The Colt Delta Elite: a 1911 chambered in 10mm

Since founder Samuel Colt received his first firearm patent in 1836, Colt has been a strong presence in the gun world. Yes, Colt’s early days are associated with the evolution of the revolver, but today they’re known for everything from bolt actions to ARs to semi-automatic handguns.

Among their many achievements was the circa 1987 Colt Delta Elite, a first of its kind for major manufacturers due to its being chambered in 10mm (no, it wasn’t the first 10mm to exist, but it was the first for a venerable company such as Colt). After production halted in 1996 due to lack of interest from the general public, an unknown number of those original Series 80 guns were in circulation. But thanks to the team at Colt we now have the Colt Delta Elite, the reincarnation of a solid 1911-platform 10mm from the manufacturer that played such a vital role in the creation and survival of the firearms industry.

History…of the 10mm

Colt Delta Elite 10mm 1911.
A 10mm 1911? Yes, please. (Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

This is often the point at which we wander off into the weeds of history of either the manufacturer of a firearm or of the firearm itself. In this case, it’s all about the 10mm, though.

Many gun owners view the 10mm as being the purview of hunters or guys who just want a bigger gun for unknown reasons beyond a bigger boom but the reality is a bit different. The 10mm is fantastic for hunting, it’s true, but it is also a viable option for self-defense and general range use. I do fall on the biased side of the spectrum with this one — 10mm rocks — but I’m not the only longtime gun owner out there who sees a myriad of uses for this caliber.

Odds are you know the background: 10mm was the brainchild of the late Jeff Cooper, famed founder of what is now known as Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona. Cooper wanted a pistol in a caliber that could move heavier-grain bullets at greater velocities, something that could impact targets and punch paper out to 50 yards. Through the course of his pursuing the creation of such a caliber he ended up working with Dornaus and Dixon, the company behind the ill-fated Bren Ten which was the actual first-ever 10mm-chambered pistol.

Colt Delta Elite, chambered in 10mm.
The Colt Delta Elite in 10mm. (Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

The real turning point for 10mm took place during what is known as the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout.

This was a bloody, horrific incident that resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents, injuries to all, and the eventual, too-far-delayed death of the pair of violent bank robbers that started it all. Autopsies ended up showing the guns issued by the FBI at the time were subpar when it came to stopping murderous threats and the FBI finally decided it was time to up their own gun game. This process gave the gun world some important gifts such as more extensive, accurate ballistic testing, updated tactics, and the rise of not one but two calibers: 10mm and 40 Smith and Wesson.

Here’s how things went for the 10mm decades ago. The FBI declared it the official caliber of the agency and issued firearms to its agents. Agents fired the weapons at length and discovered perhaps it was a little much for their abilities. As a result, the FBI chose to have a neutered version of the cartridge created which gave us the 40 Smith and Wesson. Despite the FBI’s feeling the 10mm was over-powered and a bit much—and it’s true it did wear out barrels faster and create more felt recoil—the 10mm was and is an excellent cartridge. Today it’s finally enjoying some of the attention and popularity it deserves.

Specifications (Back to the Gun)

The Colt Delta Elite is a Government-sized 1911 platform handgun chambered in 10mm. It’s all stainless steel which does make it heavier but weight is a plus with a handgun chambered in 10mm. The additional heft of the gun helps offset felt recoil and muzzle rise resulting in improved accuracy and control.

Its empty weight is 35 ounces. Since its capacity is 8 +1 the loaded weight really isn’t much heavier.

Colt ships the gun with low Novak sights, a white front dot and rear low mount carry sight. These are serviceable sights and Novak is a quality brand but you might consider a swap for tritium or some other low-light friendly option.

Colt Delta Elite with Novak Low Mount Carry Sights.
Novak Low Mount Carry Sights come standard. (Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

The stainless steel slide has serrations at the rear of the gun to make racking the slide smoother, even with wet, sweaty hands. As for the five-inch barrel, it’s also stainless steel and has a 1-in-16 left-handed twist rate.

