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Would You Hunt with a 10mm Handgun?

by Greg Rodriguez   |  May 24th, 2012 37

The 10mm Auto is plenty powerful for handgun hunting deer-sized game without producing unmanageable recoil, and the 1911 platform is easier and more comfortable for the author to carry than a big-bore revolver. His Nighthawk Long Slide 1911 is plenty accurate, too, averaging less than 2.0 inches for five-shot groups at 25 yards.

I started wearing a handgun in the field more than a decade ago when the number of violent conflicts with illegal aliens began to rise dramatically in my neck of the woods. That 1911 gave me comfort as I walked through the South Texas brush.

That 1911 also got me into handgun hunting. Long-range plinking at targets of opportunity (rocks, rabbits, coyotes, etc.) led to stalking feeding hogs and javelinas and, eventually, to setting up on busy travel routes for whitetails. I stoked my .45 ACP pistol with Federal’s 230-grain Hydra-Shok load, and it did the job, but the round proved to be anemic on big game. Even when I shot them perfectly, it often resulted in long tracking jobs.

I could have stepped up in power by switching to a revolver, but self-defense against multiple assailants is a very real possibility on the border. I’ve trained with 1911s for more than two decades. I shoot them well and am very comfortable with them. Their trim profile also makes them a joy to carry. For me, switching to a revolver wasn’t even an option.

Trying to find a semiauto suitable for hunting that is also comfortable to carry isn’t easy. There aren’t many auto pistols chambered for magnum cartridges, and the few available offerings are too big and heavy, in my opinion, for daily carry. To be honest, the fact that it is the most powerful factory cartridge offered in a traditional 1911 made the 10mm Auto my only realistic choice, but the 10mm can stand on its own merits.

I shot a .41 Magnum a great deal in my younger days, and I really came to love the cartridge for hogs and whitetails. The .44 Magnum does it better, but an old wrist injury makes a packing-weight .44 Mag. a bit too painful for me to shoot. Because of my good experiences with the .41 Mag. in the past, I knew the 10mm Auto, which nips at its heels, would do the job.

Though most factory 10mm loads are on the sedate side, some custom manufacturers, such as Double Tap, Buffalo Bore, and CorBon, offer hotter loads that are pretty close to the .41 Mag. For example, Federal’s 180-grain Barnes Expander load for the .41 Mag. leaves the muzzle at 1,340 fps with 718 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle and 569 ft-lbs at 50 yards, which is my max range with any iron-sighted hunting handgun. Double Tap’s 180-grain Controlled Expansion JHP for the 10mm Auto leaves the muzzle at 1,305 fps and packs 681-ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle and 563 ft-lbs at 50 yards from a 4.6-inch-barreled Glock G20. That’s not quite up to .41 Mag. numbers, but it’s close enough. It’s also a substantial upgrade over my favorite .45 ACP load, which leaves the muzzle at 900 fps and has just 414 ft-lbs of muzzle energy and 382 ft-lbs of energy at 50 yards.

Nighthawk’s Long Slide 10mm
I already owned a full-house custom 10mm Colt by John Harrison, but the gun is way too beautiful to subject to brush country carry. Five-inch-barreled 10mms also come up a bit shy of the .41 Mag. in the performance department, so I decided to try a 6-inch 1911 in hopes of getting a little better ballistics. Several makers offer them now, but at the time Nighthawk was the only company to catalog a 6-inch 10mm Auto. The Nighthawk pistols I’d tested previously ran flawlessly and shot great, so I ordered the 10mm Long Slide model as my new ranch gun.

Like all Nighthawk’s pistols, my 10mm Long Slide is beautifully executed. It has an adjustable rear sight with tritium dot inserts and white outlines that make the sights work well in any light. It also has a 6-inch, match-grade barrel. The longer sight radius makes the pistol a bit easier to shoot accurately, and the extra inch of barrel gives me a bit more velocity and energy. The pistol also has an attractive, corrosion-resistant camo finish and all the custom parts you’d expect on a Nighthawk. It is solidly built and perfectly fitted, which explains why it is so darn accurate.

On the range, the Long Slide delivers sub-2-inch groups at 25 yards with several loads and averages right at 1.5 inches with Double Tap’s 180-grain Controlled Expansion JHP hunting load. And thanks to its longer barrel, it actually beats the 180-grain .41 Mag. by a bit, clocking right at 1,344 fps from the extended tube.

The 10mm is also a flat-shooting cartridge. With a 25-yard zero, it drops an imperceptible 0.2 inch at 50 yards and just 4.2 inches at 100 yards, where it still hits with 478 ft-lbs of energy. That’s more power than my favorite .45 ACP load has at the muzzle. Despite all that power, the 10mm Long Slide’s recoil is quite manageable. One friend likened its recoil to that of a standard .40 S&W load out of a polymer-framed, 4-inch-barreled gun.

I’ve carried my Nighthawk 10mm Long Slide a great deal over the last few years. The extended slide does cause the grip to push up into my side a bit when I’m seated in a vehicle, but I don’t even notice it when I’m walking. The longer sight radius, however, is most welcome on the range, where I can shoot with greater precision from 7 yards all the way out to 100. I wouldn’t shoot an animal much past 50 yards with it, but that level of precision gives me loads of confidence.

The first animal to fall to my Nighthawk 10mm was a nice eatin’-sized feral hog. The young boar had foolishly chosen to fall asleep right in the middle of the ranch road. I thought it was a log or carcass when I first saw it in the distance, but a long look with my binocular revealed that it was a dozing hog, so I slipped out of the truck and worked my way into the wind for a closer look. At 20 yards I could actually hear it snoring, so I snicked off the safety, plastered the front sight on its chest, and made the porker’s rest an eternal one. The bullet exited after passing through both shoulders, leaving an ugly wound channel in its wake.

10mm-Auto_002A few days later, I used my 10mm to take a big-bodied South Texas whitetail at 41 yards. The double-beamed buck stepped out in pistol range, so I stuck the front sight in the sweet spot and shot. It bucked hard and raced for cover, but the buck dropped as soon as it hit the brush, just 25 yards from where it stood at the shot. The double-lung shot missed the near shoulder but still managed to bust through the offside. There was significantly more internal damage than I’ve seen on game shot with my .45 ACP pistol.

In total, I’ve taken a dozen big-game animals and a truckload of varmints with my 10mm. It can’t match the big-bores for power, but it is far more decisive on deer-sized game than my .45 1911. It’s also much more comfortable to wear on my hip than any of those big-bore sixguns. Big-bores may pack more punch, but they require a bigger package that weighs more and kicks more. Pack a big-bore revolver if you must, but you can make my hunting handgun a 10mm.

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