EAA Witness 10mm Auto Pistol
By David Tong
EAA Witness 10mm Auto. Photo by David Tong.
The “European American Armory” of Cocoa Beach, Florida, has been an importer of the Italian “Tanfoglio” line of CZ-75 type pistols for over ten years. Mostly seen in 9mm Luger, .38 Super, .40 Smith & Wesson and .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP), it was also available in the fairly powerful 10 millimeter Auto round.
The story of the 10mm Auto cartridge goes back to the mid-1970s, when Jeff Cooper wanted to design a larger bore cartridge to fit into the Browning Hi-Power pistol, thus rendering that handgun truly high-powered. His initial thought was to drive a 200-grain, .40 caliber bullet of jacketed truncated cone (TC) design to 1,000 feet per second. One of his colleagues at Guns and Ammo magazine was gunsmith Howard French, and French contacted Bar-Sto Precision Machine to provide the necessary barrel, while Mr. French enlarged the breech face and made extractor and magazine modifications. The pistol thus modified showed great promise.
Norma of Sweden was asked to provide the cartridges and somehow the resulting ammo ended up being loaded to far higher pressure and speed than originally envisioned. The resulting round used a 200-grain TC full metal jacket at 1,200 fps and ended up something of a “Magnum” for an automatic pistol.
After the infamous Miami FBI shootout in 1986, the FBI Firearms Training Unit decided that they would re-write the ballistic requirement for duty pistol rounds, as one of the issued Winchester 9mm Silvertip jacketed hollow point bullets had failed to enter the chest of one of the deceased perpetrators (after hitting him in the arm), thus prolonging the firefight and indirectly resulting in the deaths of two Special Agents, who, it must be said, used poor tactics in the vehicle stop before the shooting began and failed to wear their ballistic vests, which were in the trunks of their cars. (The real "failure" was a failure of all but one of the agents involved to aim their pistols, but the FBI wasn't about to admit that. -Ed.)
The short lived Smith & Wesson Model 1076 pistol was introduced to much fanfare as the ultimate answer from this study. It was adopted to replace all revolvers in service, which was the Smith & Wesson 3” round butt Model 13, with its .38 S&W Special 158-grain +P lead semi-wadcutter hollow point bullets.
The new 10mm round intimidated Agents unused to recoil and muzzle blast of this level, so the FTU went back to the drawing board and reduced the load to a 180 grain jacketed hollow point at a MV of 950 feet per second. After they determined that the new round had the requisite penetration characteristics, they also decided that it would be best if the case length was reduced so as to fit into 9mm sized magazines, which allows a smaller grip that is better suited for smaller size hands.
The .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge was born, as S&W had quickly developed lightly modified 9mm second and third generation autos at the FBI's request to take the new round. It is and will be for the foreseeable future, THE most prevalent round in American law-enforcement pistols, with some 75% of all departments now using the cartridge for their duty sidearms.
An interesting side development involving Col. Cooper was the (happily now defunct) firm of Dornhaus & Dixon, who developed a pistol called the Bren Ten. This was a scaled up CZ-75, which was originally a 9mm caliber handgun. Cooper greatly admired the CZ design, as he believed that it combined the comfortable butt design and deep magazine of the Hi-Power with the double-action lockwork most police agencies preferred, yet offered a "Condition One" cocked-and-locked optional carry mode, which is the overwhelming choice of both combat shooting competitors and elite police and military units. Today a historical footnote, the Bren Ten failed in the marketplace because of lackluster quality control and a lack of adequate production of magazines to feed it.
However, the promise of near-Magnum, flat-shooting revolver performance in an automatic pistol with a large magazine capacity continues to fascinate. Essentially, the EAA Witness in 10mm is a simplified Bren Ten, as it is identical in essentials to the original 9mm CZ pistol.
The EAA Witness that came into Albany Guns of Albany, Oregon is lightly used. As it has a Clinton-era 10-shot magazine, it is large for its current capacity and a few ounces heavier than a Government Model 1911. Based upon the slightly enlarged frame of the .45 caliber Witness, its double-action stroke is nothing to write home about (none of the DA autos are), but the single-action trigger pull breaks at four pounds with minimal take-up and over-travel.
