Semi-Auto Calibers for Handgun Hunting

Semi-Auto Calibers for Handgun Hunting

Handgun Hunting with the 10mm

The Semi-Auto Solution

In my opinion, the most viable, off-the shelf calibers today for hunting are the very popular .45 ACP, and the 10mm, and to a lesser extent (despite popularity), the .40 Smith & Wesson.

Bullet diameter is important when discussing handgun hunting. Handguns don’t have the luxury of high velocities and the subsequent hydraulic pressure this creates (not saying it doesn’t exist, only that it is minimal compared to various high-powered rifle cartridges).

There are two things that the handgun hunter can fall back on and that is diameter and bullet weight. I like the 10mm as a diameter minimum for use on big game. Smaller will work, but smaller leaves little margin for error.

Another of my favorite auto-pistol rounds is the old warhorse .45 ACP. Synonymous with the 1911 pistol, the .45 ACP is more than 100 years old and still going strong and is available in more striker-fired models such as the new Glock 41.

Due to the velocity limitations of the round, I prefer stepping up in bullet weight with an eye toward penetration than going with a lighter and subsequently faster expanding bullet, particularly for large game. The heavier load, with a large meplat (flat nose of the bullet) should prove more reliable from a terminal standpoint, which in my mind cannot be over emphasized.

Handgun Hunting with the 10mm

The 10mm offers a wide selection of rather serious hunting loads like those offered by Federal, Double Tap and Buffalo Bore Ammunition. Author Photo
The 10mm offers a wide selection of rather serious hunting loads like those offered by Federal, Double Tap and Buffalo Bore Ammunition. Author Photo

The 10mm met with huge popularity when initially introduced with the FBI going so far as adopting this cartridge as their official caliber. It was loaded hot at its inception, as hot as it was intended to be loaded.

Soon enough it was discovered that some FBI agents were incapable of handling the 10mm’s recoil and before you knew it, the potent 10mm was being downloaded to the point of emasculation where it hardly resembled its original self. Eventually the .40 Smith & Wesson was introduced as the 10mm’s successor.

The actions of the FBI so inspired Mike McNett, owner and proprietor of Double Tap Ammunition (, that he went into business producing 10mm ammunition that restored the honor of this fine round. Double Tap still offers those four original loads and a slew of others for every and any occasion the 10mm owner may encounter, from lightweight fast-moving expanding bullets, all the way up to 230-grain WFN hardcast loads for big-game.

Double Tap supplies four of Alaska’s state parks with ammunition for their rangers to carry in their 10mm and .40 Smith & Wesson pistols. The park services specify the use of heavy, minimally expanding, flat-nosed 200-grain bullets for dispatching bear, moose and other large animals they may encounter. These rounds will easily handle game such as white-tailed deer.

Another development worth noting is the line of .450 SMC (Short Magnum Cartridge) ammo offered by Double Tap. The .450 SMC is in essence a higher pressure .45 ACP (much like the .45 Super), featuring a number of loads to include a 255-grain semi-wadcutter hardcast bullet that runs over 1,000 fps. There are other semi-auto offerings in the Double Tap lineup that should prove more than effective for the semi-auto handgun hunter.

Federal ( also introduced a new Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded 10mm Auto this year that is a full-power 10mm load, allowing hunters to once again reclaim full advantage of the caliber’s capabilities on large game. The jacketed soft point bullet is launched at 1,275 fps and boasts a heavy jacket with a formed inner profile that controls expansion as it penetrates deeper into tissue and vitals.


So if you regularly carry something like a Glock in your day-to-day life, loading it a bit differently can make it a capable piece to carry in the field as well. Like any firearm you choose to arm yourself with you must practice. You owe it to yourself and the animals you hunt to be able to accurately place your shots. So get out there and up the challenge, and your hunting satisfaction, by pursuing game with a semi-auto.

This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2014 issue of Modern Shooter magazine, presented by Gun Digest.


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  1. “I like the 10mm as a diameter minimum for use on big game.” I don’t know about that, as it seems like a contradiction with the author emphasizing penetration. The 357 will out penetrate the 10mm, given the same bullet construction, weight and velocity. Much better hunting bullet selection too. Ideally, I’d have the 357 over the 10mm, but the difference is probably so close that it’s negligible. I’d say if you want a semiauto, go 10mm, if you want a revolver, go 357.

  2. I have taken game with a handgun (revolver or semi auto) since the early 70’s and there is no doubt in my mind or expereince that the larger bores are higher on the food chain the author is spot on in my experience and opinion.

  3. Here we go with the same old baloney that a larger diameter bullet kills better than a small one. This was actually settled over 100 years ago. Early elephant hunters got killed because they were using big bore double rifles. It was found that the bigger the diameter of the bullet the more difficult it was to insure adequate penetration. The elephant big bore calibers had not only to be long and heavy but also had to have a velocity up over 2100 fps. Smaller rifle calibers at the time including the 6.5mm and 7mm as well as the .303 and 8mm used by poor white farmers were knocking down all manner of big game with no problems with penetration or killing power.

    Agnes Herbert who was perhaps one of the greatest woman hunter who ever lived stated that the only difference between her .45 cal double rifle and her 6.5mm was that the .45 left a bigger blood trail but killed no faster or better. She knew as she hunted on 3 continents and shot more game than a hunter today could legally shoot in 10 life times. So much for the big bore baloney.

