Short-Barrel Performance — The .45 ACP and Barrel Length

45 Short Barrel with Hornady Ammunition

Cheaper Than Dirt! asked me to work up a report on the differences in .45 ACP ammunition when fired in different barrel lengths.

I was already ahead of the game, as I have been driven to distraction by the newest GLOCK, the longslide Model 41.

I also routinely pack a compact 1911, so the motivation was there and so was the ambition.

I always begin an exploration of facts with an open mind and in doing so, have learned quite a bit about firearms.

I did have several facts on the table, however, that had been qualified by years of testing.

.45 Short Barrel Pistol
The author prefers the five-inch .45 when possible. The longer sight radius makes precision possible. However, the short guns have their place.

The .45 ACP Cartridge

The .45 ACP is a low-pressure cartridge that uses modest charges of fast-burning powder.

As such, it is not as affected by barrel length as other calibers.

The .357 Magnum, as an example, will demonstrate extreme variations in velocity between two and four-inch barrel revolvers.

The slow-burning powder used in the Magnum often creates a tremendous ball of flame on firing as unburned powder burns outside of the barrel.

On the other hand, even when the barrel is as short as three inches, the .45 ACP usually produces a full powder burn.

Muzzle signature is often a few sparks and little more. Still, there is a proximate loss in velocity in shorter barrels.

Whether the loss is significant and whether it impacts wound ballistics was the question.

We know that shorter pistols with their short sight radius and shorter grip are inherently more difficult to fire accurately than a long-barrel handgun.

That was a different question. Accuracy was not in question, wound ballistics and efficiency are.

All handguns are short-barrel firearms. I think that the conventional sense of short barrel is shorter than standard.

A Colt 1911 Government Model uses a five-inch barrel as standard. The GLOCK 21 is similar.

If we are using a Commander .45 we are working with a 4.25-inch barrel.

While a rifleman may laugh at handgunners as we agonize over that .75-inch of barrel lost, the fact is in handgun terms the loss of velocity may be significant.

I wished to see just what I was giving up with the short-barrel .45 I carry often.

Time, hard work and a number of struggles with our protein-fed ex-con criminal class move me to a literary moment.

“Alas, it is true we have seen better days!” My back is glad to support a lighter pistol.

Today, my threat profile is lower and my mission statement different. My back is not so strong. I still carry a .45, but more often it is a compact.

My friend John also carried a short .45, the SIG P250, and had some interest in the equation.

A 45 acp bullet with a paper target in the background

Bullet Construction

Velocity is a consideration, but so is bullet construction. Bullets are designed for a certain expansion threshold.

A bullet designed to open at 1,000 fps isn’t going to open as well at 800 fps.

However, if we have a heavy bullet, we have greater momentum whether or not we have expansion.

As a plus, the spread from the expansion threshold of no expansion to full expansion is much narrower with 230-grain bullets.

In my opinion, the heavier bullets are the better choice in short barrel .45s.

Conversely, you are able to achieve the greatest advantage with lighter bullets in the long-barrel .45s.

When using handloads, I most often use the 230-grain bullet. I most often use faster-burning powders such as Bulls Eye and WW 231.

It has become a well-known trick in the .45 ACP to use medium, slower-burning powders to increase lock time.

The pistol stays locked a millisecond longer — at least that is the theory — and velocity is kept up and accuracy increased.

This is a difficult point to prove or disprove, but my experiments tend to lend this conjecture some validity.

However, in the short-barrel .45, nothing doing.

A slow-burning powder simply produced median velocity and excess muzzle flash, with much of the powder burning outside of the barrel — just food for thought for handloaders.

Let’s look at the differences in loads when fired in several representative examples of the .45 ACP.

Factory Load Comparison

Cor-Bon 160-Grain DPX

HandgunBarrel LengthVelocity
RIA Compact3.5 inches990 fps
SIG P2204.4 inches1,032 fps
Colt Series 705.0 inches1,121 fps

Speer 230-Grain Gold Dot

HandgunBarrel LengthVelocity
GLOCK M415.3 inches1,166 fps
RIA Compact3.5 inches770 fps
Colt Commander4.25 inches809 fps
Colt 1991A15.0 inches855 fps

185-Grain XTP/5.5 Titegroup Handload Comparison

HandgunBarrel LengthVelocity
Colt Defender3.0 inches867 fps
GLOCK M415.3 inches1,011 fps

Next, let’s look at the performance of one of the most popular .45 ACP loads in a short-barrel handgun.

