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“I won’t carry anything in a pistol caliber that doesn’t start with a four.”
This is the philosophy of many old-time (and some newer) shooters who grew up with the .45 ACP being the King of the Hill in effective pistol cartridges. To them, the .45 ACP is the only round to carry or shoot in competition. It tends to shoot a fairly heavy bullet, sometimes referred to as a Punkin ball in its original form of an FMJ 230 grain round-nose FMJ bullet.
Short History of the .45 ACP Caliber
In 1898, our Army learned a lesson the hard way in the Philippine-American War during the Moro insurrection that the issue .38 Long cartridge just wasn’t effective. The natives would bind their bodies tightly with long grass as a sort of body armor, enhance their courage chemically (get high) and attack with blades and spears.
The anemic .38 Long was a poor stopper, as warriors could take four or five rounds but still be able to come in and do nasty things with their blades. The carnage stopped, however, when the Army broke their old Single Action Army .45 Colts out of mothballs and put them in the field. Pretty much a one-shot-stopper, the old .45 Colt did what the .38 Long couldn’t.
Enter the .45 ACP Cartridge
The lack of stopping power in the .38 round, coupled with the effectiveness of the .45, gave impetus to the 1904 Thomspon-LeGarde ballistic tests. Army Ordnance member Gen. John T. Thompson (who would make a larger mark in the world of firearms a few years later with his design of the .45 caliber submachine gun affectionately known as the “Tommy Gun”) got things rolling.
His partner, Major Louis LeGarde, was in the Medical Corps, not Ordnance. They wanted forensic evidence of the stopping power of different cartridges. A request for a new semiautomatic pistol firing a cartridge of not less than .45 caliber soon followed. Hence, the requirement for the adoption of a .45 caliber semiautomatic weapon. Several arms makers submitted guns, and Colt was among them.
Colt had been working with John Browning on a .41 caliber cartridge/ gun combo, but with the Army’s request for a .45, Browning switched gears and came up with a new gun, the Model 1905 .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) semiauto.
Revolvers controlled the military, particularly in the British Empire, therefore semiautomatic pistols were novel. However, forward-thinking Ordnance men prevailed. The experiments started in 1906 with two P08 Lugers and a.45 ACP Savage, and Colt won the trials.
One major test had the two remaining test pistols fire 6,000 rounds in two days; the Colt got so hot it had to be dunked in water to cool it down but it won over the Savage entry with zero malfunctions. The Savage had 37. On March 29, 1911, the Model of 1911 .45 ACP was adopted. After a few changes, the gun settled into its place in history firing a 230-grain round-nose ball bullet (FMJ) at 830 fps. It was originally designed to fire a 200-grain round-nose bullet but that was upgraded to 230 grains in search of better terminal ballistics.
After some upgrades in 1921, the A1 model was introduced. The M1911 in various forms was the issue sidearm for our military for 74 years.
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The Best .45 ACP Pistols
OK, now that we know where .45 ACP ammo came from, what about a few guns to shoot it in? We’ll look at a few of my favorites but will not touch on the 1911 except to mention it in passing. Here are my favorites.
Best .45 ACP Pistols: Glock 30 Gen 3 Subcompact
Glock makes several models of .45 Autos. I own the subcompact model. But I will also discuss other Glock models in .45 ACP.
Glock is a household word in the firearms industry, but the company didn’t start that way. Gaston Glock had heard that the Austrian military was looking for a new issue sidearm in 9mm. He and friends in Austria who were more knowledgeable about gun design (he sold plumbing supplies and household goods) put together a single prototype, showed it to the military and the rest, as they say, is history.
His company grew to the point where it now supplies about 70% of law enforcement pistols in the U.S.A., not to mention the rest of the world. Like âem or not, Glocks are here to stay, and the .45 ACP is a big part of the output.
Glock and the .45 ACP
I chose to write about the M30 Glock because I was familiar with it. Glock makes four different .45s: the full-size 21 and 41, this 30, and the single-stack 36. You have the option with some of them to get a smaller frame (sf). I illustrate the different models below. No matter what you need in a .45, Glock probably has one for you.
One thing you may notice in the photo above. I do not like the factory grip texturing on my Glock as it’s too smooth. So, I affixed some stair-tread tape, cut to shape, on the sides of the grip, and it is now anchored in my hand when I shoot it. I have no trouble with the finger grooves. Again, another can of worms — but the thing was too slippery so I fixed it.
