5 Best .45 ACP Pistols

“I won’t carry anything in a pistol caliber that doesn’t start with ‘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 terms of effective pistol cartridges. To them, the good ol’ .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 a FMJ 230 grain round-nose FMJ bullet.

.45 ACP Ammo dimensions

History (Only the important stuff)

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.

Time For A Change…

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; evidently 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 adoption of a .45 caliber semiautomatic weapon. Several arms makers submitted guns; Colt was among them.

John M. Browning
John M. Browning circa 1900
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. The semiautomatic pistol was still fairly new to the military world; revolvers ruled, especially in the British Empire. However, forward-thinking Ordnance men carried the day. With typical military speed (or lack of), the tests began in 1906 with several guns submitted, including a couple of P08 Lugers and a Savage model, both in .45 ACP. 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. 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.

The Guns

OK, now that we know where the .45 ACP 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. What, you say?! Sacrilege! Not to worry, ol’ slabsides will get its own article later. Anyway, let’s look at some modern .45 ACP designs… all of these .45s are polymer-framed striker-fired weapons. Here are my favorites.

Glock 30 Gen 4 Subcompact

Specs
Height 4.8”
Length 6.97”
Width 1.38”
Weight 24 oz. without magazine
Barrel 3.78”
Capacity 10 + 1
Other interchangeable backstraps; two 10-round magazines
MSRP $545

Glock 30 left side

Glock makes several models of .45 Autos. I own the subcompact model. But I will also discuss other Glock models in .45 ACP.

Background

A household word now, Glock didn’t start out 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) 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 ‘em or not, Glocks are here to stay and the .45 ACP is a big part of the output.

My Gun

Why do I like my M30? Well…coming from a 1911 background as many of us do, I was at first a bit put off by the blockiness of the grip. However, once I got used to it, it wasn’t bad. Mind you, this is not the M19 slightly-thinner-framed Glock; this is the full-bore “won’t-fit-in-an-M19-holster” widebody Glock. The 30 is the subcompact double-stack version, holding 10 rounds but still able to use the M21’s 13-round magazine. (For total ease in concealment, the single-stack 36 is the way to go, but you sacrifice capacity). I usually carry it inside the waistband, or, if just messing around on my range, a Fobus paddle outside the waistband holster. I purchased a Lone Wolf barrel for my 30 as I shoot mostly my own cast/powder-coated bullets. I’m not going to get into the cast-bullet-in-a-factory-Glock-barrel argument…there are plenty of other places you can explore on the internet for that. Suffice it to say, my Lone Wolf barrel plays nice with my reloads.

Glock 30 with target

One thing you may notice on the photo above…I do not like the factory grip texturing on my Glock-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 other 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 so 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
  • And, in general…”SF”-Framed Versions – shorter frame, reduced grip size; “S” models, slightly thinner slide

So…if you own other Glocks and are looking to get into the .45 game, these are what you have to choose from. As stated, I like mine! Expect to pay around $450, real-world price.
Photo-my Glock with target

S&W M&P 45 2.0

Specs
Height 5.6”
Length 7.9”
Width 1.5”
Weight 27 oz. without magazine
Barrel 4.6”
Capacity 10 + 1
Other Four different-size grip backstraps included; available with or without a thumb safety; two 10-round magazines included; increased grip texturing and slide serrations; trigger enhancement.
MSRP $599
S&W M&P 45 2.0
Source: Smith & Wesson

The S&W M&P brand goes way back. 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 and the M&P line includes pistols and revolvers of different sizes and calibers, and a rifle or two. They have expanded the line and are relying 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 M&P include full-size, compact and subcompact (the Shield line). We will focus on the full-size model here.

Tough Enough

The .45 ACP M&P is built, like all M&Ps, to be nearly indestructible. Polymer-framed (but with a stainless steel chassis, barrel and slide), 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.

But the greatest enhancement, in my opinion, is immediately obvious when you pick up a Gen. 1.0 M&P then pick up a Gen. 2.0 — the grip. It feels like S&W engineers, as they were designing the upgraded grip, called me to ask what to do to it to make it better. I really like aggressive texturing on my polymer grips. (Before I discovered stair tread tape at the local Rural King, I used a soldering iron to stipple my grips to make them more “sticky” in my hand. Imagine gluing a piece of 100-grit sandpaper to your grip and you’ll get an idea of the texture I like). The stair tread tape idea seems to have been adopted by S&W for their 2.0 M&Ps resulting in VERY aggressive grip texturing. The gun is anchored in the hand and does not move. Coupled with the ability to get all three fingers on the grip, this gun’s grip texturing will not allow it to move much in your hand when fired. I like the M&Ps….they are great guns for the money. There is a compact version that holds 10 rounds, with a shorter barrel and grip. The grip angle is similar to that of a 1911…if you are looking for an updated .45 ACP to give your 1911 company in your gun safe, you can’t go wrong with a full-size M&P .45 2.0. Look for a real-world price of around $475.

