In the 1980s, the FBI was looking for a cartridge that provided ample stopping power and plenty of magazine capacity. It found what it was looking for in the 10mm Auto, a cartridge that was developed with help from Jeff Cooper of Gunsite fame. The 10mm Auto utilized a modified .30 Remington case and offered everything that law enforcement was looking for: better trajectory and higher magazine capacity than the .45 ACP, and lots more power than the 9mm Luger.
The cartridge seemed destined for greatness, but there were a few hiccups. First of all, the FBI decided that the powerful 10mm was simply too much for some officers, and it was subsequently shortened to produce the less powerful, but more manageable, .40 S&W. Add to this the fact that the original 10mm semiauto pistol, the Bren Ten, ran into serious production issues, and what appeared to be the next big thing in semiauto defensive cartridges now appeared to be headed for obscurity.
But the 10 was too good to go quietly into the night. Colt swooped in and offered the superb Delta Elite 1911—a gun that remains in production today. Slowly, the 10mm regained strength and crept back into the mainstream.
Lighter “FBI” loads offered ballistics (and recoil levels) close to those of the .40 S&W, but that big cartridge case made it possible to load the 10mm Auto so that it generated numbers close to those produced by the powerful .41 Remington Magnum. This made the cartridge a versatile option for a whole host of disciplines: It met the standards for the Major Power division in IPSC, was a highly effective defensive round for those who could handle the recoil, and it was powerful enough for hunting and even defense in bear country.
BACK IN THE MAINSTREAM
Today, there are 10mm loads designed for just about anything, making this one of the most versatile semiauto chamberings. With a 10mm in your holster, there’s very little you can’t accomplish.
Bit by bit, inch by inch, the 10mm has clawed its way back into the mainstream. There are more 10mm loads available today than ever before, and in terms of firearms, you now have lots of choices. It has become a cartridge-of-choice for hunting hogs, deer and other medium-sized game at moderate ranges, and there are more 10s showing up on the hips of Alaskan anglers, hunters and hikers who travel into big bear country. No matter your budget or your needs, there is a 10mm Auto offering that will work for you.
In case you need some help, here are 10 of our favorite pistols chambered for this world-class cartridge.
Kimber makes a lot of 1911s, and there are many 10mm offerings in its lengthy catalog. Choosing just one is difficult, but I lean toward the newly updated TLE (Tactical Law Enforcement) RL II. This is a gun that makes the most of the big 10’s versatility, with a 5-inch, stainless steel, match-grade barrel and stainless match-grade bushing, matte-black finish, aluminum match trigger set between 4 and 5 pounds, and low-profile, 3-dot night sights.
It comes with a Kimber Tactical Rail that is perfect for mounting lights and lasers; and with a seven-round magazine, it offers plenty of power for personal defense from two- and four-legged predators. This great-looking 1911 comes with stylish green G-10 grips, front and rear slide serrations, and 30 lpi front strap checkering. The Kimber TLE/RL II isn’t cheap, but it is a great, do-all 10mm.
If you’re a fan of polymer striker-fire pistols, the G40 is the gun you’ll want. It offers all the things that shooters love about Glock: nitride-treated slide, easy operation and never-say-die reliability coupled with a 6-inch barrel for use with maximum-power loads. The double-stack magazine holds 15 rounds, making this gun a favorite for defense in bear country, and the MOS system is ready to accept several different refl ex sights such as the Trijicon RMR.
What’s more, with a weight of slightly more than 28 ounces, this gun weighs about as much with a full magazine (15 rounds) as many 1911 10mms do empty. It’s a very versatile offering from a company that knows how to build great polymer pistols, and it’s also a relatively affordable 10mm option.
Like Kimber, Dan Wesson offers a list of 10mm 1911s, but the Bruin is this manufacturer’s first long slide. The 6-inch match barrel and correspondingly long sight radius offer excellent accuracy—perfect for those looking for a 10mm hunting pistol. In addition, the extra pipe length helps make the most of high-energy loads, allowing them to reach their full energy potential.
The adjustable, tritium fiber-optic front and rear sights are easy to see in dim light, and the trigger is crisp and clean. It’s available with either a black or bronze corrosion-resistant finish. At slightly less than 44 ounces, it isn’t the lightest gun on the list, but those extra few ounces help manage rearward energy: During a long range session with the Bruin shooting hot loads, I found it to be quite pleasant— more so than many ultra-light 9mm carry guns firing hot defensive loads.
MSRP: Starts at $3,000
Republic Forge has only been in business since 2014, but the brand has clawed its way to the top of the 1911 pile by building custom guns one at a time to a customer’s exact specifications. These guns are all built in the company’s Perryton, Texas, facility using all-American parts (except the mammoth ivory grips, which make a show-stopping addition to any pistol, and the Damascus slides, another eye-popping add-on).
The company’s website includes a gun configurator that allows you to build your own pistol to your exact specifications—a truly one-of-a-kind 1911. The Long Slide has a 6-inch barrel and 25 lpi front checkering, and although you can opt for several models in 10mm, this is the obvious choice. We tested the Long Slide in Utah, thwacking steel targets at 125 yards on the Castle Valley Range.
