The .45 ACP is easily my favorite and most used cartridge. The .45 ACP has been doing the business and getting the job done since 1905 with no end in sight.
The .45 ACP has been chambered in pistols, revolvers, carbines, submachine guns and derringers. Unlike many cartridges, the .45 ACP works well in all of these firearms.
Some .45 ACP History
The .45 ACP was developed hard on the heels of the abysmal failure of the .38 Colt cartridge in warfare.
By all accounts and testing, the .38 Colt was practically worthless, at best suited for lightweight personal defense firearms, not warfare.
The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge had many design criteria. General John T. Thompson had a great deal of input on the new cartridge.
Thompson was a visionary and a proponent of fully-automatic weapons for the military. (He later invented the Thompson submachine gun.)
After the disaster with the .38 revolver, he engaged in a great deal of testing, including shooting animals and human cadavers.
Coupled with his military experience, he concluded that rapid-fire with a big-bore pistol was the only route the Army should take in training and in choosing the Army’s new handgun.
There was nothing wrong with the .45 Colt cartridge, but the revolver was a dated design. The new cartridge should be as similar to the .45 Colt as possible.
John Browning took the Colt 1900 .38 ACP design and by 1905, a Colt automatic firing the .45 ACP was developed. This cartridge shared the .900-inch cartridge length of the .38 ACP.
Browning favored a 200-grain .45 at 1,000 fps, the Army specified a 230-grain FMJ at 850 fps.
Interestingly, the two most powerful cartridges in general use were the .44-40 WCF that could jolt a 200-grain bullet at 1,000 fps in a long barrel revolver and the .45 Colt could break 900 fps with a 255-grain bullet.
The .45 ACP was as powerful as any handgun cartridge of the day in practical terms. The FMJ bullet ensured good feed reliability.
A good crimp, sealed primer and wide extractor groove ensured reliability. A relatively small charge of fast-burning powder exhibited little muzzle flash and a clean powder burn.
In 1911, an improved Colt pistol was adopted by the U.S. Army. The original loading was designed to be effective against mounted troops, and this meant horses.
Jaguars were also part of the threat profile, from hard experience in the jungles. It isn’t often given the credit it deserves, but the .45 ACP can be an effective cartridge for animal defense.
(I have taken two deer with one shot each with the .45 ACP, one at about 35 yards and the other at about 15 yards.)
The .45 ACP earned an excellent reputation during two world wars and many battles in between.
During the past decades, expanding bullet loads have been developed, making the .45 ACP even more effective for personal defense.
Let’s look at a handful of modern loads that offer good promise. During the test program I used a Government Model .45 ACP with a five-inch barrel.
The Springfield Ronin is an accurate and reliable handgun.
.45 ACP Loads to Consider
1. SIG Sauer 230-Grain FMJ
Never understate 230-grain jacketed ‘hardball’ .45 ACP loads. This is among the few non-expanding bullets with an excellent reputation for wound potential.
If defense against large animals is a goal, then a hollow point is probably not something that should be considered, as greater penetration is needed.
The SIG Sauer loading burns clean and offers excellent accuracy. Velocity is 860 fps, a little over the average 830 fps of most military loads.
Feed reliability isn’t a question. While most of us use FMJ loads for practice in a hard spot when JHP loads are not available or prohibited, this is a good personal-defense loading.
2. Speer Gold Dot 230-Grain JHP
I cannot imagine a more proven personal-defense loading. The Speer Gold Dot has been issued by many agencies across the country.
The Gold Dot features a good balance of expansion and penetration. The new Gold Dot G2 is an even more effective loading than the original.
Accuracy is excellent. Velocity is 871 fps.
3. Winchester 185-Grain Silvertip
The Winchester Silvertip has been around longer than most jacketed hollow point loads. It isn’t really silver plated, so it isn’t useful against werewolves!
Nor did the Lone Ranger have a hand in this loading. The Silvertip isn’t quite the same design as the original, although the crease/fold hollow sump designed is similar to the first design.
This loading has undergone considerable upgrades and improved performance over the years. This loading breaks 944 fps.
At this velocity, a 185-grain JHP is easily controlled compared to more powerful loadings, but offers plenty of velocity for good expansion.
This is a good personal-defense loading, particularly for those concerned with recoil or overpenetration.
4. Fiocchi 200-Grain XTP
This bullet has a good combination — Fiocchi quality and the excellent design features of the Hornady Extreme Terminal Performance bullet.
Velocity is 955 fps. This is a good velocity for a 200-grain bullet. With this additional velocity, expansion is good.
The XTP bullet makes for an excellent balance of expansion and penetration. The 200-grain XTP also has a reputation for accuracy.
5. Hornady 185-Grain Critical Defense
The XTP was designed for service use. Penetration is the primary requirement. Hornady Critical Defense is designed for personal defense.
This bullet features a polymer plug in the hollow point. This plug ensures expansion, no matter the obstacles the bullet encounters.
The Critical Defense load breaks 992 fps. This is a strong load that takes every advantage of a modern expanding bullet. Accuracy is excellent.
I fired these .45 ACP loads for velocity, feed reliability and accuracy. At 15 yards — beyond typical engagement distance — all loads tested would group five shots into less than two inches.
These are suitably accurate for personal defense or even competition. None are loaded too hot for good control.
While there may be a place for +P .45 ACP loads, they aren’t needed in typical personal-defense sized handguns.
The .45 ACP offers modest recoil for the power of the cartridge, little muzzle blast, and an excellent balance of expansion and penetration.
The five loads covered are good to excellent choices.
Want to read about more amazing .45 ACP choices? Here’s our previous blog post on 5 Good .45 ACP Loads.
What are your favorite .45 ACP loads? Why? Let us know in the comments below!