April 21, 2023
By Keith Wood
FN America is a company on the move. Just a few years ago, its handgun options were limited, but that has changed dramatically as the Columbia, South Carolina, firm continues to expand its lineup. Recently, FN’s engineering team has been developing and launching handguns with a variety of cutting-edge features, sizes and chamberings—for everything from concealed carry to competition.
The newest of the bunch is the FN 510, a handgun that combines the proven attributes of the 509 series of handguns in the powerful 10mm Auto chambering. I tested the fully accessorized 510 Tactical variant.
I should warn you at the outset that I am an unabashed fan of the 10mm Auto and have been since Sonny Crockett carried a Bren Ten handgun so chambered in the early seasons of “Miami Vice.” And Jeff Cooper’s proselytizing of the cartridge didn’t hurt.
It is also impossible for me to discuss the 10mm cartridge without referencing the violent and bloody FBI shootout in Miami in 1986 that was the driving force behind the development of the 10mm. If you’re not familiar with this cartridge’s background, you’ll want to check out the accompanying sidebar.
The FN 510 Tactical is a polymer-frame, striker-fired semiauto. It is a duty-size handgun, comparable in size to the benchmark Glock 17. My sample weighed just less than two pounds with an empty 15-round magazine inserted.
This handgun is everything that consumers expect in a modern semiauto, incorporating the features that FN America has developed through its FNX and FN 509 series of pistols. It is essentially a scaled-up version of the 509 Tactical. The FN 510 Tactical ships in a quality black nylon case that holds both the handgun and its accessories.
The slide on the FN 510 Tactical is machined from a steel alloy and wears a matte black Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) finish. Angled cocking serrations have been milled into both the front and rear of the slide. The ejection port is generously cut. A beefy external extractor doubles as a loaded-chamber indicator, visible from the right side of the handgun.
The cold-hammer-forged stainless steel barrel is 4.8 inches long and is threaded 5/8x24 at the muzzle. A knurled thread protector is included, and an internal O-ring prevents the cap from working itself loose during recoil.
Traditional lands and grooves are used in the rifling, so unlike polygonal-rifled handguns, the FN 510 Tactical is compatible with lead bullets. The barrel is integrally ramped, and the chamber is fully supported.
The polymer frame is shaped for a high grip on the gun and textured with three different patterns. The backstraps are interchangeable, and two choices are included: one flat and one arched. I used the arched backstrap insert during my testing and found the grip to be comfortable and secure.
The trigger guard is generous in size, ideal for gloved hands, which, given the 10mm’s outdoor application, is a good thing. There is an accessory rail integrated into the frame’s dust cover. A steel ejector is housed within the frame. Since the polymer frame is the serial-numbered component, swapping grip modules is not an option.
In terms of sights, the FN 510 Tactical offers two choices. A set of high-quality fixed irons sits at suppressor height that allows them to co-witness with a red dot if one is desired. The front sight is serrated with a white outlined green tritium dot installed. Both sights are dovetailed into the frame. The rear sight is also serrated at the base and features two similar tritium dots.
The slide is machined to facilitate mounting of an optic using FN’s patented Low Profile Optics Mounting System. A variety of adapter plates ships with each pistol, making it compatible with most red dot sights on the market. There is no need to remove the rear sight to mount an optic. When an optic is not used and the cover plate is installed, a pair of steel wings protects the rear sight.
The controls on the FN 510 Tactical are fully ambidextrous, and this includes the magazine release and the slide stop. The magazine release button is elongated and accommodates different hand sizes. For me, there was no need to shift my grip to actuate the release. The release is also checkered.
There is no manual safety. The trigger articulates, creating a functional trigger safety without compromising the shape or feel of the trigger’s face. As striker-fired triggers go, the trigger pull on the FN 510 Tactical was better than average. Take-up was short, and there was a bit of creep before the break. The average trigger pull weight was right at five pounds.
The FN 510 Tactical is a double-stack handgun with a 15+1 capacity. An extended magazine, which ships with the handgun, holds 21 rounds.
This is pretty impressive when you consider that the single-stack 10mm handgun the FBI adopted in 1990 had a capacity of only 9+1. Magazines are made from steel and are chrome-plated. Both the followers and base plates are injection-molded polymer. The 15-round magazine seats flush with the frame, while the 21-rounder extends 1.5 inches below it.
Fieldstripping the FN 510 Tactical is simple and takes only a few seconds. A takedown lever on the left side of the frame facilitates disassembly. With the lever in the downward position, the unloaded pistol is dry-fired, which allows the slide to be removed. It bears noting that the thread protector must be removed from the muzzle in order to remove the barrel from the slide assembly.
I range-tested the FN 510 Tactical with three loads from different manufacturers. With the SIG Sauer V-Crown 180-grain jacketed hollowpoint and Winchester 180-grain full-metal-jacket white-box loads, accuracy was excellent. With both the SIG and Winchester loads, reliability was 100 percent, but I did have some issues with Doubletap’s 200-grain hard-cast load.
This ammo was hot: 1,225 fps with a 200-grain bullet. Despite its impressive performance potential, the slide did not always go completely into battery after firing. After much head scratching, I determined that the ogive of the bullet was too wide to enter the chamber without meeting some resistance. Therefore, I consider this an ammunition compatibility issue with a niche load and not a reliability problem.