The trigger is skeletonized and the controls, such as the magazine release and slide stop, are placed well so you should not need to shift your grip to manipulate them. Black composite Delta medallion grip panels provide texture while also helping the shooter maintain a more comfortable hold, especially with extended use.

As for safeties, this is a Series 80 1911, a feature that is going to depend largely on your personal preferences.

Colt Delta Elite Series 80 1911 grip safety and thumb safety
This is a Series 80 1911. External safeties include a grip safety and thumb safety. (Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

At its simplest description, the Series 80 has a firing pin safety that the Series 70 lacks. However, there are other differences between the two series such as the collet bushing of the 70 and the barrel bushing of the 80, but that’s a story for another day. Other safeties include an extended beavertail grip safety helps shooters maintain a firm, high grip and there’s also a thumb safety.

Trigger Time

Colt Delta Elite Skeletonized trigger.
The skeletonized trigger in the Colt Delta Elite has a clean break and short reset. (Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

One of the great things about the Colt Delta Elite is that it isn’t only aesthetically appealing, it is truly well-designed. There are no rough edges to the gun – it’s all smooth curves and beautiful lines – yet it is definitely made for serious use. It’s a good performer, too, right out of the box.

The trigger has a clean break and short reset. It’s a nicely executed factory trigger. Overall the gun itself is a good fit for my hands; it’s being a single-stack makes it a more-easily-operated 10mm for shooters with smaller hands than the bulkier double-stacks out there. The recoil is manageable. Yes, felt recoil is greater than in a 9mm but it is not severe. Muzzle rise is as expected and also less than other 10mms thanks to the weight and material of the gun.

For the purposes of this review, a variety of 10mm was used including Federal Premium Punch 10mm 200-grain JHP, Winchester Silvertip 10mm 175 grain HP, Inceptor 10mm 90 grain ARX, and Remington UMC 10mm 180-grain FMJ.

Shooting from the bench at a distance of 25 yards the average five-shot group measured 1.97-inches. Stretching out to 50 yards, from the bench, those groups broadened to an average of 3.5-inches which is still a dead feral hog or deer. Remember, this is all supported slow fire. The Colt seems to prefer lighter-grain ammunition although not quite as light as the frangible Inceptor loads. 25 yards from the bench, the smallest five-shot group of 1.37-inches was produced using the Winchester Silvertip 10mm 175 grain HP.

Making steel sing at 50 yards while firing offhand is not only doable but pleasantly simple once you understand the drift and drop of the gun and ammunition. It takes practice but it can be done.

Bottom Line

Colt Delta Elite bolt open
The Colt Delta Elite is a well-made, solid 1911 chambered in a seriously excellent caliber. Photo: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

This is one of my preferred 10mms. It’s stellar for hunting whether you’re after deer or hogs and can work as a carry gun, too, although that requires open carry for someone my size. Technically I can conceal it with a long, loose-enough cover garment but it’s large enough that it isn’t easy to conceal. Many experienced shooters, such as Firearms Academy of Seattle founder Marty Hayes, do use 10mms as their daily carry.

Whether you are in the market for a high-quality 10mm handgun or simply testing the water of the idea the Colt Delta Elite is a good addition to your collection. It’s durable and well-made enough to become the kind of pistol you pass down to your kids and grandkids. Join the world of 10mm. It’s well worth the investment of time and gear.

Colt Delta Elite Specifications

Caliber: 10mm

Capacity: 8 +1

Overall Length: 8.5 inches

Overall Height: 5.5 inches

Width: 1.25 inches

Barrel Length: 5.0 inches

Barrel Material: Stainless Steel

Twist Rate: 1-in-16 LH, 6 groove

Type: 1911

Action: Semi-Automatic

Safety: Thumb, grip, firing pin

Grips: Black Composite with Delta Medallion

Sights: Front Novak White Dot, Rear Novak Low Mount Carry

Slide Material: Stainless Steel

Slide Finish: Brushed Stainless Steel

Frame Material: Stainless Steel

Weight: 35.0 ounces, empty

MSRP: $1199 (at the time of this writing)

 

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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