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 isnít 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.

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 isnít 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.†

Are there load choices that will diminish the recoil of full-strength 45 ACPs and still produce acceptable performance ó 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.

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