Firearms

Problem Solver: Top .40 S&W Pistols

40 caliber bullets and clip on reflective black background

It’s no secret that the 9mm is the most popular defensive handgun cartridge in the world. Since its development, it has come a long way in terms of its ballistic capabilities. However, for a time, plenty of shooters would turn to an alternative cartridge for their self-defense needs. The .40 S&W offers an increase in ballistic power in a handgun that retains the overall footprint and size of a standard 9mm, making it a great option for concealed carry and defense. 

Why choose the .40 S&W?

If you’re not already aware, the .40 S&W cartridge was developed by shortening the case length on a 10mm Auto round. The 10mm was introduced after the tragic Miami Dade Shootout in the 1980s, in which the 9mm round proved to be an ineffective fight-stopper at the time. The original 10mm loading was determined to be too powerful (recoiling too much) for average agents to handle, so the powder charge was reduced to a more accommodating level. This meant the cartridge casing could be shortened and fit into a smaller frame design, resulting in the .40 S&W. 

45 ACP, 357 Mag, 40 S&W, 357 SIG, 9mm Cartridges
Left to Right: .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 9mm Luger.

The new .40 S&W allowed shooters to use a firearm the same dimensions as their 9mm with a more potent cartridge. The cartridge offered an expanded bullet diameter and improved penetration, which resulted in increased ballistic performance. The round is high velocity, pushing a 180-grain projectile around 1,000-1,100 fps. Lighter bullets (around 135-165 grains) can hit up to 1,350 fps, producing around 500 ft/lbs of energy, or more, at the muzzle. 

With only a slightly reduced magazine capacity compared to 9mm counterparts, .40 pistols feature the same grip circumference to accommodate more hand sizes than larger 10mm/.45 ACP frames. Extended magazines are available if you’re looking to carry a spare or sling lead at the range. 

Unfortunately, the cartridge still gained a reputation for snappy recoil, which turned many shooters off. Additionally, more and more shooters became concerned with having the highest capacity possible. These concerns resulted in the .40 pistols losing popularity over the years. However, if you’re willing to train to master the added recoil, the .40 S&W can be an excellent defensive cartridge well worth your time. 

HK USP-C
The USP Compact features a reduction in both trigger reach and grip circumference from the full-size model

USP Compact

The Universal Self-Loading Pistol Compact, or USP-C, is the smaller frame little brother to the full-size USP duty pistol. The Compact model features a reduction in both trigger reach and grip circumference, which increases concealability and enhances shooting ergonomics for varying hand sizes. It is available in a double-action/single-action V1 variant, as well as a V7 variant with the LEM trigger mechanism. 

Further, the USP Compact sports the same fiber-reinforced polymer frame stiffened by stainless steel inserts that can be found on the full-size USP. In industry use, the USP design doesn’t experience the excessive wear that plagues other polymer-frame .40s, such as the Glock. This design boasts legendary durability and reliability, making for an incredible concealed carry or home defense handgun. 

Beretta PX4
The heart of the Beretta PX4 is its rotating barrel lockup system, which makes for one of the softest shooting .40 S&W pistols.

Beretta PX4

The heart of the Beretta PX4 is its rotating barrel lockup system. Intended to reduce muzzle rise, the action locks and unlocks via a rotating cam and locking wedge based on the original Beretta Cougar, rather than the typical Browning tilting design. This keeps the barrel in line with the sights for enhanced accuracy and the cartridges in line with the barrel throat for improved reliability. Because of this system, the PX4 makes for an incredibly soft-shooting .40 with less muzzle flip than other lightweight competitors. 

The Px4 Storm comes in full-size, compact, and subcompact versions (although, the subcompact does not utilize the rotating barrel design). Each model features checkered grips that provide secure traction in muddy and wet conditions, and include three backstraps that can be swapped for comfort and hand fit. 

SIG P229
The SIG P229 was designed and built to handle the higher pressures of the .40 S&W cartridge.

