The rise in popularity of the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge can be attributed to at least two characteristics of the cartridge. First, it delivers a payload nearly as wide as the venerable .45 ACP slug but at higher velocities, resulting in the delivery of more energy. Also, competitors in the practical shooting sports found they could fit more rounds of forty-cal into their pistols and still maintain the advantage of a major power factor, while their guns’ slide velocity increased, making it possible to fire successive rounds faster.
We recently tested three pistols that reflect these advancements: the Browning HP40, $608; the Glock Model 35, $775; and the Para-Ordnance 16-40 LDA, $760. In the early years of practical shooting competition called IPSC, an acronym for the International Practical Shooting Confederation, the Hi-Power in 9mm was very successful based on its accuracy and reliability. While it lacked the advantage of shooting “major,” wherein extra points are awarded for shooting more powerful loads, its competitor, the 1911 .45 ACP pistol, was having trouble with malfunctions. When Browning beefed up the Hi-Power frame to handle .40 S&W ammunition, it likely was to make the gun better for law enforcement and self-defense uses, but it had the salutary effect of making the gun even better for practical shooting. Likewise, the development of the LDA (light double-action) 1911 pistol from Para-Ordnance. The LDA model reduces the liabilities normally associated with single-action pistols.
Glock, on the other hand, has all but conquered the police market. The improvements it made to its full-size .40 frame created the Model 35, which takes aim at the IPSC competitor. When we took a careful look at these three pistols, we found that proponents of full-sized .40s have three action-ready pistols they can choose from.
Each of our test guns featured only a single mode of trigger action. The Browning Hi-Power is single-action only, but unlike the 1911 design, wherein the trigger slides straight back, the Hi-Power’s trigger is hinged. In fact all the guns in this test use a hinged trigger movement. This can be challenging to use since the trigger angle in relation to the pad of the finger is constantly changing.
The face of the Glock trigger is further complicated by a spring-loaded insert that acts as a safety. It must be compressed for the gun to fire. The Para-Ordnance LDA system pre-loads the hammer so only short strokes are needed to break a shot. However, the trigger movement forward is quite long and makes two distinct clicks as the trigger is first reset and then pre-loaded.
We had to adapt to these different trigger responses when firing these guns for accuracy from a sandbag rest at 25 yards. To challenge the stopwatch during multiple target drills, we set up three Millpark cardboard targets at a distance of 36 feet spaced 6 feet from edge to edge. The Millpark is a silhouett-style target that resembles a torso and head. The preferred hit area is the A-zone, which corresponds to center of mass on a human. This zone is a rectangle that measures 11 inches high by 6 inches wide.
The test procedure here was upon audible command raise the gun from low ready and hit the A-zone on the three successive targets in the shortest time possible. Timing was done with a Competition Electronics Pocket Pro timer. We tried a series of five runs counting one hit on each target and another five runs requiring two hits on target. For this session we used the Winchester 180-grain FMJ ammunition exclusively. The purpose was to test sight acquisition, trigger response, recoil and recovery time. These are three main elements of practical shooting competition. They also happen to be a very good gauge of how shootable a gun is.
Here’s what we learned about how the guns performed:
Browning Hi-Power 40
Our recommendation: Buy it. This gun is a little muzzle-light, but we like this proven design. It is highly competent.
Though the Hi-Power brand seems latent, if the amount of marketing done for the gun is any indication, we had no trouble finding a suitable pistol for our test. Actually, we had our choice of models at two different gun shops that included pistols with two-tone finishes and adjustable target sights.
We chose this basic model with black finish and combat sights (windage adjustable by drift only) to match up more closely to our other two subjects. Little did we know our GL35 would be shipped with a fully adjustable rear sight.
The HP40 features a white “three-rectangle” (not three-dot) system. We found this arrangement to be extremely easy to see, and the front sight is nice and thin. The slide features rear serrations only, and an external extractor is used. The safety is ambidextrous, but the mag release is for the right-hand thumb only, as is the slide release. Left-handed shooters would need to release the mag with the trigger finger. The plastic grips are comfortable for either hand, since the channel at the top of the grip will accept either the thumb or the trigger finger as needed. This gun features a double-stack magazine with the rounds in the grip piling up in a staggered design. The magazine can’t help but shoot out smartly upon release because a spring-loaded lever is built into the bottom of the magazine. The supplied mags say they are made in Italy, and we suspect the manufacturer is Mec-Gar. Our HP40 would only stow the civilian maximum of 10, but 13-round magazines are still available from GT Distributing, (706) 866-2764.
