course...


Unknown said...

"Hmmmmmmm...David Caruso would call that a "clue."

As he squinted through his sunglasses looking 90 degrees to one side or the other. And he calls it - Acting!

MB, thanks. I kinda shot off my mouth about this, cuz here we go again on the ammo loads, and whihc is beterr, blah, blah, blah.

Your's however, is very cogent. Thanks. I do like my little mutant CZ40P though, may keep it. I have a HP 9mm you can have for an outrageous price, BTW. The 56 Chevy of handguns.

OK, so it's a Springfield XD in .45 for me with the ole' tax refund. Along with the Sig 556 - when they ship.

Anonymous said...

I think your right - I just can't warm up to the 40. I too tried three of them and ended up back at the 9 or the 45. Maybe the 40 is the solution to a non existent problem .

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am not the only person who felt the 40 S&W was a answer to a question nobody asked.

There is nothing that good shot placement and quality bullet selection can't handle.

My old PD switched from 9mm Glocks to 40s when administrators felt it was a better solution. Plus everyone kept the same leather so expenses were cheap. Wrong!!!!

The 40 S&W was harder to control because of the torque. It didn't snap up and down like a 9mm or 45 ACP.

Consequently, qualification scores went down.

The Academy had problems with new recruits trying to overcome the sharp snap and torque twist of the pistol. Not to mention the added training time and expense needed just to get them proficient enough to qualify.

It didn't help that the 40 cal wasn't as accurate as the 9mm or 45, this proven by seasoned shooters who were not bothered by recoil.

Females had problems with controlling the cartridge more than they normally did with other calibers.

The guns themselves didn't hold up as well and parts were breaking or wearing prematurely.

Plus ammo cost a bunch more.

Cops started bitching and whining about wanting the 9mm back.

So they are out on the street for a while and guess what? We had some officer involved shootings. And it took as many 40 cal rounds to stop the perp as it did 9mm rounds in previous shootings.

Needless to say, the G22 Glocks got traded back for G17s after about 5 years and no one complained about losing firepower.

The Dept authorized personally owned sidearms and 9mm is the overwelming choice. 45ACP came in second and the 40 cal is last.

I owned a P229 in 40 S&W. It was more accurate than the G22 I was issued at the time and the SIG was extremely reliable. Couldn't say that about the G22.

I liked the P229 better with the 357 SIG barrel in it. Much more accurate and easier to shoot fast. But it wasn't an authorized caliber so the P229 went away. Haven't owned a 40 cal. since.

I carried a P226 9mm or P220 45 most of my last 10 years till retirement. I never felt outgunned with the 9mm with quality ammo.

I shoot a lot of USPSA and shoot all divisions. My 9mm or 45 guns will compete nicely in any category I choose.

In the house, my behind-the-front door gun is a G17. My nightstand gun is my trusty old P220. My CCW guns are a pair of Kahr P9s.

I don't need no stinking 40.

Anonymous said...

The best thing that can be said about .40 caliber guns is 9mm conversion barrels from Bar-Sto.

Anonymous said...

.40 caliber guns ain't that bad - once you get a Bar-Sto 9mm conversion barrel.
Thanks Irv.

OldeForce said...

Timing is everything! Been looking at a CZ in .40. Guess I'll look again, this time at a 9mm. [Can't rack a .45, but can a .40 or 9mm. Arthritis is not your friend.]
And, yes Michael, I usually carry my Airweight .38 or .44 Special.

Anonymous said...

I shot many thousands of .40 rounds through Glock 35's to the point where I got pretty good with them. I also had a Glock 23 for carry. Hated shooting that Glock 23. it was just no fun at all with that sharp recoil. My main blasters are now Sig P220's and I haven't looked back especialy since I got the single action 220. I have some 9mms as well basically because everyone should have a Glock 17 and 19. I also use Hornady TAP rounds in them.

Anonymous said...

DAYUM! I always thought every one else the .40 was 'the gun'. I have never been a fan. My carry is either a 9mm or .38. My house guns are .45 (both acp and LC).

Why would you need a .40 when these two proved calibers are available?

As Stated here before, an answer to a nonexistent problem.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I agree with you about the .40 100% I, too, have carried a 9mm for several years. Never felt undergunned. I also have and sometimes carry a .45. Heck, I sometimes carry a .38! As has been said before, a hit with a .38 is better than a miss with a .45!

Michael Bane said...

WOW! Am surprised by the response...

It leads me to conclude (softly) that the "ascendency" of the .40 is more a phenomena of gun magazines and "stampede" purchases by LEO departments.

I'm going to put together a video for DOWN RANGE later this spring on the subject.

It appears the emperor has no clothes...


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you on all topics covered. I have had two .40s, a Glock and Taurus. Both have been trade/sold off for 9mm or .45acp.

I can hit the target much better now and my wrist does not hurt as much.

