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The 5 Best .45 ACP Pistols | Guide

In this piece, we’re going to talk about one of the most popular full-size handgun cartridges of the last century, the 45 acp, or Automatic Colt Pistol – which is not the same as the confusingly similarly named .45 Colt. To kick things off, we’ll start off with a short history of the cartridge. From there, we’ll fill you in on the specifications of the cartridge that’s so well known for its stopping power in a wide selection of handguns.

45 ACP Cartridge

We’ll also go into some of the terminologies about the caliber, and compare the .45 acp to other rounds that are popular for concealed carry, such as 9mm. Additionally, we take to take some time to address the bigger brother to the 45 acp, the .45 super, which is a caliber that we think is interesting in some guns.

Following our deep-dive into 45 acp, we’ll talk about the best uses for various 45 acp handguns, especially in terms of concealed carry for people who want to protect themselves or their family, as well as range use and security services.

No ammo is perfect, however, and we do want to make note of both the pros and the cons when we’re giving an in-depth background on this interesting caliber, so we’ll make the case that even though we enjoy shooting the 45 acp, it’s still one of the best calibers for all pistols or all shooter, but it’s still an excellent choice for full-size pistols.

Once we cover the cartridge itself, we’ll also make some comments on our personal favorites. Ultimately, we think that 45 acp into only has a lot of heritage in the past, but a bright future ahead of it as well.

History Of the 45 ACP Cartridge

By the turn of the 20th century, the United States Military realized that the handguns they had been using, in some cases since the 1860s, were showing their age in terms of accuracy and firepower. This was especially clear in light of the lack of the ability for the .38 caliber rounds the United States Military had been using in their recent adventure in the Philippines to penetrate the body of enemy combatants and guarantee an end to the fight.

John Browning

In 1904, John Browning, working then at Colt, designed the 45 acp to gain a major increase in stopping power, accuracy, and functionality in military pistols. When compared to the older .38 round and fired out of a similar length barrel, the 45 acp brought pistols into a whole new era in terms of stopping power.

Another John Browning design, the 1911, would bring this new cartridge to life in military circles. A cartridge by itself is of no use to shooters, it needs a weapon from which to be fired, and Browning more than delivered with the iconic Colt 1911.

At the time, many police and military shooters had been using revolvers as their secondary, or even primary, firearms for decades. When fully loaded, this limited them to, at most, six rounds: this will only let you fire for a moment or so in a serious fight before you have to reload, which was itself a difficult process usually requiring the use of several accessories such as moon clip or a spare cylinder.

The 1911, then offered a new concept of the firearms world: a handgun that fired a large bullet with a great deal of accuracy, that could hold more than six rounds of ammunition, and was reloaded via magazine. In terms of functionality, it is difficult to understate how much these new pistols, firing the new 45 automatic colt pistol round, changed the world of shooting forever.

Now, over a century later, the rich history of the 45 acp is still being written, and we’re going to go on to recommend a wide selection of handguns in this cartridge that we think are more than viable options as serious carry pistols well into the 21se century.

.45 ACP Cartridge Specs

Designed1904
Case TypeRimless, Straight
Bullet Diameter.450 in (11.4 mm)
Case Length.898 in (22.8 mm)
Overall Length1.275 in (32.4 mm)
Case Capacity26.7 gr H2O (1.73 cm3)
Max Pressure (CIP)19,900 PSI (137 MPa)
Max Pressure (SAAMI)21,000 PSI (140 MPa)

Best Uses for 45 ACP Handguns

Home Defense

While 45 ACP might not have the same velocity as 9mm, one major benefit of this relatively slow round is that it is less likely to penetrate surfaces like walls. This makes this caliber, in our view, an awesome choice for self-defense at home, where you might be concerned about using a gun if it means bullets going through walls.

Also thanks to its being relatively slow, and depending on the length of the barrel in your pistol, it’s also possible to get 45 acp to fly slower than the speed of sound. This makes a gun in this caliber an awesome candidate for a suppressor, which is an accessory that some folks quite like for home defense.

