Throwback Thursday: 5 “Good” .45 ACP Loads

Man Shooting 1911

The .45 ACP is my favorite handgun cartridge. I have to get that out of the way before I begin. Just the same, I have an open eye and mind, and I am not blind to other developments.

History of the .45

The .45 ACP was developed to offer a reasonable substitute for the .45 Colt, save in a self-loading action. The .45 Colt was designed to give troopers a fighting chance and to drop an Indian war pony at 100 yards. The cavalry was an immensely important and influential department of the Army when the 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge were being developed. The .45 ACP was actually developed much earlier and chambered in the 1905 Colt. Standard performance was a 230-grain FMJ bullet at 830 fps.

The Colt soon earned an excellent reputation for stopping dedicated adversaries. The .45 ACP wasn’t designed for civilian personal defense in the beginning, but for use against warhorses and hardened fighting men, it did the job well.

Interestingly, among the original requirements was that the cartridge be useful against dangerous animals such as Jaguars. The Army had serious problems with bears and wolves as it moved out west, and many of the early rimfire and .44 cartridges were very weak. The .45 Colt, and later the .45 ACP, offered real power without excess recoil.

A great deal of development went into increasing accuracy potential in the time between the World Wars, eventually giving us superbly accurate handguns. Ammunition development stalled at times. Some of the hollow points introduced in the 1970s would feed or they would expand, but not both.

Today, we have well-designed bullets that offer excellent feed reliability, even feeding in old GI guns for the most part. A modern bullet with a good balance of expansion and penetration considerably increases the wound potential of the .45 ACP cartridge.

Let’s look at five good loads, because “best” is a relative term. Some loads are best for one purpose or the other, but the loads that I trust and carry in my personal firearms are general-purpose loads. They are useful for the worst-case scenario and accurate enough for any chore.

While there are differences in the performance of these loads, be certain that the difference in shot placement would count for more than the differences in expansion and penetration. As it turned out, these loads are similar in general performance. There is a consensus on what is needed in a personal-defense cartridge, based largely on FBI testing. These loads are among the best I have tested in some time.

Les Baer 1911
The Les Baer Hemi was used in accuracy testing.

Speer G2 230-Grain Gold Dot +P

The Gold Dot is among the most proven personal defense and service loads in history. Speer recently improved this formidable loading. The new design features a hollow-point cavity filled with an elastomer. The new bullet also features reinforcing ribs for the petals. There is no longer a Gold Dot at the bottom of the cavity, but the bullet is space age.

The elastomer is designed to prevent the bullet from being plugged with clothing or intermediate material and failing to expand. The Speer Gold Dot Generation 2 +P breaks at 916 fps from a five-inch 1911 and 870 fps from the four-inch barrel Springfield Champion Operator.

I tested expansion and penetration using water jugs. Sure it isn’t gelatin, but it gives a good comparison between loads. The jugs are six-inches wide so penetration is easily measured, and the bullet penetration was tagged at the spot in the water jug it came to rest.

The Gold Dot Generation 2 penetrated 18 inches and expanded from .79 to .81 inch. This is ideal performance. I would be hesitant to use the load in a lightweight frame or Officers Model, as there is greater recoil. A standard Gold Dot loading may be preferred at about 840 fps in a Commander-size pistol. For those wishing to maximize the .45 ACP, this is a great load.

Speer G2 Gold Dot .45 ACP Bullet
The Speer G2 Gold Dot offers excellent expansion.

Hornady 220-Grain +P Critical Duty

This is another +P load. Don’t worry, the steel-frame 1911 will take it. I fired a five-shot, 25-yard group for accuracy in the Les Baer 572 Hemi. The result was a 1.25-inch group for the best results, and a 1.65-inch average for three. This wasn’t an accuracy contest — all of the loads are accurate enough for personal defense, but that was impressive precision.

By dropping the standard weight slightly to 220-grains, Hornady has managed to combine standard recoil with high velocity. The average from a five-inch barrel is 1,040 fps. Penetration is 16 inches and expansion .70 inch. The leading water jugs were blown off the table.

Hornady Critical Duty .45 ACP
Hornady’s Critical Duty is a good service load.

3. Winchester 230-Grain JHP

This is a general-purpose defense loading available in 50-round boxes. It is affordable, reliable, and accurate enough for most uses. A standard-velocity loading is useful in short-barrel or full-size handguns. This load was also tested in the Glock 21 with good results.

The Winchester load is no slouch for a non +P, clocking a solid 855 to 866 fps in full-size handguns. With 18 inches of penetration, this loading expands to a consistent .70 inch.

