TFB Round Table: How DEAD is 40 Short & Weak? 5 BEST .40 S&W Rounds for Defense

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    Welcome back to another edition of the TFB Round Table sponsored by Ammunition To Go! For those who are first joining us, this is a multi-part series where TFB will discuss the characteristics of great ammunition for specific applications. This could vary from big game hunting, plinking, precision rifle matches, small game hunting, or even pistol competitions. Chances are there is someone here at TFB who can offer you advice on buying the right round for your task at hand. This week I will offer up some suggestions on getting the most out of the forgotten cartridge of the firearms industry in the .40 S&W aka “40 Short & Weak.” This once romanticized round has recently been discarded and rejected by the shooting world in favor of 9mm. Bluntly, with the advancements in ammunition penetration and bullet technology, .40 S&W has been caught up to and surpassed by many different cartridges. Some of you crazy shooters still carry it though so let’s dive into the 5 BEST .40 S&W Rounds for Defense!

    TFB ROUND TABLE: the .40 s&W origin story

    Some people might be surprised to learn that the .40 S&W cartridge is not something John Moses Browning designed over 100 years ago. As far as cartridges go, the .40 S&W is fairly new to the game (big emphasis on fairly). To ballpark it, it is only 30 years old and has seen an exponential climb to stardom and as nearly as quick of a death to match it. Ammunition to Go does a wonderful job giving a short and sweet overview of the cartridge and why it came to be:

    In the world of firearms, the .40 S&W is actually a fairly new cartridge. It was created in 1990 after an infamous shootout between two bank robbers and eight FBI agents. Two agents lost their lives in a gun battle that saw the law enforcement personnel heavily outgunned. Despite being hit by the agents, the bank robbers were able to continue fighting, although they were eventually killed by law enforcement. In the aftermath, the FBI commissioned the production of a powerful cartridge with manageable recoil, giving law enforcement stopping power while allowing for accurate secondary shots. With this goal in mind, the .40 S&W was born.

    This famous shootout from the ’90s is discussed a lot even today, but not because of the unfortunate loss of lives in law enforcement. While it truly is extremely sad and unfortunate whenever law enforcement officers pass in the line of duty, what this event spurred was a tremendous period of research and development for better ammunition and cartridges. As Ammunition to Go stated above, it essentially birthed the .40 S&W cartridge. This period in time also helped develop new testing standards for all ammunition and what was thought to be effective in defense. Our very own James Reeves alluded to some of the standards that law enforcement now are seeking in a previous TFB Round Table article on .380 ACP:

    According to the FBI and from the July 14, 1989 paper ‘Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness’ by Special Agent Urey Patrick of The Firearms Training Unit at Quantico: ‘The critical wounding components for handgun ammunition, in order of importance, are penetration and permanent cavity.’

    To fairly call a gun/round combo ‘effective’ is to say that it meets the FBI standard of 12 to 18 inches of penetration in ballistic gel. Rounds that can penetrate at least 12 inches and produce good expansion leading to significant permanent and temporary wound cavities are usually deemed adequate for personal protection.

    So as you can see, there are 2 main factors that we are looking for in most all defense ammunition: penetration and a meaningful wound cavity.


    By using those two metrics of penetration and a meaningful wound cavity, we have a list of the 5 BEST .40 S&W Rounds for Defense! Since a “meaningful would cavity” is a bit of an objective metric, we took into consideration the expansion of the bullet upon impact. The more a bullet expands, assuming it does not fall apart into dust, the more meaningful of a wound cavity it is likely to create. So check out this list and let us know if you agree, think it sucks, or if you are wondering why anybody would still carry a .40 S&W, to begin with?!

    1. Winchester LE Ranger Talon .40 S&W 180 Grain HP
    2. Federal Premium LE Tactical HST .40 S&W 180 Grain
    3. Winchester PDX1 Defender .40 S&W 165 Grain Bonded JHP
    4. Federal Premium Tactical HST .40 S&W 180 Grain JHP
    5. Speer LE Gold Dot .40 S&W 165 Grain JHP

    As always, thank you for reading TFB! Be safe out there, have fun while shooting, and we will see you next time for the TFB Round Table brought to you by Ammunition to Go! Also, let us know what you think in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.


    TFB Round Table

    #5 – Speer LE Gold Dot .40 S&W 165 Grain JHP

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    Speer’s Law Enforcement ammunition is designed to give professionals the barrier blind performance they can’t do without to stay safer while on duty. This 40 S&W cartridge’s 165 grain Gold Dot projectile manages that because it is core and jacket are bonded together electrochemically, making them nigh inseparable as the bullet passes through a variety of urban barriers. This bullet burrows through heavy clothing, wall board, and plywood without losing virtually any of its weight — even safety glass hardly puts a damper on a Gold Dot’s superior weight retention.

