Best .40 S&W Ammo [2018]: Self Defense & Target Practice

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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

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Best .40 Ammo for Self-Defense & Target

.40 S&W AmmoNotePenetrationExpansion
Remington 180 gr Ultimate DefenseOverall Best: Defense15.5".79"
Winchester 165 gr Ranger BondedLess Kick: Defense16.9".72"
PMC 165/180 grPersonal Fav: RangeN/AN/A
PMC 165/180 grMost Affordable: RangeN/AN/A

Read on to see the criteria we used to choose them…plus the best places to buy them for cheap.

Best .40 S&W Ammo for Self-Defense

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.

Learn more about all the popular handgun calibers here.

Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest
Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest

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:

1. Winchester 180 gr Ranger Bonded

A newer round from Winchester that 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.

  • 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 depth is good for 165 gr .40 rounds, along with impressive expansion and fast velocity.

  • 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.

  • 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

Now 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.

Blazer Brass .40
Blazer Brass .40

What do you think of Blazer?

Readers' Ratings

4.94/5 (134)

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6. PMC – Assorted – 165/180 gr FMJ

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

PMC .40
PMC .40

Conclusion

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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David LIra CohenROSS W BAKERWalter E Beverly IIIDavid Recent comment authors
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Ira Cohen
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Ira Cohen

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

David, PPT Editor
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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.

Walter E Beverly III
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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.

Paul
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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!!!

David, PPT Editor
Admin

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… Read more »

B.
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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.

John H
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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 ?

ROSS W BAKER
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ROSS W BAKER

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.