.45 ACP Velocity : Testing A Modern Classics’ Power & Performance

By Josh Wayner
Gun writer, Josh Wayner, reveals the results of his extensive .45 ACP velocity trial, putting the classic caliber to the test.

.45 ACP Velocity Testing's Top Ammunition Performers
.45 ACP Velocity Testing's Top Ammunition Performers
Josh Wayner
Josh Wayner

USA –  -(Ammoland.com)- I got into a discussion with several local gentlemen over last Christmas about things typical to those who frequent gun stores.

I wouldn’t call it a debate, however there were some sideways comments and tense laughs across the course of the conversation. The countertop became a courtroom of sorts and I found myself in the middle of a caliber war, this time about the merits of the .45 ACP.

The chambering is massively popular all over the country and, at the same time, is subject to nearly endless criticism over why exactly it has survived into our modern era. As is the case with many 100-year-plus cartridges, the following of the .45 ACP is based in practicality and myth in equal amounts. This .45 ACP velocity study was designed to shed some light on the idea that the .45 ACP has either surpassed other cartridges in terms of power and utility or finally reached obsolescence.

In other words, have the modern advances in the 45 ACP cartridge made up for the criticisms leveled against it?

To get a picture of the modern .45 ACP's velocity, I contacted several manufacturers and received 33 ammunition offerings to test. The ammunition I received ranged from simple ball loads to exotic self-defense rounds that could easily be called art due to the quality of their machining. Every load and weapon tested are currently commercially available and unaltered from their factory form. What you see is what you get here.

.45 ACP Ammunition Ammo Lineup , .45 ACP Velocity
.45 ACP Ammunition Ammo Lineup

45 ACP Muzzle Velocity

A main critique of the .45 ACP is the perceived lack of muzzle velocity when compared to other popular calibers like 9×19 or 10mm Auto. Why would anyone want a caliber that offers both low capacity and low speed? I sure as hell wouldn’t. The other camp I often encounter and debate argues that the .45 ACP offers a profound advantage due to the bullet mass and ‘stopping power’ available, the adage being that one .45 is worth two or three ‘little nines’ in a fight.

I found that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these points of view based on my results.

Testing was done using an Oehler 35P Proof Chronograph at a distance of five feet from the muzzle in a testing environment of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of you may believe that this is too cold to test reliably, but a sampling of loads were tested at both air temperature and at a warm seventy degrees. The colder temperature allows the guns to remain cool between strings and remove error due to the weapon heating up. With rifles this can make a difference, especially at long range. I detected no significant velocity shift in the loads tested with any pistols. The minute variances were not even outside of standard deviation.

The results proved interesting to say the least. A test this big is best summed up in graphs and some narration to explain what I found. The first thing I noticed was that across all loads and guns, the .45 ACP in any form is essentially the same in a short 3.3” barrel and a standard 5”.

The compiled .45 ACP velocity data points are an average of six (6) readings over the Oehler 35P. Some of you may wonder why there are no error bars and readings for standard deviation and there is a good explanation. This massive test comprised of over a thousand separate data points and the sheer amount of information wouldn’t translate reliably into this article or help to illustrate the results. The enterprising statisticians among you will have to settle for this more practical display.

. 45 ACP Velocity Testing Results:

The . 45 ACP Velocity vs Barrel Factor

When I began this . 45 ACP velocity adventure, I was imagining that there would be a large difference between the standard 5” barrel and the short 3.3” on the S&W Shield. It was my hypothesis that the shorter barrel would be negatively impacted due to the large amount of material being accelerated down the bore. I knew that rifle calibers such as .308 didn’t lose much if anything going from 26” to 13.5”, so imagine my surprise when the exact results came about from my most recent test.

The most unexpected thing aside from the general similarity of all loads across all barrel lengths was that the longest barrel wasn’t the fastest. The 5” 1911 is a standard for the .45 ACP and I found that it was playing a close game with Sig’s 4.7” P320.