The Hi-Power will not fire, nor will the hammer drop without a magazine in place. At times we felt this was a safety hazard. For example, whenever we had finished firing and pulled back the slide to inspect the chamber, the hammer would naturally stay back once the slide was released. At this point you have to insert a magazine to lower the hammer. If a bad guy attempts to grab the gun from its rightful owner, he can release the mag to make the gun safe. But we found making it safe between strings of fire to be tiresome, if not confusing.
In performance, this gun was 100 percent reliable. With the shortest barrel of the three test guns (4.7 inches versus 5.2 inches for the Glock and 5.0 inches for the Para), it was only a couple of ticks down in velocity from its two rivals.
While the more recently designed Glock and Para-Ordnance favored lighter ammunition, this older design averaged 2.5 inches or under with the more common 180-grain slugs in either truncated cone or jacketed hollowpoint. The trigger broke cleanly and consistently at 8.5 pounds. We consider this to be too heavy for a single-action gun, and we felt it did adversely affect our bench rest results. Firing from a standing position in our practical test, the consistency and short movement of the action proved more important than weight of pull. Our test shooter recorded the fastest series of hits of all three pistols with the HP40 in both the three- and six-shot drills, and he credited the available sight picture for the success. He felt that although this gun recoiled more than the others, the sight picture was more easily recognized, and the gun was also faster to point from target to target. Elapsed time for one shot on each target from low ready ranged from 1.59 to 1.80 seconds. The other three runs were timed at 1.69, 1.75 and 1.78 seconds respectively, with a total of fourteen out of fifteen possible A-zone hits. The subsequent drill of two shots on each target yielded ETs of 2.4 to 2.7 seconds with a total of 25 out of 30 possible A-zone hits.
One key to recording a fast run was to begin action on the very “edge” of the start signal. In the case of the Browning, one also needs to smoothly let off the safety on the way up to the target.
Para-Ordnance LDA 16-40
Our recommendation: Buy it. The $775 LDA puts high capacity (16+1) together with the safety of a revolver. Law-enforcement personnel might want to take a long look at this well executed alternative to pistols with more than one trigger or those with no true mechanical safeties.
It used to be that police officers had a choice of sidearm and could carry whichever pistol or revolver they were comfortable with. Today, sacrifices have been made to ensure reliability and reduce departmental liability. Careful scrutiny of trigger design versus the effect of motor skills under high levels of stress have forced departments to discourage officers carrying fine single-action pistols. The result has been a proliferation of pistols with long trigger pulls necessary to break the first shot, and, perhaps, reduced ability of officers to protect themselves. Mechanically, we now see “traditional double-action” pistols that flip from a long, often poorly defined, double-action pull to a fine and fast single action for follow-up shots. Most pistols of this design present a confusing transition that adds up to lower levels of accuracy.
The Para-Ordnance LDA series pistols are a viable compromise, in our view. By pre-loading the firing mechanism, the initial double action is light and trigger movement is short. The feedback prior to the first shot is not vague. We always knew exactly where we were and what we had to do to break a shot or abort the attempt. We felt safe handling the gun at all times and had to remind ourselves to continue to use the thumb safety, which is available without a change of grip just like on a single-action 1911. Besides the thumb safety, a beavertail grip safety must also be depressed for the gun to fire. In fact, the slide cannot be manually cycled without depressing the grip safety. One other difference between the single-action 1911 and the LDA action: Cocking must be done by moving the slide back. Thumbing the hammer can damage the firing mechanism and void the warranty.
The LDA system is available in pistols with barrel lengths from 3.5 to 5 inches and handles calibers from 9mm to .45 ACP. Our big 5-inch forty is more suited to open carry than concealment, so we see this frame size mainly as a candidate for home defense, military or law enforcement. Para-Ordnance is made in Canada, so the ten-round magazine in our test is a concession to U.S. laws. The 9mm model, for example, can fit 18+1 in official dress.
To fit so many rounds, the Para-Ordnance frame is wide in the grip frame to make room for a double-stack magazine. That the Paras are too wide for smaller hands is a common complaint, our P16-40’s width was magnified by an arched mainspring housing. However, thinner grip panels are available. Furthermore, this is an all-steel gun, and the grip frame itself can be reduced without weakening the gun. We are sure Para-Ordnance shudders at these words, but Ted Bonnet, a man with smallish hands, reigned over IPSC for six years employing a variety of frame modifications to his P16.
While our Para-Ordnance P16-40 finished a close second to the Glock 35 in accuracy, it did tie the GL35 for smallest group overall (1.1 inches). On average the Para was about one-third inch behind from the bench firing the two defense-oriented rounds from Black Hills and Speer. All three guns had their best results at 25 yards with the 180-grain JHP from Black Hills, (605) 348-5150.
We noticed during the benchrest session that the Para’s front dot appeared oval-shaped. This is an optical illusion created by the dot riding on the ramped front sight without being inlaid perpendicular to the horizon. During the practical test our test shooter said he concentrates on the upper edge of the front sight anyway, so he ignores the dots. He did find the Browning’s white rectangle helpful because it ran to the top edge of the front blade.
