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