The Demise of the .40 Caliber
Dr. John Woods 03.22.17
As my dad used to say quite often, “That is a solution to a non-existent problem.” When the .40 caliber pistol cartridge first saw the light of day around 1989, the excitement seemed well founded. It’s seen a good run, but some say its days are numbered in terms of popularity.
Created by Winchester and Smith & Wesson, the .40 cal. was designed to fit into the scheme of things for the FBI after their disappointment with exploring the 10mm. The FBI apparently wanted the power of the 10mm, but in a shorter package. That idea developed into the .40 S&W.
Using bullet weights from 135gr with jacketed hollow points up to 180gr bullets, the .40 created the power level needed, but also delivered a noticeable increase in pressures as well. This then translated into a pistol round that had considerable muzzle flip and hand control issues for trainees as well as agents in the field.
Law enforcement was pretty quick to adopt the .40, too. After a long trial of trying to adapt police and troopers to the .40, its excitement appears to be waning. A recent article published by a shooting organization noted that the .40 pistols were harder to learn to shoot well and required more range orientation and practice. This translated into higher costs for ammunition and the time necessary to get officers proficient in the use of the new .40 pistols.
I have not seen any evidence testing the .40s effectiveness on the streets or in everyday use by police or federal agencies that took on the .40. Ballistics on paper would suggest the .40 should be a top performer, if and only if the users found confidence in shooting it accurately.
The standard loads produced muzzle velocities from around 1300 in lighter bullets to 1000 fps in the 180 grain. Energy rating range from 412 foot pounds up to 524. Using jacketed hollow point bullets was the standard fare, so by discussion the .40 would seem a formidable cartridge.
Still, after years of trials in real use and practicality issues, it seems that the .40 is losing its grip. With the advent of new, better, more effective 9mm ammo, many departments are trading their .40s for 9s. Some units are even going back to the time honored and proven .45ACP. One report suggested the marketplace may soon be flooded with used .40s.