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If you’re trying to select the best 10mm pistol, you definitely have a hard job ahead of you. This is one task that, about 25 years ago, would have been simple due to the lack of said-chambered guns. Not so much now – the 10mm is experiencing a renaissance of sorts as more shooters discover it. Why did its popularity dip, and what has caused the resurgence? Let’s look at the 10mm’s ancestry.
The Bren Ten
As a lot of shooters know, one of the fathers of the 10mm cartridge was none other than the great gun guru, Jeff Cooper.
Col. Cooper was a huge fan of the 1911 platform coupled with the .45 ACP cartridge (Best .45 ACP Handguns), but also had an admiration for the double/single action CZ 75. He liked the gun overall but really liked the fact that you could carry it cocked and locked, like a 1911. Cooper was searching for a .40-caliber round that fired a 200 grain full metal jacketed truncated cone (FMJTC) bullet from a five-inch barrel that would have a minimum impact speed of 1000 fps at all common combat ranges out to 50 meters. At the same time, Thomas Dornhaus and Michael Dixon were working on a pistol design that was semiautomatic and would have greater power than the .45 ACP(.45 ACP vs 10mm) and the .357 Magnum. They consulted with various experts including Col. Cooper. When they found out his area of research was similar to theirs, they joined forces. Soon, a new variant of the tried-and-true CZ 75 pistol (with many modifications) was introduced by the Dornhaus & Dixon company in 1983 as the Combat Service Pistol 80. Jeff Cooper, who had finalized the design of his “.40 Super” cartridge, suggested that the final production gun be called the “Bren Ten.” Why Bren? It was a version of the name of the town, Brno, where the CZ 75 was made in the Czech Republic. Why Ten? It was both the caliber and the magazine capacity. And, the .40 Super became the 10mm Automatic cartridge.
Production ran from 1983 – 1986 but hit some glitches. Pre-orders had been taken since 1982, so guns were rushed out the door. Suffice it to say there were issues. The D&D company went under in 1986, filing for bankruptcy. Although the gun company was out of business, the cartridge was alive and well, thanks to the Norma ammunition company of Sweden. They produced ammunition for the 10mm. The F.B.I. adopted the round and then in 1988 downloaded it, because the full-bore 10mm recoil was hard for some agents to control. The resultant cartridge was eventually called the .40 S&W (Ultimate Handgun Caliber Guide).
Okay, so we’ve had our history lesson…what about some guns?
Ten millimeter handguns come in four basic action types: single-action (SA) semiautomatics, single/double (SA/DA) action semiautos, pistol caliber carbines and at least one revolver. Yep, even revolvers. Ruger chambers their GP-100 Match and Super Redhawk in 10mm. Designing revolvers chambered in semiauto cartridges means finding a way to eject fired cases (rimless designs, usually) but Ruger has figured that out. (The original 10mm case was made from the .30 Remington rifle round). We’ll examine 10mm semiautos here but will at least mention that revolver, the Ruger Super Redhawk. This is one serious piece of ordnance, weighing in at almost 60 ounces with included scope rings and machined areas on the barrel to mount those rings. If you are a wheel gun guy, don’t feel left out at the 10mm bar!
Another way to double your fun with the 10mm is by shooting a carbine in that caliber. Not only is this a fun way to spend some time at the range (two guns with one cartridge), it’s also a great hunting combo that makes it easier to reach out and touch game way out there. Given the availability of affordable 10mm guns and ammo, there is no reason not to at least try it.
As with other “Best Of…” articles, let’s look at different guns and examine them in some detail.
There is no such thing as one overall “best.” The best 10mm will be the one you shoot best and is reliable for you, and satisfies your reason for owning it. As the saying goes, my best may not be your best. This article is simply an overview of my preferred 10mm pistols.
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Here are some of the best-selling 10mm guns out there as of this writing. Some are less-expensive than others, some are designed for hunting, some are general-purpose guns but we will look at five of them, all full-size pistols:
- Glock 20 Gen 4
- Kimber Custom TLE II
- Springfield TRP Operator 6”
- Colt Delta Elite
- Ruger SR1911
Hopefully, this will help you narrow down your choices if you are in the market for a new 10mm. There are many 10mm guns out there, and I’ve limited my choices to five of the best for the money. Sig, Dan Wesson, Para Ordnance, Iver Johnson and Wilson Combat all make 10mm guns…if you want to expand your selection criteria a bit, check these companies for more information.
