.45 ACP Ammo

Best .45 ACP Ammo [2019]: Self-Defense & Target Practice

“The only reason I carry a .45 is because they don’t make a .46.”

How many times have I heard that old chestnut? Technically, they now make a .46-plus – the .500 S&W Magnum (.500 bullet diameter) and the .480 Ruger (.475 bullet diameter), to name a couple – but they are heavy-duty revolver rounds and a bit much for self-defense. I guess you could carry them, but you’d better wear a pretty big coat to hide them. At any rate, the old .45 ACP is the largest commonly-available self-defense round going. How did it get to be that way?

A Little Backstory

The .45 ACP was the brainchild of John Moses Browning. As I have written before about the history in my Best .45 ACP pistol article, the Army was not happy with its .38 Long Colt service round after its failure to stop Moro insurgents in the Philippine War that occurred between 1899 and 1902. The story was that the tribesmen would chemically alter their mental state (read: get high), wrap themselves tightly with grass, cane and other vegetation as a sort of body armor, and proceed through the hail of anemic .38 Long Colt bullets to lop off the heads of our servicemen. This led to the breaking out of the old Peacemakers in .45 Colt from storage, which solved the problem. At least this is the way I’ve always read that it happened. The truth may not be quite as dramatic as the story, but the truth was that the .38 round was ineffective at stopping them. So, Army Ordnance General John Thompson (of Tommy-gun fame) and Major Louis LeGarde of the Medical Corps conducted ballistic tests to determine actual damage caused by various projectiles. They used various forms of test media, including live animals. If you want to know how they conducted their tests, you can read about it here. The result was that the General recommended a service round of “not less than .45 caliber” with a full-metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet fired out of (surprisingly in 1904), a semi-automatic pistol…not a revolver.

Enter Mr. Browning’s New Gun

John Browning had been experimenting with a .41-caliber round but quickly answered the call to start development of a self-loading .45-caliber pistol and matching rimless round. He settled on a 230 FMJ round-nose bullet at about 830 fps and then designed the ubiquitous M1911 from which to fire it. In 1906, trials were held, and we all know which pistol was selected. The M1911 was adopted in 1911 (hence its name), and the rest, as they say, is history. The gun was in service from 1911 to 1986, with some special-ops units keeping the old warhouse around to this day. Some pistoleros claim that the 1911 is the best battle pistol ever designed.

Jeff Cooper
Perhaps one of its most famous (and vocal) supporters was Col. Jeff Cooper, a very famous gun writer, firearms trainer and overall handgun and rifle expert. His writings were erudite and learned, and were backed by experience. His legacy still lives on today at the Gunsite Academy, which started out as the American Pistol Institute in 1976. He taught the “modern technique” of pistolcraft, such as two-handed Weaver-stance shooting that brought the sights to eye level and other related skills. His pistol of choice was the 1911. Due largely to that gun, the .45 ACP is going strong today. It is chambered for many pistols and not a few carbines. I have owned several 1911s and other .45 ACP pistols over the years. My .45 ACP pistol ownership is represented currently by a Springfield Armory XD(M). You can read about my experiences with that pistol here.

A Quick History Lesson

We always think of the military-issue bullet as weighing 230 grains, but the original bullet that passed the Thompson-LeGarde tests weighed 200. It was only after deliberations and modifications that it became standardized as the 230-grain we all know today.
The original .45 ACP case used a small pistol primer. It was when the Frankfort Arsenal manufactured the round that a change was made. The FA made all its own primers, so a “mid-size” primer was used. After more deliberation, the powers-that-be standardized on the large pistol primer so as not to add to the confusion. There are several small-pistol-primer-loaded factory rounds available today, however, that work well.

.45 ACP Ammo dimensions

Two Basic Bullet Types

The .45 ACP is loaded today with two basic bullet types. There is the FMJ round-nose (or its cast equivalent) 230-grain bullet for practice, target and competition. For self-defense, there are a number of more exotic bullet types available with the jacketed hollow point (JHP) leading the pack with bullet weights of around 165 to 230 grains. Of course, it’s hard to make a general statement that limits the old round to just those types that I’ve mentioned here, but it’s a start. There is a greater selection of ammo for the .45 now than at any other time of its long life.