One of the reasons law enforcement users moved away from the 10mm Auto cartridge was its recoil. Although I think that factor is overstated, the physics of moving a 180-grain bullet at 1,200 fps means shooters will not mistake the FN 510 Tactical for a 9mm. I found the pistol to be perfectly controllable, but the increased muzzle rise meant I was unable to put rounds on target as fast as I would have with a smaller caliber.
I’ll leave the prioritizing of firepower versus terminal performance to those with real-world gunfight experience. It boils down to this. If the shooter is a dedicated enthusiast, the recoil is manageable. If he or she is an officer who shoots once or twice per year simply to qualify, it may be too much of a good thing.
Taking advantage of the threaded muzzle, I mounted my own SilencerCo Osprey 45 suppressor to the FN 510 Tactical for a function test. The Osprey 45 is eight inches long, so it more than doubled the length of the handgun when mounted—not exactly concealable but perhaps viable for a SWAT officer serving a high-risk warrant.
Reliability was 100 percent with the suppressor mounted, and recoil was cut significantly—I would estimate as much as 50 percent. Muzzle blast was all but eliminated as well, as was the report. So equipped, a shooter could maintain the ballistic advantage of the 10mm Auto without paying the price in terms of recoil and muzzle rise. With the suppressor installed, the FN 510 Tactical was a great deal of fun to shoot. Due to the height of the sights and the Osprey’s offset design, I had no trouble achieving a good sight picture with the suppressor attached.
I’ve done a fair bit of deer and feral hog hunting with the 10mm and have found it to be tremendously viable when used appropriately.
But what about the 10mm for defensive use? After all, that’s what it was designed to do. FN’s 510 Tactical certainly leans in that direction and takes the cartridge back to its roots.
Although the 510 Tactical is perfectly appropriate for the outdoors, it includes features that have become associated with “tactical” handguns: a threaded barrel, suppressor-height iron sights, an accessory rail, the ability to easily mount an optic and an extended magazine.
Why? For a law enforcement officer or civilian who can shoot the cartridge to its potential, the 10mm remains an incredibly effective tool. The 10mm Auto isn’t for everyone, but its relative popularity is a window into its usefulness. The 10mm’s superior penetration qualities—especially on barriers such as vehicles—make it a real asset. I doubt the cartridge will see a massive resurgence in law enforcement circles, but if it does, agencies will have a viable option in the FN 510 Tactical. Thankfully, we civilians can choose our own chamberings, and for many, the attributes of the 10mm Auto make it an attractive choice.
FN America 510 Tactical Specifications
- Type: Striker-fired semiauto centerfire
- Caliber: 10mm Auto
- Capacity: 15+1, 21+1
- Barrel: 4.7 in.
- OAL/Height: 8.3/6 in.
- Weight: 31.4 oz.
- Construction: Black polymer frame, PVD-finished steel slide
- Grips: Textured polymer w/interchangeable backstraps
- Sights: Suppressor height, 3-dot tritium; optic ready
- Safety: Trigger
- Trigger: 5 lb. pull (measured)
- Price: $1,139
- Manufacturer: FN America; FNamerica.com
The 10mm Story
At the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami, agents armed with shotguns, revolvers and a 9mm semiauto paid a heavy price while taking down a pair of violent bank robbers in a suburban neighborhood. After an exhaustive review of the event, which left two agents dead and five injured, the bureau concluded ammunition performance was largely to blame. The search for a magic defensive cartridge began.
The folks at the Firearm Training Unit in Quantico set out to find a better mousetrap, and the standards of modern performance testing of defensive ammunition were born out of that effort. A lack of penetration was the real culprit during the Miami shootout, so emphasis was placed on that aspect of performance.
During the tests, 97.5 percent of the 10mm rounds fired through various barriers and clothing materials subsequently achieved the desired penetration in 10 percent ballistic gelatin. No other cartridge came close.
The 10mm’s accuracy during the tests was also superior, possibly because the bureau was using handloaded ammunition. In its Law Enforcement Bulletin, published in 1989, the FBI stated, “The best performing round…was the 10mm.” This conclusion led to the decision to adopt the 10mm Auto cartridge as the FBI’s primary handgun round. Ultimately, the agency moved in other directions cartridge-wise, but the terminal effectiveness of the 10mm Auto was never in doubt.
After what looked like a meteoric success story for the 10mm Auto, its popularity soon faded. The cartridge survived among a few hardcore enthusiasts, but production ammunition and handguns became increasingly unavailable. Law enforcement agencies migrated toward the .40 S&W—which was basically a shortened 10mm—and, eventually, the 9mm.
“Experts” declared the cartridge dead. Then something interesting happened. Outdoorsmen discovered the 10mm’s potential as a cartridge for hunting and for defense against predators. For these purposes, the combination of near .41 Magnum ballistics, high capacity, durability and relative carryability simply made sense.
The 10mm’s popularity surged once again, and these days, both handguns and ammunition are plentiful. In researching this article, I found more than 70 individual loads available from a single online retailer. With 35 additional years of bullet technology emerging since the FBI’s tests, the round is more effective than ever.