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40 S&W VS. 45 ACP
Ammunition Review

By Dan S. Defense


Modern Day Bullet Design Vs. John Moses Browning's 1904 Bullet

You want the very best self defense ammunition. But how do you know which ammo is best? After all, you can only choose one type of self defense ammo for your primary self defense handgun.

In this article we'll look at the 45 ACP and 40 Smith and Wesson to see which is better for your needs. We'll look at what each caliber has to offer, examine the performance of high end self defense ammunition and offer specific recommendations.

The 45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) was designed by John Browning for the 1911. It was created back in 1904 and has been used in most military conflicts since then. Read that is proven in real life. The 45 ACP is a relatively heavy and slow bullet. That means that with normal pressure (i.e. not +P) the 45 ACP, when fired out a full size 1911, offers relatively low recoil.

As far as size is concerned, the 45 ACP bullet has a diameter of .452 inch which is 11.5 mm. Keep that number in mind since we'll refer to it when we look at the 40 S&W bullet. We also need to mention that the 45 ACP is heavier and comes in a fairly big cartridge.

The 40 S&W was developed by Smith & Wesson and Winchester for law enforcement use, sometime in 1990. Two factors contributed to its design. The first was the lethal and famous 1986 shootout in Miami, where FBI agents and police faces superior firepower from well armed bank robbers, while finding that their own weapons were inferior. That event forever changed the way law enforcement looked at ammunition and drove both innovation and high standards.

The second factor was the fact that the potent 10mm, which was favored and championed by Jeff Cooper, was too hot (i.e. had too much recoil) for most police officers. The answer was the 40 S&W. Size wise the 40 S&W bullet diameter is .400 inch which is 10.2 mm. It's very close to the 45 ACP in that respect, but the typical weight is lower, the size of the cartridge is smaller and the pressure of the 40 S&W is much higher, which means a very fast bullet and sharp recoil.

Thus far we see that the 45 ACP and the 40 S&W are pretty close in bullet diameter and bullet weight but greatly differ in velocity. Let's look at one of the best self defense ammunition brands, which offer law enforcement only ammunition in both 45 ACP and 40 S&W to see what these bullets can do in real life.

The Winchester Ranger ammo line is designed to meet the high standard set by the FBI. This line is built for law enforcement only but it is legal for civilians to own Winchester Ranger ammunition, if they can get it. Let's look at the Winchester Ranger T-Series. It's uses a reverse taper jacket design which offer consistent and reliable bullet expansion through common barriers such as automobile glass, wood and even steel. I use this self defense ammo line and through thousands of rounds, never seen a malfunction driven by the ammo itself.

The Winchester online ammunition tool allows you to compare up to three bullets. The 40 S&W comes with a 180 grain bullet, while the 45 ACP comes in 230 grain. The 45 ACP is indeed a heavier bullet. Looking at velocity, we see that the 40 S&W comes out of the barrel at 990 fps (feet per second) while the regular pressure 45 ACP comes out at 885 fps.

It takes the 45 ACP in +P to match the 40 S&W velocity. Next we have the power, which is measured in ft-lbs (energy in foot pounds). The 40 S&W has 392 ft-lbs while the normal pressure 45 ACP has 400 ft-lbs and the 45 ACP in +P has 500 ft-lbs. When it comes to knock down power the 45 ACP is far superior to the 40 S&W.

Is that it? Dose the 45 ACP win so easily against the 40 S&W? is it possible that the bullet designers in 1990 did such a bad job against the genius of John Browning? These are fair questions but the answer is no, because we are missing one very important data point--capacity.

The 40 S&W uses a much smaller cartridge to allow for higher magazine capacity. It was one of the lessons learned in Miami and the designers of the S&W wanted to give law enforcement officers a round that was more powerful than a 9mm with similar capacity. The goal was not to run out of ammunition in the middle of a gun fight. A 45 ACP cartridge typically rides in an 8 round magazine while the 40 S&W runs in double digests from 10 rounds to about 16.

So which is better for self defense? which is the best self defense bullet here? The answer isn't clear cut. If you want higher magazine capacity than the 40 S&W is your bullet, but only if you can control the sharp recoil the cartridge packs. If you like high velocity bullets, than again the 40 S&W may be the round for you. But to me this is a question of which round is better for self defense.

For me the answer is simple--the 45 ACP. Why? Because of the knock down power of the 45 ACP and the fact that it has relatively low recoil out of a model 1911 self defense handgun. You can end the gunfight and save your life if you can deliver two quick shots and do so accurately, hitting your assailant with two hits of 400 ft-lbs. To me 9 rounds of 45 ACP are good enough since changing magazines is quick and easy, even under pressure, and I carry a minimum of two additional magazines with me.

In summary, the 45 ACP offers a stronger punch with lower recoil. This allows you to land bullets accurately and efficiently. Hitting your target with 400 ft-lbs or 500 ft-lbs punches nine times ought to be more than sufficient.

Finally, you may find it interesting to know that members of the FBI's HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) use 1911 handguns with 45 ACP ammunition. The same applies to the LAPD SWAT team, LAPD SIS and some Special Forces. Now that you have the facts, you can decide which self defense ammunition is best for you--the 45 ACP or 40 S&W.

Until Next time, stay safe by staying alert.


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