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Best .40 S&W Ammo [2021]: Self Defense & Target Practice

Got your four-tay and want the best ammo possible?

Read on for the best recommendations of self-defense, concealed carry, and target ammo based on ballistics gel data.

Ballistics Gel Testing
Ballistics Gel Testing

Need the quick answer?

The Testing

Sometimes called the “short & weak” since it is a scaled-down 10mm round.  I prefer to think of the .40 as a “Goldilocks” round that is a step up in power from the more popular 9mm.

.40 S&W Round
.40 S&W Round

Learn more about all the popular handgun calibers here.

Popular Pistol Calibers
Popular Pistol Calibers

So how do we figure out what’s the best self-defense .40 ammo?  We look at Lucky Gunner that has done all the hard work for us in terms of testing and add in our own personal criteria.

Here the tests were set up to mimic the FBI’s protocol:

  • Shot at a distance of 10 ft
  • 4 layers of fabric: For a “worst case scenario” of the most heavily bundled up bad guy
4 Layers of Clothing
4 Layers of Clothing
  • Ideal penetration of 12-18 inches: Again, some Goldilocks thinking applies.  You want the bullet to enter a good amount but not so much that it exits the bad guy before it gets the chance to expand.  12 inches was chosen in case of thicker targets or if the round hits another body part first before entering the torso.
  • 5 Shots
  • Shorter barreled handgun: A longer barrel equals more velocity but most people carrying for self-defense are going with a shorter barreled handgun.  For the .40 S&W, the test was a Glock 27 with its 3.42″ barrel.
Glock 27 Size
Glock 27 Size

I stick with 165 gr and 180 gr since those are the two bullet weights that I shoot as target practice rounds.  And since we’re in self-defense mode, let’s make those jacketed hollow points (JHP) for maximum expansion and stopping power.

I tend to veer towards heavier rounds since I find the recoil a little more of a push than a snap.  But make sure you choose what you normally shoot and like!

Now…onto our favorites for self-defense.

Best .40 S&W Ammo

Best Self-Defense .40 S&W

1. Winchester 180 gr Ranger Bonded

A newer round from Winchester, the 180gr Ranger Bonded is showing off the latest in bullet technology.  Penetration distance is Goldilocks with great expansion and fast velocity.

  • Average Penetration: 16.9″
  • Average Expansion: .72″
  • Average Velocity: 930 ft/sec
180 Winchester Bonded Expansion
180 Winchester Bonded Expansion

2. Remington 180 gr Ultimate Defense

Penetration depth is good, one of the best expansions, and great velocity for a short barrel. Remington .40 S&W Ultimate Defense is a great option to have!

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Average Penetration: 15.5″
  • Average Expansion: .79″
  • Average Velocity: 977 ft/sec
180 Remington Expansion
180 Remington Expansion

3. Winchester 165 gr PDX-1

Penetration for the Winchester 165gr is good for the weight, along with impressive expansion and fast velocity.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Average Penetration: 14.6″
  • Average Expansion: .74″
  • Average Velocity: 1066 ft/sec
165 Winchester PDX-1 Expansion
165 Winchester PDX-1 Expansion

4. Winchester 165 gr Ranger Bonded

It’s a clean sweep for Winchester in the 165 gr category.  This is another of their newer rounds that displays great penetration, expansion, and velocity.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Average Penetration: 14.7″
  • Average Expansion: .77″
  • Average Velocity: 1098 ft/sec
165 gr Winchester Ranger Bonded Expansion
165 gr Winchester Ranger Bonded Expansion

Best .40 S&W Ammo for Target Practice

We’re back to target practice…where cost reigns supreme.

Of course, we’re choosing the ones that aren’t so cheap that they become a reliability factor.  We’ve shot a bunch of these in .40 and other calibers so we know the brands are good to go.  I lean towards brass casings so I can reload.

Try out the different weights for yourself to see what you like best.