The basic attractiveness of the CZ design is still apparent. While it in no way is a small pistol, an average-sized hand can still manipulate the slide stop, magazine release and thumb safety easily; only the longish-double-action trigger pull is a bit much. The CZ also was the first pistol to incorporate the inset radius cut under the rear tang, to reduce the length of pull to the trigger, making the pistol better handling and easier to manipulate, while the similar radius at the rear root of the trigger guard also provides a “high hand hold” to reduce muzzle flip.
Curiously enough, a direct comparison between the Witness and the Metro Arms 1911 showed virtually identical bore centers, despite the smaller diameter of the 10mm cartridge versus the venerable .45ACP. What this means is that when either is held in the hand in a proper high grip, muzzle flip is thus minimized due to the recoil forces being resolved by the web of one’s hand in a near straight back fashion. This is a good thing, as other modern pistol designs of double-action configuration, such as Beretta 92s and SiG-Sauers, typically have barrel centers nearly ¼ inch higher, thus farther from the base of support, the length of one’s forearm. This higher fulcrum makes controlling rapid fire strings more problematic.
The sights are rugged. The front sight is milled integral to the slide, while the dovetailed rear blade is thick and stout and would shrug off most minor impacts easily without losing windage zero. The frame envelops the slide, as the rails are reversed from the usual arrangement on nearly all other automatic pistols, where the slide overlaps the frame, and this might provide a better slide support bearing surface for accuracy and durability.
The pistol is easy to field strip and clean and the trigger mechanism is modular and can easily be removed from the frame. One curious thing about the CZ design is that there is no hammer “mainspring” visible when one pulls off the stocks; the butt of the piece looks like a hollow shell, which it is. There is a short mainspring attached to the hammer strut when the crosspin is driven out for detail cleaning.
Reading some anecdotal reports about the Witness in 10mm indicates some conflict about its long term durability. Evidently the approximately fourteen-pound recoil spring is insufficient and the magazines have had some issues about locking the slide open after the last round has been fired; a partial fix was a change to the follower design, but the sample pistol has that follower and in hand-cycling the action, only raises the slide stop to hold open about half the time.
Probably if one owned one, it would be best to change the recoil, firing pin and main springs to heavier than standard Wolff models and refrain from shooting the top performance ammunition all the time, shooting instead what one might call 10mm Lite ammo. Even Norma has backed off their loadings because of the full power ammo being too hard on not only the Smith 1076, but the also-discontinued Colt Delta Elite. I believe this is analogous to shooting a medium-framed .357 Magnum; shoot .38s in it 90% of the time, and save the Magnums for hunting or self-defense purposes, practicing only enough to confirm both zero and your ability to control it in reasonably rapid fire.
A trip to Albany Rifle And Pistol Club’s range produced a 2-1/8th inch, five-shot group at twenty-five yards, with Remington / UMC 180 grain FMJ rounds (MV 1150 fps). Due to the pistol’s size and weight and despite the relatively light recoil spring, recoil was a non-issue for me from a sandbag rest. Subjectively softer-shooting than any plastic-framed .40 and not much more kick than an alloy-framed 9, I would estimate it as similar to .45 ACP in a steel Government Model pistol.
Falling steel plates were put down with alacrity; any reasonably well-centered hit flattens them. This is wholly unlike the behavior of the 9mm Luger round, which pretty much requires an “upper third” hit to put them down reliably. Mass times velocity squared equals energy--one must remember that the force of the hit on target is somewhat less than the felt recoil in one’s hand, so while no pistol round is a death ray, it is why I prefer larger bore offerings.
Having said this, the 10 has not proven to be any better as a self-defense round than the more common rounds in the marketplace and I have my pet theory that even at the attenuated velocities it has too much penetration and bullets might be too heavily constructed to ensure expansion and fast incapacitation. Certainly it can theoretically do everything the .40 can do and more, and the .40 works pretty well. It’s a pity that the ammo manufacturers won’t give us different power levels of 10mm ammo off the shelf.
However, the round comes into its own for short range hunting with a semi-auto pistol. “Young Ted” Nugent famously loves his 10mm Glock for wild boar hunting and Winchester’s 175 grain Silvertip hollow point, moving out at 1275 feet per second, has accounted for more than a few whitetail deer over the years. It isn’t the substitute “.41 Magnum” earlier gun writers ascribed it as, but it’s roughly comparable to the popular .357 Magnum in a handgun of similar weight.
These EAA Witness pistols can also be relative bargains. This example can be had for around $400 and that’s a whole lotta handgun for the buck.