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SKILLS: My Caliber Crisis: Do I Need A 10mm?

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Every gun owner at some time is compelled to test the waters with a new cartridge. Here are Tom McHale’s thoughts on his latest pursuit. READ MORE

10mm
The 10mm and the Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite Operator makes for a potent combination.

SOURCE: Springfield-Armory Armory Life, by Tom McHale

I’m having another caliber crisis.

Over the years, I’ve ventured into cartridge odysseys that include unusual chamberings like .357 Sig and 300 Blackout. More recently, I’m kind of developing a thing for 10mm. I’ve been testing out a Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite Operator chambered in the big-boy version of the .40 S&W and I’m kinda liking it. There are definitely some benefits. Let’s discuss.

Weight and Velocity
We’re going to argue forever about whether the light, small and fast 9mm is as good as the heavy, fat and slow .45 ACP, so why not just choose heavy, moderately portly and fast?

The 10mm, when fired from the Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite Operator, launches 200-grain bullets in the 1,100 feet per second velocity band. That’s the mid-weight of the .45 ACP bullet family and the mid-velocity range of 9mm.

How Powerful is a 10mm?
Many stand in awe of the 10mm, likely because it has a simple, yet badass name. Then there’s the fact that the FBI moved to it (sort of) for a time. It’s hard to argue with credentials like that.

Being the inquisitive sort, I wanted to see how it stands up to all the other common cartridges and a few other kinetic energy-generating objects. So, I dug up my database from all the ammunition and guns I’ve tested over the years and looked up a pile of actual cartridge, velocity, kinetic energy, and momentum calculations for some representative samples.

10mm
The 10mm is the big-boy version of the .40 S&W, and offers a lot of punch downrange.

As a side note, I like to look at both kinetic energy and momentum to tell the whole story of how “powerful” a cartridge is. Kinetic energy is easy — we all know “foot-pounds” as a standard measure of “oomph.” However, kinetic energy emphasizes velocity the way it’s calculated, so a super-light bullet can have huge foot-pound numbers simply because it’s moving fast. The slow and fat projectile crowd likes to take bullet weight into consideration and that’s where the momentum calculation comes into play.

At the risk of insulting physics, you might think of kinetic energy as destructive power, like a power drill. And you might think of momentum as the ability for one object to move another. The more weight the “mover” object has, the more powerful it is. Think wrecking balls. They don’t move all that fast, but few of us would want to be hit with one.

Anyway, I fired several different loads from the Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite Operator pistol you see in the picture above and recorded velocity so I could run the numbers. Just for fun, I did the math on a few other non-shooting moving objects and added in info on several other chamberings.

So, what does all this mean? Here are the important learnings —

The 10mm mostly tops the charts for “rational” handgun power levels. Sure, a .44 Magnum brings half again more kinetic energy, but unless you’re Dirty Harry, it’s not the most practical carry handgun.

If you’re a foot-pounds junkie, 10mm thumps 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

The 10mm and .357 Magnum are similar from a kinetic energy perspective. While the .357 Magnum uses a much lighter projectile, it moves a lot faster, hence the high foot-pound count.

A 10mm has about the same momentum as a PGA drive launched by Bubba Watson, although I’m pretty sure the 10mm projectile will win handily in the penetration and expansion tests. Sorry Bubba.

10mm

Capacity
There’s nothing to write home about here. Normal capacity for a 10mm is virtually identical to that of a .40 S&W. That’s because the case diameter is the same, although the 10mm cartridges are longer. Remember, the whole point of the .40 S&W “great compromise” was to offer more capacity than a .45 ACP pistol while launching larger bullets than a 9mm.

While 10mm is powerful, it’s by no means the uncontrollable “hand-cannon” that many have claimed. In a solid gun like the Range Officer Elite Operator, it’s more than manageable.

But What About Recoil?
I think the real recoil penalty (or lack thereof) is what makes the 10mm interesting. While it’s not as easy to control as a 9mm or .40 S&W, it’s not all that different from that of a .45 ACP pistol of the same weight. What you feel as recoil depends largely on the weight of the pistol, so if you’re comparing a steel 1911 chambered in .45 ACP to one packing 10mm, the numbers work out about the same.

