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Calibers for Beginners: 10mm Auto

10mm auto ammunition

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The 10mm Auto is a cartridge with an unusual history. It’s one of the few that has gained a reputation as both too powerful and not powerful enough for regular use by a variety of end users. In this article we will look at the 10mm Auto both in the past and how it sits today in the mind of the shooting public. We will also look at what it is and what it isn’t for the new shooter.

Mixed Beginnings

The 10mm Auto began life as the brainchild of the late/great Jeff Cooper. If you don’t know who Jeff Cooper is, you’re not an idiot, as many pompous gun people will claim, you’re just not reading the right books. Cooper was a man who embraced the effective and railed against the excessive in his writings. He’s best known for creating many of the modern pistol techniques we use today, and he developed the 10mm Auto round.

The cartridge was designed to offer better terminal performance than .45ACP and 9mm. There is more to it than that, but we don’t need to cover that here. In short, the resulting product was a rimless pistol round that fits into the frame of a standard automatic pistol (like a 1911) and produces power on par with some types of magnum revolver cartridges. In all, it was a very successful design that appeared in pop culture like Miami Vice, where hero Sonny Crockett carried it in a Bren Ten, and in the real-life hands of the FBI.

Unlike Crockett, many FBI and other law enforcement agencies couldn’t handle the excessive recoil produced by the full-house loads, resulting in ‘10mm Lite’ loads. That choice virtually killed the 10mm on the commercial and LE market. ‘10mm Lite’ spawned the red-headed stepchild of the pistol world, the .40 S&W. The .40 (still a 10mm, just a shorter case length) was heavily adopted across the country and world and the original 10mm Auto was largely forgotten, except in some small circles.

As .40 S&W began to die off with the advent of better and more advanced 9mm loads in recent years, the 10mm Auto began a surprising renaissance of its own. That just about brings us to today. The beginner should look at the 10mm Auto as it is now, not as it once was. Things are better than ever for today’s 10mm fans, although some caution must be used for the novice, especially handgun hunters who are new to the caliber.

Benefits of a 10mm Auto include:

Superior terminal performance That’s the big one, my friends. You can say the 10mm is powerful, but it has to be seen to be believed. Compared to the other three most common carry cartridges (9mm, .45ACP, .40 S&W), it offers a tremendous advantage in power and penetration at equal distances.
Relatively large magazine capacity The 10mm can squeeze more ammo into a gun of the same size than a .45 ACP, typically in the range of one to three rounds more depending on the model. A GLOCK 20 holds 15+1 rounds, the same as a 9mm GLOCK 19. Just be aware of capacity limits when hunting.
Powerful commercial ammo The 10mm’s resurgence has created factory options that meet or exceed the original specs Cooper intended.
New and solid guns The market for 10mm guns is currently growing. Solid and mature platforms such as the 1911, GLOCKs, and even revolvers, ensure reliability and accuracy.
Dual purpose use The 10mm is a popular hunting caliber that can be used on many game species including small black bear. (This also appears in the cons section, so don’t be surprised.)

Some cons for a beginner to consider:

Recoil Yes, there will be macho hombres in the audience who routinely do tough-guy stuff like benchpress 500 lbs, drink a liter of vodka while watching Roadhouse every night, and use unwaxed dental floss. For them, the 10mm’s recoil is like a morning breeze. The thing is, they didn’t start doing all those things on day one. Recoil, like Patrick Swayze, takes getting used to and the 10mm’s kick will, for the rookie, be a bit of a surprise.
Poor quality ammo There are lots of types of 10mm out there for sale, but not all are the real deal. Most of it is loaded to .40 S&W power, which isn’t why you bought a 10mm. Companies like Federal, Buffalo Bore, Hornady, HSM, and many other fine ammo manufacturers make full-power 10mm Auto.
Hunting isn’t a guaranteed deal Yes, I know that there will be some detractors in the comments here, as there always are, but pay no attention. I value animal life and try to hunt ethically, as should you. That means I try to take enough gun for the task to ensure I don’t commit the morally bankrupt and sadistic error of injuring an animal by way of personal folly. Injuring an animal by taking risky shots makes you a bad hunter, period. Taking long shots beyond your skill range makes you not only a bad hunter, but a generally immoral person, even if you miss. You owe it to your quarry to be responsible, not a braggart who takes unnecessary risks with something’s life. Are there better hunting rounds for pistols? Sure. Is the 10mm horrible? Not at all. Pick a gun meant for hunting and practice in a realistic hunting scenario, so no mag dumps out of your 10mm carry gun at 75 yards. Realistically, the 10mm is a fine cartridge for deer-sized game at bowhunting distances and you should be okay with it at those ranges, with practice.

Some great guns to consider for the 10mm cartridge include:

GLOCK 20, 29, 40, and 29SF These are good pistols that have excellent reliability. They boast high capacity for their size and caliber, but generally aren’t quite as accurate as the other guns on this list. Don’t let that discourage you, as they are still plenty accurate for general use.
1911 There are many, many options here in the 1911 category. You can find many good 10mm 1911 pistols from Ruger, Springfield Armory, Rock Island Armory, and Remington, among others. The 1911 pistols are legendary for their accuracy and most of the best hunting handguns in 10mm are of this design.
SIG P220 Hunter This is a relatively new offering from SIG and it’s designed with the handgun hunter in mind. It features a crisp single-action-only trigger and a camo finish.
Ruger GP100 This is a heavy-duty six-gun that offers revolver reliability with 10mm power and can load with full moon clips. (TTAG review coming soon)

The 10mm Auto is an interesting cartridge. It’s worn many hats over the years and is currently gaining popularity at the time of this writing. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s a good cartridge for the novice handgun hunter because it’s available in familiar, mature platforms that make training easier.

The 10mm offers good power in a generally light gun and can be carried in CCW pistols as well. For the outdoorsman who spends time in town between hikes, a good 10mm can be a nice balance between the two worlds.

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