Popular…But Not Like The 9mm

The .45 ACP is not as popular as the 9mm for self-defense purposes but it has stood the test of time and still has its many adherents. It seems to me that the .45 continues its popularity with us older shooters who may have had more experience with it than with other popular self-defense rounds like the 9mm or .40 S&W. Forty years ago when I started carrying a concealed weapon and wanted to carry an autoloader, the 9mm had not made its “splash” on that scene yet and the .45 was the only real choice other than the .380 or .32. It was shot out of a 1911, as double-action .45s were not numerous and those that existed were not totally reliable. That’s not to say that younger folks aren’t shooting the .45… it’s just that it seems that we of the older crowd are more vocal and “protective” of the round when compared with other self-defense cartridges than a lot of the younger shooters who may have had experience with only the 9mm in a carry-gun role.

A good sign of the old .45’s long life is its resurgence, of sorts. It has never really “gone away”, but with all the new bullet technology that’s being applied to it, it is more popular now than ever before. As I said above, the 9mm is more popular than the .45 for a few reasons…

  • Weight. 9mm ammo is lighter and smaller, so more rounds can be carried in magazines. This leads to:
  • Capacity. The highest-capacity 9mm I know of is the Tanfoglio (EAA) Witness Match and Springfield XD pistols with their 19+1 capability. The highest-capacity .45 ACP guns that I know of are the Remington RP-45 and FN FNX pistols, which hold 15+1. (There are probably more examples of each type out there but these are what I could think of off the top of my head). The weight difference isn’t great, but with 19 115-grain rounds in the 9mm’s magazine compared with 15 200-grain rounds in the .45 ACP’s, you will notice it.
  • Cost. 9mm is usually cheaper than .45 ACP, if you compare similar types of ammo. Notice I said “usually” … specialized ammo for either caliber can be expensive.
  • Availability. I have seen more boxes of 9mm ammo in local shops than .45 ACP. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but is something that I’ve noticed over the past few years. 9mm is cheaper to stock, since dealer cost is usually less than corresponding .45 ammo.

So, where does that leave us? I felt I must compare the two calibers, as both are popular but the 9mm is king in terms of gun and ammo sales, as of this writing. Does that make the old .45 any less of a self-defense round? Not hardly. There’s another old quote that I’ve heard throughout my shooting career that goes like: “The .45 starts out the diameter that the 9mm needs to expand to in order to be effective”, or words to that effect. Now, don’t take me to task for that – I don’t believe that the 9mm lacks “stopping power”, whatever that is. With modern ammo, it’s been shown by more than one experiment that all three major self-defense autoloader rounds – the 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP – are fairly statistically equal in incapacitation ability, given proper bullets and velocities.

Bullet Velocity 10mm vs .45 ACP

The only reason I mentioned that is because I’ve heard it so often. There are many, many .45 fans out there, of which I am one. I simply am pointing out that the old .45 isn’t the only self-defense game in town.

Ammo Choices

So, what do type of ammo do we shoot? Well, what’s our purpose? For general practice, target and competition, a cast or jacketed round nose or semi-wadcutter bullet works well and saves a bit of money over JHP or other self-defense rounds. For your carry gun, though, when you are finished with practice you load it jacketed hollow points. This type of bullet is better in that role over the full metal jacketed-bullet. This presents somewhat of a dilemma as you should practice with what you carry, but there are ways around this. We will look at this situation later.

FMJ vs HP Ammo

Full Metal Jacket

We know from above that FMJ means full metal jacket. The bullet is totally encased (except for maybe the base, which is sometimes left exposed) in a copper jacket. This totally surrounds the bullet and keeps lead from contacting the gun barrel’s rifling. For many years, the military had used FMJ bullets as they fed in full-auto weapons where exposed-lead bullets would hang up. In terms of civilian usage, .45 ACP FMJ bullets are best used for practice and for targets or competitions, not self-defense.

Full Metal Jacket Bullets
FMJ Bullets
Photo: Thewellman

Jacketed Hollow Point

The jacketed hollow point (JHP) is the bullet best suited for defensive purposes. The bullet consists of a lead core encased in a copper (or other) jacket like the FMJ bullet…the difference is that the nose, or tip, of the bullet is left uncovered so that soft lead is exposed. This theoretically causes the bullet to upset when it hits the target. The bullet deforms, with the jacket and core splitting and peeling back in a flower-petal fasion. This causes the bullet’s diameter to increase, thereby creating a larger wound channel. Of course, there are factors that may prevent the JHP from performing in the real world as it does on ballistic gel blocks. If the bullet has to go through a thick coat or other heavy garment, if it strikes a major bone, if it is somehow deflected upon entry…these are all things that can stop a bullet from expanding to a larger diameter or from penetrating to its full potential. Even so, JHP bullet ammo is the recommended choice for self-defense purposes.

