Black Hills HoneyBadger 10mm Review
December 1st, 2023
8 minute read
I was a cop in San Diego when the infamous FBI Miami shoot-out occurred. The failure of the 9mm, among others, during that shoot-out caused agencies around the country to suddenly re-think what they carried. This contributed to the helter-skelter search for a “better” police round. As it always seems too, as goes the FBI, so goes the rest of the LE world. So, when the FBI opted for the then-new 10mm, agencies gave it serious consideration — but calmer heads prevailed.
Norma Precision designed the 10mm in the early 1980s, at the request of Dornaus & Dixon, who were struggling to develop and sell the infamous Bren Ten 10mm pistol. The 10mm cartridge was designed as a group effort by Whit Collins, John Adams, Irving Stone (of Barstow barrel fame) and Jeff Cooper.
Believe it or not, the pistol cartridge began life as a cut-down .30 Remington rifle case, and in 1983 Norma began loading the first ammo. Norma took it upon themselves to make the original load hotter than specified, for some reason, which ended up causing early guns chambered in 10mm to wear fast.
The Bren Ten pistol died a natural death due to high cost, unavailability of magazines, poor marketing and a host of other challenges. But the 10mm lived on. When the FBI realized the Norma-styled 10mm was simply too much gun for the average agent, they cast about for a “shorty” 10mm, resulting in the development of the .40.
The new .40 round spread among LE agencies, federal agencies and the general shooting public like an out-of-control wildfire. Most were convinced the .40 offered improved “stopping power” over the 9mm loads of the time. They may have been right though, due to bullet designs from that era causing many 9mm loads to under-penetrate. The heavier .40 bullets usually penetrated more, hence being more reliable stoppers in the street.
[Be sure to read: 10mm vs. .40 — Was the FBI Wrong (or Right) About This?]
But all was not rosy. As technology improved the 9mm bullet designs, and agencies discovered many officers had trouble qualifying with the snappy-recoiling .40, a general move back to the 9mm ensued, with even the famed FBI returning to the nine. But where did that leave the 10mm?
Hiding In Plain Sight
Handgun aficionados who saw the potential of the full-power 10mm cartridge still enjoyed the versatility of the round. While the round wasn’t chambered in huge numbers of new models, it still found a home in many new guns over the years. Also, new technology enhanced the performance of the 10mm with new bullet and powder developments. Just as the 9mm gained effectiveness by partnering with new bullet designs, so did the 10mm.
Keep in mind the average full-power 10mm runs at a substantial 37,000 PSI or so and offers an average of 200 to 300 feet per second (fps) advantage over the .40 (which runs at about 35,000 PSI). The larger case capacity of the 10mm also allows the use of heavier bullets, even hard cast, heavy hunting bullets if you like.
[You may also want to read: 10mm vs 9mm — Revisiting the Handgun Cartridge Debate.]
However, just like small-frame revolvers, the 10mm cartridge requires experienced shooters to properly take advantage of its capabilities. Recoil can be substantial in smaller, lighter guns, and is still snappy even in bigger steel guns. However, if a shooter is experienced at managing recoil, none of the guns or loads are difficult to shoot accurately and rapidly if needed. I find the recoil of most 10mm loads to be a bit more than hardball in a lightweight .45 ACP and much less than any of the big bore revolver cartridges. Don’t let the “legendary awesome power” of the 10mm scare you away.
Some say it’s “the same as a .41 Magnum”, but that isn’t the case at all. While a very few factory 10mm loads can nip at the heels of a low-level .41 Magnum revolver load, in actuality, a true .41 Magnum load is substantially more powerful than a 10mm. A stout .41 Magnum load (40,000 PSI) can send a 210-gr. bullet out at close to 1,400 fps. A higher-end 10mm firing a 180-gr. bullet can chase 1,200 fps in some loads. So, while the 10mm is substantial, effective and flat-shooting, don’t ask it to do the same work a .41 or .44 Magnum can do.
Having said that, more and more hunters, hikers and back-country workers are relying on the 10mm for bear protection. Having eight to 15 rounds at hand in your semi-auto is pretty reliable protection, offering deep penetration, multiple shots and a fast reload (if you have time during those hectic few seconds!).
