In a recent post I detailed some elements of the 9x19mm cartridge and why it’s a good choice for beginners. I received a great deal of positive feedback on this and requests to do the other side of the ‘caliber war.’ So today, it’s .45 ACP.
I was surprised with the comments in my 9mm post to say the least. It certainly got creative in there and some was cringeworthy. That article wasn’t meant to be a ‘caliber wars’ hit piece. It was meant to show the beginner what 9mm looks like today. When I started this article, I was hit with the realization that I couldn’t honestly come up with many good things about .45 ACP to tell to beginners and I quickly realized why.
The .45 ACP isn’t a beginner’s cartridge in my mind. It is very significant historically and socially today, but it is categorically obsolete and offers some very serious downsides to a beginner that outweigh many of the marginal advantages. The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage the .45 ACP. It is easily one of my favorite pistol cartridges and I enjoy shooting and reloading for it. I shoot a ton of ammo every year as a media professional, and this year alone I have logged over 4,000 rounds of .45 ACP, not to mention the many, many thousands more I have shot over the years in practice and competition.
All my time with the .45 ACP has led me to the conclusion that it isn’t a good cartridge for a beginner or new shooter. The first area we will look at is concealed carry. One of the smallest .45 ACP pistols available is Smith & Wesson’s M&P Shield .45. It is a great pistol and I shoot with one regularly and have used it in ballistic testing. It is a great, thin pistol that is marginally larger than the 9mm version of the same gun and much smaller than a comparable GLOCK 36. I see it as one of the most functional small .45 ACP pistols available today and a great choice for concealed carry for an experienced shooter.
Why experienced? The primary reason I say this is because of two things: low capacity and high perceived recoil compared to other options. The .45 in a gun this small is manageable and accurate, but it is at a serious deficit when compared to modern 9mm offerings like the SIG SAUER P365, a gun that boasts a 10+1 or 12+1 capacity while being significantly smaller and offering less recoil.
Concealed carry with a full-size 1911 is possible and I have done it on and off for a number of years. I think that carrying a full-size .45 with 8+1 loaded when, for less weight, one could have a GLOCK 19 that carries 15+1 rounds is exactly why I can’t get on board with recommending .45 to a newbie. The advantages just aren’t there no matter the size and weight. A .45 will almost always weigh more and carry less, which I can’t in good conscience suggest to a new shooter when more advanced systems exist.
My primary concern with beginners and .45 is that it’s a misleading caliber that is promoted by misleading salesmen and gun writers. The .45 isn’t all that much more powerful than a 9mm, all things considered. The common myth is that it possesses twice the bullet mass, and thus twice the power. Sounds good, right? Well, it’s not that simple.
Getting down to it, a 9mm features a .355” diameter bullet while the .45 is .451.” The standard velocity range of a 9mm is about 1000-1500fps with a muzzle energy of about 300-450 foot-pounds. The .45 is slower with a typical velocity range of 750-1200fps and a muzzle energy ranging from about 300-500 foot-pounds.
Those are general ranges, but they account for all but the most unique outliers available today. The point is, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of foot-pounds and that extra .096” in width the .45 has is hardly a benefit considering that, in most guns, you’re giving up a huge number of on-board rounds — sometimes half as many — as a comparable 9mm. A bigger bullet isn’t better here in my mind. It is, for the beginner, a serious handicap. The fact is you can stay in the game longer with a 9mm.
I know there will be plenty of die-hards who will aggressively defend the .45 here and talk about everything from bullet mass to ‘manly calibers’ and ‘stopping power’, but that’s all just nonsense. For the beginners in the audience, here’s what you need to know about the .45 ACP that’s a positive:
-Large commercial acceptance and plentiful options for ammunition and guns
-Bullets that benefit from modern manufacturing and technology
-Easy to reload…the .45 is a very forgiving cartridge in this category (not that many noobs reload)
And here are the negatives:
-Low capacity in nearly all guns chambered for it
-Stopping power is a myth…you won’t get a guaranteed ‘insta-kill’ with a .45, or any caliber for that matter
-Generally heavy weight and higher recoil than comparable options in other calibers
-Higher ammunition cost
-Marginal performance gains over other calibers, despite heavier bullets
-Longer proficiency curve in training for most shooters
-Suffers from its over-hyped war legacy
That said, there are many fine guns available in .45 ACP today and some new shooters will want to go that way. Among a number of great options, here are a few I would recommend to beginners:
-Smith & Wesson M&P Shield .45. This is a good, reliable pistol and among the smallest and lightest .45’s offered today. The gun is available with night sights, 2.0 grip texturing, and a 6+1 or 7+1 capacity.
-GLOCK 36, 21, and 30: GLOCK makes some of the best pistols on the market in that they’re simple, rugged, and have huge aftermarket support. GLOCK’s pistols really need no introduction here, but the beginner could do well to have one because once you do, you’ll never truly need much else. GLOCK pistols ship with magazines ranging from 6 to 10 rounds.
-SIG SAUER P227: I love the P227. The gun boasts a metal frame and DA/SA trigger. The pistol is very accurate and displays some of the best ergonomics in the industry. Standard capacity is 10+1 rounds.
-The 1911: We all know and love the 1911. Well, most of us do. It’s a classic and is the handgun most people think of when they think of .45 ACP. The 1911 is fairly heavy, usually about 35-45oz, and typically holds 7+1 or 8+1 rounds. There are too many makers to list here. Expect prices from $500-5,000.
So what do you think about the .45 ACP? I think it’s a great cartridge, just not necessarily the best choice for a new shooter or concealed carrier when other, more advanced, higher capacity options are out there. The .45 ACP will always be with us in one form or another, even as smaller, faster calibers steadily outpace it on the national and world stage.