JSP vs JHP Bullet
JSP vs JHP Bullet
Photo: ReconTanto

So What Self-Defense Ammo Do I Buy?

OK…you just bought a box of practice FMJ ammo. With FMJ ammo, it is not as critical as it is with JHP and are wanting to buy a carry load that uses JHP bullets. What do you do now? First, you experiment…you buy a box of two or three of the rounds discussed here, as the rounds I’ll discuss have all been proven and any of them would make great carry ammo. I get asked “Why two or three different boxes? Why not just one? This ammo is expensive!” True. But, if you buy just one load, you may not realize the full potential of your carry ammo situation. What I mean is, if you buy two or three different loads, maybe the second one you try is more accurate or reliable than the first one (the only one you were going to buy). If you go with three or more different types, your odds of finding a really good load for your particular gun greatly increase. You just may end up with a load that puts five rounds in an inch or so at fifteen yards and feeds reliably…there’s your carry load.

Try To Match The Bullet Weights…Two Reasons

There are a couple of important things to remember when you’re choosing both your practice and carry ammo. First, match the bullet weights of both your practice and self-defense loads if at all possible, or at least get close. In other words, if your experimentation with JHP ammo tells you that a 230-grain bullet performs best, then buy 230-grain FMJ practice ammo. There are two good reasons to try to match bullet weights.

Reason One

Matching bullet weights means that the recoil between both rounds should be similar. Notice I didn’t say equal, because self-defense ammo tends to be loaded hotter than FMJ rounds and will probably kick more.

Handgun Recoil 10mm vs .45 ACP

It is better, though, to shoot the same bullet weight in both loads rather than to practice with, say, a 230-grain FMJ but carry 185-grain self-defense ammo. The recoil will be close, but if you’re really trying to “dial in” your ability with your carry load, then you might find yourself getting used to two different recoil impulses which can interfere with having only one ingrained in your muscle memory. Your ability to pull the gun down after a shot to regain sight acquisition could be compromised, for one example. Of course, the difference wouldn’t be huge, but some folks like to practice with a timer in order to hone their skills or for competition and for them, sometimes a few tenths of a second may make a difference. Let’s face it – if you carry 185-grain JHPs then a similarly-loaded 200-grain semi-wadcutter or round-nose load, recoil should be close enough to practice with. It’s when you jump from 230 to 185 that differences, however slight, can occur. So, try to use the same bullet weight (or close) for both types of ammo.

Reason Two

The second reason to use the same bullet weight for both purposes is sight adjustment. A 230-grain bullet should, within reason, strike the target roughly in the same spot as another similarly-loaded 230-grain bullet, regardless of type. Notice I said “similarly loaded”. If one 230-grain bullet clocks 820 fps and the other over 900 fps, the point of impact most probably will be different, at least by a little. If your gun has an adjustable rear sight, you are good to go as long as you keep the sight set for your carry load – don’t bump it back and forth, just leave it set. If your practice load hits “two inches down and three right” from where your carry load prints, it really doesn’t matter if what you’re honestly trying to do is practice self-defense skills with self-defense ammo. Practice ammo should be just a means to an end, not an end in itself. What if your gun doesn’t have an adjustable rear sight, or if it’s drift-adjustable for windage only? If your gun doesn’t have an adjustable rear sight, hopefully the two loads’ points of impact will be close enough together on the target so that it doesn’t matter. There is one more factor to consider, however, that you may have to take into account.

Bullets Hit Lower On The Target – Why?

Most of the time self-defense loads are loaded hotter than the plain-jane FMJ loads, even to the point of bearing the description of being +P. What typically happens to those bullets that are pushed out of the pistol’s barrel at a greater speed than your practice load? They will usually strike lower on the target. Why? It’s because the faster bullet exits the barrel before that barrel has had the time to rise in recoil as far as it might when shooting a slower load. Is this a major concern? Not if you understand what’s going on and have your sights properly adjusted for your carry load. What will most often happen is that your practice load will hit a bit higher than your carry load on the target. Just remember this and you’ll be good to go. Before I learned this, I would try to adjust my sights for both loads, “chasing the holes” on the targets. The main thing is to practice, practice, practice with both loads. This is the only way to discover any quirks or anything else that you should be aware of with each type of ammo. Let’s look at ten individual .45 ACP loads – three for practice and seven for carry.

