[Review] Glock 23: The Compact .40 S&W

Deer-legal in my state. Huh? This gun is deer-legal in my state. The .40 S&W, shot through a minimum-4-inch barrel is considered deer medicine where I live. Of course, I think you’d be better off with the “other” .40-caliber cartridge, the 10mm which is also legal, but that’s another article. Add in the ability to shoot the .40 from a carbine and the joy increases with each additional foot-pound of energy you gain with that longer barrel.

Why mention the fact that you can waylay deer with the good ol’ .40 S&W around these parts? Because it is a potent round, in its own right. Its peak law enforcement usage might have been a few years ago, but that doesn’t take the shine off the pumpkin. It is still a good manstopper, and (according to my state’s deer regulations) a good deer-stopper as well. Many law enforcement agencies use (or used) the .40 S&W, most notably the F.B.I. for a while before they went back to the 9mm. It has lost some of its popularity, but the .40 S&W is still very effective. Let’s take a quick look at the cartridge, then we’ll examine the gun.

The .40 – A Little History

Where did it come from? The .40 S&W originated when the F.B.I. (who had adopted the 10mm cartridge) asked Smith & Wesson to download the 10mm a bit. The full-bore 10mm was a real handful and so they wanted something that more agents could shoot effectively. S&W created the .40 that bears its name by shortening the 10mm case and downloading it a bit, and the F.B.I. adopted it. For a more complete backstory on the .40, read my handgun cartridge comparison. It is rather interesting, especially if you’re a “forty-fan.” To be honest, I have never owned a .40 pistol or carbine. I have nothing against the round – it’s just that I shoot, cast bullets for and reload the 9mm and .45 ACP. I’ve not seen the need to go with a .40, since I own the “bookends” that surround it on the caliber shelf. I have often thought of getting a .40, and may well do so in the future. If I do, then reloading dies and a bullet mold would be next on the list.

Capacity, Or Lack Thereof

Toting a gun that dispenses right at 400 (or more) foot-pounds of energy would tend to give one confidence, especially if that gun was not large, was easy to carry and held a dozen or more rounds in its magazine. I think part of the downfall of the .40 is that 9mm cartridge’s ballistic development has really taken off and there are some pretty spiffy 9mm loads out there now that deliver foot-pounds of energy like Hostess Twinkies deliver calories. Given that you can carry more 9mm ammo in a defined space than you can .40 ammo, that makes a difference. Look at the 9mm compact pistol market leader that most others are compared with – Glock’s best-selling model 19. This is a gun that is basically the same size as our model 23 but is able to carry two more rounds in its standard magazine than the 23, 15 rounds to 13. We see the same discrepancy when we look at the full-size Glocks in 9mm and 40, the models 17 and 22 respectively. The model 17 holds 17 rounds in its standard magazine vs. 15 .40 rounds in the model 22.

This is not exactly earth-shaking, but to some folks it makes a difference. Never having been in a gun fight, much less one where I needed more ammo than the magazine held, I can’t comment. Some folks carry 5-shot J-frame revolvers – they seem to not be worried about capacity. If you know where to place your shots, that can make up for lower cartridge capacities.

Going the other way, though, reveals that the .40 S&W magazine you have in your pistol will hold one or more rounds than a .45 ACP gun of similar size. Using the same magazine comparison as above, the full-size Glock model 22 in .40 holds two more rounds in its standard magazine than the full-size Glock model 21 in .45 ACP holds, 15 to 13. Being a .45 fan, this is not exactly comforting news, but (as the saying goes), it is what it is. What it comes down to for me is that It is amazing that you can have even 13 .45 ACP rounds available in your carry gun, not counting extra magazines and the one in the chamber. This is the .45 ACP example – my wonder and amazement goes off the chart when I consider a gun like the full-size 9mm pistols out there…Springfield Armory, as an example, makes at least one gun that carries 19 9mm rounds in its magazine (and there are others that carry 20). Add in two extra magazines and one in the chamber, and you have fifty-eight rounds on tap – that is truly amazing! Of course, this is from a guy who has been around the block a time or three and remembers when revolvers or 1911s were the carry guns of choice – your choice was limited, by and large, to either 6 or 8 rounds. Of course, you could carry reloads or extra mags, but… nineteen rounds… wow. We are living in a golden age of pistols. So we see that capacity plays a big part in caliber selection. But … the .40 is still a good choice. It’s right in the middle between the 9mm and the .45 ACP and, as Goldilocks found out, the middle can be the best place to be.