Glock G20 Gen 4
Glock… Well, according to a lot of shooters, I could stop there. Glock, the Chevrolet Impala of the striker-fired pistol world. No offense meant – Chevy sold thousands of Impalas (I had a ’64), and continues to do so in its modern incarnation. What I mean is that Glocks are, like the Impala, very reliable for the money. Not flashy, top-of-the-line; just here to do the job with minimal fuss and bother. My Impala was great – the old, boxy style with the 6-cylinder engine that went anywhere. The G20 is like that…a 10mm that will do whatever you want it to but is affordable, requires little maintenance and is very popular. My memory tells me that it seemed like there used to be Chevy dealerships in every city, large or small; compare that to hundreds of gun dealers’ cases full of Glocks that go out the door with reassuring regularity.
The G20 is a gun that fulfills different purposes. Some folks carry it concealed, although the compact version, the G29 might be better suited for that role. The G20 is found in the field more often than not as a hunting gun. (The 10mm is capable of taking deer-sized game out to about 100 yards, depending on the shooter and the ammo used). As with the Glock 29 being better suited to the concealed carry role, there might be a better Glock suited for hunting than the G20…the G40. This is a longer-barreled gun with provision for an optic (red dot, etc.) to be installed in place of the rear sight. But, for most of us, the G20 is a good compromise between size, capacity and reliability. Some hunters have successfully used heavy, hard-cast bullets in their G20s, but Glock says ‘no’ to lead bullets. There are replacement barrels you can get if you shoot a lot of lead. And, let’s face it, some of the most effective hunting bullets that come out of a pistol are hard-cast, flat-point bullets that penetrate a lot of meat and muscle. The 10mm is a very effective hunting round, to be sure, but in a concealed carry role, downloaded ammo might be in order…muzzle flash alone can temporarily blind you at dusk, plus the blast and recoil is a factor. The longer-barreled G20 might a bit better in that regard than the shorter G29. Your results may be different than mine in the felt recoil/blast area, but the 10mm can be a fire-breather. It comes down to the fact that if you are looking for a do-almost-everything 10mm, the G20 is sure one good way to go. Expect a street price of around $520-$580.
Check out my full Glock 20 Review.
Springfield Armory TRP Operator 1911
The Springfield Armory (SA) TRP Operator is one heck of a gun. I picked it up and it almost felt like I was hoisting my S&W 8 3/8”-barrel .44 Magnum. What a solid platform! The Operator is one (or two, if you count the 5-inch version) of a series of 1911s that Springfield Armory produces. All of their 1911s are built to close tolerances from the best materials available. The 1911’s design lends itself to multi-caliber usage. The 10mm shines in this gun, and SA takes full advantage of its capabilities. We are in the middle of my state’s firearms deer season and I would love to take one of these with me in the field.
The 6-inch barrel not only provides ballistic advantages but it yields a longer sight radius. (This particular model is also available with a standard-length 5-inch barrel, if desired, see specs above).
Did I Mention Hunting?
The 10mm is very capable of putting most four-legged critters down that one might encounter at least in the states east of the Mississippi. The Springfield 10mm guns can be found in holsters of Alaskan guides (and some State Troopers there, although the .40 S&W is standard issue but the 10mm is allowed). The chances of me running into a bear around here that wants to have me for lunch are pretty slim (although there have been black bear sightings a little further south of my location) but if I lived in Alaska, I’d probably have one strapped to me from the time I got up until I went to bed. Here’s where the Springfield really shines. It’s a big, heavy 1911 which makes it slim and easy to carry with magazines that are not hard to pack. You could carry a box of 10mm rounds loaded into spare magazines with the Operator and still be able to walk fairly upright. The fully-adjustable rear sight is somewhat a rarity for the non-target 1911 of today but it would let you dial in a good sight picture for your favorite load. Shoot the milder stuff for practice and carry the big boomers for bruins. I still emphasize the SOLID feel I got when I carried this gun around…it will definitely last you a lifetime if cared for. Expect a real-world price of just over $1400. Not cheap, but this is one of the best 10mms out there.
Just Out…A New 10mm (Or Two) From Springfield Armory
I learned that SA has just released two XDM models in 10mm…they are so new, I can’t find one to take a picture of – every store is sold out. The barrels are 4.5 or 5.25 inches. The shorter gun uses a combat-style rear sight while the longer-barreled one features a fully-adjustable rear sight. Both models utilize a fiber optic front sight. The 4.5-inch model has an MSRP of $652, while the long version sells for $779. Two magazines are included with the shorter model while the long-barreled one comes with three. Magazine capacity is 15 for either gun. Real-world prices are around $550 for the shorter gun, and $665 for its longer-barreled stablemate.
