Most shooters are familiar with the ever-popular .40 S&W cartridge, but some of you may not realize this cartridge originated from the 10mm Auto. The 10mm actually started life as .30 Remington brass cut down and loaded with .38-40 bullets. The 10mm is an unappreciated and often overlooked cartridge still struggling a bit to catch on with mainstream shooters and hunters.
The FBI had a brief history with the 10mm in S&W’s Model 1076. Unfortunately the cartridge was a bit much for some agents, especially those with small hands. Norma offered high octane ammo in those days rivaling the performance of the .41 Mag, which might have added to the problem. When the FBI dropped the 10mm, a shortened, less powerful cartridge emerged as the .40 S&W we know today, courtesy of innovation at S&W. Luckily, Colt introduced the Delta Elite in 1987, a version of their Government Model, chambered for the 10mm. This decision probably saved the 10mm Auto from evaporating off the face of firearms history.
However, that same Colt had issues, and the powerful factory loads of the day often battered those early 10mm 1911’s badly, giving a reputation for being “too powerful” to manage. In actuality, the Colt needed better design elements to accommodate the cartridge’s power levels.
After writing a piece for the American Handgunner 2013 Special Edition on the Delta Elite, I became more interested in the 10mm. Colt had made critical engineering changes to the classic 1911 design to better mange the power of the 10mm, and I found the gun ran excellently. I thought it would be neat to explore several semi-autos chambered for this misunderstood cartridge and see what’s available today. In the process, I also scrabbled and scrounged a considerable amount of ammunition for testing the guns. Honestly, I was somewhat surprised to see the quality of both guns and ammo currently available in 10mm. Two of my handloads were also used during T&E. While impossible to get my hands on every 10mm Auto pistol, let’s take a quick peek at the ones landing on my doorstep.
The Glock 20SF is a big auto, and can do double
duty as a hunting or defensive handgun. Mark said
he’d put adjustable sights on it if possible.
Fourteen rounds of powerful 10mm can easily handle
a whitetail deer — or an attack by a biker gang!
Glock Model 20
This Glock has a strong following, among both self-defense types and hunters. Taking on a biker gang? This is the way to go. My test gun came in the form of their Model 20SF featuring a smaller grip diameter. This design is welcome for smaller hands. With a standard magazine capacity of 15 rounds, you could solve a lot of serious problems before reloading. It took a little getting used to the trigger, but once I shot the gun several times it was actually easy to operate. The slide release is small in design but painless to manipulate. Grips are textured and comfortable even shooting heavy loads. Right-handed shooters will have no issues with the positive magazine release.
Even with combat-style fixed sights I could keep respectable groups at 25 yards. As a handgun hunter I will opt for adjustable sights. Glock’s high-tech polymer frame handled recoil much better than anticipated. I never experienced one malfunction and we ran through a lot of magazines with different loads. The Glock 20SF can be concealed in a proper holster with edges smooth enough not to snag. If you like having the capability of firepower, the Glock 20SF delivers in spades. The gun came with two extra magazines. A great defensive auto for bear or bad guys.
Dan Wesson’s Razorback RZ-10 offers a 5″ barrel and top-
quality workmanship, reminding Mark of a custom gun.
Dan Wesson RZ-10
When I took the Dan Wesson Razorback RZ-10 out of the box I thought it was a custom 1911. It’s a good-looking gun for sure. The RZ-10 incorporates a match-grade ramped barrel feeding the 10mm rounds smoothly and reliably. The double-diamond checkered cocobolo grips contrast well with the stainless frame. Fixed defensive sights are machined into a serrated Clark-style target rib. At the range I found the sights quick to get on target. The black rear sight and black front blade did not interfere drawing the pistol out of Galco’s Jak Slide holster.
The flats on both the frame and slide were polished with a soft brushed finish, while the rounded portions were sandblasted. The back strap was finely textured, making a comfortable, consistent grip under recoil. The RZ-10 comes with two 9-round magazines. Running eight different factory loads through both magazines revealed zero mishaps. Accuracy was top-notch as might have been expected. This 5″ 1911 is a keeper. Dan Wesson falls under the CZ-USA flagship.