The Gun

OK, enough about calibers and capacities. What about the model 23 in front of us? Is it a viable gun for carry or home defense? Of course! Let’s look at it in realistic terms – what gun did (or do) a whole bunch of law enforcement agencies carry? The model 22 Glock in .40 S&W. What’s the difference between that and the model 23? Not a whole lot. The 23 is just a bit smaller than the 22, with a minus-2 capacity in its magazine compared to the 22. So, it can be a good choice for a concealed carry gun. You have a smaller gun than the full-size if you do carry it, but you can always use the full-size magazines if you choose – they just might stick out a bit. That’s a win-win in my book.

The model 23 we have here is a Gen 3. If you are not familiar with the different Glock generations, please go to my Glock 9mm pistol comparison article – I explain the differences. Let’s look at a few photos… I didn’t take nearly as many photos of this gun as I have for past Glock reviews, because (excepting generational differences) if you’ve seen one Glock, you’ve pretty much seen them all…

Glock 23 field stripped
The Frame

Glock 23 frame top

Glock 23 grip frontstrap
Grip, front- and back-strap and magazine well. This gen 3 gun displays its finger grooves prominently.

Glock 23 grip backstrap

Glock 23 mag well
The magazine well is relieved to aid in quick magazine insertion.
Glock 23 sight picture
Sight picture.

Cup-and-saucer, football-and-goalpost…whatever you call the sights, some folks love ‘em while others…well, not so much…

Glock 23 slide engraving
If this were a Gen 4 gun, it would have that designation etched on the slide.
Glock 23 slide underneath
Glock simplicity. They just work, like them or not.
Glock 23 barrel
Browning tilt-barrel design, linkless. As above, it just works.
Glock 23 barrel feed ramp
Nicely polished feed ramp.

And, lastly, the magazines… in case you forget what caliber you’re shooting, just look at the mag.

Glock 23 mags

How Did It Shoot?

I had considered offering a smart-alek answer to that question such as ‘I don’t know – I had no ammo’, but I wouldn’t do that to you. However, this ammo shortage is really starting to hit home. I’m a reloader, but as I said above I do not load .40 S&W. I happened to have one partial box of 180-grain FMJ loads from SIG Sauer, so I shot exactly five of those. Here’s the target:

target and Glock 23

As you can see, the rounds landed pretty much where I wanted them to, if not in a tight little group (the squares on my target are one inch). This was shot from my bench at around 20 yards. At least they’re in the black square – I used a center (“combat”) hold. As with every target I present in my reviews, I remind readers that I am not exactly Camp Perry material when it comes to shooting. I can get the job done (I’ve taken more than a few deer with handguns, some pretty far out there) but sometimes I shoot better than others. At any rate, this is a Glock – they tend to be accurate, repeatedly. We are re-inventing the wheel here…I’m not proving anything or offering anything new. I was just having a bit of fun shooting a gun that produces a good, hearty “BANG” when you press the trigger, even if I only did it five times.

Recoil & The 10mm’s Influence

The .40 will let you know you’re not shooting a .22. Its recoil is usually described as “snappy”, especially in a lighter pistol. If we remember that the .40 is the descendant of the 10mm, than its snappiness is explainable. When you push a 180-grain bullet to velocities just south of 1000 f.p.s., then you will get some pushback with regards to recoil. You’re talking right at 400 ft./lbs. of energy, like some lower-end .357 Magnum loads. I mentioned above how this round is deer-legal in my state, and I guess I can see why. The 10mm will do all things better than the .40 when it comes to hunting, but in terms of concealed carry and personal defense (read more about self-defense insurance), I can see where the .40 has the advantage over the 10mm. The 10mm truly has some snappy recoil (at least the ones I’ve shot have) which makes it harder to recover from in a timely manner. It tends to make follow-up shots harder to execute in any kind of fast, timer-stopping way. I know that there are some of you out there who routinely shoot the 10mm and are perfectly fine with its recoil but for the majority of us shooters, it’s a handful. Now we see the connection between the 10mm and the .40 S&W in terms of recoil. The 10 will have more, but the .40 in a light gun will also get your attention.

