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Web Blast: The .45 ACP

Part 1: Autos

By John Taffin

From The January/February 2009 Handloading Column

hanloading 1

Old myths die hard and especially so those connected with .45s. 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 were standard FMJ hardball. Many gunwriters not only said the .45 ACP 1911 was not dependable, but also hung this same albatross around the necks of other autos. While this myth has some foundation, it was busted decades ago. Today’s crop of semiautos in general, and especially so the .45s, are exceptionally dependable with many bullet designs. It’s a rare .45 which won’t function with any reasonably shaped bullet today.

The .45 ACP chambered in a sixgun has several advantages over a semiauto. Heavier loads can be safely used, brass is not scattered all over the landscape, longer than standard loads which will not fit in a semiauto’s magazine work just fine in a cylinder, as do light loads which will not operate the semiauto’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 semiauto’s main purpose, which is self-defense.

My first 1911 was purchased for the princely sum of $7.50 in late 1956. It was a 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 S&W’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 semiautos; 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 ‘smiths such as Bill Wilson or Les Baer 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.

Handloading 2

Bullets used in reloading the .45 ACP for semi-autos: commercial cast
bullets, 200 SWC, 225 FN, and 230 RN; and jacketed bullets, 185, 200,
and 230 grain hollow points, and the 230 FMJ.

Handloading 3

Cast bullets offered by Oregon Trail include the 200 grain Semi-Wadcutter
patterned after the Hensley & Gibbs #68, 225 grain  Flat-Nose, and 230 grain Round-Nose.

Loading

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 semiautos. 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 .45s, 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. 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.

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 grains to 230 grains, in both HP and FMJ versions. Sometimes progress really is on our side.

Handloading 4

Cast and jacketed bullet .45 ACP handloads fired in the FNH FNP-45

Handloading 5

Jacketed bullet .45 ACP handloads and the FNH FNP-45.

Handloading 6

Cast bullet handloads perform well in the FNP-45.

Handloading 7

Targets fired with cast bullets in the FNH FNP-45.

Handloading 8

Jacketed .45 ACP handloads with the FNP-45.

Handloading 9

Cast bullet .45 ACP handloads work well in a variety of 1911s.

Test-Fire: FNH Model FNP-45 .45 ACP x 4.5″ .45 ACP Handloaded Ammo Performance

REDUCE ALL LOADS BY AT LEAST 10-percent AND WORK UP CAREFULLY!!

Bullet Brass Powder Charge Velocity Group Size (inch)
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC Military WW452 6.0 gr. 953 1
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC  Military WW231 6.0 gr. 894 1-1/2
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC  Midway Bullseye 5.0 gr. 803 1-1/4
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC   Military Unique 7.0 gr. 1,010 2
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC   Federal Red Dot 5.0 gr. 835 1-3/4
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC     Hornady Green Dot 5.0 gr. 812 2
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC   Winchester AA#5 9.0 gr. 981 1-3/8
Oregon Trail 200 LRN      Midway WW231 5.5 gr. 834 1-1/2
Oregon Trail 200 LRN         Federal Bullseye 3.5 gr. 635 1-1/2
Oregon Trail 200 LRN         Winchester Bullseye 4.5 gr. 744 1-1/2
Oregon Trail 225 LFN         Federal Red Dot 5.0 gr. 850 1-1/4
Oregon Trail 225 LFN         Winchester Green Dot 5.0 gr. 817 1-3/4
Oregon Trail 225 LFN       Mixed AA#5 8.0 gr. 804 1-3/4
Oregon Trail 230 LRN          Midway WW231 6.0 gr. 856 2-1/4
Oregon Trail 230 LRN          Midway Unique 8.5 gr. 1,027 2
Hornady 230 XTP          Starline Power Pistol 7.0 gr. 862 1-1/2
Sierra 185 JHC         Winchester Unique 8.5 gr. 1,084 1-1/4
Sierra 230 FMJ          Starline Red Dot 5.0 gr. 808 fps 2
Sierra 230 FMJ          Starline Power Pistol 7.0 gr. 851 2-1/4
Speer 185 Gold Dot HP       Midway Action Pistol 8.9 gr. 841 2-1/2
Speer 200 JHP         Remington Power Pistol 8.0 gr. 962 1-1/8
Speer 200 Gold Dot HP       Federal Unique 7.0 gr. 952 3/4
Speer 230 Gold Dot HP       Midway Action Pistol 6.2 gr. 626 1-3/8

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

For more info:
FN Manufacturing www.fnhusa.com;
Oregon Trail Bullet, www.laser-cast.com

Jan/Feb 2009

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