SIG P229

The SIG P229 was designed and built to handle the higher pressures of the .40 S&W cartridge. The compact pistol has been trusted by law enforcement and civilians for over 30 years. The double-action/single-action trigger mechanism is durable and dependable. The pistol incorporates a frame-mounted decocking lever that is intuitive and works well. An alloy frame gives this pistol enough weight to provide a nice reduction in recoil compared to polymer frames, but keeps it light enough that it’s not a hassle to carry. 

Magnum Research Baby Desert Eagle III
The Baby Desert Eagle III utilizes a reinforced polymer frame for a lighter overall weight and slimmer grip profile than steel frame versions.

Magnum Research Baby Desert Eagle III

The Baby Desert Eagle III is based on the time-tested CZ 75 design. The pistol features a 4.43-inch, match-grade barrel and accepts 13-round magazines. The DA/SA pistol has a 12-pound double-action pull and 4-pound single-action pull. Additionally, the firearm incorporates a slide-mounted decocker that also functions as a manual thumb safety. 

The Baby Desert Eagle III utilizes a reinforced polymer frame for a lighter overall weight and slimmer grip profile than steel frame versions. This makes it a bit snappier to shoot at the range, but much easier to carry on the hip all day long. 

Beretta 96A1
The Beretta 96A1 is one of the most attractive .40 S&W pistols.

Beretta 96A1

The Beretta 96A1 represents the evolution of the world-famous 92FS/M9 pistol. Retaining all the best elements of the 92 series, the Model 96 is chambered in the hard-hitting .40 S&W cartridge. An internal recoil buffer increases the service life of the pistol by reducing stress and excess wear on the receiver. Further, the iconic open-top slide design of the Beretta makes for excellent reliability, with plenty of room to eject empty casings. The pistol utilizes a near 5-inch barrel for improved velocity and ballistics, and the A1 frame incorporates a 1913 rail for mounting accessories. 

Hi-Point JCP Gen 2
It’s not the flashiest or best looking, but the Hi-Point JCP provides shooters with a reliable .40 cal option that almost everyone can afford.

Hi-Point JCP

It’s not the flashiest or best looking, but the Hi-Point JCP provides shooters with a reliable .40 cal option that almost everyone can afford. The direct blowback action is simple and reliable. The updated Gen 2 model incorporates a 5.2-inch threaded barrel as well as new grip texturing for improved control. Additionally, the pistol now features an accessory rail for mounting tactical lights and lasers. The JCP .40 accepts 10-round single-stack magazines and features a magazine disconnect and manual thumb safety. 

S&W M&P Shield 2.0 PC
The M&P Shield 2.0 4-inch Performance Center model does a good job of counteracting recoil with its ported barrel.

M&P Shield 2.0 PC 4-inch

As mentioned earlier, .40 S&W exhibits more recoil and can be harder to control than 9mm, especially in smaller pistols. The M&P Shield 2.0 4-inch Performance Center model does a good job of counteracting that. The slimline pistol incorporates a ported barrel for improved recoil control, even during rapid fire. 

The Performance Center tuned action produces a light, crisp trigger pull that makes accurate hits a breeze. Further, the 4-inch barrel model comes with a Crimson Trace red dot sight mounted straight from the factory and includes a set of quality fiber-optic backup iron sights. 

Do you still use the .40 S&W cartridge? What are your favorite .40 S&W pistols? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. My agency originally went to the .40S&W in the early 90’s, transitioning from the .357 Mag Ruger Security Six. There were significant mentions of suspects taking multiple rounds of our duty carry ammo without being taken out of the fight. Older Troopers complained about how the new .40S&W round lacked “stopping power’ when compared to the .357 mag. We carried the Winchester 180gr Ranger SXT, the “PC” version of the earlier Black Talon round. After getting on to my agencies Emergency Response Team I had the opportunity to look at (and conduct) ballistic studies that had been done when choosing carry ammo for the uniformed Troopers and the SERT operators. SERT did not carry the same ammo as the uniformed Troopers carried. I learned that an emphasis was placed on finding a duty round for the uniformed Troopers that would provide the FBI’s suggested penetration standards, but would also penetrate vehicle doors, vehicle glass, building materials such as drywall, thin concrete, solid and hollow doors, etc. Our Department had looked for a “magic” round that could do it all when choosing the heavy for caliber SXT round. They soon found out that the round did not do what it needed to do best; provide adequate stopping power and energy transfer at close range during sudden, intensely violent situations where a rifle or shotgun were not able to be employed. Lesson; there is no “magic bullet” that can do it all, especially a magic pistol bullet. But I digress.

