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The .40 Smith & Wesson

By Chuck Hawks

.40 S&W
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The Winchester designed .40 Smith & Wesson was introduced in 1990. The basic idea was to duplicate the ballistics of the 10mm FBI load (the 10mm Lite) in a cartridge that would feed in medium frame autoloaders designed for the popular 9x19 (9mm Luger) cartridge. S&W realized that for police or self-defense purposes the large powder capacity of the 10mm Auto was wasted and the drawbacks of a large frame pistol (required for the 10mm) could be avoided if the new cartridge could be made small enough to work in 9mm pistols.

The resulting .40 S&W cartridge was an immediate hit. It has become one of the most popular handgun cartridges used by US police departments, as well as civilian shooters.

.40 S&W Factory loads are offered with 135, 155, 165, and 180 grain bullets. The published ballistics of the 165 grain Remington Golden Saber (JHP) load shows a muzzle velocity of 1150 fps and muzzle energy of 485 ft. lbs. The mid-range rise is 1" over 50 yards, and 4" over 100 yards. This is typical of the popular 155-165 grain factory loads.

Reloaders have plenty of components from which to choose. The resounding marketing success of the .40 cartridge has made it a popular number to reload. The correct bullet diameter is .400".

The fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Guide shows that 6.8 grains of WSF powder can drive their 135 grain JHP bullet to a MV of 1072 fps, and 7.8 grains of WSF can drive the same bullet to a MV of 1242 fps. These lighter JHP bullets are very successful in personal defense applications.

The same source indicates that 5.5 grains of W231 powder can drive the Nosler 150 grain JHP bullet to a MV of 1018 fps, and 6.5 grains of W231 can drive the same bullet to a MV of 1143 fps. This would probably made a good all-around load for a .40 S&W pistol.

These Nosler loads used Winchester cases and WSP primers, and were chronographed in a 4" pistol barrel.

Note: A full length article about the .40 S&W can be found on the Handgun Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2004, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.