5 Good Picks for .45 ACP Loads

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

History of the .45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speer G2 230-Grain Gold Dot +P

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

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

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

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

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

Hornady 220-Grain +P Critical Duty

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

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

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

3. Winchester 230-Grain JHP

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

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

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

Fiocchi 230-Grain Extrema

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

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

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

Remington Black Belt 185-Grain

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

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

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

Conclusion: .45 ACP Loads

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

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

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

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