A few months ago, SIG Sauer introduced its new line of handgun ammunition. It is always good to see honest competition—especially among the top tier of manufacturers. And this is just what we have, top tier loads. SIG offers full metal jacketed training loads in the popular calibers. It also offers hollow point defense loads.
Among the most interesting are the three choices in .45 ACP hollow point loads. There are the 185-, 200-, and 230-grain V-Crown bullet weights. Some like a higher velocity .45s, some like good expansion, and others like the heavier, deeper-penetrating bullets. The bullet weight always tells the story, but the balance of expansion and penetration are the goal in personal defense loads.
The 230-grain bullet is the heavyweight. However, others like the compromise inherent in the 200-grain load. The 200-grain bullet weight in .45 ACP enjoys an excellent reputation for accuracy, while the 230-grain seems to be the most reliable in a wide variety of platforms. I obtained a supply of SIG Elite ammunition in the three .45 ACP bullet weights and tested each thoroughly.
The .45 ACP is my favorite personal defense load because, after all, there is much to be said for finishing the job. I used the SIG 1911 target model with adjustable sights in the majority of testing. I also used my EDC carry gun, a Remington R1 Commander. My Remington R1 is normally loaded with 230-grain JHP loads that usually expand to some degree and penetration is optimal.
I am carrying a defensive handgun not for the average scenario but the worst case, so penetration is at a premium. I test each load as if my life depended on it because at some point it may, and I would like my brothers and sisters to be well armed as well. A hollow point should expand as designed. A general-purpose defensive load should penetrate a minimum of 12 inches in water or gelatin testing and show expansion of one and one half times its own diameter.
Things such as heavy clothing may stop expansion. Some may need a heavier bullet that will penetrate sheet metal—vehicles—more efficiently. The 230-grain .45 ACP envelope is a challenge for designers to achieve good results given the velocity limitations. However, we do not really wish to get into +P territory because then we have significant recoil. A fast expanding bullet limits penetration and a deep penetrating bullet may not do as much damage, as quickly, as we would like.
SIG designed the V-Crown projectile to solve a lot of problems. The V-Crown is a bonded bore hollow point which means the bullet stays together, expands, and does not shed its jacket during impact and expansion. The cartridge cases are nickel plated for smoother function. I first conducted a test of reliability, firing a box of each bullet weight in the SIG 1911. Function was good. I cannot easily discern the difference in .45 ACP recoil, however, the 185-grain loads did generate the least felt recoil by a margin.
|Weight||5-inch 1911||4 ¼-inch 1911|
|230-grain V-Crown||863 fps||820 fps|
|200-grain V-Crown||978 fps||955 fps|
|185-grain V-Crown||996 fps||955 fps|
Average accuracy, 15 yards, SIG 1911, three five shot group
|230-grain V-Crown||1.75 inches|
|200-grain V-Crown||1.5 inches|
|185-grain V-Crown||2.25 inches|
I was well pleased with the accuracy of these loads and also the clean powder burn and positive function. Next, I moved to testing expansion. I use water jugs as they are six inches wide and easily measured for penetration. Typically bullets will penetrate an inch or two more in ballistic gelatin, and expansion may be more pronounced compared to water. However, water is a good media for all of us coast to coast to compare the expansion of one load to the other. We may not all be able to mix gelatin or obtain ballistic gelatin but we can obtain water jugs!
Average Expansion and Penetration
|185-grain JHP||.68 inch||14 inches|
|200-grain JHP||.75 inch||16 inches|
|230-grain JHP||.85 inch||18 inches|
After looking over the test results, we find a 185-grain standard pressure load that offers good accuracy and low recoil—both desirable traits in a carry handgun. The 185-grain load is pleasant to fire. The 200-grain load may be the compromise load. It is accurate, powerful, and delivers good expansion and accuracy.
The 230-grain JHP offers what I consider an ideal balance of expansion and penetration. I particularly like the .85-inch mushroom even though part of this is the jacket rather than the mushroomed lead, but just the same, that is a wide nose to impart damage on flesh and bone. Cartridge integrity is excellent with a full powder burn and little unburned powder ash. SIG did its homework and gave us excellent options in the .45 ACP.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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