Enduring In The Middle

Reloading the .40 Smith & Wesson.

While the 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP enjoy enduring popularity, these days the .40 Smith & Wesson certainly ranks just about as highly as them among Americans who buy handguns for self-defense. Or at least that’s the conclusion many of us come to when informally surveying sporting goods stores and shooting ranges. Not only are there lots of .40s available, both new and used, but when visiting my local range it’s rare not to discover just about as many escaped .40 S&W cases as 9mms and .45 ACPs.

The .40 S&W was developed by Winchester and Smith & Wesson specifically as a law-enforcement compromise after the notorious 1986 shoot-out in Miami between eight FBI agents and two bank robbers. While both criminals were killed, so were two agents, and it was obvious the limited firepower of the FBI’s .38 Special revolvers was part of the problem.

At first the FBI adopted the 10mm Auto developed by Jeff Cooper, but soon discovered the average agent couldn’t handle the recoil of the 10mm, and the larger pistols also presented carry problems. The .40 S&W’s case is the 10mm shortened .142″, allowing the .40 to function in autoloaders designed around the 9mm Parabellum. The FBI found a 170- to 180-grain bullet at 900 to 1,000 feet per second achieved their desired ballistic performance, with recoil light enough for most agents to shoot accurately. All of this, not so oddly, paralleled the history of the .41 Magnum revolver cartridge, promoted as a more powerful police round by Elmer Keith in the 1960s. Like Cooper, Keith was well known for being relatively recoil-proof. Most police officers simply couldn’t handle full-power .41 loads, and didn’t much like carrying the S&W Model 58 revolver. The .41 instead turned into a round for hunters who want to be different, and not carry a .44 Magnum.
Story By: John Barsness

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