The Glock 23 and the .40

The .40 S&W out of the 23 can be a bit of handful in its own right. I shot just one load, basically a target load from SIG Sauer – a 180-grain FMJ truncated cone bullet at right at 990 f.p.s. This is a decent training load, one that will help you acclimate yourself to the way the .40 feels when you fire it. True defense ammo is going to be even more energetic – your shooting hand will learn the difference really quickly. If you carry a .40, you owe it to yourself to train diligently with different loads that are self-defense oriented. And, don’t shoot one magazine full and then head home. The .40 needs a little extra work in the practice department due to its greater recoil over the 9mm. But… if you devote the time, you will have accomplished something that not a whole of shooters do – tame the .40 enough to carry it. Now, please don’t get the impression that I think the .40 is overkill…it’s just that it takes a little more time to be really proficient with it when you shoot it out of a smaller-type pistol such as the Glock 23. It is well worth the effort to master the gun, though.

This 23 seemed accurate, given the tiny amount of shooting that I did with it. I’ve said it before – Glocks tend to be better-than-average-accurate. A tack driver this gun wasn’t but it wasn’t designed for competition. It will fulfill its concealed-carry role nicely.

Caliber Compatibility

One thing that you may not think of right off the bat where the 23 is concerned is caliber compatibility. If you buy a .357 Sig barrel for your model 23, you now have a gun in that caliber. Your .40 caliber magazines should work, since the .357 Sig is based on the .40 case. Worst case, the follower configuration might cause a feeding issue, so you’d need to pick up a model 32 magazine. Another caliber that the 23 is easily converted to is 9mm. Buy a conversion barrel for a hundred bucks or so and a couple of model 19 magazines and you’re now in the 9mm business with what essentially becomes a model 19 that says “23” on the slide. So, you could conceivably have three guns for the price of one initial gun purchase and some after-market parts. If the ease of changing calibers isn’t enough to make the 23 attractive, I don’t know what will. That’s a pretty interesting capability – one gun, three calibers.

Let’s look at the specs at this point…


Caliber:.40 Smith & Wesson
Action:Semi-automatic, Glock Safe Action
Trigger Pull:5 lbs, 6 oz. (my measurement)
Barrel length:4.02"
Slide finish:Tenifer
Frame:Black polymer with duty finish
Sights:Fixed, plastic
Rifling:RH, hexagonal, 1 in 10” twist
Overall length:7.36"
Height (including mag):5.04”
Weight:empty, 20.4 oz.; with full magazine, 29.8 oz. (my measurements)
Price, MSRP:$599
Real-World Price:$500

The gun we’re looking at is a Gen 3 model. The Gen 4 model typically goes for the same price and is generally available, although availability during these crazy no-guns, no-ammo times is by no means certain.


So, we reach the end of our little stroll down Glock Lane. I could definitely see carrying the model 23 in an IWB holster. Given 13 rounds of .40 S&W (plus another 13 in an extra mag) I would feel protected. My only suggestion to those who want to carry one is to practice, a lot. Practice with the same bullet weight as that your carry ammo uses. That way, the impact point between both loads should be very close.

The .40 can be snappy (the current buzz word used to describe .40 S&W recoil), so practice is essential. But, you will have the advantage of being able to use your model 23 to shoot that doe that you’d been stalking and accidentally walked up on, too close for your rifle – it’s legal, here at least. Just use a good hollow point. OK, so you won’t hunt deer with this gun, but at least it’s capable of doing so. How much better it would be for protection against two-legged critters… such is the .40 S&W. And, one of the primo platforms to launch it out of is the Glock 23. If you own one, please chime in below – let us hear from you. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

Written by Mike

Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 9-and-counting grandkids.

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