The Ammo

One thing struck me as I compiled this list…how many of the 9mm versions of these cartridges I had listed on my “Best 9mm Ammo” article. By far, most of these were also included on that list. I guess it goes to show that, if you make a good, effective product, it carries through your product line. That reinforces my decision to include these ten .45 ACP loads on this “Best .45 Ammo” list. These are popular rounds among many different pistol carriers, whether law enforcement or civilian.

This article contains affiliate links, you can read more about it in our disclaimer.

To cut to the chase, here’s a table with the loads and some ballistic information.

.45 ACP Ammo - Test Barrel: 4 Inches

Brand:Bullet Weight:Bullet Type:Velocity (fps):Energy (ft./lbs):
Magtech FMC230FMJ837358
Blazer Brass230FMJ845365
Federal American Eagle230FMJ890405
Federal LE Tactical Bonded HST230JHP840360
Speer Gold Dot230JHP830352
Federal Classic Hydra Shok Personal Defense230JHP865382
Hornady Critical Defense185JHP900333
Remington Golden Saber230JHP875391
Winchester Supreme Elite230JHP882432
Hornady Custom XTP200JHP900360

Gel Tests, Anyone?

Another great chart can be found here. This is the .45 ACP section of luckygunner.com’s ballistic gel tests. You can see, at a glance, how most of the JHP rounds listed here performed and if the achieved the F.B.I.’s requirement of no less than 12, nor more than 18, inches of penetration. Each load is a link to more specific photos and information about penetration and bullet expansion about that load. It makes for some interesting viewing.

#1 Magtech FMC

Magtech is part of an international ammunition manufacturing consortium, CBC Global Ammunition. With plants in Brazil, Germany, the Czech Republic and the U.S. (in Minnesota), CBC Global is a huge corporation which produces over 1.5 billion rounds of centerfire ammunition yearly. A lot of that goes to NATO and allied military forces. If you’ve ever shot any ammo made by Sellier & Bellot, you’ve shot ammo made by this company. It is made in the Czech Republic. Anyway, that’s all well and good, but how does this ammo shoot? Like it’s supposed to. With a muzzle velocity of around 840 fps, it comes close to the original .45 ACP FMJ round, except that the original was out of a 5-inch barrel and this is out of a 4-incher. Very respectable ballistics. I’ve used this brand of ammo and I like it. It’s not too expensive but yet is accurate and reliable. For practice, it would work well.

#2 Blazer Brass

I like Blazer Brass .45 ACP ammo. It is made by CCI/ATK and is reloadable. There is the plain Blazer ammo in aluminum cases that is not reloadable…it costs a couple of bucks less per 50 than this does, so if you’re not a reloader, you might save some money (especially if you buy in bulk).

This is very reliable, with decent ballistics. With a muzzle velocity of 845 fps, the recoil impulse is going to be a little sharper than with some FMJ rounds, but not too bad. At least it will help you get used to your carry ammo. This is an excellent way of getting your practice in at a reasonable cost. One more reloading note – this brass uses small pistol primers, not large like most other .45 ACP cases. I can see no performance difference between the two.

#3 Federal American Eagle

I’ve gotten to the point where, if I see a box of “American Eagle” anything, I know it’s going to be solid ammunition. Made by Federal, the American Eagle brand is made to be sold for a little less without giving up performance. It is available for both handguns and rifles and is quite popular due to its quality and reasonable price. Care has been taken in its production. One area that this shows through is in the finished product…if you’ll notice in the screen shot directly below, the rounds are highly polished before being packaged for sale. This is not necessary, but it shows a willingness by Federal to stick to their high standards across all ammo lines.

As you look at the chart above, you might notice that the American Eagle FMJ load has a muzzle velocity of 890 fps, which matches or betters velocities of some of the self-defense JHP rounds. Why is this significant? Because, if you are looking for a round that closely matches the recoil that your chosen 230-grain JHP load delivers, this may be the right box of ammo to have in your range bag. It actually chronographs faster than some of the specialized loads shown. This may be the ammo that most closely duplicates your JHP load…only experimentation can tell you that. At least, it’s a place to start.