5. Blazer Brass – Assorted – 165/180 gr FMJ

The cheapest brass-cased option…I’ve shot thousands of these through my 9mm and my buddy who shoots .40 has too.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What do you think of Blazer?

Readers' Ratings

4.93/5 (634)

Your Rating?

6. PMC – Assorted – 165/180 gr FMJ

My go-to brand for plinking…always goes bang and accurate enough!

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing


So there are our recommendations for the best .40 S&W ammo for both self defense and target practice.  What did you end up choosing and how does your gun like it?

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23 Leave a Reply

  • Ian

    If you use heavy for caliber. 40 or .45, that is 180 or 230 grain rounds. You're basically getting 9mm power out of the round. Around 350 ft/lbs. You get twice the energy out of velocity that you get out of mass until a certain optimal point and from there reducing mass to increase velocity reduces power.

    April 4, 2021 5:41 pm
    • GR


      Both the std. pressure .40/180 gr. and .45 ACP/230 gr., from service length barrels, is ~ 400 ft-lbs.

      Where as the std. pressure 9mm is ~ 350 for the 124 gr., and ~ 325 for the 147 gr.

      June 3, 2021 11:46 am
  • Leonid I Suvorov

    About defense rounds - I am surprised that Federal HST 180 grain LE (nickel plated) did not got on the list - from what I have seen so far that been solid and best round. Regard plinking rounds I am also surprised that I have not see Fiocchi 170 grain FMJ - very clean. very reliable, very predictable round and cheap

    October 11, 2020 6:25 pm
  • M.G.

    Good info here! I generally prefer a .45 acp which has never failed me and that's what I keep in my night stand. A few years back I started carrying a 9mm, since it's lighter and smaller for concealment. However, I'm thinking of switching over to the .40 since my carry 9mm failed to kill a racoon at the house one evening at about 7 feet with 124 grain JHP's. I had to shoot the darn thing twice and it still hung on for awhile. Can you guys do some more testing on higher velocity 180 grain bullets around the 1050fps range?

    December 19, 2018 1:19 am
    • joe

      im afraid barrel length is the problem with the velocity. you will need a 4 inch barrel for that. the 165gr listed here will go 1100+ fps in a 4inch gun. the 180 will get slightly over 1000 around 1038 is max ive seen them. but these round still go deep as the weight of them keeps momentum longer. i use pdx1 in 165 and 180 for carry. i would like the rangers but they are so hard to find.

      January 10, 2019 9:03 am
    • Steven

      Go with Underwood. Their stuff is so hot that it often actually over expands and overpenetrates in lighter loads. So the heavier loads are the sweet spot with them.

      May 29, 2019 11:26 am
    • Kevin Coats

      May I make a suggestion? If you are going .40 check out the HK P30, V3 or LEM variant or HK VP40. Both shoot with the recoil of a .380 and are deadly accurate even with little training. Plus, the prices have dropped drastically to the affordable category. I purchased a HK P30v3 in .40 for 499.99, came with 4 different side panels and back straps to fit any hand and two 13 round mags in a HK case. I am not a fan boy of any manufacturer but if the weapon is OTB capable and can own it without breaking the bank...SOLD!

      February 17, 2020 9:16 am
  • Ira Cohen

    what's wrong with Hornady's critical defense loads, Gloden saber, HST for my G-27?

    September 13, 2018 1:02 pm
    • David L

      Nothing? Hornady Critical Defense, Golden Saber, and HST are all very good rounds. I personally load the Hornady Critical Defense in all of my 9mm and 45 ACP guns.

      September 13, 2018 3:00 pm
    • Steven

      Remember that this article was about best VALUE ammo. The writer's advice is skewered towards that, rather than prestige or style.

