Smallish .40 S&W pistols have a well-earned reputation for packing plenty of power in their lightweight frames, but they are also well-known for being vicious kickers for the training shooter. We recently tested three guns from Beretta and Smith & Wesson to see if we could find a product that was easy to conceal while at the same time being easy enough to shoot well.
Among other things, our picks had trigger design in common, with each of them offering a double-action first shot followed by a trigger reset to single-action fire with a shorter movement. Also, two of the guns, the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW and the latest addition to Beretta’s Cougar lineup, the 8040F Inox, had 3.5-inch barrels, alloy frames and double-column magazines. We pitted them against the Beretta Model 96 Vertec, which had an inch-longer barrel but which weighed the same as the Cougar. All three guns included safety features such as ambidextrous decocker levers that can be used to disengage the action as well as lower the hammer.
In the course of testing and training with these TDA pistols, our shooters expended a lot of ammunition without a single malfunction. To collect accuracy data, we fired each pistol single action only from a sandbag rest at a distance of 15 yards, measuring five-shot groups center to center. Our test ammunition for the 15-yard accuracy session consisted of Federal Hydra-Shok 165-grain JHP rounds, 180-grain JHP rounds from Zero, and 180-grain FMJ rounds by Winchester USA.
Probably more important, to find out how well we could respond with a double-action first shot and a transition to a second shot single action, we tested at 7 yards on the Hoffners ABC16 training target, (hoffners.com). This test consisted of 10 three-shot strings. Raising the pistol from low ready, we engaged the A zone, or chest area, rapid fire with a double-action first shot and a single-action shot to this same point. A transition to the head, or B zone, was then made as quickly as possible. For our rapid-fire transition test we used Winchester USA 165-grain FMJ ammunition. To ensure similar light conditions, we shot the guns at Houston’s Top Gun indoor combat range, (www.topgunrange.com).
The model 4013TSW (Tactical Smith & Wesson) is indeed one compact piece of firepower. The frontstrap was short, measuring about 1.7 inches. To have all three of our strong-hand fingers in place, we had to insert the magazine, which added a lip for our pinkies. Magazine capacity on the 4013TSW was nine rounds. According to Smith & Wesson, 11-round magazines are available for this model, but they are longer and require a sleeved base pad that acts as a spacer. Additional length is approximately 0.625 inch and cost $44. We suppose this added grip length might be welcome, but the frontstrap on its 9.1-ounce alloy frame was already checkered and supplied a firm comfortable grip. In addition, we thought that the plastic stocks that wrapped around the back of the pistol did a good job of disguising its boxy profile.
The mouth of the magazine well had been beveled, and the release button was easy to find when you needed it and out of the way when you didn’t. Empty mags virtually flew out, but we noticed that partially loaded magazines were reluctant to drop free once a round had been chambered. The frame of the 4013TSW weighed at least 2 ounces less than either Beretta product, even with an accessory rail bolted on to the dustcover. This rail, along with the grips, decocker/safety levers, slide stop, trigger, and hammer were black and contrasted with the nonreflective finish that Smith & Wesson calls Bead Blasted Satin Stainless.
The stainless-steel slide made contact with the full length of the frame that covered nearly the entire top end. The slide was secured to the frame via a slide-stop pin, and inside the slide was a single-barrel lug. The stainless-steel guide rod was surrounded by two recoil springs, one inside the other. Cocking serrations were rearward only, which we think is sensible on a short-barreled gun. This discourages gripping the slide too close to the muzzle. The extractor was externally mounted, and the decocker/safety levers were also mounted on the slide.
We found that anyone with a medium-sized hand or larger could operate the decocker on and off safe with only the strong-hand thumb. Taking off the top end was easy, but we still don’t like that putting it back on requires a screwdriver or other blade to depress a control lever to apply the slide. But we found that the rear lower edge of a magazine proved to be a handy choice.
Our overall impression of the 4013TSW was that there was more felt recoil transmitted to the shooter than we would have liked with certain ammunition. Using up a variety of different rounds left over from other tests, we found that 155-grain and 165-grain loads marked +P were not painful, but wrist fatigue occurred quickly. Instead, the Winchester USA 165-grain FMJ rounds we used in the rapid-fire test were ideal. The Zero 180-grain JHP rounds were comfortable, and the bark of the 165-grain Federal Hydra-Shock round was worse than its bite. In fact the Hydra-Shok rounds in combination with the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW was our top performer from the bench.
Putting the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW through the rapid-fire transition drill produced the following results:[PDFCAP(2)]
Of the 20 shots to the A zone fired in transition from double to single action, we landed 17 shots in the desired area, with only three shots out. Within the A zone, 14 shots formed a tight group measuring about 5 inches across. Shots outside the A zone included one low and two hits off to the left. The B zone showed seven of 10 shots neatly placed in the cranial pocket. Three shots were low, but all 10 shots stacked up in a 2-inch-wide vertical column.
The MSRP of this pistol seemed high to us, but with a few telephone calls, we found a selling price as low as $729, (Pruett’s, 832-237-4867).