    Since I am retired, I like, have, and carry several compact and subcompact 9mm handguns (G43x MOS being my favorite). I still believe the .40S&W round to be the almost perfect duty round, when paired with the right carry ammo of course. My decision is based on pragmatism, logic, simple math and physics, and an in depth study of ballistics and terminal ballistics over the past 30 years as a Trooper, SERT operator and sniper. First off, a handgun round is not for gun fighting. Anyone knowingly going into a gunfight with a handgun or even a PCC is immediately handicapping themselves with an underpowered weapon. Period. Everyone must realize that a handgun is a response to sudden, violent encounters where a long gun is not available. The vast majority of shootings involving handguns happen at very close range with little to no hardened barriers. A bullet is needed that will dump as much energy as possible within the intended target, causing temporary and permanent stretch cavities and tissue damage which will result in massive blood loss and (hopefully) CNS damage if the spinal cord or brain are hit. The 9mm vs 45acp debate has raged for decades with the 9mm having speed and a higher round count and the 45 having a larger frontal diameter and weight. The 40S&W is an excellent compromise between the two rounds when firing the right ammunition.

    Ask yourself this question: did anyone ever complain that they were underpowered with the .357 magnum 125 grain duty round out of a 4 inch revolver? They may have been under gunned (not enough ammo) but few would reasonably say they were underpowered. Many of the .40S&W 135gr and 155gr hollow point rounds from makers such as CorBon, Double Tap, Black Hills, Federal, etc, duplicate or closely mimic the ft/lbs of energy from the 125gr .357 magnum but with a larger frontal diameter. Out of a semi-auto handgun that can carry as many as 15 rounds or more (G22, etc) this is a far better option than most 9mm rounds. These rounds are much more effective in actual street shootings than the 180 grain standard duty round that most agencies carried. Once again, that pistol is for close range, sudden, violent actions requiring an immediate deadly force response. A round which can deal primarily with a person or animal at close range is much better than the “do all” round many agencies look for in a pistol cartridge.

    Agencies are leaving the .40S&W due to cost cutting measure, the hiring and retention of small statured and physically weak officers, and the lack of desire to take the time to train their officers adequately. Changing from .40S&W to 9mm was not because the 9mm is a “better” round for stopping bad people who are trying to kill you.

  2. When I first read this thread, I told myself that I would not comment, but there have been some things stated that I cannot ignore. Now: @ David. The poor tactics displayed by the FBI were not the fault of the 9 mm ammo. In that you are correct. BUT, the 115 gr Silvertip round that was ID’d as being the round that led to Platt’s demise, FAILED miserably. After SA Dove shot Platt with that round that killed him, Platt was shot several more times. After sustaining the wound fired by SA Dove, he fired multiple rounds from a mini-14, wounding two more agents, SA Orrantia and SA McNeill. He continued to fire and hit SA Dove’s weapon, disabling it. While SA Dove was working to regain use of his weapon, Platt advanced upon SAs Dove, Grogan, and Hanlon, shooting all three, killing Grogan and Dove in an effort to commandeer their vehicle. Once in the vehicle he continued to fire 3 rounds from a Dan Wesson revolver.
    As he was trying to start the dead agents’ vehicle, SA Mireles advanced and fired on both Platt and Matrix, emptying his .357 revolver. The sixth round penetrated Platt’s chest and bruised his spinal cord, rendering him unable to fight any more. The bullet that killed Platt left him with a hemo-pneumothorax and something shy of two liter of free blood in his chest. But, even AFTER sustaining a mortal wound from that 9 mm round, and with multiple other GSWs, he managed to shoot five agents, killing two of them.

