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Handgun Hunting.

With Proper Ammunition, The 10mm Auto is a Fine Field Cartridge

While the revolver is by far the most popular handgun selected for hunting big game, the semi-auto certainly has its place. Suitable cartridges include the .45 ACP--when properly loaded, the .45 Winchester Magnum and the big .50 Action Express. However, there is another good--and often overlooked--option for the deer hunter, and it is the 10mm Auto.

The history and development of the 10mm is interesting, as it was the brainchild of Whit Collins, Irving Stone, John Adams and the legendary Jeff Cooper. Cooper wanted a combat round that would shoot flatter and offer better penetration than the .45 ACP. Their wildcat cartridge evolved using .30 Remington brass, cut to proper length and loaded with a 180-grain .38-40 W.C.F. bullet. By 1983, the Bren Ten pistol appeared and Norma was loading ammo.

Unfortunately, the Bren Ten suffered from several production problems, and a very limited number of guns actually reached consumers. In 1987, Colt announced the Delta Elite 10mm in the proven 1911-style pistol, which was an instant success. Early Norma factory loads drove a 200-grain bullet at an honest 1,200 fps, which rivaled the power level offered by the .41 Magnum. Soon, several other gun companies were producing guns chambered for this powerful round, and it quickly became one of the best-selling handgun calibers.

Because the new round was proving to be very effective in extensive government testing, in 1989 the FBI officially adopted the 10mm Auto. However, the recoil was just a bit stout for many officers, so a reduced load was developed that drove a 180-grain bullet at 980 fps. It didn't take S&W and Winchester Ammunition long to realize that the same ballistics could be obtained in a shorter 10mm case. This would also allow the "new" S&W cartridge to be chambered in the same compact pistols as the 9mm.

The .40 S&W was introduced in January 1990, and it became a huge success within just a few months. Unfortunately, this spelled trouble for the Ten; and within a couple of years, sales began dropping sharply. Today, there are only a few manufactures still producing guns. Springfield Armory offers the 10mm through their Custom Shop, and Glock offers three variations of their large-frame pistol.

Smith & Wesson produces their Model 610, a revolver based on the big N-Frame and intended specifically for the handgun hunter. And there are still plenty of Colt Gold Cups and Delta Elite 1911's available on the used market. (In fact, there are still many new-in-the-box guns available.) It is the Colt Delta Elite model that I am personally most fond of when using this cartridge.

While the average handgunner may be better served with the .40 S&W as a defense cartridge, I have remained fond of the 10mm as an all-purpose auto pistol because of its better long-range potential and added power. When proper ammunition is used, it can cleanly harvest game the size of deer.

I have also found it very accurate and in no way finicky to handload. With bullets weighing 155 to 180 grains, it thrives on medium-burning-rate pistol propellants such as AA#7, Unique and HS7. With 200-grain bullets it will produce top velocities with slower pistol propellants such as AA#9, Alliant #2400 and Blue Dot. Overall, Blue Dot has given me the best performance with bullets weighing 155 to 200 grains.

For those that are not yet hand-loading (but should be), several companies are still offering suitable hunting ammo. In making a selection, the hunter should be aware that not all 10mm ammo is loaded to the same ballistics and pressures. For example, Federal Cartridge offers two 180-grain bullets driven to 1,030 fps, while Winchester Ammunition loads a 175-grain at 1,290 fps. PMC loads a 180-grain bullet at 950 fps (intended to reduce recoil for personal defense) and a 200-grain FMJ bullet at 1,050 fps. They also offer a 170-grain JHP at 1,200 fps, which is a good deer-class load. Hornady offers a 155-grain XTP at 1,265 fps, a 180-grain XTP at 1,180 fps and a 200-grain XTP at 1,050 fps.

For game weighing 75 pounds or less, the 155-grain bullets driven to 1,350 to 1,400 fps can be devastating. However, they lack sufficient penetration on larger game. For deer-sized game, I suggest using heavily constructed 170- to 200-grain bullets for reliable deep penetration. I have had particularly good results with the 180-grain Speer Gold Dot and the 180- or 200-grain Hornady XTP bullets. The handgun hunter can usually expect at least 12 inches of penetration on deer.

I have received several letters asking my opinion of the 10mm as a suitable handgun to carry in bear country. Personally, I prefer something more powerful. However, if one chooses to carry the 10mm, I would recommend using a 200-grain Full Metal Jacket or a properly constructed hard cast heavy weight bullet. These will provide the deepest penetration, which is crucial in stopping a bear charge.

I am particularly fond of the Speer 200-grain TMJ bullet as it has never tumbled or turned sideways in my penetration tests. When pushed to 1,200 fps it will give close to 20 inches of penetration. It is available to handloaders, or in CCI's economically priced, Blazer line of ammo.

Today the 10mm has a loyal following of knowledgeable shooters. I doubt that it will ever become extremely popular again. However, because the case is made on the same tooling as the extremely popular .40 S&W brass, and the bullets are the same diameter (.400), I doubt that it will drop into obsolescence, at least in my lifetime.

If one wants to hunt with a semi-auto pistol, the 10mm is worth a second look. It may lack the muscle needed on larger game, such as elk. However, for deer-sized game it is a very capable cartridge.
                             SHOOTING RESULTS

155-GRAIN SPEER GD-HP AA#7          13.2 1,340 FPS       2.20
155-GRAIN HORNADY XTP BLUE DOT      12.5 1,350 FPS       1.70
180-GRAIN SPEER GD-HP BLUE DOT      11.0 1,310 FPS       2.05
180-GRAIN HORNADY XTP #2400         13.0 1,230 FPS       1.80
200-GRAIN SPEER TMJ   AA#9          14.0 1,205 FPS       1.90
200-GRAIN HORNADY XTP BLUE DOT      9.8  1,150 FPS       2.30

Notes: Five-shot groups were fired at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. All
primers were CCI 300 (large pistol). SAAMI pressure limit for the 10mm
auto is 37,500 psi. These loads are all within that limit.
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Author:Pearce, Brian
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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