The only modification I made was to put a drop of bright orange nail polish in the white dot recess on the front sight. All my handguns are adorned, as my aging eyes can see orange better than white against black targets. The basic differences between models go something like this.
- Model 30 — subcompact, 3.8″ barrel, ten round capacity
- Model 21 — duty-type gun, 4.6″ barrel, full-size, thirteen-round capacity
- Model 41 — competition gun, 5.3″ barrel, same capacity as above, more expensive, ability to add optics
- Model 36 — concealed carry version, 3.8″ barrel, single-stack, six-round capacity
- “SF”-Framed Versions — shorter frame, reduced grip size; “S” models, slightly thinner slide
If you own other Glocks and are looking to get into the .45 game, these are what you have to choose from.
Best .45 ACP Pistols: S&W M&P 45 2.0 Compact
The original M&P handgun was a .38 Special revolver designed for military and police use in 1899, hence the M&P. This became the Model 10 and has been in continuous production with over six million made.
Fast-forward to today, the M&P line includes pistols and revolvers of different sizes and calibers and a rifle or two. They have expanded the line and rely on the M&P’s reputation earned over a century to help sell guns. The M&P pistols are very well-made and popular. Calibers include .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm, .380 and even .22LR. Gun variations branded by M&P include full-size, compact, and subcompact (the Shield line). We will focus on the full-size model here.
The .45 ACP M&P is built to be nearly indestructible, with a polymer-framed, stainless steel chassis, the gun is solid. The black Armornite slide finish is very tough and tends not to show normal wear as easily as some finishes. Four interchangeable backstraps help you fit the gun to your hand and a Novak rear Lo-Mount Carry sight paired with a steel dovetailed front sight gives a great sight picture.
The 2.0 model has been improved over the original M&P by, among other things, making the trigger better and adding small forward slide serrations.
Best .45 ACP Pistols: Springfield XD(M) Full Size
The Springfield XD family of pistols is extensive. The XD(M) is the full-size version. Ddifferent barrel lengths and capacities are available as different models in the XD line.
In 1999, IM Metal Corp. of Croatia introduced a polymer-framed pistol, the HS-2000. It was so well-received that the gun crossed Springfield Armory’s radar and they contracted for it to be produced for the U.S. The XD stands for eX-treme Duty.
The .45 ACP family is well-represented in the XD line. You can get a small, five-shot concealable XD(S) if you want something that fits in your waistband, but the full-size XD(M) is a very versatile choice. The Melonite-finished 4.5″-barrelled gun is concealable, if you want it to be. But this pistol shines is as a duty weapon or a competition gun.
The thirteen-round magazine capacity is standard for modern full-size .45 ACP polymer guns. Springfield’s fiber optic front sight is interesting. I owned an XD(S) and was surprised to find in the plastic pistol case it came in two different colors of replacement fiber optic rod, red and green.
You will find the XD(M) in the holsters of some law enforcement agencies, but the gun’s larger body of users consists of legal concealed-carry license holders. This is a very safe gun to carry as the XD(M) is one of few polymer-framed pistols to utilize a 1911-style grip safety. This feature either endears it to shooters (those 1911 fans) or turns others off (those non-1911 fans). Whichever camp you’re in, you would be hard-pressed to find a more reliable, solid gun than the XD(M).
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Best .45 ACP Pistols: Kahr CT45
The CT45 is one thin .45. I owned a gun very similar to this one, a CW45 at the same time, I also owned its (smaller) stablemate, the 9mm CM9, and was impressed with both guns. Kahr guns cut right to the chase. There is nothing on them that is not essential for function. The CT45 is extremely popular with people looking for a concealed-carry .45 yet don’t want to break the bank.
Kahr Arms was founded by Justin Moon in 1995. It is currently under the Kahr Firearms Group umbrella, which manufactures Kahr Arms, Thompson, Auto-Ordnance and Magnum Research guns and accessories.
Based in Greeley, Pennsylvania, Kahr is an American company. Kahr made its reputation in the 1990s with the K9 9mm, which was popular with (among others) New York City police as a back-up gun. Expanding its product line, Kahr introduced the C series of guns a few years later to be a little more affordable than the P series. Some differences include.
- A stamped slide release lever instead of a machined one
- Conventional rifling as opposed to polygonal rifling
- Roll-mark engraving on the slide instead of laser-etched
- Slightly less exterior slide machining: not as svelte as the P series
As a cast bullet shooter, I appreciated the conventionally-rifled barrel, as most polygonally-rifled barrels do not like lead bullets. I also appreciated the fact that I was getting (with the differently-rifled barrel and a few cosmetic changes) basically the same gun as the more-expensive P 45 but at a fraction of the cost.
