Reloading .45ACP Semi-automatics

by John Taffin

          Old myths die hard and especially so those connected with .45s. Many still cling to the old believe .45 Colt brass is weak. It certainly was in the black powder days with the balloon head case and a very small rim which could pull off when re-sizing fired brass. However in the early 1950s that old brass was discarded in favor of solid head brass which is exactly why Dick Casull used it for the experiments which led to the .454 Caasull. The .45 Colt brass did what he needed it to do however a new gun was necessary to hold those loads.

The .45 ACP is also bound by several myths. When I started shooting it was a known “fact” the only .45 rounds which could be counted on to feed and function through a 1911 was the standard full metal jacketed hardball. Many gunwriters not only said the .45 ACP 1911 was not dependable but also hung this same albatross around the necks of other semi-automatics. Just as with the .45 Colt this myth has some foundation, however it was busted decades ago. Today's crop of semi-automatics in general, and especially so the .45s, are exceptionally dependable and not only with hardball but also JHPs and cast bullets of many designs. It is a rare .45 semi-automatic which will not function with any reasonably shaped bullet today. Some can be cranky with some hollowpoint and semi-wadcutter designs; I would say about one in 10 I have tested in the last two decades would fall into this category. Any of the quality .45ACP semi-automatic whether on the 1911 platform or one of the newer polymer framed versions are just as reliable as any revolver and I would not hesitate to choose any of them for self defense use.   

          The .45 ACP chambered in a sixgun has several advantages over a semi-auto. Heavier loads can be safely used, brass is not scattered all over the landscape, longer than standard loads which will not fit in a semi-auto’s magazine work just fine in a sixgun cylinder as do light loads which will not operate the semi-auto’s slide. That is four distinct advantages on the side of the sixgun and not one of them has anything to do with the .45 ACP semi-auto’s main purpose which is self-defense.

          My first 1911 was purchased for the princely sum of $7.50 in late 1956.  It was military surplus, Remington Rand if I remember correctly, and yes I wish I had it back. It was loose, rattled, and was only used with military surplus hardball which I could buy at that time for $1 per box. At about the same time bull's-eye shooters were shooting a lot of .45 ACP rounds through Smith & Wesson’s Model 1950 and 1955 Target revolvers. Gunsmiths started working with the 1911 by tightening and tuning, fitting adjustable sights, and definitely performing the art of a crisp creep free trigger pull. It wasn't long before the world’s best combat pistol also became a superb target pistol.

            Now there were two distinct types of .45 ACP semi-automatics; loose ones for combat and tight ones for target shooting. Everyone knew the two could never mix; almost everyone that is. Today we have .45 ACPs on the 1911 platform with slides hand fitted to frames so tightly there is no perceptible play. They may feel like target pistols, however those from such custom semi-automatic ‘smiths such as Bill Wilson, Ed Brown, or Les Baer to name a few are totally tight and totally reliable at the same time. Even non-custom factory produced 1911s are also very tightly fitted and they work perfectly when quality ammunition is used. 

          I've always been one to carefully sort brass for reloading by headstamps as I placed them in MTM cartridge boxes. Whether loading for sixgun or rifle I would not think of mixing one brand of brass with another. Anymore I'm not so sure this is necessary for most purposes. What changed my mind was a box of .45 ACP reloads of mixed brass from Black Hills Ammunition. After testing a dozen or so different factory loads I was stunned to find those bargain priced economy reloads outshot everything else. Now, unless working I am on a special project, neither my .45 ACP nor .38 Special brass gets sorted by headstamp; my everyday shooting loads are diversity at work. 

          Today most of my .45 ACP reloads are assembled on the RCBS Pro-2000 Progressive Press with two sets of dies, Lyman and RCBS, in two separate die plates. Sometimes I use one, sometimes the other, and in both cases simply by changing the seating and crimping die I am set up to also load .45 Auto Rim. Of course the latter requires a changing of the shell plate. With this set up I can load enough .45 ACP rounds in one pleasant afternoon to fill a .50 caliber ammo can. I don't pay any attention to the headstamps, however I do check the overall length carefully to make sure rounds will fit the magazines of my .45 ACP semi-automatics. I also like to load semi-wadcutter bullets with just a kiss of the front shoulder protruding from the cartridge case; for scientific purposes a kiss is about the length of the width of two human hairs, maybe a little more. This works for most .45 semi-automatics, however some are chambered so tightly bullets must be seated with the shoulder flush with the end of the case.

