Rumors of the death of the 10mm pistol cartridge and its replacement by the .40 S&W are premature. The talented Ten has simply moved out of town.
When you get out beyond the limits of the city, a .38 or 9mm in your holster seems awfully small. As the most likely theater for a potential armed confrontation opens up from city sidewalk, to high speed freeway, to lonely country road and wide open spaces, even the capabilities of a .40 or .45 may be stretched. When the threat of danger lurks, not in the aching veins of some desperate junkie or the evil eye of an adolescent asphalt-jungle predator, but in the paranoia of a gang of land-grabbing marijuana farmers or the stamping feet of a belligerent range bull – out where the bad guy is more likely to be armed with an AK-47 than a pipsqueak pocket rocket, might even weigh a thousand pounds and wear a set of horns suitable for impaling and tossing your big new truck – you cannot be overgunned. If you carry a revolver, this is .357, .41 and .44 Magnum country. If you carry a semi-automatic pistol, this is the land of the 10mm.
Rock and Roll icon, firearms enthusiast and big-game hunter, Ted Nugent, is known to carry a 10mm Glock as backup on his dangerous-game rifle hunts in Africa and has used the gun as his primary weapon to hunt North American and African plains game. Nugent has taken elk, caribou, bear, boar, ram, Oryx, warthog, eland and zebra with his 10mm, not to mention finishing off a wounded Cape buffalo.
Too much gun for self-defense? There is no such thing. There is such a thing as too much penetration in a soft-cover environment, but you can control that with your choice of ammo and bullet design. And if you should ever find yourself in a situation where your attacker is wearing a heavy sheep-skin coat and shooting at you with a rifle from behind a tree, 100 yards away, a 10mm will do you a lot more good than that little .32 you like to carry around in your shirt pocket or your purse.
The world’s most powerful commercially produced pistol cartridge first saw the light of day in 1983. It was the brainchild of handgun guru Jeff Cooper, first chambered in the Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten pistol, with ammo manufactured by Norma of Sweden. The 10mm promised to raise the performance level of law enforcement, defense and combat pistols to unheard of heights, and indeed, it did exactly that. However, though the cartridge has been warmly embraced from the beginning by the most demanding and sophisticated pistoleros, the entrance of the 10mm into the broad mainstream of American handgunnery remains clogged with the debris of over-eager marketing, bureaucratic bungling and plain bad luck.
The Dornaus & Dixon company was so poorly managed that the original Bren Ten barely lasted long enough to become a TV star in the hit show, Miami Vice. Don Johnson, as Detective Sonny Crockett, carried the gun in an early bunch of episodes and his trigger pulls were accompanied by the special sound effect of a prolonged BOOOM to separate Sonny’s big 10 from the more ordinary guns fired by more ordinary characters on the show. Alas, the Bren Ten pistol went the way of most badly managed good ideas. But the 10mm cartridge lived to fight another day.
The 10’s development was spurred on by a spate of deadly failures of .38 Special and 9mm handguns at the particular expense of the FBI. The 10mm was designed to drive a heavy bullet at high velocity. The original Norma loading called for a 200-grain bullet at 1200 feet per second, ballistics comparable to the .41 Magnum revolver. This provided vastly improved stopping power over the smaller 38s and 9s, and also offered better penetration, a flatter trajectory and greater magazine capacity than the .45 ACP. After extensive testing, focused almost entirely on the cartridge’s superior ballistics, the FBI wasted no time in officially adopting the 10mm as the solution to its handgun problems.
But the handgun problems of the FBI, as it turned out, went far beyond ballistics.
In the first place, the 10mm was more than the gunmakers thought it was. The relentless slide battering dished out by the high-pressure 10mm load proved more than any pistol then in existence could handle. The Bren Ten, which was actually a slightly reworked CZ 75, a fine gun originally designed around the modest 9mm cartridge, suffered cracked frames at the hands of the far more powerful 10mm. The Smith & Wesson Model 1076, which was also an adaptation of a lesser gun and was the specific model adopted by the FBI, started shooting itself apart before agents could even qualify with it. Steel 1911 frames fared not much better.
