Caliber wars, and Why the .40 S&W?


I’ve been wanting to vent my opinion for awhile now on this.
Here is my totally layperson, non professional, less then 2 cents worth on the whole handgun caliber thing-

Firstly, caliber debates are pointless, because in all the debating, never is the actual needs of the individual held into account, its always “use this cause its best” and thats just all backwards. The abilities of the shooter and their particular needs are what counts above caliber.

Your needs, and not what someone else says, even if they are a dyed in the wool expert, are whats paramount.
I’d rather my wife, who is disabled, have the little .22LR Bobcat she can actually carry and use well, then anything she can’t, and yes, I know a well placed .22 beats a miss with a .44 any day.

But for me, my choice is .40S&W.

Here’s why- first of all, we all know that .40 has more recoil, generally, then both the .45 and 9mm, but this isn’t and doesn’t always have to be the case, as the greatest aspect of the caliber, in my VERY humble opinion, is that you can choose loads closer to 9mm or choose loads closer to .45 in weight. Many differing manufacturers also load their ammo to differing power levels as well. For example- Barnes TAC-XPD 140gr all copper HP. These are the very same projectiles made famous by CorBon, but loaded into defensive handgun ammunition by Barnes themselves. They are not loaded as hot as CorBon would load them, meaning they are much milder (yet they still manage to expand to over .75 (!) or more and penetrate 12 or so inches in tests).

These make an excellent load for my subcompact Rami .40.

You can get perfectly serviceable loads in 135gr-140gr weights or so that recoil no more then hot 9mm loads, you know, the loads everyone says make 9mm worthwhile again, or you can go heavy -up to 200gr- which, BTW, was what JMB originally designed the .45 acp as. (the Army wanted it a bit heavier, hence 230gr.), and you CAN get that heavy while maintaining some semblance of velocity, just look over at Double Tap’s loads.

So, you can have a load that will do everything a hot loaded 9mm with a modern defensive projectile will do, WITHOUT having to go to +p or +p+ pressure levels, with slightly more surface area both before and after expansion, AND the .40 still reserves the ability to launch heavier bullets that are plenty competitive with .45acp.

You can literally run your .40 like a 9, or like a .45, or somewhere in between.

Speaking of heavier bullets, this is something thats totally confounded me- even with modern defensive ammo, how is it that the lightweight 9mm loads are “just as good as” the heavier, bigger, and every bit just as modern loads in the larger calibers, when 9mm hasn’t gained any weight, and greater weight maintains momentum in a straighter path, longer? Shot placement is great, but even if you do your job and get excellent placement, if your lighter bullet is more easily deflected during terminal ballistics, and doesn’t “stay the course” in the target to the point where it becomes unpredictable where the bullet will actually go, then all the great shot placement in the world wont help.

Lightweight bullets are well known for exhibiting this phenomena and the bigger heavier bullets with greater sectional density tend to penetrate living animals (including people) which are made of all sorts of stuff besides gel in a straight line. Straight line penetration is aided and abetted by greater mass and sectional density. Doing the math, the 180gr .40 actually has greater sectional density then comparable weight .45 acp loads. This is an advantage over the 9mm that cannot be ignored if shot placement is all that really counts in defensive handgun shooting.

Somehow, the entire debate -including the position of the FBI with its recent choice to go back to the 9mm from the .40- has simply brushed this important issue aside, and I think its done a huge disservice to the shooting public.

Folks, the 9mm europellet is simply NOT the equal of larger calibers. Just ask yourself- if you had only one handgun in the world, and it could only be chambered for one of the three major calibers (9,.40,.45), and you were looking at a 500lb bear trying to do you and yours harm, which would you choose? The light, easily deflected by bone and over reliant on velocity for penetration (velocity, which we know by physics, that bleeds off much faster from lower mass projectiles) 9mm? Or would you want a heavier, deeper penetrating bullet that will actually have the oomph to get the job done?