Kimber Custom TLE
The “TLE” stands for Tactical Law Enforcement II, and this well-built 10mm shoots as good as it looks. The 5″ match-grade barrel and bushing were responsible for impressive range results. I was able to manage several groups under 2″ from 25 yards and I don’t usually shoot a 1911 that well. The tritium 3-dot fixed night sights were easy to see. The Kimber features front strap checkering (30 LPI) providing a non-slip grip, and I liked the extended thumb safety in case you were wearing gloves in the field. The steel frame is finished in matte black. Front and rear serrations provide easy slide operation.
Grips are black synthetic and I could maintain a consistent grip under recoil. The trigger is an aluminum, match-grade version with serrations on the pad. The gun came with three stainless 7-round magazines. This Kimber functioned flawless with its full-length guide rod and 16-pound recoil spring. It also handled recoil well when shooting heavy bullets from Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap. No jams or malfunctions were experienced. I like the Kimber and will replace the fixed sights with adjustable sights for hunting.
The EAA Tanfoglio Witness Hunter (6″ barrel) was a brawny, dedicated hunting auto.
Below: Pre-drilled frame holes allowed a scope mount and the trigger had an adjustment stop.
EAA Witness Hunter
The Tanfoglio Witness Hunter from EAA, arrived in a very impressive lockable case with three slide springs, compact cleaning kit and one 15-round magazine. This is not your typical concealment or carry gun but a hefty piece of steel made for hunting. Fill the magazine full and weight will tip the scales over 3 pounds. Performance at the range was impressive, with some groups averaging less than 2″ from 25 yards. It’s a comfortable gun to shoot perhaps because of its weight combined with the CZ 75-style walnut grips. The grip is a little larger than a standard 1911. Checkered texture on both the front and back strap of the frame provide a solid grip under recoil. And it handles that recoil effortlessly.
I appreciated the longer sight radius on the 6″ barrel, and sights are large, target style and fully adjustable. The gun comes with an extra front sight for added height if needed. The slide comes pre-drilled for a scope mount, which was included with my test gun but I’m not sure it comes normally supplied. The Picatinny rail on the mount will accommodate scope or reflex optics making the Witness Hunter a nearly ideal hunting rig. Fit and finish appear superb. The Witness Hunter is single action, and while the trigger has more creep than I like, it will probably smooth out when it’s shot more. One feature standing out was the enlarged trigger guard — perfect if you need to shoot something when wearing welding gloves! Overall the Witness Hunter makes a serious hunting pistol.
Para USA’s Elite LS Hunter showcases a 6″ barrel,
excellent workmanship and stock adjustable sights.
While we’re on the subject of serious hunting handguns, Para USA offers a well-built, 6″ match-grade, ramped barrel on a 1911 platform. The Elite LS Hunter comes with VZ Operator machined G-10 grips which are very comfortable and eye pleasing. Front and rear wide serrations located on the slide provide easy operation. A rail is featured for lasers and lights. I like the adjustable rear target sights with green fiber optic front post as they are easy to see with my aging eyes. I was shooting at a wild boar target at the range and the green front post really enhanced shot placement.
The frame and slide are stainless steel incorporating a standard beavertail grip safety and oversized, flared ejection port. The EGW HD extractor throws brass like a major league pitcher throws fastballs. Finish on the frame and slide is the company’s Ionbond PVD. The match grade trigger is skeletonized and adjustable but a little heavy, with a longer pull than I prefer. A little ’smith work should be in order. The Elite LS Hunter arrived with two 9-round magazines.
Rock Island Armory supplied a 5″ model, complete with ambi-safety,
adjustable sights and very good fiber optic front sight. Mark thought
it was a good deal of gun for the very affordable price. It came
complete with excellent VZ grips and extended beavertail safety
(detail shown on the right).
Rock Island Armory
The fine folks at Rock Island Armory sent their 1911 Tactical II 10mm for testing and I was pleased the moment I took this pistol out of the black case. This budget-friendly 5″ 1911 comes with ambidextrous safety, skeletonized combat hammer, extended beavertail and full length guide rod. They offer another 10mm version with a modified frame incorporating a rail for lights and such. This 1911 wears a black parkerized finish appearing utilitarian and workman-like. The sharp looking VZ grips enhance the appearance and provide a positive grip with powerful hunting loads.