The two guns were virtually indistinguishable over the chronograph and had a typical variance so low that it could be said the performance was identical.

Curiously, the Sig P320C with a 3.9” barrel was, by all accounts, only lagging behind the longer guns by a hair, and in some cases was actually faster. All the Buffalo Bore Ammunition ( www.buffalobore.com ) loads performed with little to no variance across any barrel length. In a remarkable display of performance, the Lehigh Defense ( www.lehighdefense.com ) .120gr load had a variance of only 29fps across the average velocities from all four barrels!

The ports on this new Smith & Wesson Performance Center Shield 45 make this pocket 45 pleasant to shoot.
The Smith & Wesson Shield 45 may very well be the best .45 for your dollar.

The Shield 45 did shockingly well in my . 45 ACP velocity testing considering that it is shorter than most people think a .45 ACP handgun should be. I would go so far as to say that in terms of functional lethality, the short 3.3” barrel loses nothing to the longer barrels. The traditional arguments still prevail in some ways. The larger guns are easier to aim due to a longer sight radius, but they suffer from a weight penalty and low capacity for their size. The Shield loses in no areas in my mind. The weapon has the same capacity as the 1911 with seven or eight rounds onboard, but is less than half the weight. In fact, the Smith & Wesson Shield 45 may very well be the best .45 for your dollar. The small size (comparable to a Glock 43 Handgun) combined with no loss of ballistic efficiency make it a potent choice for fans of the .45 ACP.

45 Caliber Ammo , Here to Stay

This test has given me a very good look at the general performance of this old cartridge and helped me to understand what it is and what it isn’t. It is my opinion that this caliber isn’t going anywhere anytime fast. Is it the most effective cartridge available today? Probably not. Thing is that it isn’t really supposed to be. The .45 has benefited from modern manufacturing processes and improved bullet technology. A sharp eye will notice that virtually all 230gr forty five ball loads are still nearly identical to the old 800fps standard going back to the First World War with some being slower yet.

Forty Five 45 ACP Ammo Ammunition
45 Caliber Ammo is Here to Stay.

The .45 is a fine caliber for a variety of tasks today. It is, in my mind, best suited to single-stack carry pistols given the modern pistols like the Shield 45 that can tame it and lose nothing in the process. That being said, I am not openly advocating this as a solution for everyone. The light self-defense loads are essentially comparable to 9mm of similar bullet weight while most heavier loads generate a much heavier amount of recoil than many shooters would find comfortable. I became very familiar with the cartridge in the last few years and, with this test, I’d say that I have a very good understanding of what this cartridge is and what it offers to the consumer, police officer, and concealed carrier.

.45 ACP Ammunition Ammo Testing at the Range
.45 ACP Ammunition Ammo Testing at the Range

Thank you the following 45 ACP Ammunition Manufactures for their support in this exhaustive .45 ACP velocity test.

  • American Eagle :  https://www.federalpremium.com/ammunition/handgun/caliber/45-auto
  • Black Hills Ammunition : http://www.black-hills.com/shop/new-pistol-ammo/45-acp/
  • Blazer Ammo : http://www.blazer-ammo.com/
  • Buffalo Bore Ammunition : https://www.buffalobore.com/
  • Federal Premium Ammunition : https://www.federalpremium.com/
  • Hornady Manufacturing : http://www.hornady.com/store/45-Auto/
  • Lehigh Defense : https://www.lehighdefense.com/
  • SIG SAUER Ammunition : https://www.sigsauer.com/products/ammunition/
  • Speer Ammo : http://www.speer-ammo.com/products/golddot.aspx

About Josh Wayner:

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.

  • 32 thoughts on “.45 ACP Velocity : Testing A Modern Classics’ Power & Performance

    1. Does this data also apply to even shorter barrels, such as the 2.5″ charter arms pitbull .45 acp? Or does that add too many variables? Does it matter in terms of terminal performance within reasonably defensible distances?

