Best .45 ACP Ammo [2019]: Home Defense & Target Practice

Got a shiny .45 ACP pistol and want to feed it the best?

.45 ACP Ball vs Hollowpoint
.45 ACP Ball vs Hollowpoint

Read on to see how we chose our recommendations of the best ammo for home defense and target shooting.  Plus a couple places to buy it for cheap!

The Testing

The .45 ACP is a slow moving but heavy round that is well-known for its stopping power.  1911 anyone?

9mm vs .45 ACP
9mm vs .45 ACP

I like the popular adage…”the 9mm will kill the body, the .45 will kill the soul.”

9mm Kills Your Body
9mm Kills Your Body

The 9mm has caught up with new bullet technology, but there’s no disputing that a big fat round will still do some serious damage.

Popular Pistol Calibers
Popular Pistol Calibers

Testing Background

One of our favorite places to buy ammo from, Lucky Gunner, ran an epic test of self defense ammo.  We condense it down into the absolute best .45 ACP ammo from the results.

Here’s a brief overview of what they did which closely follows standard FBI procedures:

  • Shot 10 feet away
  • 4 layers of fabric in front of the ballistics gel to make for a “worst case” scenario of a really bundled up bad guy
Gel with 4 Layers
Gel with 4 Layers
  • Ideal penetration of 12-18 inches.  More than 18 inches might go completely through the baddie and hit something you didn’t intend on hitting.  While having a 12 inch minimum protects against thicker than usual targets and the possibility of hitting something before the torso.
  • 5 shots for more data
5 Shots into Ballistic Gel
5 Shots into Ballistic Gel
  • More compact gun.  Most tests are run with a full-sized pistol but Lucky Gunner used a compact Kahr CW45 with a 3.64″ barrel compared with a 5″ barrel of full-sized guns.  The reasoning is that most defensive situations might entail smaller guns and because of the smaller barrels, the velocity drops a little bit from the manufacturer’s data.
Kahr CW45
Kahr CW45

While with other calibers that have more variance of standard bullet weights, we stuck with the most popular 230 gr .45 ACP round because it’s the weight that we shoot 100% of the time.

Note, if you’re using a 1911 (and you should always try your self-defense ammo anyways), please test out a bunch of self defense ammo to make sure the jacketed hollow points (JHP) feed.  Some 1911’s are finicky and only like full metal jacket (FMJ/ball) ammo.

And why JHP rounds for self-defense?  Expansion is always better since it transfers almost all of the energy into the baddie and prevents most over-penetration.

Here are our suggestions:

Best .45 ACP Ammo for Home Defense & Target Practice

1. Federal .45 ACP 230 gr HST

Penetration depth is right in the 12-18″ sweet zone, with great expansion on all five rounds, and good velocity for a shorter barrel.  Since the penetration is an average of 14″, this round would likely be fine (no over-penetration) in longer barrels as well.

My personal favorite brand (Federal HST) and what I use in my 9mm too.

  • Average Penetration: 14″
  • Average Expansion: .85″
  • Average Velocity: 822 ft/sec
Best .45 ACP Self-Defense
27.99
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

.45 ACP 230 gr HST
.45 ACP 230 gr HST

What’s your take on the HST?

Readers' Ratings

4.97/5 (227)

Your Rating?

2. Speer .45 ACP 230 gr Gold Dot

Penetration is slightly less than the HST which may suit it better for longer barrels.  Expansion is still great and velocity is slightly lower, which probably affects the penetration.

  • Average Penetration: 12.9″
  • Average Expansion: .71″
  • Average Velocity: 752 ft/sec
Speer 230 gr Gold Dot
Speer 230 gr Gold Dot

3. Federal .45 ACP +P Tactical Bonded LE

If more pressure/velocity is the name of the game for you, I recommend this newer round.  Great penetration, awesome expansion, and slightly higher velocity due to the +P (but not by much).  Law Enforcement model.

  • Average Penetration: 14.6″
  • Average Expansion: .86″
  • Average Velocity: 887 ft/sec
33.25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Federal 230 Tactical Bonded P Expansion
Federal 230 Tactical Bonded +P Expansion

Now how about the best .45 ACP ammo for practice and the range?

I’ve shot a lot of .45 ACP through my 1911 and here are a few of my favorites that always fed well and went bang!  I stay with brass cased name brand ammo since I had bad luck with steel-cased and cheaper ammo.

4. American Eagle .45 ACP 230 gr

Great deals last year but I feel there’s still a surplus.  So now I’m starting with AE first.

5. Blazer Brass .45 ACP 230 gr

Usually the cheapest brass cased round in other calibers.  But always reliable and good to go.  Brass is a little hard to reload so it’s great if you are at a range or class where you can’t pick up spent brass.

6. PMC Bronze .45 ACP 230 gr

My go to brand for range shooting ammo.  Sometimes ends up cheaper than Blazer and is great brass to reload.

Conclusion

If you want to see the full results from Lucky Gunner, check their post out here.

So there you have it…our recommendations for the best self/home defense and range target shooting ammo.

Let us know which ones you went with and how they run in your gun.  Or head to our Ammo & Reloading section for more!

21 Leave a Reply

  • Pat

    Eric, I just traded for a Kimber CDP Ultra II. What do you recommend with the 3” barrel in .45 Auto ammo?