    The Gold Dot is formed over the course of a two-stage process. In the first, the width to which it can expand is established. In the second, the rate of its expansion is predetermined. As the result a Gold Dot dependably delivers lethal terminal performance that you can bank on to keep your hide in one piece, just like it belongs. Furthermore, because this bullet’s jacket was formed one molecule at a time it’s intensely concentric for assured straight flight.

    This cartridge features a nickel plated brass casing. Nickel reduces friction to ensure uninterrupted cycling, and also resists corrosion so that exposure to atmospheric moisture won’t compromise your self-defense load’s potency.

    #4 – Federal Premium Tactical HST .40 S&W 180 Grain JHP

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    This 40 S&W cartridge is going to turn your pistol into a weapon that you can really rely on in the event that the bad guys ever get the drop on you. That’s because it’s equipped with a 180 grain HST, a bullet that retains a marvelous amount of weight whether it must pass through a barrier or penetrate a target very deeply thanks to the cannelure that snugly joins its core and jacket together. The HST maximizes expansion without hampering its ability to penetrate to a practical depth — the star shape that it expands to creates a simply catastrophic wound channel without slowing things down too much. Cops especially favor the HST for its performance on the FBI protocol, as well as how frequently it has proven itself out in the field.

    This virtually barrier blind cartridge offers a factory fresh brass casing, so you’ll have a great reloading component at your disposal if you give it a test run at the range. Federal’s premium primer and propellant charge deserve to be counted on in a life or death situation as well.

    #3 – Winchester PDX1 Defender .40 S&W 165 Grain Bonded JHP

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    In order to be truly worth its salt, a self-defense round must be able to deliver knock-down performance under any circumstances — as a rule, your assailant will not plan his attack when all the cards are stacked in your favor. That’s why this 40 S&W cartridge from Winchester’s Defender line of ammunition has a slew of features to ensure your safety during a precarious altercation. Its brass casing is nickel plated, so it will cycle efficiently through a semi-automatic weapon and further stave off the corrosion brought about by exposure to atmospheric moisture. Its sensitive primer is non-corrosive, and its propellant burns clean so that heavy residue accumulation will not impact your weapon’s accuracy.

    It’s this round’s bullet that truly sets it head and shoulders above the rest, however. The PDX1’s jacket and core are welded together, so it is able to retain its weight for deep penetration even after having passed through media such as auto glass, plywood, and winter clothing. The PDX1 is able to expand reliably owing to the notches cut into the tip of its hollow point cavity, and that it consistently widens up to 1.5 times its original diameter makes its terminal performance indisputably devastating. Try this round for yourself and you won’t wonder why FBI agents favor it in the course of their dangerous line of work.

    #2 – Federal Premium LE Tactical HST .40 S&W 180 Grain

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    Since the company opened in 1922, Federal Premium has grown into one of the largest and most-respected producers of ammunition in the world. Delivering consistent quality and performance for almost a century, Federal Premium continues its reputation for excellence with its LE Tactical HST line. With consistent expansion, optimum penetration, and superior terminal performance, it’s no wonder these loads are the preferred duty round for law enforcement officers around the globe.

    This package contains 50 rounds of Federal LE Tactical .40 Smith & Wesson ammunition. Each round is loaded with a 180 grain HST hollow point projectile. These specially designed HST hollow points will not plug, even when passing through tough barriers. The result is impressive weight retention and terminal expansion, perfect for self-defense situations.

    This is the next generation in high performance personal protection ammunition, whether on duty or off. Featuring a round nose profile and nickel-plated brass casings, these rounds deliver smooth, feeding, function and extraction. When paired with Federal Premium’s unique clean-burning primers, you get the ultimate in function and reliability. Each round produces a consistent muzzle velocity of 1010 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 408 foot pounds.

    #1 – Winchester LE Ranger Talon .40 S&W 180 Grain HP

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    The most modern version of Winchester’s famous Black Talon is the friendlier sounding Winchester Ranger. This premium law enforcement grade 180 grain .40 S&W ammo features one of the highest performing hollowpoint bullets available on the market today. Designed to rapidly expand on impact while retaining maximum bullet weight, the Winchester Ranger offers unbeatable performance at an equally unbeatable price. The unique “petal” (or talons if you remember the early marketing) of the expanding hollowpoint create a crippling wound channel that increases your chance of ending a gunfight early and in your favor.

    Traveling at 1025 feet per second, and delivering 420 foot pounds of energy, you can depend on this cartridge for home defense or duty use. New, clean boxer primed brass cases are reloadable may times over. Backed by decades of innovation, and combat proven performance, Winchester Ranger .40 S&W is something you can literally bet your life on.

    Packed in 50 round boxes, this is perfect ammo for immediate use or long term storage. Supplies of Winchester Ranger are not predictable, so take advantage of this rare opportunity when it presents itself. You simply cannot find a more venerable, time honored and reliable .40 S&W hollowpoint on the market today.

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