45 Automatic is one of the most misunderstood rounds of handgun ammunition ever developed. Before we get into what I’d consider to be the best 45 Auto rounds for self-defense, we’re first going to dispel some myths regarding this cartridge.
Just because something is bigger doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Then again, just because something is bigger doesn’t mean it’s slow.
45 ACP is not short, fat, or slow
There is a popular meme running around about 45 ACP that calls it short, fat, and slow. I’m guilty of calling all of the above, too. But it is technically not any of the above.
Well, it is kind of fat. But, the other stuff isn’t true. In terms of length, the 45 ACP is 23 mm tall and is slightly larger than both 9mm or 40 S&W. So, it’s not short. How slow it is?
There are plenty of 45 Auto bullets that reach and exceed 1,000 feet per second at the muzzle. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at either.
Read up and find out more about 45 Auto ballistics.
Is it necessary for a 45 to be a hollow point for self-defense?
This thought is catching a lot more steam as of late. But I’d caution anyone who is serious about self-defense to always use a hollow point against a human attacker. There are always good options in just about any caliber, even 380 ACP has good hollow points.
In terms of 45 ACP for bear defense, you’d go a different route. Click on that link for more info as I go pretty far in depth on that topic in that article.
Why use a hollow point for 45 Auto?
Anytime you use your handgun for self-defense, its ammo has to be able to do certain things to be effective.
- It has to reach a specific velocity to travel far enough into your intended target to do damage, while triggering the bullet to expand properly.
- It has to expand properly to do the needed damage to stop the threat AS WELL AS stop the bullet from leaving the target to hit something else.
While many folks don’t realize it, the 45 ACP is still capable of overpenetration. That is one of the reasons why I opened this article the way I did, dismissing the myths about 45 ACP being slow. It’s not slow and it can still leave a target to hit an unintended target.
This is one of the reasons why proper ammunition selection is such an important topic. Many guys and gals will buy a 45, throw some Federal Hydra Shoks in it, or worse ball ammo, and call it done. They never look at how those rounds perform (which is poorly, by the way).
Why any old 45 ACP hollow point won’t work
After telling people that they should only use hollow points in their self-defense guns they tend to just buy the cheapest hollow point they can find and call it a day. The problem with this, and it’s prominent in any caliber, is that not all bullets expand properly due to design or some other outside force.
This is why it is paramount to only use consistently performing ammunition that feeds right in your gun. I highlight some of these options below.
Let’s take a more in depth look at some better options.
Best 45 ACP ammo for self-defense
- Remington 185 grain Golden Saber +P
- Speer 230 grain Gold Dot Short Barrel
- 185 grain Speer Gold Dot
- Federal Premium 230 grain HST
How did I come up with that list?
The above list is based on my own experience and standing on the heels of giants. I’ve taken the Lucky Gunner Lab results and compiled the list of the best 45 ACP ammo for self-defense based on what I know needs to happen to ammo for it to work properly.
That, coupled with ballistics and the fact that I’ve been doing this for so many years is what I’m going off of.
Each of those rounds above performs consistently in terms of penetration and expansion, the two things needed to stop a threat from continuing his attack. And, energy transfer is complete because the round stops inside the target.
All of the above is important. The bullet has to travel between 12 and 18 inches and fully expand to maximize damage and reduce the chance of leaving the body. Each one of those rounds does just that. Let’s take a more in depth look at each round.
Remington 185 grain Golden Saber +P
These are the rounds I specifically went to when I actively carried a 45 ACP for self-defense. Part of the reason why is because they perform excellent when compared to other, similar rounds.
For the LG test, they expanded to an average of .75″ across five shots. That means the 45 caliber bullet grew or mushroomed out to .75″ while holding together. The jacket, or outer layer, remained in tact as the bullet mushroomed and retained its weight.
Also important is that the average depth of the bullets reached 15.5″ which is nearly right smack dab in the middle of where it is supposed to be.
These rounds are also impressive ballistically, and by that I mean with the velocity and energy. These are +P, or Plus P, rounds. This means that the cartridge is loaded to higher pressures. Because this is true, you must read your owner’s manual to find out if your gun can handle the added pressure.
Most modern firearms will be fine, here. But it still can’t hurt to check. The added pressure helps to propel the 185 grain projectile to 1140 feet per second and deliver 534 pound feet of energy at the muzzle. Those are impressive numbers, but the most important aspect of this ammo is that it is consistent with its performance.
It expands and penetrates to almost predictable measurements which is what you’re looking for in a self-defense round.
LG tested those rounds with a Khar CW45, which usually has a 3.6 inch barrel.
Speer 230 grain Gold Dot Short Barrel
The Speer 230 Short Barrel Gold Dot rounds are specifically formulated to work well out of a shorter barrel 45 Auto gun. While that is great, these rounds were fired out of a pistol with a 3.6″ barrel, so keep that in mind.
Still, the performance is good enough with the 3.6 inch barrel that I feel confident including them here even if you have a shorter barrel. These projectiles reached an average depth across five shots of 14.4 inches, which is right in that sweet spot of 12-18.
They expanded to an average diameter of .70 inches. And by the looks of it, they mushroomed so good and stopped within the proper depth because they began to expand almost immediately after impact, but with controlled expansion so they still made it to the proper depth.
Speer reports the velocity as 820 feet per second at the muzzle, with 343 pound feet. While those aren’t the most impressive numbers, keep in mind that these are specially formulated to work out of shorter barreled firearms. So, if you have an XD with a 3.3″ barrel, these should work really well.
Speer 185 Grain Gold Dot
Yes, Speer made this list, not once but twice. There is a reason why they were considered to be the “gold standard” for hollow points for many years. This isn’t necessarily true for all calibers of Gold Dot that they make, but for the two listed here, these are great rounds.
The 185 grain Gold Dot 45 Auto reached an average depth of 14.1 inches across 5 shots, along with an average diameter of .72 inches. I don’t have a lot more to say about these that I didn’t say in the above section, but do want to go over the numbers.
Speer lists the velocity at 1050 feet per second and 453 pound feet of energy at the muzzle.
230 Grain Federal Premium HST
Finally we get to the Federal HST rounds. The HST from Federal are some of the best performing self-defense rounds in just about any caliber. While Speer was the gold standard for many years, that title, I believe, has now gone to the Federal HST.
Most of the time you get consistent performance in all the calibers, and these 230 grain 45 Auto rounds are no exception to that rule.
They penetrated into the gelatin to an average depth of 14 inches, and expanded to .85 inches.
Federal reports the velocity to be 890 FPS, and energy to be 404 LB/FT at the muzzle. The bullets are designed to expand consistently and not get plugged up with with clothing or another barrier before hitting the intended target.
As an added bonus, the profile (design) of the bullet is also conducive to feeding in many different firearms.
Self-Defense Ammo and the 1911:
I feel as though this article wouldn’t be complete without at least talking about the gun the 45 ACP was first put in, the 1911. And what I mean here, is to say that not all of the above loads will work with all 1911 pistols.
Part of the reason why this is true is because of the design of the bullet, and when John Browning designed the 1911 it was originally made to fire round nose ammo. Because the hollow points have a different profile, some of them may get caught up on the way up the feed ramp.
The best thing to do here is test and see which of the above hollow points work in your gun, and then keep using them.
Read next: 45 ACP vs 9mm