By Miguel C. Gil
The 10mm Auto is, without a doubt, one of the most under appreciated pistol cartridges ever developed. It may have faded into obsolescence years ago had it not been for a small but dedicated following in the United States. From time to time, a gun manufacturer would come out with a limited run of a pistol chambered for this powerful round—thus, keeping the 10mm alive!
Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor) recently joined the short list of 10mm Auto manufacturers. Not surprisingly, the cartridge rides in the company’s popular and economical 1911 platform. There is, of course, nothing new with this combination considering companies such as Colt’s, Springfield Armory and the defunct AMT, have gone down this road before.
It remains to be seen, however, if the Philippines’ most prolific gun maker can provide the elusive spark that the 10mm Auto needs to gain mainstream acceptance in the shooting community.
The 10mm Auto cartridge was developed sometime in the 1970’s supposedly at the behest of gun writer Jeff Cooper, who wanted “magnum-level power” in his semi-automatic pistols. At that time, the .357 Magnum remained the ultimate defensive handgun round in the eyes of tactical professionals and the shooting public in general. As it went, serious defensive shooters of the day began asking for a semi-auto with more punch than a 9mm Luger, .45 ACP or even the blistering .38 Super.
While “magnum” powered semi-autos already existed back then, they were simply too large, and therefore, were not practical for defensive carry. They included the big and brawny Auto Mag pistols made by custom gun maker Lee Jurras, which found their niche amongst handgun hunters not the tactical crowd.
In 1983 a small US company called Dornaus & Dickson Enterprises produced the first commercial 10mm Auto pistol called the “Bren Ten.” This gun is best described as a beefed-up version of the Czech CZ-75. It was supposedly an elegant pistol which, unfortunately, never really got the market acceptance it deserved. The Bren Ten’s only claim to fame was that it was the gun of choice of the fictional Sonny Crocket, hero of the Miami Vice series. Dornaus & Dickson folded-up in 1986, presumably because it put too much faith in the Bren Ten.
The 10mm Auto would manage to live on in other guns that would debut in the mid-80’s, such as the Colt Delta Elite, the Springfield Omega and the AMT Javelina—all basically 1911 variants chambered for the high-pressured round. Other manufacturers including Smith & Wesson and a new firm called Glock, would also produce their own 10mm Autos chambered in pistols of their proprietary designs between the 80’s and early 1990’s.
The FBI fling
In 1990 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would adopt the Smith & Wesson 1076 as its official service pistol with the 10mm Auto as its official service round. The 1076 was part of S&W’s much-vaunted “3rd generation” pistol series. It was a full-sized double-action semi-auto with all the refinements that were in vogue at the time.
But almost as soon as it was issued, FBI bosses were supposedly flooded with complaints of excessive recoil—especially from smaller statured and lady agents. The FBI’s service load reportedly pushed a 175 grain bullet in excess of 1,200 fps! This supposedly produced equal if not more stopping power than hot .357 Magnum loads but it also generated brutal recoil. Aside from a decline in the marksmanship scores of agents, the high-pressure 10mm Auto also caused serious longevity issues in the FBI’s service pistol. Guns fed a regular diet of this load were expected to have short service lives.
The FBI tried to remedy this by producing an emasculated version of the 10mm Auto which would be called the 10mm Lite or the “Fed-lite.” This is essentially the same cartridge downloaded to subsonic levels in order to be more agreeable to both FBI agents and armorers.
The 10mm Lite, in performance terms, is identical to the highly popular .40 S&W cartridge, which today dominates the law enforcement and sports shooting circles. After all, the .40 S&W is essentially nothing more than a cut-down version of the 10mm Auto. But that’s a story for another article.
In any case, the FBI would completely abandon the 10mm Auto in 1997, when it selected the Glock 22 and 23 (in .40 S&W) as the service sidearm of its agents. The Glock remains in service with the bureau to this day, while the momentary flirtation with the “Big 10” is history.
No doubt that the company has its sights set on the export market since there is no real government or commercial demand for the 10mm Auto locally. Armscor COO George Chua told us in an earlier interview that a big majority of Armscor’s production are sold overseas under the Rock Island Armory, Citadel and Charles Daly brand names.
It has to be noted that the 10mm Auto, despite a cult following, has never been commercially popular as a self-defense cartridge. One can only assume that Armscor is targeting the American handgun hunting scene—which has always had a place for this formidable cartridge. The 10mm Auto is reportedly sufficient to take down deer-sized game and can even provide close-quarters protection against medium-sized bears!
We were given a sneak peak of the Armscor 10mm Auto 1911 during our recent visit to George’s office. The R&D staff let us take some pictures of the “Medallion Grade” variant ahead of its Philippine launch at the Defense & Sporting Arms Show later this month. They are the same photos that readers will see accompanying this article.
Later, we were granted an opportunity to test fire the simpler “GI” Model at the company’s ballistics laboratory range. The gun, which may have been a lab prototype, lacked the contemporary upgrades found on Medallion grade pistols. Fit and finish were none-the-less good—typical of any all-steel, single stack Armscor 1911. It came with two Italian-made Mec-Gar 8-shot magazines.
Along with the pistol we were handed a box of Armscor’s 180-grain flat-nosed FMJ ammunition with which to test the gun. As per the company’s catalogue, this full-powered 10mm Auto load produces a muzzle velocity of 1,150 fps… which in turn, generates a walloping 529 ft-lbs of energy when shot from a 5-inch barrel!
Our test session certainly confirmed that the 10mm Auto’s recoil was more abrupt relative to the .45 ACP—when both are fired from pistols of the same size and weight. But despite it feisty kick, we found that shooting the gun was in no way objectionable. Kindly note, however, that recoil perception is a very subjective issue!
We managed to keep most of our shots bundled up in a tight group at 10 meters when taking a little bit of time to aim. The range session was indeed confidence-inspiring and dispelled myths about the 10mm Auto as a shooter mauler!
PLAY: Author found the Armscor 10mm Auto quite controllable even if it kicked notably more than the same pistol in .45 ACP. Note the more significant muzzle blast—proof positive of its power! (Video by IGG)
While many feel that 10mm Autos are better suited as a hunter’s sidearm, their potential home-defense applications are undeniable. Fortunately, ammunition approximating the more moderate “Fed-Lite” is now commercially available from several manufacturers. And, when paired with sufficiently hefty pistols like the Armscor 1911, it should be no problem to master—provided one is willing to practice.