In the early 1970s, a gentleman by the name of Whit Collins approached Colonel Jeff Cooper with the idea of developing a powerful .40 caliber cartridge that would fit in a modified Browning Hi-Power and would offer a serious boost in power over the 9mm and .45 Automatic. Cooper's idea was to develop a .40-caliber load that pushed a 200-grain bullet at about 1,000 feet-per-second (fps), a substantial increase in power over existing law enforcement loads.
They began the process of finding a rifle case that would provide the proper casehead dimensions. Eventually Cooper, with input from Irving Stone and others, decided on the .30 Remington case. The original bullet used was a .40-caliber, 180-grain projectile from the .38-40 Winchester, and Cooper's version of the load became known as the .40 Super, which would later become the 10mm Automatic.
Cooper enlisted the assistance of Thomas Dornaus and Michael Dixon to develop a handgun that was capable of handling the powerful new cartridge. That gun became known as the Bren Ten, and in the early 1980's there was a stir about the new handguns and the new load that Colonel Cooper himself had imagined and developed.
It seemed the 10mm Auto was destined to be a success, but production never kept up with demands and soon interest in the 10mm Auto was fading. Colt saved the day, and recognizing the potential of this new cartridge, the brand offered it in a specialized 1911 known as the Colt Delta Elite. Those who still had faith in the 10mm Auto now had the opportunity to purchase one from a manufacturer with the ability to meet high production demands. The 10mm Automatic was finally on its way.
1989 FBI Testing Protocols found that the 10mm Auto delivered on its promise of prodigious power, but the recoil and muzzle blast were considered too great for general law enforcement use. The .40 S&W arrived on the scene, and the 10mm Auto was once again pushed aside.
"Early on, [the 10mm Auto] was adopted by law enforcement as a ballistic improvement over existing duty rounds," says ATK Ammunition Product Line Manager Mike Holm. "Although it performed well, the FBI considered the recoil too heavy and some of the guns available at the time were not robust enough to handle the recoil, so most manufacturers watered down their 10mm Auto offerings to produce ballistics almost identical to the 40 S&W."
The 10mm Auto has never been forgotten, though, and it has found a new following among hunters and those who venture into country where large predators are a problem. These shooters were looking for 10mm loadings that were closer to original specification than the lighter loads of the day.
"There's a dedicated group of shooters who love the original, full-power 10mm Auto," says Holm. "They know and accept the recoil. In fact, they want it because it means they're using the platform to its full potential."
With full-power loads, the 10mm Auto serves as a powerful defense weapon against man and beast and has been used as a hunting cartridge as well. The 1911 is an easy gun to carry, and it provided energy levels that were just shy of those generated by larger, heavier .41 Remington Magnum revolvers. There are still companies that are investing in the 10mm Automatic — Federal has just introduced a new Vital-Shok 10mm load that pushes a 180-grain Trophy Bonded JSP bullet out of the muzzle at 1,275 fps. This produces 650 ft.-lb. of energy at the muzzle and places the load between standard .357 Magnums and the .41 Remington Magnum energy wise.
Whether you're looking for a hunting gun, a defensive sidearm or something to keep the bears at bay, the 10mm remains a valuable load. Here's a look at eight currently manufactured semiautos that are chambered for this mighty round:
Para Ordnance Elite LS Hunter
For 2014, PARA introduced the Elite LS Hunter 10mm 1911. It offers a 6-inch, match-grade ramped barrel, stainless steel frame and slide with Ionbond PVD black finish, VZ Operator Machined G10 Grips, an oversized, flared ejection port and a variety of other options. The rear target sight is fully adjustable and the fiber optic front sight is easyto see even in low loght conditions. In addition, the Hunter LS features an accessory rail for mounting lights and lasers, and this pistol equipped with a laser would be an outstanding rig for hogs and deer at moderate ranges. The long barrel also allows shooters to garner the most velocity out of their hunting loads. If you're in the market for a six-inch 10mm 1911 but can't afford a custom gun the PARA Elite LS Hunter offers a lower-priced, high-quality production gun option. Price: $1,249
Glock 20, 29 & 40
If a custom 1911 isn't in your price range then you aren't excluded from the 10mm fraternity. Glock offers three 10mms; the subcompact Model 29 with a 3.77 inch barrel, the larger Model 20 with a 4.60 inch pipe, and the longslide optics-ready Model 40 (pictured above). With a 15-round capacity, the Model 20 and 40 offer serious firepower for defensive works (from either two or four-legged predators) and they are effective hunting firearms for deer-sized game at reasonable ranges. The Model 20 is also available in a small frame (SF) configuration that is perfect for shooters with smaller hands.
