As the most likely theater for a potential 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 even 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 weigh a thousand pounds and wear a set of horns suitable for impaling and tossing your big new truck -– you cannot be overgunned. And if you’re hunting anything at all in brown bear or grizzly country, well, we probably don’t have to expand on the nightmarish possibilities inherent in that particular situation. If you carry a revolver, this is .357, .41 and .44 Magnum territory. If you carry a semiautomatic pistol, this is the land of the 10mm.
Rock and Roll icon and enthusiastic big-game hunter Ted Nugent is known to carry a 10mm Glock as backup on his dangerous-game rifle hunts in the bush country of the Dark Continent 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.
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 available level of law enforcement and civilian defense and combat pistols to unheard-of heights of performance 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, mediocre training 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 10mm 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 10mm’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 far 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 new pistol 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 the Smith’s 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 S&W or just plain .40 Auto. The smaller cartridge also offered the big advantage, at least to the FBI, of fitting in a smaller 9mm-size gun.
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 the more flexible polymer frame of the Glock 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 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. As a hunting handgun or back-up gun for dangerous game, the 10mm in any configuration gives nothing away to the .41 Magnum revolver which has long been recognized as an excellent choice for these field applications.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the .40, since it is simply a lower velocity version of the 10mm, as a defense and police gun. Especially in the home and on city streets where overpenetration 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 semiautomatic than a 3½-pound revolver, well ...
The own pet 10mm is a G29 customized by Robar and equipped with a Lasermax integrated laser unit, and I rarely leave town without it. Robbie Barrkman of The Robar Companies (www.robarguns.com) in Phoenix 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, the hook being in honor of some amateur gun-holding style invented by Hollywood that was all the rage for about 20 minutes back a few decades ago. This is cosmetic surgery I recommend to any Glock owner if for no other reason than the fact that a rounded trigger guard makes the gun easier to re-holster. Robar 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 slide was refinished in Robar’s proprietary NP3. 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 mostly just for fun, as hip-shooting ground squirrels cannot be considered serious training for anything. The Lasermax simply replaces the Glock’s guide rod-spring assembly and has never interfered with operational reliability in any way. Besides, the big iron Trijicon sights on the gun 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, most of 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 straight-line penetration through barriers such as automobile bodies and windshields. 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 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.