Why The .45 ACP Has Stayed So Popular
There are only a few popular carry calibers, among which is the .45 ACP. Some people might wonder why that is, since it’s slower than 9mm, more expensive and not as easy to shoot in a compact pistol.
As it turns out, for some very good reasons.
Apparently, the people who designed it (rather person) knew what they were doing, as it’s still one of the dominant chamberings for a carry gun that people strap up in a holster and gun belt. Here’s why.
The .45 Long Colt
The genesis of the .45 ACP is that it’s a .45 Colt with a shortened case in order to fit in a semi-auto pistol. The round was designed by John Moses Browning whilst he was working on an auto-loading pistol for Colt. The pistol platform, which started life as the Colt Model 1900, began life chambered in .38 Automatic Colt Pistol (or ACP) but had to get resized. Colt, and therefore Browning, were trying to come up with a new semi-auto handgun for the army, who wanted a .45.
At the time, the .38 caliber revolvers they issued at the time were found wanting in the field, but the people who reverted to using Colt Single Action Army revolvers in .45 Long Colt had a much easier time of things. Thus, the army asked for .45 and Browning set about creating it. To do it, the case had almost one-third of an inch trimmed off, which let it be put in a magazine but also created an additional 5,000 psi of chamber pressure.
By today’s standards, standard-pressure .45 Long Colt, aka .45 Colt, isn’t that impressive. It’s a big round, to be sure, but isn’t too fast – flying somewhere between 700 and 900 feet per second though that was actually pretty good for the time. Modern +P loads of .45 Colt, however, are full-house magnum loads on par with .44 Magnum.
Interestingly, an oft-overlooked aspect of ammunition of the late 19th century is that jacketed bullets hadn’t become the standard yet; soft-nose ammunition was far more common and especially with revolvers. Thing about soft-point bullets is that they expand much like hollowpoints, so provided a soft lead or lead alloy they are nearly as good as a modern JHP round as self defense ammo.
Since a large, mushrooming bullet is a good thing – it causes a larger wound channel and thus is more apt to disable an opponent – the .45 caliber was proven to be effective. It isn’t and never was a perfect man-stopper, but the .45 Colt along with other large-bore revolver rounds of the day (such as .44-40, .44 Russian and so on) was a proven defensive round. Thus, a shorter round with the same performance would be as well.
The .45 ACP And The 1911
What made the .45 ACP popular was, without a doubt, the 1911 pistol, since each was kind of developed for the other. John Browning’s evolving large handgun design (it went through a number of revisions) finally was approved by the US Army in late 1910, with the gun being designated the Colt Model 1911 (each revision was named Model and the year it was launched in) or M1911.
The 1911 in military service proved itself as a capable sidearm over those of other nations, but most specifically over the 9mm pistols of European countries. This is the genesis of the 9mm vs .45 debate, but there’s a hitch.
Back in the 1940s, the only hollowpoints available were for revolvers; any JHP or semi-wadcutter hollowpoints (SWCHP rounds, especially those for .38 Special or .357 Magnum were actually the dominant defensive ammunition for most of the 20th century) weren’t made on any scale for semi-autos. Furthermore, the feed ramps of those older guns weren’t actually designed to feed hollowpoints, which is why vintage 1911 pistols and older Browning Hi Powers don’t feed them well.
However, what made it so good for the day? Simple. FMJ rounds punch holes in things. A .45 ACP round punches a bigger hole than a 9mm, doing more damage. As a result, enemy soldiers shot with a .45 ACP tend to go down quicker (with accurate fire) than with a smaller caliber round.
That said, it’s limitations as a defensive round compared to the JHP and SWCHP revolver cartridges available to law enforcement were well-known and documented. It penetrates bodies very well – in fact, too well as overpenetration with FMJ rounds is all but assured. Furthermore, it isn’t as good at penetrating glass and car bodies as other rounds. It really wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that quality hollowpoints began to emerge for semi-autos.
Why The .45 ACP Has Endured
It might almost seem that the .45 ACP is obsolete, given its age and the fact that there are rounds that offer better performance in nearly every other category. A lot of people, for instance, carry a .40 S&W because the .40 carries a lot of kinetic energy but can be chambered in a smaller pistol but also be shot a little easier as a compactconcealed carry .45 can be a bit more than some shooters like to handle.
But…the thing is the march of time has actually made it a better round. It’s still the easiest and most cost-effective big-bore round to shoot, and modern loadings have made it a very diverse caliber. Projectile weights and power levels range from light and easy sub-100 grain loads to hard-hitting 230-grain +P loads.
The only other large-bore autoloading round that’s produced in any volume at all is 10mm, though it’s not in every sporting goods store as it is and isn’t the most common chambering by any stretch.
Modern ammunition has also made it a far more viable defensive round as well. Today’s .45 hollowpoints expand dramatically and reliably; some are capable of mushrooming to nearly an inch in diameter. Therefore, it could be said that the round is old but has finally begun achieving its full potential, which has also led a good many people carrying it. It’s likely, therefore, that the .45 ACP round isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.