First introduced in 1990, the .40 Smith & Wesson has become a popular round for self-defense, target shooting, and hunting. Because the cartridge is suitable for a variety of applications, finding the best .40 S&W ammo to meet your needs can seem like an overwhelming task.
Whether you’re new to shooting .40 S&W or you just want to try something different, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we share some of the most popular and effective loads for your .40 S&W. Whether you need ammo for your duty weapon, civilian concealed carry, hunting, or target shooting, we’ve got you covered.
Table of Contents
- The History of the .40 Smith & Wesson Cartridge
- The .40 S&W Design
- Things to Consider When Choosing Ammo
- Best .40 S&W Ammo on the Market Reviews
- Best .40 S&W Ammo for Self Defense
- Best .40 S&W Ammo for Range Training
- Best .40 S&W Ammo for Hunting
- Wrapping It Up
The History of the .40 Smith & Wesson Cartridge
On April 11, 1986, a tragic shootout occurred in Miami, Florida. While law enforcement pursued fugitive bank robbers, William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt, a firefight occurred that would eventually leave both robbery suspects and two FBI agents dead. Another five FBI agents were injured in the standoff.
Law enforcement officers had been outgunned by Matix and Platt, who had been armed with a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, a pump shotgun, and two .357 Magnum revolvers.
The outcome of that tragic shooting led to a complete revamping of law enforcement response. It also led to the development of the .40 Smith & Wesson.
The .40 S&W Design
From the ground up, the .40 S&W was engineered for law enforcement. In the aftermath of the Miami shootout, the FBI began looking for a semi-automatic replacement for their standard issue .38 Special revolvers. Not only would a modern semi-auto pistol provide significantly more ammo capacity, it would make reloading much easier in an adrenaline-pumping gunfight.
The FBI wanted a cartridge that could produce better terminal ballistics than their .38 Spl +P loads. The FBI asked industry leader Smith & Wesson to design a pistol based on the company’s Model 4506 handgun, which was chambered in .45 ACP. They wanted the new handgun to reliably function with a reduced-velocity 10mm Auto load.
Smith & Wesson discovered that downsizing the 10mm cartridge from full power left empty airspace in the case. By eliminating the dead space, Smith & Wesson was able to shorten the case enough to fit into their 9mm pistol frames. This was the birth of the cartridge we know today as the .40 S&W.
The new .40 S&W cartridge was introduced to the public in 1990. The cartridge utilizes the same projectile and case head diameter as the 10mm Auto.
To produce an effective handgun, designers only had to adapt the frames of their 9mm handguns to support the new cartridge.
Although the Smith & Wesson Model 4006 pistol was designed to accommodate the new cartridge developed by the same company, Glock beat Smith & Wesson to the public market with their own pistols chambered in the new .40 S&W, the Glock 22 and Glock 23.
Things to Consider When Choosing Ammo
The specific ammo you choose for your .40 S&W pistol largely depends on how you plan to use it. Here are a few key things to consider when you’re shopping for .40 caliber ammunition.
Terminal expansion is how wide the projectile expands when it hits the target. All .40 S&W projectiles leave the muzzle with exactly the same diameter - .400 inches (or 10.2 mm). Some .40 caliber bullets are designed to mushroom to a larger diameter when they strike the target.
Expansion is particularly important for self defense. Bigger expansion creates a larger wound channel which results in more tissue damage. The more destruction a bullet does to a dangerous threat, the more likely it is to eliminate that threat.
For personal protection rounds, look for a bullet design that expands to at least 1 ½ times the original diameter.
Most target loads offer only minimal expansion if the bullets expand at all. FMJ (full metal jacket) or some other non-expanding bullets are most commonly used for range training.
Deep penetration is necessary for hunting and self-defense. Your projectiles need to drive deeply enough to reach vital organs and cause sufficient blood loss. The FBI's protocols require at least 12 inches of penetration through ballistic gel. If a load cannot penetrate that deeply, it is considered ineffective for personal protection.
While penetration is definitely a key concern for self-defense loads, too much penetration can be just as much a problem as too little. Over penetration occurs when the bullet passes through the intended target. This can result in collateral damage to other people or property down range. For a specific load to meet FBI standards, it cannot penetrate more than 18 inches in ballistics gel.
Velocity (or how fast the bullet travels) isn’t important in and of itself. However, it does impact accuracy as well as terminal ballistics. A projectile moving at a faster velocity will typically have a flatter trajectory and deliver deeper penetration. Faster speeds also allow for faster expansion.
Best .40 S&W Ammo on the Market Reviews
Best .40 S&W Ammo for Self Defense
Speer’s Gold Dot Carry Gun line of ammunition is engineered to optimize performance in compact pistols. These loads feature duty-proven, 180-grain G2 projectiles. These bullets feature a unique nose design with a shallow dish that is filled with a high-performance synthetic elastomer. When the G2 strikes the target, the elastomer is compressed and pushed into internal fissures within the bullet nose. The result is rapid, uniform mushrooming and reliable barrier penetration.
Gold Dot Carry Gun rounds deliver proven and reliable terminal performance, even when fired from compact pistols with short barrels.
