Is The .40 S&W Dead?


An industry rumor I heard recently left me a little distressed. The contention was the .40 S&W is effectively dead as a defensive handgun cartridge. The reasoning was with the FBI’s recent return to the 9mm, other LE agencies were following suit. I was also told stocking dealers were cutting back drastically on .40 S&W ammo orders and handguns.

Why would that bother me? Because I think the .40 S&W has been the only well thought out handgun cartridge development in many decades — perhaps since the .44 Magnum came along back in 1956. Some readers with newer cartridges as their favorites at this point must be having conniption fits. Consider these things.

The .41 Magnum was a silly idea, developed to fill an imaginary need — the gap between .357 and .44 Magnum bore sizes. A good portion of the rationalization for its introduction came with its “moderate” lead bullet factory load meant for police use. That consisted of a 210-grain lead alloy SWC moving at about 900/1,000 fps from a 4″ revolver barrel. In fact I’ve
heard from those involved in such things, that loading worked very well for its intended purpose.

Here’s the “Yeah, but.” The .44 Special was already around but hampered because its ballistics only equaled the .44 Russian’s. That one was introduced in 1872 and by the early 20th century its load came to be a 246-grain RN bullet at about 750 fps. Load a .44 Special with a 210- to 220-grain lead alloy, SWC bullet at 900 fps and there would have been no need to build all that .41 caliber stuff. Can you imagine the work and expense that went into making tooling for manufacturing .41 caliber items from barrels to cartridge brass?

Interestingly enough, the same 0.401" lead bullet used in the classic .38-40 can be used in a modern
.40 S&W and that’s exactly what Duke does. Ballistics from both calibers can be similar with equal
barrel lengths, even when the .38-40 is loaded with black powder!

Duplicating Efforts

Agood example of duplicating something already extant is the .357 SIG; a bottlenecked case using a 0.355″ jacketed bullet of about 125 grains at velocities of 1,300 fps or so. It was meant as a semi-auto replacement for .357 Magnum revolvers. Had not anyone heard about the .38 Super? Its factory loads are toned down now but it was introduced as having a 130-grain bullet at about 1,300 fps. Modern handguns could handle that sort of pressure easily.

The 10mm Auto was already on the scene when the .40 S&W was introduced in 1990 and some shooters sneered at the lesser cartridge. The 10mm was just too powerful for proficiently training the huge mass of American law enforcement folks who eventually transitioned to the .40 S&W. There actually was a non-imaginary gap in semi-auto pistol calibers from 9mm’s (0.355″) up to .45 Auto (0.451″). And it was well filled by the .40 S&W.

Now I’ll get personal instead of theoretical. To the best of my memory I’ve only shot one .40 S&W handgun. That is my Kimber Pro Compact 1911 which I’ve owned for about 15 years. Yvonne has a Glock .40 S&W, but it’s hers. I have not fired it and likely never will.

Duke regularly shoots his favorite lead bullet loads in his Kimber .40 S&W 1911 and it’s perfectly
safe to do so. Yvonne’s Glock 23, also in .40, warns to not use lead bullets.

Most Accurate ­— Ever

What I like about my Kimber .40 S&W is it is the most accurate centerfire semi-auto pistol I’ve ever fired from my machine rest. It’s also the most accurate semi-auto pistol I’ve ever fired with cast bullets, either commercial ones or home-made ones. Most of the “New-Age” .40 S&W autoloaders warn shooters not to use lead bullet ammo. My Kimber is an exception.

Some time back I fired hundreds of lead bullet handloads using several powders ranging from Bullseye to Unique in burn rate. Most of those 10-shot groups consisted of ragged holes. As someone who has test-fired tens of thousands of rounds from machine rests, that episode remains one of the most impressive of my experience.

And even better, all the shooting was done with cast bullet designs meant for .38 WCF/.38-40. That’s a round for which I have been reloading and casting for since 1975. And yes, the .38-40 and .40 S&W use the same .401″ lead alloy bullets. Furthermore, the .38-40’s 1880’s back powder factory loads duplicated the velocities from modern 21st century autoloaders, considering similar barrel lengths. They’re the same, only different.

The only time my Kimber .40 S&W has failed to function was with one particular factory load. Otherwise it’s been perfect. I have a plethora of handguns. I could keep most anything near where I sleep. My pick is the Kimber .40 S&W.

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