Some designs, such as more standard 1911s, have several safeties built into them, which also makes them difficult to shoot without knowing what you’re doing. We like this in home defense guns, since you can’t always be at the same site as your gun, and we feel a lot better about leaving a 1911 in a drawer at home than, say, a 9mm Glock with only a trigger safety if there are children in the home at all.

Concealed Carry

Some folks think that the 45 acp has seen its best days, and it isn’t suitable for concealed carry largely because of the relatively low capacity of most guns in this caliber.

We disagree with that thinking and instead urge you to concealed carry the gun that you shoot the best. For some of us, that’s a 1911 or something similar in 45 acp. A lot of self-defense shootings, it’s important to note, are solved with either a single round or just a few, so the ability to put 20 rounds down range might not be that terribly important.

It’s important to consider specific ammo here: always test out different brands to make sure that the ammo you want to carry is one that functions well and shoots accurately in your specific pistol. Purchasing several kinds of ammo is a pain, but it’s worth doing when working out a safe way to concealed carry.

Springfield .45

Hunting

45 ACP is also a popular choice for hunters, and we can see why. Usually, your primary weapon will be a rifle, but in the case that the rifle either malfunctions you need to humanely dispatch game, then a gun in 45 ACP might be exactly what you want.

This is especially true, we think, if you like backpacking and might not want to carry a rifle: purchasing a handgun that is capable of defending you against large animals makes the 45 acp a sensible choice for more outdoorsy folks who want some peace of mind a camping site. Some brands offer ammo specific to these kinds of purposes and considering those might be a good idea for ammo choices aimed at this purpose.

Duty or Security Gun

If you work in a field that mandates security as being something more than a “gun-free zone” sign, then you might want to consider one of the many brands of pistol in 45 acp for adding some security to a site or as the piston you carry on duty.

Lots of folks in law enforcement have used this round in the line of duty over the last century, and we think it will do well for you well into the future as well: a pistol in 45acp is a great companion when situations go sideways on the job.

Nostalgia

In many countries around the world, a 1911 or something similar is a common sign of authority or a badge of office. They’re also awesome handguns in their own right and shoot well.

In some regards, carrying or owning a pistol that shoots this ammo is a nod to that long historical background, and we like to think about that when we browse for a new gun to think about making a purchase.

The Best 45 ACP Handguns

There are a lot of awesome brands that make great guns in this caliber. Instead of leaving you to browse for yourself, we’ll offer you some of our recommendations. From there, feel free to go on over to the website for each of the brands to see what kind of 45 acp handgun is worth your time, money, and ammo.

Here, we’ll cover several different types and brands of 45 acp pistol, before making our final pick for what we think is the best 45 acp pistol overall.

Best 1911

Springfield Mil-Spec 45 ACP 1911 Pistol

Springfield Mil-Spec 1911

There’s a lot of competition in this space, but here we think that the Springfield Armory Mil-Spec Series of 1911s are an excellent throwback that’s a sign that people appreciate the history of the 1911.

In this series, you can expect the pistol to have all of the old great features of guns from around the WWII period, and Springfield Armory has decided, additionally, to include the grip safety, which some folks do not love, but we don’t mind.

While the sights are fixed on these, it’s possible to adjust both front and rear sights if you have some of the right tools. Additionally, the wood grips can be changed out, though we don’t think you’ll want to in that a gun this classic looks a little bit off with a plastic grip, in our opinion.


Best for Concealed Carry

Sig Sauer P320 Nitron Compact 45 ACP Pistol

Sig Sauer P320 Nitron Compact

We have no issue carrying a 1911, but given that the sights are hard to adjust and some of them can be sensitive to different brands of ammo, we’re going withe the Sig Sauer P320 Nitron Compact for our choice in concealed carry guns here.