If you want to use the same rounds FBI agents use in their duty pistols, this is it. Winchester Defender uses PDX1 bonded projectiles, which expand at least 1 ½ times their original diameter. Featuring a notched hollow point design, PDX1 projectiles deliver consistent expansion, even after passing through tough barriers.
PDX1 bullets are made with a proprietary bonding process that welds together the copper jacket and lead core for maximum weight retention.
Winchester Defender loads also feature nickel-plated brass cases for smooth, consistent function in modern semi-auto pistols. These bright cases also allow for quick, easy chamber checks in low light defensive situations.
This high-performance ammo from Hornady is designed for effective performance at velocities below the speed of sound. With a softer report than standard ammo, these loads are perfect for indoor shooting. When paired with a suppressor, Hornady Subsonic Handgun ammunition offers some of the quietest shooting of any handgun ammunition on the market today. This quality makes them especially well-suited for home defense.
Subsonic Handgun loads feature Hornady’s exclusive XTP (eXtreme Terminal Performance) projectiles. XTP bullets are engineered to drive deep and expand reliably, even at slower subsonic velocities.
Best .40 S&W Ammo for Range Training
It’s difficult to find affordable ammunition with better quality than Winchester White Box. Perfect for high-volume pistol shooters, White Box ammo is a favorite option for practice, target, and recreational shooting. This ammunition offers some of the best value for the money of any ammo you’ll find on the market today.
These particular White Box loads feature full metal jacket flat nose (FMJ-FN) bullets that provide reliable function and respectable accuracy without terminal expansion. The projectile design also reduces barrel fouling and produces crisp, round holes in paper, making these loads ideal for target shooting.
Federal American Eagle is high-quality ammo that provides premium performance without the premium price tag. This American Eagle ammo provides an economical way to polish or preserve your shooting skills. Affordably priced for high-volume target shooting, these loads feature non-expanding full metal jacket (FMJ) projectiles. Loaded with one of the most popular .40 S&W bullet weights, American Eagle loads provide realistic practice by ensuring your pistol shoots the same at the range as it does in a defensive shooting scenario.
Federal American Eagle uses premium virgin brass cases. These fully reloadable cases provide even further savings for shooters who want to reload their own cartridges.
Remington UMC loads are perfectly priced for budget-conscious shooters. All components are manufactured and assembled in the United States. Remington UMC is made with quality components, like premium, factory-fresh brass cases and Kleanbore primers.
These loads boast a full metal case (FMC) projectile, which is simply another name for full metal jacket. With zero terminal expansion and an affordable price tag, these rounds are a smart choice for the gun range.
Best .40 S&W Ammo for Hunting
Engineered specifically for pistol hunting, this premium ammo from Hornady is engineered around an incredibly effective bullet design. MonoFlex bullets are constructed from a tough copper alloy and feature a hollow point filled with an elastomer material. The solid copper design offers excellent weight retention and deep target penetration. The elastomer filling compresses upon target impact. This forces the hollow point cavity to expand faster than any standard HP design.
These loads are tough enough to take on big hogs. With a well-placed shot at close range, it can also be effective on whitetails and other similarly sized game.
Perfect for dropping big hogs or black bear, Federal Premium’s Solid Core Syntech is some of the most effective hunting ammo you can feed your pistol. The flat nose (FN) solid core projectile is made from hard, high-antimony lead. The bullet maintains its integrity, even as it smashes through tough hide, bone, and muscle. With impressive weight retention, these bullets drive deep to punch through vital organs and deliver quick, humane kills.
Each projectile is covered in a polymer jacket that reduces barrel fouling for consistent shot-to-shot accuracy.
Best .40 S&W Ammo for Target Competition
While most competitors load their own ammo, these factory loads provide better-than-average repeatable accuracy. If you aren’t interested in loading, these options will at least get you started while you’re honing your competitive edge. All of these loads are USPSA certified.
Specifically designed for action shooting sports, this Syntech Action Pistol ammo is loaded to major power factor requirements. Each cartridge is topped with a heavy, flat nose bullet that offers reliable knock-down power on even the toughest steel targets.
Syntech projectiles are made with a Total Synthetic Jacket (TSJ) designed to limit metal-to-metal contact inside the barrel. This eliminates fouling while reducing heat, allowing you to shoot more consistently in competition.
Syntech Action Pistol loads are made with clean-burning powders and lead-free primers for safer, softer shooting.
These .40 S&W loads from Impact Ammo are some of the best factory options available for serious competition shooting. Made with Vihtavuori clean burning powder, Impact Ammo is designed to reduce barrel fouling so you can enjoy longer shooting sessions between cleanings.
The 180-grain flat nose bullets punch perfect holes in paper targets for easier scoring. These low recoil loads are a soft shooting option that reduces fatigue. They also make recoil management easier, so you can get back on target faster and improve your shot times.
Wrapping It Up
Even the best .40 S&W ammo is only as good as the shooter using it. Any of the loads on our list will serve their intended purpose. However, if you want to improve your shooting success, the best way to achieve that goal is to practice. Good shooting requires more than good ammo, it also requires a good shooter. So, grab some practice ammo and head to the range.