Anonymous said...

I teach CCW for the state of Arkansas.

I've been doing it for four years.

I've seen literally hundreds of .40s come through my classes.

However, I have yet to own a .40.

Glock 22s I've shot were just too flippy.

The only .40 I've seriously considered getting is a Kahr K-40. I shot one; it felt good.

But I don't own one yet.

Never felt compelled to run out and get one.

Wbdrey said...

I tried the 40 twice and my biggest problem with it is the odd torgue recoil. With arthur in your hands it is not pleasnt. Neither was terribly accurate. So I have stuck with my Kahr K-9, my S&W 649, and you make think me weird, 38 super 1911-a1. I agree with shoot what you shoot well and don't sweat the rest.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I love the .40 - so there.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've got several 9s, a 38 Super, 45, and a 40. I've got no problem with that 40, it shoots good for me and my son. And yessir, it feels different when you shoot it. Just a matter of acclimating. Want something even more unusual? CZ52.

Anonymous said...

Please stop complaining about caliber selection. Most people who have complained about 40S&W shot Glocks, which are known for their high recoil feel. I have shot 9mm Beretta 92 and than I switched to SIG 229 in 40S&W. I've shot 40S&W SIG 229 much better than 9mm Beretta 92 or Glock 19. Glock 19 felt extremely snappy. SIG 229 in 40S&W is the most comfortable gun for me to shoot. I have tried shooting 9mm XD and I liked, but still not the same as SIG. Every person has his own preference, hand size, and etc. The best gun/caliber combination for a shooter is the one he can shoot best.

Alan said...

You have a valid and well thought-out idea. I will say that I was given a 1911 when I was 12 years old...[don't panic, that was in 1960 when people abused their kids by teaching them to shoot and practice safe gun handling]... and I will always regard the .45acp as THE round to carry. Some years back the agency who emplyed me went to Beretta 96D Centurions and I realized that, even though I strayed from the 10mm because of the "snap and slam" I liked the .40 "short & weak" in spite of its' snap and slam. Having, regrettably, also been the first in the agency to use the .40 in a hostile encounter I discovered that the snap and slam effect of the .40 went unnoticed in the heat of the moment in much the same way that the report occurs unheard in the same situations. Now that I am "old and nervous and cast from the service" I indulge my liking for Glock pistols and still enjoy the .40 in them. My regards to you, sir, for an excellent and well thought-out blog subject.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the .40 will go the way of the .41. I agree that it is the answer to a non existant problem. You know, it might just be about MONEY.

Anonymous said...

I have a USPc and an XD, both in .40S&W (45ACP XD's were but a fantasy when I bought mine and I've never been a big 9mm fan.)

I can shoot either combat accurate with no difficulty at all. The recoil impulse is noticeable, especially with the USPc, but is hardly uncontrollable or something I find bothersome. I really don't find it significantly different than .45ACP.

I haven't shout the XD in a while, but I do shoot the USP about as well as I shoot my Colt 1911. I wouldn't feel under gunned or at a disadvantage with any one of the three weapons.

Look, folks, it really comes down to this: Buy what YOU feel comfortable with and can shoot effectively with. You should have every confidence in the world of both your gun and your ammo, should you ever need to use it. I see nothing about .40S&W that makes me question my ability to use it effectively, should the need arise.

(for that matter, I can say the same about 9mm, 38 Special, 357 Magnum, 45ACP, ect.)

There's plenty of effective calibers out there to choose from . With modern ammo, the differences are slight enough to make them pretty much insigificant.

Anonymous said...

This is off the top of my head, but wasn't the .40S&W developed to make the FBI's hasty adoption of the 10mm after the 1986 Miami shootout seem like less of a boo-boo? The 10mm had turned out to be way too powerful for the average agent to shoot comfortably, so the .40S&W was developed so the Agency wouldn't have to really eat crow and actually go back to "obsolete" calibers like 9mm.

Of course, eventually this whole autoloader fad will pass and everybody will go back to the truly authoritative fight stopper: a .357 Magnum revolver {;-)

Anonymous said...

I am in agreement with those who said shoot what you feel comfortable with and hit what you shoot at. I shoot every caliber I get a chance to and I shoot pretty well with any auto loader .380 to .45 ACP but my favorite weapon of all is my stainless Colt King Cobra 4inch .357 magnum revolver. six in the wheel and 1 speed loader, I don't feel out gunned. I also can carry my 9mm Hi Power thats 27 rounds with a spare clip. Carry what you feel comfortable with and can hit what you shoot at. Use Premium Hollow-point Ammo.

After all a 22LR on the hip is better than one locked up at the house if you need it....


Anonymous said...