#4 Federal LE Tactical Bonded

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 230 gr HST JHP - Federal Premium Personal Defense
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 230 gr HST JHP – Federal Premium Personal Defense

The Federal LE Tactical Bonded .45 ACP load was developed for law enforcement use, hence the “LE” in its name. Agencies were wanting a powerful .45 ACP load that used a bullet that would keep its core joined to its jacket upon target impact and not separate. This would aid in barrier penetration, among other benefits. So, Federal came up with a bonded-core bullet load that clocks 840 fps out of a 4-inch barrel and more out of a 5-inch gun. Expansion is fairly well guaranteed as the bullet and load were developed with that in mind, given the lower .45 ACP velocities. It is a reliable round, a fact born out by the number of LE agencies that carry it. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#5 Speer Gold Dot JHP

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 230 Grain JHP - Speer Gold Dot
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 230 Grain JHP – Speer Gold Dot

The Gold Dot bullet has been around for a good while. It was one of the first .45 ACP JHP bullets designed to expand at almost any reasonable velocity and was carried by many law enforcement agencies. It still is. I have talked to a few police friends, one of whom was a state trooper, and he said, to the best of my knowledge, that this round was standard issue for their Sig P227 handguns. At least it was at that time…sometimes ammo changes occur in LE agencies as you can imagine. The point is, as civilian carriers, we could certainly do worse than to emulate what the pros carry. With slightly more exposed lead at the jacket nose, expansion is secured. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#6 Federal Classic Hydra – Shok Personal Defense

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 230 Grain Hydra Shok JHP - Federal Premium
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 230 Grain Hydra Shok JHP – Federal Premium

The Federal Hydra-Shok round has, like the Gold Dot above, been around for a long time. The bullet is constructed with a central lead post instead of an empty cavity. The post is there to aid in jacket disruption and expansion while keeping the bullet fairly intact. It does work. Here’s an illustration of this unique bullet:

Photo: midwayusa.com

Notice how the jacket has peeled away but the central post is still intact. The post and scored jacket provide “programmed expansion”, meaning that terminal performance tends to be similar with each successive shot and is predictable. The bullet was released in 1988 after the F.B.I. asked for a bullet with better terminal ballistics then the standard “cup-and-core” projectiles of that time offered. If you are looking for something a little different in your carry ammo, you may want to give the Hydra-Shok a try. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#7 Hornady Critical Defense FTX

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 185 Grain FTX - Hornady Critical Defense
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 185 Grain FTX – Hornady Critical Defense

The first thing you notice when you look at a Hornady Critical Defense round of any caliber is that the nose of the FTX (flex-tip) bullet is plugged with some sort of a softer material and is not open. Why? The tip acts as a block to keep debris, target material, etc. out of the bullet cavity. It then acts as some sort of wedge which helps push the jacket sides outwards, which aids in bullet expansion. Also, during expansion, the flex tip gets larger as it is pushed backwards which further aids bullet expansion. Another feature of this bullet is its penetration. The lead core has a fairly high antimony content, which helps guarantee deeper penetration. Being a bullet caster, I know that the higher the antimony content of my alloy, the harder the bullet will be. This is one of very few lead-core JHP bullets that uses any other type of additional metal in that core. The bullet’s core is locked to the jacket by Hornady’s InterLock groove, which seems to maintain structural integrity when the target is struck. This round typically performs well in ballistics testing. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#8 Remington Golden Saber

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 230 gr JHP - Remington Golden Saber
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 230 gr JHP – Remington Golden Saber

The Remington Golden Saber uses a bonded bullet to help ensure that the core stays with the jacket for maximum terminal performance, which is born out in the ballistics gel test linked below. Here’s a quick, two-point summary…it penetrated almost 17 inches and expanded to over .74 inch. These are great results for a .45-caliber bullet that can’t generate the velocities that the 9mm, for example, can. The F.B.I. protocol calls for penetration to be between 12 and 18 inches – this round fits right in with those specifications. If you are looking for a .45 carry round that does both (penetrate and expand), check the Golden Saber out. For that ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#9 Winchester Supreme Elite PDX-1

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 230 Grain JHP - Winchester Supreme Elite
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 230 Grain JHP – Winchester Supreme Elite

The Winchester PDX-1 is a cartridge that uses the Winchester Ranger Bonded bullet, where the core is chemically attached to the jacket. (This is the same bullet, a bit larger, that the F.B.I. requested in a 180-grain .40 S&W load for its service weapons). The bottom of the bullet is open and it shows exposed lead. Some independent tests consisted of the bullet being fired from a 5-inch 1911 into four layers of denim covering wetpack (water-soaked compressed newspapers). The bullets regularly expanding to .86 inch and did not allow the core to separate from the jacket due to the chemical bonding. I know the wetpack test wasn’t exactly scientific, but at least it shows what this round is capable of. Couple this expansion with excellent penetration capabilities that meet or exceed the F.B.I. protocol and this round is definitely one to consider. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.

