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The Most Deadly Handgun Cartridge You Can Buy For Self-Defense

The Most Deadly Handgun Cartridge You Can Buy For Self-Defense

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For many years now there has been a debate among handgun owners as to what the single most effective self-defense handgun cartridge is. It was a very valid debate when the choice was limited to the 9mm Parabellum and the .45 ACP.

But prompted by tragedies within law enforcement, the debut of such new cartridges as the .357 Sig, the .40 S&W, and the 10mm Auto has shifted the focus of this debate to these significantly more powerful cartridges. It was not until Sergeant Evan Marshall (formally a member of the homicide section of the Detroit Police Department) decided to undertake a definitive study of wound ballistics based upon his collection of hundreds of autopsy reports that we had access to reliable information on this topic. His findings proved beyond doubt that the 10mm Auto is the single most effective self-defense handgun cartridge yet developed.

The impetus for the development of these new handgun cartridges is an infamous incident known as the “FBI Miami Shootout” that took place on April 11, 1986 between eight FBI agents and two serial bank robbers in which two agents were killed and five others were wounded –despite outnumbering the bank robbers four to one. In fact, despite the fact that the two robbery suspects, William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt, were struck multiple times during the shootout, Platt was able to continue firing. It should be noted that although tactical mistakes were made by the FBI agents, the real blame lies with the underpowered 9mm Parabellum cartridges loaded with 147 grain bullets which were standard FBI issue at the time of the incident. Consequently, following the death of its agents, the FBI decided to undergo the search for a more reliable handgun cartridge and thus, it eventually settled on the 10mm Auto.

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Originally developed by eminent firearms expert Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper in 1983 and later modified by Swiss ammunition manufacturer FVV Norma AB for use in the Bren 10 Auto Combat Pistol produced by Dornaus & Dixon, this handgun and its accompanying .40 caliber cartridge was conceived to bridge the gap between the high capacity, but relatively low-powered, auto-loading pistols of the day, and more powerful, but low-capacity, magnum revolvers in order to provide both police and civilians with an auto-loading, semi-automatic, handgun that would combine the best aspects of both designs.

Unfortunately, Dornaus & Dixon decided to subcontract the manufacture of magazines for its new pistol rather than produce them in-house, and the company that D&D chose to do so proved to be far less than reliable which resulted in both defective magazines as well as a shortage of supply. This led to Dornaus & Dixon declaring bankruptcy after only three years of production, despite high demand for the new pistol. However, even though this magnum-powered pistol cartridge produces what many shooters consider to be excessive recoil, the design concept was deemed sound and thus, due to continued demand for the Bren Ten even after production cased, Colt decided to revive this new pistol cartridge by introducing a version based upon the 1911 John Browning design in the form of the Delta Elite 10mm Auto in 1987.

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It should be noted that although the 10mm Auto (aka 10 x 25mm) does seem to provide the ultimate in handgun stopping power when loaded with a relatively lightweight bullet, it is not the best choice for shooters with smaller statures or those who are recoil-shy because it requires a large frame handgun like the .45 ACP and generates a significant amount of recoil. But, for those who can handle both the frame size and the recoil, Marshall’s results have proven that it outperforms even the mighty .44 Magnum (remember Dirty Harry?) as a self-defense cartridge! In fact, according to author Steve Fuller, terminal wound ballistics are dependent on four different factors: the bullet’s muzzle energy, its depth of penetration, the size of the temporary stretch cavity, and the size of the permanent crush cavity. And according to the autopsy results compiled by Marshall, the 10mm Auto loaded with 135 grain hollow point bullets with a muzzle velocity approaching 1,400 fps (as loaded by CorBon) results in a one-shot stop in almost 100 percent of cases studied! Thus, when full-powered loads are employed, the performance of the 10mm Auto can equal, or even exceed, that of the .357 Magnum and retain more kinetic energy at 100 yards than the .45 ACP produces at the muzzle!

So, if you are considering the purchase of a handgun for self-defense purposes and you have a sufficiently large stature to accommodate the frame size of the 10mm Auto as well as the ability to withstand the recoil, it is without a doubt the ultimate “man-stopper” provided that appropriate ammunition is chosen.

However, for those of you with slightly smaller statures or those of you who are recoil-shy, then the .40 Smith & Wesson (aka .40 S&W, Shorty .40, .40 Short & Weak) is a viable alternative since it fires the same diameter bullet as the 10mm Auto from a shorter case (10 x 22mm) and thus, while it provides similar stopping power to the 10mm Auto, it generates significantly less recoil.

Do you agree with the author’s advice? What would you add? Share your gun tips in the section below:

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  1. For the reasons stated in the article about recoil, etc. the FBI soon dropped the 10mm. A large percentage of the agents could not handle it.
    As to the 40S&W, it is a solution to a non-existing problem.