    2. I agree with Ya Mamma.
      And if my life and the life of those I love is in the gun I carry
      I really don’t care if is heavy. What is more important a gun or your love ones..i carry the heavy 45 acp springfield, and believe me I don’t care about that heavy gun.

    3. Sorry buddy but your statistics are flawed and biased. Interesting how u clearly named each weapon and it a exact barrel length, except for the 1911. You may be kidding some folks but not all my guy. A longer barrel will ALWAYS produce higher muzzle velocity regardless of which s&w m&p is ur bff. Nice try tho my guy

      1. Theoretically you are correct, as far as mid bore calibers are concerned. However, there are occasions when the shorter .45 ACP tubes produce greater velocity than the longer barrels. .45 ACP loads use fast burning powders and for the most part full ignition takes place inside the barrels be they 3.3″ such as the Shield or 5″ such as the M1911 which is what I cut my teeth on in the Marine Corps beginning in 1966. This is also why more often than not, a +P load gives better performance in a full size pistol such as the M1911 than it does in a compact/subcompact. In many tests the velocity has been less for a +P load than from a standard pressure load in the shorter barreled guns; some of the powder igniting outside the barrel, producing greater blast and flash and velocity loss. This is diametrically opposed to the mid bore +P loads in the mid bores which generally see a velocity increase in the shorter barrels when compared to the standard pressure loads. Additionally, but with rare exception, backed by quite a bit of testing, the heavy for caliber but standard 230 G. loads give superior performance when compared to lighter loads such as the 186 & 165 G loads. There are exceptions; the Speer Gold Dot 200 G. and the Corbon DPX 185 G load being quite satisfactory. Suffice to say, the .45 ACP while no DEATH RAY is an effective time tested and battle proved cartridge and is effective even in FMJ configuration. We carry handguns because they are convenient, not because they are effective. Being Old School, with one year four months and eighteen days of foreign government service sometimes doing unpleasant things in rather unpleasant places, I much preferred to have a long gun on my person. But, when times and circumstance prohibited this option I at least felt marginally comparable with an M1911 when things got up close and personal.

        1. Another item that bears out your conclusions is firing a 45 ACP and or loading for a 45 ACP in longer barrels such as an 18 inch rifle barrel. You will discover velocity increases in these longer barrels is actually quite minimal, compared to other calibers. Therefore it makes logistical sense that velocity lost it shorter barrels is quite small compared to other calibers. I have personally loaded for and tried various loads on a 45 ACP from barrels as short as 3 inches to as long as 18 inches and find velocity differences Quite minor.

    4. Interesting results, especially with the shorter barrel. Doesn’t match what I have seen, but I have shot “identical” guns with “identical” rounds and seen a 75 fps difference between the two….

      If you like your 45s, and more importantly, can hit with it, go for it. I love mine and my 357s and 9mms and 10mms and 44s and……..

    5. Joe
      Your right about the .45 ACP. It is a great cartridge. I carried one on and off duty and taught with one for over 40 years. I was involved in two shooting with one and it worked great, however shot placement was good. On the other hand I’ve studied numerous other shooting where shot placement was less than optimal and even hit numerous times, bad guys continued the fight. You are wrong however about the 9mm. A lot of effort has been put into design and construction of all of the defensive calibers in the last few years and all have seen remarkable improvements in terminal performance. In fact FBI stats show that all of the modern LE cartridges have about the same percentage of stops in regard to the number of rounds fired. I regularly see 9mm ‘s penetrate 15-18 inches in ballistic “jello” and come out at over .900. A bad shot wit a good bullet is still a bad shot and may not stop a determined adversary. Shoot what you are comfortable with and make good shot placement and the caliber won’t matter as much as it used to.