Winchester .45 ACP Bullet
Winchester’s 230-grain JHP sometimes lost its jacket, but expansion is good.

Fiocchi 230-Grain Extrema

There are two Fiocchi loadings, one a 900 fps XTP loading and the Extrema at 840 fps. This load offers modest recoil in comparison to a +P, and has excellent accuracy.

Fiocchi features high cartridge integrity. The 230-grain Extrema breaks 840 fps in most pistols, 855 fps in the Glock 21. Penetration was 20 inches and expansion .68 inch. The 900 fps load, in comparison, averaged 18 inches of penetration and .72 inch expansion. I prefer the standard-velocity load when all is considered, and this one gets the slot among the top five loads.

Target with .45 ACP Bullet Holes
This cluster was fired from the Les Baer with the Fiocchi loading.

Remington Black Belt 185-Grain

I wanted to test at least one 185-grain loading. The Remington Black Belt is based on the Golden Saber, a proven design. The Golden Saber uses the expansion of the bullet jacket as a wounding mechanism. The Black Belt design features a driving band on the base of the bullet to increase accuracy, and a band in the bullet to prevent fragmentation.

This loading breaks 1,003 fps in a five-inch gun and 976 fps in the Commander. The Black Belt 185-grain bullet penetrated 16 to 18 inches and expanded to .73 inch. Felt recoil was modest. As a defense load, particularly in lighter-weight .45s, this is a good choice.

Remington .45 ACP Bullet
The Black Band Remington exhibited excellent results.

Conclusion: .45 ACP Loads

The .45 ACP has been called the hammer of the century. The .45 is a good cartridge, but if you do not practice, build skills, and use good tactics, no firearm will save you. These loads are good choices and among the best modern loads.

What is your favorite .45 ACP defensive load? Why? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

  • Les Baer 1911
  • Speer G2 Gold Dot .45 ACP Bullet
  • Hornady Critical Duty .45 ACP
  • Winchester .45 ACP Bullet
  • Target with .45 ACP Bullet Holes
  • Remington .45 ACP Bullet

Editor’s note: this post was originally published in July 2020. It has been updated and revamped for clarity and accuracy.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (42)

  1. Carried 1911s, ParaOrdnance P14 and Warthog and Glock 21on duty. Winchester Ranger T 230+P, Speer 200gr. GoldDot and Federal HST 230gr +Pwere all loads I carried at different times. Now retired, the Fed HST or Win RangerTs ride in my mags.

  2. It doesn’t matter which 230 grain 45 acp you are shooting. Shot placement is the issue…it will always stop the democrat you are shooting at

  3. For a defense round, I prefer the Federal HST +P. For range use, I roll my own with 5.8 grains of W231 over CCI Large Pistol Magnum primers, pushing a Hornady 230 grain FMJ bullet.

  4. That’s my favorite cartridge but I don’t look down or make comments against others that don’t like the 45acp. To each their own. Same goes for my choice of rifle rounds. I own a rifle that shoots the 308/7.62. But yrs ago I owned rifles that shot 45-70, 308 Norma Mag, 22-250, 284.

  5. I don’t have a favorite 45 ACP load, though I do prefer heavy projectiles in everything I shoot. This is because velocity is always dropping, but mass is a constant. HP rounds need a certain level of velocity in order to reliably expand, so a heavy bullet has a narrower expansion window than a lighter bullet. Just the same, expansion also means less penetration. Finding the right balance of reliability, accuracy, recoil, penetration, and expansion for each pistol should be treated as a fun experiment.

  6. I rediscovered my 625 S&W & shot some 20 year old loads that shot some 1.6 inch groups. 220 grain lead flat point pin busters with AA#5 powder. I can afford to reload after pricing some of these commercial loads. Who has enough money to go out & blast 50 rounds of fashion deluxe. The perfect woman likes men with neat guns.

  7. I started shooting the 1911 when I was 10 years old my father brought it back from WW2 that’s always been my go to gun and I roll my own 7.5 grains of unique and 200grain Speer hollow cavity 1100fps 529foot pounds However for Bear Jaguar and Indian ponys I use my LAR grizzly. 45 Winchester Magnum it never fails great pistol hard to find but worth every penny you pay

  8. Black Hills makes some of the best ammo available. My 1911A1, is stoked with its new Honeybadger 45acp round. Excellent reviews, check it out.

