Why the 10mm Is the Ultimate Handgun Cartridge for Hunting and Personal Defense (Plus 8 of the Best Pistols You Can Buy)
If you are looking for a hybrid pistol with stopping power that’s capable of killing big game, the 10mm is your best bet
If you want a pistol that can take down a mountain lion but is also easier to carry than a .357 hand cannon for self-defense, the 10mm is the perfect option. Now, this handgun will likely never be an everyday carry gun in an urban setting (it’s not exactly a dainty pistol). But when you’re headed into the backcountry (or live there), the 10mm is ideal for a variety of hunting pursuits and to defend yourself from both animal and human predators.
The most powerful factory-loaded handgun cartridge that still fits into a service pistol-sized semiauto is the 10mm. The “big 10” has a stout reputation among Alaskan bear guides and hunters for its stopping power. It’s also capable of taking down medium-sized game at reasonable distances (out to 100 yards) with the right load and a steady hand. I won’t pit revolvers against semiautos, just know, it does take much more of a time investment and skill to become accurate with a big bore wheel gun than a semiauto. And though semiautos are not easy to shoot accurately, you do have the added benefit of more ammo capacity for multiple follow up shots and faster reloads.
If you’re going to hunt with a 10mm, the 1911s have manageable recoil and are supremely accurate. The downside is they can be unreliable if you don’t keep them clean and well maintained, which can be difficult to do in the backcountry. They also don’t have the magazine capacity of double-stack, striker-fired pistols and are heavy, so it’s best to buy a chest holster for wilderness carry if you plan to buy one. Polymer-framed pistols are going to give you more durability and are less susceptible to the elements. They have a higher magazine capacity, are easier to manipulate in all conditions, and they’re lighter. If you can mount a red dot and white light on one, that will make for a fine sidearm.
If you’re in the market for a hunting/self-defense handgun, these are some of the best 10mms you can buy. Plus, why you need a red-dot sight, and the right ammo to feed your pistol, so you can get optimal performance from your next 10mm.
Glock Models 20, 29, and 40
I want a high-capacity magazine loaded in my handgun when my life is on the line. Attempting to reload when a grizzly is quickly closing the distance is not a situation I want to be in. Only two manufacturers are currently making double-stack 10mm pistols and one of those is Glock. A trio of models exist: the Model 20, Model 29, and Model 40.
The Model 20 and 40 share the same frame and magazine capacity of 15+1. The difference is found in slide and barrel length. The Model 20 features a 4.6-inch barrel, while the 40 boasts a full 6 inches. The 40 is also offered with an MOS cut, allowing the shooter to mount a myriad of miniature red-dot optics using a plate system. A slide-mounted red-dot sight is the wave of the future and greatly extends the distance you can effectively engage a target. Be warned, the 40 is like wielding a small sword—it’s very long and can be a challenge to carry.
The 29 is a sub-compact and holds 10 rounds in a flush-fitting magazine, although it will also accept the same 15-round magazine that feeds the 20 and 40. The 29 would be a great concealed-carry backpacking pistol in the lower 48 states, but it might not be the top choice for colder environments where you’ll likely be wearing gloves, or if you’re in brown bear country. The short grip doesn’t lend itself well to a quick, consistent draw, unless you’ve dedicated a significant amount of training to dial it in.
My go-to is the fourth generation 20 due to its reduced length of pull (compared to a Gen 3) and softer recoil thanks to the pistol’s dual-spring recoil assembly. Those with larger hands will appreciate its similar shape, grip circumference, and length of pull, as it is very close to Glock’s famed 17/22.
Springfield recently entered the polymer-framed striker market with a pair of beefed up XDM’s. A standard 4.5-inch barrel model features three-dot steel sights, while the 5.25-inch barrel model wears an adjustable rear sight paired with a fiber-optic front. Both pistols share 15-round magazines. Three interchangeable back straps, three mechanical safeties, and an ambidextrous magazine release mean the big XDM will fit the vast majority of shooters and offers a high level of safety to boot. My favorite model is the all-new OSP 4.5-inch, which actually features a 5.28-inch threaded barrel. I’m not interested in mounting a suppressor, but will take the boost in velocity (due to the length of the barrel). The OSP features suppressor height sights that pair nicely with a red dot. If you experience an electronic failure, you’re right back to where you started.
Recoil is surprisingly mild. The pistol is extremely accurate, and built to withstand the abuse expected to be doled out in the backcountry. Hunting, defense, and practical target shooting, this pistol does it all, and does it well. Check availability here.
For those unfamiliar with the P220, it is the handgun the company’s current stable of pistols owe their heritage to. The pistol was originally developed for the Swiss Army, and officially adopted by them in 1975, chambered in 9mm. In 1976 the pistol was made available in .45 Auto and designed to best the 1911 in every way. It quickly became recognized as one of the most accurate .45s out of the box.
Several years ago, the P220 was offered with a 5-inch barrel and chambered in 10mm. The all stainless-steel construction makes for a hefty pistol, but the weight certainly tames the recoil of the 10mm cartridge, especially with spicy loads. Currently, the P220 10mm is available as part of the company’s Legion line and can be had in two configurations; as a double-action/single-action, or with a sweet single-action only trigger.
If you search the aftermarket, you might be able to locate a used P220 Hunter which was available in Kryptek’s Highlander camouflage. The G10 grips were heavily textured for a sure-grip, while the slide was adorned with very functional sights (fully adjustable rear with a protected fiber-optic front). New or used, the 10mm P220 is a joy to shoot. Check availability here.
