The most beloved self-defense round of all time may just be the .45 ACP or .45 Auto. It was created by J. Browning and has seen major action in both world wars, as well as countless other conflicts. There is no other way to classify the round other than one of the single most effective man stoppers on the market. This means that the .45 ACP is one of the first things that potential gun owners are going to shop for when they’re looking for a defensive handgun.
Most of the .45 ACP pistols you see on best-of lists are a batch of the newest 1911 rehashes that really only appeal to folks who like that form factor. I love 1911-style handguns, but there are a lot more pistols out there that fire .45 Auto rounds. This means there should be something on this list for most tastes, purposes, and most importantly, budgets.
Best .45 ACP Pistols
- Glock 21 Gen4
- Springfield Armory XD-E Semi-Auto Pistol
- Walther PPQ M2 Semi-Auto Pistol
- FN FNX-45 Tactical Semi-Auto Pistol
- Sig Sauer P220 Combat Semi-Auto Pistol
- Ruger SR1911 Semi-Auto Pistol
- SMITH & WESSON M&P 45 SHIELD
- Heckler Koch USP Compact V1 .45 ACP Pistol
Glock 21 Gen4
Glock is one of the top names in reliability and capacity when it comes to .45 ACP handguns. The 21 has long been thought of as a .45 Auto benchmark in terms of speed and performance. With a total capacity of 14 shots, this is a top-tier firearm for a modest price.
- 13+1 capacity
- 4.5” barrel
- Easy to assemble and disassemble
Springfield Armory XD-E Semi-Auto Pistol
This single-stack only gives you 5+1, but with .45 Auto you shouldn’t need half of that. The special loaded chamber indicator gives a little extra safety This is one of the more compact .45 pistols and was ultimately designed with concealed carry in mind.
- 3.3” barrel
- 6.5” long
- 21.5 ounces
- Usually retails for between $500 and $600
Walther PPQ M2 Semi-Auto Pistol
The brand of Bond brings you an incredibly accurate and powerful pistol straight out of the box. It has a 12 round magazine, along with 3 safeties to ensure positive operation. Slide grips make it easy to charge, while the accessory rail allows for simple attachments.
- Three built-in safeties
- Loaded chamber indicator
- 4.2” & 4.9” barrel options
- 28 ounces
FN FNX-45 Tactical Semi-Auto Pistol
If you are looking for a full size .45, the FNX-45 gives you a massive capacity and is available in two barrel length options. This is an incredibly customizable pistol, with nearly every part capable of being swapped out or changed. If price is an object for you, though, you mayneed to wait for a sale.
- 15+1 capacity
- 4.5” & 5.3” barrel options
- Very low recoil
- Price tops out around $1.3K
Sig Sauer P220 Combat Semi-Auto Pistol
This is a combat pistol that does everything right. It’s no wonder Sig Sauer was chosen most recently to provide pistols for the military. The super-light aluminum frame is a pleasant change of pace from other .45 ACPs. The sights work at night, and overall it’s very customizable.
- Dual-action & single-action operation
- Three lug Picatinny rail for attachments
Ruger SR1911 Semi-Auto Pistol
The Ruger SR1911 is a classic semi-automatic pistol with a rich history. It was the standard-issue 45 caliber sidearm that the United States Armed Forces trusted as their go-to firearm from 1911 to 1985. It has a stainless steel body and has a light, crisp trigger pull.
- 7+1 & 8+1 variants available
- 4.25” & 5” barrel options
- Beavertail safety
- Generally costs $700-$900
SMITH & WESSON M&P 45 SHIELD
Another compact .45 Auto that lives up to its name. The Shield is a great defensive pistol that is simple to conceal and snag-free to draw. It holds a modest middle ground in capacity holding 8 shots, and it is based on a polymer frame, so it’s incredibly light.
- Just 1” wide
- Thumb safety
- Usually costs less than $500
Heckler Koch USP Compact V1 .45 ACP Pistol
This compact pistol is a favorite for several reasons. It is available in 40 S&W, .45 Auto, and 9mm. This small-framed handgun gives you the best of both worlds. It’s compact and easy to conceal, while being large enough to use a full-hand grip. You have the option of different magazines, some are more low profile than others.
