September 2014

Light-Recoil 45 ACP Loads: Three Comfortable ‘A’ Choices

Not everyone is looking for a +P or a bear-killer load. Some are simply wishing to sustain their ability with a handgun that seems more difficult to handle than ever. Here are some choices.

The road in life isn’t always straight and narrow. It can be winding and even out of control. Some changes are unwelcome, even fearful. Among the significant changes as we age is a loss of muscle mass. Shooters who once handled hard-kicking handguns now find them ever more difficult to handle. Arthritis and a culmination of old injuries make firing the big-bore pistol difficult. These individuals, along with young shooters who have adopted a lightweight pistol such as a Colt Commander, and slightly-built female shooters interested in a low-recoil load, are faced with difficult decisions. Once the decision is made to take advantage of the big-bore 45 ACP handgun, shooters are seldom willing to back down to the 9mm.

The Kimber CDP is a great pistol, but it is light and the laws of physics indicate it will have a hard push when fired. A light load can make it more

A knowledgeable reader asked for help in choosing a good factory load for his Commander 45 ACP, and this report is an answer. He had solved the problem of practice loads well. It isn’t difficult to find a good lead-bullet load for practice. The Oregon Trail 200-grain semiwadcutter bullet and a modest charge of WW 231 powder will break 800 fps and function in most 1911s. But for personal-defense handguns, expansion is desirable, so that calls for a jacketed hollowpoint bullet to prevent over penetration and ricochet.

In our Gun Tests ammunition evaluations, we have stressed that when the power factor of a load reaches 200, then the handgun becomes more difficult to use effectively in personal defense. As an example, the standard 230-grain 45 ACP hardball load at 850 fps breaks 195 in power factor. The 185-grain JHP at 1000 fps hits 185. Few hardball loads actually clock 850 fps, but most of the 230-grain JHP loads do. For comparison, we listed the performance data of several +P hollowpoints on page 27.

With proper technique, a full-size 45 and light loads aren’t that difficult to master. But with heavy loads, the equation changes.

Are there load choices that will diminish the recoil of full-strength 45 ACPs and still produce acceptable performance — not exactly -P loads, but ones that are easier to handle than most and give a shooter with tired muscles a fighting chance at handling a big-bore handgun with accuracy and speed?

We went looking for some loads that produce reasonable recoil coupled with good downrange ballistic effect while functioning with standard recoil springs. Our test guns were a 4-inch-barrel Kimber CDP, the personal-defense pistol of one of our raters and a SIG Sauer P250 45-caliber compact. For comparing the recoil of +P loads to our controlled-recoil samples, larger pistols, including the FNH 45, were used. Here are our recommendations.

Federal 165-Grain Hydra-Shok JHP, $26.99
Of all the loads tested, the Federal is the only choice specifically designed as a low-recoil load. As such, it has a lot of research behind it. It is the slowest of the 160- to 165-grain loads by a margin, but this is not reflected in the Hydra-Shok bullet performance. Expansion was good, although we did have one failure to expand. The price is right, and the performance is ideal for this scenario. There is little room for discussion: this is the only purpose-designed low-recoil load tested, and our tests show it is a top choice based upon low recoil and affordability. We were looking for low recoil and reasonable performance, and the Federal load with a power factor of 157, makes the grade.

Gun Tests Grade: A/Best Buy

Winchester Silvertip 185-Grain X45ASPD, $21.49
The Silvertip is often overlooked, perhaps because it is perceived as an old-generation loading. This isn’t really true, as there have been several versions of the Silvertip. The current generation offers a good balance of expansion and penetration. The power factor is less than full-power 230-grain load, yet penetration performance of 13 inches in water leaves little to be desired. By reputation, the alloy-coated Silvertip isn’t as accurate as other loads, but the accuracy demonstrated by this loading is more than adequate. If full-power 230-grain JHP loads or +P loads tire you, this is a good place to start looking. This isn’t a bonded-core load, and the jacket was lost during testing, but expansion to .72 inch was reliable.
Gun Tests Grade: A

Cor-Bon 160-Grain DPX, $34.99
This is purpose-designed as a short-barrel load, not as a low-recoil load. The DPX load is expensive but then all loads using the Barnes X bullet are. Performance is excellent, however, with particularly good penetration. Accuracy is the finest of any load tested. While lighter than many 45 fans like, the DPX bullet is quite simply a rule breaker, changing many shooters’ minds about bullet weight and performance. This is a solid choice and is arguably the top performer based upon wound potential. Unless recoil is the overwhelming consideration, this is a top choice for those that are looking for a load with less recoil than the 230-grain 45 ACP.
Gun Tests Grade: A

Cor-Bon 165-Grain Pow’RBall +P, $26.99
This is a +P load, but with the 165-grain bullet, we thought recoil might be light. As it turned out, the power factor is a whopping 183 due to the high velocity. The Pow’RBall has its points, but it is not the low-recoil load we were looking for. This load was tested as a counterpoint to heavy, slow loads. This is the lightest kicking +P we are aware of. (If you use an older aluminum-frame pistol, we won’t argue that the frame will take 5,000 rounds of use. However, a wide-mouth JHP gouges aluminum frames. That is why Evolution Gun Works tooled up to produce their excellent frame repair insert.) The Pow’RBall feeds like hardball and will not gouge the frame, so it is a qualified choice for use in a treasured old Commander. This load exhibited fragmentation. Our raters found that it is a good counterpoint for those who might deploy the Glaser Safety Slug. More accurate, less expensive, and nearly as frangible as the Glaser, the Pow’RBall is an interesting design. The 25 grains retained weight is the largest single piece we found.
Gun Tests Grade: B

Our Team Said
The Winchester Silvertip has a lot going for it, including availability and price. It is the stepping-off point for those struggling with a 230-grain load or a +P loading.

The Cor-Bon Pow’RBall is a great choice for those using older aluminum-frame guns, as it feeds in any pistol that will feed hardball, won’t gouge the feed ramp, and fragments if you like fragmentation. However, recoil is heavy because it is a +P.

The Cor-Bon 160-grain DPX is the best performer tested as far as its balance of expansion and penetration. It is pricey, but as of this writing local stores are asking forty bucks for twenty rounds of any 45 ACP.

The Federal Hydra-Shok may be readily available, and it offers good performance. Of the two top loads, the Hydra-Shock wins as a Best Buy while the Cor-Bon is the best based on performance. Either should make a recoil-shy person confident.

Written and photographed by R.K. Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT

45 ACP LIGHT LOADS

HIGH-VELOCITY 45 ACP +P HOLLOWPOINT PERFORMANCE DATA (APRIL 2010)