Speer engineers its 230-grain Gold Dot to give good performance across a range of velocity.

After all, the engineers at Speer did not know whether the load would be used in a Government Model or a Defender barrel length.

The performance doesn’t seem to leave much to be desired.

Speer Gold Dot Testing

  • Short barrel
  • 770 fps average velocity
Gelatin TestExpansionPenetration
Bare Gelatin.73 inches14.5 inches
After Penetrating Heavy Cloth.752 inches14.5 inches

When you get to the bottom line, and considering the differing distances at which you may engage an adversary, the differences in velocity and performance are not that great.

The 230-grain .45 offers good penetration and expansion. The shooter must deliver the shot where it will do the most good.

A common misconception is that penetration is lost when we fire a load at lower velocity from a short-barrel handgun.

In the case of the .45 ACP, the opposite is true. As an example, the Hornady 200-grain XTP is recognized as a fine defense load.

When fired from a five-inch barrel, expansion is about .68 and penetration about 16 inches, making it an ideal service load.

From a short-barrel, .45 velocity is lower. Expansion is less with less frontal diameter to push and penetration is usually greater.

An example of a load I have the greatest respect for is the Speer Gold Dot 200-grain +P. This load breaks about 1,050 fps from the five-inch 1911.

However, from the 4.4-inch barrel SIG P220, velocity is off nearly 70 fps.

The load penetrates about 11 inches and expands to almost .80 caliber from the five-inch gun.

At the lower velocity, penetration is about 12.5 inches and expansion .70 — still ideal.

The SIG is a full-size pistol with excellent handling qualities so the +P loading is a reasonable choice in this pistol.

Bond Arms .45 ACP Derringer Pistol

.45 ACP & Barrel Length

The bottom line is this: choose a load that is reliable and burns clean.

If recoil is excessive and muzzle signature is anything more than a modest orange glow, consider another choice.

Marksmanship is the most important single element of wound ballistics and prior training the single most important factor in surviving a critical incident.

Share your experiences with .45 ACP and short barrel length in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (40)

  1. Today, bullets are vasily superior to what soldiers had used in World War II,and I don’t recall reading that the 45 acp round was a failure at protecting the solider’s life ;therefore, I have to wonder if our discussion on stopping power is significant. If you shot some malefactor in the chest with any 45 acp bullet ,and I certainly wouldn’t want to be that person, most criminals would be incapacitated on the spot. I think the bullet will do its job if you do yours. In other words, aim well.

  2. I’ve been carrying a first generation Springfield XDs for years. At first I carried ball ammo thinking penetration was more needed than expansion. I now have switched to Federal Punch in 230gr. I do have some Ranger T’s but the +p loading is a little more than I like out of that small of a gun.

  3. So the Speer Gold Dot out of a 3.3″ barrel and a lower velocity is better then a lower grain bullet at a faster velocity?? All this at better penetration and expansion, correct? If so I have to give up my Hornady. Does this hold true for the .40 cal. also??

  4. Appreciate the short barrel comments; quite timely for me.
    I’ve carried a Ruger LW Commander for a few years and wanted to go to even something shorter. Picked up a Sig Sauer Ultra Compact in 45 a week or two ago and it seems to feed, shoot and extract everything I’ve fed it thus far but have been curious to know how much “ballistic potential” might be lost due to the shorter barrel length.

  5. Thanks for the short-barrel research! I carry the [rare] all-steel Springfield 1911 Ultra Compact 3.75″ bbl version, uber-reliable feeder. I will test the Gold Dot: I have found disappointing groups with +P rounds in it, but found the 230 JRN (medium powder loads) beats the 200 LSWC in this pistol, which has confused me somewhat: usually the 200 LSWC is the tightest, but not so in this one?

