The legendary .45 ACP may be over 110 years old at this point, but don’t let its age fool you. This much-beloved round is still very popular, and very powerful to boot. So, we decided we needed to talk about some of the best .45 ACP ammo options out there.
If you need the best ammo for your 1911, or 2011, or your Glock 21, or whatever .45 ACP gun you have, you’re in the right place.
We (and by we I mean I ) have tested just about every brand of off-the-shelf ammo out there, and there are a few names that keep rising to the top of our list. And there were a few surprises.
Which ones were the best for target practice? Best FMJs? Best defensive ammo?
Let’s get into it.
- Choosing The Best Ammo For Your 1911 (or other .45 ACP)
- Best .45 ACP Range Ammo
- Best .45 ACP Competition Ammo
- Best .45 ACP Self-Defense Ammo
- Parting Shots
Choosing The Best Ammo For Your 1911 (or other .45 ACP)
No matter whether you have a GI-spec 1911 your grandfather shipped home from the Pacific, or a brand new STI 2011, you need to pick ammo that your gun likes.
1911s, in particular, can be finicky about ammo, especially hollow points, so if you’re going to be using it for defensive purposes, make sure you shoot a box or two first to see how it runs.
I know, I know, shooting $50 worth of high-end defensive ammo at the paper isn’t what you want to do, but $50 is a lot better than finding out your gun doesn’t like your ammo in the middle of a gunfight.
Also, keep in mind that with older guns, especially mil-surp ones, they may not be rated for +P ammo, which most defensive loads are. Turning your gun into a grenade is generally not recommended, especially if you enjoy your fingers.
Best .45 ACP Range Ammo
Let me start by saying, I don’t regularly carry a gun chambered in .45 ACP for protection. Call me a pansy if you want, but these days I’ll take the extra capacity and ease-of-shooting that I get with a 9mm. You can go argue about that on ours. 45 ACP vs 9mm post if you want.
That said, I still shoot a few thousand rounds of .45 ACP a year, not including what I shoot for testing, and occasionally will break out a .45 when I want to make sure I meet major power factor for USPSA Competition, or for a Heavy Metal 3-Gun shoot.
For that reason, finding quality range ammo is extremely important for me, and to that end, I’ve tested damn near every FMJ load you can get. Here are the best ones.
Blazers Brass is a standard .45 FMJ that won’t knock your socks off performance-wise, but it’s more than good enough for range use and plinking.
If I’m just taking 1911 to the range for fun, I’ll usually stop by Academy or Gander and pick up a few boxes since I don’t keep a lot of .45 ACP on hand.
The brass isn’t the best quality, but it’s good for a few reloads so if you hand load .45 ACP, this might be a good option for cheap brass.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any quality issues with Blazer Brass, certainly never any severe enough to stick in my memory, so if you’re looking for cheap brass-cased .45 ACP, this is what I’d recommend.
Federal is one of the biggest ammo manufacturers in the game, and I’d rank them as one of the best quality as well.
Their American Eagle line is a good mid-range option for those who want a little more consistency and velocity out of their factory loads.
I usually go for American Eagle when I’m testing a .45 ACP firearm because of a few reasons.
First, it’s consistent. It’s some of the most consistent ammo in its price range, actually, which is great when I want to see how a gun performs without worrying about ammo fouling the results.
Second, it’s available just about everywhere. One of the benefits of Federal being so prolific is that you can get their products just about anywhere ammo is sold.
That’s great for me because I can get my go-to testing ammo wherever, and it’s great for the average consumer because it means there’s always a quality box of range ammo on the shelf somewhere nearby.
But what if the quality is less important to you than quantity? Well, as ever, Tula has you covered.
Their boxer-primed, non-corrosive, steel-cased won’t win any awards for accuracy, and the velocities you’ll get are going to be about as consistent as a politician’s opinions, but they go bang 99.99% of the time.
If you’re looking for bulk ammo that you can “buy cheap, and stack deep” Tula isn’t the worst choice, and it’s better than some of the cheaper brass-cased ammo options out there.
And if you have something like a .45 ACP carbine, or maybe one of those awesome Thompson SMG replicas, and you just want to be able to empty a magazine without worrying about it being so expensive you drop your credit score, this ammo may be a good option.
Best .45 ACP Competition Ammo
If you’re competing, whether its USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun, Steel Challenge or whatever crazy new sport the kids are doing these days, quality ammo is important. If you don’t have the money, time, energy, or garage space for reloading your own brass, choosing quality factory-loaded ammo is vital to your success in matches.
Trust me, nothing is less fun than having to stop in the middle of a stage to clear a malfunction caused by crappy ammo. This ammo will prevent such a situation.
Fiocchi is one of the best brands out there for quality, affordable brass ammo. I know quite a few shooters who use Fiocchi almost exclusively (and their pro team does pretty well also). Of the competition-grade stuff that I tested, I got velocities almost as consistent as my hand loads.
Best of all, it’s relatively affordable. We competition shooters tend to go through a few thousand rounds a month, and that isn’t cheap no matter how you slice it, so having a cheaper option in the competition space is vital for those shooters who don’t reload.
