Looking for a .45 pistol? These 10 will get you on target.
What are the top .45 pistol options:
- CZ 97B
- Walther PPQ 45
- Springfield XD(M)
- Glock 21
- Ruger SR1911
- Sig Sauer P220
- Wilson Combat Classic
- Sig Sauer 1911 Tacops
- STI Tactical
- FN FNX 45
Fat and slow and exceedingly potent, the .45 ACP has captured the heart and mind of the American shooter for more than a century. While other cartridges have come and gone, arguably John M. Browning’s most influential contribution to the ammunition world has continued to soldier on. But why?
Certainly, there’s the fact it works. Designed as a man-stopper, the nearly ½-inch bullets the cartridge throws have proven more than persuasive against the most determined foes. Then there’s its history. Intertwined with most of America’s 20th-Century military conflicts — including both World Wars — the .45 has more than done its part in shaping our country’s story. Finally — perhaps most importantly — there are the firearms. From the 1911 pistol to the Thompson submachine gun and the M1917, there have been some truly iconic guns chambered for the slugger. And today, there’s still ample hardware to send the .45 flying in style.
More so than at any other time in the past, the .45 pistol is flourishing. Amazing, given all the competition it presently faces from guns chambered for old standbys such as the .380 ACP and 9mm, and newer upstarts such as 10mm and .40 S&W. And that’s only in the world of semi-automatics, there’s the whole realm of revolvers to consider too. Yet, it speaks volumes of what the .45 brings to the table. Though, it doesn’t do much to winnow down what the best .45 pistol option is for you.
Before we get to that let's take a quick look at why you might want to go .45 ACP in the first place.
Exceedingly Brief History Of The .45 ACP
As most know, even those who have little experience with the .45, it was called into duty in response to the U.S. Military’s experience in the Moro Rebellion (1903-1913). The standard issue military sidearm of the time, the Colt M1892 revolver firing .38 Long Colt, had a poor showing in a fight defined by close-quarters combat. Shot multiple times by the .38, the Moros would continue to hack away at a U.S. Soldiers with a balisong, machete or whatever edge weapon was at hand. Not a good situation, but one that was reversed in part by the military reverting to the Colt Model 1873, a .45 Colt famed for its use in the Old West. One shot by the larger caliber, in many cases, was all that was required to stop Moro or any other adversary dead in their track.
Lesson learned the military went hunting for a new cartridge and pistol to shoot it from in the early 1900s to replace the lackluster M1892. As luck would have it, John Browning was tinkering around with exactly these at the time — the .45 ACP in the Colt Model 1905. Long story short, exemplary showings in extensive testing, the cartridge made its way into military service in the legendary M1911 — essentially the evolution of the early 1905. From 1911 on, the pistol and cartridge served with distinction and both continue to see action, despite neither presently being standard issue in any branch of the armed services.
.45 ACP Considerations
Outside of a catastrophic shot to the brain or central nervous system, a round physically incapacitates through blood loss. In turn, the greater the permanent wound cavity, the greater the blood loss. Furthermore, the larger the projectile — combine with appropriate penetration — the better the likelihood a blood-rich vital organ or major artery buried deep in the human body will be damaged.
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In a military context, the extra bore diameter was particularly important in ensuring necessary damage was done, given the use of non-expanding ball ammunition. In the context of the .45 vs. the .38, the big-bore round produced a wound canal nearly 20-percent greater on a straight pass-through shot that didn’t yaw once entering the body. Additionally, the .45 Automatic Pistol Ball Cartridge was highly shootable. Out of a fully loaded M1911A1, it was as manageable as most standard polymer-framed 9mm so common today. This, in turn, meant it was possible to place multiple well-aimed shots where they’d do the most damage — a perfect recipe for neutralizing a threat.
In recent years, there’s been a leveling of sorts when it comes to calibers. Given the advancements in defensive ammunition, lesser calibers than the .45 ACP perform within the ballpark of the big-bore standard bearer. That is if they actually do perform. Often overlooked, not every hollow point, no matter caliber, will expand once in a target. A 1989 FBI study pegged only 60 to 70 percent did so after entering a human body. Though this rate is likely improved with modern ammunition, hollow points can and do fail for a variety of reasons — barriers, velocity and clothing, just to name a few. When they do, you’re purely relying on bullet diameter to do the required damage. In turn, as the largest commonly used self-defense round, the .45 ACP allots some peace of mind with its added girth.
Furthermore, it doesn’t exact an excessive toll for its performance. Absolutely, a .45 will generate more recoil than a 9mm when you compare like weight pistols. But, first off, it’s not an extreme amount, such as you’d find stepping up from the 9mm to most magnum revolvers. Next, it’s not always the case a .45 will produce more recoil than a lesser caliber.
