Smith & Wesson's M1076 Pistol

By David Tong

S&W M1076
Illustration courtesy of Smith & Wesson.

Remember the infamous FBI shootout in Miami in 1986? Despite two heavily armed felons wielding rifles (.223 Ruger Mini-14s), FBI agents threw up a rolling roadblock with their cars and engaged them in close quarter combat armed only with pistols, not even putting on the body armor carried in the trunks of their vehicles.

In the ensuing battle, two FBI agents were killed. One of the FBI's 9mm rounds (a 115 grain Winchester Silvertip) fired at one of the felons was judged to be a lethal shot, post mortem, but after penetrating through the felon's arm, stopped short of ending hostilities. Due to the inadequate performance of the 9mm in this incident, in 1997 the Bureau's Firearms Training Unit initiated a study of the terminal ballistics of the most common then-issued pistol rounds, the above mentioned 9mm Silvertip, the old "FBI load" .38 Special 158 grain LSWCHP +P, the .45ACP 185 grain JHP, and the 9mm 147 grain subsonic JHP.

Whether one agrees with their findings or not, the FTU determined that the 8-10" of penetration in ballistic gelatin afforded by the Silvertip was insufficient, even though it worked as designed. What they wanted was a round that could penetrate a maximum 18" (!) in tissue, or 12" minimum in 10% gelatin.

Earlier, in 1972, a ballistician named Whit Collins and the late gun writer Jeff Cooper had come up with a modified Browning Hi-Power pistol chambered for a new 10mm (.40 caliber) round. The good Colonel was distrustful of the 9mm Parabellum round for social work. Norma of Sweden loaded the round in 1983, and the result was a 200 grain flat point FMJ bullet at a MV of 1200 fps, or a 170 grain JHP at 1300 fps.

Smith & Wesson developed a new handgun of the so-called "Third Generation" autos, the Model 1076, for the 10mm cartridge. The FBI adopted the Model 1076 in 1990. Early FBI testing of the full power Norma 10mm Auto round found it was too high-pressure, was hard on the converted 1911 test pistol, and had "unmanageable" recoil levels. FTU personnel purchased 180 grain Sierra JHP bullets and handloaded them at a muzzle velocity of 980 fps. This reduced the recoil to tolerable levels, and the FBI requested the Federal Cartridge company to duplicate this reduced load. This "FBI-lite" round became the standard issue.

Most buyers of service pistols preferred double digit high capacity over nine rounds per magazine. The smaller .40 S&W cartridge duplicates 10mm Lite ballistics and has proven itself in the hands of law enforcement. It has all but supplanted the 10mm Auto. Smith & Wesson has "seen the handwriting," and has now discontinued all of its 10 mm autos.

The 1076 had a very short life span with the Bureau, less than five years. They now issue the Glock M23 in .40 S&W. This means that ex-FBI issue Model 1076s are relatively plentiful and affordable on the used gun market.

The S&W 1076 pistol is of all stainless-steel construction and thus weather and sweat resistant. This pistol dispensed with the usual Walther type slide-mounted safety/decocking lever in favor of a frame-mounted decocker a la SIG-Sauer pistols. There is no manual safety to interfere with a fast first shot, but the pistol's trigger is thus always live.

It was produced with the then-latest CNC machinery. Metal injection molded (cast) parts included the sear and extractor, although the barrel, frame, and slide were all forgings. Weight is 40 ounces, barrel length is 4.25", the same as a Colt Commander, for (relative) comfort when concealed or seated in a vehicle.

It has one locking lug in its otherwise typical Browning tilt-lock action, and has very good chamber support for high pressure. The original FBI grips are a "palm swell" single-piece nylon plastic design similar in outline to the butt of a Czech CZ-75, with its inset recurve at the web of the hand, and a gently curving backstrap terminating in a rounded butt at the heel. Magazines are also stainless, with a nine-shot capacity. I have heard of, but never examined, Bureau-issue backup magazines of 11 and 15 shot capacity, which would obviously protrude well beyond the pistol's butt. Sights are of the three-dot variety, with the FBI-mandated tritium night sights standard.

In the example I have examined, the double action pull is fairly smooth but excessively heavy at about 12 pounds. I am not a DA auto guy, though there are police administrators who are fond of them for the "safety" afforded by the heavy first shot pull against negligent discharge. There has been a factory recall involving the decocker function, and Smith & Wesson will honor it even if the pistol was purchased second-hand.

FBI pistols lack the magazine disconnect found in the standard production model, as their requirements dictated being able to fire the chambered round without a magazine in place, and the right-side slide markings on former Bureau pistols will state "Caution-Capable of Firing With Magazine Removed."

Surprisingly, without even a trace of lubricant, my example has a single-action release of about 5 pounds, absolutely crisp. Moreover, the trigger reset is quite short, certainly shorter than that of a Browning if not quite so short as the best pistol in this regard, the 1911. Shooting rapid controlled pairs or hammers is quite easy even with my size 9 medium hands.

Additionally, comparing the 1076 to a 1911, the grip angle and low bore center dimension are virtually identical, thus the slim feel and recoil pulse tends to minimize twist and muzzle flip. Felt recoil, despite the shorter barrel and lighter recoil spring compared to a 10mm Colt Delta Elite, is actually milder by a significant amount, though it's a bit sharper than .45 ACP standard pressure rounds.

The ergonomic issue is more significant than many realize. Law enforcement officers, as well as participants in "practical pistol" shooting, often stage weak-hand only drills to replicate the wounding of one's strong hand, or shooting around a barricade from cover. Large butt sections that may feel fine when shooting two-handed strong side may become more than a bit clumsy when your weak hand has to do the grasping and trigger squeeze, whether it be with a DA revolver or auto.

Accuracy is adequate for short range defensive use with either 200 grain TCFMJ loads at 1100 fps, or factory Winchester Silvertip 175 grain. The barrel hood and slide-to-frame fitting are a bit loose for reliability purposes. The two power levels offered by most ammo manufacturers give the option of relatively soft-recoiling home defense rounds, or magnum revolver performance for hunting or defense from medium-sized carnivores like cougar or black bear.

Power the 1076 has, dispensing energy comparable to a .357 Magnum. Typical external ballistics show a 200 grain bullet at a MV of 1050 fps with 490 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. This is nothing to sneeze at!

My thought for the use of the 1076 is for personal protection in the Oregon woods against cougar or smaller black bear. I find it handier than a magnum revolver, and when worn concealed it may not alarm the tree huggers on a hiking trail as a large revolver, worn openly, might.

Note: A review of the Smith & Wesson's M1076 pistol can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.