- Corrosion resistance keeps it working well longer
- Ambidextrous magazine release
- Universal mounting for easy customization
There are entire blog post series about the benefits of .45 Auto. There are easily dozens of reasons that you may choose to go with .45 Auto over any other caliber, but here are the big reasons that the .45 ACP has remained so popular for nearly 120 years.
This is a big one. The .45 ACP has seen official action across two World Wars and several other conflicts, incursions, and operations. It has proven itself across millions of rounds as the supreme self-defense round. The Army as well as the Cavalry decided that they needed something that was far more substantial than the .38 caliber rounds that were letting them down.
It was at this point that they determined that they absolutely needed a .45 caliber round. This led to the production of the .45 Auto, which was similar in ballistics to other .45 rounds of the era, being the standard from its adoption by 1911 until 1985.
This battle-hardened, war-proven performance is what keeps many older shooters loyal, and what draws many new shooters into the caliber. There is a group of enthusiasts that do think that the .45 ACP is over-hyped for its level of performance, but the caliber is a well-established favorite.
Since it has remained so popular and prevalent, the bullet market is constantly evolving and changing. Since .45 caliber rounds allow for more machining and refinement at the production level, there is an amazing variety of different types of ammo available for the .45.
The variety and availability of the .45 ACP ammo are some of the strong points of this caliber that will be hard for smaller rounds to consistently imitate. There exists a very large array of bullet weights, load power, tip type, and even materials to choose from.
Since the round enjoys a consistent demand and fanbase, it will continue to remain one of the most common and popular ammunition calibers. This also means that as technology continues to advance and evolve, so will .45 ACP bullets.
If you are the type to reload your spent brass, .45 Auto will be one of the better calibers for you to fall in love with. This is true particularly if you are just starting out in the reloading hobby. A great feature of .45 rounds is that they are very forgiving at the reloading bench. Some cartridges are relatively difficult to reload well, but the .45 ACP makes it accessible to even the newest of the newbies.
To a lot of shooters, this may not sound like a big deal. Those shooters probably don’t burn enough brass to make reloading worth it, to be honest. When you take into account the average price of .45 ACP on the shelf, reloading those casings for a tenth of what you paid initially can save you a lot more money than you realize.
Let’s face it, some of us just have bigger mitts than others. This means that our geometry when holding and firing a weapon can be less than ideal. Trying to be nimble with a smaller pistol can be challenging at some points, and downright difficult at others. This makes the often larger frame that makes up many of the popular .45 ACP pistols much more comfortable to hold.
The increased weight of the larger frame can feel more solid and substantial in your hand as well. This can also be a downside, too. If you have smaller hands, it can be incredibly difficult, though not impossible, to safely handle and fire. The weight can exacerbate this issue for those with smaller hands.
This large frame also has the secondary benefit of providing more space for accessories. The longer slide will have plenty of room for a comfortable sight, laser, and even a tactical light. Spacing things out on the larger .45 ACP pistols helps keep your attachments from interfering with your grip.
There are tons of upsides, and while these points may not specifically be downsides depending on how you look at them, they certainly may impact your decision or buying process.
There are many beginner-friendly aspects of .45 ACP pistols, but when it comes down to it, it really isn’t a caliber for a beginner. If you don’t own any other guns and have only interacted minimally with firearms, a .45 caliber won’t be ideal.
The learning curve to become proficient with .45 Auto is also much steeper than with smaller caliber rounds. The bullets are much heavier, and even though they are more powerful, they are often far slower. This can affect ballistics in significant ways, making learning how to shoot on a .45 caliber a very challenging task.
Compared to most pistols, .45 ACP pistols are considered heavy. Many first-timers that pick one up are surprised at how heavy they are for their size. When you fire the gun, you will need to solidly control the weight of that pistol as it recoils. Frequently, the strength of this recoil is relatively strong, and can even cause injury with poor shooting form.
As we talked about, .45 ACP rounds are quite a bit larger than many other rounds. Bigger diameter rounds mean fewer rounds in the magazine. Some of this can be mitigated with a double-stack magazine, but the bullets are also heavy, so more of them can really add to the weight. This is one of the compromises that .45 ACP devotees make.
This is one that is hard to get around. Sure, you can find some sales here and there, bulk order with some friends or neighbors, but anyway you slice it, .45 ACP ammo is not cheap. This is another compromise that we make for the love of the .45. It’s understandable, the bullets are bigger, heavier, and more powerful than smaller calibers, so there are more materials and machining needed.