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Would you believe there was a time when the .45 Auto was not a standard cartridge? Yea, me neither but it is true.

The US Cavalry had been issued double action Colt revolvers chambered in .38 Long Colt in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The .38 Caliber round was less effective against enemies hellbent on getting at you, for example the warriors encountered in the Moro Rebellion of the Philippine American war.

Thompson and Major Louis Anatole LaGarde of the Army Medical Corps arranged for ammunition tests on human and animal corpses in the Chicago stockyards. The real world experience from the Philippine American war coupled with the results of the Thompson LaGarde tests of 1904 gave the Army cause to seek a better handgun round, determining a minimum of .45 caliber would be required for acceptable stopping power.

John Moses Browning (arguably the greatest firearm inventor to date) was working on a .41 caliber cartridge in 1904 in conjunction with Colt Manufacturing. The military requested a prototype of a pistol and a .45 caliber round resulting in the Colt Model 1905 and the new .45 Auto round which initially fired a  200 grain bullet at 900 feet per second. After some R&D between Winchester Repeating Arms, Frankford Arsenal and Union Metallic Cartridge (UMC) the .45 Automatic  became a 230gr bullet at 850 fps. This round was very similar to the .45 Schofield in performance and just under the .45 Colt.

In 1906, six manufactures submitted test pistols for the new military contract. Browning’s design was submitted by Colt as well as Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken and Savage. After extensive trials,  Colt passed the first cut. DWM, which submitted two Parabellum Po8s (German Luger) chambered in .45 Auto, withdrew from testing after the first round of tests, for unknown reasons. In the second round of testing in 1910, the Colt passed with no problems, while the Savage design suffered  from thirty-seven counts of  breakage or stoppages. After the smoke cleared the Browning designed Colt, was adopted by the military as the Model 1911, and the rest is history.

It has been argued extensively the .45 Auto is one of the, if not the best handgun round from a defensive standpoint. Personally I am on board with this, but primarily from what I have read or heard second hand.  Since I learned a great deal from my 10mm Auto ballistic test, if you missed that you can find it here. I decided that I would try the .45 Auto using the same SOP. The first shots were fired into the bare gel approximately ten feet away and then three layers of thick cloth were added to the gel and the same type round was shot through the fabric and gel.  After each shot was fired, we recorded the data right off, just so we could keep all the numbers straight.

I secured eight different rounds from popular manufactures that I believe give a good cross section of ammunition choices available today.

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The laboratory.

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The tools

Since I had the Colt M45 still handy from the review I decided to use it for the test. If you missed that review you can find it here.

Jason Lundwall also brought along his Springfield 1911 we used to verify the results from the Colt M45.

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We got to the range, set everthing up and got started.

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We started off with the Hornady 185gr JHP Critical Defense.

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Hornady 200gr JHP TAP

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Federal 230gr JHP


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Federal HST +P 230gr on left, Winchester 230 gr JHP

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There was a significant reduction in perceived recoil using the Ruger ARX, and accuracy was 1 1/2″ at 25 yards.

9mm BT-4

The Gorilla Silverback

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Ballitic test-4Ballitic test-5

The Ruger ARX bullet is polymer so I was curious how it would penetrate mild steel. You see on the right photo the top hole is 9×19 Ruger ARX and the one centered is the ARX in .45 Auto. You can see the exit holes on the other photo. This is an expansion tank like you would find above your water heater.  As you see, the ARX had no trouble penetrating this mild steel tank.

You can see the bullet at the bottom was the one shot through the cloth. In the Cor Bon (1) and in the Federal 230gr JHP (5) you will see remnants of the cloth in the cavity. Though that did not affect expansion in the Cor Bon it may have played a part in the Federal JHP. The Remington 185gr Golden Saber actually had jacket separation when it was shot through the cloth. The core came to rest at 23″ weighing 139gr and expanded to .570″while the jacket stopped at 8″ weighing 44.2gr and expanded .749″ , I believe that is the reason the core penetrated more through the cloth than bare gel. Through the cloth it shed almost 45gr of weight at 8″ so the core weighing 139gr and only .570″ in diameter has less weight and surface area to punch through the gel.

