Is a 10mm Powerful enough for Black Bear?

I live on the outskirts of bear country in Michigan.  The state record bear was shot twenty miles from my house.  I carry a full size10mm pistol when I’m out and about.

The 10mm is the practical minimum for Black Bear hunting and defense. The 10mm handles .40 caliber bullets up to 220 grains at over 1,200 fps in a 4.5-inch barrel, which is more appropriate for bears than common 357 Magnum loads. The 10mm pistol performs better than the .357 Magnum does with bear loads.

The 10mm AUTO, or just, 10mm, is definitely gaining popularity as a woods gun. I’m sold on it. Let me tell you every reason why I think it’s a great option, particularly for Black Bear defense or hunting

Will the 10mm AUTO kill a bear?

   If you were to walk up to the handgun case in a gun store and ask for a bear gun, you would probably be advised to look at selection of half a dozen big bore revolvers. But if you want something in a semi-auto, you’ll pretty much have only one recommendation.  The 10mm Auto.

   The 10mm AUTO was designed in the mid-eighties as a replacement for the FBI standard 9mm handgun.  The concept of the 10mm AUTO was to create a cartridge for a semi-auto pistol that would have all the best parts of the 45acp and .357 magnum merged into one cartridge.

   It was intended to fire a 200-grain bullet at over 1,000 fps out of a full-sized semi-auto handgun.  That puts it in the same ballpark with the 45 ACP which fires a 230-grain bullet at 950 fps (they were a bit slower back then than today). They wanted .45 energy with .357 penetration

   They got it.  Now, with modern powders and manufacturing, we can get a 200-grain bullet going over 1,300 fps, or a 220-grain bullet going over 1,200 fps.  Full power 10mm loads in 180-grain can be going, 1,400 fps, although most 180 grain 10mm bullets are loaded to or slightly above 40 S&W specs.

   More and more people are considering the 10mm AUTO a bear gun.  really, as more people know about the cartridge and more people accept it, it’s become increasingly more popular for a woods gun as both defense against and hunting for bears.

   Will the 10mm AUTO kill a black bear? Yes. But only if you do your part. You need to be able to hit the lungs or the brain of a bear to kill it. If you can do that then yes, you can kill a bear with a 10mm pistol.  just like most pistol rounds, you’re not relying on much expansion to occur.

  In fact, most 10mm hunting loads are non-expanding, solid bullets, cast with a lead alloy (for weight) that’s hard as copper. These bullets are truncated, or flat on the front end, which cuts a sharper hole and keeps the bullet from tumbling, ensuring deep, straight line penetration.

   The penetration is key.  Bears have heavy bones, tough muscles, and thick hides. Not to mention the layer of fat most bears have just below the hide.  A 300-pound black bear might only take two feet of penetration to hit both lungs, but if you shoot a bear on an angle, or hit the shoulder, you need a fairly deep penetrating bullet.

Will a 10mm AUTO Penetrate Enough on a Back Bear?

   I’ve never shot a bear with my 10mm Glock, but I have shot pigs, so I’ll tell you what the penetration was like on them.  I shot an old boar at fairly close range with my Glock. The 180-grain truncated bullet penetrated about three feet into flesh after going through the left jawbone.

  It traveled from the jaw, down through the neck, and into the lower belly where I eventually dug it out. I was a little shocked, but truthfully, I had expected such. On another occasion, I shot a 300-pound hog in the ball of the shoulder, breaking through the bone and shooting the heart.

   I am convinced that the 10mm Auto will penetrate more than enough to take the average black bear.  That being said, the average black bear is about 250 pounds.  They do come in bigger sizes. In areas like coastal Alaska and British Columbia, they average much larger. 

   Penetration is a big deal with bears.  They can get to be big, barrel-chested animals that require deep penetration to reach the vitals.  They also have a thick hide and heavy bones. Taking all that into account, and considering a less than ideal shot angle, you’re gonna need that full three feet.

Is it Recommended to Hunt Black Bear With a 10mm AUTO?

   I have heard numerous times about how old-timers would depend on their trusty. 357 Magnum to take a bear.  Well, it’s been established that with a bear load, i.e. heavy bullet, the 10mm outperforms the old standby .357 mag.  I’ve proved that it will do the job, but how good will it do the job?

