July 2005

.40s From Kahr, Sigarms, S&W: Should You Pick DA-SA or DAO?

Kahrís P40 shot fast, and Sigís new Sig Pro 2340 worked, but Smith & Wessonís SW40SV required a strong trigger finger.

The Kahr (on top) was big enough for the .40 S&W round, we thought. Its smaller grip will fit more hands than the fatter Sig at the left or the S&W SW40VE, right. The Sig was a tackdriver, but we thought fast DA/SA pairs would take lots of practice. They were second nature with the simple and swift Kahr. The S&W was the same size as the Sig, but sat lower in the hand.

The logical step up from the 9mm, for those who want more power — shy of the .45 — is the .40 S&W. It’s better than the 9mm for self defense, but ammo will generally be more costly than either 9mm or .45 ACP, something you might consider. With all the various types and configurations of handguns out there, the .40 buyer will be swamped with choices. For this test we chose two pistols of normal size and a slightly smaller one. They were the new Sig SP 2340 with DA/SA trigger, and the Kahr P40 and Smith & Wesson SW40 VE, both DAO. None of these guns had a safety, making them sort of “flat revolvers.” With ammo in the chamber, pull the trigger and they’ll fire. The shooter must be aware that whenever a round is in the chamber, the gun can be fired whether or not the magazine is in place. These guns all require thoroughly alert shooters, and the guns must never be put down casually with a round in the chamber. They all delivered, but one gave us more than the others. Here’s what we found.

Kahr P40 .40 S&W, $707

This gun felt just great to us. We liked its small size, and the grip was outstandingly comfortable. The grip serrations helped control the gun. The P40 was all matte black, with a polymer frame and a blackened stainless-steel slide. The dovetailed sights were clearly visible, without tritium (optional), but with white markings to help pick them up. A few sharp edges and angles here and there needed to be touched up with a file, notably at the ejection port. The slide serrations made for easy cocking/chambering. The gun would fire with the six-shot magazine removed. A second, seven-shot, magazine came with the gun. It had an extension that would add to the bulk. A while back we tested the Kahr PM-40, which was mighty small for the .40 S&W round. This one was more like it, for that power level, we thought. Still, we expected this light and relatively small gun to kick us, and we were not disappointed.

Like all Kahrs, the striker would drop once only, and would need to be recocked by cycling the slide if a round misfires. We actually prefer this feature to multiple drops, because if the round is bad, the trick is to get it out of the gun right away. The Kahr’s controls were simple — a 6.9-pound trigger to make it fire, no manual safety, a slide-lock/takedown lever, and a magazine-release button. That’s it. Workmanship was excellent. There were minimal holes for dirt to enter, and not much to go wrong. Takedown was fairly easy. Inside, we found few parts and very good workmanship. Reassembly required learning a knack, and then was easy.


the range

we felt the recoil of each shot more with the Kahr than with either of the other two guns. Accuracy slow-fire was not great, but we thought it was adequate. All shots could easily be covered with the hand at 15 yards. There were some abysmal groups, over 4 inches, but many groups had one shot outside the cluster and four within 2 inches of each other. Perhaps it would group better with more shooting. This particular Kahr was not a target gun. We had to work to get it to group well.

But fast pairs were another story altogether. The Kahr came into its own immediately when we commenced shooting it at the limits of our ability to shoot fast. With almost no effort we found we could clump fast pairs from seven yards into groups as small as we had just fired slow-fire. We tried this with all the test ammo and the Kahr greatly impressed us with its “combat” ability. Without question, the Kahr P40 would be our first choice of these three .40 S&Ws for self-defense use, and we would shoot something else for fun.

Sig SP 2340 .40 S&W, $640

This pistol had a polymer frame marked “Made in Switzerland,” and the frame had a matte-black finish that matched the slide. This was a big, bulky gun that had its barrel high above the hand. Specifically, the Sig’s barrel was an inch above our hand, compared with the Kahr’s half inch. The fat Sig grip held a 10-round, Italian-made magazine. Sig uses the identical magazine for both .357 Sig and .40 S&W in this design. The grip was a quarter-inch greater in girth than the S&W SW40VE, which held 14 rounds. The Sig came with an alternate grip that could be changed in seconds by pressing a plastic button within the magazine well. The alternate grip had rubberized surfaces instead of roughened panels. We shot it with the roughened panels.

The fixed, dovetailed sights were well configured and contained tritium inserts. The gun, we learned, hit precisely where it looked, so there was no need for sight alterations. In fact, all three guns were close enough that sight adjustment wasn’t a consideration. The Sig’s double-action trigger broke at 9.5 pounds, and the excellent two-stage single-action trigger broke cleanly at 5.5. The rear of the ejection port had some sharp edges that we’d attend to if we owned this pistol. The remainder of the gun was smooth enough for holster or hand. There was a light rail incorporated into the slide beneath the muzzle. Also, the magazine release can be reversed for lefties.

Workmanship was outstanding everywhere. The gun had a clean, professional look that smacked of quality. The simple controls all worked well, but we questioned their placement. The slide release was behind the decocker, and fast reloading would require the shooter to remember to go for the rear-most lever, not the decocker, to drop the slide on a fresh magazine. As noted, there was no safety on the gun. With a round in the chamber, a pull on the trigger would fire it, magazine in or out. We thought this setup was just fine, as long as the owner understands it thoroughly.