  2. The 950 JDJ is my favorite !

  3. 10mm ROCKS!!!
    Looking for the white whale, S&W 1006 or a Tanfoglio Witness Hunter 😀
    The G20 with a long barrel is not a bad shooter, but that polymer frame
    lacks sufficient mass to dampen the sharp recoil impulse 😉 Good for Now!

  4. Recoil is not that bad. Not that big a deal, to me. But then, I’m not the female FBI agent that couldn’t handle the 10mm. But then also, that 10mm wasn’t a Glock. I’ll bet the ladies would do just fine with a G-29. If not, then step down to the snub nose Glock 27 in .40 cal. Just use a round that will give you 500 ft. lbs. of stopping power. How do you figure that out; one might ask. Well, here it is. Multiply the weight of the round, 135 gr, times the velocity of the round squared, 1400 fps times 1400 fps; divided by 450240; and that will give you your stopping power. If its better than 500 lbs., you’ve got a winner.

    That’s (135 x 1400 squared)/450240 equals stopping power.

    That Glock in the article had a stopping power of 588 ft. lbs. More than enough to stop someone in their tracks, provided you hit them in a vital spot. And that was a light weight round.

    What I like most about the Glock in 10mm, have a 20 & 29, is the ammo versatility. Being that the 10mm, .40 cal, and .357 SIG; and also 9×25 Dillon, are all the very same cartridge. The Glock 20/29/40 will all fire these rounds. The 10mm and the .40 will fire without consequence, but the .357 and the 9×25 Dillon will have to be manually cocked, because they will not cycle properly. But, if push comes to shove, and you’re in a pinch, sometimes you have to deal with the cards you were dealt.

    • WARNING! WRONG: “Being that the 10mm, .40 cal, and .357 SIG; and also 9×25 Dillon, are all the very same cartridge. The Glock 20/29/40 will all fire these rounds.” DO NOT USE ANYTHING BUT 10MM AUTO AMMUNITION IN A FIREARM DESIGNED TO USE 10MM AUTO. The .40 S&W is shorter and will not headspace or chamber properly and may be hazardous if fired; .357 SIG and 9×25 Dillon have 9mm bullets, will not chamber or seal properly and WILL produce a hazard if fired.
      Indeed, using the wrong cartridge may be the Most Deadly Handgun Cartridge – to the shooter!

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who wrote took their craft seriously, such as when quoting a “definative study” they’re would actually be some citation of the study, so we don’t have to search the Internet for this Sargeant. I’d love to know the data behind his results, like how he chose the cadavers, how he determined the temporary wound cavity, if he had a medical examiner as expert help, and how many of each caliber victims he chose. This is the writers only evidence behind the claims and yet we still have so many depts going from 40 to 9mm as duty weapons. We still have so many experts who video different calibers’ wound characteristics and can prove thru the video and gel inspection that 9mm jhp does the exact same thing as 40, 45, 357 sig, 10mm, etc.It happens to be more efficient than the others as they start out with more energy. Too bad this author didn’t bother to get into the details.

  6. Enjoyed the article. Love 10mm. But…just a bit of perspective: 1) The FBI are some of the best trained folks in the world but they broke a cardinal rule in Miami (and it seems always to go unmentioned)–they brought pistols to a rifle fight. 10mm pistols would not have helped against rifles. 2) Articles like this always seem to imply that 9mm is/was somehow inadequate–which global statistics prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is simply not true. In the US, statistics point to .357 as the ultimate one-shot man-stopper, and both the 10mm and the S&W 40 were purposely developed to produce similar ballistics in a hi-cap pistol. But, globally, 9mm parabellum occupies that top spot–which accounts for why it is the most plentiful ammunition on the planet. At the time of the Miami shootout, the FBI was testing a 9mm cartridge that out-performs even the venerable .45 acp, but the shootout overshadowed it. There are many practical reasons why 9mm is still number one.

    • FBI wanted the 10mm because it out classed the 38 / 357 mag (ammo capacity)revolvers .9mm bullet wieghts like 115 and 147 didnt have the power to penetrate through a car and still have enough energy to still deliver a fatal wound. And fbi said the 45 was just an old outdated technology ( big and slow ball) . the 10mm met all the requirments the fbi was looking for in the 80s wild wild west . 10mm ammo wt. From 135,140,155,165,170,175,180,200,220 velocity from 1700 to 1000 fps muzzle energy 500- 750+ft. Lbs . 10mm equates to most cover and barriers being rendered useless when 10mm is pea shooting. And the fbi found use for the 10mm auto in h&k mp5 chambered in10mm used by fbi hrt. Anyways … 10mm is a caliber that isn’t for everyone . 10mm auto for SD/duty / and hunting and has the capabilities of stopping any threat living in the americas from rhe artic all the down to Chile in south america weather it be human threat or a polar bear ,10mm auto is a multi purpose tool….