  6. Springfield TRP Operator 5 inch barrel Vs. Springfield XD Mod. 2 3.3 inch barrel;
    185 GR. Hornady XTP, Winchester LP primer, 6.5gr. Bullseye:
    TRP = 992 fps
    XD= 965 fps

    185 GR. Hornady XTP, Winchester LP primer, 8.1gr. CFE pistol:
    TRP = 1008 fps (Hodgdon data list for 5 inch barrel 1124fps)
    XD = 896 fps

    200gr. lead semi wadcutter, Winchester LP primer, 5gr. Bulleseve:
    TRP = 815 fps
    XD = 744

  7. Are you sure that reading for the Glock 41 velocity with the Speer Gold Dot 230gr is accurate? That seems more like the velocity one would get with a 185gr +p load. A jump of over 300fps when going just from a 5 to a 5.3-inch barrel seems implausible.

  8. Done s lot of shooting with a 45. Have a iver Johnson 45 with a 4.25 in barrell. Its very acurate at 35 ft. I have found it to be a little more acurate than the 3in. And still good for carry.

  9. I have a Colt Defender-3″. My question is, if I want to use Buffalo Bore rounds at 950 FPS. 23gr. FMJ-FN, do I have to use a stiffer recoil spring?

    Thank for any thoughts.


  10. I started shooting competition with a standard government 1911 and did fairly well. Five years later I found (new at the time) a Springfield V-10 Champion (3&7/8″ barrel) and dramatically raised the bar for my hit percentage. When legal, I have used my V-10 to hunt with and never went home empty handed. Years ago, on a moose hunt, I took a bull from 40yds with 185gr. semi wad cutter, pushed by 5gr. of bullseye..One Shot One Kill. I would not trade that piece for Anything on the market today.

  11. Love my springfield commander, weak or strong hand it shoots good groups. eats whatever I throw into it. Kind a partial to 230 grain hydroshocks.

  12. I haven’t fired a short barrel version of a 1911 in a 45 ACP that I liked more than the standard 5″ that I have in my Rock Island. With a buffer in the sleeve and a set of Hogue wrap around rubber grips it’s easier and more fun to shoot. A friend with a short colt says you don’t fire most CCW’s that often and I agree because I wouldn’t want to.

  13. I read with interest how you were concerned using a Glock 21with a 4.25″ barrel and losing that 0.75″.
    I have my CHL and carry a Citadel 1911 Compact, with a 3.5″ barrel.
    I regularly fire a 2″ group at 25 feet, and that is quick fire, not slow fire. That is probably longer range than I would be shooting in a self defense mode.
    “Alex the dog” is right, the key is practice, and lots of it.

  14. Bob Campbell writes with good actual experience that he shares with civilians. I too, was in l.e. First as a patrolman for 12 years, then as a detective for the next 20. Over those years, our needs changed but the mission was the same–accuracy. Accuracy depended on much range practice, and the right load. There are great ballistic differences from the various mfrs., so we practiced with the same loads we carried every day.

    I used Speer Gold Dot exclusively, and became expert on the range and in combat competition. The point I’m making is this: if you carry a long or short barrel weapon long enough, you will know what it’s shooting characteristics are. If you use the same loads, you will be just as deadly in combat as you are on the range.

    I was just as deadly with a .380 Walther PPK as I was with my .45 Ruger P345. Although with the Ruger, I didn’t have to stop the perp with a head shot.

  15. These results would be more meaningful if they:
    – compared ammo types fired from the same weapons; and
    – included statistics: the number of each and velocity std. deviation.

  16. Once I received my Conceal Carry Permit, I chose a Glock 36 for my carry. I have it loaded with 185 grain, Remmington Bonded Hollow Points. I have a 5 inch 45 and the Glock 36 is a little shorter, but it has the accuracy of the longer barrel 45’s. I have 2-6 round mags for it and if you hit what you aim at, it leave a very messy spot. The 230 grain round nose has a lot of kick to my glock 36, but the 185 grain is not so bad. I have practiced with the 185 grain so I will know how it handles and what the recoil is like. Besides, I love the night sights on my glock.. I know everyone has a preference to their gun choice, but for shoulder carry my glock 19 fits beautiful and my glock 36 fits nice inside my waist band. If I am going to wear thin pants or a shirt, I like to carry my LC9 with laser max.

    1. Larry – I don’t know what your background is, but I agree with the idea that accuracy is far more important than quantity.

