September 27, 2019
Double-action (DA) Smith & Wesson (S&W) revolvers have been a mainstay of the shooting world for a century. Though sales slowed to a trickle in the 2000s, the revolver market is seeing a resurgence, and the Springfield, Massachusetts-based company is steadily reintroducing its legendary sixguns. Among their newest offerings is the N-frame Model 610-3 chambered in the capable 10mm Automatic cartridge, and capable of firing the .40 S&W. It’s a stainless-steel revolver that first debuted in 1990.
Remember the 10?
The history of the 10mm is well-documented. Its roots can be traced back to the .40 G&A wildcat, a cartridge developed by staffers of this magazine in the early 1970s and first built on a shortened .30 Remington case. It was standardized as a factory load by Norma in 1983 for the ill-fated Bren Ten pistol, and later adopted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1989. The Bureau had been seeking out a more powerful cartridge, spending a considerable amount of resources doing so. Their efforts were soon abandoned for everything except submachine gun use (i.e., the HK MP5/10), as it became apparent that the cartridge was too powerful for many agents to master.
The 10mm teetered on obsolescence until other loads were developed for recreational shooters and hunters who embraced the round. Today, the 10mm enjoys reasonable and growing popularity, and a number of firearm and ammunition firms are producing at least something for this cartridge.
The 10mm fires .400-inch (10.17mm) bullets with current factory loads ranging in weight from 125 to 230 grains. Notably, and unlike its .40 S&W offspring, the 10mm uses large-pistol primers to ignite the larger powder charges used.
The rimless 10mm case was designed to headspace on the crimp much like a .45 ACP. As is in the case of .45 ACP-chambered revolvers, the solution is to load the 10mm using steel moon clips. The clips snap over the rebated section of the cartridge case and allow the cases to be extracted using the ejector rod. However, moon clips are not necessary and the revolver can be safely fired without them. The cases can either be picked out of the chamber with a fingernail, or poked out using a narrow rod or pencil.
Just as .38 Special loads can be fired in a .357 Magnum, .40 S&W ammunition can be fired in 10mm revolvers, but moon clips are required for the cartridge to headspace properly.
In terms of power, the 10mm nearly reaches the velocity of the .41 Remington Magnum, and often with less barrel length. Perhaps ironically, the .41 Magnum (designed in 1964) was also intended to be a cartridge to give law enforcement officers more power, but it only found real success among the private sector.
I own two 10mms, both semiautomatics, and have tested several others. I have also hunted a fair bit with the cartridge, taking few feral hogs and whitetail deer with it. In all cases, the bullets exited and achieved quick, ethical kills. In extreme circumstances, the 10mm has successfully taken large and heavy game to include Africa’s Cape buffalo.
Third Time’s A Charm
Since producing their first 10mm handguns, S&W has been ahead of the game. Between 1990 and 1992, the first generation of 610s were limited to around 4,500, and featured 5- or 6½-inch barrels and fluted cylinders. In 1998, the S&W revolver was reintroduced as the 610-1, then again in 2001 as the 610-2 which offered a distinctive unfluted cylinder and 4-inch barrel. In 2005, S&W discontinued the Model 610, but in March 2019 announced its return.
“With the recent increase in popularity of the 10mm Auto cartridge, we felt it important to offer a 10mm revolver for personal protection and handgun hunting,” said Jan Mladek, S&W general manager. “The N-frame revolver has long been a staple in big-bore revolvers, and the 10mm is a natural caliber addition to the line,” Mladek added.
The current-production Model 610 (technically the Model 610-3) is a hybrid of previous models. It is available with either a 4 or 6½-inch barrel, a full underlug and fluted cylinder. In terms of traditional construction, the 610-3 is a mix of old and new. Unlike the newly-reintroduced Model 19s that use a two-piece barrel arrangement to ease production, the 610’s barrel is a one-piece forging. The 610 also uses the newer-style cylinder release, along with a metal-injection-molded (MIM) hammer and trigger, and a finish that mimics muted case coloring. The firing pin is a part of the frame’s internals rather than positioned on the hammer, and the 610 includes the much-maligned internal lock that allows users to render the gun useless with the turn of a special key.
The 6½-inch-barreled Model 610 tested by Guns & Ammo staff was clearly geared toward the hunter, assuming that the revolver would primarily see use in single-action mode. (Few individuals would seek a 50-ounce revolver as a carry gun.) The single-action trigger pull was clean, measuring less than 4 pounds. The double-action pull was an even 10 pounds and equally as smooth.
As with all recent S&W revolvers, the 610 grip frame uses a round butt that’s not apparent until the two-piece synthetic wraparound grip panels are removed.
The sights are the typical and excellent variety that we’ve seen on other S&W revolvers for decades. The adjustable white outline on a black blade at the rear allows for simple changes in windage or elevation using slotted screws. The front sight is a serrated black ramp that is held into position by a roll pin. The sights are also considered interchangeable. When shooting the 610, I found that the high velocity 155-grain Hornady Custom load shot 6-inches lower than the rest, thanks to the decreased barrel time. This point-of-impact shift was easily addressed with a few revolutions of the rear sight’s elevation screw.
Dimensions are a big deal when it comes to revolver accuracy. Ideally, a revolver’s cylinder throats should be just larger than the bullet diameter for the projectile to pass through without being sized down. All six throats on our test gun measured .401 inch using precision-gauge pins, a perfect complement to the .4005-inch SAAMI-spec bullet diameter. The barrel-to-cylinder gap was also measured and a .004-inch feeler gauge just slipped through, which is pretty good by any factory standard. The revolver passed our inspection, so it was time to work.
At The Range
I tested six loads in the Model 610-3 which included one .40 S&W load. Thanks to the overall weight, a full underlug and soft synthetic grips, recoil was mild with each load. The Blaser’s 200-grain projectile that traveled at 1,047 feet per second (fps) was especially mild.
Accuracy was excellent with each of the six loads. The best 25-yard groups printed under an inch. The great sights, the long sight radius and good trigger made hitting where I aimed a simple task. It was so easy to shoot that I had to consciously remind myself to slow down and maximize accuracy. One explanation for this was that nearly all the ammo I sampled hovered near .40 S&W velocities. Many of these sampled modern factory loads were developed for defensive use rather than hunting use, and in my opinion, left a good bit of power on the table. The solution for hunters is to either handload or seek out some of the smaller boutique manufacturers who load 10mms to their potential.
I did encounter one issue with the 610-3 that can be easily traced to the moon clips. Full moon clips are traditionally one of the fastest ways to charge a sixgun, but the three steel clips provided with G&A’s sample made the loading process painfully slow. My calipers indicated that the minor diameter of the clips were 0.025-inch smaller than that of the cylinder’s holes, making the cartridges splay out as they attempted to enter the chambers. Working the clip back and forth eventually eased the rounds into place, but it is not an ideal solution for carrying reloads. After a few loading cycles, I reverted to single loading each cylinder, allowing cartridges to headspace off of the crimp.
Hunting with a traditional iron-sighted handgun is one of the great challenges of the outdoors, and the Smith & Wesson Model 610 is ideally suited for the task. It also serves double duty as a potent choice for self-defense. The 10mm will never be as popular other cartridges, but with numerous companies making improvements to both firearms and ammunition, I feel the 10mm is here to stay. Though first designed for semiautos, the 10mm has proven to be a great round in a revolver. It especially shines in Smith’s new Model 610.
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