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GUNS Magazine March 2012 Digital Edition - Page 12
STORY: John Barsness endurinG in the MiddLe Reloading the .40 Smith & Wesson hile 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 John’s HK USP definitely prefers cast bullets (right hand group) over jacketed. W John has tested a lot of .40 S&W loads over the past year in both a SIG SAUER P226 and a Heckler & Koch USP. 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. In 1988, Smith & Wesson introduced the .40 in their new Model 4006 pistol, though Glock actually delivered guns to dealers before S&W. Despite some naysayers, the .40 S&W took off pretty quickly among civilians, and has become one of the standard rounds for law enforcement. A few shooters still dislike the .40, especially those who firmly believe the .45 ACP is still the ultimate cartridge for autoloading pistols, but the .40 continues to increase in popularity, even figuring in action beyond its original design parameters. When bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by at least one brown bear in Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula, park rangers armed with .40s and 12-gauge shotguns killed two bears. Most civilians who buy .40s are primarily interested in self-defense against humans, but quite a few in western Montana (where I live) carry .40s rather than large revolvers when in grizzly country, due to the very reason it was designed: They can shoot more accurately with a .40 than with a .44 Magnum, much less a .500 S&W. Of course, many other woods wanderers adamantly maintain that the .40 ain’t any sort of bear round, 12 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • M A R C H 2 0 1 2