A handgun’s weight is a key variable in the recoil a round will produce. The lighter the gun, the more it will buck — something that enthusiasts of the new micro nines are certain to have noticed. Load hot enough ammo in these small and lightweight guns, you have the potential of managing more recoil than you would with a full-sized 1911 shooting a mid-of-the-road round. Given this, the .45 is more than feasible for most shooters, if they are willing to choose their pistol and round carefully, plus spend the time required to master them.
The one consistent disadvantage of a .45 pistol is its economics. Simply put, it costs much more to shoot this caliber than nearly any other semi-automatic pistol. Target rounds aren’t through the roof, with the likes of American Eagle going for around .34 cents a round at Lucky Gunner. But step up to many defense ammunition options and they quickly inflate to $1 or more per-round. And always, a .45 will cost more than a 9mm to shoot.
A .45 pistol might sound right down your alley, in turn, you’re ready to start shopping. Given its relative popularity and the multitudes of options out there, it’s no easy task picking out the perfect make and model for your situation. There are many decent pistols in the caliber, way too many to put into one list. Therefore, there have been some parameters set for this particular list to home in on a more or less general category of .45 pistols. These factors included performance, shotability, versatility and practicality.
Overall, most of these pistols should perform, no matter if the objective is drilling bullseyes, beating the clock in competition or defending your life. They fall into the ‘Jack-of-all-trades' category. In turn, you’ll note race guns and compact models do not show up on the list. This isn’t a slide against any of those options, simply they’re not meant for this list. Furthermore, the list is split roughly at the $1,000 mark, giving you five budget models and five high-end options. Which should cover every budget outside the custom-gun class.
So, without further ado, here are 10 great .45 pistol options that hit nearly at every price point.
Big brother to CZ’s famed “Wonder Nine” — the CZ 75 — the DA/SA pistol brings many of the same advantages to the larger caliber. Chief among these is the .45 pistol’s capacity. Certainly, it’s not the 15-plus rounds the 75 packs, but with a 10-round double-stack magazine it brings plenty of firepower to the table.
A hefty pistol (41.3 ounces), it’s not a prime candidate for carry, but its bulk isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its weight soaks up recoil, making it ideal for competitors and .45 novices. Furthermore, the steel-framed pistol isn’t too much of a handful, even for those with smaller hands. It’s aluminum grips are on the slim side, making the 97B highly manageable. Best of all, it’s accurate as they come, especially in its price range. MSRP: $707
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what caliber you’re talking about, the PPQ performs. But as a .45, it has a load of advantages over its competition.
Among the most notable is its shootability, especially for a lighter .45 pistol. This is facilitated by ample grip real estate that gives you a firm handle on the gun, thus more control. Tack on the replaceable backstraps, there shouldn’t be a shooter who can’t rein this gun in. Additionally, the striker-fired is renowned for its crisp trigger and exceedingly short reset, making it an overall fast shooter.
Similar to most polymer-framed .45s, the PPQ’s ‘wow-factor’ is its capacity. Feeding off a 12-round double-stack magazine, the pistol keeps ample firepower on tap to handle nearly any situation. Though, it’s a double-edged sword, making the pistol a bit on the tall side. The PPQ .45 is a rock-solid defensive choice, but really it would excel in any role you wanted it to fill. MSRP: $699
Read More: Walther PPQ 45 Full Review
A great trigger and easy to shoot, it’s no wonder this .45 pistol has stood out in the crowded striker-fired market. The XD(M) just plain performs.
Boasting a 4.5-inch barrel, the pistol tends to be a smooth shooter with excellent accuracy potential, due to its long sight radius. It’s not the longest out there, nevertheless it has the chops for serious target duty if that’s your thing. Furthermore, for a full-sized pistol it also has svelte overall dimensions. It comes in at 1.2 inches in width, 5.75 inches in height and a relatively dainty 31 ounces unloaded.
While no compact, this definitely qualifies as a carry option. Furthermore, the 13+1 capacity pistol more than has what it takes to guard hearth and home. MSRP: $651
A Spartan beauty, Glock’s full-sized .45 ACP is simply a no-nonsense performer. While not as prolific as the 9mm G17, the G21 remains a top choice among law enforcement officials who want the best of all worlds — functionality, power and capacity. Few .45 pistols — particularly at this price point — offer as complete a package.
Now in its fourth generation, the G21 is more shootable than ever, given its interchangeable backstrap system. This addresses the common complaint of the older versions of the 13+1 double-stack — the girth of the grip. Furthermore, a shorter trigger reach makes firing the pistol highly intuitive, even if your digits are on the abbreviated side. Boasting a dual recoil spring assembly, the pistol tends to be a relatively mild shooter for caliber, particularly given its lightweight — just a hair above 29 ounces. One of the best values in .45 ACP, it’s difficult to go wrong with the G21. MSRP: $647
The .45 ACP built its reputation in the legendary 1911, but for many shooters it’s difficult to afford this potent combination. Ruger changed this considerably with the introduction of the SR1911 around seven years ago, giving shooters an affordable option in this classic that doesn’t compromise.
