Sub-Compact Field Pistol in 9mm and .40S&W.

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Last month I wrote about the possibility of using a small lightweight pistol in .45 ACP in the woods or trails. I have to admit the results were pretty good as far as penetration was concerned. And while I think I would rather use a full-size pistol in that role it would make a viable alternative.

So the thought came to me. If the .45 works what about a 9mm and .40 subcompact? I know of a few cases of someone using a 9mm against Grizzlies but only one using a subcompact, a Glock 43. In this article, the person using it said: “because it was small enough to be taken every day”.

In this case both were using 9mm ball ammo and even though they survived it’s hard to say it was an overwhelming success. We know the 9mm ball isn’t the best for deep penetration. Of course shot placement is very important and since the bear was never found my guess is no vitals were hit.

Having a few rounds leftover from my Underwood 9mm and .40 test I decide to see how a subcompact would perform in some Clear Ballistics gel. 

I use two rounds of Underwood’s 147gr +p Hard Cast in 9mm and the 200gr Hard Cast in the .40. Both guns were a S&W Shield with a with a 3.1-inch barrel. I shot two rounds of each into four blocks of Clear gel.

In the last test of this ammo both of the rounds, the 9mm passed through all four blocks of gel. In this test the first round had a velocity of 1044fps and passed through all four blocks. Even though it was caught by body armorer at the end of the block it was still stuck in the block. Normally if a bullet hits the body armor the armorer and the bullet fall on the floor. I think in this case the bullet was out of energy when it hit and probably wouldn’t have gone much farther. The second round’s velocity was 1026fps and it penetrated into the forth block at 52.5 inches. Both bullets retained 100% of their weight. So dropping almost an inch and a half of barrel length did appear to have some effect in the penetration but still an impressive performance.

The performance of the .40 S&W rounds very close the longer barreled Sig 226 at 4.4 inches. With the Sig we got 52 and 52.5 inches of penetration. With the shorter Shield the first round hit at 819fps and penetrated to 48.5 inches. Round two’s velocity was 920 and it went to 51 inches. And not surprisingly neither lost any of the weight.


  1. I carry a Glock 30 with a KKM 40 Super conversion barrel. 220gr Underwood hardcast. I hike in both Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks in the Fall each year. Since it’s a National Park the trails are shared with people who may be alarmed by my carrying a firearm. It is the most power in the smallest package that I can manage. I am legal CCW in both Wyoming and Montana. The G30 is in a front pack and I also carry two cans of bear spray. I have no illusion about this being a fail safe firearm for grizzly bear. I don’t know of any firearm that is a 100% stopper on bear. I have never tested this load on anything but redwood 4×4’s behind my house. I’m just going to have to trust that if it comes down to needing a firearm that this is the best I can do in that setting with those limitations.


  2. The .40 S&W fired in a short barrel approximates the old .38-40 Winchester black powder round closely. Back in the day the .38-40 was considered an effective game load, although not your first choice as a bear gun.


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