And there were other problems with the FBI’s S&W 1076 besides breakage. Recoil with full-power 10mm loads proved as hard on agents-in-training as it was on the gun. Many simply couldn’t handle it, much less control it. With its fat frame and double-action lockwork, which required an especially long trigger reach, female agents and men with smaller hands had great difficulty even getting off the first round. All this soon led the FBI to download the 10mm to what has become known as the “10mm Lite.” Using that same load, they finally decided to dispense with all the extra brass that went unused in the reduced 10mm Lite loading and cut the length of the cartridge case down to what we now know as the 10mm Short, or more universally, the .40 Auto. The smaller cartridge also fits in a smaller gun.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the .40. It is simply a lower velocity version of the 10mm, still a big improvement over the 9mm and more than adequate as a defense and police gun, especially in the home and on city streets, where over penetration is always something to consider. And in a concealed carry situation, a smaller and lighter frame is highly desirable. But if you’re out in the country and have no need to limit the power available at your fingertips, and if you’d rather carry a 25-ounce semi-automatic than a 3½-pound revolver, well …
It wasn’t until a gunmaker designed and built a pistol specifically to handle the more powerful cartridge, rather than adapting an existing 9mm or 45 ACP design, that extended shooting of full-power 10mm loads became practical. That manufacturer was Glock, and the pistols were the big G20 and the compact G29. One of the benefits of Glock’s more flexible polymer frame is its ability to soak up enormous amounts of recoil without breaking the frame of the gun or the wrist of the shooter. To this day, Glock is the only pistol that’s capable of taking everything the big 10mm can dish out over a prolonged period of time.
(As an aside, the smaller-framed Glock G22 and G23 chambered for the .40 cartridge are current FBI issue, with none of the problems associated with the big Smith 10mm that at least served to kill off .38 Specials and 9mms for use by the feds and most other law enforcement agencies.)
As a carry gun, the 10mm G29, with its compact size grip, slide and barrel, delivers more power in an easily concealable and controllable package than anything else you can get – more powerful than a 2-inch .357 Magnum, more concealable than a 3- or 4-inch .41 or .44 Magnum, more controllable than any of the above. The G29 is my own choice in a 10mm carry gun. Mine has been customized by Robar and equipped with a Lasermax integrated laser unit, and I rarely leave town without it.
Robbie Barrkman of The Robar Companies in Phoenix [www.robarguns.com] figured out early on how to work with Glock’s polymer frame and reshape it any way a shooter might desire. In my case, he thinned the grip down a little and shaped it to perfectly fit my hand. He also lopped off that silly hook on the trigger guard, cosmetic surgery I recommend to any Glock owner if for no other reason than it makes the gun easier to re-holster. He refinished the grip and trigger guard with a nice stipple texture, added little-finger extensions to my magazines, fit the extensions perfectly to the bottom of the frame and finished them to match. The result is a pistol that feels like an organic part of my hand instead of a lump I’m hanging on to so it doesn’t escape.
The Lasermax [www.lasersightsusa.com] pulsating laser sighting unit is just for fun, as hip-shooting with the aid of a laser dot cannot be considered serious training for anything. The unit simply replaces the Glock’s guide rod-spring assembly and has never compromised operational reliability in any way. Nor does the Lasermax’s presence interfere with the big iron Trijicon sights on the gun. These can’t be beat when you’re shooting it the way you’re supposed to shoot it.
Ammo is an issue for all 10mm shooters. Not because there’s any shortage of it, but because the FBI’s diddling around with the loads in their search for a bureaucratic compromise led ammo makers to come out with a lot of 10mm loads that are just .40 loads in a 10mm case. And, of course, the companies are neither considerate nor honest enough to tell you so on the box, so you have to know what you’re looking for if you want to get real 10mm performance out of your 10mm gun.
There are basically two ways to go with 10mm ammo. One, heavy bullets at high velocity for smashing up hard things like the bone structures of larger animals and penetration through barriers such as thick doors and steel automobile bodies. Two, light bullets at super-high velocity for explosive stopping power on human-size targets. Most of the makers of proper 10mm ammo offer both.
CorBon [www.corbon.com] can always be counted on to deliver manly loads. I especially like their 180-grain Bonded Core which is rated at 1320 fps. Texas Ammunition Company [www.texas-ammo.com] loads a 200-grain flat-point at 1250 fps that is hot stuff, as is their 165-grain JHP. Winchester’s [www.winchester.com] 175-grain Silvertip load is no wimp. Georgia Arms’ [www.georgia-arms.com] 155-grain Gold Dot at 1375 is a good defense round. Mike McNett, owner of Double Tap Ammunition [www.doubletapammo.com], is a hard-core 10mm fan and offers some of the very best loads around. His 135-grain JHP is rated at 1600 fps, and the Double Tap 180-grain Golden Saber JHP moves out at 1330 fps. As a comment on the ability of the Glock pistol to handle full-power 10mm ammo, McNett uses a stock 10mm Glock G20 for all of his testing and says he has put 80,000 rounds through the one gun without a hitch.
The next time you find yourself in the company of some blow-hard who starts spouting off about how the highly touted 10mm came and went, you can tell him for me that the 10mm never went anywhere except off the front covers of the kind of gun magazine that is still breathless over the invention of stainless steel. Besides, even if the 10mm had gone anywhere, it didn’t take it long to come and go and come again.
You may never need the capabilities of a 10mm pistol. In fact, you may never need a gun at all. But should a situation suddenly develop where you do need a gun, you will need it urgently. And even a cannon will seem too small.