If you’re looking for a 10mm 1911 that won’t break the bank, then consider Ruger’s SR1911. The full-size stainless-steel SR1911 Target Model features an all-black BoMar-style, fully-adjustable rear sight and a dove-tailed, smooth black front sight. It’s outfitted with an extended ambidextrous thumb safety, a lowered and flared ejection port for reliability, and a titanium firing pin for longevity. A 5-inch barrel and bushing are match-machined from the same piece of bar stock for a very precise fit. The pistol also features an extended beavertail grip safety, black rubber grip panels and an oversized magazine release, making operation with gloved hands or slippery conditions manageable. Check availability here.
Colt isn’t in the news much these days as it pertains to 1911s, but this list wouldn’t be complete without one, especially given the fact Colt was the first to chamber a 1911 in 10mm back in 1987. The Delta Elite Rail Gun is constructed of stainless-steel and features a classic 5-inch barrel and an integral frame rail, allowing it to effectively pull double-duty as a camp defender and hunting handgun. The 1913 rail accepts most lights and lasers currently on the market. It also features a beavertail grip safety, an extended thumb safety, composite grips with Delta medallions, and Novak white-dot sights. Check availability here.
Les Baer Premier II Hunter
The name Les Baer exudes confidence. And though Baer’s pistols might be expensive, you get what you pay for. You can count on an LB handgun cycling properly and to be amazingly accurate. Chambered for 10mm Auto, the Premier II Hunter features a match-grade, 6-inch barrel, tuned LBC Speed trigger and aggressively checkered front strap and mainspring housing. The front sight offers an eye-catching green fiber-optic coupled with a low-mount, fully adjustable rear sight. Like most high-quality pistols, it has some heft to it, weighing in at 44.2 ounces unloaded and measuring 9.5 inches in length.
The Remington R1 Hunter adheres to the “black is the new black” dress code for modern 1911s. With its 6-inch barrel, G10 grips, an integral accessory rail, and a black PVD finish, the 10mm R1 Hunter is the do-it-all 1911 of this round-up. Whitetails or black bears, this pistol can get it done. While I’m not particularly fond of fiber-optic sights in a hard-use pistol, I do like the all-black adjustable rear sight and the red fiber-optic front. Add a SureFire X300 Ultra and you’ve got a formidable, light recoiling, accurate platform. Check availability here.
Kimber Super Jagere
Kimber’s Super Jagere is an optics-ready thumper that can tackle most tasks. The Jagere effectively blurs the lines between hunting and backcountry defense. While magazine capacity is limited to eight rounds, the pistol is setup from the factory to make best use of each and every one of them. Originating from Kimber’s custom shop, the Jagere is outfitted with a Leupold DeltaPoint PRO red-dot sight milled into the slide. Forward of the ejection port are six ports that match those found in the barrel. The ports effectively mitigate muzzle rise when the gun is fired, and also make tracking the red dot a whole lot easier, allowing for quick follow-up shots.
The long slide, 6-inch barrel, porting and all-stainless construction make even hot 10mm loads manageable. It is heavy, and long, so a chest holster is in the cards. The pistol is a tack-driver and the factory installed red-dot sight makes stacking rounds on target look easy. If a railed dustcover was added, the Jagere would have checked all my personal boxes.
The Benefits of a Red-Dot Optic
I am a huge proponent of red-dot sights on pistols. The advantages are just too good to ignore. A miniature red-dot sight milled into the slide of your pistol makes shooting on the move and shooting at moving targets significantly easier, as the shooter simply places the dot on the target and squeezes the trigger. It takes sight alignment completely out of the equation. A red-dot equipped pistol allows the shooter to remain focused on the threat, and prior to pulling the trigger, they don’t need to refocus on the front sight. Simply place the dot where you want the bullet to impact. The level of precision a small, bright dot provides versus iron sights at distance can’t be overstated and might be the most significant advantage a red-dot sight has over iron sights for the casual shooter.
Adding a red dot takes away sight radius, so there is no accuracy benefit to having a pistol with a longer slide, i.e. the Glock 40. With that said, back-up iron sights are a mandatory addition to any pistol used outside of a flat range. Not only do they act as a back-up sighting system in the unlikely event the electronic sight should fail, but the sights are training wheels to get a new red-dot shooter up and running by offering a familiar sight picture. If your iron sights are aligned, your red dot will be sitting on top of the front sight post.
What Ammo Should You Feed a 10mm?
I love the 10mm, but getting ammo that lives up to the platform’s potential hasn’t always been easy. There have traditionally been two extremes: lightly loaded personal defense rounds that are barely hotter than standard pressure .40 S&W duty ammo, or smoking hot loads that feel like they’ll sheer the slide from your pistol’s frame.
Federal Premium is now making a 180-grain, Trophy Bonded JHP load. I’ve shot a bunch of it, and while it is stout, it’s not wrist-wrenchingly obnoxious. It’s accurate to boot, printing a 1.9-inch five-shot group at 50 yards through a Glock 20 with a KKM Precision barrel. Muzzle velocity was 1,275 feet per second (fps) with 650 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy and retained 417 ft.-lbs. at 100 yards.
The Trophy bonded-core bullet is said to expand and hold together, which hasn’t always been the case in the 10mm. Often, the choice has been between bullets that fragment, or bullets that won’t deform even if driven into a railroad tie. Federal’s 10mm load offers deep penetration on the toughest game animals and reliable expansion.
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