Ammunition

10mm Auto: Good Self-Defense Round?

10mm 1911 Magazines and Ammo

In a recent article, I covered the pros and cons of many rounds that are commonly used for self-defense.

Due to the large degree of choices, I had to leave out a few. The most commonly asked about choice I left out was the 10mm Auto.

It is (depending on who is selling it) the seventh to ninth most popular self-defense caliber, by volume of JHP bullets sold.

I will address that today, beginning with a bit of history of the cartridge.

Brief History of 10mm Auto

Jeff Cooper (yes that Jeff Cooper) invented the chambering for the up-and-coming Bren Ten pistol.

As most of you know (or know by not knowing), the Bren was anything but a huge success. That did not end the life of the 10mm.

In reaction to the 1986 Miami Bank shootout, the FBI demanded stronger hitting power from their pistols.

In the 1986 shootout, two FBI agents were killed and five more wounded by two bank robbers armed with semi-auto rifles and wearing double layers of soft armor.

The FBI adopted the 10mm round and associated pistols to up the firepower of their agents.

In time, they un-adopted the round, as many of the agents with small hands and minimal training were not able to handle the strong recoil or pass qualifications.

Also, the chosen platform, the S&W 1076, was not reliable.

These factors lead to the neutering of the 10mm with the creation of a softer shooting variant, the .40 S&W.

This was then adopted by many LEO agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

10mm S&W pistol, gloves, glasses and ammo
LoadBullet WeightVelocityEnergy
Original FBI Load170-Grain1,300 fps638 ft/lbs
FBI .40 S&W Load180-Grain950 fps360 ft/lbs

10mm Auto for Self-Defense

For many years, I drank the .40 S&W Kool-Aid. And to be fair, it is not an awful round.

It just doesn’t live up to anything resembling its potential and although I still own the GLOCK 22 I carried, it no longer has a place as a carry option.

If I am going to carry something that runs a 0.400 bullet, it would be a 10mm.

That brings us to the value of 10mm as a carry round.  

From third-party ballistic testing, as with almost all other calibers, the choice of round makes a huge difference.

In this test, the gun used was a GLOCK 20 (4.6” barrel).

They chose this for several reasons, but it seems as if most people who carry a 10mm have at least a 4.5” barrel.

There are only two commonly available options in the subcompact category, the GLOCK 29 (3.8”) and the EAA Witness Compact (3.6”).

Both of these severely hamper performance, much like the .357 Magnum with a two-inch barrel.  

Essentially, 10mm in a short barrel creates .40 S&W performance with an increase in muzzle blast, muzzle flip and recoil, with no performance bonus.

10mm Auto GLOCK 20

Load Testing

Best Options

The best choices tested (in alphabetical order):

LoadPenetrationExpansionVelocity
Barnes 155-Grain VOR-TX12.5 Inches0.81 Inches1,080 fps
Hornady 155-Grain XTP14 Inches0.68 Inches1,344 fps
Hornady 180-Grain XTP16.9 Inches0.64 Inches1,158 fps
SIG Sauer 180-Grain V-Crown19.4 Inches0.76 Inches1,138 fps
Speer 200-Grain Gold Dot19.7 Inches0.68 Inches1,029 fps
Winchester 175-Grain Silvertip16.2 Inches0.68 Inches1,143 fps

Of these, I would likely run the Barnes 115-grain VOR-TX, unless I had serious concerns regarding barrier penetration.

My choice would be influenced by the lack of overpenetration potential, massive expansion and relatively tame recoil impulse.

This should result in quickly stopping the bad guy, while facilitating follow-up shots, should they be needed.

For those wanting additional barrier penetration, the SIG Sauer or Winchester Silvertip might be the better choice.

I would be willing to carry any of the above, with the possible exception of the Hornady 155-grain XTP.

I would need to determine how much recoil penalty the 1,344 fps velocity creates.

I don’t see the extra velocity as useful, since it does not improve performance.

SIG Sauer Elite Performance Ammo Box

Worst Options

The worst choices for self-defense (in alphabetical order):

LoadPenetrationExpansionVelocity
Buffalo Bore 200-Grain32+ Inches0.04 Inches1,110 fps
Federal 180-Grain Trophy Bonded32+ Inches0.4 Inches1,227 fps
G2 Research 115-Grain RIP12.2 Inches0.4 Inches1,240 fps

In fairness to the Buffalo Bore and Federal Trophy bonded, they are not designed as self-defense rounds.