#10 Hornady Custom XTP

Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP - 200 Grain XTP JHP - Hornady Custom
Ballistic gel test for 45 ACP – 200 Grain XTP JHP – Hornady Custom

The Hornady XTP bullet has earned a good reputation in whatever caliber it’s loaded. The large hollow point cavity, coupled with the scored jacket, helps initiate expansion in ballistic gel. The reason it’s included here is not because of its performance on gel, but because of its street record. I have read of some tests that had this load being shot through four layers of denim into 10% ballistic gel where the bullet shows only a small amount of expansion, and I have seen other tests where the bullet opened up to .86 inch or more. I guess it depends on whose tests you want to take your information from. I do know that this load is extremely popular. If you want a little more velocity, there is a +P version of this load that pushes the bullet to 1055 fps. Either way, you have a very decent self-defense round that uses a proven bullet, is popular on the street and is made by one of the premier mainstream handgun manufacturers of our times. Another bonus is that this load tends to be a little bit cheaper than a lot of high-end self-defense loads. You could surely do worse. For a ballistics gel test of this round, go here.


So…what’s the takeaway from all this? Which of these rounds will be your carry or practice rounds, if any? Are there better loadings out there? Will these cartridges function in your three-inch General’s Model Colt 1911?

There are a lot of questions that I simply can’t answer in an article such as this one. The only way that you will learn the answers to these questions is to buy as many different loads as you can afford and test them in your own gun(s). If you can only buy one box at a time, no worries…start with that one, wring it out and then when you are able, buy box #2 – a different load. Once you’ve either: immediately found a load that works remarkably well in your .45, stick with it; or, have worked your way to the bottom of our list here before you find something that is a perfect carry round for you, then you do this:

  • Buy as much of it as you can, but only if you’re SURE that this is the best load for your gun.
  • Once dialed in and you’ve determined the load is the one you want to keep, explore buying it in quantity. Unless you have a favorite online supplier, start with well-known sites such as luckygunner,com, midwayusa.com or similar enterprise. You should be able to lower, even if it’s by only a small amount, the price per round by buying 500 or 1000 rounds at a time. This system should be applied to both practice and carry ammo.
  • OK…you’ve got your perfect ammo. Now what? Shoot it, of course! Practice, practice, practice. That’s the only way to prove to yourself that the ammo truly works, and to prove to yourself your own shooting skills are improving.

If you are wondering about the expansion or penetration qualities of that ammo, line up some water-filled milk jugs at your range, if they’ll let you. Shoot them. This should give you at least an idea of…

1. Terminal Milk Jug Ballistics – milk jugs are not humans but you should get an idea of your ammo’s expansion and penetration characteristics in a water-based medium. Most ranges might have a problem with this, so now is the time to visit your friend’s farm and find an out-of-the-way empty pasture as a test bed for your shooting experiments. At the very minimum, check the accuracy of your load. If you can’t hit with it, the best bullet in the world won’t do you any good.

2. Sight Adjustments – make sure your loads shoot to point of aim. Remember, sight in for your carry load and don’t change that…your other load is just for practice, so just remember how to hold in order to hit with it.

Have fun during the selection process…that’s the fun (if expensive) part…selecting your practice and carry ammo. Let me know below if you find what you’re looking for!

  1. This is really a great article that’s extremely informative for the newcomer to the .45 life. The only thing I wish y’all would have addressed when it comes to the ballistic tests was how well the different rounds were affected by having to penetrate material before the ballistic gel first. Many of the JHP rounds in this article are known to clog up and not expand sometimes when penetrating jean material or heavy coats. My personal favorite 45 acp ammo is the Xtreme Defender +P by Underwood Ammo. This stuff is truly barrier blind and amazing.

    1. Jose, yeah, that can be a problem. That’s why some guys who do gel tests lay denim over the gel, to get a more real-world result. For an interesting take on ballistic tests, check out Paul Harrell’s YouTube videos. They are really interesting. Underwood ammo is some of the best ,and hottest, you can buy. Good choice! Thanks for writing.

  2. I love the 45apc only reason I went with 40 cal was it held 15 rounds and at that time they did not make a 45 that had that many rounds one I am looking at is FNH tactical 45 5inch barrel big I know but I can fit it on me fine I carry one magazine in gun and two spare in pockets and in my walker 6 more LOL

    1. …so you’re ready for the zombies! That’s more ammo than some small stores have! My saying is it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Thanks for writing!

    1. Steve, the 1905 Colt was John Browning’s original .45 ACP. It worked…it was the first commercially-sold 45 ACP and used the familiar short-recoil tiliting-link action. It’s just that the military wanted some different options after its experiences during the pistol trials in 1906, so the 1905 was continually updated until it morphed into the 1911, which won the military contract. Interestingly, the 1905 was sold until 1917 when the parts ran out. Great question…made me do more research! Always a good thing. Thanks for writing!

