November 24, 2021
It’s late afternoon and you’ve just arrowed the bull elk that you’ve been pursuing for days. It’s September, which means the rut is on. It also means that America’s most fearsome predator is out looking to fill his stomach before winter sets in. You quarter the bull by headlamp and hang what meat you can’t carry in the trees. It’s pitch dark by the time you begin making your way down the mountain, a bloody hunk of elk strapped to your pack. Are you predator or prey?
Bear attacks, though rare, do happen. Bear spray works but it isn’t ideal for every situation. For me, the solution is to carry spray in addition to a lightweight, durable and powerful handgun that has sufficient whallop to take out such a large predator when called upon. One of the most practical tools for the job is one that was just released to the public — the Springfield Armory XD-M Elite 3.8” Compact OSP handgun chambered in 10mm Auto.
- Type: Semi-automatic pistol
- Caliber: 10mm Auto
- Barrel: 3.8” hammer-forged steel
- Weight, empty: 1 pound, 12.5 ounces
- Grip: Polymer
- Finish: Melonite
- Sights: 3.5 MOA Hex Dragonfly; fiber-optic front, steel rear irons
- Trigger: 5.5-pound pull
Designed to be the ultimate round for law enforcement use, the 10mm Auto was built off the rimless .30 Remington case, firing a .400” projectile at impressive velocities. With the right bullets, the 10mm is capable of exceptional penetration. Doing the math establishes that a semi-automatic 10mm Auto has the approximate power of the .41 Magnum but in a more compact package. Add in a polymer frame, a corrosion-resistant Melonite finish and great reliability and you have a gun that is durable, resistant to the elements and perfectly capable of getting things done in an emergency. The OSP fits the bill.
Springfield’s XD series of handguns evolved as a self-defense platform and place an emphasis on durability, reliability and safety; exactly what you’d want in a backup gun. This gun is all about compromise. The OSP’s 3.8” barrel is compact, yet capable of impressive velocity. The frame is just long enough to allow for a full-fingered grip, maximizing its compact lines. The steel components are given a Melonite bath, meaning that they will not rust under any reasonable set of conditions. The steel magazine holds 11+1 rounds, twice that of most revolvers. Two magazines are included.
Springfield’s New 10mm OSP allows for the power, shootability and capacity of a duty-sized 10mm with the portability of a compact. The OSP weighs 28 ounces unloaded and has the same rough dimensions as a mid-sized 9mm handgun. This particular model has high-quality iron sights, as well as Springfield Armory’s own HEX Dragonfly 3.5 MOA red dot. While this setup might seem curious on a backup handgun, I’ve used red dot-equipped handguns in low-light hunting situations and found them to be game-changing. Speaking of darkness, the OSP has an accessory rail on the dust cover capable of mounting a weapon-mounted light.
The trigger on our sample broke at 5.5 pounds with the creep we’ve come to expect from polymer-framed and striker-fired handguns. I wouldn’t chose such a trigger on a dedicated hunting handgun where precision hits at distance are a priority, but it’s probably just about right for this gun’s intended purpose. The controls, which include a magazine release and a slide stop, are fully ambidextrous. There is no manual safety to cause problems under stress, though a grip safety embedded in the frame provides an extra margin of comfort. Most importantly for me, though, reliability was 100%.
The ability to make multiple hits under stress is key for any defensive handgun. Running the gun on a selection of steel targets at close range, I found the OSP to be more than capable of this type of fast shooting; much more so than with a big bore revolver. Despite its power, the 10mm’s recoil is not oppressive, particularly in the OSP. Anyone capable of packing out an elk should be able to shoot a 10mm without issue.
I know what you’re thinking, is the 10mm enough for the job? Phil Shoemaker is an Alaskan Master Guide who specializes in guiding brown bear clients on Alaska’s Peninsula where he lives year-round. Phil got lots of attention in 2016 when he used a compact 9mm handgun to stop a bear that was poised to attack he and one of his fishing clients. Based on his real-world experience, Phil is confident that the 10mm is capable.
“I did considerable testing of handgun cartridges, and the 10mm and .357 [magnum] are virtually in a dead heat for penetration, and both beat the 9mm,” said Shoemaker. “Most of my family carry .357's as we all like revolvers, although last year my son decided to give the 10 mm Glock a try. Either round makes a solid choice for bear protection.”
When we’re talking about stopping an animal as large as a bear, there is a key factor to remember. Ammunition designed for law enforcement or self-defense use will not maximize the 10mm’s ability to penetrate. Stick to hunting ammunition such as Federal’s 200-grain Solid Core or 200-grain Swift A-Frame loads. A handful of boutique ammo makers including Buffalo Bore and Doubletap offer some excellent choices as well. Whatever load you choose, be sure to practice—a defensive handgun is not a magic wand.
The OSP 10mm just might be the ideal backup handgun for bear defense. I took a full-sized 10mm Auto into grizzly country this summer and, due to its size and weight, found myself leaving it in the truck a bit too often. This handgun is compact enough to carry comfortably but big enough to shoot well under stress. The fact that it could do double-duty as a concealed carry handgun makes it even more attractive.
Tips on Carrying in the Backcountry
Carrying a backup handgun can sometimes be uncomfortable. A belt holster can give you saggy drawers, while a chest holster might interfere with your binoculars or bow. Marsupial Gear, makers of some of the best binocular pouches in the business, has come up with a solution. Marsupial’s holster is secured to the bottom side of the binocular pouch, where it is readily accessible but otherwise out of the way. We used the smaller size, which required removing the HEX optic from the OSP. The system is comfortable, secure and practical.