45 ACP Ballistics

45 ACP Ballistics

A look at the 45 ACP Ballistics and more about the venerable caliber of 1911 shooters and Thompson Machine Gunners.

45 Auto Fast Facts

  • Designed in 1904 to provide a semi-automatic pistol with the .45 caliber bullet deemed by the U.S. Military to deliver the greatest stopping power. The 45 Automatic Colt Pistol has been a cartridge for self-defense since its conception.
  • While today’s shooters use it less frequently than the three-years-older 9mm, the 45 ACP’s efficacy for personal protection — as well as its enjoyability to shoot — ensure it will remain one of America’s favorite cartridges.
  • The caliber’s 21,000 psi chamber pressure and ensuing muzzle velocity are rather low. However, the 45 ACP’s standard 230 grain bullet has enough mass to compensate for its relative sluggishness.
  • While the popular 1911 pistol is now available in a variety of calibers, it was chambered for 45 ACP when it came out in the year it is named after.

45 ACP Ballistics Chart

Ammo Velocity (Feet per Second) Energy (Ft. Pounds) Bullet Drop (Inches) Ballistic Coefficient
AmmoBarrel LengthMuzzle25 yds.50 yds.75 yds.100 yds. Muzzle25 yds.50 yds.75 yds.100 yds. Muzzle25 yds.50 yds.75 yds.100 yds. G1G7Sect. Density
Sellier & Bellot 230 Gr. FMJ5853829799-742371351326-281-0-2.4--17.70.0930.162
Winchester 230 Gr. FMJ58658173563420.162
Magtech 230 Gr. FMJ5837822809795782358346334323313-0-3.2-9.7-19.70.2010.162
Fiocchi 230 Gr. FMJ5875827797377350324-1.49-6.010.1840.162
Remington 230 Gr. FMJ5835817800356341326-0.4-1.60.162
PMC 230 Gr. FMJ5830809789769749352334318302286-1.40-4.9-13.50.1330.162
>Federal American Eagle 230 Gr. FMJ5890872856840824404389374360347-0-2-6.9-150.1930.162
Tula 230 Gr. FMJ58503690.162
Blazer Brass 230 Gr. FMJ5830812794778762352337322309296-0-3.3-10-20.40.1560.162
Federal Hi-Shok 185 Gr. JHP5950923899876855371350332315300-0-1.7-6-13.10.13
Winchester USA 230 Gr. FMJ5835817800784769356341327314302-0-3.2-9.9-20.060.1630.162
Federal HST 230 Gr. JHP +P5950929909890873461440422405389-0-1.6-5.9-12.80.1960.162
Wolf 230 Gr. FMJ58503690.162
Federal HST 230 GR. FMJ5890872856840824404389374360347-0-2-6.9-150.1930.162
Federal 185 Gr. SWC5770735703672642244222203185170-0-3.1-10.6-230.0720.13
Speer Gold Dot 230 Gr. HP5890867845824805404384365347331-0-2-7.1-15.30.1430.162
Remington Golden Saber 230 Gr. BJHP58758538333913723540-0.4-1.50.162
Remington HTP 230 Gr. HTP58358178003563413260-0.4-1.60.162
Speer Lawman 230 Gr. TMJ5830811794777760352336322308295-0-2.4-8.2-17.70.1560.162
Federal LE Bonded 230 Gr. JHP +P59504600.162
Blazer 230 Gr. FMJ5845826808791774365349334319306-0-3.2-9.7-19.70.1560.162
Armscor 230 Gr. FMJ58303520.162
Hornady 185 Gr. FTX31000966936909885411383360340322-0-2.3-7.1-14.60.1430.13
Winchester USA 185 Gr. FMJ5910885863842822340322306291277-0-2.8-8.5-17.20.1450.13
Hornady 220 Gr. FTX5975950928908888464441421402385-0-2.4-7.3-14.90.1830.14
Federal Gold Medal 230 Gr. FMJ5860844828813799378364350338326-0-2.2-7.5-16.10.162
Black Hills 230 Gr. FMJ59504600.162
Federal Personal Def. 230 Gr. JHP5850834819804790369355343330319-0-2.2-7.7-16.40.1930.162
Barnes TAC-XPD 185 Gr. SCHP51000971944921899411387366348332-0-2.3-7.1-14.40.1670.13
Federal Syntech 230 Gr. TSJ5830815800786773352339327316305-0-2.3-8.1-17.30.1940.162
Federal Hydra-Shok 165 Gr. JHP510601014976942912412377349325305-0-1.2-4.7-10.60.1330.116
Winchester Ranger 230 Gr. JHP5990964940918898501474451431412-0-2.3-7.1-14.50.180.162
Sig Sauer 200 Gr. JHP59183740.14
Speer Gold Dot 200 Gr. JHP510801033994960930518474439409384-0-1.1-4.5-10.20.1380.14
Speer Gold Dot 185 Gr. JHP51050998955919886453409375347322-0-1.3-4.9-11.10.1090.13
Federal A.E. Suppressor 230 Gr. TMJ5840821803785769360344329315302-0-2.3-8-17.20.162
Hornady 230 Gr. XTP5950928908889871461440421404388-0-2.5-7.7-15.60.1880.162
Remington Golden Saber 185 Gr. JHP41015981951423395372-0-1.40.1490.13
PMC 185 Gr. JHP5900867836805776333309287266247-1.20-4.3-120.0980.13
Winchester PDX1 230 Gr. JHP5920900882864848432414397382367-0-2.7-8.2-16.50.1880.162
Federal Ballisticlean 155 Gr. RHT5113010621008964926439388350320395-0-1-4.2-9.70.110.109
Black Hills 200 Gr. SWC58753400.14
Winchester Ranger T 230 Gr. JHP5935913893875857447426408391375-0-2.6-7.9-16.10.180.162