Where this is most notable is in the gun’s fit, not only slide to frame, but also barrel to bushing. The latter should be the case, given the unique milling process where the barrel and bushing are cut integral from the same bar stock. The small attention to detail is notable when you pull the skeletonized trigger, with the gun running tight as a drum.
The SR1911 comes with an 8-round magazine, is outfitted with drift-adjustable Novack three-dot sights, and has an oversized beavertail grip. Additionally, it does not have a firing pin safety, which should be music to 1911 purists ears. The one point that may not win favor, at least among left-handers, the thumb-safety is strictly a right-handed affair. Despite this and for its price, the SR1911 offers you everything you’d want out of this iconic gun design. MSRP: $939
Read More: Ruger SR1911 Officer's Model in .45 ACP
For some, the types that can’t abide crunchtickers, the P220’s trigger pull is about the only thing they can complain about. Even then, most of them have to admit, when it comes to DA/SA pistols it’s pretty dang sweet. And the rest of the gun? It’s as dependable as daybreak, chewing through anything it’s fed and asking for more. What’s more, it places the rounds where they need to go.
As far as .45 pistols go, the P220 has built a reputation as one of the most accurate in the caliber, and it feels that way in the hand. A high beavertail makes up for the lack of a low bore axis and helps make the pistol intuitive to aim and fast on follow-up shots. Furthermore, its 7.7-inch overall length delivers an excellent sight radius. While the pistol’s blocky form makes it look like it weighs a metric ton, it actually comes in at a wieldy 30 ounces. The only drawback, per se, is it feeds off 8-round magazines. MSRP: $1,087
Read More: SIG Sauer P220 Full Review
At first blush, Wilson Combat’s Classic appears nothing more than a plain Jane 1911. Get one in your hand, it proves to be anything but.
Manufactured to exceedingly tight specifications, the fit and finish of the pistol are superb, as is its performance. Plain and simple, it runs like a top.
Busting the stereotype 1911s are finicky when it comes to ammo, the Classic eats anything its fed, generally with impunity — ball, self-defense ammo, etc. Certainly, if you don’t mind weight on your hip, the Classic is a carry candidate. But, given its fully-adjustable sights, 5-inch match barrel and terse trigger (breaks at 3.5 to 4.5 pounds) it can pull down any duty you might demand of it — competition, home protection, precise target shooting.
Certainly, you foot a hefty bill with the Classic, but when it goes bang everytime you pull the trigger you’ll find it’s worth every penny. MSRP: $3,030
Over the years, SIG Sauer has made a name for itself as one of the top 1911 manufacturers. Its Tacops model does a pretty solid job of validating this contention. Refining the more than 100-year-old design, SIG has produced a gun exceeding modern standards and more than living up to contemporary shooters’ expectations.
Standing for “Tactical Operations,” the Tacops model comes decked out with a number of features that enhance its functionality. These include an integral accessory rail, Magwell, low-profile night sights and ambidextrous thumb safety. Furthermore, if you shoot suppressed there is a threaded-barreled version. As expected of a stainless-steel framed 1911, the .45 pistol is a tad on the heavy side. But it more than makes up for this with its functionality and performance. MSRP: $1,291
Generally thought of as a race gun company, STI has a host of more practical pistols aimed at home defense and concealed carry. Among the belles of the ball is the Tactical model, which arms you with all the advantages of a 1911 and a whole bunch more. That’s because, technically, it’s a 2011, which means the .45 pistol is a double stack variant of the classic design (something STI pioneered). The Tactical ships with two enhanced-capacity magazines, one 10 round and one 11 – solid firepower for what otherwise is a 1911.
Furthermore, the pistol has a number of other features that ensure it’s a quick and accurate shooter, including fixed tritium front sight and ledge rear, ambidextrous thumb safety, accessory rail, Magwell and a diamond-tough carbon finish. Unheralded, a truly practical attribute of STI’s Tactical is its grip, what the company calls a Tree Bark texture; it’s aggressive and locks the gun in the hand for total control. No a give-me in price, nevertheless with everything the Tactical offers it turns out to be a real value. MSRP: $1,999
Honestly, this pistol far exceeds being a simple firearm and extends into weapons system territory. FN has engineered answers to nearly any need or eventuality into the FNX 45 Tactical, making it one of the most capable handguns on the market.
Shoot suppressed? Not only does it come with a 5.3-inch threaded barrel, but also high-rise three-dot sights so you can still aim with a can mounted. Need an optic? The steel slide is cut for one and all but guarantees its resiliency against recoil and rough use. Incidentally, the sights are high enough that if your optic poops out you can still aim with them. Righty or lefty? Doesn’t matter, FN has made all the controls of the DA/SA pistol completely ambidextrous.
The bells and whistles aside, perhaps the biggest selling point of the FNX is its capacity — 15 rounds. That’s nearly unheard of, even in the sphere of double-stack .45 pistols. It’s a double-edged sword, however, making for a fairly wide grip and large overall gun with plenty of heft when fully loaded. MSRP: $1,349