Best 40 S&W Ammo For Self Defense & Target Practice
If you carry a Glock 23 or any other .40 caliber pistol, you should only trust your life with the best 40 S&W ammo for self-defense.
When it matters most, you must be able to depend on the accuracy and dependability of the round you have chambered.
Regarding target practice, accuracy and dependability are nice. Still, often it comes down to price because the average person who carries can't afford to practice with their carry ammo all the time.
So we usually compromise a little and meet in the middle with a similar round but less expensive than the ammo we carry.
So which ammo is best for each situation? I trust Hornady Critical Defense in my carry weapon because it's reliable and powerful enough to take out a threat. However, it is expensive.
For plinking at the shooting range, I would use PMC 165gr FMJ-FN because it's inexpensive, so I won't be spending a fortune every time I visit the range.
What are some of the best rounds you can purchase? Below you'll find some of the best 40 self-defense ammo on the market and 40 S&W target ammo for training.
- Underwood 150gr JHP - Most Powerful .40 S&W Ammo
- Sellier & Bellot XRG Defense - Best 40 SCHP
- Hornady Critical Defense 165gr - Best .40 JHP
- Underwood 150gr JHP - Most Deadly 40 S&W Ammo
- Winchester Ready Defense 170gr - Hardest Hitting 40 Ammo
- Federal LE BallistiClean - Best Close Quarters Target .40 Ammo
- Speer Lawman 180gr - Best .40 S&W Indoor Target Ammo
- PMC 165gr FMJ-FN - Best 40 S&W Outdoor Target Ammo
Quantifying the most powerful .40 cal ammo is difficult, but we will judge based on muzzle velocity to keep it as fair as possible. This is not a straightforward comparison, as a heavier bullet will have a lower muzzle velocity.
So for the sake of argument, the winner will be the heaviest bullet traveling the fastest.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,300 Feet Per Second (fps)
- Muzzle Energy: 563 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $1.15
- Fast velocity
- Hollow point bullet
- High muzzle energy
- It's not a heavy bullet
Though it's the second heaviest grain bullet, it is tied with the fastest velocity and a hollow point, which is why I consider it to be one of the most powerful 40 S&W rounds on the market.
Federal Premium LE BallistiClean 125-grain also has a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps. The Federal 125gr might tie the fastest velocity. However, it has two things against it that make it a poor choice for the most powerful 40 ammo.
Its cons are that it's a frangible bullet and much lighter than the other bullets. It has its purpose, but being powerful is not it.
Sellier & Bellot XRG Defense 130-grain SCHP has a muzzle velocity of 1,247 fps. Though you're losing some weight to the Underwood 150gr JHP, this is also a hollow point bullet of solid copper that's only traveling 53 fps slower.
Speer 155-grain JHP has a muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps. It's the heaviest bullet to make this section; however, much heavier bullets are available in the .40 cal lineup. It's also the slowest that's mentioned in this section.
So you can choose which matters more to you, speed or weight?
The Speer 155gr and Underwood 150gr are the heaviest bullets, but the Underwood 150-grain JHP travels 100 fps faster than the Speer 155-grain JHP, which is why I believe the 40 S&W Underwood JHP is more powerful .40 cal ammo.
You're only sacrificing 5-grain to gain 100 fps.
We will break this section into two subsections of SCHP and JHP. Then, we'll take the winner of the two subsections and pit them head to head to determine the best 40 hollow point ammo.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,247 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 449 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $1.00
- It's fast
- Lightweight bullet
This is the fastest and hardest-hitting round, despite being the lightest bullet of the section.
Barnes VOR-TX Handgun 140gr has a muzzle velocity of 1,120 fps, a muzzle energy of 394 ft-lbs, and is priced at $1.25 per round at the time of this writing. This is tied with the Barnes TAC-XPD in all the areas that matter most, except it's less expensive.
Barnes TAC-XPD 140gr has a muzzle velocity of 1,120 fps, a muzzle energy of 394 ft-lbs, and costs $1.46 per round. Because its ballistics are very similar to the VOR-TX ammo, yet it's much more expensive, I can't personally justify purchasing it, UNLESS it cycles through my firearm better.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,175fps
- Muzzle Energy: 506 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $1.40
- You're not sacrificing much energy and still maintaining a high velocity.
- Trusted brand
- Cost, it's expensive
This is the most expensive on our list, but it's also one of the most trusted by shooters everywhere. Critical Defense is the fastest round and only 11 ft-lbs of energy less than the Winchester USA Ready Defense 170gr.
It also offers shooters some of the best .40 Smith & Wesson ballistics.
Winchester USA Ready Defense 170gr has a muzzle velocity of 1,170 fps, 517 ft-lbs, and is $1.35 per round. This personal defense round packs the biggest punch and is only five fps slower than the Critical defense. It's also $0.05 cheaper per round.
Winchester PDX1 Defender 165gr Bonded Jacketed Hollow Point has a muzzle velocity of 1,140 fps, 476 ft-lbs of energy, and costs $1.35 per round. This should be a consideration if you want a 40 cal round with a little less recoil than the Ready Defense 170gr. It offers similar ballistics and price point, but the lighter bullet won't have as much recoil.