Fiocchi also makes good defensive ammo.
I can’t talk about competition ammo without talking about the good folks (and my neighbors) at Atlanta Arms.
Located just down the road from me in Covington, Georgia, Atlanta Arms is one of the few boutique ammo manufacturers that load ammo specifically to meet power factor requirements for things like USPSA. They also do everything they can to minimize recoil, giving you an advantage whenever you compete.
Their Steel-Challenge loads, in particular, are so soft-shooting that the .45 ACP options feel more akin to low-powered 9mm.
They make absolutely great range/competition ammo, and they offer some excellent bulk discounts aimed at competitors. I shoot their stuff almost exclusively these days because I can get it at my local range, and in large quantities.
If I’m not shooting my own hand-loads out of my 9mm or 5.56/.223 firearms, I’m probably shooting their ammo, and I’m interested in trying their PRS offerings too.
Note: I’m not affiliated with them in any way, never gotten anything from them, don’t know anybody there. I just really like their ammo. And I think you will too.
Best .45 ACP Self-Defense Ammo
If you’re carrying a 1911, or a .45 of any kind for self-defense, you need good ammo. Something with good velocity, expansion, and penetration.
The FBI recommends a round that will give you 12”-18” of penetration to ensure the bullet reaches the vitals, and all the rounds here will penetrate in that range, and will expand reliably once they hit something soft. I’m pulling my numbers from the awesome bullet penetration testing that our friends at Lucky Gunner did.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to defend my life with these rounds, and one even saved my life once.
Speer Gold Dots are a law-enforcement favorite, and the new 185gr load improves on the much-beloved Gold Dots by giving us a higher velocity round that’s still within that magic 12”-18” penetration range on the ballistics gel.
Gold Dots, like a lot of high-end hollowpoints, use a bonded construction which prevents the outer hard copper jacket from separating from the softer, but heavier lead core. When that separation happens, most of the round’s energy dissipates fairly quickly.
The process that Speer uses is one of the best in the industry and actually creates a chemical bond between the jacket and the core. This virtually eliminates the problem of separation.
This really helps with defeating barriers (thick clothes, car windows, your attacker’s arm) and keeps the bullet solid. This new smaller, faster projectile also really helps with penetration after hitting the target.
With modern hollowpoints, having the biggest bullet around doesn’t matter quite as much due to the way rounds expand on impact, effectively creating a larger wound channel. So the tradeoff for a faster round is more than worth it here.
Federal’s LE line is, as you might have guessed, designed to meet law-enforcement standards for penetration and expansion (one day I’ll be able to type that without giggling to myself like I’m still in middle school).
This bonded hollowpoint is designed to maintain as much of its weight as possible when passing through thick clothing, fur, and bone. It’s a +P load that will leave a standard 1911 barrel at 950fps, which is pretty good velocity for such a big chunk of metal.
The case is nickel-plated brass, which is reloadable, but slicker than regular brass cases for easy feeding and extraction.
Finally, this particular LE round penetrated an average of 14.7” in the Lucky Gunner testing, and expanded to an average diameter of .842”. That’s a .45 caliber bullet leaving a .84 caliber exit wound. Not bad at all, and certainly adequate for self-defense.
Full-disclosure, I’m not sponsored by Hornady in any way either. I asked them for ammo one time, and they very politely told me to screw off. That said, Critical Defense FTX is what I carry in all my self-defense guns.
In the Lucky Gunner testing, the bullets penetrated an average of 13.9” and expanded an average of .62”. Not the best expansion, but still plenty good enough. My own ballistics gel tests included this load, and I got an average expansion of .71”.
The FTX bullet is a little different from most hollowpoints in that it has a flexible polymer filling in the hollowed-out space. This prevents the bullet from becoming clogged with foreign material that could hinder expansion, and forces that expansion to occur at a consistent rate.
Also, these are the ones that saved my life. In 2015, I was walking our property while carrying a Ruger SR1911 loaded with this round. As I was walking, I was attacked by a feral dog that weighed almost 80 lbs.
If I hadn’t been carrying a gun loaded with quality self-defense ammo, I might not be here to write this today. 80lbs of dog is a lot of dog to have to put down, but the FTX hollowpoints did the job.
Other Self-Defense Options
There are a number of other hollowpoint options out there, and since 1911’s can be so very picky about ammo, I’m going to suggest trying these listed options first, and then if your gun doesn’t like it, you can try something else.
I highly recommend checking out the results from the Lucky Gunner testing if that’s the case. These guys put a lot of work into testing damn near every ammo option out there in the self-defense space, and their results can help give you an idea of your chosen ammo’s real-world performance.
Pay special attention to rounds within that 12”-18” penetration range, and at least 70% expansion.
The venerable .45 ACP may be showing its age, but like a heavy-weight boxer past his prime, I still wouldn’t want to get hit by one. This awesome round is still popular, and with good reason.
I hope you found some ammo options on this list helpful, and I hope you and your 1911 (or whatever) are happy with your choice. There’s a lot of great ammo options out there that I didn’t include on this list, so let me know which of your favorites I left out.