After a bit of a proverbial false start with the Bren Ten pistol in 1983, the 10mm Auto looked like it would be the Next Big Thing in semiautomatic pistol cartridges thanks to (1) being chambered in an M1911 platform pistol, the Colt Delta Elite, in 1987, and (2) its adoption by the FBI via the Smith & Wesson Model 1076. Then along came the .40 S&W, which stole much of the 10mm’s thunder.
However, now that it’s been 40 years since the 10mm’s debut, the cartridge isn’t dead yet. Although it didn’t meet those original lofty expectations – such as Shooting Times Magazine claiming that it would “take over” for the .45 ACP – the cartridge maintains a loyal following, and if anything, has undergone a resurgence in popularity, thanks in no small part to guns such as the Glock 20, SIG Sauer P220 Legion, and SIG Sauer P320-XTEN. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best defensive bullets for the 10mm Auto.
Winchester Silvertip 175-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint (STHP)
In large-bore revolver calibers like .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum, the Silvertip line is an “80% load,” i.e. slightly tamed ballistics that still pack plenty of punch. Not so in the case of the 10mm Silvertip, which is instead a full-house load, generating a muzzle velocity of 1,200 feet per second and 559 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. John McAdams of Wide Open Spaces includes the Silvertip in his August 2018 article titled “Here’s the Best 10mm Auto Ammo for Self-Defense”:
“It offers good expansion and reliable, deep penetration. There isn’t much else to say about it because the bullet is such a solid, but not extremely sexy performer.”
Hornady Critical Duty 175-Grain FlexLock
As MidwayUSA’s Product Overview states, “Hornady Critical Duty Ammunition offers Law Enforcement, Tactical Professionals and those looking for a great personal protection round ammunition that won’t let them down. This ammunition incorporates two new revolutionary Hornady Features: Flex Tip bullets that initiate consistent expansion while preventing clogging, and the InterLock band which locks the jacket and core together preventing separation and ensuring maximum weight retention. This bullet has proven terminal performance through ALL FBI test barriers every single time. The core on this revolutionary bullet is made of high-antimony lead alloy making it tough, delivering controlled expansion and loaded in nickel plated cases to help prevent corrosion.”
I can personally vouch for the quality of this round, having fired several boxes of it through the Colt Delta Elite that I used to personally own; I was quite pleased with its accuracy, controllability and reliable feeding.
Speer Gold Dot 200-Grain JHP
Interestingly, this is the same bullet weight as Speer’s legendary “flying ashtray” JHP in .45 ACP. In its 10mm guise, it’s a smaller bore than the .45 but higher in muzzle velocity and ballistic energy, tallying 1,100 feet per second and 537 foot-pounds respectively. Elwood Shelton of Gun Digest considers this to be one of the best defensive loads in the caliber: “It’s a lot of jacketed lead to pitch, but it’s not just its size that matters. The round’s terminal performance is what makes it more than worthy of consideration. On bare ballistics gelatin, the hollow-point expanded nearly a full ¾ of an inch. No matter the situation, that should prove more than enough persuasion to halt most attackers dead in their tracks… That’s good enough to get the job done, and also make the snappy caliber manageable past the first shot for most shooters.
I haven’t personally fired the 10mm iteration of the Gold Dot product line, I have fired plenty 124-grain 9mm Gold Dot through my Glock 26 that was my backup piece an ICE Special Agent – and still sometimes serves as my CCW piece, though I usually use the 9x18mm Makarov for that purpose nowadays –and was quite pleased with its quality. Muzzle velocity is 1,150 feet per second and muzzle energy is 484 foot-pounds.
Federal Hydra-Shok 180-Grain JHP
This round makes the cut for Messrs. Shelton and McAdams alike. As Elwood states:
“Not every defensive 10mm ammo option needs blockbuster velocities — particularly if over-pentation is a concern. At a hair above 1,000 fps at the muzzle, the Hydra Shok eliminates this worry while still providing the life-saving performance on which the brand has built its renown. Consistent as the unforgiving minute, the ammunition reliably produces around 15-inches of penetration in bare ballistics gelatin — right in line with FBI penetration specs. Additionally, the hollow point expands respectably, aided by a notched jacket and a center post ensuring it opens even through heavy clothing. Best of all, the 180-grain Hydra Shok is a simple round to master, particularly out of full-sized options. It’s pleasant to shoot and facilitate fast follow-up shots.”
To be more precise, muzzle velocity is 1,030 feet per second, and muzzle energy is 424 foot-pounds.
Buffalo Bore 200-Grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)
To quote John McAdams one more time, “Not all personal-defense situations involve a human assailant. Indeed, there are several popular bear-defense guns chambered in 10mm Auto. In those situations, you want bullets that’ll penetrate as deep as possible that can punch through the thick hide and heavy bones of the animal in order to reach the vitals… For that reason, the best 10mm ammunition to use in a bear-defense situation incorporates full metal jacket or hard-cast bullets…Firing a 200-grain, flat-nosed FMJ bullet at 1,200 feet per second, Buffalo Bore’s heavy 10mm ammo is one of the few loads currently in production that matches the performance of the original 10mm Auto load Norma developed in the 1980s.”
What’s more, this could also be a viable option for defense against human assailants if and when you unable to get ahold of expanding ammunition, whether due to (A) simple local supply chain issues or (B) the misfortune of living and/or working in “woke” jurisdictions who think that Geneva Convention ammo regulations somehow apply for American police and armed private citizens.
Muzzle energy is an impressive 639 foot-pounds.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.