This brings us neatly to the Black Hills Honey Badger 10mm load — and the concept behind it.
Now and again, I get to use the word “innovative” when it really applies. Jeff and Kristi Hoffman, founders of Black Hills Ammunition, have helped lead the way toward reliability, performance and sheer high quality when it comes to ammo for discriminating shooters. The military must agree, too, as Black Hills has supplied a wide range of ammo for military units of all sorts, including the ones you can’t talk about.
I’ve often said, when you simply can’t have a failure in your ammo, carry Black Hills. I’ve toured their facility and their tight-knit crew takes great pride in what they do. While some commercial factory loaders load hundreds of thousands of rounds of a particular cartridge daily, Black Hills has small, “boutique” style loaders, carefully tended by craftsmen, loading small lots of simply impeccable final products.
Jeff and Kristi are driven by a quest for quality and performance, so it’s only natural they came up with their innovative HoneyBadger design. The concept is a solid copper-fluted bullet that doesn’t have to rely on expansion to create a permanent wound channel. The unique flutes cause extreme tissue disruption, and the fact the bullet is solid copper means it holds together for deep penetration.
While light for caliber, they still cut a full-caliber hole and usually penetrate more deeply than even heavier, more conventional bullet designs. The entire HoneyBadger line is also moving at higher velocities than their heavier competition designs.
According to Jeff Hoffman, “About eight or nine years ago we were given some bullets by Dave Fricke, head of Lehigh Bullets at the time, and asked what we thought. Well, we thought there was huge potential. Over the next few years, we worked with Dave honing the designs for various caliber fluted bullets. Today, Lehigh and Black Hills are joint patent owners of elements of the design.”
The design is called a “Solid copper, non-deforming, non-fragmenting projectile, with wide, sharp flutes” according to Black Hills info.
Jeff explains, “Among the many advantages over hollow-point designs is the fact the HoneyBadger simply doesn’t recognize the challenges a normal hollow-point design does. There’s no hollow point to fill, causing the bullet to act like an FMJ. It’s extremely reliable in all barriers tested, and penetration and wound cavity is consistent and reliable.”
I’ve seen the test data, visited the factory to watch the gel being shot and can attest to the fact HoneyBadger works.
Penetration in calibrated ballistic gel is where things get interesting. The 10mm load averages 20″ of penetration, exhibiting 100 percent weight retention. To verify velocity, I chronographed just over 100 rounds through two Springfield Armory semi-autos for this article.
A two-tone 5″ Ronin 10mm averaged 1,565 fps over 50 shots, while an XD-M Elite 4.5″ OSP 10mm averaged 1,547 fps over 50 rounds. Accuracy testing revealed the Ronin to deliver groups in the 1.3″ to 1.75″ range at 25 yards, while the XDM-E chased it at about 1.75″ to 2.25″ range. I fired about 300 rounds in total, with no issues with either the guns or the ammo.
[Don’t miss Paul Carlson’s review of the Ronin 10mm.]
I think Jeff says it best: “I’ve seen products come and go, and you can often spot the gimmicky ones and know they won’t last. I was concerned initially that the unique design of the HoneyBadger bullet might not work as well as it looked. But we have a full-time ballistics lab here at Black Hills, with three techs. We’ve tested the HoneyBadger designs hundreds of times, through hundreds of gel blocks and in the hunting field and verified it truly does work, even beyond our original expectations.”
This is a hard-hitting, accurate load, and the lighter bullet weight means it’s easy to control. I didn’t find recoil difficult to manage in either the Ronin or the XD-M Elite, and it was no problem shooting those 300 rounds in one afternoon.
The deep-penetrating nature of the round means it’s perfect for defense against big critters like bears and hogs, and even bigger varmints of the two-legged and four-legged variety. It’s also safe to shoot in tube-fed rifles. Accuracy is there for longer shots if needed, and having 15 or more rounds in-hand means you can throw down a storm of deep-penetrating solid copper projectiles between you and whatever the threat is.
And that, friends, should help you sleep soundly at night.
Editor’s Note: Please be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in and discuss this article and much more!