I AM aware that humans aren’t bears, but when the whole argument is predicated on “9mm being just as good as…….” .

Its not folks. Not even close.

The argument about wear and tear on guns is interesting.

While I can agree that the experts are certainly -experts- on this in that they shoot tens of thousands of rounds a year through their pistols, I don’t think I’d ever be able to afford to shoot my gun into the round count ranges of said experts. So maybe they have seen stuff I haven’t I don’t know, but what I DO know is that there are certain measurements that can aid us mere laymen in understanding whats going on here.

First, there’s bolt thrust.

It is true that the .40’s bolt thrust approaches the 10mm, but its nowhere near that of the thrust of the .357 Sig, and handguns made for 9mm these days are usually designed around .40 first (maybe even .357 Sig first in models that come chambered for that excellent cartridge?)  THEN they are “down chambered” to 9, as I understand it to be the story with my personal carry weapon, meaning that these guns are MADE for the stresses of .40 ammo (or .357 Sig), even alot of your 9mm guns are overbuilt these days for higher pressure calibers. (you 9 guys can thank us now for your tougher guns lol).

Bolt thrust being what it is (a good way to measure wear and tear on a gun that any given caliber may inflict), another measurement is the operating chamber pressure of different rounds. 9mm and .40 are similar if not exactly the same. With one caveat- a lot of the 9mm thermonuclear, “just as good as the big boys” loads are actually +p or even +p+ levels, which develop MORE pressure then .40 loads that perform just as good or better! In other words, thats an INCREASE in the overall stress in BOTH pressure and thrust on your gun when you run the 9mm +p stuff, when .40 doesn’t -need- +p loads to do its job!

So I just don’t get it how modern firearms designed for .40 (and even .357 Sig) are wearing out so much faster then 9mm pistols, but, again, I’m no expert this is just my view of the matter based on things I think are pretty much self explanatory.
In any case, I really do not believe that .40 caliber guns are going to wear so dramatically faster then any other gun that this is a factor for anyone but the elite in the shooting world.
Unless, of course, it is a model originally designed around 9mm which was then “up chambered” for the .40 (Glock, Beretta, and the .40 Hi Power come directly to mind.). This is exactly what happened when .40 came out, and this is likely where the “increased wear on guns” thing comes from. Manufacturers simply tried to fit .40 in their pre-existing designs for 9mm guns. Needless to say, it didn’t work out great. I do not know whether each manufacturer has redesigned their particular offerings to rectify this, but I do know that any that haven’t at this point are way behind the curve.
As said above, however, the vast majority of guns actually designed since the introduction of the .40 were built for the .40, THEN down chambered for the 9mm.

As well, bolt thrust is certainly much greater in a .40 vs. a .45, which operates at much less chamber pressure AND less bolt thrust then EITHER the 9, .357 Sig, or the .40.

Perhaps those people who are most concerned about wearing out their guns should consider that.

But yes, .40 S&W most likely does stress a gun out more then 9mm. And more then .380 acp, for that matter. The flip side to this coin is that if your NOT a pro, if you don’t have limitless funds to burn up tens of thousands of rounds of ammo, AND your not dumb enough to go over to armslist and buy someones early model .40 caliber pistol, .40 gives the average end user a lot of versatility as I mentioned above in the vast variety of projectile weight and power levels they come loaded in. In other words, your not stuck with a 180gr load clocking 900-1000fps, you have options. AND the wear and tear you may inflict with a milder .40 load would likely not do much more damage then the 9mm, by fiat of logical reasoning.

Last note on this is that you need to put the amount of ammo in perspective which would result in being able to wear out a gun by sheer cost $$$ alone.

How many private folks really have the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars to spend a year on ammo alone?

Getting into shorter barrels, has anyone ever seen the difference in performance between .40 and .45acp when the tubes are abbreviated?

.40 outshines .45 there.

And as we all know it certainly outclasses the .45 in magazine capacity.(flip side, we also know, is that 9mm holds more).

