.40 Cal S&W Replaced the .38 Special

.40 Cal S&W comparison

Designers from Smith & Wesson and Winchester introduced the .40 Cal S&W cartridge in 1990. The ammunition was designed along with Smith & Wesson’s Model 4006 pistol, months after receiving a request from the FBI for a new type of ammunition.  However, one week before the ammo went to market, Glock introduced the Glock 22 and Glock 23, chambered in .40 cal.

Development of .40 Cal S&W

The Federal Bureau of Investigation requested that S&W create a new ammunition to replace their standard issue sidearms. The request came after a 1986 shootout in Miami. Two bank robbers confronted FBI agents and a shootout ensued. During the standoff, agents realized that they could not reload and fire fast enough to take down the criminals. The bank robbers killed two FBI agents and wounded five. Agents killed the bank robbers.

The FBI stated that the .38 Special revolvers were no longer sufficient for their agents. They requested to replace them with semi-automatic pistols. Agents asked Smith & Wesson to develop a new type of ammunition that could be retrofitted into 9mm semi-automatic handguns. S&W and Winchester developed the .40 Cal, based on 9mm and .45 ACP ammunition. The new medium-velocity round had the same accuracy as a 9mm while using the specs of a 10mm load. The FBI approved the ammo and hoped it would prevent another catastrophe like the one in Miami. Shortly after the FBI adopted the round, law enforcement agencies across the country switched to the new ammo. Although the FBI no longer uses the .40 Cal S&W, it endorses the Sig Sauer P226 and P228, both of which can be chambered in 9mm and .40 cal. The U.S. Coast Guard uses the .40 Cal S&W as a standard issue sidearm.

Specifications

The .40 Cal S&W is a medium velocity cartridge ideal for concealed carry and self-defense. It uses a 0.40-inch diameter lead bullet that can range from 105 to 200 grains. The casing measures .85 inches long, .424-inch at the base. The cartridge has an average pressure of 35,000 psi. The muzzle energy is higher than the standard pressure of a .45 ACP, with 350-500 foot-pounds of energy. Ballistics performance tests in the 1980s and 1990s prompted experts to refer to the .40 Cal as “the ideal cartridge for personal defense and law enforcement.”

Use for Self-Defense

Civilians choose the .40 Cal for the fact that it is easy to use. It has a light recoil, which makes it an accurate round. Self-defense and home defense situations require accuracy and adequate stopping power. Consumers can choose a variety of options for design and bullet weight. Shooters choose the .40 Cal S&W for the same features that were required by the FBI and law enforcement, including a high magazine capacity, light recoil and high muzzle energy. Although the .40 Cal S&W isn’t a highly sought after ammo, most firearms manufacturers offer compact and sub-compact models chambered for the round.

History of the .38 Super Auto

.38 Super's legendary climb

In 1929, law enforcement faced a dilemma. Their ammunition was no longer effective against the gangsters and bootleggers. The gangsters had taken to wearing ballistics vests and often shot from inside autos, both of which were impenetrable by an average ammunition round. As a result, Colt developed the .38 Super Auto. The round was supposedly based on the .38 Automatic Colt Pistol, but designed to be used in a 1911 style semi-automatic, magazine-fed pistol. The .38 Super uses a .356-inch 130 grain lead projectile, housed in a semi-rimmed, straight-walled case measuring .900 inch. The total length of the cartridge 1.280 inches.

The Super Auto cartridge carries more powder than the .38 Auto, which makes it a more powerful round. The .38 Auto’s 130 grain cartridge had a muzzle velocity of 1,050 feet per second (fps). Since the .38 Super used more powder and higher pressure, its velocity is 1,280 fps. Sadly, law enforcement stopped using the Super Auto when, in 1934, the .357 Magnum entered the market.