With the rail to attach accessories, as well as the military adoption of the P320 series, we’re taking this as a sign that this line of pistols is here for the long haul, and thus we’d be more than willing to carry one. Right out of the box, these are excellent carry guns and you can likely find a model that you’ll like: most people will feel fully covered with a P320 of some kind or another in 45 acp.

Sig Sauer is also known for having excellent customer support, either through their website or on the phone, so even if your example does run into an infrequent issue, they’ll either fix it or replace it with an updated model to make sure that you have a reliable firearm.


Best for Duty Carry

Here, we’re going with another Sig Sauer gun, in this case the Sig Sauer P220 full size in .45 acp. At this point the gun is growing a little long in the tooth when compared to some of the newer 9mms out there: we do wish you could adjust the sights more, but Sig included excellent ones in the box.

The P220 is one of the models that put Sig Sauer on the map, and we see why: these shoot well, point easily for most shooters and are not nearly as sensitive to ammo types as some of the older models of 1911 can be. We’d feel more than covered if we had to carry this firearm on a daily basis.


Best for Competitions

Springfield 1911 Vickers Tactical Pistol 45 ACP

Springfield Vickers Tactical 1911

Heading back over to Springfield Armory for this one, we’re going to recommend their Vickers Tactical models if you want to get into shooting competitions. Larry Vickers, who was in Delta Force before being a renowned gunsmith and historian in his own right, has worked Springfield to bring to you an excellent 1911.

At each point, these guns exude quality, and it’s likely all you’ll have to do to get it shooting well for you is to test it with some ammo and adjust the sights to your eyes. From there, it’s likely that you’ll end up customizing it more as you grow as a competitor, but that’s to be expected.


Best Overall

Since we are, in fact, history buffs as well, our pick here is going to the Springfield Armory Garrison series of 1911s. While we love the old style of the heritage models, the extra support of an extended beavertail, as well as the much-improved sights and trigger make this our choice in 1911s, and the .45 acp overall.

Some folks will not like the idea of carrying a gun that only holds 7 rounds of ammo, but with some training, we think this is more than adequate, and, if in doubt, you do have the option of stowing a second magazine somewhere handy.

45 Automatic Colt Pistol Terminology

Synonyms and Misspellings

You’ll notice that the .45 Colt Automatic Pistol, or 45 acp, goes by a lot of different names. With that in mind, we’d like to take a moment to list all of the various ways that people refer to this same cartridge, which should have the same dimensions and performance across various brands.

While confusingly similar in name, the 45 ACP shouldn’t be confused with the 45 Colt Cartridge.

Synonyms For the 45 acp include:

  • 45acp
  • .45acp
  • 45 acp
  • .45 acp
  • 45 auto
  • .45 auto
  • 45 automatic
  • 45 auto colt
  • 45 Colt Automatic pistol

A quick note: the period before the 45 acp is nodding to the fact that what we’re referring to is the caliber, which is measured in hundredths of inches. Thus, the diameter of the barrel of pistols that fire these rounds is 45 hundredths of an inch. With that background in mind, there are a few misspellings of the cartridge that we see sometimes that are worth using when you’re browsing a website looking for promotions or other good deals when you’re thinking of purchasing some 45 acp.

Popular Misspellings for 45 acp include:

  • 45 apc
  • 45aco

Another note: we assume these are usually mistakes by site managers, as people’s fingers get a little fast on the keyboard sometimes you can’t always expect a website writer to get things right, and people do forget to run spellcheck from time to time.

45 ACP Vs 9mm Comparison

45 Auto vs. 9mm Luger Bullet Comparison

Comparing these two handgun rounds head to head in terms of a single bullet, there are a couple of trends to keep in mind.

Specs

The 9mm is light when compared to 45 acp, but tends to leave a barrel of the same length at greater velocity. Both of them are common pistol rounds and can be found in a wide variety of guns.