    6. UGH! UGH! I’m a fan of the .45. Period. But I carry a 9MM Shield because of the load out, and the size and weight. Would I rather have one of my three full size 1911 in a fight – absolutely. Will I carry the dam thing around for the next 20 years on the off chance I might need it. NO WAY. The Shield, very WAY. If anybody has a PC Shield in .45 they want to sell contact me cause given the choice of a 9MM Shield and a .45 Shield I’ll take the bigger bullet, going slower every time. The .45 JHP cuts almost a 1″ hole. The weeny bullet, something over .5″ I’ve never been in a gun fight but I have done a fair amount of competition shooting. I can’t ever remember finishing a match and thinking, wow, that .45 really kicks, think I’ll get a smaller bullet. Now one of those S&W .50 revolvers might pain some, I know I won’t shoot one when offered. But I’ll shoot a box or two of .45 and not feel the need to complain.
      Leave this guy alone. He did a great job and my only complaint is that I can’t download the chart and graph into excel. Thanks for your efforts.

    7. You talk about the 3.3″ barrel is too short for the 45 ACP, but I carry a S&W Pro Series 1911 and it has a 3″ barrel.
      I have five 1911s in barrel lengths from the 3″ to 5″ and the S&W is to me the most accurate.
      Renewing for my carry license I was able to put Five rounds in a 1″ circle from 7′ as fast as I could pull the trigger, under Five seconds

    8. I think this is a berral half short or half long thing. While the author sees very little difference between using a short barrel verses a long barrel, I see a huge differnece.

    9. I carried a SIG Sauer P220 .45ACP for decades as a LEO. Now retired, I upgraded to a FNHUSA FNX-45 Tactical with a LWI muzzle brake. I have 15 + 1 capacity. I have put hundreds of rounds of multiple weights and shapes through it, without a malfunction. Polymer frame is well shaped. Even my teenage granddaughters enjoy shooting it.

        1. OldCowboy, the anti-gun former Constitution State aka Connecticut, the DES&PP aka CSP now carry the SIG P220 in .45ACP….. Glock was interested in the deal but CT does not allow their formerly owned(trade-in-guns) to be sold to the public…Glock refused to be told how to run their business…wonder what SIG did with the P229 .40SW that CSP traded in?

        2. Not Ron, but a great question Old Cowboy. I believe the year was 1989. I taught quite a few classes in the Hudson Valley NY area, generally Federal, State and/or Municipal LE Agencies. I recall that the Washingtonville, NY PD had just been issued the P220. Out of the box I considered it to be the finest DA/SA pistol I’d fired in the caliber. Today’s state of the art is striker fire but the P220 was and still is a fine pistol. Ever hear of a P220 in 9 x 19 mm? I taught a class in Bristol, Pa. One of the ladies in the class had a single stack nine, P220 with a European magazine release. I owned both a P228 and a P229 and was well aware of the P226 but I would have bet against a P220 in 9 mm. I would have lost. Made and marketed in Europe. Thanks for the memories!

    10. I am here today thanks to a 1911 45 manufactured in 1917. Traded for it in ‘Nam, the ARVN were still using WW11 weapons at the time, my rifle jammed, the .45 did not.
      the “experts” can knock the .45 24/7 but cannot, at this time, that it is the finest pistol cartridge the USA has ever produced. My CCW is a Colt Commander, 10 rnd mag, I have put over 3500 rnds through it and it has not failed to function properly yet. I carry it cocked and locked, does not print, easy to draw, excellent for CQ, I have no intention of changing calibers, the 45 meets all my needs and then some.

    11. Pointing to the author’s fixation with speed, speed, speed, I call his speed, speed, speed, bet, and raise him the Big A: Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy!!!

      You can push anything to any speed one desires, so long as materials hold together and that might look great!

      However, since the proverbial myth of the One Shot Stop round, may seem to have finally died a well-deserved ignoble death, the vitally important concept of follow-up shots comes to the fore!

      Basically, if your second, third, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, etcetera, shots cannot be on target, the concept of how fast those rounds are flying down range is utterly, and abjectly MOOT!!

      This is why, when the author said that in his view that very short 3.3 inch barreled Smith & Wesson, could be the best all around 45 available, I just shook my head.