Results from our practical test were what we expected when comparing Browning’s true single-action pistol with the longer stroked Glock 35 and Para-Ordnance LDA. Over the five strings requiring one hit per target, results were nearly the same for all three guns. The Para was very easy to shoot in this drill, and elapsed times ranged from 1.70 to 1.82 seconds. Hits were also consistent, 15 A-Zoners out of 15 shots.
The difference between the HP40 and the longer-action pistols are evident in the results for the LDA over the course of the six-shot drills. Elapsed time for the Para ballooned to 2.8 to 3.3 seconds, as the forward motion to reset the trigger became crucial, perhaps more complicated than the trigger press itself. But with the extra time to steer the front sights, the tester landed 27 hits out of 30 in the A-zone.
Glock Model 35
Our recommendation: Buy it. On this model, Glock added an adjustable rear sight, extended mag and slide releases, a slicked-up trigger, and they even snuck in some much needed extra weight under the muzzle of its 5.2-inch barrel. This is one of the best Glocks we’ve ever shot.
Low-slung and stretch-limousine long, this is a Glock pistol with charm. Our GL35 gave us more confidence than any Glock pistol in recent memory. Maybe it is the 7.6 inches of sight radius that aided the ability to point and shoot. Perhaps it was power and precision. The GL35 produced the most muzzle energy, the most velocity, and the most accuracy of the trio, and we had fun doing it. Accuracy from 25 yards averaged just 1.3 inches firing the Black Hills 180-grain JHP, and only 1.4 inches firing the Speer 165-grain GDHP. Five-shot groups from the Winchester ammo measured an average of 2.5 inches for the HP40, 2.3 for the Para-Ordnance, and 2.2 inches from the Glock. We had no occasion to adjust the rear sight for either windage or elevation, since the gun was dead on out of the box.
Nonetheless, we think the front-sight blade is much too wide. With the gun’s long sight radius, we do not feel that the huge white dot nor a 0.150-inch-wide blade is necessary. The rear-sight assembly is dovetailed in, but it remains in low profile, riding a mere 0.160 inches above the slide. In comparison, the Para’s rear sights stand almost 0.23 inches tall. The rear notch is the familiar white U-shaped aperture, but this one rides back and forth, up and down within a solid frame. This arrangement reminds us of the Colt Python rear sight, wherein the actual blade is protected from impact.
Other features include a molded in sight rail under the dust cover. The slide has two curious features; one is a cutaway area just behind the front sight. This is to offer the option of porting the barrel. One of the reasons why this gun is easier to control during recoil is the additional weight on the forward portion of the slide, which serves as a channel for the plastic guide rod. The addition of a steel guide rod may be a good way to bring even more recoil-fighting weight to the front end. Magazine capacity for our pistol reflected the civilian limit of ten, making it a natural competitor in the United States Practical Shooting Association’s (USPSA) Limited 10 division. Law-enforcement magazines carry up to 15 rounds of .40 caliber Smith & Wesson.
During the practical test, the Glock was competitive with three-shot strings of 1.96, 1.71, 1.74, 1.67, and 1.68 seconds respectively. Where time might have been lost negotiating the longer trigger pull, the lack of a mechanical safety let the shooter concentrate on staging the trigger. In the six-shot drill where two hits are required on each target, the combination of staging the trigger and tracking the long sight radius made for times of 2.5 to 2.8 seconds. This was slightly behind the ET of our runs with the Browning, but here we could get into a consistent rhythm of an average 2.7 seconds, and all 30 shots were A-zone hits.
Gun Tests Recommends
Browning HP40, $608. Buy. The Hi-Power, despite its low market profile, is a satisfying gun to own, and with its history, there are enough aftermarket parts and refinements to hold its owner’s interest. For single-action-only fans, this would be our first choice. Also, if you plan to carry any of these three concealed, this gun will work best, in our view.
Para-Ordnance P16-40 LDA, $760. Buy. The P16-40LDA has the potential for very high capacity (it comes with a coupon for one high-cap pre-ban mag) and softens the liability of a single-action trigger while retaining two separate mechanical safeties. We ran it as hard as we could and couldn’t break it or make it malfunction. If you always liked the 1911 pistol but feared cocked-and-locked carry, we’d take this pistol over the other two.
Glock Model 35, $775. Buy. Even the Glock doubters on our staff liked this gun. We’d still like to see an external thumb safety, but this model does offer Glock’s best ergonomics yet. It could be a sleeper as a police sidearm, but for fun shooting, you can grab one, get to a practical match, and be competitive. If you already own Glocks, buy this gun before the others. You won’t be disappointed.