          My early experiments with cast bullets before I started casting my own were 230 grain commercial hard cast round nose bullets which basically duplicated the weight and shape of hardball bullets and more importantly they were about the only thing available at the time. About 35 years ago I stumbled upon a full house .45 ACP load by Jeff Cooper using a 215 grain SWC over 7.5 grains of Unique for close to 1,100 fps from a 1911. For my use I cut the bullet weight to 200 grains by using the Lyman mold for the #452460 SWC and then later the same weight bullet with a slightly longer nose from the H&G #68 mold; the jacketed version of this bullet is Speer’s 200 grain TMJ. I also cut the powder charge to 7.0 grains of Unique for right at 1,050 fps. This remains a very powerful load and Oregon Trail’s 200 SWC is a dead ringer for the Hensley & Gibbs bullet.

Today we have many different .45 ACP bullets available.  I still cast my own from both the Lyman and H&G molds but I'm more likely to use the Oregon Trail version as well as their 200 and 230 grain round-nosed bullets and also their 225 flat-nose. That gives me four choices of commercial cast bullets covering just about any application I might wish to pursue. When the task at hand calls for jacketed bullets Hornady, Sierra, and Speer all offer excellent bullets from 185 grain to 230 grains in both hollowpoint and full metal jacketed versions.  Sometimes progress really is on our side. 


Test-Fire: FNH Model FNP-45 .45 ACP x 4.5”

.45 ACP Handloaded Ammo Performance


Bullet/Powder/Charge                                       Velocity            Group Size

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/WW452/6.0 gr.        953 fps             1”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/WW231/6.0 gr.        894 fps             1-1/2”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Bullseye/5.0 gr.         803 fps            1-1/4”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Unique/7.0 gr.           1,017 fps          2”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Red Dot/5.0 gr.         835 fps             1-3/4”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Green Dot/5.0 gr.      812 fps             2”

Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/AA#5/9.0 gr.            981 fps            1-3/8”

Oregon Trail 200 LRN/WW231/5.5 gr.            834 fps            1-1/2”

Oregon Trail 200 LRN/Bullseye/3.5 gr.             635 fps             1-1/2”

Oregon Trail 200 LRN/Bullseye/4.5 gr.             744 fps            1-1/2”

Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Red Dot/5.0 gr.            850 fps             1-1/4”

Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Green Dot/5.0 gr.         817 fps             1-3/4”

Oregon Trail 225 LFN/AA#5/8.0 gr.                804 fps             1-3/4”

Oregon Trail 230 LRN/WW231/6.0 gr.            856 fps             2-1/4”

 Oregon Trail 230 LRN/Unique/6.5 gr.             871 fps             1-3/4”

Hornady 185 JHP/Unique/8.5 gr.                     1,027 fps          2”

Hornady 230 XTP/Power Pistol/7.0 gr.            862 fps             1-1/2”

Sierra 185 JHC/Unique/8.5 gr.            1,084 fps          1-1/4”

Sierra 230 FMJ/Red Dot/5.0 gr.                       808 fps            2”

Sierra 230 FMJ/Power Pistol/7.0 gr.                 851 fps             2-1/4”

Speer 185 GDHP/Action Pistol/8.9 gr.             841 fps             2-1/2”

Speer 200 JHP /Power Pistol/8.0 gr.                 962 fps             1-1/8”

Speer 200 GDHP/Unique/7.0 gr.                      952 fps             3/4"

Speer 230 GDHP/Action Pistol/6.2 gr.             626 fps             1-3/8” 

Notes: Groups the product of 5 Shots at 20 yards. Chronograph screens set at 10’ from muzzle. CCI #300 primers used.