It’s Only My Opinion, But…
I have owned a .45 ACP 3.8-inch XDM compact (Read my review here) now for about two weeks and I love it. For me, it is the perfect blend of a carry gun with its 9-round magazine, and a great range/target piece with the 13-rounder in place. Here’s an added incentive to look at the 10mm XDMs…until December 31st, 2018, SA is giving away a range bag and three magazines with the purchase of any XD pistol. So, I now have two 9-round and three 13-round magazines and a cool range bag for my .45.
If you are looking for a great 10mm, SA has you covered with both a single-stack 1911 and two double-stack striker-fired XDMs. For more information about these two new XDMs, go here.
Kimber Custom TLE (Tactical Law Enforcement) II 1911
Considering that the LAPD SWAT Team uses the 10mm Kimber Custom TLE II, it should come as no surprise that this gun is a sleeper in the world of 10mm 1911s. Available in (as I call it) the real world for around $800, this is a lot of gun for the money.
Kimber made its reputation first in the world of rifles and then added to its good name with a comprehensive line of 1911s. they have since branched out into .357 revolvers and a striker-fired 9mm, but they are known primarily as makers of some top-notch 1911s.
I’ve used this expression before when I’ve described a very few other guns: there’s just something ”special” about the way the Kimber sits in my hand. It just fits. There’s nothing magical about it – I have average-sized hands – it just feels right. I guess it’s the old-school 30-lpi checkering on the front strap, or maybe the low-profile night sights…I’ll bet they can’t make them fast enough. Being used by at least one SWAT Team speaks volumes for its construction and quality.
Whether you are looking for a carry gun that speaks with authority or are just wanting a top-quality 10mm for the range or bedside table, give this Kimber a look. The price is almost in what I call the “budget” 1911 range (I just wrote an article on budget 1911s…) so if you are looking to get hold of a good 10mm 1911 without breaking the bank, give this one a look.
Colt Delta Elite
Colt’s Delta Elite (named after a Special Forces unit) was the second pistol in production chambered in 10mm, with the Bren Ten being the first. The gun was introduced in 1987 and enjoyed some success. However, due to so-so sales and the availability of the .40 S&W, production was dropped in 1996.
At the SHOT show of 2008, Colt displayed a reincarnated Delta Elite. The pistol had gone back into production, in no small part because of the rising popularity of the 10mm cartridge. The new version was released on March 31, 2009 and was virtually the same gun as the original. Sales have been good – lots of shooters want a “real” Colt. So, this gun is very popular.
Colt, having built the original 1911, knows a thing or two about how those guns should be put together. To beef up the 1911 so that it could handle the 10mm’s pressures (that can exceed those of the .357 Magnum), a stiffer recoil spring was added, and the frame was modified to strengthen it in the area around the plunger tube. Other than that, it’s pretty much Colt’s standard 1911. (Except for the cool Delta logo on the grips…).
Folks who are familiar with 1911s of any caliber (except .22LR) will be instantly at home with the Delta Elite. Utilizing a bushing and conventional barrel, the gun takes down like most every 1911 out there. It is interesting to note that Colt experimented with a bull barrel-no bushing setup but deemed it not suitably accurate so they went back to the bushing. Another plus for those so inclined…there is a rail version of the Delta Elite’s frame with four slots. If you want to mount a light or laser to your Delta Elite, all you have to do is pay (MSRP) $100 over the standard dust-cover model and it’s yours. Expect to find them on dealer’s shelves priced around $1100 for the no-rail model and about $75 more for the rail version.
The Ruger 1911 family has earned a reputation for being solid performers. When describing Rugers, one of my favorite ways of describing them is “overbuilt.” Rugers tend to be built more heavy-duty than some other guns I’ve shot. I’ve owned several of their handguns (and a few rifles) and have always been impressed with their ruggedness. Here we have a very nice-looking stainless 10mm 1911 that would be at home on a range, in the field or in a concealed holster. If you are wanting a gun made to exacting tolerances that will hold up to normal (and some not-so-normal) usage dings and bumps, here’s your gun. If anything were to go wrong with it, you are covered by some of the best customer service in the business. I know this from first-hand experience.