45 ACP9 mm Luger / Parabellum
Designed19041901
Case TypeRimless, StraightRimless, Tapered
Bullet Diameter.450 in (11.4 mm).355 in (9.01 mm)
Case Length.898 in (22.8 mm).754 in (19.15 mm)
Overall Length1.275 in (32.4 mm)1.169 in (29.69 mm)
Case Capacity26.7 gr H2O (1.73 cm3)13.30 gr H2O (0.862 cm3)
Max Pressure (CIP)19,900 PSI (137 MPa)34,084 PSI (235 MPa)
Max Pressure (SAAMI)21,000 PSI (140 MPa)35,000.00 PSI (241 MPa)

Cost

9mm does also tend to be slightly cheaper, so if the cost per round is something that matters to you, you can find more price-sensitive ammunition in 9mm.

Capacity

Guns in 45 acp also tend to have a lower capacity than those in 9mm, where round counts up to 20 are becoming more popular.

Conclusion

In general, people choose the 45 acp cartridge for their handgun because they like the background of the 45 acp in terms of history, and often have loyalty to the brands of firearms that are sold in this caliber.

Although 9mm might well be lighter if weight is a concern to you, 45 acp will enable the shooter to have some of the most powerful handgun ammo to be commonly fielded, which is why it’s still a popular caliber among people who are looking into purchasing a pistol for concealed carry in 2021. even though its an older round, we have not met anyone who would want to be shot by a 45 acp, and it’s also more than capable of taking large game.

45 ACP vs 45 Super Comparison

As you can surmise from the previous section the functionality of the 45mm is somewhat in question in you compare it to a more contemporary caliber like 9mm.

With that in mind, there is one cartridge that tries to take advantage of some of the functionality of the 9mm., especially the higher velocities of some brands, and enable shooters to update the 45 acp to something new.

Specs

In particular, one such cartridge is the 45 super. Basically, 45 starts with a similar caliber, but heavier weight bullet when compared to the 45 acp, but uses a thicker cartridge casing and much higher-pressure powder to enable substantially higher velocities when compared to a standard 45 acp round. On average, most brands of 45 super will give you several hundred feet per second higher muzzle velocities than a standard 45 acp loading.

45 ACP45 Super
Designed19041988
Bullet Diameter.450 in (11.4 mm).451 in (11.5 mm)
Case Length.898 in (22.8 mm).898 in (22.8 mm)
Overall Length1.275 in (32.4 mm)1.275 in (32.4 mm)
Max Pressure (SAAMI)21,000 PSI (140 MPa)28,000 psi (190 MPa)

Interchangeability

While it’s not the most common cartridge in the world, it’s vital that you do not forget that 45 acp and 45 super are not interchangeable. The super should not fit in a 45 acp pistol, but if you happen to have something odd like an extremely worn 1911, we cannot recommend, under any circumstances, using the .45 super caliber in guns meant for .45 acp. Doing so would likely result in a major failure in the gun, and would leave you having been effectively shot by a piece of the gun leaving backward at high velocity.

.45 super is a modern update for the .45 acp line of ammo, and we think that if you are committed to 45 acp, but want more velocity and do not mind lower capacity than a 9mm, then it can be a good option for ammo for you.

Conclusion

In this piece, we’ve covered a lot of ground on the .45 acp.

Starting with its history, you can see that this cartridge has been going for over a century at this point, and still competes fairly well, even without modern innovations like 45 super, with contemporary cartridges.

With that in mind, we think that this ammo can be appropriate for several applications in the current era, from self-defense to duty guns and then some.

Finally, we made some of our recommendations in terms of handguns. While modern firearms in 45 acp are excellent, it’s hard, in our mind, to beat the old school 1911, albeit with a few upgrades, as far as a quality handgun is convened.

We hope that you’ve gotten some good information out of this piece. As always, we love hearing from you as we expand the knowledge of firearms, and offer our thoughts on how best to get your hands on the best gear that’s worth your time and money.

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