They are supposed to be used a hunting rounds for CPX3 or larger game.

The complete lack of expansion still concerns me, but the penetration potential is more important against a feral hog.

These types of bullets also tend to expand on contact with bone, which was not tested here.

I see no reason for the G2 round. It barely has adequate penetration and zero expansion.

Many people chase velocity with low-weight for caliber projectiles, but this doesn’t even offer that.

Buffalo Bore Ammo Box

Other Options

There are other choices in the middle of the pack and certainly a lot of choices that were not tested.

Not to mention, handloaders are able to create significantly more powerful loads.

I would mention that might not be the best choice for self-defense (against two-legged varmints).

The 180-grain 1,350 fps loads will do huge damage (assuming good expansion), but the follow-up time will be much longer.

These certainly have a place against dangerous game. The other thing is, an unfriendly DA can use that against you in court.

Even if you don’t face the full effect, why put yourself through the process on an otherwise good shoot?

Do you like to use 10mm auto for self-defense? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (30)

  1. Here in the Pacific Northwest there was a 6 inch barrelled pistol used with factory Winchester Silvertip ammo in a self defense scenario and the burly guy that was shot at 22 yards above the right eye was dead before he was flat on the ground, not even squirming. The 10mm Auto is a thorough man stopper.

  2. I believe a personal carry weapon is a personal choice and I’d probably never say my personal choice is the best for everyone. Most of the time I carry a 10mm. But, I live where there are bears and my dogs have a deep instinctual hatred of bears and will chase them anytime they get a sniff. My 10mm also protects my dogs. I have a lot of problems with FBI philosophies for shooting. When I hunt I want a through and through on any animal that I shoot in order to leave two holes for rapid blood loss. I cannot see a reason not to want the same for a bad guy that walks off the road through the forest in the dark for a half mile to get to my house in order to commit mayhem in my life. As my nearest neighbor is a mile away and there are no children in my house I’m not concerned about over penetration. When I leave my house and go downhill to the city I do usually carry a smaller gun with a smaller diameter bullet. And, I always have a concern if it is enough should I need enough. The FBI, like any government agency, makes standard decisions based on what their lawyers feel comfortable explaining to the public. I don’t primarily believe my choice of carry weapon should be decided upon based on what a lawyer thinks if I survive the event. Having said all of that, for carrying a weapon to town, the above information is good information when considering what is enough to survive a tactical event where over penetration around innocent bystanders should be considered in my choice of carry.

  3. I have a few different weapons that I shoot and load for, at the moment I have (5) in 10mm.
    Four of those are handguns by Springfield, XDM’s and a 1911.
    Of those five weapons, I’ve probably had the most fun firing my CMMG Mk. X 10mm carbine.
    I’ve loaded some smokin’ hot rounds up to 200gr XTP’s for the Mk. X in hopes of finding some hogs rootin’ in my pasture again, shooting them in the carbine are a blast, quite literally. It’s fairly easy with a holo sight to keep pig hair in the sight picture through an entire 28 round mag, very little rise in the 8″ (as I recall) barrel. The 10mm carbine is an excellent platform for such things, but not something I’d consider as a “truck gun” for PD use.
    My XDM’s are reliable and relatively soft shooting, my Ronin 1911 in 10mm chambering is truly soft shooting, for the weight and velocity. it’s got some heft to it, that has to contribute a bit.
    For me, the Glocks are not a lot of fun with this cartridge, that’s the only 10 I’ve shot that wasn’t enjoyable. I think it’s a little bit of weight/balance, and quite a bit of grip shape.
    I think the “10” is at or near the top of my personal list as a Self Defense round. The platforms, well, other than the Ronin, not so much. Very large, and pretty damn heavy. 16 rounds of 10 gets heavy pretty quickly.

  4. The author would like to point out the Barnes round provides the same damage potential as the 155 gr 40 S&W but at 115 grain weight, thus meaning much lower recoil and much faster follow up shots.

    I would also like to point out this article is aimed (pun intended) at Self Defense usage and MOST of the 180+ gr options with a muzzle velocity of 1250+ are not properly suited for that role. Many use projectiles that are either too hard for self defense or too soft for the velocity. Not to mention the much bigger recoil penalty.

    Yes 40 S&W works, but with modern bullets (see my article on common SD rounds) there are better, cheaper, lower recoiling options. 10 mm may not be one of those, but with the Barnes round you get all the effect at lower recoil. With the heavier / faster rounds you get much more effect if you are willing to pay that recoil penalty.