Everything about this gun speaks of its quality. From the excellent adjustable rear sight to the skeletonized trigger, the SR1911 is good to go for whatever need you have that requires such a gun. The .45 ACP and the 9mm versions are great sellers with the 10mm catching up as more and more shooters discover this potent round.
This Ruger would be at home in a belt holster, loaded with: practice rounds for the range, competition loads for that steel challenge or self-defense loads for serious social work. My one and only quibble with it is that there is no ambidextrous safety, but that seems to be pretty much par for the course with most of these 1911s. There are darn few 1911s with a starboard-side flipper, even in the .45 and 9mm worlds. But…if that’s the only “fault” I can find with it, no big deal. I get it – there are only about one out of ten or twelve shooters who would need that lever. I just happen to be in that minority. There is also no barrel bushing to deal with.
When it’s all said and done, Rugers will still be in demand and this gun is no exception. Look for a real-world price of $750-7$775.
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Rock Island Armory Ultra FS HC
Any Rock Island 1911 I’ve ever shot has felt like its namesake, the Rock, on Corregidor in the Philippines. These are solid, well-built guns. Considering the features that you get for a street price of around $630, it’s a heck of a deal. When you add in RIA’s famous customer service, you have a winner-winner-chicken-dinner. This is a company that takes its guns seriously and its customers even more so. (I had mentioned in a previous article that I had a compact .45 from RIA that didn’t have an advertised ambidextrous safety when I opened the box, so I called Pahrump, Nevada (RIA’s customer service location for the U.S.). After a talk with Ivan there, I had that part plus a couple of others I didn’t request in about three days. Excellent service.)
Why 16 Rounds? Do I Need That Many?
Well…if you don’t, you can save (only) about fifty bucks and get the single-stack 8+1 version. As for me, given the fact that the width and weight are same between the two, I’ll take eight extra, please. Suppose you’re out hunting hogs and somehow you’ve managed to leave your ammo box in the truck. You’re a mile away from it…do you trudge back as it gets darker or just trust that, with the one extra magazine you stuck in that funny little mag compartment on the front of that cheapo nylon holster with the strap, you’re going to go with what you have? I don’t know about you, but if you’re shooting more than 32 rounds of 10mm, you either are a terrible shot or you’ve just hit the hog honey hole. THAT’s why 16 rounds. The RIA is one of very few high capacity 1911 10mms out there, and is one of the best ways you can spend your hard-earned gun money.
One feature that sometimes gets ignored is that this gun has a fully-adjustable rear sight. You can sight it in for whatever load works best in your gun and not have to rely on sight pushers (or worse, a brass mallet) in order to align the sights. Being an inveterate cast bullet shooter and reloader, I appreciate adjustable sights. This is one big thing that often gets overlooked. The RIA Ultra is one heck of a gun…check one out at your local gun shop.
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Concealed Carry, Ammo Choices And The 10mm
We’ve just examined five very nice pistols and looked at some roles that they might fulfill. There is another 10mm role that we have just barely touched on – concealed carry. Any of these 10mm guns might make a decent carry weapon if you have the right holster, the right ammo and train with it. There are those out there who carry a 10mm but they usually tend to use slightly lower-powered ammo. There’s no need for Underwood, Double Tap or Buffalo Bore full-tilt loads for most personal-protection scenarios, unless you need to stop a charging Chevrolet (Impala, of course). Federal and Hornady make loads that go around 1030-1050 feet per second and use good XTP or Hydro-Shok bullets. These are only two examples of personal defense 10mm ammo; there are other fine defensive loads out there. In terms of versatility, the nice thing about the 10mm is that if you want 1500+ feet per second, that is easily obtained by looking at top-end loads made by the some of the companies listed above. The range of velocities is great in factory 10mm ammo. You can extend that range even more if you reload. You can make rhino-stompers, and then turn around and make a squirrel load that won’t turn it inside out when you shoot it. The point is that sometimes we just don’t need ammo that creates a great big boom when fired when something lighter would do. Hence the Federal – Hornady – etc. lighter loads. Elephant stompers to target rounds, there is much variety available in 10mm loads.
And, In Conclusion…
Why buy a 10? Why not! If you are any kind of experienced pistol shooter and you have “outgrown” the 9mm, .40, .357 Sig or the .45, give the 10mm a try. There are guns out there from a street price of around $400 if your budget is tight, up to mid-four-figure prices for semi-custom guns. It’s a versatile round, as stated above. The 10mm’s popularity continues to grow as more and more shooters discover it. From being all but dead in the 1980s it is stronger than ever today. This time around, the 10mm is here to stay.