Best .40 S&W Ammo for Self-Defense, Concealed Carry, and Range Practice
In this guide, we will be giving you our recommendations for the best .40 S&W ammo for both defensive shooting/concealed carry and range practice.
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.40 S&W Background
.40 S&W is one of the newest handgun calibers on the market. It was first designed in 1990 at the request of the FBI, who was concerned at the time that 9mm might be underpowered. In the decades following its release, .40 S&W achieved moderate adoption among civilians, both for concealed carry and recreational use. However, it has never gained the same sort of popularity as 9mm or .45 ACP.
The .40 S&W cartridge’s build is similar to the 10mm, and it performs a lot like 9mm in terms of accuracy, drift, and drop. Its build, however, gives it an energy advantage over not just 9mm, but even .45 ACP. The .40 S&W cartridge’s notably high performance in lab testing during the 1990s earned it the status among experts at the time as the “ideal cartridge for personal defense and law enforcement.” Law enforcement agencies across the US have since returned to using mostly 9mm, but for those looking for a little more power without wanting to step all the way up to 10mm, .40 S&W is a great choice.
Simple Buyers Guide
Before we get started, let’s briefly take a look at some factors to consider when trying to find the best ammunition.
Difference Between Defense Ammunition and Range Ammunition
Considering your life may depend on it, we believe you should purchase the highest-quality self-defense ammunition you possibly can. Price should be a secondary concern.
For those on a tight budget, bear in mind that your self-defense ammo will be used sparingly. You will only practice with it occasionally, just to re-familiarize yourself with it and to ensure that it’s functioning properly with your firearm.
There are two major categories of ammunition: hollow point and full metal jacket (FMJ):
- Hollow-point bullets expand and transfer more energy into your target, meaning they will have greater stopping power. These are the types of bullets you will want to purchase for self-defense.
- FMJs are cheap and should be bought in bulk for practice at the range.
Lucky Gunner Ballistics Gel Testing
Lucky Gunner conducts extensive ballistics gel testing on the hollow-point ammunition they carry on their online store. As we've discussed in our Lucky Gunner review, we're also huge fans of their online store and recommend them for purchasing ammo online.
Testing of the .40 S&W ammo listed below was conducted by firing 5 rounds of each type of ammunition using a Glock 27 from 10 feet away through four layers of fabric to simulate heavy clothing. Data were then collected on several metrics, the most important of which are penetration depth and bullet diameter.
Penetration Depth - According to the FBI, a bullet’s optimal penetration depth is somewhere between 12 and 18 inches. Any less than this and the bullet may not reach the vital organs of an attacker; any more and your shots will run the risk of over-penetration, potentially harming bystanders located behind the target. In general, I would recommend penetration closer to 18 inches rather than 12, just so you can be confident your bullets are packing enough stopping power.
Bullet Expanded Diameter - Bullet expanded diameter or bullet expansion, refers to the size of the bullet after impact. Unlike FMJs, hollow-point bullets expand and sometimes fracture on contact with the target. This is designed to increase a bullet’s overall stopping power by transferring more of the bullet's energy into its target. Ideally, you want the highest amount of expansion possible from your ammunition, while still being sure that it falls somewhere between the 12- to 18-inch penetration depth sweet spot.
What Grain Should I Buy?
When shopping for ammunition, you will often come across the term ‘grain’. A grain is a unit of measurement that refers to a projectile’s mass or weight. Generally speaking, .40 S&W ammo is ideally weighted somewhere between 165 to 180 grain. It’s wise to purchase range ammunition with the same grain as your defense ammunition so that your practice rounds feel and behave similarly to the ammo you may rely upon in a real-world self-defense scenario.
.40 S&W Ammo Availability
While not always an issue, it should be noted that .40 S&W is less widely available than 9mm or .45 ACP. For this reason, you may have a harder time finding top-shelf, self-defense-quality ammo in stock among retailers. With this in mind, we've included multiple retailer options.
We’re now ready to get to our recommendations, beginning with the best .40 S&W defensive ammo.
Remington Ultimate Defense - .40 S&W - 180 Grain BJHP
Remington’s .40 S&W Ultimate Defense cartridges are among the highest-performing products currently on the market. These brass-jacketed hollow points have deep penetration and excellent expansion. It can be difficult to find a retailer that has Remington Ultimate Defense rounds in stock, but if you can track down a case, don’t sleep on the opportunity to buy.
- Average Penetration - 15.9”
- Average Expanded Diameter - .797”
- Average Bullet Velocity - 976 fps
Remington Golden Saber - .40 S&W - 180 Grain JHP
Remington’s Golden Saber .40 S&W Cartridges are branded to have match-grade accuracy and nearly 100% weight retention. These cartridges have a slightly more shallow penetration depth than Remington Ultimate Defense cartridges but reach greater expansion. Also, the powder used in the Golden Saber cases is specially formulated for minimal muzzle flash, which is a nice bonus. Again, you may need to check with different vendors to find a case, but they’re worth taking the time to find.
- Average Penetration - 13.9”
- Average Expanded Diameter - .814”
- Average Muzzle Velocity - 1015 fps
Winchester Ranger Bonded - .40 S&W - 165 Grain JHP
Winchester’s 40 S&W Ranger Bonded cartridges are a first choice for many concealed carriers, and they tend to be more widely available than the Remington cartridges. They offer a full-inch-deeper average penetration than Remington’s Golden Saber and have earned a reputation for being highly reliable. You’ll find these cartridges commonly used among law enforcement agencies that issue .40 S&W firearms.
- Average Penetration - 14.9”
- Average Expanded Diameter - .757”
- Average Bullet Velocity - 1094 fps
As mentioned in the introduction, with range ammo, I recommend buying cheap and in bulk. Below are our favorite brass-cased range ammunition cartridges, along with their price per round listings.
Blazer Brass - .40 S&W - 180 Grain FMJ
Blazer Brass has been our long-time go-to range ammunition here at GunPros—their stuff is reliable, widely available and American made.
Sellier & Bellot - .40 S&W - 180 Grain FMJ
After reading positive reviews on the web, I’ve spent the last few months testing Sellier & Bellot’s range ammo with good results. These brass-cased FMJs are manufactured in the Czech Republic and are usually a bit cheaper than ammo made in the United States.
Military Ballistics Industries - .40 S&W - 180 Grain Plated FP
Military Ballistics Industries offers one of the best deals on the web for bulk range ammunition. Their .40 S&W FP containers use remanufactured ammunition, with bullets coming from Berry’s, powder from Hodgdon, and primers from CCI and Winchester. Each casing goes through a series of inspections and integrity checks to ensure quality.
But be warned, while these cartridges are for the most part reliable, remanufactured ammo is still more likely to malfunction. It’s also recommended you consult your firearm’s owner’s manual to be sure that using remanufactured ammo doesn’t void your gun’s warranty.
As always, thanks for reading, and we hope the information provided here has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you! And if you want some help in finding a .40 S&W-chambered pistol, check out our Best .40 S&W Pistol Guide. We’ll see you next time!