    1 year ago
    • Keith S

      Anytime you are shooting a concealed carry gun especially if the barrel is 4-inch or shorter, you should always use +P ammo. This is especially true in guns with 3.3-inch barrels. That is a lot less distance that the projectile has to build up the speed from the pressure of the powder. Therefore, you need more powder to get that terminal velocity at the muzzle. This rule is also true for people who shoot with compensated barrels. You should measure from the beginning of your chamber to wear the first compensation hole is at in the barrel. This will determine your actual barrel length and then you should pick your ammo the reason. You should go to +P ammo on a compensated barrel as well because at the first compensation hole, you are starting to expel gases and it is normally at about this point the projectile will stop accelerating because you are losing pressure and about reached its highest speed. As a projectile continues down the barrel and opens more and more compensation ports letting more and more gas escape from behind the projector the less muzzle velocity speed you will have. I have actually chronographed many 3.3- inch and 5-inch barrels with many different brand name +P ammo. I have seen some 3.3-inch barrels have a muzzle velocity of 190 FPS less than a 5-inch barrel 45ACP. Now this is due to many factors, with the biggest being barrel length. This is exactly the reason why I carry Federal HST +P LE ammo in my 45ACP carry gun. On average, I have found it to only lose about 85 FPS with a 3.3-inch barrel.

      1 second ago
  • Anthony V

    What is the threshold for what is considered a longer barrel? 4+ or 5+ inches?

    1 year ago
  • John Woodward

    My choices were the same as yours again choosing the Federal Ammunition. However, Winchester has some 45acp hollow points with some impressive credentials My 1911 Colt doesn't not fuss about whatever I shoot in it.

    1 year ago
  • Steve Graham

    From personal and professional experience (30 years OCSD), your 45acp review is spot on!!!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Awesome, thanks Steve!

      1 year ago
  • Joel K

    Wondering why Winchester Ranger-T wasn't mentioned? It currently seems to be a little hard to find but if anything, according to the Lucky Gunner data, it meets if not surpasses your testing criteria when compared to the home defense rounds mentioned here. Just an honest question, no bias here.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Joel, that one might have been recently added to their list (says ***NEW*** next to it)...we'll be updating soon too.

      1 year ago
  • Mark Wynn

    Did not consider various Hornady ...? hmmm

    1 year ago
    • Chuck

      Critical Defense is the only Hornady product to consider. "Custom" and "American Gunner" are so-so and Critical Duty is to be avoided like the plague if you are serious about stopping a threat as fast as possible and surviving.

      1 year ago
  • Mark Wynn

    Hornady FTX, in .45, .380 and .22 WMR

    1 year ago
  • Chris Brosnahan

    Winchester Ranger is the same as the discontinued Black Talon...only the black oxide, (along with the name) coating is missing...simply rebranded stuff that really worked, but without the stigma perpetrated by the ignorant MSM...I have a stash of the Black Talon which I use in the first magazines of my 1911s and other .45 ACP pistols.

    2 years ago
  • Mitch Prodani

    What happens if you miss the first shot which is very likely. That's why I use 1 or 2 Flak.45 rds and the rest golden saber

    2 years ago
  • Tuan Tran

    Hi Eric, Is the Speer LE Gold Dot 45 auto 230 Gr (53966) legal for civilian use in California?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      As far as I know it shouldn't be...but I would still check with your local laws.

      2 years ago
  • Mike

    Winchester 230 gr Ranger T-Series: Wow…great penetration, INSANE expansion, and even faster velocity than the above +P round. --> With stats like these it’s hard to find anyplace that has it in stock. <-- If you do find it in stock, you learn that only LE can order it. I really want these for my G30SF.

    2 years ago
  • Roger P

    Hi Eric. I currently have a SW Sigma 9mm, that I enjoy shooting, but, concealing is not always easy/comfortable. I'm leaving towards Springfield XDS .45 ACP. it's small and reliable, making it ideal to carry. My buddy has a Shield .40 and tried to talk me into one. I figure, gun buying is a rare treat for me, so, get the best bang for my buck, pun definitively intended! Now Springfield is offering an XDS .40 cal. Question is, for everyday carry and home defense, as my closest gun at night, due to the location of my handgun storage versus long guns, of the 9mm, .40 or .45 ACP....Price difference being not an issue, what gun would you choose and why?

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Roger, I'm a big fan of the 9mm since it's easier to control, the mags will hold more since it's a smaller round, and the self-defense rounds pack tons of punch. If you have a significant other, I've found that my wife loves my 9mm but HATES the .45 ACP. Just something else to consider. Let me know what you end up choosing.

      3 years ago
      • Roger P

        I haven't had the luxury to shoot a .45. Living in Massachusetts there are loss of hunters, but less enthusiasts that are friends. I shot the .40 cal Shield and the kick was acceptable. I'd prefer the 9 for rapid fire....which with two 16 round mags can give me a lot of betbreathing room. I love the 9, just hard to conceal and I hate taking it and having to leave it in the vehicle because Iof concealment fears. That being said, a hit with the .45 negates having larger mags, unless there's lot's of bad guys if of course. Thanks for the follow up. I'll let ya know when I do buy.

        3 years ago
        • Roger

          Figured I'd follow up with you Eric. I wanted the XDS but live in stupid law land of Massachusetts and the xds is not approved. Nor were my next choices the M&P45C or the PPS M2. My local shop had a deal I couldn't resist on an M&P 45, full size though. It was from NY so it had the 6lb trigger versus MA compliant 10.5lb trigger which is legal to purchase. Nice! Meets NRA standard for good on wear, less than a 1000 round fired, no questions asked return...for $399. Throw in an N82 tactical inside belt holster, plus 50 rounds of 185 gr. PPU SJHP and it's just about what I would have spent on a new Shield 40 alone. Haven't gotten to test drive it yet...soon, real soon. It's concealable, barely. Definite "whale tail" in my shirt but within the law. It will hold me over until the others get compliance, then I have a tough choice to make. Talk to you soon, Roger

          3 years ago
          • ehung

            Sounds like a great deal!

            3 years ago
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