The father of all modern shotgun gauges and the predecessor to the most successful 12 gauge, the "Mighty 10" or "Big 10" as the 10 gauge is both sometimes called, is the largest and most powerful chambering found in a modern shotgun today.
Some quick facts about the 10 gauge:
- The 10 gauge barrel has a nominal bore diameter of: .775 inch. This can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it is the recognized diameter by most major manufacturers.
- One of the first shotguns chambered for the 10 gauge was a side by side shotgun produced in Birmingham, England.
- This gauge is capable of shooting 2 1/4oz. of lead shot in a single round. It is also the largest (in terms of size of shell and chambering) commercially loaded round available to the public.
- The 10 gauge has been made in every shotgun action that is available: autoloader, pump action, bolt action, lever action, break action (over and unders along with side by sides) and break action single shot.
A Bit of History about the 10 Gauge
The inventor of the shotgun is really a tough nut to crack. Which shotgun? What kind of action? When and where? Who had the idea first? Who built one first? All these questions make for even more questions. Without getting into terrible controversy that is beyond the scope of this writing, many indications point to the idea of the shotgun (as we know it today) forming in England.
Be that as it may, in terms of the way we have come to understand the modern shotgun, the 10 gauge was first sighted on the radar of firearms history shortly after the Civil War in the United States. It was around 1870 that the first 10 gauge shotguns were beginning to make it to this country. When they did, it was the only shotgun around. The 12 gauge wasn't too far behind, eventually appearing in the late 1870's. The reason the 12 gauge overtook the 10 gauge was really quite simple- it produced less recoil upon firing. When the 12 gauge began to propagate through the USA, the 10 gauge's days were numbered.
Sales declined due to the heavy recoil. No one really wanted to use the shotgun for hunting quail, grouse, rabbit and other small game. What they did use it for, however, was waterfowl. Oddly, it was also waterfowl hunting that nearly made the Big 10 extinct.
As people were able to hunt more and more for recreation (as opposed to hunting for food) they were able to place pressure on the ammunition and gun makers of the differing times to produce waterfowl loads in the 12 gauge. Previously, the 10 gauge had been king of waterfowling. When 12 gauge 3 inch and 3 1/2 inch shells came to market around the time of the second World War, the 10 gauge was ripe to be overtaken in its last domain. And it was, for a time.
It wasn't until the late 1960's in the United States that studies were beginning to be circulated reporting that many ducks were being found dead- from environmental lead poisoning. The controversy of these studies lingers today. One thing is for sure, this is what saved the 10 gauge.
When lead shot was deemed unsafe for waterfowl hunting, an appropriate non-toxic replacement had to be found. The best at the time was steel, which is still used today. The problem was that a 12 gauge could no longer offer the payloads that they used to with lead shot. Steel shot took up too much space and therefore could not offer the same weight charges as they had previously. What the waterfowlers needed was a larger bore. What they had was the 10 gauge.
Originally (again, around 1870 or so), the 10 gauge shell was 2 7/8 inches long. Today, the shells are 3 1/2 inches in length. This change was made to accommodate having more shot in the shotshell. The idea being that if you could pack more shot into such a large bore, you could increase the chances of hitting just about anything at which you were aiming. This is now the standard size shell.
The selection of 10 gauge ammunition is somewhat rare and expensive today. Since the gauge is primarily used in waterfowling and turkey hunting, the shells manufactured by the big three ammunition companies (of the USA)- Winchester, Federal and Remington- are designed with those needs in mind. However, the 10 gauge seems to be making a comeback in area of predator hunting- coyote, fox and feral dogs top out the list in this type of hunting. The ammunition makers are aware of this and at least two manufacturers produce a 10 gauge buckshot load.
The ammunition manufacturers are also no doubt aware of the laws of supply and demand. Not many people shoot a 10 gauge today because of its current near exclusive use in waterfowl hunting and predator control. Those that do are typically hunters with a disposable income who can afford the higher prices commanded by these shells.
10 Gauge Ammunition Offerings
Please note: The following shells listed (by manufacturer model number) are by no means the entirety of the 10 gauge catalog. However, these do represent the current state for at least the big three USA ammunition manufacturers. All shells are 3 1/2 inches in length. Some shells come with a choice of shot size. That is to say that sometimes the shells are available in either 4 or 6 size shot (or whatever the choice may be; which size and weight you choose depends on the application. Lead shot takes up less space due to the denisty/weight properties of each metal, comparatively speaking; therefore you can have more lead pellet's in a load than in a steel shot application. Hevi-Shot is very similar to lead in this respect).