  3. Nicely written article, informative and useful guide to ammo for. 45 acp. Although not as popular as the 9mm an amazingly effective round. Always my choice of carry round closely followed by the 10mm.

    1. The 10mm would be an amazing self-defense round if you can handle the bounce and blast, especially in a shorter-barreled gun. It is a great hunting round, as well. But…there will always be the .45! It’s 108 years old and counting. Thanks for writing!

  4. The best article on 45ACP ammo I have read. Great job. From former California Deputy Sheriff, Navy Investigator and lifetime handgun shooter.

    1. Wow! Thanks for the compliment! Bob, first, thanks for your service and secondly, you made my day! I always really appreciate expert opinions. Thanks for writing!

  5. Recoil Energy of various rifles? Mislabel on the graph. Good article. I use Remington Ultimate Defense 230 grain JHP rounds, and everyone has their preferences – but articles like this add fuel to the fire and encourage experimentation, which is good – both practically and economically. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for a great knowledge providing article Mike. Am I missing something in picking my defense round by the ft lbs energy table, I.e. picking the Winchester at the highest energy round?

    1. Rick, as long as the round functions every time in your gun and is accurate, there’s nothing wrong with looking at energy tables. Just remember that energy is only one of the factors you should use to choose your carry ammo, with those other points entering into it as well. Reliability is paramount. I’d rather have to use FMJ ammo if hollow points won’t function in my gun – please run all loads through your gun a lot to judge reliability and accuracy before settling on any load. Thanks for writing!

  7. Good, solid information. My personal preference is to use 230 grain loads in my 1911’s and the 185 grain load in my polymers.

    I must be out-of-phase somehow. I was all in on the 9mm years ago, but found my way back to the .45 ACP. (And .357Magnum)

    1. Dan, nothing at all wrong with the old war horse! The .45 and .357 are still effective self defense rounds, given the right loads. Thanks for writing!

  8. This very Informative publication is more than useful . Since many “Shooters” know the complexity involved between the right ammo & the right gun , the majority do not . Many are oblivious to modern-day ballistics , and rely on “Caliber” as the definitive factor . In other-words , I’m sure we’ve all heard people say , “Hey , this is a .45 and it’ll kill you no-matter where it hit’s you” !
    This is an excellent Post , and it gets to the point .

    WELL DONE !!

    1. Alexander, thanks for the kind words. I’m just trying to take some of the things I’ve learned over 40 years of shooting and sharing them. I am a .45 fan, but I also know that some of the newer 9mm loadings are statistically just about as effective as the old war horse in a self-defense scenario. I appreciate your comments!

  9. I am new to guns, and looking for knowledge about them. Im in my late 50s and enjoys shooting my 9 mm. Just got a RP 45 , looking what kinda ammo to buy for it. Your article is a big help . Thank you

    1. Scott, sorry for the late reply – I’ve had email troubles. What are you wanting to do with your .45? Carry it? Targets? Practice? Any FMJ 230-grain bullet load will work for targets. If you carry 230-grain self-defense ammo, then you should practice with 230-grain. If you carry 185, say, then get some 185-grain FMJ to practice with. Let us know what you are wanting to do, then myself or someone can advise you further. Thanks for writing!

  10. Hi, you might think this is a bit crazy, but what about mixing ammo? Say two 230 JHP & One 230 FMJ then repeat that order. For defense! I know we used to do it with shotguns. Would it cause malfunctions?

    1. Richard, as long as all the rounds you shoot will function in your gun (and in the same magazine!), then it shouldn’t matter what order you shoot them in. Just the bullet weights similar, for recoil purposes. Thanks for the question.

  11. You missed at least one, the .45 ACP 185 gr. SWC. Mark IV Series 70 Gold Cup N.M. and I used it in competition years ago. I have one box of ammo for it and don’t ever see it advertised. I no longer reload and when I did, I cast some lead bullets, but for competition, I wanted a full metal jacket so as not to lead my bore.

    1. Leonard, yeah, that was a great gun…any National Match Colt is going to be a honey! I’ve shot some really great examples of that model. You might try plated or powder coated bullets to keep leading down – my powder coated .45 cast bullets don’t lead, especially at the slower .45 ACP velocities. You can buy either of those types from several different sources. Give them a try – you might like them, and they are cheaper than most FMJ bullets. Thanks for writing!