The trigger was a little heavy for my liking so my local gunsmith will get a visit. The combat-style adjustable rear sights with white dots had rounded edges allowing for a snag-free draw. I also appreciated the high visibility fiber optic orange front while engaging targets. The gun came with two 8-round magazines. At the range some of my 25-yard groups averaged a tad over 2″ and were very consistent. After 200 rounds the gun ran well, with no jams. I think you would have to look long and hard to find better value for your money. I’m keeping this pistol even if I have to hide the fact from my wife.
Here’s a few of the familiar brands making 10mm ammo. But this is just
a few, and there are more (factory) and custom loaders in the game.
Does it work? You bet. Here, Suzi Huntington (His Editorship’s Wife
and FMG editor too) took this fat doe on Mark Hampton’s farm using the
Rock Island 10mm test gun.
I remain impressed with the quality of guns available in 10mm and the ammo available today as well. DoubleTap offers a staggering 16 loads for the 10mm. Underwood provides 12 different loads. Both of these ammo companies got started in the business producing 10mm Auto. Buffalo Bore and CorBon make some pretty stiff hunting loads handling any big mean hog or whitetail. Federal, Hornady and Winchester all offer a defensive line of options for the 10. Rock Island Armory and Federal provided a lot of 180-gr. FMJ for testing purposes, and it ran flawlessly.
Regardless whether you are going in harm’s way, paper punching, or handgun hunting, quality ammunition is available. During the testing process I also shot my handloads consisting of Nosler and Sierra 180-gr. bullets in Starline brass. All guns tested got a good taste of diversity.
The 10mm is definitely a superb defensive cartridge and provides a good option for handgun hunters leaning toward a semi-auto. Unleashing a flatter trajectory than a .45 ACP and more power than the .357 Mag., the 10mm auto is extremely versatile, with a wide variety of bullet weights to tailor your load to your need. It can be loaded to near .41 Mag. potential, and all this potential power comes in a package carrying more rounds than a revolver. Are you ready for a 10?
Bowen Classic Arms massaged a stock Ruger into a
field-worthy 10mm hunting revolver.
Bowen Classic Arms Custom Ruger Conversion
After much discussion on 10mm semi-autos it’s only fair we give revolvers a fair shot. With all the testing of 10mm I thought about getting a revolver for this underrated cartridge. It would make a nice packing gun for the trail plus I could use it on certain close range hunting opportunities.
I tried to find a Ruger Blackhawk “Buckeye” Convertible made with two interchangeable cylinders — .38-40 Winchester and 10mm Auto. This was a special run of 5,000 guns for Buckeye Sports Supply a number of years ago. Basically this gun was a standard Blackhawk with blue finish wearing a 6½” barrel. I found a few but price was beyond my budget. Then I looked for S&W’s Model 610 built on the company’s N-Frame. Unlike the Ruger, moon clips are required for ejecting spent cases. The cartridge headspaces on the clip and not on the case mouth like the single-action Ruger. My luck with finding a good used Model 610 was pathetic. I started exploring other options.
Luckily I made a call to Hamilton Bowen, one of the finest revolver ‘smiths in the country. I told the gentleman from Tennessee what I was wanting and he delivered. I sent Hamilton a Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Mag. for his simple caliber conversion. He replaced the factory barrel with a custom 6″ .40 caliber barrel. I elected for the classic DX front sight which required sight regulation. The black square notch with white outline rear sight seems almost like target sights.
The base pin was replaced. The action was tuned silky smooth by a gunsmith who knows revolvers inside and out. I was impressed with the trigger, having no creep, just a crisp clean break around three pounds. The standard grips were exchanged for a set of smooth Eagle Gunfighter grips comfortable for lengthy range sessions. This makes one dandy packing pistol, now riding comfortably in a Thad Tybka crossdraw holster.
For more info: Bowen Class Arms: www.bowenclassarms.com, (865) 984-3583; Thad Rybka holsters: 2050 Canoe Creek Rd., Springville, AL 35146 (Note: TR only answers mail inquiries.)
By Mark Hampton
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