Lead Shot Offerings
- P109- Field/Turkey load. 2 1/4 oz. Available in either BB, 4 or 6 size shot.
- GST101- Turkey load. 2 oz. Available in 4,5,6.
- F103RS- A rifled slug. 1 3/4 oz.
- P108- Buckshot. Available in either #1 or 00 buckshot.
Non-Toxic Shot Offerings (Steel and Tungsten-Iron)
- PW107- Steel Waterfowl load. 1 1/2 oz. Size: T, BBB, B, 1, 2, 3
- PW102- Steel Waterfowl load. 1 3/8 oz. Size: T, BBB, B, 1, 2, 3
- PWT105- Tungsten-Iron Waterfowl load. 1 3/8 oz. Size: BBB, BB, 2.
- WF133- High Velocity Steel load. 1 3/8 oz. Size: BB, 2, 3.
Lead Shot Offerings
- NM10H- Buffered Magnum load. 2 1/4 oz. Size: 4.
Non-Toxic Shot Offerings (Steel and Hevi-Shot)
- SSTHV10- High Speed Waterfowl load. 1 3/8 oz. Size: BB, 2.
- NS10M- High Speed Waterfowl load. 1 3/4 oz. Size: T, BBB, BB, 2
- PRHSN10M- Hevi-Shot Magnum Waterfowl load. 1 3/4 oz. Size: 2, 4.
- P10HM- Copperplated Turkey load. 2 1/4 oz. Size: 4, 6.
- PRHS10M- Hevi-Shot Magnum Turkey load. 1 7/8 oz. Size: 4, 5, 6.
Lead Shot Offerings
- X103XCT- Copperplated Turkey load. 2 1/4 oz. Size: 4, 5, 6
- STH10- High Velocity Copperplated Turkey load. 2 oz. Size: 4, 5, 6
- X10C00B- Copperplated Buffered Buckshot load. Size: 00 Buck, 18 pellets.
- XB104- Buffered Buckshot load. Size: #4 Buck, 54 pellets.
Non-Toxic Shot Offerings (Steel)
- SSH10- Copperplated Steel Waterfowl load. 1 3/8 oz. Size: BBB, BB, 2.
- XSM10- Steel Waterfowl load. 1 1/2 oz. Size: BB, 1, 2, 3.
- XSC10- Steel Waterfowl load. 1 5/8 oz. Size: T, BBB.
10 Gauge Shotguns
Winchester's first shotgun chambered for the 10 gauge, produced in the United States, was the Model 1887 Repeating Shotgun. This was of lever action design. Most of the original 10 gauge shotguns that were imported to this country were of English manufacture. John Moses Browning invented his Auto-5 (known as the "humpback" or the "A5" in collector circles) around 1901. This was a recoil operated semi-automatic shotgun. From there, it was just a matter of time until Ithaca Gunworks introduced their semi-automatic gas operated shotgun. Except for Benelli, all 10 gauge semi-automatic shotguns of today are gas operated. (I am excluding pump guns, here). Some of the most popular 10 gauge shotguns include the Remington SP-10, Browning BPS and Ithaca Model 54. It is not unheard of to find an old 10 gauge shotgun chambered in the shorter length shell size. Occasionally, these older guns can have the chambers lengthened to accommodate the current size shotshell. It depends on the barrel thickness and barrel steel as to whether it would be safe to do.
10 Gauge Uses
As has been mentioned, the 10 gauge is presently used for waterfowl and turkey hunting. The 10 gauge would no doubt make an excellent self defense weapon, except that no one really uses it as such. It produces too much recoil, which when a 105 pound person wants to shoot such a threat, will leave them black and blue and hesitant to shoot such ever again. Police departments across the country use 12 gauge slug and buckshot rounds primarily because of this reasoning.
Nonetheless, people in Arctic stations are routinely issued a 10 gauge shotgun (along with training on how to properly use it) to staff traveling in the Arctic regions for defense against bear(s). It is apparently mandatory to shoot at any bear you see, regardless of circumstance. Slugs are the ammunition used. No doubt this would be effective, not just as a lethal round, but one that also deters further action.
Lastly, in terms of predator hunting, the 10 gauge is seeing a limited revival. Coyote, fox and feral dogs are called in close through the use of electronic decoy callers and shot at very close range. Many use the 10 gauge for turkey hunting. In terms of close range use, the shotgun is king in terms of lethality. I can only speculate, but I believe the reason for drawing in the prey so close is two fold: first, you have a better chance of striking the target; secondly, there is then a better chance of shooting twice at the target should one miss on the first attempt.