The .40 caliber is fine, it is very powerful, accurate, and it is cheaper to practice with than the .45. Anyone who doesen't like the .40 has probably experienced it through a Glock 22 or 23 both of which are snappy. However, the 9mm and the .45 are also good. So it really comes down to variety because all three are great choices and have slightly different attributes.

Anonymous said...

I've come to find that the 40 S&W is best used in a better designed pistol. I carried a G23 for years and never enjoyed a second of the .40. Until I purchased my USP in 40, I have never looked back.

sigman said...

I totally agree with what you wrote about the 9mm and 45. I have owned several 9mm's in my life and one 45. I had a glock 23 that was very snappy and a glock 22 that was very accurate it felt a lot more recoil tolerant than the 23, but just not my cup of tea. I sold the snappy 23 and traded the g22 for a 17. Ive went to plenty of gun shows and told the ffl dealer if they had that gun in 9mm I would buy one and they always tell me the 40 is in while the 9mm is out. This is how its been for the last several years. One day my g17 got stolen and a walther ppk went with it and I might add if the law enforcement officers would of done an investigation or atleast made in effort, a tiny tiny one would of been better than none. why do i pay city taxes? I was upset because i new who done it, that is whole different story. I need a replacement because the law just wasn't going to investigate, so I went to gun shop again and they had 40 caliber gun's that I wanted in a 9mm. I then talked to the gun shop owner and he recommend the sig 229 in 40 caliber . I heard a lot about this gun and that it was made around the 40 caliber. I bought the gun. It's not snappy and it shoots very well. It truly shoots like a 9mm hand gun. I didn't look for the 40 it kinda found me.

Anonymous said...

My my my....how times have changed. The .40 S&W has now pretty much becoem the "standard" for law enforcement. And most folks, given the choice, are opting for .40S&W over the 9MM and .45ACP. I fought the .40 S&W trend for a long time, but finally gave in with a SIG P226 in that caliber. It exhibits NONE of the muzzle whip that other guns seem to present. It's nearly as easy to shoot as my P226 in 9MM and just as accurate.

Items #7 and #8 on that list no longer apply. Since the "Obama ammo shortage", the ONE caliber that is present at Wallyworld is .40S&W. At the range everyone is hoarding .45ACP and 9MM, but I blaze away every weekend with no worry of finding .40S&W.
And item #8 sounds good and is true TO A POINT. If you are in a REAL gunfight and not some simulated training situation, accurate bullet placement becomes more a pipedream than anything else. In a real gunfight you want to get as many hits as possible ANYWHERE on the bad guys. Looking for a perfect head or heart shot just isnt't practical or possible.
So in that situation you want a bullet that will do as much damage as possible ANYWHERE it hits. Waiting for a "perfect shot" may just end up with you eventually taking hits and being unable to deliver that perfect shot. Every hit you make on the bad guy takes a toll, both mentally and physically. Better to score as many hits as possible and take him out of the fight that way, than to wait and wait and wait for that one perfect shot.

Anonymous said...

40 and 9mm are plenty for brass and bullet. It's harder to find 45 brass and bullets nowadays. 40 S&W can get you easy with major PF in USPSA. overcharging 9mm is not yet perfected while 38 super comp are really expensive. I carry and compete 45ACP, I load my 45 ACP and 40 S&W. My 9mm Glock is purely game gun and backup gun for me. Defense, i'll use my 45 and 40 caliber.

Kirk said...

So in a nut shell you became weak, and scared of the .40, at least you were man enough to admit it and justified your concerns. I have no issues with shooting with any of my .40's. But I enjoy America and the right of humans having opinions.

Anonymous said...

As A huge fan of the 40 S&W, I must admit, you made some very valid points Mr. Bane. However, I have never had a problem with accuracy from recoil issues with any of my 40 S&W's. I think it is a phenomenal round, especially for those of us in law enforcement. It is nice to have a handgun on your side with 16 + 1 40 S&W rounds, when you can properly place those rounds.

Anonymous said...

I respect your opinions and for you they are certainly valid.

However, opinions are always subjective.

The most objective and imperical basis we still have, and I'm sorry to say this, are ballistic tests. Yes, many gun enthuiasts hate them especially when it is contrary to their beliefs much like religious fanatics hate scientific data.

And the ballistics tests state that the .40 S&W is not short and weak as much as 10mm fanatics want to razz it.

Secondly, yes, shot placement is key. With proper shot placement, a .22 can be lethal. But let's face it, most of us wish we could dedicate hours and hours a week practicing our shooting skills but very few of us will be Todd Jarrett, or even a Michael Bane - especially under stress. Practice makes perfect but it's a whole different ball game when you are in a bad situation, your adrenaline is racing, and your heart is pounding.

This is where FBI ballistics (yes that ugly word again) would say that penetration and cavity damage are important factors in stopping the bad guy.

However, what I do agree with is that the advent of hot loads, and expanding bullets have narrowed the gap between many pistol rounds.