The Kahr family includes 10 different .45s. If you want to spend more, you can get a steel-framed gun with night sights, polygonally-rifled barrel, machined slide release, etc. It’s just that, you don’t have to spend more to get a functional, reliable .45. The CT45 will fill the bill.
I never had any trouble with reliability or function with the CW45 I owned, and it was small enough to fit in some of my pockets in a pocket holster (it holds one less round than the CT45). Not too many .45s can make that claim. It was accurate, easy to shoot, and was a gun that went with me a lot.
Best .45 ACP Pistols: Hi-Point JHP45
The Hi-Point pistol-caliber carbines are usually well received by shooters, but their pistols seem to not have that reputation. But, peel away the hyperbole, drama, and angst and what do you have left? A pistol that is (arguably) ugly but is built like a brick (out)house and is backed by stellar customer service. How do I know? I owned one. As a matter of fact, if you surveyed seasoned shooters and asked them what gun(s) they started with, I guess 75% of them at least would mention Hi-Point.
The gun is blowback-operated, hence, the massive slide. These guns are very simple in construction but tend to last a long time. If you are looking for a nice, basic B-flat .45 for home or truck, this gun is ideal. Available in black or camo, and in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .380.
Best .45 ACP Pistols: Sig Sauer P320 Nitron
The Sig Sauer P320 Nitron .45 ACP was introduced in the U.S. in January, 2015 at the SHOT Show in both 9mm and .45 ACP. The gun is a first cousin of the 9mm P320 variation that was adopted by the U.S. Army as the M17. This is basically the P320 with upgrades and changes that the Army wanted, such as:
- Ambidextrous safety (which is different from the no-thumb-safety civilian version)
- Sight frame cut-out for optical sight
- Tactile loaded chamber indicator
- A trigger âmud flapâ that prevents debris from entering the trigger opening and other changes.
Sig announced on January 19, 2017 that their pistol was to be adopted by the U.S. Army in two forms, the M17 (full-size) and the M18 (compact). In May, 2017 it was announced that the first pistols received would go to the 101st Airborne Division. Subsequently, the other service branches adopted the gun. The task of replacing the Beretta M9 then in use has been completed, with a total of 421,000 M17/18 pistols deployed.
The P320 is unique in that it is a modular design. The serial-numbered part is the fire-control unit, the guts of the pistol. The grip frame is swappable. Whether you want a full-size, compact, sub-compact, there is a Sig frame you can order, not to mention different colors.
The pistol also comes in three other calibers: 9mm, .45 S&W and .357 Sig. With these three smaller calibers, you have the option of not only swapping grip frames but, by buying the parts, converting your gun to another of these three calibers. The .45 ACP is a bit more rotund, so .45-chambered P320s are not able to be converted to one of the other calibers mentioned due to the larger frame size and magazine well needed.
You can, however, buy different size grip frames and have a compact carry .45 AND a full-size range or home-defense gun that has the same controls, trigger pull, and sight picture.
The P320 is the striker-fired version of the P250, a solid seller for Sig. The P250 is a DAO/ hammer-fired weapon and is readily available. It’s just that, in today’s pistol market, striker-fired guns are all the rage, so Sig was happy to oblige.
The P320 is a fine example of a combination of two ideologies: the well-known reputation Sig has around the world for its brawny, reliable guns, joined with the current trend for polymer-framed striker-fired pistols. Another factor in the P320’s favor is the price. Most steel- or alloy-framed Sigs have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price well north of one thousand dollars. The P320 is made to sell for less, but not be cheaply made.
If you are looking for a .45 that you can carry inside your waistband, the P320 Carry model is for you. If you are looking for a .45 that you can carry in an inexpensive range holster with a full-size grip frame, the P320 Carry model is for you. I could go on, but you get it. This is one versatile pistol, and for a CCW carry gun is hard to beat.
A pistol chambered in .45 ACP can be a thing of beauty. Although we didn’t touch on 1911s. There are several pistols that would get the job done for a host of eventualities. If all you’ve shot is 9mm, you at least need to try a .45. Some of these guns seems to shoot their larger-diameter bullet softer than some 9mm guns shoot their smaller bullets. It has to do with recoil impetus, but I’m no physics expert. I just know that, if I’m going out to my backyard range to just sling some lead, more often than not I’ll grab a .45. and have a lot of fun.