These guns aren’t cheap, but there are few pistols that can match them. I’ll take one in Sniper Gray, please.
Para’s long-slide 10 is a great option for those who are serious about hunting big game with their handguns. It comes with a 6-inch, match-grade, ramped barrel, excellent sights (adjustable rear; green fiber-optic front), stainless steel frame and slide, skeletonized match trigger and much more.
The gun ships with a pair of nine-round magazines, and if you’re worried about taking your pet 10mm into the woods for fear of damaging the finish, you can rest easy, thanks to a durable, black ionbond PVD fi nish. Other features on this long-slide 10mm include a flared, oversized ejection port, beavertail safety and EGW HD extractor for flawless function. The front strap is uncheckered, and the VZ Operator G10 grips offer a fi rm hold on this gun when fi ring powerful hunting loads.
It hardly seems fi tting to write an article about the 10mm Auto without including STI International’s Perfect 10. This gun handles extremely well—thanks to a full-length frame that is enhanced with an accessory rail so you can add lights, lasers or anything else you might want.
The Perfect 10 is a member of STI’s 2011 line of double-stack 1911s, meaning that this pistol holds between 12 to 22 rounds, depending upon magazine selection. That’s a lot of power, but the 47-ounce weight and superb balance make this gun a manageable 10mm. The feature list is extensive; some of the highlights include Bomar adjustable rear and competition front sights, oversized mag well, 18-pound spring, ambidextrous safety and polished blue finish. This truly is a superb, high-capacity hunting gun with the DNA of a competition pistol.
Remington was once largely thought of as a rifle and shotgun manufacturer, but the brand is making serious inroads into the competitive handguns market. The R1 1911 helped, and now, there’s a 10mm Hunter. It starts with a 6-inch, match-grade barrel and a black-on-black steel frame and slide with durable PVD DLC finish. There’s an accessory rail for mounting lights and lasers, a skeletonized adjustable trigger and adjustable sights. That long barrel helps this gun generate maximum power with high-energy loads, so it’s ideal for hunting big game to moderate ranges.
In addition, the front fiber-optic sight is very easy to see for accurate shooting in less than ideal lighting situations in the field. Big Green’s Big Ten is supplied with an ambidextrous safety and two eight-round magazines. This is a whole new type of hunting gun from Remington, but it’s a winner.
The majority of 10mm handguns are based on Browning’s 1911 design, but SIG is now offering up its own version of the P220 chambered for this cartridge. The P220’s beefy design handles the powerful 10 with no problems, and recoil from this nearly 40-ounce gun is quite manageable. The “SAO” designation indicates that it’s a single action, but the trigger breaks cleanly at 5 pounds. This is certainly a gun that could work for competition and personal defense.
The slathering of Kryptek camo helps this gun blend in while revealing its true calling in life: a hunting weapon. With an adjustable rear and tritium fiber-optic front sight and excellent balance, this pistol is capable of fantastic accuracy. The comfortable, black G10 Piranha grips allow you to get a solid grip. This gun ships with a pair of eight-round magazines, and if there was ever a pistol that just screamed to be taken hog hunting, this is the one. Couple this gun with SIG’s new V-Crown 10mm load, and you are ready to bring home the … excuse the pun … bacon.
Colonel Cooper, himself, would have been drooling over the Nighthawk Custom Heinie Long Slide—a 6-inch 10mm with too many extra features to list here. These guns are built by some of the finest gunsmiths in the business, and their attention to detail shows in every pistol that leaves the factory. A partial list of the features found on this class-leading pistol include a forged, government-sized frame and match-grade barrel, Nighthawk 2-dot, adjustable, tritium rear sight with pyramid design (which means no snagging), ultrahigh-cut front strap, Nighthawk tri-cavity aluminum trigger, cocobolo Heinie logo grips, ball radius on the slide and so much more.
The Nighthawk Custom Heinie Long Slide is built to the most exacting standards. Because of its high price, it isn’t a gun for every shooter, but if you can swing the money and want a class-leading 10mm, this is the one for you.
We couldn’t possibly offer a list of the best 10mms without mentioning the very gun that helped pull this cartridge back from the brink of extinction.
The Delta Elite is based on Colt’s 80 Series Government model, and it’s a great option for those who want a 5-inch 1911 with 10mm power. The stainless steel slide and frame come with a brushed stainless finish, and the black composite grips bear the classic Delta medallions that immediately distinguish this pistol from all other 1911s on the market.
This gun weighs in at 35 ounces—light enough for carry, yet heavy enough to tame the 10’s potent punch. The dovetail sights have a low-profile design, so this gun works well for concealed carry. Its eight-round mag capacity (it comes with two magazines) offers an extra shot over its .45 counterparts, which is a very real advantage in a deadly encounter. If you’re a real 10mm fan, your collection just isn’t complete without a Delta Elite in the safe.
Just before this issue went to print, Colt announced a new Delta Elite Rail Gun 10mm featuring an accessory rail on the dust cover, upswept beavertail safety, extended thumb safety and Novak Sights (MSRP: $1,299).
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.