      I would like to point out that the “average” shooter, under stress, combined with adrenalin, and any added factors like lighting, will produce missed shots. Few people have the self control to take their time with a shot under those conditions. You’d have the same kind of limitation with a revolver, but changing magazines is faster than having to open the cylinder, dump, reload, close, return to firing. I also keep half a dozen magazines loaded and available: one in the weapon, two in reserve, and three more is my patrol bag where I can resupply as needed.

    2. One of our quote,” best shots” in the department got into a return fire gun fight and after it was over he / we learned the following. What he had done on the range for accuracy for simply a score for standing still under no stress. Sure, he could shoot a perfect score with a high number of X-ring hits all day long but once it became a real shooting match on the street he failed completely. We carried wheel guns back then and he carried 18 rounds and managed to shoot all of them in hitting buildings and cars a block or so behind where the suspect was shooting at him from. Most of his shots were about 7 to 10 feet high over the head of the suspects location area and later we learned the officer had done all the firing from behind his car door ducked down basically just throwing shots over the window frame. (suspect left the area with no injuries and captured a few days later quietly)
      As one of the senior firearms staff what he learned of himself that night was never passed along and nothing was ever implemented to make changes in our shooting scenarios over the following years. Yes, we managed to go to the semi auto Sig P-220s/45acp sidearm but training never changed except for loading techniques. Adrenalin changes the entire shooting picture on all situations including those of the military nature. Having all the ammunition you can close by and at the ready, (loaded magazines not ammo in their boxes) is definitely a life and death game changer regardless of your shooting score at the range on qual day. Sadly he was a favorite son and made rank up thru Lt. easily so pushing the admin for a change was impossible to get done.

    3. Over the past thirty or so years I have put well over 100,000 rounds down range as well as at least a couple of thousand hunting. I have shot stages of “Running Gun” where I had one mag in the gun and ten (10) magazines on my belt. Pressure and extreme adrenaline is only part of the equation in a move and shoot situation. As acting RO in one competition I DQ’d and expelled a County Sheriff from the competition for safety reasons. When I told him “Range is Clear, Load and Make Ready” he put a magazine in racked a round into the chamber and shot the ground five feet in front of us.
      With my military background and constant practice, no bad guy will ever walk away from a fire fight if I am there and armed.
      I am a Marine Corp. Expert with a M14 and a NRA Certified Expert with a M1A and 45 acp.
      There was an incident in Vegas a few years back…Two officers spent over 60 rounds, some from an
      AR15 in a fire fight with one suspect and succeeded in wounding the suspect with one hit on his left foot.
      With All Due Respect, I can and will defend myself.

  17. Once I received my Conceal Carry Permit, I chose a Glock 36 for my carry. I have it loaded with 185 grain, Remmington Bonded Hollow Points. I have a 5 inch 45 and the Glock 36 is a little over much shorter, but it has the accuracy of the longer barrel 45’s. I have 2-6 round mags for it and if you hit what you aim at, it leave a very messy spot. The 230 grain round nose has a lot of kick to my glock 36, but the 185 grain is not so bad. I have practiced with the 185 grain so I will know how it handles and what the recoil is like. Besides, I love the night sights on my glock.. I know everyone has a preference to their gun choice, but for shoulder carry my glock 19 fits beautiful and my glock 36 fits nice inside my waist band. If I am going to wear thin pants or a shirt, I like to carry my LC9 with laser max.

  18. i’ve reloaded My own ammo in the past. i have an officers n model with a wide frame thin grips. double stack p13 frame.I use DRT 150gr. fragmenting bullets. balistic gelatin test : from 25ft. penatration was 13″ and a 5″ diameter permant wound channel. had a denium jacket in front of the block. then used the 230gr hydro shock. less penatration , but still made a large wound channel.

  19. The above problem was the reason I went with a Glock Model 29 (10mm sub compact) instead of a 357 snubby. For concealed carry 135 grain nosler hp from Double Tap or Underwood clocking in at about 1450 to 1500 fps. It is very manageable & has very low muzzle blast compared to the 357. I carry 2 full size glock 20 mags with me giving me 46 rounds. My last mag is loaded with Buffalo Bore’s 180 grain offering which has a Montana Gold HP moving at 1200 to 1250 fps. I have a hard time keeping my grip with this round in the flush magazine however in the full size mag it is not a problem. This is my bear load when I am shed hunting. In conclusion I like the fact that I can carry a sub compact that beats the 357 mag for personal defense and treads into the 41/44 mag factory loads area for wilderness carry. It’s no 9mm in recoil but it’s far less than a 357 maybe closer to 45 acp +p.