If you have ever seen a plain Beretta 8000-series Cougar, then you may be surprised by the 8040F Inox. The alloy frame was treated to a silvery matte finish that is the result of an anodizing process. The intent was to give it a stainless steel look, and we found its appearance to be striking. Including fancy walnut grip panels as well, Beretta left no doubt that this is an upgraded model. We were particularly impressed with the vertical lines machined into the front and rear of the grip frame. Together with a flare on the front to match the magazine base pad, a gentle palm swell on the backstrap and indentation for the web of the hand, we found the new Cougar to be a pleasure to hold. But depending on the length of your thumb, you may have to shift the pistol slightly to activate the decocker. The grip was full sized, meaning that a magazine extension was not needed to accommodate the last finger of the strong hand. Inside the grip frame that featured match-grade beveled edges was a 10-round magazine. More spacious 11-round magazines are available from Beretta ($43). Just like the Smith & Wesson pistol, the Cougar slide carried the ambidextrous decocker/safety levers, rear-only cocking serrations, and an externally mounted extractor. To remove the top end, the shooter pressed a button on the right side of the frame and rotated a latch found on the opposite side.
The polymer guide rod that was surrounded by a captured single-coil spring was held in the center of a block that supported the barrel. On one side of the block a cam lobe was fit into a lug that was cut diagonally into the bottom side of the barrel. This caused the barrel to rotate as the slide moved back. This design was intended to reduce recoil by channeling a portion of the energy into barrel rotation. In addition, the central block was intended to absorb some of the recoil shock before it was transferred to the frame. Beretta also claims that consistency of lockup is improved because upon firing, the barrel travels straight back and forth and rotates along an axial movement. Viewed from the back, the barrel chamber appeared to have an elliptical shape. The high polish at the feeding edge of the chamber was evidence of the chrome lining applied to the bore of the cold hammer-forged barrel. We found no shortage of reminders that this was a pretty fancy pistol.
At the range we noticed two typical Beretta characteristics that some shooters might find quirky. One was the rising and falling of the firing-pin block atop the slide, and another was the movement of the trigger bar along the right side exterior of the frame just above the grip. It sounds logical that the exposed trigger bar could be damaged and cause a malfunction, but complaints such as this seem to be rare, if not nonexistent. The Beretta’s rear sight was not the snag-free arrangement such as the Novak design found on the Smith & Wesson. But a bold vertical rear sight blade has one tactical advantage not shared by more streamlined designs. Should it become necessary to rack the slide or clear a jam when only one hand is able, the rear blade can be snagged on a belt, holster, or other gear to work the slide.
With all the high-tech features focused on reducing recoil and enhancing accuracy, we couldn’t wait for the results of our range session. From our bench session we learned that our Cougar seemed to favor heavier bullets. We were able to print sub-2-inch groups with each test load, but groups varied the least firing the Winchester USA 180-grain FMJ rounds. Group size varied from 1.7 to 2.0 inches, and this load produced an average of 370 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The Model 96 Vertec with a 1.1-inch-longer barrel could only manage 16 foot-pounds more on average.
In terms of recoil control, we landed all 20 shots in the center A zone and eight out of 10 shots in the B zone in our rapid fire transition drill. The two missed shots, one fractionally low and the other landing wide left, were the result of painfully obvious shooter error.
The Beretta Vertec Models 92 and 96 in 9mm and .40 S&W respectively, are available in Inox as well as blued finishes, and all Vertec models include a Picatinny accessory rail measuring about 1.8 inches in length with a single notch.
The Vertecs share some simple changes to the basic design that we found to be very helpful. At the center of this was the new vertical grip design that, combined with the thinner grip panels and short-reach trigger, has made this pistol much friendlier to shooters with smaller hands. We liked it because its flat-sided feel and more rectangular shape were easier to index. This meant our hands were able to pick up proper alignment that much faster. This also meant better access to the decocker/safety levers. Despite its size, we were able to operate every aspect of the Vertec 96 with one hand.
Three-dot sights were dovetailed in place, front and rear. Our pistol arrived with two 10-round magazines, but 11-round magazines are available from Beretta for $43 each. According to sources, larger magazines with extensions are a possibility for the future. We were surprised to find the longer Vertec 96 weighed almost exactly the same as the smaller Cougar pistol. This was due in part to the open-slide design of the Vertec.
But there was a marked difference in handling between the two pistols. With the Vertec, things seemed to happen much slower. But a check of stopwatch told us this was just an illusion. Perhaps it was because the Vertec offered more than one inch of additional sight radius compared to the Cougar. This really paid off in our rapid-fire transition test. It was easy for the shooter to produce a clean score. Results were 20 of 20 A-zone hits into a solid 5-inch group, and 9 of 10 B-zone hits, with one shot centered but low. The extra sight radius was a real luxury in this test.
Our single-action-only 15-yard bench rest session resulted in a 2-inch average or better with each choice of ammunition. When we first started shooting this gun, we noticed that some rounds caused the slide to hesitate during cycling, even though no actual stoppages occurred. But this turned out to be only a matter of breaking the gun in. After our tests were completed we went back and fired the rounds that gave the Vertec trouble, and the problem had disappeared.
Gun Tests Recommends
• Smith & Wesson 4013TSW, $940. Buy It. We like carrying this gun because it is a lightweight compact pistol. Not every hot defense load is a joy to shoot in this gun, but our most accurate test round was also one of the easiest to handle.
• Beretta 8040F Inox, $875. Buy It. The Cougar Inox proved to be neither too big nor too small. It was comfortable to shoot and was accurate with a wide range of ammunition.
• Beretta Model 96 Vertec, $785. Best Buy. This medium-weight .40 S&W pistol kills recoil, likes to be shot with one hand, reloads quickly, and points like a cue stick.