April 2010

High-Velocity 45 ACP Loads: Impressive, But Hard to Handle

The question is: Does faster, higher-pressure, more expensive ammunition deliver performance that leaves standard-pressure 45 ACP 230-grain loads in the dust? Not really, we found.

When the debate turns to small and large calibers and high velocity versus a big bullet, we tend to yawn. Been there, done that, and shot lots of game. Studied plenty of personal-defense shootings as well. We are often consulted by the crime-scene team in one of the busiest areas in a high-crime area in the Southeast. We have not seen it all, but we have a good idea of what occurs when a bullet meets a threat or a game animal. We prefer the big-bore cartridge. The slow and heavy 230-grain 45 ACP has exhibited excellent results and proven consistently effective over the course of 100 years. We feel that handgun selection and marksmanship are most important. More time in training and less agonizing over the load would be beneficial.

Many view load selection as critical. We agree, but for different reasons that some assume. Reliability is a million times more important than a perceived difference in terminal ballistics.

While big-bore cartridges are proven, all poor results do not come from small bores. There have been occasional failures with big-bore cartridges, largely through misapplication. One of our researchers has seen quite a bit of action and investigated a number of shootings. He is quick to point out that when a peace officer tells us he has seen something, he means he arrived just after the action was over. However, he has also seen the effect of the 45 ACP over his own sights and debriefed many others who have been involved in critical incidents. Sometimes a felon does not even register that he has been shot. This rater also mentions a rather dramatic failure he personally experienced (1984) when a very popular factory-produced 200-grain jacketed hollowpoint dramatically under penetrated. As he points out, this load was the darling of the popular press, but it expanded to nearly 1 inch and stopped in less than 3 inches of bone and muscle!

Speed is not the whole picture. Some 45 ACP loads show all the velocity we could ask for. These are the +P-rated loadings. +P means higher pressure, and the loads are several steps above the norm. Rather than the standard 18,000 psi of the 45 ACP, the +P load will average 21,000 to 22,000 psi.

In examining this +P class of ammunition, we wished to answer two questions: Does the +P offer improved performance?, and Which are the best examples? Since we began with the premise that the standard-velocity 45 has good wound potential, the high-velocity loads would have to offer a significant advantage. The standard 45 loads offer good control and excellent accuracy in quality handguns. If a high-velocity load affects the control of a handgun—or it is not accurate—there is little point in adopting such a load.

Our test +P samples included three Cor-Bon jacketed hollowpoint loads: 165-, 185-, and 230-grain Self-Defense JHP loads No. SD45165, No. SD45185, and No. SD45230, respectively. All sold for $29.48/20 on the company’s retail website. We also shot the all-copper 185-grain DPX load from Cor-Bon, DPX45185, $40.94/20. And the fifth Cor-Bon load was the PowRBall 165-grain load No. PB45165, $30.14/20. [IMGCAP(2)]Remington’s entry was a 185-grain Golden Sabre +P brass-jacketed hollowpoint load, GS45ACP, $26.79/25. From Speer we shot a 200-grain Gold Dot load No. 23969, $23.99/20, which was out of stock at Midway until mid-April. From Black Hills, we shot one 230-grain +P load, D45N6, $49.99/50; and one standard-pressure load, D45NS, $46.99/50, as a reference round.

We also shot two rounds that have become discontinued during our test period. Federal’s LE-marked Premium 185-grain HydraShok P45HS2G is no longer listed on the Federal website, and various retailers said it had been discontinued. We did find some selling for $35/50 at www.ammoman.com, but we can’t guarantee future supplies. And according to the Midway website, the Winchester 230-grain SXT (Supreme Expansion Technology) round has now been discontinued. Ours was $25.49/20 when it was still available.

We originally tested the ammunition in two handguns. The primary handguns used are representative of the 1911 breed, a Smith & Wesson SW1911 and a Kimber Gold Combat—one service gun and one top-end 1911 made for depth and breadth. Here’s what we found:

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