As you can see the .45 Auto does a pretty good job on the ballistic gel.  The Federal 230gr JHP penetrated deeper than I would have expected and did not have a great deal of expansion. To me this would make a better hunting bullet than a personal defense bullet. Also we could not find the first round of Speer 230gr FMJ so I wrapped a small stack of targets around the rear of the second gel block. The next round we shot, we could not find in the gel, but did find a hole in the paper on the rear of the second gel block. Even with the layers of cloth the 230 ball round penetrated all the gel and was trapped by the stack of paper at the rear. In my opinion that would not be a great choice as a defensive round. Now before I get a lot of hate mail I understand that “they all fall with hardball” . With the amount of penetration, I would be concerned with collateral damage in a defensive situation where there maybe others in your field of fire.

Of those rounds the best performers were the Hornady Critical Defense, Speer Gold Dot, and Winchester Ranger. Now all of these were shot from a 1911 with a 5″ barrel and any and all of these rounds were well suited for this set up. If you choose to carry a sidearm with a shorter barrel such as a 3.5″. I would choose a lighter bullet. The lighter bullet will accelerate quicker than a heavy bullet so in a shorter barrel the heavy bullet may not accelerate as fast as it needed to for complete expansion.

There are also plenty of quality defensive rounds for the .45 Auto that I did not test. What I have learned, if you stick with a brand name manufacturer you should be good to go as long as you know that round is reliable in what ever sort of firearm you choose to carry.

As as side note this test was conducted with the .45 Auto round. I see many people refer to this round as the .45 ACP. This is incorrect nomenclature for this round as ACP stands for “Automatic Colt Pistol”. This has been addressed in the 9th edition of the Hornady reloading manual. The .45 ACP fires the .45 Automatic cartridge. You will also notice on the vast majority of ammunition boxes and the barrel hoods of 1911s the round is labeled as .45 Auto. The real proof comes from SAAMI , which stands for The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute. Their role is to create and publish industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability, and quality. They also coordinate technical data. You can find their website here and the link to the specifications of the .45 Automatic here. If you search SAAMI for .45 ACP no results are yielded. I realize that this has gone on long enough to be accepted and is just fine. Almost everybody calls all skid steer loaders “Bobcats” but in these articles I strive to get the facts and that is why I included this part.

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For those keeping count we have now exceeded 750 rounds through the Colt M45 without a malfunction.





Clear Ballistics

By Hunter Elliott

I spent much of my youth involved with firearms and felt the call early on to the United States Marine Corps, following in my father's and his brother's footsteps. Just after high school I enlisted and felt most at home on the rifle range, where I qualified expert with several firearms and spent some time as a rifle coach to my fellow Marines. After being honorably discharged I continued teaching firearm safety, rifle and pistol marksmanship, and began teaching metallic cartridge reloading. In the late 1990s I became a life member to the National Rifle Association and worked with the Friends of the NRA. Around that time my father and I became involved with IDPA and competed together up until he passed away. I began reviewing firearms for publications in the mid 2000s and have been fortunate to make many friends in the industry. Continuing to improve my firearms skills and knowledge is a never ending journey in which we should all be committed. I am also credited as weapons master on a few independent films.

12 thoughts on “Ballistic test of the .45 Auto,because they do not make a .46”
  1. First off thanks for the test I always appreciate your ammo testing. Can you confirm if the Corbon 185 you tested is in fact the XPB/Barnes Tac-XP all copper and only erroneously listed as a 185gr JHP in your chart?

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words.
      The Cor-Bon 185gr we tested was the DPX. I should of been more specific when we put the chart together. Thanks for the heads up. I hope this clarifies what we used.

  2. […] I had a Remington 1911 several years ago. There was nothing fragile about it except the finish, it did not seem to be as durable a finish as the Taurus PT92 I had traded for it. Otherwise the gun was well built and very reliable for me. As far as ammunition go, I tried some hollow points through it and had zero issues, though it was only a couple boxes worth (Hornady Critical Defense). I was concerned with over penetration when I lived in a thin walled apartment. If you look at the test linked below, they tested multiple hollow points and a 45 FMJ, the FMJ went through a 32" block of ballistic gel. Ballistic test of the .45 Auto,because they do not make a .46 […]

  3. It would have been interesting to see how the Charter Arms Pitbull in 45 did on the chronograph and gel.

  4. in ballistic test of the 45auto, one of the rounds that did well was the Winchester 230 jhp , my question is Ranger Bonded [ RA45B ], or T series [RA45T ] ?

  5. I thank you for your efforts to shed some light on these rounds, but if you tested all these rounds 8 different rounds 2 shots per round into the same block of gel will give you incorrect results. The Hornady gave the best results you say but also was the first round you tested. You can check for yourself on similar tests on Lucky gunner and Ammo to go and see different results with some of these loads. The difference is a new block for each load tested and they even shot with shorter barrel length.

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