A recent concealed carry class included a newlywed couple. The young woman was an attractive emergency room nurse with a winning smile, long brown hair and a dad who was a retired federal law enforcement officer.

While she shot her handgun very well, the joke between her and her husband was the target that came home with her better have bragging-sized groups.

While packing up, and getting ready for them to go back to the classroom, a short discussion arose, and a comment was made about the .40 S&W cartridge.

"Oh yeah," she said. "We know the .40. When they come in to the emergency room shot with 9 mm, we can sometimes work with them. When they come in shot with .40, they're generally past any help."

My associate instructor is the former police chief, and later acting sheriff of our medium-sized southern city. He made a wry face and said, "You never want to approve of anyone getting shot. But once my guys switched over to .40, we had a lot less survivors of shootings."

Mark Gurney, project engineer for Ruger Firearms (http://www.ruger.com/index.html), had told me on a shooting trip only a few weeks before that the most popular handgun manufactured by Ruger was the SR9, a new striker-fired semi-auto pistol with a lot of innovative, well-designed features.

Right on its heels came the SR9c - the compact version. And the ones coming through my classes really impressed me.

I had been toying with the idea of getting an SR9c to put through its paces when I talked to Gurney, and he told me the SR9 design was their best-selling handgun model.

"We just came out with the compact .40 S&W version; it carries one round less in the magazine and only weighs an ounce more than the 9 mm" he said.

I'm a huge believer in 9 mm, and most of my semi-autos are 9 mm. But remembering the emergency room nurse's comments (after all, real-life experience counts for a lot, right?), I ordered a new SR40c from Ruger for testing.

When the gun arrived in its molded plastic case, it contained two magazines - a shortened design with a finger extension on the "toe" that aided in control by giving the little finger a rest. A flat magazine cap that reduces the overall height of the gun slightly more is included - but I preferred the extension for control of the gun.

Ruger also manages to neatly stack 15 rounds in the regular SR40 magazine, and supplies a plastic sleeve that extends the contour of the grip. This allows the same capacity as the full-sized gun, but with the smaller frame.

While the barrel is a half inch shorter than the full-sized version (3 1/2 inches vs. 4.14 inches), the extended magazine gives the gun the capacity advantage of larger guns without the disadvantage of making it harder to hide.

As with many striker-fired semi-autos today, it has an interchangeable grip to aid in holding the gun. Ruger is an innovative company, and while coming to the table late with striker-fired pistols, they incorporated some neat design features, including this reversible grip in the butt. You don't have to keep track of several different grips - simply pull a retaining pin, turn the insert over to make the butt larger or smaller depending on your preference and hand size.

I prefer compact-sized pistols; I like a pistol large enough to carry and shoot comfortably, with enough stopping power to handle any self-defense job, and small and light enough to hide with enough heft to be able to get it out and control it in a shooting situation.

I do not care for the sub-compacts in any design: I find them hard to control and frequently thick in the grip to get enough bullet capacity.

The SR40c delivers in all these design categories. I shot it over sandbags at 7 yards and found it delivered 2-inch groups consistently with several types of ball and hollowpoint ammo.

Its trigger is set at slightly over 6 pounds - there is so little travel and no creep, it seems less-and it is an easy trigger to learn.

But the proof is in the tactical shooting, and here the little pistol shined.

Shooting triple-tap drills, I was able to keep the three-dot adjustable sights on the man-sized B-27 targets with ease.

And the well-designed beavertail and grip angle just seemed to "fit" my hands.

Another positive point was the adjustable rear sight - something of an oddity on pistols this size, and a welcome addition.

The gun has a very obvious red slice of metal that sticks up above the chamber to indicate it is loaded, and the rounded tip of the striker protrudes in an indentation on the rear of the slide to also indicate a loaded chamber.

It is easy to simply run one's finger over the top of the chamber and feel the loaded chamber indicator - one of the most obvious I have seen on any handgun.

The ambidextrous safety was not obtrusive, released crisply and was easy to sweep off with the thumb when practicing drawing and tactical drills.

The .40 S&W has a reputation for "snappy" recoil - the slide speed is much faster than with the 9 mm, and caused early designs built on that frame to crack slides.

Since you are pushing a heavier bullet than 9 mm at even higher speeds than normal for that caliber, naturally there is going to be more felt recoil.

But the design of the grip of the SR40c, with its stainless slide and nylon composite frame, seemed to negate some of the noticeable jump I have experienced with other .40 S&W pistols. I found it very controllable and easy to keep on target in shooting triple-taps of two to the chest, and one to the head on the B-27 target.

I stuck the pistol in a molded Kydex inside-the-waist band holster designed by Rocketman Holsters (http://www.rmholsters.com/) and literally forgot it was riding slightly over the rear of my right hip for days on end.

The holster holds the gun securely inside the waistband, easily concealed. The weight of the gun at 24 ounces (empty) and the holster design make carrying it very comfortable.

I test a lot of handguns, and generally find something good about all of them, but very few meet all my specifications for personal concealed carry.

The SR40c was accurate, safe and so easy to carry that I found myself wearing it around the farm, failing to take it off when coming in from errands in town to do chores.

I felt comfortable and confident with it as a personal self-defense gun, and found it easy to shoot fast and accurately.

It is definitely a keeper.