Springfield XD(M) Full Size .45 ACP

Specs
Height 5.75”
Length 7.7”
Width 1.26”
Weight 31 oz. without magazine
Barrel 4.5”
Capacity 13+ 1
Other Fiber optic front sight; two 13-round magazines included; holster, mag. carrier included; grip safety
MSRP $651

Springfield XD(M) Full Size .45 ACP

The Springfield XD family of pistols is extensive. The XDM is the full-size version; different barrel lengths and capacities are available as different models in the XD line.

A Bit Of Background

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 X-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; where this pistol shines is as a duty weapon or a competition gun. The thirteen-round magazine capacity is about standard for modern full-size .45 ACP polymer guns; only the FNX-45 Tac and the Remington RP45 boast more at 15 each. But…let’s face it… the old warhorse 1911’s capacity is seven or eight rounds. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. (My Glock 30 magazines hold ten rounds and I definitely do not feel under-gunned; with two thirteen-rounders I would feel ready for just about anything). The 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. The green came installed, but I am partial to red or orange up front so I clipped the green one off and cut a piece of the red rod to install. A quick touch of a lighter’s flame on the ends of the rod seated it in the front sight slot and I was good to go. I liked the little guy – it was comforting to know that I was carrying (in two magazines) ten rounds of .45 ACP. I traded it eventually for another .45 with greater capacity, but there was surely nothing wrong with the gun. 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 – the XD(M) is one of very 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). You can expect a real-world price of around $550.

Kahr CW45

Specs
Height 4.8”
Length 6.3”
Width 1.0”
Weight 19.7 oz. without magazine
Barrel 3.6”
Capacity 6+ 1
Other One 6-round magazine included; suitable for pocket-carry in certain circumstances
MSRP $449
Kahr CW45
Source: 2improper Channel

The CW45 is one small .45. I owned one of these 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 CW45 is extremely popular with people who are looking for a concealed-carry .45 yet don’t want to break the bank. Let’s look at the company’s history…

A Little Background

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. I never had any trouble with reliability or function with my CW45, and it was literally small enough to fit in some of my pockets, in a pocket holster. Not too many .45s can make that claim! It was accurate, easy to shoot and was a gun that went with me a lot. If you are on a budget but want a .45 ACP to carry, the CW45’s real-world price of around $300 might appeal to you.

Sig Sauer P 320 Carry

Specs
Height 5.5”
Length 7.2”
Width 1.3”
Weight 26.5 oz. without magazine
Barrel 3.9”
Capacity 10+ 1
Other Two 10-round magazines; modular construction; optional night sights; no thumb safety
MSRP $679
Sig Sauer P 320 Carry
Source: Sig Sauer

The Sig Sauer P320 Carry .45 ACP was introduced in the U.S. in January, 2015 at the SHOT Show. 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 “mud flap” 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.

Presto-Chango

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. Grip frames are priced at $44 each…not a bad feature!

Sig Reliabilty

The P320 is the striker-fired version of the P250, a solid seller for Sig. The P250 is a 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. You can expect to pay a real-world price of around $450-$500.

In Closing…

A pistol chambered in .45 ACP can be a thing of beauty. Although we didn’t touch on 1911s (we will, trust me), here 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. THIS “caliber that starts with four” is one of my favorites!

Thanks to Duane Pearson of Pearson Sports (pearsonsprots.biz) for providing guns to photograph for some of the images for this article. Photography by Mike Hardesty

Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 7-and-counting grandkids.

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Dusty
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Dusty

Thanks for the reviews. I bought an FNX .45 TAC for my Marine son and would have liked to hear your review of it. Instead of a brick It feels more like a 12″ concrete block, but I liked the threaded barrel and the stability it retained when shooting suppressed. And of course, the double-stack capacity. It’s like carrying a Desert Eagle: The only way one carries IT concealed is in a winter parka or in a wheel-chair.
Thanks for the reviews.

Mike
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Mike

Thanks for the kind words. I know what you mean about the FNX .45 … it is a chunk! But it’s a great gun, made by a company with a good reputation in military arms. It is a big gun to carry, but there are holsters out there for it. And, I’ll bet your son appreciates it…after all, a Marine deserves the best!