In this article, I am aware that I will undoubtedly make statements and point out things that are opinions. The views and opinions stated in this article my own. I speak only on my behalf and not for the writers of Spotter Up. These opinions and statements are based off my own unique experiences and research. Any disagreements you have with this article should be brought to me alone and not at Spotter Up.
The most popular round in the world is 9mm NATO, without a doubt. Many people think this is the best round of all time for a long list of reasons that I tend to disagree with. Most recently, I have decided that 40 S&W is the round for me. I recognize that it is not a caliber everyone would decide on, but I will attempt to discuss why I decided to switch my round of choice to the .40 S&W.
Let me just be clear here, I am not going to talk about exterior ballistics of the 9mm compared to the .40 caliber, but instead I am going to discuss the terminal performance of the two rounds in question. Though, part of the conversation has to do with the exterior ballistics such as velocity at different ranges and how that affects the effective threshold of these rounds. I personally would say that ballistic performance against a human attacker is the main consideration when I am choosing a caliber for my defensive pistols, and the 9mm just doesn’t cut it in this arena.
First thing to note is that bullet technology has indeed increased the effectiveness of the 9mm from years prior. But let us not forget that bullet technology cannot change the laws of physics. Much like small-caliber rifle rounds, the 9mm is negatively effected by increased velocity that the bullets were designed to function optimally in. Things like Underwood ammunition is known for being high pressured and high velocity. The problem I have seen is that manufacturers like these are taking bullets designed for a certain velocity and they are trying to push the effectiveness of the round with velocity. Basically they are thinking that greater velocity can generate better results, which is not really the case. Again, when you push a round outside of its’ designed expansion threshold, slower or faster, you are going to start experiencing problems. There are just certain limitations to the capabilities of 9mm in terms of expanding the effectiveness, especially when you toy around with velocities. I have not seen many good improvements in performance when companies push bullet designs beyond their originally designed velocities. This even goes for loads like Gold Dot 124+P. This bullet is able to handle the velocities very well, and has a wide expansion threshold, but when its’ light weight, smaller size in length, width, and increased velocity encounter a barrier or even a consistent medium like gel, we immediately see that the aggressive expansion hinders it’s ability to penetrate. Unless it fails to expand, the bullet generally suffers from over expansion, defeating the deep penetration goal of the bullet. Unless increased range or a shorter barrel is going to slow down the projectile, I am afraid that the performance of the round will suffer. But increased velocity on this and any load, regardless of expansion, are subject to other issues as well.
The main issue that the 9mm is always going to suffer from, like anything that is generally small, light, and hauling ass, is deviation on contact with a solid or semi-solid barrier. Generally, the heavier the round(9mm)is, the less the deviation and effect on velocity. Rounds like the .45 ACP are not immune to this problem just because it is heavy. It is already moving slow, and when you lower the velocity of a big and slow object, a hard barrier, can have a great effect on the trajectory. There is no projectile that is truly immune to this, through I would say that rounds like the .40 S&W and the 10mm do not generally fall victim to deviation in comparison. Bullets like this seem to strike a fine balance in terms of weight and velocity in which they perform much better through solid and semi-solid barriers.
With the complex issues of deviation that are generally seen across the board with lighter bullets, coupled with the added issues presented by barriers externally and internally, such as bone, I have realized that the claims of reliable penetration are not good enough. Think about it, you get 5 center of mass hits on an attacker and they all have the proper trajectory to hit the heart as long as it can bust through the bone to stay on course. Generally speaking, even a heart shot won’t immediately stop a determined attacker, but it will start a countdown to effective neutralization of their capacity to be a threat. But consider the issues of the 9mm and how much deviation you can suffer, even with optimal performance and penetration. You could very well miss your end target with any number of those precious rounds, whereas with the .40, and even the .45, you will suffer less of this risk. 5 rounds may be all you can deliver with any caliber before you have to go hands on. Wouldn’t you be willing to make certain sacrifices to give yourself the best chance of starting that countdown and shortening that window of the threat being able to continue to cause harm?
I am not saying that there are not 9mm projectiles out there that do not suffer from this deviation issue. I have found that Remington Goldensabers in 9mm can be extremely effective when placed in the proper conditions. I usually find that the bonded 147 grain variety out barrel lengths greater than 4″ works best through most conditions in terms of less deviation through a variety of barriers and mediums while also getting deeper penetration than most other HP designs out there. The 124+P variety Goldensabers tend to perform well through barrel lengths of 3.5″ and 4″, but not without suffering from greater deviation than its heavier counterpart from longer barrels. This really can be credited to bullet design.
Of course, this conversation can come down to bullet design and enhancing the consistency by toying with materials, shapes, and combined construction methods to achieve the desired result. 9mm is praised alot these days with having benefited from advanced bullet design. That is true, but the effects of deviation can only be delayed or prevented so much when you consider the physics. You can design the bullets to penetrate deeper and stay more intact through hard barriers, but we have yet to be capable of changing the laws of physics. There are always going to be limitations, and bullet design, unfortunately has not advanced enough to completely eliminate the shortcomings of the 9mm when compared to .40 S&W and even put it on a truly level playing field. Also keep in mind that all calibers have benefited from advanced bullet design, and have gained better capabilities in barrier penetration, consistency in different mediums, etc. 40 S&W in the same loading as 9mm is just basically always going to penetrate more, deviate less, and expand more. Picking one design and comparing it against another design is not a logical comparison in caliber difference.