Federal HST Law Enforcement 180gr has a muzzle velocity of 1010 fps, 408 ft-lbs of energy, and is less than $1.00 per round. Though this 180-grain JHP is the slowest, it's also the least expensive, so if you plan to practice with the same ammunition you conceal carry, this is a good option.
The overall hollow point winner is Hornady Critical Defense 165gr because it has more energy than other hollow point bullets, and you're not sacrificing much speed for the extra bullet weight.
The 40 Smith & Wesson is a favorite for personal protection because it has less recoil than the 45 ACP or 357 magnum, yet it offers more stopping power than the 9mm. It's a happy medium between some of the most popular concealed carry calibers.
Let's find out which self-defense round is the best!
In a home defense situation, you need to end the threat ASAP, but you shouldn't be worried about over-penetration while trying to aim and squeeze the trigger.
That's why hollow point bullets are usually the preferred choice for self-defense ammunition. Hollow-point bullets are less likely to over-penetrate than an FMJ so that you can focus on the bad guy.
To be the most lethal 40 cal ammo, the bullet must quickly cause a lot of damage. A fast, hard-hitting hollow point most often does this.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,300 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 563 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $1.15
- High muzzle velocity
- Hollow point
- It has a lot of energy for a 150gr bullet
- Lighter bullet than most people prefer to carry in a 40 for self-defense
Because it's a 150- grain bullet, it travels fast; what's surprising is how much energy it has out of the muzzle compared to heavier bullets. 150gr is the best grain for 40 S&W in terms of velocity and energy, which is what makes this an excellent round.
The Underwood 150gr JHP is the most deadly 40 cal ammo because it's fast, penetrates well, and carries a lot of energy with it to transfer into the bad guy. However, other .40 ammo is very lethal and will give you a good chance of defending yourself if the need arises.
Winchester USA Ready Defense 170gr has a muzzle velocity of 1,170 fps, 517 ft-lbs, and is $1.35 per round. Appropriately named, this round is ready for home defense or concealed carry. However, it is more expensive and doesn't have the terminal performance of the Underwood 150gr, which is why it's not my choice.
Speer Gold Dot 165gr JHP has a velocity of 1,150 feet per second, 484 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and is priced at $1.50 per round. If you're shooting a subcompact pistol, you might find these rounds a little easier to handle because the bullet is lighter and doesn't create as much recoil.
Remington HTP 180gr JHP has a muzzle velocity of 1,014, 412 ft-lbs of energy and costs $1.20 per trigger pull. Bigger bullets cause more damage, even though they travel slower. However, they also create more recoil, but it isn't easy to top this ammo for the price.
When it comes to concealed carry talk, you'll hear enthusiasts mention stopping power, knockdown power, and several other terms; in short, they're talking about how much force the bullet transfers to the target.
The bigger the bullet, the more force it carries down range, but it also takes more energy to get it down range which means more recoil. So we must compromise to an extent.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,170 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 517 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $1.35
- Heavy bullet
- High Muzzle energy
- A heavier bullet means more recoil
- Slightly slower than lighter bullets
The hardest-hitting 40 cal ammo is the Winchester Ready Defense 170gr because it's a heavier bullet that better carries the energy to the target. A 170-grain bullet will carry its energy down range further than a lighter bullet at a higher speed. The price is also reasonable compared to similar rounds.
Underwood 150gr JHP has a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps, 563 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and costs $1.15 per round. Though it's the fastest and has the most energy at the muzzle, the lighter 150-grain bullet will lose its energy quicker than the heavier bullets. However, the price is tough to beat, especially when you're practicing with the same ammo you carry.
Hornady Critical Defense 165gr has a muzzle velocity of 1,175 fps, 506 ft-lbs of energy, and costs $1.40 per round. For good reasons, this is one of the most highly touted self-defense rounds. However, because it's a lighter bullet, it won't hit as hard as the Winchester Ready Defense 170gr.
Remington Golden Saber 165gr BJHP travels 1,150 fps out of the muzzle, has 484 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and is also $1.35 per trigger pull. Though it's the only round to have sub 500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, I don't think an intruder will notice. This .40 S&W cartridge with a bonded jacketed hollow point will help stack the odds in your favor.
Unless you're in a competition, bullet weight is less of a concern when target shooting because the paper or steel doesn't need to be immediately stopped.
So the criteria for the best 40 S&W target ammo differs from self-defense. When I purchase ammo to use at the range, I choose based on price and how close the ballistics are to my carry ammo.
For the sake of this article, we're going to focus on price and safety.
Close Quarters - Federal LE BallistiClean
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,300
- Muzzle Energy: 469 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $0.62
- Disinigrates on impact with a steel target
- Eliminates richotches
- It doesn't make great carry ammo
When training in close quarters, frangible bullets are used to limit friendly fire from ricocheting bullets. Federal LE BallistiClean is the way to go when training in hallways, small rooms, and other areas that restrict your movement and have you close to the target.