      1. Thank you for your reply. I still own this gun, but I can’t buy commercial ammo for it. I no longer do any reloading as I no longer shoot 5-600 rounds per week. This gun sits in storage, waiting for the day I can pass it on to one of my nephews.

        1. Leonard, is the ammo restricted or is it a supply/demand thing? I’m curious why you can’t buy .45 auto ammo. Thanks for the response.

          1. Most .45 ammo is of the 230-grain roundball variety. My pistol is the Mark 4 Series 70 Gold Cup National Match. It has a hand-worked action, and designed for accuracy rather than anything else a competition shooter might want. It was never intended as a “battle” gun.
            The gun was designed for a lighter load and has a shorter recoil spring. It is not as hardy as your regular 1911, so you use a reduced load, such as the 185-grain semi-wadcutter. This load is not for battle, and the velocity is unimportant, but consistency is. This design of this round is hardly used anymore as the nature of target shooting is changing to tactical-style performance instead of pure marksmanship.
            I used to reload everything, but I got married, and live in too small a space for a wife and reloading equipment, and the wife won out. Still, I have this gun with a crisp 3 1/2 pound trigger pull without creep and shoots the X out of targets. It may not be practical or serve double-duty, but it is pleasurable to shoot.

          2. Leonard, I know exactly what you’re talking about. You have a 1911 tuned for bullseye competition, popular up until other types of action-based shoots came into their own in the late 60s and early 70s. Sounds like you have a peach…I’d love to have a tuned 1911 like yours. Enjoy it! Thanks for writing .

  12. I would like to see 185 grain .45 acp compared with same brand / round with 230 grain. I also wish it was shot from a 4 inch barrel but I realize I am asking a lot. I really do appreciate these test and valuable advice. It isn’t hard to tell if someone is a “one-upper”.

    1. Brian, guess I’m not familiar with that phrase…what’s a one-upper? I wish I had more available resources for testing, but I’m limited as to what I can do. I see your point, though. Thanks for writing!

  13. Great article!

    I own many different semiautomatic handguns in different calibers, including: .25acp, .32acp, ,380, 9mm, .357sig, and .45acp. Frankly, I have never felt a real need to carry JHP or HP in my 1911. It seems that a good FMJ at 900 ft/sec generating 370-400 ft/lb of energy and making 2 holes in a badguy will do the job just fine. I know there is a greater risk of thru-and-thru, but the first rule of shooting is knowing what is behind the target. I have seen far too many slow-moving JHPs only really get 8-10″ into ballistic gel. I also figure if FMJ was good enough for Col. Cooper, it is good enough for me, too. Am I making a huge mistake?

    That said, I carry JHP in every caliber from .32acp to .357sig. But, full disclosure, if I am pocket carrying a Seecamp in .25, it is loaded with FMJ also because it does not generate enough energy to expand a JHP.

    1. Rick, you might be on to something. The .45 FMJ or SWC creates a large wound channel all on its own. I know there are studies out there to show what happens in the real world – anyone else out there know of any? Thanks for writing!

  14. Well if I had a pistol I would load allways the same one ammunition type. So that the feeling that I get in training automaticallically is exactly the feeling that I need in the case of the cases. So we say in Germany. And i You have a gun with a conventional barrel [NO “polygon”] You can take cartridges with solid copper bullets for example underwood Xtreme. Or Winchester’s 140 gr FMJ with zynk core. However! The bullet must leave the barrel either below sonic speed or significantly above. A muzzle speed just few feet der sercond above sonic speed causes that the bullet’s velocity will go below sonic speed and at this point of the switch from suoertsonic to sobxonic the bullet’s trajectory gets a ding dang*. This is an aerodynamically unavoidability..So when using calibre 10 mm AUTO please think of that very carefully! Joachim Goerner — Osnabrück

    *Mir fehlten die Worte, auf Deutsch hätte ich geschrieben dass das Geschoss ‘n Haken schlägt :):)

    1. Joachim, you make some interesting points. I always appreciate hearing more on the subject – thanks for writing!

  15. Thank you Mike! Great article and thanks for covering those top 10 .45 ammo’s with all the specifications & data provided. I was looking at the ft/pd of energy data and saw some surprises there as well. I carry a .45 as retired LE as I’ve seen too many people hit with .38’s or 9mm’s and they remained upright. The .45 puts them down and they stay down…it gets its done. Thanks again!

    1. Dan, first, thanks for your service – I always appreciate hearing from folks who’ve “been there, done that.” I’m a .45 fan, too – it just works. Thanks for your comments!

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