The big argument people like to make in favor of the 9mm is that it has more capacity than the 40 S&W pistols in the same size. This apparently translates to having more rounds to take out more threats. Unfortunately, this is a bad thing to go off of solely, for any caliber. This argument goes right back to ballistic effectiveness. If you have an increased issue of deviation with 9mm and less with .40, then obviously, you are getting more EFFECTIVE performance out of the latter. As stated in the last section, if you get the same amount of rounds on target in the same general area, the 40 S&W is just going to perform better by defeating bone better, penetrating deeper, expanding more, and deviating less. This means that all things created equal, it is left to the bullet to perform in the body.
If your rounds fail to maintain a straight trajectory, then you are basically failing to have effective SHOT PLACEMENT, since the goal of placement is to deliver your rounds towards specific organs after passing through certain mediums like skin, muscle, fat, bone, organs, etc. For this simple reason, I will gladly take a couple less rounds if it means that I am not taking a risk that my well placed, and even lucky hits, are going to deviate from their original trajectory and fail to damage the intended and target organs. Basically, I am considering the chance that all my hits are going to count, and I am facing determined attackers. The more damage I can create by actually hitting my target organs, the less they will pose a threat. I choose the round that penetrates without deviation and expands more. Even if I hit 3/5 times, I will know that my rounds are going to do more damage as compared to the same load in 9mm if 3/5 bullets manage to hit the target organs. Will there be a noticeable difference, maybe not, but I want every advantage I can get, and ballistic effectiveness tends to be the best tie breaker for me in the capacity argument.
There are a couple of factors in shootability that are held against the .40 S&W more than 9mm or .45 ACP, and that is shootability. This basically means the ability to get rounds on target accurately and quickly. Most people like to claim that the follow-up shots of the 9mm are so much faster that it beats out the .40 S&W. I would also like to note that this comes out of the mouth of alot of individuals that fancy themselves and well-trained and skilled. That raises alot of questions in my mind such as if you are so skilled, why are you challenged by the .40 S&W? The common answer is that it is easier to get better with a 9mm than it is with the snappier .40 S&W. I don’t find that this argument holds much water. In every pistol I have fired in .40 S&W, the only difference I have noticed is that it has more felt recoil. I never noticed a dramatic difference in where the sights rested upon the slide fully cycling.
This means we are dealing with a mental block only. If someone fancies themselves as a highly experienced shooter, they should know that the shooting is a mental game and all about coordination. You are in control of the pistol the whole time and the only thing you need to do is get your sights where they need to be, and pull the trigger without moving the gun. That is it, and anticipation is merely a sign that the shooter does not have good self-control. It is not an insult, but it is true. And really, the recoil difference between the 9mm and the .40 S&W is not really enough for someone like myself. For people who do not practice but once a year, like military or LEOs, this could be an issue because shooting is a perishable skill. This is not an excuse for those who have the time to shoot at least once a month. These individuals have more chance to get immersed in the reality that shooting is about self-control. For this reason, I find the recoil argument to be lame at best. Not to mention that there are lots of designs that handle the recoil like a +P 9mm, in my experience.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The last subject I am going to talk about is the common argument that 9mm is the most available and affordable round, which allows for more training and practice, etc. Generally this is the case, and it is definitely true wherever I happen to go right now. It is not hard in Alaska to find a box of FMJ 9mm for about $12, whereas .40 S&W goes for about $15. If I were to buy in bulk here in Alaska, I would usually find 9mm to go for about $240 where .40 S&W goes for about $300, unless you get ammo in an all-too-common sale for .40 S&W. That kind of difference in price can be a good reason for someone not to want to stick with or go to .40 S&W. But this is not the case in the lower 48 states in CONUS. Most states allow you to order ammo online and get it shipped to your door for FREE. I don’t have that luxury here in Alaska, so I am subject to prices in stores and reloading. When you consider the fact that ordering online is inexpensive, you will see less of a difference in the price of bulk purchases. Usually I am only seeing a difference of $20 to $40 in most cases. This is not enough of a difference in price to justify the claim that you can train SOOOOO much more with 9mm. In the grand scheme of things, $40 is chump change in the gun world when buying in bulk.
I also want to take a journey back a few years to the time of the great gun panic and the politically driven scare that caused shortages of many popular calibers. I had a hard time finding the inexpensive ammo for 9mm, .223, 5.56, .45 ACP, etc. Even good defense ammo was somewhat hard to keep on shelves and in adequate supply until the next shipments arrived. It was literally a “get it while you can” scenario while also dealing with stores that limited ammo purchases to 3 boxes a customer or 1 bulk box per customer. Even reloading supplies disappeared if you did not get them first. I had a helluva time tracking down primers and powders mainly. This shortage literally stopped in February 2017. I started seeing a price drop in 9mm and every caliber after a few more months, and .22LR was back on shelves in bulk.
So let us not always think of these popular calibers as being guaranteed as being available and hard to find if we have a panic. I watched every popular caliber get cleared off the shelves of huge big box retailers the day people started fearing for their gun rights. Even the guns that fired these popular calibers went away. During these years, people would still say that the 9mm was popular and highly available, and all I would do is turn around from the gun counter and look at the empty shelves where not a single round of practice defensive ammo was to be found. But people will do what they want to do. The one caliber that I saw that was always available everywhere I went was .40 S&W.
In this article, I know that I am bound to get criticism from people with differing beliefs and opinions like the concern of maintenance and such, which is a whole other topic. All I can say is that you can verify my claims by looking at pretty much any gel testing, looking online at some of these online ammo retailers, and talk to people who shoot 9mm and .40 S&W. I have been looking at all the evidence for a while now, and I understand that I am swimming against the current on this decision, but perhaps you will see and understand my reasoning in this decision. My only regret is that I spent these years blindly believing and regurgitating the same phrases about 9mm.
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