40 S&W Ammunition Test: We Pit Eight Self-Defense Rounds

In this head-to-head evaluation, we picked rounds from Black Hills Ammunition, Federal, SIG Sauer, Speer, and Winchester to see which selections delivered power on target with reliability and accuracy.


The 40 Smith & Wesson retains a solid following among shooters looking for a hard-hitting cartridge in a 9mm package. Accuracy in quality handguns is more than sufficient for personal defense. We recommend against sub-compact 40 S&W pistols because they generate too much recoil for most shooters — similar to the stout recoil exhibited by snubnose 357 Magnum revolvers. In a midsize handgun such as the Beretta Cougar, which we used in this test, or a SIG P229, with the Glock 23 being the cutoff point, the pistol may be controlled well. Most of the loads tested were downright docile in the Beretta Cougar. This pistol weighs in at 35 ounces loaded. The barrel length is 3.6 inches. Despite the gun’s relatively short barrel, we felt velocity was respectable. We believe one load, the Speer Gold Dot, was adversely affected by short-barrel velocity, probably needing more speed to open completely. The Cougar was controllable in every case. Interestingly, the 180-grain loads were dead on for sight regulation at 10 yards. The 165- and 155-grain loads were about 2 inches low, the  140-grain load almost 3 inches low in relation to the point of aim. Other firearms may differ.


40 S&W Performance Data

Bullet Weight (Grains)Manufacturer, Brand, and Product NumberAverage Velocity (fps)Standard Deviation (fps)Muzzle Energy (Foot-Pounds)IPSC Power FactorAverage Accuracy (Inches)Expanded Width (Inches)Retained Weight (Grains)Retained Weight (Percentage)Penetration In Water (Inches)Gun Tests Grade
140Black Hills Barnes TAC-XP D40N6 1121263911571.50.73140100%18A
155Black Hills 40 S&W JHP D40N120 1135144431762.50.61155100%18A
165Federal Punch JHP PD40P1 BX 1048254021731.50.66165100%20A
165Winchester PDX S40SWPDBC 1134394711873.00.6615996%18A
165Federal American Eagle Syntech AE40SJ1 930123171633.00.40 (fragments)10158%18A
180Speer G2 Gold Dot 23999 960213681732.70.46180100%32B-
180Federal Premium LE Tactical HST P40HST1 955113641712.00.72180100%20A
180SIG Elite V Crown E40SW2-20 92093381662.90.64180100%20A
Notes: Average Velocity and Standard Deviation readings were obtained by firing 20 rounds over a Competition Electronics Pro Chrono. Ambient temperature: 90 degrees. Elevation: 815 feet above sea level. l The accuracy figures are the average of three five-shot groups. For accuracy, we fired the test gun from a benchrest at a 25-yard target. l To calculate IPSC power factor, multiply bullet weight in grains by the velocity in fps, then divide by 1000.


Our test gun, a Beretta Cougar, proved reliable and accurate. These pistols are often affordable. Its heavier weight helped with the 40’s stout recoil.


Black Hills 40 S&W 140-Grain Barnes TAC-XP D40N6

We like the performance of the Black Hills Tac load. The petals of the Black Hills TAC load are sharp and certain to make a complex wound channel.

This is the only all-copper hollow point tested. The only downside, in our opinion, of all copper hollow points is that these loads are usually more expensive. In today’s world of high ammo prices, this may not always be true. The 140-grain bullet breaks a consistent 1121 fps. Penetration is 18 inches in water, in line with most of the loads tested, and expansion is 0.73 inch, the greatest of any of the loads tested. For personal defense, this load is ideal, based on a balance of expansion and penetration.



Black Hills 40 S&W 155-Grain XTP D40N120

This Black Hills load uses  a Hornady Extreme Terminal Performance (XTP) JHP bullet. Accuracy is good, and recoil isn’t heavy in the test gun. This is a fast load at 1133 fps average. Expansion is 0.61 inch and penetration 18 inches. This is a good choice for personal defense with plenty of energy on the target.



Federal 40 S&W 165-Grain JHP Punch PD40P1 BX

The Federal Punch JHP is a simple cup-and-core design that expands well. At the time of testing, it was also affordable.