Though it matters less in these situations, the downside to this ammo is that the bullet weight is much less than carry ammo.
The upsides are it's about half the price of most self-protection rounds, it has a similar velocity, and you can train with live ammo with fewer safety concerns.
Indoor - Speer Lawman 180gr
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,000 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 400 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $0.38
- Similar ballistics to an FMJ
- Protects you from lead vapor build-up in an indoor shooting range
- It's inexpensive
- Heavy bullet
When target shooting indoors with FMJ bullets, lead vapor can increase to dangerous levels; that's where TMJ bullets excel. They have similar ballistics as an FMJ but a barrier between the lead and the powder, so the lead won't vaporize.
Some of the best 40 S&W TMJ ammo is the Speer Lawman 180gr.
Outdoor - PMC 165gr FMJ-FN
- Muzzle Velocity: 989 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 358 ft-lbs
- Price Per Round: $0.50
- Not good for indoor shooting
- Not the best for self-defense
Since the lead vapor isn't confined to a small space, FMJ bullets are often the best choice for target shooting outside because they're less expensive, and you can get similar ballistics as a TMJ.
PMC 165gr FMJ-FN offers decent ballistics at a reasonable price, and that's all you can ask out of an outside plinking round. I wouldn't recommend using it as self-protection ammunition because a hollow point bullet is better suited for that than an FMJ.
Let's dive deeper into the different bullet types found in .40 S&W ammo.
Frangible ammo is designed to disintegrate when it strikes a hard target. This helps prevent ricochets and allows shooters to train in close quarters.
Though lethal, law enforcement agencies often use it during training scenarios in hallways, small rooms, and other minimally maneuverable situations.
The Total Metal Jacket or Full Metal Jacket with Fully Encased Base is Similar to an FMJ except that the lead bullet is surrounded by the metal jacket, including the base or bottom of the bullet.
TMJ is often used in indoor ranges to help reduce the amount of lead vaporizing. When an FMJ is fired, the lead at the bullet's base vaporizes as the propellant ignites. This vaporized lead gets into the air, and the shooter then breathes it into their lungs which can cause health problems.
The lead doesn't vaporize with a TMJ because it is entirely protected by the metal jacket, making it much healthier for indoor gun ranges.
A Full Metal Jacket and Full Metal Jacket-Flat Nose are used for outdoor training. Their ballistics are similar to a TMJ which helps with consistency in training.
The main difference between an FMJ and a TMJ is the exposed lead at the base of an FMJ bullet.
A Jacketed Hollow Point bullet is often used by law enforcement and for self-defense. It's similar to an FMJ in that it has a metal jacket surrounding the bullet, but instead of having a rounded nose, it has a concaved nose.
JHP bullets don't penetrate as deep as an FMJ but cause more damage because they expand on impact.
A Solid Copper Hollow Point helps reduce lead pollution and can be used on public lands that don't allow lead bullets. It looks like any other hollow point bullet; the main difference is that it's solid copper instead of lead surrounded by a metal jacket.
Semi-automatic pistol shooters don't believe SCHP bullets are the best 40 hollow points because copper isn't as heavy as lead and doesn't expand as easily, so you won't see as much of it on store shelves as you will other bullet types.
There's no one-size-fits-all in terms of ammo; that's why so many options appear when we visit Ammo.com.
However, there is a way to determine the best 40-cal ammo for your situation based on a few criteria. The first and often most important is price, followed by brand recognition/reliability, and lastly, the amount of recoil.
Ammo prices have skyrocketed in the last several years for various reasons, which often means we're left to choose between going to the range or paying the bills.
So finding reasonably priced ammo is critical to continuing to train effectively.
I usually opt for cheap ammo at the range and carry my more expensive rounds. While this makes financial sense, the inexpensive ammo performs differently than my carry ammo, so I have to brush up on my skills with my expensive ammo every now and then to stay sharp.
While it's not always the case, choosing a brand you recognize as a trusted ammo brand is a safer bet than going with a brand of which you've never heard.
Using reliable ammo is crucial to your well-being in a self-defense situation. However, when target shooting, it's not as much of a concern, but it is a hassle and waste of money purchasing unreliable ammo.
Your firearm will perform better with a certain brand, so be sure to test out several before coming to a final decision.
Beginner shooters are very sensitive to recoil, which is why it's best to start out with a low recoil round and slowly work up to the rounds with heavier recoil.
Even if you're not a beginner, it's not fun to shoot a firearm with a lot of recoil. It often makes the average enthusiast less accurate.
That's why I strongly believe in testing out several different bullet weights and brands to see which one you're most comfortable shooting.
The 40 S&W is an excellent semi-auto handgun caliber for target shooting and personal protection. However, if you don't have Hornady Critical Defense, which is some of the best 40 S&W ammo for self-defense, you put your family and yourself at risk.
I often opt for the least expensive ammo when target shooting outside, like the PMC 165gr FMJ-FN.
You'll find that your gun likes certain brands and bullet styles best so I recommend trying out several of the brands mentioned above to see which one works best for you.
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