On the range, the Sig impressed us immensely when fired single action. We tested with Black Hills 180-grain JHP, Federal Hydra-Shok 135-grain JHP, and Cor-Bon 135-grain JHP. All shots from all three test loads landed very close to the point of aim, and all groups were excellent. When we did our part, the Sig seemed capable of putting all shots inside an inch at 15 yards. Not many pistols can make that claim. However, when we tried this gun against the two others in fast pairs from 7 yards, it was a different story altogether. It took great concentration to keep the first DA shot anywhere near the second SA shot, and it clearly would take lots of practice to get to where we could do this reliably under pressure. By comparison, it was ridiculously easy to do this with the Kahr, despite its greater felt recoil. The Kahr’s trigger setup lent itself easily, we thought, to such “combat” shooting, and was better for that purpose than the Sig. So was the Smith, despite its problems, detailed below.

Smith & Wesson SW40VE, $379

The Smith SW40 was two-tone, with matte-black polymer frame and silvery-finished steel slide. There was a light rail beneath the muzzle. The gun was DAO, like the Kahr. Like the Kahr, the striker was dropped only once, and had to be recocked before it would drop again. The gun sat well down in the hand, unlike the Sig. It was about the same size as the Sig, noticeably lighter, and held more rounds (14 + 1). The Smith had a small plastic front sight stuck into the slide, and another plastic one dovetailed at the back. There were three white dots. We’d have liked a wider cut in the rear sight, to let us define the front sight faster. The gun had a takedown mechanism similar to that of a Glock. Inside, everything looked good, including steel inserts for the slide rails. The slide stop was a stamping, but cleverly made and stout enough.

Our first impression of this SW40VE was a good one. We liked the look, feel, and balance of the gun. The barrel sat low in the hand, and as it proved, recoil did not cause excess muzzle flip, which was notably less than with the Sig. Some may have trouble with the magazine release, because the off side protrudes right where some like to keep their finger. We liked the ambidextrous recesses in the moulded frame for the trigger finger. We liked the big, easy-to-load, 14-round magazine. The grip of the gun was very comfortable for all our shooters. We did find some holes where dirt would enter with ease, at the back of the gun and along the bottom of the slide on the left side. Then we tried the DAO trigger. Suffice to say, this gun will not fire until you are doggoned ready and determined for it to fire. We’ve seldom encountered as heavy a trigger pull on a semiauto pistol as this Smith had. It was right at 12 pounds. On the good side, it was consistent, and the hinged trigger was comfortable to the hand. This poor trigger was unfortunate, because the gun seemed to have outstanding accuracy.

We thought workmanship was very good, and in some areas excellent. The ejection port needed a file, just like the other two guns, but the rest of the gun was smooth enough. The only controls were the slide stop, the trigger, and the magazine release, and they all were in the right place and -- save the trigger -- worked well. We had a bit of trouble loading the last few rounds into the magazine, but practice made it easier. Two mags came with the gun, same for all three.

Gun Tests Recommends
• Kahr P40, $707. Our Pick. We liked the look, feel, and especially the rapid-fire potential of the P40 far better than either of the other two test guns, and because this gun excelled at that important function, we rated it higher than the other two. We would not hesitate to choose the Kahr P40 for self-defense, of these three pistols. It’s small, light, easily concealed, fully functional, and easy to hit with under pressure, we found.

We suspect a search of all the many types of .40 S&W ammo available would provide somewhat better accuracy than we experienced, if tin-can busting is high on your list of intended uses for the gun. But for self-defense, we doubt you can beat the potential of the Kahr. We tried one of our 1911s in rapid fire next to the Kahr, being in fairly good training with it, and found the hit success to be well matched. We were not in training with the Kahr at all. Street prices for the Kahr should save you a big bunch over the MSRP listed.

• Sig SP 2340, $640. Buy It. We would not choose the Sig SP 2340 as a first-line, self-defense pistol. There are better solutions for that task, we believe.

However, we thought the Sig would be an ideal fun gun, a fine choice for the Sunday shooter. We liked the Sig’s great accuracy, excellent SA trigger, low felt recoil, and precision mechanism.

But fast DA/SA pairs were not easy, and we didn’t like the high barrel position, which gave the gun a top-heavy look and, to some extent, feel. Hand cocking was also not easy with the Sig. The stubby, poorly serrated hammer with its stiff spring wanted to slip out from under our thumb. We thought the Sig was a better choice than the others for casual shooting, but for self-defense, we didn’t much like it. We think those with small hands won’t like it either. Sig does offer a conversion to DAO, at a cost of $120, and you may want to look into that. We found 2340s on the Internet at extremely low prices, so look around before you buy.

• Smith & Wesson SW40VE, $379. Buy It. There were no malfunctions with the Smith. We had great difficulty with our target testing because of the 12-pound trigger. Despite that, we regularly got 2-inch groups; plenty good enough, we thought, for whatever you’d want to do with this pistol, though it was no fun to shoot deliberately.

We liked the looks of the gun, its low placement in the hand, its simple functionality, its reliability and accuracy, and its relatively low price. If it had a decent trigger, say 8 pounds, we’d love this gun. We tried it rapid fire, and it worked way better than we’d hoped. The great pressure on the trigger probably compensated for some of the recoil, and we found we were able to shoot it very fast with good accuracy. In that respect it performed better than the Sig.

But for the weekend tin-can buster, this .40 S&W gun would be a total loss, we thought. However, the relatively low price of the Smith might make a trigger job an attractive option.