  5. I carry a Glock 29 in a cross draw holster . I figure if I had a car jacket my 10 mm should be able to penetrate my car door . As a former officer I find the 10 mm a good round .

  6. First time I have ever talked on a site, I have a little experience with 10mm, I have a xdm 10mm that I did a penatration test with 15 red diamond tea jugs filled with water, it would have probably made complete penetration thru all but made a right out of # 14, ammo was fenix, sig ammo made 13, bullet recovered, this ammo is wicked,, hogs or anything that penetration is needed, look no more, I have yet to get hollow points and test, average speed 1290fps fenix and 1235 fps for sig. I own 45 and 9mm pistols and they can’t hold a candle to power of a 10mm. It’s how much power do u want, thanks

  7. I’ve been carrying a S&W 1006 since 1990 at work and off duty and since retired, I have numerous handguns From .22 caliber to a 50AE but this is and will be my carry gun. It has never given me a problem, it’s always worked and is very accurate. There are many different rounds for it these days from light and fast rounds to heavy and fast hunting rounds it’s well worth the weight of the gun and I have no problem concealing it. Double Tap and Underwood both make excellent Cartridges for the 10MM and at high velocity taking advantage of the 10MM potential.

  8. Is the 10mm better than the 9mm-YES.When I refer to 38Spec+P and 357Mag,I refer to 4″[or longer] barrels.As you noted ’86 FBI technique was -not entirely- to blame…..but partially it was.Why give the criminals”any break”??In a snubby I’d go with at least 38+P,or preferably 44Special or 45Colt[bigger hole, less muzzleblast!The lessened muzzleblast and muzzleflash to me is a real plus in confined spaces.
    In an auto wear looser clothing and go with 45ACP,45ACP+P,460 Rowland then 10mm.Force the law enforcement agencies to qualify with those calibers,ditto 12ga vs 20ga shotguns.Don’t”dumb down” for weak statured personnel. A local club decades ago gave a law officer,who shot zero,a box of ammunition to practice with..perhaps that officer should have been armed with a hand held spear?

  9. @lefty–“Seems like the FBI casualty erate in that ’86 shooting was doe to poor techniques”–not entirely true. In this shootout there were several rounds that were very accurately fired and did not adequately penetrate. If you read the report on that by Dr Martin Fackler, this was the conclusion. Prior to 1986, every armed encounter that failed led to the conclusion that “we need a bigger bullet and a bigger gun”. The 1986 enocounter due to Dr Fackler ended with “we need more reliable penetration (but not too much)”. Due to this shootout, the standard became 11-14 inches of Ballistic Gel Penetration and the rest followed this. And as we all know (and is stated above), the 10mm was incorrectly vilified due to the weapons used–not due to the round. In addition, with the .38 Spec and 357 you mention, these rounds are ENTIRELY dependent on barrel length. For smaller snub nosed barrels, .357 magnum offers little more than .38 special except for muzzle flash. Any increase in power is simple lost there with shorter barrels. NOT true when you get to 4 inch barrels.

  10. I carried a S&W 10mm from 1991-1995, At which time I retired from the FBI. I loved the gun. It was from the performance center at S&W. Never had any problems whatever. I would have a S&W 10mm as my edc today, but fell in love with 1911s, .45 autos.

  11. I’m new into the target shooting. What gun fires a 10 mm cartridge? What mm is that gun? Sorry to be so uninformed. Please answer. Thanks.

  12. I own a year 1988 Colt Delta Elite & run Hornady 155gr hp through it. It is my nightstand self defense firearm. It is hands down my go to when shtf. If you have never shot a pistol chambered in 10mm , I strongly urge you to. You will be surprised of the awesome power , but also easily controlled it is , even in a glock 20 or 29 as well.

  13. “.40 S&W Kool-Aid?” “Not an awful round?” I don’t know what you’re basing your commentary on but I can tell you from first hand experience investigating homicides and officer-involved shootings for over 15 years in a large US police department that the .40 S&W has proven to be a very effective round in stopping threats and winning gunfights.