    As far as the .45acp being a good hunting caliber, it stinks. With the lighter weight 185 grain bullets the .45acp penetration is so poor as to make the caliber a bad joke. One friend of mine shot a deer at 10 yards 6 times and finally had to climb down out of the tree and shoot it in the head to kill it. The 230 grain bullets are much better but only at close range. Once you exceed 25 yards forget it. The slow moving .45 becomes very anemic as the ranges increase. Contrast this to the 125 grain 9×19 which will penetrate a WWII G.I. helmet at an astonishing 125 yards as noted in the book “The Inglis Diamond” in a test conducted by the U.S. military in 1945. I myself have shot deer with the 9×19 and it is a real killer period. Ditto for the 30 Mauser and Tokerov. As a matte rof fact the .30 mauser was used to shoot sharks by the big bore guru Jeff Cooper because the .357 magnum would not even penetrate deeply enough into the water. The German army adopted the .32acp instead of the .380 because the .32 acp would penetrate a helmet while the .380 would not. Again another Gun Writer myth exploded in reference to the .32 acp being next to worthless.So next time you here some self anointed Guru claiming the smaller calibers do not kill he obviously never hunted anything with them period.

    And how about shooting through brush. Again the myth that big bore calibers will deviate from the projectiles path less than small calibers also proved to be a myth when actual testing was done by shooting not only through real brush but even shooting through a forest of upright wooden dowels. The bigger bores failed miserably while the higher velocity small bores deviated far less from their flight path.

    As a side bar in the famous Thompson tests that hoodwinked the U.S. Government into the adopting the .45 acp the tests showed that the .30 Luger and the 9×19 killed 1200 pound steers and were not inferior to the larger pistol calibers tested. Thompson never mentioned this when he hoodwinked the Ordinance Board into adopting the .45acp. Even John Browning did not invent the 1911 to shoot the caliber either but it was originally a .38 caliber cartridge. The 1911 as actually reverse engineered to accommodate the larger .45acp round. To bad the Military did not adopt John Browning’s original .38 cal cartridge instead of the .45acp as it was the better military caliber as it shot flatter and the same size magazine could hold more rounds and it out-penetrated the .45acp and had less recoil and one could carry more ammo with less weight and bulk to boot.

    • Wow, I guess the deer that I killed with 1 shot through the rib cage with a 45 ACP would not have died had he read the first post of how ineffective the 45 ACP is would have just ran off. Every thing that I have ever read on the Thompson tests conclusively demonstrated that the larger caliber to tb more effective, especialy in breaking bone rather than shooting a hole through them. I have killed a lot of big game in my life starting in the early 70s and I have always experienced more effectiveness with the larger bore handguns (revolver or semi)

    • Your logic is so fundamentally flawed, I hardly even know where to begin.

      Yes, elephant hunters used big bores 100yrs ago and it continues today. Why? Because a small bore has to expand to be effective on anything but a brain shot. It is impossible for a small bore to reliably expand AND reach the vitals of large animals. Those who used small bores took brain shots exclusively because it was the only way the cartridge would actually work. They used very heavy for caliber, non-expanding solids. Shot placement is critical and brain shots are not the easiest to make. Got a newsflash, those are not very high velocity cartridges. The 8×57 and 6.5×54 are very comparable to such classic stopping cartridges as the .416Rigby. The 160gr 6.5 has a very similar velocity and sectional density to a 400gr .416. The difference being that the .416 will break heavy bones like shoulders and do considerable damage to the vitals. Which is legal for elephant hunting today and which is not? The .375H&H is the bare minimum for dangerous game in virtually all African countries that allow hunting. More is usually recommended if you can handle it. Why? Because they are the best tool for the job and this has been well proven over the last +100yrs.

      As for handguns, you’ve obviously never done any serious handgun hunting and have no idea how these cartridges perform on game. It is absolutely not the high velocity small bore that rules the roost because velocity is one thing that handguns do not have much of. What do they have? Diameter and mass. Larger diameter bullets make larger holes and heavier bullets make deeper holes. In the realm of handguns, bigger is truly better because adding 1000fps and killing like a rifle is not an option. Yes, absolutely, beyond a shadow of doubt, the big bores are more effective on game. Yours is an indefensible position.

      As for the .45ACP, hogwash. The ACP and it’s grandpappy, the .45Colt, are fabulous killers. High velocity is not needed as a 230-250gr cast bullet at 900fps penetrates and kills all out of proportion to its paper ballistics. The only limitation is the shooter’s ability to accurately place a bullet.

  4. I have traditionally used handguns as backup to my rifle hen hunting. In the PacNorthWet we don’t have to worry about Grizzlies or Brown bears or moose. So a hot loaded .357 with 180 or 200 grain bullet is a controllable cartridge with pop. I have used a .44 Magnum but there is more potential for meat damage. The advantage of a semi-auto is stealth — no need to choose between chancing the noise of SA shot vs. less accurate DA at distance. The disadvantage of semi-auto is the limit of a 5 inch barrel and thus less speed; recoil is generally (but not necessarily) worse for a follow-up shot as well.

    • A 5 inch barrel is not the limit. The block 20 in the photo is set up like mine with an aftermarket 6 inch barrel. You can get up to a 9 inch if you want. The longer ones boost the FPS of the rounds by 10 to 12%.


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