I won’t bore you with the common-core math details, but the recoil energy of a .45 ACP 1911 and 10mm 1911 works out to 5.43 and 6.28 foot-pounds. To put those numbers in perspective, the same math on much lighter Springfield Armory XD-S pistols in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP works out to 5.07, 6.92 and 8.15 foot-pounds.

The Bottom Line
Here’s my take. If you want a gun that’s super-duper easy to control so you can deliver rapid-fire strings without the sights moving, buy a steel 9mm like a Range Officer or EMP. If you want more power in a semi-automatic package that’s as carry friendly as a .45, consider the 10mm. You might fit an extra round or two in a gun of similar size owing to the smaller cartridge diameter while fulfilling your need for speed.

10mm

Tom McHale
Tom is a perpetual student of all things gun and shooting related. He’s particularly passionate about self and home defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. As part of his ongoing learning, Tom has completed dozens of training programs and is a certified National Rifle Association instructor for pistol and shotgun. Tom is a professional writer by trade these days and has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry, and holsters. In between book projects, Tom has published somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 articles for about a dozen gun and shooting publications. If he’s not writing, you can probably find him on the range.

Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

SKILLS: Misconceptions About Pistol Sights

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The sights are your connection to the target. Don’t buy into myths surrounding choices in a sighting system for your handgun. Read about it!

SOURCE: NRA Publications, Shooting Illustrated
by Tom McHale

What’s that old saying? A lie, told often enough, becomes truth?

We gun people are often guilty of a related thing. That would be passing along hearsay comments over and over, until they become assumed fact.

pistol sight big dot

Some of the things that I’ve heard a thousand times relate to gun sights. You know, observations like “Big Dot sights are too big to be useful” or “they’re not precise enough!” I got an itch to put some of these handgun sight myths to the test so I could start to separate truth from hearsay.

Let’s take a look at a few of the more common handgun sight myths.

Big Sights Aren’t Precise Enough
To test this potential myth, I figured it was a good time for the first annual Shooting Illustrated Math Fair. In this inaugural event, we’re going to use really basic geometry to see exactly how big that Big Dot sight looks down range. In other words, at realistic handgun shooting distances, how much of your target is covered by the Big Dot sight?

Since this is supposed to be fun and informative, I won’t be a buzz kill and share the math in excruciating detail, but it’s pretty simple. We know that the shooter’s eye is the starting point. We also know that this particular Big Dot Sight is .18 inches in diameter because I measured it with my reloading calipers. We also know, that in my specific case, the front sight is about 24.5 inches from my eye when I’m shooting. Seriously, I measured with a yardstick. So now we have a proportional relationship. At a distance of 24.5 inches, the sight is .18-inch wide. As a result, we can easily figure out how big that sight appears at other distances.

Don’t fool yourself. Even “big” sights don’t cover an appreciable percentage of the target at reasonable distances.

Here’s how much the Big Dot covers at various ranges. Keep in mind that the Big Dot is a circle, so “coverage” of the target down range is also circular. The sizes I relate below reflect the diameter of that circle.

BIG DOT SIGHT

Clearly, Big Dot sights aren’t intended for NRA Precision Pistol Matches. Rather, they’re made for self-defense handguns with the emphasis on speed, clarity, and “good enough” accuracy at self-defense ranges.

What’s the bottom line? When you look at the real numbers, that huge front sight doesn’t cover much of your target at all. At 25 yards, it’s just 6.6 inches, and that is a much farther distance than 99.9 percent of defensive shooting scenarios. If you can shoot into a 6.6-inch group from a distance of 25 yards while someone is shooting at you or charging with an ax, then please submit your application to be my permanent bodyguard! At more realistic self-defense distances like 3, 5 and 10 yards, we’re talking an inch or two of target coverage by that front sight. Even at a whopping 100 yards, if you can hold well enough, you can easily hit a standard 19-inch-wide self-defense target. Yes, your front sight will overlap it, but just a little. To me, this precision myth is exactly that — a myth.

Big Sights Aren’t Any Faster
The idea behind using a large front sight is that your eye can pick it up really quickly as you raise your gun to target. There’s no ambiguity or confusion about which dot is the visible area is the front or rear. In fact, XS Big Dot brand sights don’t even use rear dots. Rather, the rear sight is a shallow “V”shape, much like the rear sights on lever-action carbines from the Bonanza era. I don’t know if Ben Cartwright gets royalty checks or not, but he should.

