After many years of shooting experience, I’m not a huge fan of the .40 Smith & Wesson (S&W) cartridge. I’m much more partial to 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP alike as far as autopistol calibers are concerned, and I like to joke that “40s are for drinking, .45s are gattin’.” (Yes, you can drink at 40-ouncer of Colt .45 malt liquor, but that’s a different story.) Back in the day, some gun writers went as far as to deride the cartridge as the “.40 Shorty & Weak” and “10 Whimp.”
My personal shooting sentiments aside, however, I can still objectively acknowledge the “.40 cal.” as an effective and viable self-defense round for law enforcement and private citizen self-defense alike. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best bullets in the .40 S&W for defensive purposes.
Winchester Ranger Bonded 180-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint (JHP)
Eric Hung, founder of Pew Pew Tactical (and one of my fellow USC alumni) rates this as the best .40 S&W self-defense load out there. His rationale: “Sometimes called the “short & weak” since it is a scaled-down 10mm round. I prefer to think of the .40 as a ‘Goldilocks’ round that is a step up in power from the more popular 9mm … A newer round from Winchester, the 180gr Ranger Bonded is showing off the latest in bullet technology. Penetration distance is Goldilocks with great expansion and fast velocity.”
The specifics of that “fast velocity” Eric is referring to is to the tune of 985 feet per second, with a muzzle energy of 388 foot-pounds, and an average expansion to .72 caliber.
Federal 135-Grain Personal Defense 240-Grain JHP
This was my duty load for my standard-issue Heckler & Koch (HK) P2000 LEM (Law Enforcement Modification) pistol that I carried back when I was a U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer at Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport from 2006 to 2009. This is one of the comparatively lower-penetrating rounds in the caliber – relative to the 155-, 165-, and 180-grain loads – which is desirable not only for an environment such as a cruise ship passenger terminal but also for home defense in urban and suburban dwellings. Bearing SKU # XM40HA, I found this to be one of the more pleasant shooting loads in the caliber. It functioned with flawless reliability in my P2000 and was sufficiently accurate to enable me to shoot a perfect score at my trimesterly pistol re-quals on multiple occasions. It generates a muzzle velocity of 1,247 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 456 foot-pounds.
Winchester Ranger 155-Grain JHP
When I made the transition from CBP Officer to sister agency U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a Federal Series 1811 Criminal Investigator (Special Agent) in 2009, the SIG Sauer P229 DAK (Double-Action Kellerman) became my then-new pistol and concurrently this became my then-new duty load. According to The-Armory.Com, “Winchester Ranger 40 S&W 155gr Hollow Point Ammunition has far greater stopping power than the consumer grade stuff you are allowed to buy at your local gun shop or Wal-Mart. All Ranger Law Enforcement ammo exceeds stringent FBI standards for expansion, penetration, accuracy, and reliability.”
Muzzle velocity out of a 4” bbl. is 1,195 feet per second, with muzzle energy at 491 foot-pounds. Though the SIG/Winchester combo didn’t shoot for me personally as well as the HK/Federal pairing, it was still good enough accuracy-wise to earn me an Expert rating and functioned with total reliability.
Speer Gold Dot 165-Grain JHP
To provide some balance and counterpoint to Mr. Hung’s assessments, Ammo.Com considers the Gold Dot to be the best defense load in the caliber: “Speer Gold Dot is the most-trusted duty ammo carried by law enforcement agencies across the nation. Meeting all the FBI ballistic gel testing requirements for expansion and penetration, the Speer Gold Dot hollow point is the benchmark that all other ammo manufacturers use when it comes to terminal performance … This round features a structurally plated pressure-formed core that prevents core-jacket separation. The result is a devastating wound channel and deep penetration that will quickly and effectively stop any bad guy who threatens your life … Another major selling point for the Speer Gold Dot is its budget-friendly price point. This allows shooters to practice with their self-defense rounds while not boring out the X-ring of their ammo budget.”
Although I have not personally fired the .40 caliber iteration of the Gold Dot product line, I fired plenty 124-grain 9mm Gold Dot through my Glock 26 that was the backup to my SIG P229 when I was an ICE Agent and was quite pleased with its quality. Muzzle velocity is 1,150 feet per second and muzzle energy is 484 foot-pounds.
Winchester PDX1 Defender 165-Grain JHP
Okay, here’s a .40 cal load on which Eric Hung and Ammo.Com see eye-to-eye. The former states that “Penetration for the Winchester 165gr is good for the weight, along with impressive expansion and fast velocity.” The latter says this: “Engineered for deep penetration to reach the vital organs while staying within the requirements of the FBI gel test protocol, the PDX1 provides maximum stopping power and the ultimate in self-defense ammo … The only downside to the PDX1 is that it is slightly more expensive than Speer Gold Dots. But it’s a small price to pay for the terminal performance that the Winchester PDX1 offers!”
Muzzle velocity is 1,140 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 476 foot-pounds. Mr. Hung’s tests yielded an average expansion with .74 caliber.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.
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