      Federal Premium is, well, PREMIUM, and therefore tends to be expensive. It also tends to be slow and low-energy for caliber, which means underexpansion and often underpenetration. In 2018 it introduced its Hydra Shok Deep line featuring deeper penetration than before, but all this accomplished was to finally achieve consistent penetration satisfactory to the FBI standard. Wow, what an accomplishment for a brand that has been so expensive and hyped for so long. (I suppose that makes standard Hydra Shok "Hydra Shok Shallow", then?)

      At least speaking for 10mm, the Critical products are slow and weak. They underpenetrate, big time. 11inches from a standard barrel, and 14inches from a 6 inch, without even encountering any significant barrier beyond clothing. Again, overpriced and overhyped.

      My money is on Hornady XTP's. Consistent velocity, expansion, penetration, and bullet jacket integrity even when sped up by Underwood.

      May 29, 2019 2:57 pm
    • Jason

      Nothing. Shoot what you and your gun likes.

      November 28, 2019 6:30 pm
  • Walter E Beverly III

    Please tell me you are kidding! PMC? That stuff burns dirtier than coal. IT leaves carbon deposits in the mechanism and is the dirties amo on the market. Please revise.

    August 22, 2018 6:20 pm
    • Steven

      Yeah, I agree. I shoot 10mm instead of 40, and I use Sellier & Bellot. Burns clean and requires very little cleaning after. Cheapest I've been able to find too. Sometimes it's stalemate MagTech is a penny less per round, but it burns dirtier.

      May 29, 2019 11:19 am
    • Leonid I Suvorov

      Yes it is kind of dirty but not horribly dirty - it always go bang, no jam, no misfire, no problem with ejection

      October 11, 2020 6:30 pm
  • Paul

    Maybe test G2 Research's RIP bullet. They run almost twice the cost of even BJHP defense ammo, but look like they'd stop just about anything with a shot or 2. If you do test it, see if there is any barrel damage from the bullet, looks like it could happen. Safe and happy shooting!!!

    June 4, 2018 9:19 pm
    • David

      I haven't used the 40S&W version but I've toyed around with the 9mm. It wasn't impressive. I had feeding issues on 3 different guns, magazines are annoying to load, and the wounds to gel didn't seem to be any more damaging than normal HP rounds.

      They also cost a stunning amount. My normal devensive ammo is Hornady Critical Defense, costs around 70-80cents per round when I get it. The box of G2 RIP I bought cost 1.90 a round. At that price, the bullet better aim itself.

      It is impossible for the rounds to damage a barrel, the rounds are pure copper - significantly softer metal than any pistol barrels.

      June 5, 2018 6:31 am
  • B.

    Ever test any of underwoods xtreme penetrators or defenders? not cheap, but i plan on getting some to try in my p-09 soon. Also I want to try some HST's. I will try to acquire some win rangers after reading this review and briefly researching them. Thank you for this Eric.

    May 20, 2018 12:42 am
  • John H

    Have you found any problems with all above in a Sub-Compact like the S&W MP 40 Shield M2.0 Centerfire Pistol ?

    March 25, 2018 10:00 am

      Anything less than 180g causes my Shield 40 to feed jam about every 5-6 rounds. With 180 JHP or ball ammo it is flawless.

      September 2, 2018 6:47 pm
      • Dave Schlick

        very lightly grease the slide grooves/and male counter part, with a que tip and some white lithium grease, just a slight amount. This can get the gun working, maybe not but sure did fix my semiautos more than once.. a small can will last you a lifetime.. This can speed the forward motion quite a bit. also wipe the bullet feed ramp on the barrel with some solvent on a rag..Alot of fouling could be the culpris.. Every once in a while the wrong bullet nose shape wont work in a semi id like to use, so you have to change bullets in that case. dave

        April 4, 2020 7:28 pm
  • Russell

    135 Gr. Corbon.

    October 20, 2016 5:06 pm
  • Joseph

    You forgot one try the civil defense round by Liberty

    September 26, 2016 9:33 am
    • ehung

      Hi Joseph, thanks for the tip. Haven't heard of them yet but I'll keep an eye out!

      September 29, 2016 4:59 pm