    This is pretty much the same situation the US Army found itself in after the .38 LC fiasco in the Philippines back at the turn of the last century which led to the creation of the .45 ACP. There, many enemy soldiers were being shot and did not die in a timely manner but continued to kill US soldiers until blood loss caught up with them. They were on drugs but that only allowed them to ignore the pain of their mortal wounds. Drugs did NOT allow them to keep on fighting even after they were dead, as some have intimated. As long as a person’s brain tells them to keep fighting they will. When there is inadequate cerebral perfusion of blood, they will stop doing whatever they were doing and die. And NOT UNTIL.

    The fact that after being shot with that 115-grain slug, et al. Platt shot five agents, killing two and wounded three would indicate that the round was inadequate. It did not terminate the engagement. It did not perform adequately. To have performed adequately, it would have rendered Platt unable to fight. It did not do that. That is what I (and the FBI back then found in its investigation) would consider to be a very poor performance. Having drawn on other people who have demonstrated ill intent toward me by presenting a weapon and slinging lead in my direction, I consider a fine performance to be whatever round they are hit with will end their hostile actions. If someone is shot multiple times and they continue to sling lead in your direction, I can almost guarantee you that you would not say those rounds were performing fine. If I am called upon to shoot at someone, a good performance is one hit and the fray is over and the other person is falling to the ground, unable to fire at me or the guys on our team. I realize that with my background in the Army, albeit 50 plus years ago, some would say I am a bit biased.

    The only people I have run into who disagree with that premise are those who have never been on the receiving end of incoming rounds. As I said, I might be considered to be a bit biased here. But I came home and there were too many (some 58, 000 plus) that did not.

  3. Don’t forget all the current bargains on LE trade in 40s. Glock. Glock 22s and 23s for under $400 and used mags for less than new as well. I have 5 .40 cal firearms and when 9mm was scarce you could still get .40 although that is changing day by day.

  4. When I was a Master Sergeant with a division of my state’s law enforcement agency we transsitioned from the Smith 686 to the newly released M&P chambered in .40S&W. I was also a range master and instructor. I got to be one of the first 42 officers to be certified to carry the new M&P. Scored a 95 out of 100 qualifying after shooting a mere 50 rounds with a brand new pistol and cartridge, neither of which I had never handled before. Hilarious that some folks find the .40 “snappy”. Meh… not really. I own several .40s, it’s what I prefer. I’ve never been much a 9mm fan but I do own one. A Shield Plus which I WISH Smith would do in .40. My brother has Shield 1.0 in .40 and no joke, I shoot it better than my 9mm Shield Plus… that MAY be due to all the rounds of .40 I’ve put down range as an instructor and ERT member. The M&P and SD are good shooters… another great shooter was one a HS friend and later fellow officer had, the HK USP Tactical. @Lt. Nemo, when we were still carrying the Smith 686 as our issued service weapon we carried two speed loaders. On the range our quals were timed… no way there’d be reaching into a pocket for reloads. Besides being dangerous, you’d never make time. Just form a line, walk, and police your brass. Like you said, it’s all in the training.

  5. Kahr K40 Elite is an amazingly controllable EDC with all metal frame and low bore axis. Perfect out of the box, excellent sights and rubber grips. Long smooth trigger fully cocks striker and eliminates need for a manual safety. Only downside is 6+1 or 7+1 with extended mags. Still a lot of capability with Federal HST 165 grain with 468 foot pounds of energy at muzzle.

  6. My second pistol I bought years ago is a Ruger SR40 which I still have today along with a M&P 40 2.0 4 INCH. I enjoy shooting both of them but I really like the Ruger better. I enjoy shooting .40 caliber just as much as my 9mm’s.

  7. I have a .40 cal Taurus & have not regretting buying this little gun with the big impact. The first time I shot it I was not prepared but after shooting a couple of clips, I am convinced this is the perfect handgun for me. Small gun that packs a punch.