  14. The author denigrates the 40SW as weak. However, his choice of rounds, the 155-grain Barnes Vor-tx, lists performance that is easily within the range of 40SW loads. A 155-grain bullet @ 1080fps is 40SW performance…

  15. I think the .40 is definitely superior to the “new” 9mm loads. You can get a +P in .40 too. The 10mm is definitely a superior man-stopper. Do the math. More muzzle energy = more damage (with the proper bullet). I really think that loading that did not expand but also did not penetrate probably left mucho fragments in the wound channel (ouch!). If I knew there was trouble coming, I would leave my G43 and grab the 10mm always.

  16. I have been reloading 10MM for my GLOCK Model 40 and for my Kimber Custom II …I like the ability to create loads specific to each . Both handguns are extremely accurate and recoil very manageable . Carry whatever you can shoot well and comfortably …

  17. I’ve been a fan of the 10 mm since I bought the second or third Delta Elite available here. I’m also a bullet caster and shoot mostly cast bullets in the 10 mm and the .40 S&W (and everything else I shoot with one hand). Three or four years ago, I did some expansion/penetration tests in wet phone books, something that is harder and harder to find. All the jacketed loads, from .327 Federal Magnum up penetrated around 6″-7″, which may be more representative of the test medium than the bullets. I then tried my cast bullets in .327, 9 mm, .45 ACP, and 10 mm. They ALL went clear through about a foot of wet phone books and into the berm behind. I concluded that caliber makes little difference; you don’t want to use cast bullets in your carry gun. Much earlier similar testing also convinced me that the larger the bullet the better. That time using wet newspaper bundles, 9 mm rocked the stack, .327 spun it half-way around, but .45 Colt took it clear off the barrel. I concluded that making a larger hole in an assailant or perhaps an attacking animal would give a more desirable result. But for carry, it’s a Kimber Ultra Carry II .45 ACP. It’s as small and light as my Fire Star .40 S&W, makes larger holes in the target, and I’m not worried about over penetration. It is also considerably easier to conceal than that Delta Elite ever was. A friend of mine used his Delta Elite on an attacking pit bull. It worked fine, but his wisdom is “anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice.” I don’t know what load he used.

  18. Have owned a Colt Delta Elite since it came out. The 10mm is the only semi auto handgun I’ve fired that “snaps” your hand back on recoil. A hot round that will allow you to reach and touch someone – at 100 yards if you like (sights on target, no elevation adjustment).

  19. I have been wanting to try a ten for a long time. First, I could not find a gun I liked, but then it became a matter of ammo. Before I decide what to carry, or use in a situation, I want to have shot a few hundred rounds first. The price of ammo, when you can find it, is astonishing.
    You can’t buy reloading components for some reason. I can understand temporary ammo shortages, but they should always clear up in short order, but why is there such a hassle over reloading components? Not that many people do it, but it’s the only practical way for a poor man to practice.

  20. 10mm is a cartridge that seems to be a modern updated 38.40. IF there was a modern rifle/handgun combo, like for the 38-40 back in the 1880’s, but in semi auto form, think that the 10mm would be a lot more popular. Such a combo, using the same magazines for both, would be a major improvement over the current batch of 9mm Pistol Caliber Carbines. A 16″ – 18″ carbine (NOT a Blow-back action) in 10mm would be a great tribute of the 1873 Winchester and Colt combos carried by so many back in the day.

  21. The 10mm bullet is identical to the 40 S&W round and would give you no benefit in lethality unless the larger case is utilized to its original purpose, which was to accelerate a heavy bullet to magnum velocities in a semiautomatic pistol. Unfortunately, due to complaints about recoil from some users, the current commercial ammunition seems to have remarkably weakened over the past decade such that the ballistics are no better than an .40 S&W, but at a higher price point. I would argue that without a muzzle velocity in the 1250 FPS range or greater, this cartridge is completely dehorned and without purpose. I would admonish the shooting public to demand the cartridge be loaded to original specs so we can enjoy it’s true advantage over all other calibers. It has been my observation, based on extensive military and civilian trauma experience as a medical professional, that lethality goes up with bullet size, weight and velocity. A properly loaded 10 mm in 170-180 grain moving at 1300 FPS will reach the upper limits of what a handgun can accomplish, understanding this is a poor competitor to a 30-06 or even 62 grain 5.56 at 25 meters. I believe this should be used by those of us who can handle the recoil, which is probably everyone reading this article.

  22. Any stats or info on ARX 10mm 90 grain Inceptor round. I see where this is also made in different calibers.

  23. I own four 10MM firearms. A Springfield XDM, a Sig Sauer Scorpion, Rock Island 1911 and a Hi Point carbine. They are fantastic to shoot and carry. I have the velocity and force combined in one round without having to own several different calibers, which I do anyway. As with everything it comes down to choice and what your comfortable with.

