Feeding .45 ACP Autos

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

Old myths die hard and especially those connected with .45s. When I started shooting it was a known “fact” the only .45 rounds that 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 that 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 that will not fit in a semiauto’s magazine work just fine in a cylinder, as do light loads that 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 creepfree 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. 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 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. 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.

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.

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.

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

Early Finds

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 roundnosed 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.

For more info:

FN Manufacturing www.fnhusa.com

Oregon Trail Bullet, www.laser-cast.com

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