  9. Since I “roll my own”, I have 2 favorites. The first is a 230gr PMC Starfire loaded with HS-6 @ 850 fps. It has shown to be consistent grouping of +/- 2″ @ 25 yds. Penetration is 20″ with the ‘wings’ shearing off and creating 6-8 additional wound channels. My second is the Federal 230gr Hydro-shok also loaded the same as the Starfire and with the same characteristics of grouping. Penetration varies between 16-18″.

  10. Have carried some form of .45 ACP for some decades – my last issued duty pistol the S&W M4566 (soon replaced after by the M&P ,45 by my department) Issue load for most of that time was the Speer 230 gr GDHP. In several instances it performed perfectly.
    OD carry for for many years to now has nearly always been some sort of 1911 in the various configurations in 3″, 4.25″, 5″. I somehow accumulated quite a bit of the Speer duty ammo (actually our armorer gave me a bunch upon retirement), and usually carry that.
    An alternate load I’m quite fond of – and you don’t hear much about it anymore is the 230 gr TC (‘Truncated Cone’) hardcast/powder coated. I handload it to approximately hardball to +P levels and is often my ‘woods carry’ load.
    The 230 gr TC was once offered in FMJ form by Hornady but was discontinued. Recall reading that it was a favorite of Col. Jeff Cooper.
    The profile feeds even slicker than RN hardball (if that’s possible) and performs on terminal targets like a SWC, with very good penetration.

    Now, I’m dating myself when I tell that I was a young clerk working at a LGS when some of the FIRST .45 JHP’s came on the market. Notables were the Norma 190 gr JHP and a couple of offerings by Super Vel.
    What we have today is hundreds of times netter.

  11. My duty round and CC round is the Winchester 230 grain Ranger L.E. round. Superb reliability, accuracy and expands up to .99. Check it out.

  12. I carried .40 GoldenSabers in my Glock and 9mm GoldenSabers in my MP5. That was used as an entry weapon. With ammo performance now days, any manufacturer makes excellent ammo. GoldenSabers never failed me though. I used Remington varmint loads when I used my AR. NO overpenatration.

  13. Federal 230gr. HST+P has been my duty load in Flock 21, SA 1911A1s and Paraordance WartHog through out my LE career since coming available. GoldDot G2 the agency tested performed poorly in gel testing, some exited two gel blocks. Winchester Ranger T and SXT was too hard to find, but was a close race with HST.

  14. I am somewhat opposed to Plus-P ammo. One of the beautiful parts of the .45 ACP is minimal recoil which allows for rapid follow up shots. Standard velocity ammo has an outstanding one shot stop record. I see no reason to get high velocity +P ammo that increases recoil and slows down follow up shots.

  15. In 1973, with a new Series 70 Colt, I shot a huge hawg using the .45 230 grain hardball ammo. Still have that bullet, (and the hawg mount), That hardball bullet was flatten, and no longer “reloadable. Since 1973, modern bullet technology has changed to the point that even the “lowly” 9mm is now a highly effective self defense round. Still, the original .45 ACP round was designed with the consideration of being used to shoot horses, with the 230 grain “hardball” round. Would I shoot a 400+ pound hawg again with a .45? No! Would I consider a modern .45 round effective for self defense? Absolutely. IF you can handle a .45, modern bullet design has made the .45 even better than when it was designed in 1907. The original 1911 pistol design is also still an effective self defense handgun. Note – I do like the fact my 1911 mags also work in my KAHR CW45. So, in summary, modern .45 ammo, and the modern firearms designed for the .45 ammo, is still the gold standard for self defense. As a hunting, (bears) round, that title should now go to the modern 10mm rounds.

  16. I’ve always been a Speer Gold Dot kind of guy. I feel if the local Sheriff’s Office carries it, then it’s good enough for me.

  17. I think the major ammo makers – Remington, Winchester, Federal, Speer, Hornady, and maybe a couple of others have pretty much gotten things right, and I wouldn’t feel undergunned with premium defensive loads from any of them once they were proven reliable in my pistol. I have less confidence in smaller boutique ammo makers and their trick bullets. Right now my favorite .45 ACP load is the 230 grain Winchester Ranger T JHP, available in both standard and +P versions. (Although “available” in today’s supply conditions may not be the right word.) Terminal effect seems to be extremely good, and if for some reason the bullet totally fails to expand, it’s still going to behave like 230 grain hardball, and that’s not terribly bad.

  18. Thanks for the information Wilburn. It’s refreshing to hear some facts and honesty. Personally I like to carry 185g .45acp +P in my short barrel glock 30. I have not found a manufacturer that my G30 doesn’t like yet.