Glock's brand new 10mm, the G40, comes with a 6.02 inch barrel to glean the most velocity and energy out of 10mm Auto loads. With a sight radius of 8.19 inches, the extended barrel also aids in accuracy. If you'd prefer to use an aftermarket optic, Glock has you covered; the new G40 comes with the company's MOS (Modular Optics System), which includes interchangeable plates that common semiauto handgun optics like Trijicon's RMR and Leupold's DeltaPoint. With the extra barrel length and the ease with which optics can be mounted, this is a great option for whitetail, hog, cougar, and similar-sized game, including a viable sidearm option for carrying in bear country. Price: $545 to $699 (depending on specific Model #)
Colt Delta Elite
The other guns on this list probably owe the Delta Elite thanks for their very existence, for as good as the 10mm cartridge is it's hard to say whether or not it would have survived beyond the original Bren Ten were it not for Colt. As it were, Colt introduced the Delta Elite in the late 1980s and turned the shooting public on to this powerful cartridge. The Delta Elite is still in Colt's lineup today, and it comes with a brushed stainless slide and frame, Commander-style hammer, and signature wraparound grip with the Delta Elite logo in the center. The high profile fixed three-dot sights are easy to see and the eight round magazine provides plenty of payload. Price: $1,115
Rock Island Armory TAC 2011 GT10
Unlike the 10mms on this list that are designed and built for hunting, the TAC 2011 GT10 is a dedicated combat gun with features like VZ G10 grips, full-length dust cover with tactical rail, combat hammer, extended beavertail grip safety, adjustable rear combat sights with a bright orange fiber optic front sight. With an eight round capacity, it provides an extra round compared to most standard-capacity 1911 .45 combat guns, and when you're carrying a 10mm auto the odds are slim that you'll be outgunned in a violent confrontation. The five-inch barrel makes the TAC 2011 easier to carry, so this gun doubles as a great backup weapon in bear country. It's also a bargain in the realm of 10mm 1911s. Despite its modest price tag, Rock Island Armory guns have an enviable reputation for accuracy and dependability. Price: $732.81
Nighthawk Heinie Long Slide 6
Nighthawk produces custom 1911s made of fully machined parts and frames made from solid forgings, and each gun is inspected by customer service director Tim Lehr before leaving the factory. The quality is, as you might expect, excellent, and the resulting pistols are extremely reliable and accurate. The company offers a number of 10mm 1911s, including the Heinie Long Slide, which features a match grade, full gunsmith-fit six-inch barrel, forged frame and slide, tactical magazine release, and fully adjustable sights with tritium night sight inserts. All of the sharp edges have been removed from the slide and frame to make this a comfortable gun to carry. Price: $3,595
Republic Forge Predator
Republic Forge is a new name in 1911's but their one-gun, one-at-a-time philosophy, abundance of available options and extremely high build quality are building a following for the brand. Their Predator long slide 10mm Auto is built to the same high standards as all their other 1911s, and the Texas-based company allows you to build your own custom 1911 on their website so that you can play with grip styles, finish options and other features in your efforts to build the perfect 1911 for you. The gun shown here has a graphite black frame, Damascus slide (a $1,500 dollar upgrade), Texas Star hammer, and ivory grips, a striking firearm to say the least. Price: $3,395
Dan Wesson Razorback
Not too long ago Dan Wesson gave up on the 10mm Auto and discontinued every model, but customers began decrying the move and begging for a DW 10mm. To appease the 10mm fans, Dan Wesson now offers their 10mm Razorback, a Government-sized 1911 with a 5 inch match-grade ramped barrel, stainless slide and double diamond cocobolo grips. The pistol features a Clark-style target rib and fixed combat sights as well as an undercut trigger guard and smooth front strap for a comfortable hold, especially for shooters with larger hands (and with a full magazine of hot 10mm loads you'll want as many fingers on the gun as possible, trust me). The frame is forged, and the surfaces are polished and sandblasted for a smooth feel and comfortable carry. Price: $1,350
SIG Sauer P220 10mm
For 2015, SIG Sauer now offers four different P220 models chambered for the 10mm Auto. The Match Elite Reverse Two-Tone model (pictured above) comes with a stainless finish, adjustable match sights, an Elite Beavertail, black G-10 Piranha grips and a DA/SA trigger. Also new are Stainless Elite and Stainless Elite Nitron versions with SIGLITE Night Sights and 5 pound SA triggers; the Elite has a stainless finish with rosewood grips while the Elite Nitron comes with a Nitron finish and G-10 Piranha grips. Of special interest to hunters is the Hunt Ready P220, which features a Kryptek Highlander camo pattern, a SIG Sauer Romeo red dot sight and G10 Piranha grips. All models have a 5 inch barrel, an eight-round magazine capacity and weigh just over 39 ounces. In addition to the four new 10mm handguns, SIG has also added two new 10mm Auto loads to their Elite Performance Ammunition lineup, a 180 grain FMJ load and 180 grain V-Crown load. Price: $1,422 (Match Elite Reverse Two-Tone)