   The best way to put it would be, it’s not as good as a hunting rifle. The hardest hitting loads from a 10mm pistol have less energy than a .223. For the record, I also make an argument that the .223 can be an effective choice for bears under 300 pounds.

   Even so, the 10mm has more potential than the .223 on bears.  Particularly over 250 pounds. The 10mm penetrates more.  Because we aren’t using an expanding bullet, it will only cut a hole as wide as the bullet is.  A small hole means less blood. 

   I day small hole, but it’s still .40 caliber, which is comparable to the expanded size of common hunting loads in 270, 260, and 25-06, so the 10mm really should make a large enough hole. Large enough, but not overly large.  Because are inherently less powerful than rifles, shot placement is more important.

   To have a reliable chance at getting a bear to bleed out, you have to hit the front of the chest. The goal, as should be when hunting pretty much anything, is to put a bullet through both sides of the lungs, and maybe the heart. just hitting one lung, and it’s not going to be a quick kill.  Trust me, with a bear, you want the quickest kill possible. this is especially true at handgun distances.

   When it comes to traditional black bear rifles, the old standard was to have minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy when the bullet strikes the animal.  That’s not a bad number either.  Considering the 10mm has a max of about 750 foot-pounds, it comes up a bit shy.

   Although a mite better than the .357 magnum, and although people have successfully hunted black bear with the .357, the 10mm really is the bottom line in terms of effective pistol calibers for a bear. Still, there are a couple of ways to greatly maximize its potential.  Here comes the part about ammo selection.

If You’re interested in a comparison, I wrote an article on 10mm vs 357 Magnum. Here’s a link to it.

What 10mm AUTO Ammo to Use for Black Bear?  

   In order to penetrate deeply, the bullet has to keep its momentum, not break apart, and go in a straight line. That Pistols, by their very nature, are low power and thus prone to not really penetrate that well.  basically, you can either have an expanding bullet, or a deep penetrating bullet.

   You want a bullet that doesn’t expand.   Well a regular fmj, 10mm round won’t expand, but I’m not recommending those.  The classic bear hunting pistol bullet is flat on the end (truncated).  It just so happens that most basically all cheap fmj 10mm ammo is also truncated, still not recommending it though. 

   You want ammo loaded to the maximum safe pressure limits.  The three companies that really go for the limit are Buffalo Bore, Underwood Ammo, and Corbon.  My personal favorite is buffalo bore heavy outdoorsman 220 grain 10mm, and no, I didn’t get paid to say that.

   You want a heavy bullet. Look at nothing under 200 grain.  220 grain is preferred, if you can get it.  As far as bullet shape, the one with the largest metplat (the flat part on the end) is what you want.  Ammon manufacturers won’t make one totally flat on the end because it won’t feed in a semi-auto.  It needs some bevel around the edge, but should still have a pretty good flat bearing surface on it.

   I think the largest metplat belongs to the Buffalo Heavy Outdoorsman. That’s just my personal observation though. You can compare pictures and see what you think for yourself.

 A New Ammo on the Scene?

Black Hills Ammunition truly creates some of the finest and best factory loaded ammo on earth.  They have recently introduced a new line of handgun ammo called the Honey Badger line.  It’s a funny looking bullet that’s truly revolutionary in bullets.  it penetrates like a fmj, but creates a hollow point style wound cavity. 

They tout it for both hunting and defensive use when over-penetration isn’t an issue. It’s not currently available in a 10mm AUTO, but I have heard a thing or two from some people in the know, and I’m currently waiting for it to become available.  The way it performs in other calibers, it should vastly outperform all the other options every day of the week!  That’s my two cents.

Jordan Buck

Jordan Buck is an outdoor writer, a man of faith, and a family man. He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Jordan has taught marksmanship, woodsmanship, and self-defense classes. He has earned black belts in four martial arts and is a certified Krav Maga instructor. He also runs his own Gun Blog and YouTube Channel. Jordan enjoys giving his time and resources to help others and has spent 15 years volunteering in a boy's mentoring program He is and will always be an American Patriot. MOLON LABE

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