Scroll right for energy, trajectory and coefficient data in the 45 ACP Ballistics chart above.

Background on 45 Automatic Colt Pistol

45 ACP ammo and a Glock pistol on a shooting bench

Disappointed by the 38 Long Colt’s performance during the Philippine-American War, the U.S. Army sought a more powerful cartridge for their standard sidearm, as well as an upgrade to an easier to reload semi-automatic. The 1904 Thompson-LaGarde Tests determined that the .45 caliber was the minimum needed for decisive stopping power. With that in mind, John Browning designed the 45 ACP in the same year. The Army soon adopted it for service along with Colt’s semi-automatic M1911 pistol. 

What Does 45 ACP Offer Ballistically-Speaking?

What made the 45 ACP appealing to the Army back then still makes it appealing now. The round’s .451” diameter bullet is wide enough to produce a devastatingly wide wound channel. This is typically true even if it’s an FMJ that’s incapable of expanding. Its 230 grain bullet furthermore possesses the mass requisite for deep penetration through soft tissue. In terms of ballistics, its relatively low 830 fps muzzle velocity doesn’t produce enough recoil and muzzle blast to make accurate rapid fire difficult. Furthermore, the 45 ACP’s low chamber pressure doesn’t rapidly wear out a weapon. This is an important feature when troops may have to make do with the same firearm for a long time.

45 ACP Specs

Parent caseN/A
Case typeRimless, straight
Bullet diameter0.451"
Neck diameter0.473"
Base diameter0.476 "
Rim diameter0.480"
Rim thickness0.049"
Case length0.898"
Overall length1.275"
Case capacity26.7 gr H2O
Maximum pressure (SAAMI)21,000 psi

45 ACP ammo is still commonly equipped with a 230 grain bullet, although lighter bullets are available in factory loaded rounds. Whether its bullet is heavy or lightweight, and whether its muzzle velocity is in the low 800 range or close to hitting four digits, it consistently delivers at least 300 ft lbs of energy at the 100 yard mark. Even conservative estimates place 300 ft lbs as the minimum acceptable amount of energy needed for self-defense at the muzzle. The 45 ACP’s slow muzzle velocity does convey its chief shortcoming, however: Its trajectory is far from flat, with an average of 15 to 20” bullet drop at 100 yards.

Comparisons to 9mm Ammo

The 45 ACP has become less popular than the 9mm for a number of other reasons. It is larger, and thus reduces magazine capacity and complicates mass transport. Its heavyweight bullet is less capable of penetrating armor. It’s also a little more expensive, if only because more metal must go into its production. But at the end of the day, the 45 ACP’s military mythos coupled with its undeniable utility for self-defense will keep it alive and well for centuries to come.

Other Attributes

45 ACP ammo at a shooting range

  • You’re by no means limited to the 1911 if you want to carry a handgun chambered for 45 ACP. The Glock 21, S&W M&P Shield .45, and SIG Sauer P227 are all better than serviceable alternatives.
  • The inherent subsonic muzzle velocity of a standard pressure 45 ACP cartridge lends itself perfectly to suppressor use.
  • “You oughta be able to do a .45 in 25,” Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade informs Charlie Simms in Scent of a Woman. Assembling and disassembling a Colt MK IV in so few seconds is an impressive feat indeed, even for someone who isn’t blind.

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