Lastly, the reason 9mm has a bad rap as a stopper, is mostly due to its FMJ configuration. I don’t think anyone can argue this. 9mm ball sucks.

So, if this were the end times, and all hell were upon us, wouldn’t you want a caliber with a better FMJ profile?
After all, the sheer cost and complexity of modern defensive loads are subject to the fact that they REQUIRE a certain degree of professional manufacturing, while people could make simple ball loads at home as well as finding them locally just about anywhere.
Conversely, there are folks who simply cannot afford the latest and greatest whiz bang thermonuclear loads for anything, they cannot afford to train with it and they cannot afford to keep any meaningful stock of it.

And if the grabbers ever get more violations of that which shall not be infringed, resulting in magazine capacity restrictions?

Some folks in the shooting world today weren’t there when that happened the first time, or, they were exempted because they are/were LEO/military. Granted, there’s been huge advancements in ammunition technology since, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that 10 rounds of 9mm is equal to 10 rounds of anything bigger. If, g-d forbid, the hoplophobes take away all the “happy sticks” and even ban conventional magazines that pack the large payload of what you can get today in a 9mm size package, then that advantage automatically evaporates for the 9mm.

It -has- happened before folks, so you might want to reconsider spending all your time mastering the europellet, and step up to the plate and learn to handle a bigger bore.

And look at New Jersey, where you cannot “legally” use the modern JHPs! If you think thats not something grabbers would gleefully foist on the rest of the entire nation, you don’t know the grabbers as well as you should.

Hence, “.4 or more” would still be the rule under austere circumstances of any sort. I don’t think anyone would argue the king of FMJ handgun rounds would be .45 acp, despite that projectile’s profile being more rounded, but I can’t imagine the .40 ball loads being much worse.

But that 9mm FMJ…. guys… sheesh. It sucks. Period. And you know it. Even the military, in its current quest to replace the cold war era 9mm Beretta 92, knows it, thats why they’re talking about using JHP because likely, they’ll stick to the europellet in their new side arms for logistical reasons. (the Hauge accord, the reason why conventional wisdom says the military uses ball ammo, is another issue, and I aint a lawyer.)

Personally, I maintain a decent stock of defensive ammo, but when it comes to my “zombie stash” thats got to be bought cheap and piled high, I just cant see how a 165gr .40 projectile with a flat nose doing over 1,000 fps wouldn’t be vastly superior in wounding characteristics then even the hottest round nosed 9mm ball.

IMHO, there is nothing wrong with 9mm- it certainly does have its own strengths and weaknesses; the small,single stack CCW pistols chambered in 9mm work well for their intended purpose (just ask George Zimmerman) and I can’t imagine a better, more controllable SMG round. And I really don’t think the rest of the world will be moving away from it as their standard in pistol calibers any time soon, meaning neither will NATO nor our military……….. but just because the fickle feebies gave up on their .40 because most of the bureaucrats they hire these days seem to have limper wrists then days of yore, doesn’t mean that the endeavor which created the .40 wasn’t entirely worthwhile in and of itself and did not, in fact, result in gifting we of the shooting populace with a pretty darn good, modern, alternative to low capacity guns with big as my thumb bullets or zippy little europellets.

I’m not able to afford multiple guns and when my .40 can do pretty much what a 9 AND a .45 can do, it truly makes up for all its shortcomings.

It comes in easily handled 9mm size guns with high capacity magazines and its performance is indisputably unique to itself while still being competitively comparable to -BOTH- 9mm and .45acp. It truly is the best of both worlds. No, I cannot out shoot experts who can afford tens of thousands of rounds worth of training expenditure or whomever thats currently on the 9mm bandwagon, nor do I dispute their personal findings in why they choose the 9mm over all others, but that being said, I’m not them. My needs are different. So are my opinions.

So, do yourself a favor- spend some time with the bigger bores, they’re still worth the lead their ammo is made of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s