  7. Every handgun (and rifle also) cartridge in existence carries with it tons of hype put out to sell it over other rounds. That is just what it is – hype! There is no perfect/best/most deadly cartridge! The effectiveness of any cartridge in any situation depends on many factors including the load, the bullet type, the shooter, the adversary, the environment, etc., etc. The best cartridge is whatever works best for you! You can kill someone just as dead with a .22 as with a .500 magnum – dead is dead!

  8. Alexander Fernandez

    I agree that the 10mm is an outstanding cartridge . I disagree that it’s the “Best” ManStopper , and that’s coming straight from the “Experts’ in the F.B.I. . The best round was already in existence when the F.B.I. Miami Shoot-Out occurred . The .357 magnum 125gr JHP @ 1450 fps has been KING of the MANSTOPPER since the early 70s . My father (now deceased) was a Fed. Agent w/ the D.E.A. from the time that President Nixon authorized the creation of the D.E.A. back in 72′ . The newly founded administration permitted its Agents to carry whatever caliber weapon they chose , as long as they were proficient with their weapon . My father carried a S&W .357mag mod. 66 4″ in. barrel with Federal 125gr jhp(s) as his raid weapon , and proved the Theory correct . He later switched to an 8 3/8” Bbl S&W mod. 29 in .44mag as his “Raid” weapon with believe it or not inferior performance ; and that was with the std. 240gr jhp(s) of the time .

  9. What all 10mm owners are trying to convey is if you had only 1gun into armed conflict what pistol can handle to save your soul* your picnicking in a big park suddenly a madman with a fully automatic rifle is approaching your family you scuttle them to temporary safety by some bushes he see you raises his rifle toward you around 50yrds what pistol are holding in your hand? What pistol do you wish you have?what pistol can you handle?if you have ccl be prepared for why you got the license in the 1st place.Were just saying it’s the best all around pistol for the unknown!!!!!!!

  10. By the way you 45caliber and 357mag caliber and 9mm users look at what razor Dobbs has shot with his 10mm (I don,t care what tell test or energy or mass levels say look at what type of critters he,s killed with that weapon–this weapon will easily kill the biggest of grizzly bears with 15inches of fat to its vital organs::Just because we don,t hear animals say ouch or Dame that hurt doesn,t mean they,re not hurt to they won,t stop chasing you- I don’t know who started that BS rumor .With 10mm ammo we expect your intelligent enough to use what is needed for the job,You don,t floor a gas pedal on a corvette on wet road at a stop light–maybe floor it with a Subaru .What I,m saying is 180grain Buffalo boar or 180 grain Underwood bullet is stupidity for self defense in city carry or for 2legged mankind.the 1 exception is ppu 180jhp they,re made simply to kill
    a man and slow ammo.Whats becoming relevant is 155gr in 10mm is to what 125gr to 357mag is .But for the middle of the road urban or rural or city the Winchester,s 175gr silver tips seem to be the best over all for the appetizers at least the 1st 5 rounds

  11. Another “my caliber is better than your’s” thread….YAWN!!

    Sorry, but I own handguns in .25ACP, .32ACP, .380ACP, 9mm, .357Sig, and .45ACP. I BET that no one here would volunteer to get shot in the chest or head with proper ammo from any of them. The most important thing in stopping a BG is shot placement. Practice to put any weapon you own consistently inside a 6 inch circle from 20-25 feet, and the BG shot in the chest in this way will go down 99% of the time within 2-6 shots.

    All of that said, I also own long guns in 30/30, 30-06, 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and a few others. I would rather get shot with any of these handguns than any of these long guns. The FBI had an even worse situation in Miami. Having a 10mm, .50ACP, .357Sig, or anything else would not have made a difference — in large part because they also had a lot of bad luck that day — from losing their guns in the initial car wreck, to not having proper body armor, to having their handguns shot and made inoperable early-on in the fight, and also having a 12 gauge shotgun with the wrong shells. The robbers used Mini-14s (some might call them poodle shooters) using only .223 ammo. It’s not like they were using a Barrett .50 cal!

  12. Why Rick dreaded up the Miami story is only a guess but will never know because them FBI people didn’t have a 10mm.I bet they wish they had thou.And by the way FBI are great shooters and colleague’s degree 😃 No please don,t buy a 10mm caliber Rick-.We can.t have you using the wrong type of ammo like hunting ammo for self defense and tarnish the 10mm cal

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