  19. Jaguars, and wolves and bears oh my. The legend is growing. I just read about the requirement of the 45 Colt to knock down war ponies. Now bears and jaguars. I am a fan of the 45 acp. Won’t be trying it out on bears, horses or jaguars. Maybe in the Super configuration on hogs.

  20. I have carried 1911s in .45acp for years. I my water jug tests I have had excellent results with the 200 grain Sig V-Crown JHP load and have made it my eery day carry ammo.

  21. The newer solid copper loads from Underwood have all but rendered the hollow point bullet obsolete. The Xtreme series ( Penetrator/Hunter/Defender) do not require expansion like a hollow point, thus negating the potential for hollow point failure. You have the penetration of a hard cast projectile and the design creates a wound channel greater than any hollow point. This is the future of ammunition.

  22. I have found the stories of feeding problems on old 1911’s overblown. I own an original ww2 Colt 1911A1. It has never failed in all these years I have owned and fired it , to feed and eject anything I have fed it. That includes Mil spec rounds, low power target loads, hollow points , and lead bullet loads.

  23. I have a Llama 45 made in Spain it has double stack clips,I’ve had it for several years.
    I live in rural SE Alaska lots of Bears around, what bullet would you recommend ?
    Thanks for you’re input

  24. I, too carry the Polycase Inceptor ARX in both my Springfield Armory mil-spec M1911A1 and my S&W M&P Shield 9. And as I’m getting older and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I have Crimson Trace lasers on both. I like the ARX for its lateral dispersion of rotational energy as well as reduced recoil and flash. The lightweight, high-velocity ARX produce more energy than most, but as a backup I also have the Speer Gold Dot and Federal HST.

  25. There is no question that the 45ACP is a superb defensive and tactical load. While I have always had a “love affair” with the 1911 in both the full size and Commander sized variants, my one complaint has always been and continues to be the limited magazine capacity of the 1911. For over 20 years, I worked as an armed private contractor in Las Vegas before moving to the part of the country that I live in now. During those 20+ years, some of the details I accepted were considered to be High Risk and High Threat assignments! It became readily apparent to me that I needed a tactical handgun cartridge that provided both high terminal energy and threat-stopping capability in addition to a higher cartridge count in the magazine! After the 1986 “Miami Massacre” occurred, the FBI determined the 10mm to be, by far, the superior tactical cartridge for its agents!! As a result, I gave it a try and have never looked back! Yes, there is considerably more muzzle blast in addition to more recoil and muzzle-flip so yes, more time is absolutely required to be spent behind the weapon for training and practice! But consider this: a full-sized Glock Model 20 incorporates a 15-round magazine which is more than double the capacity of the standard 7-round 1911 magazine! A 155 grain 10mm Gold Dot hollow point loading by Underwood Ammo provides more than 700 ft. pounds of threat-stopping energy at the muzzle in addition to velocity that creates an enormous wound channel!! If concealment becomes an issue, the sub-compact 10mm Glock Model 29 still provides a 10-round magazine in an easily-concealed weapon!! In this man’s humble opinion, what the FBI determined back in 1986 still holds true today; the 10mm is the superior semi-auto tactical cartridge that provides incredible threat-stopping capability!!

  26. The 1911 was designed to shoot hard ball so that is what I’ve stuck to for all these years. Never had a problem with feeding or accuracy issues that can happen with hollow points. My thought has always been, if something is hit with a 230 grain projectile, no matter how it’s constructed, and refuses to go down, shoot it again.

  27. for self defense I like federal hydrashok, I reload 45acp using 185 grain hornady xtp bullets and 7.5 grains of unique powder. I built a bullet stop in my backyard using 6, 4″x4″ and 5/4 lumber on both sides filled with dirt. out of my thureon defense 16″ carbine my reloads go right through it. luckily there is a huge hill right behind it

  28. Great article on the 45acp… gotta say it’s my favorite auto round… 44mag/special is my go to revolver round … thanks for the review of the ammo & feedback from others

  29. I just had to comment when I saw SECUNDIUS say he shot hot loads in his Singer 45. If it really is a singer and has all matching parts it is worth TONS of money and should be babied and never shot. One of these examples went for $414,000 at auction.