This is a non-bonded hollow point intended to sell for less than loads such as the HST and Gold Dot. The 165-grain punch breaks 1048 fps. Penetration is 20 inches, and expansion is consistent at 0.62 inch. It was tied for the most accurate load tested. While we like the HST’s performance better, if the Punch costs less, it would be a great thing.



Federal Syntech 40 S&W 165-Grain AE40SJ1

The Federal AE Syntech’s shank penetrated 18 inches of water while throwing off shards that were not recovered.

This load is intended to use Syntech technology to provide a coating that stops leading but offers good expansion. This load uses a different mechanism for wounding. The bullet nose breaks off into shards on meeting resistance. The result is more than half of the retained weight, resting in the shank and the rest of the bullet in the form of shards, traveling through the target. While we prefer a solid mushroom during penetration, we have to give the Syntech a solid A as it performs as designed. Some shooters will like this option. Also, felt recoil was the lowest of any of the loads tested.



Winchester 40 S&W 165-Grain PDX S40SWPDBC

The Winchester PDX threw off a single shard.

The Winchester load exhibited the greatest muzzle energy of any of the loads tested. At 1134 fps, velocity is high and consistent. The 155-grain Black Hills load was 1 fps faster on average. The PDX design features good expansion. Some weight was lost as a small petal would break off from the expanded bullet, but the solid mushroom pushed to 18 inches of penetration. Accuracy is good. While recoil was there with a power factor of 187, this is a formidable loading that maximizes the .40-inch bullet.



Federal Premium 40 S&W LE Tactical 180-Grain HST P40HST1

Quite a few bullets in the test were found in the outer edge of the third water jug, for 18 inches of penetration.

The HST is a purpose-designed hollow point intended for police use. As such, the bullet is designed to retain its weight and penetrate light cover. The HST exited the Cougar’s barrel at 955 fps. The HST expanded to 0.72 inch with consistency. Penetration in water was 18 inches.

The combination of quality control and a good balance of penetration and expansion makes this an outstanding load.



SIG Elite 40 S&W 180-Grain V Crown E40SW2-20

The V Crown bullet has given excellent results in many of our tests. The cartridge case is nickel plated. The bullet, manufactured by Sierra Bullets for SIG, features a wide hollow point and a soft lead bore. Velocity is good for a 180-grain bullet at 920 fps average. Accuracy is good. The bullet penetrated to 20 inches and expanded to 0.64 inch. This is a viable choice.



Speer G2 40 S&W 180-Grain 23999

Only one of the Speer Gold Dot G2 loads exhibited a semblance of expansion. We speculate that it needed more velocity to expand.

The new generation Gold Dot is designed to increase penetration of the original Gold Dot for police/military/institutional use. This load does that, but we feel at the expense of expansion. This load is rated at 1000 fps. At 960 fps from the 3.6-inch-barrel Stoeger pistol, penetration was severely curtailed. At least that is our explanation for its poor expansion performance. Penetration averaged 36 inches. A single example reached 0.52 inch expansion, but others, and we tested this load more than the others to confirm that we had not had a singular expansion failure, expanded to around 0.46 inch. We rated this load down a full grade on expansion and another half grade on overpenetration.



The Bottom Line

We would deploy all but one of the loads tested. The Black Hills 155-grain JHP, Black Hills 140-grain TAC, and Winchester 165-grain PDX are at the top of the heap in terminal potential. For those wishing to use the traditional 180-grain bullet, both the SIG Sauer Elite and Federal HST loads are excellent. We were not able to single out a Best Buy as ammo prices have gone out the window. However, if there is a semblance of sanity in ammunition prices, the Federal Punch would seem to be a Best Buy.


  1. Ruger American Pistal in .45ACP
    Can it come with a threaded barrel and suppressor hight sights or is this onlet after market?

  2. Love the ammo reviews. Would you consider a comparison of several all-copper expanding (HP) offerings that compete with the Barnes TAC-XP bullet? I’m personally most interested in .380 copper HPs, but if there’s more to compare in 9mm, those results sould transfer (relatively) to .380.


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