  24. I’ve been a 10 shooter since 88 when I sold 2 guns to get a new Colt Delta Elite. The 1911 platform is awesome and those that think Glock has a better action are simply inexperienced. Don’t get me wrong, Glock has its place in society, but anyone needing the magazine capacity of a Glock is simply throwing bullets at many more unintended targets than the intended target. Basic firearms safety rules require you to know your target and what’s behind it. Back that up with the necessary practice to hit the target accurately in any situation and you won’t need a high capacity pistol. Personally, I carry my mags with 3 rounds of fragmenting bullets and 5 rounds of HSTs in case the guy is wearing a vest. Since the average human body is less than 12 inches thick (facing the chest) almost all bullets will be pass-throughs creating the possibility of more potential unintended victims. The 10 is my favorite pistol, but I do love my 45s and 380s.

  25. The 10mm round to me is the best all -around best caliber for everything! There are so many different fantastic factory rounds available. Underwood makes some of the best Ammo around, that ranges from a 135gr bullet traveling at 1600fps, to I believe a 200gr bullet, with several in between. If you don’t like a little recoil, buy a heavier gun and wear shooting gloves, and you will get the best handgun experience out there! I’ve killed an antelope at 75 yards with Underwoods 135gr bullet, 1 shot facing me right in the neck, down she went! I also hunt with Winchester 175gr Silvertips, that I killed a 600lb wild boar in Arkansas. I would not hesitate to use one of my Sig 10mm’s to stop a killer or a terrorist, as a matter of fact, why would I ever want less than a 10mm?

  26. This is a caliber that I have to admit that I have wondered about since it made its debut. And, being the cynical sort, as well as having seen too many people over many years in ER who had been shot (with loads that the numbers on paper said definitively should have killed them) but survived, I have wanted to see what the real life statistics are for both the .40 and the 10 mm, as in how many people have been shot with those calibers and how have they fared subsequent to the ventilation experience provided by the shooter. Those are probably the only pistol calibers that have not been represented by patients presenting to any of the ER’s where I was working.

    As I retired from ER in 2008, I have not had the opportunity to see what they would do in that kind of situation. A guy I knew on the Fugitive Apprehension Team for Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department was not a fan of the .40 after it failed to penetrate a vehicle of a suspect during a shootout. I am not worried about punching holes in vehicles, I am concerned about holes that I would be punching in whoever has put me in the circumstance of drawing my weapon and discharging it. My only concern in that situation is that there is de-escalation of the situation with as few rounds fired as possible, something that sounds good but frequently only ends when the slide locks to the rear and tells you there is no more ammo.

    I have to admit the numbers for the 10 look good and I have considered getting another 1911 in that chambering. It could be used for hunting or self-defense. I just would like to see hard data from real life shootings, or if there is any available. Don’t want anyone going on a shooting spree just to satisfy my curiosity, but that is a question I have considered on more than one occasion.

  27. I currently carry a Glock 23 and love the accuracy and performance. The 10mm would offer a good hiking round for unwanted attention from large critters (cougar/bear) not to mention the random bad guy. The recoil from the 23 is minimal for me as I am blessed with substantial hand/arm strength. I have been looking at the Kimber Rapide Black Ice, but may go with Glock as the familiar feel and action may be better. Thanks for the excellent article!

  28. The Miami FBI shooting is literally about 3 miles from where I sit now. I was also working that day less than 50 yards from the shooting. My employee told me that there’s some sort of shooting. At the time I was remember having a stethescope on (I was in the med field). I honestly didn’t hear a thing. However, thankfully, there was (still is) a huge wall that took lots of bullets. Thankfully as our building was in direct line of fire. The street is now named after 2 of them if I remember correctly.

  29. If not for the 45ACP,45ACP+P,..or the 460 Rowland!,I’d consider the 10mm.For a wimpy 40S&W,I’d go instead with the 357SIG which duplicates the 357Mag 125gr JHP[per Evans&Marshall is the #1 one shot [torso]stopper]..and yes development of better 9mm loads ha occurred over the decades. IF I were going with FBI calibers,I’d go with 38Spec+P 158gr LHP followed by several cylinders of 357Mag 158gr JHPs Seems like the FBI casualty erate in that ’86 shooting was doe to poor techniques[similarly a LA shooting]

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