Development of the .38 Super Auto

Experts say that there are discrepancies in the origin of the .38 Super. It is commonly believed that the round was based on the .38 ACP. Law enforcement did require a stronger round than the .38 and 9mm, but could deliver a better performance than the powerhouse .45 ACP. Colt offered a solution in the .38 Auto. Secondly, some claim that the development of the .38 Super was an afterthought. The 1911-style pistol had been introduced, designed to fire .38 ACP. Shortly after it was introduced, wildcatters began to handload their own version of the round, increasing the powder load. Colt heard about the change and began to produce a similar version which they named the .38 Super Auto. The name .38 “Super” was simply a way to distinguish it from the traditional .38 Auto.

Law Enforcement

The FBI adopted the .38 Super partly because of its carry capacity. It could hold 9 to 11 cartridges in a single stack, which was much larger than what was offered by the .38 Special. The .38 Super could also penetrate body armor. This was a benefit with the rise of American gangsters who openly fought police, and often used their cars as shields against return fire.

However, police weren’t the only ones who adopted the .38 Super. John Dillinger, infamous bank robber and all-around bad guy, carried a .38 Super when he was apprehended by police.

He also owned a custom-built, fully automatic Colt M1911A1. Dillinger had the gun modified to include a Cutts compensator and a magazine with extra capacity.

In 1941, Colt shifted its focus from law enforcement to the military due to WWII. The war changed the face of munitions, and the .38 Super all but disappeared for nearly 40 years.

Popularity Worldwide

The .38 Super never lived up to its potential in the U.S. However, the round has been widely used in other countries such as Australia, Mexico, Canada, and South America, where civilians are banned from using guns chambered in military cartridges, such as the .45 ACP or 9mm.

Who Uses a .357 SIG?

.357 Sig ammo

In the mid-1990s, Swiss-German arms manufacturer SIG Sauer teamed up with Federal Cartridge (now Federal Premium Ammunitions) to develop a new cartridge to rival the .357 Magnum. The team designed the .357 SIG after the .357 Mag to duplicate the performance of the .357 Mag while offering shooters a higher cartridge capacity to be used in semi-automatic pistols. The target audience was law enforcement, which never fully embraced the new round.

Development of the .357 SIG

The .357 SIG ammo was introduced in 1994, only four years after the S&W released their .40 cal. The .40 S&W had been commissioned by the FBI after the 1986 Miami shootout in which two agents were killed and five were wounded. The FBI had requested a new load that would have the power of a .45 with lower recoil and faster reloading time. Although the .40 S&W wasn’t a perfect replacement, it was readily adopted by law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S.

At that time, neither law enforcement agencies nor the public was ready to embrace another round for a semi-automatic weapon. Therefore, the .357 SIG never caught on despite its superior performance record.

Ballistics

SIG designed the original of .357 SIG ammo was .357”, but then reduced the overall size to .355”, making it easier to reload. SIG created the first bottleneck commercial handgun cartridge manufactured since the early 1960s. Like the .357 Mag, it uses a bullet with 125 grains. It boasts an average velocity of 1,450 FPS and muzzle energy that exceeds 500 ft. lbs. The shoulder is alpha/2=18 degrees. The common rifling twist rate is 406 mm (1 in 16 in), 6 grooves, Ø lands=8.71 mm, Ø grooves=9.02 mm, land width=2.69 mm. The primer type is small pistol.

Who Uses a .357 SIG?

The performance and smaller dimensions of the .357 SIG should make it a more popular cartridge among law enforcement, but it has never caught on. Many officers have chosen to adapt to a 9 mm Parabellum for their standard sidearm. It is a preferred round for many target shooters and those interested in home defense and self-defense. Unlike some smaller rounds, the .357 SIG is capable of causing hydrostatic shock, disabling, or even fatally wounding its targets upon impact.

Many large law enforcement agencies supply their officers with .357 SIG ammunition. Officers use the ammo in SIG Sauer models and Glock pistols. The Texas Highway Patrol adopted the round in 1995. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) followed suit. They had previously given their troopers a choice between the SIG Sauer P220 in .45 ACP or the SIG Sauer P226 in 9mm. From 1998-2013, The DPS issued the SIG Sauer P226 chambered in .357 SIG as a standard sidearm for its commissioned officers.