  20. how in the heck did he manage to get an additional 311 fps. faster from a barrel length only 3/10ths of an inch longer?

  21. Is any information available on the speed, muzzle energy and accuracy of MIL spec 230 FMJ from various length barrels. I have 45ACP pistol, revolver and carbine and would like to know at what length the Carbine barrel ceases to be an improvement, because I use common ammo for all three types of firearm.

  22. I have a question. If some one with knowledge or experience on the subject could answer this, i would really appreciate it. I have a 12ga. Sub Caliber barrel insert for my 12ga. break action shotgun, chambered in .45acp caliber. The thing I like about this .45acp sub caliber chamber insert, (other than the fact that i can shoot .45acp rounds out of my shotgun! is this) the thing is 8 inches long! I see in the article above that going from just a 5″ barrel to a 4 1/2″ or 4″ greatly negatively affects the velocity of a .45acp round! So here in my question: What if you increase the barrel length from say 4″ to 5″ to say like 7 or 8 inches, would this greatly increase the velocity and the terminal ballistics of the .45acp, and if so………. BY HOW MUCH? Am i gaining a LOT OF POWER in my .45acp round firing it from a 7″ or 8″ barrel, and if so, how much am i gaining? a lot? or just a little? 10%? 20%? or 30% more power? Who has done research on this? every one talks a bout SHORT barrel 45’s!!! ……and how just a 1/2 inch loss in barrel greatly reduces their terminal ballistics! …… but what about the other way? LONGER BARREL? say like mine! 2 to 3 inches longer than standard 45 acp’s??? does a longer barrel have as great and dramatic increase in a 45acp round terminal ballistics, as does the major decrease experienced when you go to a shorter barreled 45acp barrel? Does anyone know the answer to this question? I appreciate your time efforts and concerns to sharing with me any information or test results you may have achieved using a .45acp with a 8 inch long barrel. Thank You……… who’s got a 8″ barreled .45acp out there???

  23. Trying to find the best ammo for my Colt Officers Model, 3.5 inch. it is about 19 years old by my best guess. I am using 185 gr JHP Fed in it now. Should I change to something else? can it take +Ps?

  24. I think the pistol and ammunition you choose has a lot to do with personal preference. I have a Rock Island 45 caliber 1911 with a five inch barrel and a lot of improvements recommended by my gunsmith, Jeff, at the Norco Armory and our range coach, Bill Padgett.

    I grew up hating the 1911 due to the way we were taught to shoot it one handed in the Marine Corps in the early sixties. As I developed arthritis in my hands it became more of a love/hate relationship until Bill worked with me with the relaxed Weaver and a two handed grip. I love it now because I don[t think you can beat it for self defense. I’ve seen what it will do to a man. It’s a crime stopper.

    I hated to shoot it the last few years because it was just plain painful after a couple of magazines but with a buffer in the slide and a set of Hogue wrap around rubber grips it has tamed the beast and actually made it a pleasure to shoot. Can you buffer the short versions? I was told not to by Springfield with my wife’s 9mm EMP.

    I like the full size 1911 with the five in barrel pushing the 230 grain bullet in any brand of ammo, but ever since this BS ammo shortage started I’ve been reloading with Speer 185 grain hollow points. It wasn’t really my choice, that was what came with the RCBS rebate I got when I bought my Rock Chucker Supreme reloading kit. Frankly if I had to pick my piece and ammo for a gun fight I’d want my full size 1911 with the hitting power of the FMJ 230 grain projectile and hope it hits a bone in my adversary. But I’m thinking that the 185 grain hollow points just might do the job. What do you think? Hank

  25. Force = Mass X Velocity. It really is that basic. Taught in High School physics class, hasn’t changed since Isaac Newton was walking the earth. In other words, it is significant.

    There is a reason the original 1911 was designed the way it was: engineers balanced performance against convenience.

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