  8. I purchased a S & W .40 cal SDVE a few years ago. Shot it once when hunting up in the mountains. I was shocked at how it kicked like a mule. A little hard to handle, but I am determined to keep it and get used to it. A little much for a man my age. I do carry it as my truck gun even though I have other better guns in my possession

  9. .40 S&W is my go to caliber for most handgun needs. I have a Springfield Armory XDM, big Glock 35, and my edc, a S&W Shield, all in .40 S&W. I originally chose the Glock 35 for the added knock down power in steel matches. This totally eliminated needing double or triple taps on big poppers with less than perfect hits. Ad I became more familiar with the recoil, I added other pistols. I love my edc Shield. I had the opportunity to fire this pistol in a stressed situation and cannot recall the recoil, at that time. Ended with a dead hog at 5 ft. The club that I shoot with has added using your edc as one of two guns in two gun matches. It is great practice using your carry pistol from concealment. I occasionally shoot with friends who will shoot their pistols from sandbags and brag about the great groups at they shoot. No body gets enough real situation practice. That is the key to surviving a bad situation. Practice, practice, practice.

  10. First off, David, if they had body armor, how did the one bad guy (who was doing most of the shooting) have 12 9mm holes in him? It was a failure of training, tactics, and the 9mm rounds available at the time. Now, I own a number of .40’s. My first was a Gen 3 22 that I traded in for a Gen 3 23. I still have that gun. It is my ‘go to’/with me all the time gun. It is over 20 years old and still runs great. My latest is a Gen 3 27. I was expecting major recoil the first time I took it to the range. I was pleasantly surprise. It handled 180gnr rounds well, It is very accurate. Even though the 9mm bullet technology has advanced greatly, I still shy away from 9 due to the Miami shootout.

  11. I love my HK .40 USP Compact but must confess my Sig P220 .45 shoots softer and is more accurate and more pleasant to shoot.

  12. I still have my first handgun which is chambered in .40 SW. I then got a second one, a Shield also chambered in .40 SW. My first handgun was almost by accident because my cousin was taking me to an indoor range for the first time using my newly purchased handgun. This would be my second time overall at a range. We stopped at a store to buy it but I was set on buying 9mm, not a .40 SW. The salesperson was knowledgeable and helpful. He suggested the Springfield Armory line of guns but after calling several stores, there were no 9mm ones. So I decided on .40 SW and never regretted it. My cousin was surprised by the minimal recoil after he shot it, and said it was hardly any different than his 9mm in felt recoil. It was a different story with my SW Shield but I soon ported it, stippled it, and replaced the guide rod and spring. It’s the original Shield and I wouldn’t trade it in for the latest one. If what you have is more than adequate for your needs, why change?

  13. I still have my first handgun which is chambered in .40 SW. I then got a second one, a Shield also chambered in .40 SW. My first handgun was almost by accident because my cousin was taking me to an indoor range for the first time using my newly purchased handgun. This would be my second time overall at a range. We stopped at a store to buy it but I was set on buying 9mm, not a .40 SW. The salesperson was knowledgeable and helpful. He suggested the Springfield Armory line of guns but after calling several stores, there were no 9mm ones. So I decided on .40 SW and never regretted it. My cousin was surprised by the minimal recoil after he shot it, and said it was hardly any different than his 9mm in felt recoil. It was a different story with my SW Shield but I soon ported it, stippled it, and replaced the guide rod and spring. It’s the original Shield and I wouldn’t trade it in for the latest one. If what you have is more than adequate for your needs, why change?

  14. My introduction to the 40 S&W was a Sig P 229 which is a Great handgun. I personally don’t find the 40 as a snappy round (the 380 is a snappy round). I now own three 40s (an S&W SD40VE, a Springfield XD-M40, and a Sig P-250), all great handguns. I’ll take a 40 or a 45 any day of the week over a 9mm any day of the week, especially after Iraq.