  30. I carry a Glock 21 in both 45 cap and 400 Corbin (a Jarvis barreled conversion I made – and yes it functions reliably) and Mac-Tech in 45 Super (though the brass is impossible to find). The outer dimension of the acp and super are identical so I just use relatively hot acp loads. My favorite is a cast 200 grain SWC over 5 grains of Red Dot. You can’t use this in a factory barreled Glock; but Jarvis barrels are just fine and the Mec-Tech loves it

  31. Exsoldier I did some research and was wondering if a 460 Rowland will feed in a Colt officers or Defenders .45Acp. I saw that it’s longer and won’t feed. Also who’s your gunsmith of choice in South Florida? I don’t know of a good one down here. Thanks.

  32. I’m partial to the .460 Rowland, which has nearly twice the stopping power of the .45acp and works well in virtually every .45acp pistol/handgun…

    1. I thought about getting a Wilson Combat 1911 in 460 Rowland and then Wilson discontinued the model. Did some research and discovered that the 10mm offered all the advantages of the 460 Rowland but less expensive and more available. I picked up an EAA TANFOGLIO Hunter Elite with a 14rd magazine (bought 5sp mags) and a six inch barrel. A hot 45 auto +P might squeeze out 450 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Battering the gun. A decent 10mm load from Buffalo Bore will easily reach 750 foot pounds of muzzle energy. I had mine ported by my favorite custom gun smith in South Florida. His three holed punch midway down the barrel makes the recoil of a vociferous 10mm feel like a 9mm +P. If I want something lighter, I go with a Taurus Tracker 44 magnum in a two inch barrel. That beast generates about 1000 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Very stout recoil and not for the novice shooter, which I am not.

    2. @ EXSOLDIER.

      Which is all good and well IF you own and/or want a 10mm Pistol, which I don’t, and don’t have any plans to do so in the foreseeable future. For my Singer .45ACP, I use .460 Rowland’s and for my 9mm I use 960 Rowland’s…

  33. Ex Soldier

    We must be brothers!

    I sometimes carry the Springfield Hellcat in this sweltering summer heat, sometimes along with a Chief’s Special on the ankle.
    But like you if travelling the .45.
    In the wild either a heavy loaded .45 Colt SAA or Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum.
    Stay safe!

  34. I have been stacking ammo in both my 1911’s, except when I am out in the woods for years. Long story about that and we don’t have time or space, I have multiple reserved mags loaded with Black Talon and Golden Saber for critters like pigs, feral dogs, etc. that I may encounter out there.
    My EDC magazines are stacked with G2 Research’s 162 gr R.I.P. and D.R.T. 150gr Terminal Shock ammo. There is significant reduction of recoil compared to the other rounds I have used for EDC in the past, like the aforementioned Black Talon and Golden Saber. (I realize that is a subjective report, but it feels lighter to me.)
    I like the groups with the R.I.P. and D.R.T., and the overall feel. Don’t shoot those much as they are not cheap. For practice, I have several other rounds, to include some Wolf brand , Blazer, Magtech, and Perfecta, all in FMJ. I shot everything else up. I am down to around 1,000 rounds of those. Going to be time to order some more soon.

  35. I’ve had remarkable success with the Polymer ARX load in terms of accuracy and relatively low recoil/low flash. When I carry my Sig Sauer RCS 1911, that’s all I load. I’ve been an NRA Instructor for 32 years and carried mostly the 45 auto concealed much of the time. Now, being fully retired and living in East Tennessee, when I stay in town I tend to pocket carry a Sig P365 9mm but when I must traverse the Appalachian Mountains I’m ALWAYS armed with a 45 auto. Minimum. Alternates include an EAA Tanfoglio Witness Hunter Elite in 10mm with a 14 rd magazine. Also I carry a 44 magnum when Trout Fishing in Bear Country but I wouldn’t feel “underarmed” with a 45 auto and the Arx load in Bear Country.

  36. One of my favorite concealed carry handguns is my Kimber ultra Raptor and I use Underwood
    45 ACP +P 120gr Xtreme Defender 1420fps , 537ft lbs and is incredible shooting
    Makes a Statement for sure

  37. I’d like to see the Polycase/Inceptor/NovaX in the mix. After watching many tests this appears to be a contender not only for it’s significant increase in speed and increase in ft lb but carry weight alone is significantly reduced. The the design allows for a 114g projectile to be pushed at speeds nearing +p 9mm loads but with a larger projectile. These are my carry rounds in 9mm and 45acp. It would be nice to see any ballistic comparison with the current loads you mention. There is no question the Gold Dot, HST are staples in the LEO profession but I feel there needs to be serious research into this type of round for LEO duty carry. I see many benefits and anytime you can reduce weight on the person you gain endurance and reduced fatigue. IMHO

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