      I’ve watched people on YouTube shoot that firearm, and they all have one response in common: massive felt recoil!

      Since we’ve already noted the concept of accuracy, here’s another point to be taken in consideration: the laws of physics during recoil period

      A 5 inch barrel might not get you much more speed, if any, and an all steel frame can be heavy to carry around all day, but when you hit the bang button, all that weight is going to be wonderful to the shooter: making for more accurate follow-up shots!

      Further, I noted the wonderful porting on the author’s choice of perhaps best all around 45, and he failed to mention a side effect of all that porting: with each shot fired it sounds like one has a handheld 155-millimeter Howie in one’s hand! I know, I’ve owned ported sidearms, and they all have one thing in common: they are horrifically loud!

      Nothing in this life except the love of God comes for free! The laws of physics cannot, and will not, be obviated!

      I suggest everyone who reads this well-written article, take the time to study some YouTube Real World shootouts! You can find fire fight in restaurants, banks, fast food joints, retail outlets, pretty much everywhere else!

      My point Remains the Same: follow up shots are going to be far more important to staying alive, than how fast those rounds go down range!

      The last Point concerning physics, is the expansion of hollow points, and the penetration of those hollow points!

      Sometimes, the slower and heavier hollow points expand better, and don’t over penetrate, which means there is less chance of unintended collateral damage!

      Again, spend some time on YouTube taking a look at some well-done ballistic tests. One six YouTuber is tn9outdoors: his tests are set up just like the FBI and he really does a good job of testing each round for various calibers.

      One aspect of ballistics, in this case speed, does not provide a quality answer for considering, in real world firefights, which caliber or which bullet type should be considered for use.

      1. Having shot the .45 since the early 60’s in plinking and Top Flight Competition (Nationals) and have found out that the reason it is ‘dis-respected’ is people are afraid of recoil and they just plain old ‘can’t shoot it’. I taught marksmanship at the Naval Academy and discovered the .45 has a terrible reputation from people from all over the world, I truly believe it because of the awesome stopping power and recoil.

        1. Interestingly enough, people who fear the recoil of the 1911 in .45 ACP caliber will shoot a .357 Magnum and think nothing of it. The .45 ACP is a pussycat in recoil compared to a short barrelled .357, even when shooting .38 Special loads.

      2. James, I don’t think the author was judging different firearms for accuracy or recoil, but addressing the ‘lack of velocity’ argument against short-barreled .45acp’s – which I think he showed very well. If you’re a shooter, you know that people are different with different motivations and training levels. “Accuracy” and follow up shots in a gunfight is really up to the shooter’s abilities. If you can’t ‘handle’ the recoil of a short barrel handgun, whether it be a .38, .357, 9mm, .40, or .45, that’s a whole different discussion – in which I don’t think the author set out to do.
        BUT, I totally agree, while the Shield is one of my favorite compact .45’s, the comment, “In fact, the Smith & Wesson Shield 45 may very well be the best .45 for your dollar” is pure opinion and didn’t really have a place in the article.

      3. Mr. Bailey,

        You are pretty much right on the money. It’s hard to understand why anyone in this day of free information, is still hung up on velocity. I do FBI protocol ballistic shoots for a major manufacturer of law enforcement ammunition and can tell you from first hand experience that velocity is secondary to bullet placement, design and construction. velocity is simply away of controlling bullet performance and getting that bullet to the target. Excess velocity just creates recoil and muzzle blast. Most quality bullets, in all the defensive handgun calibers are designed to work(expand) at a fairly wide range of velocities. Expansion is still secondary to penetration and expansion is still the one factor manufacturers have the least control over. This is mainly due to target variables and anything that projectile may encounter on it’s way to it’s final resting place, such as clothing, glass or drywall. The .45 acp is a great round and in circumstances where expansion is less than optimum, offers some advantage over smaller diameter bullets. That being said, that advantage is an unmeasurable advantage because no two shooting are ever the same. Penetration to vital organs is a far more controllable asset as is, of course, shot placement.

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