  15. @GRUMPY 49
    The bookend to ejecting cases into their hand instead of the ground is this one (told to my by my father who heard it from an instructor):

    A rash of officer’s shot and fatalities in a major PD was accompanied by the officer victim having a hand full of pocket change nearby. It took a while but they eventually realized that the qualification range drill was to put your reloads in you pants pocket. Thus when under stress they acted as trained and grabbed what was in their pocket. Which wasn’t reloads.

  16. 10mm/40 S&W are both “good” cartridges. Problem consistently comes down to training, and the fact that the majority of LEOs have been taught to shoot to center mass/lower body, even when they know the bad guys are wearing body armor. The shooting stopped because an agent used his 38 snub nose revolver, with the 158 gr. “police load”, and hit a vital organ. Both criminals had lethal wounds, but still lived long enough to kill several agents before they dropped. (Should have remembered Col. Cooper’s “3 Shot” rule.) People react to emergencies like they were trained, and back in the days when Police issue was a revolver, many LEOs were shot because they were taught to empty the spent cases into the non-shooting hand and to not drop them on the floor.

  17. Regarding the Beretta PX4, not all of them have the rotating lock. Please look a bit more closely and revise the article.

  18. Guys guys guys… He wasnt giving his opinion as to why the shootout was so bad… He literally stated the reasoning of the FBI for creating 10 mm Auto… Jeez.

  19. How unpopular has the 40 S&W become? Well, during the great firearms drought of 2020 – 2022 I would regularly check my major distributors to see what kind of defensive handguns they had on hand. For the first year everyone was chronically sold out with one exception. Sports South had a couple of Charter Arms 4.2″ revolvers chambered in 40 S&W. I considered myself desperate, but not that desperate. They did eventually sell and I have not seen these longer barreled handguns anywhere since then. In retrospect I should have bought one just for the novelty and to compare its performance with similarly sized semi autos.

  20. 1) Spot on; my USP 40 (regular) shoots identical to my g19. Power but super easy/smooth.
    @David. You are partially correct. However the suspects WERE hit and did not go down. 9mm has changed dramatically, but still overall, all things being equal, bigger is better (at least that is what she said).

    Lastly, I was literally THERE at the FBI shootout. 10 to 15 yrds away. My company was literally the backdrop and luckily there was a major cement wall which was indeed hit. I still live in the neighborhood and there are signs commemorating the slain agents as well as the street is named after one of them. It was calamity of problems that day, but agree, mostly poor training but the then 9mm was piss poor.

  21. What no Glocks:) Glocks in .40 (G27,G23,G22) can be converted to .357 Sig with just an OEM barrel switch. The 40 mags can hold the .357 Sig cartridges but I’ve had issues with .357 mags holding 40. If you are going to carry .357 Sig I’d get the dedicated magazines. And with a conversion barrel and mags the 40 can be converted to 9mm. A very versatile gun. The recoil in .40 is snappy but not painful and can be managed. I carry my G27 EDC (9+1) with Underwood 115 grain Xtreme Defender rounds.Barrier Blind, will not fail good ballistics (rated 1400 FPS and 501 ft lbs.) and in the G27 saves an ounce and 1/2 in carry weight vs 180 grain bullets. The larger Glock mags in 40 will fit in the 27 and I carry a Glock 23 mag(13 rounds) as my spare

  22. Sir:
    Blaming the 9mm shoot out for the FBI’s poor tactics like arming yourselves with a handgun to take on (2) men armed with long guns and wearing vests is not the 9mm’s fault. In addition there was another car nearby with two agents with MP5’s but the were not utilized. One of the agents was a firearms instructor and not the best shot because he lost his glasses once again not the 9mm’s fault. The vests the bad guys were wearing stopped pistol bullets, which the wonderful FBI agents knew but Engaged anyway. Was that the 9mm’s fault? This comes from the FBI’s history of loading their .357 mags with 158 grain .38 special ammo. Remember always blame the equipment and not the person. I carried a 10mm for years and still do. As far as recoil my 5’ 2.5” 115 pound wife never had a problem with it.

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