So, is this approach to handgun sights faster? I decided to find out by performing some semi-scientific testing. Since I’m writing this article during the great Charleston Monsoon of 2015, my shooting range has been unusable, being submerged in water. So I decided to get creative and put my LaserLyte Reaction Tyme targets to work along with a Beretta Px4 Storm, a LaserLyte Cartridge Laser, and a set of XS Big Dot Sights. My plan was to set up two Reaction Tyme Targets in my (relatively) dry living room and recruit a couple of people to shoot for time using the standard Beretta Px4 factory sights. Then, I would install the Big Dot sights and repeat the process, comparing before and after times. If nothing else, I figured this would be a great way to burn off some “four days of non-stop rain” stir crazy.

pistol sight on target

I recruited two shooters, neither of which had any experience with Big Dot Sights. I set up the two Reaction Tyme targets about four feet apart at a distance of 12 feet. The idea was to hit one and have to transition to the other quickly. My thinking was that would exercise the sight acquisition part of the experiment. Each shooter fired 10 shots alternating between targets. The “hit” area on the Reaction Tyme targets is only about a two-inch circle, so shooters had to aim, even at a distance of 12 feet. Only hits counted, so each shooter had to stay on a target until it registered a hit with an audible beep.

What were the results? Each shooter completed three timed runs and I averaged the results. Shooter A completed the course using standard sights with an average time of 12.6 seconds and Big Dots sights in 8.0 seconds. That’s a 36.6-percent speed improvement. Shooter B averaged 20.4 seconds with standard three-dot sights and 17.2 seconds using the Big Dot configuration. That’s a 15.2-percent improvement.

While not completely scientific, the results were pretty clear. Each shooter reported seeing the dot much faster and commented that there was not a need to “focus and line up.”They simply covered the target with the dot and pulled the trigger. The rear “V” sight just fell into place naturally.

Iron Sights Aren’t Accurate
People often refer to the inaccuracy of iron sights. That’s not exactly a true statement. Iron sights are plenty accurate. It’s our ability to line the sights up properly and consistently that is the issue. The accuracy capability of shooting with iron sights is really more about the limitations of our eyesight and our ability to hold those sights steady shot after shot.

Very rarely is the firearm the reason we don’t shoot accurately. Sight radius plays a part, but the shooter’s role is far more important.

Here’s what I mean. Like the precision scenario we discussed earlier, the accuracy potential of shooting iron sights boils down to a proportional relationship. In this case, we’re concerned about how much or little the front sight moves relative to the rear sight. If you put your handgun in a vise or perfectly mounted Ransom rest, your sights are going to be in the exact same position for every single shot. The minute you rely on human eyesight to line up those sights for the next shot, you’re limited by your vision.

A real example will help illustrate my point. Suppose I fire a shot at a 25-yard distant target using the same Beretta Px4. Now, I settle back into my sandbag rest to fire a second shot in the group. It’s up to me, the shooter, to make sure that the front sight, rear sight, and target are all in the exact same alignment as they were for the first shot. What happens if my front sight is just .01 inch out of perfect alignment relative to the rear sight? Let’s find out.

handgun sight radius

The sight radius of my Beretta Px4 is 5.77 inches. That’s measured from the rear of the rear sight to the rear of the front sight, or the parts that my eye actually sees. If my front sight drifts just .01 inch in any direction relative to the rear sight, that translates to 1.6 inches off target at 25 yards. If we were using a gun with a 2-inch sight radius, the error down range would be even larger. Considering that many modern production pistols care capable of shooting one to two-inch groups at 25 yards when in a Ransom Rest, that’s a big deal.

What does all this mean? When you read about “accuracy” of any given handgun, know that unless machines are involved, what you’re really getting is an indication of that pistol’s ability to be shot accurately. That may depend on the quality or type of sights, the sight radius and the overall ergonomics of the pistol. Viewed another way, a pistol with a 10-inch barrel may or may not be more accurate than one with a two-inch barrel, but it sure will be a heck of a lot easier to shoot accurately. If a human shoots those two guns from sandbags at 25-yard targets, they’ll almost certainly get better groups with the 10-inch gun. That’s because it’s easier to aim precisely with its longer and more forgiving sight radius, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the gun is more accurate.

We shooters tend to pass around too much hearsay information and consider it truth. It never hurts to be a bit skeptical and think things through on your own or even test them if possible. Heck, your life may one day depend on it.