When it comes to handgun hunting, there is only one factory-loaded semi-auto cartridge that I consider a serious contender for use on deer-sized big game: 10mm Auto. Traditionally, if you wanted suitable hunting ammo for the 10mm you either handloaded or ordered cartridges from smaller manufacturers such as Doubletap Ammo. With the introduction of Federal's Vital-Shok load, we now have another option from a major manufacturer.
Unlike rifle rounds, which create massive wound cavities through the effects of hydrostatic shock, handgun rounds essentially create puncture wounds on a game animal. With this in mind, the most important elements of handgun hunting ammunition are penetration and weight retention. Unless the bullet travels far enough into the animal's body to penetrate through the major organs, it is not up to the task. This is why many handgun hunters choose cast bullets for their hunting needs—a good cast bullet of an LBT or Keith design will penetrate deeply while maintaining nearly 100 percent of its weight. And though, as I've written elsewhere, certain cast lead bullets can be used safely in Glock handguns, the manufacturer still advises against the practice. Since the Glock 20 is one of the most popular 10mm handguns on the market, creating a hunting load for the 10mm that Glock owners will feel universally comfortable with involves a jacketed bullet.
Most jacketed handgun bullets are designed with self-defense in mind, and favor rapid expansion over deep penetration. Game animals are generally tougher than human beings and the ideal broadside shot on a deer or hog will require more penetration than most handgun ammo is optimized for. To meet these requirements, Federal Premium set out to develop a 10mm projectile that would penetrate deeply, expand reliably and retain a significant portion of its weight to maintain terminal momentum. To these ends, they chose the bonded technology of the Trophy Bonded bullet which has been around for decades in other calibers. The Trophy Bonded uses a process which fuses the lead core to the jacket to prevent separation and fragmentation—the two metals act as one.
Federal's 10mm load uses a 180gr. Jacketed Soft Point rather than a hollow point- clearly choosing penetration over expansion. The load has an advertised muzzle velocity of 1275 fps which is a bit higher than the 1236 fps ten-shot average my Oehler 35P recorded twelve feet from the muzzle of my Glock 20. That same string had a calculated standard deviation of 11, which says a great deal about Federal Premium's quality control. Though a 180gr. bullet moving at over 1200 fps is powerful by handgun standards, it would be considered weak if we were talking rifles. Despite lots of noise and recoil, handguns are relative weaklings when compared to their shoulder-fired counterparts. This "weakness" is why we must choose carefully when selecting a hunting bullet for a handgun and choose our shots carefully.
Velocity numbers are an important part of the equation, but the real test of a bullet's performance is to shoot something with it. Lately, I've been using the Bullet Test Tube (I get mine from Brownells) as a test medium for handgun bullets. The waxy medium is harder on bullets than ballistic gelatin, and far easier to work with. I like to test bullets at the extreme end of the velocity spectrum: if the bullet is going to come apart, it's going to do so at its maximum velocity. I fired a single round into the Test Tube at five yards and recovered the bullet. The Trophy Bonded JSP penetrated 10 ½" in a straight line (which equates to about 14" of penetration in ballistic gelatin) and maintained a classic mushroom shape. That penetration may not sound like a lot so let me put it into perspective: this is about 90 percent of the penetration that I measured while using a Federal Premium .454 Casull load in the same medium; pretty impressive for a moderately-sized semi-auto. According to my RCBS digital powder scale, the recovered bullet weighed 180.1 grains. Despite crashing into a tough medium at point-blank range, the bonded bullet retained 100 percent of its weight. I look forward to getting out and trying this load on a feral hog sometime soon, but this testing gives me confidence that this load will perform well on game.
Since our concern was the performance of the ammunition, not the accuracy potential of the host firearm, I did not conduct formal accuracy testing with the Vital-Shok load from the bench. Instead, I did what I would do in the field and shot with my butt on the ground and my elbows across my knees. As you can see from the target photo, this load's accuracy potential was only limited by the capability of the guy working the trigger. Shooting at longer range, I made easy hits on a ½ size steel IPSC target at 100 yards while sitting on the ground with this load out of my Glock—needless to say that accuracy was not an issue.
The 10mm was not the success the FBI banked-on when they adopted it as a carry gun, but it has re-emerged as fine hunting cartridge if the right ammunition is used. This load from Federal Premium would certainly qualify as the "right" ammo when it comes to accuracy, penetration, and weight retention. Hunting with a handgun is always a challenge, but I would not hesitate to recommend this load for those who can put their bullets where it counts.