45 ACP Should Be Your Alternate Pistol Caliber

.45 ACP cartridges with a GLOCK 30

It’s no secret that ammunition in common calibers is in short supply at the moment. And if it is available, prices may be marked up, often severely. The conventional wisdom is to own at least one firearm of several common calibers. But what happens when even a “ubiquitous” caliber runs in short supply?

You’ll need an alternate caliber - in the case of pistols, it should be the venerable .45 ACP, developed by the Gun Jesus himself, John Moses Browning.

This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of 9mm at all, by the way. 9mm is the standard pistol caliber for the world. Every modern military force has embraced it, along with most law enforcement agencies around the world. And here in the US, it is most definitely the caliber of choice for the armed citizen. And for good reason - it’s a very forgiving cartridge in terms of recoil, and modern loads such as the Speer 9mm Gold Dot 124gr +P will stop the threat.

But what happens when those magical 9mm are hard to find?

Enter .45 ACP.

A Little History On .45 ACP

Way back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the US military had a problem. The standard-issue .38 Long Colt round simply was proving ineffective at stopping the threats encountered during the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines. Soldiers reported scoring multiple hits on advancing adversaries. Now, at some point the enemy combatants would bleed out and stop, but for those many tense minutes between being struck and stopping, the adversary was still functional enough to manipulate his own weapon. The key to stopping a threat in a gunfight is a combination of ammunition selection and skill. If either is lacking, it’s a problem. Again, the soldiers were scoring hits, but it wasn’t working.

After this poor showing by the .38 Long Colt, sensible heads in the US military decided that a more powerful round was needed. The minimum was set to .45 caliber.

Conveniently enough, John Browning had already been working on a new pistol and cartridge design with Colt. Browning, seeing an opportunity, enlarged both the bore of his pistol and the caliber of his prototype, and in 1905, the .45 ACP was born. After a few years of trials, the .45 ACP, along with the famous M1911 pistol, was adopted by the military in 1911. Yes - the designs are now over 100 years old. Successful firearm concepts tend to hang around for a long time.

And hung around it did. The M1911 and .45 ACP combination remained the service pistol of choice for the US military until the 1980s, when it was finally retired in favor of the Beretta M9 service pistol, and it’s accompanying 9mm NATO service cartridge. Even after the M9’s introduction, some specialist units with the capability to purchase whatever they wanted, hung on to the .45 ACP cartridge. Because it worked.

In law enforcement circles, it remained in service with several departments and still is the caliber of choice for a few of them today. The FBI even considered using it as the caliber for their service weapons after the infamous Miami shootout in 1986 where agents simply didn’t have the proper firepower to respond to the threat. The Feds chose not to go with .45 ACP simply because a big caliber requires a big gun to be effective. Despite the legends, not all agents are built like the proverbial brick shithouses - some agents, especially the female ones, tended to be small, and having to manipulate a 1911 or equally-large service pistol from another manufacturer would prove problematic. Also, .45 ACP pistols usually hold less per magazine than similarly-sized 9mm pistols, and in a firefight, having more ammo on tap tends to be more of an advantage than having a bigger bullet. .45 doesn’t mean much if you miss 8 times and have to reload.

So why .45 ACP as an “alternate caliber”?

Magpul Accessories

Good Ideas Tend To Stick Around

Despite the limitations imposed by the firearms themselves, the .45 ACP cartridge is a well-established and solid performer. Any hollow-point load from a major ammo manufacturer today will pass the FBI’s gel tests for wounding and incapacitation. Most 9mm will as well, but you’ll have to do your research. .45 ACP from Federal, Speer, Hornady, etc - you’re set - no questions asked.

The success of the round has led to an amazingly established pool of firearms, accessories, and ammunition. Each and every major pistol manufacturer still has a firearm chambered in this classic all-American load. Plus, there’s plenty of pistol-caliber-carbines and submachine guns, including the Thompson, for the cartridge as well. .45 ACP is a stellar performer out of a PCC or submachine gun by the way.

The inventory is there, currently made, and supported.

An Established Manufacturing Base

9mm may be the caliber of choice for not only the US, but the world as a whole. Again, every modern military and most law enforcement agencies use the round in their service weapons. Most armed citizens do, as well. It’s ubiquitous, easy to shoot, and it works. Most manufacturers focus more on 9mm than .45 ACP output - but they haven’t discontinued .45 ACP.

During the recent (and as of this writing - ongoing) COVID-19/Coronavirus/Chinese Engineered Wuhan Virus/Beer Flu, there was a mad rush on all things gun-related, especially for the common pistol and rifle calibers. However, .45 ACP pistols and ammo were usually in stock in most places, owing to the overwhelming demand for 9mm. JMB’s venerable inventions were there, waiting for a buyer. Demand was and is there, but nowhere near the levels of 9mm.

Now imagine this was a true world-ending apocalyptic scenario. You’ve got your 9mm pistol, but things are looking a little bleak in terms of inventory. Everywhere you go, 9mm just isn’t there. It’s conceivable though that less popular calibers would be present, much as they were and are during this small crisis we have found ourselves in these days.

Manufacturers still crank out .45 ACP ammo and pistols, and development of new projectiles and loads continue to this day. Even Black Hills Ammunition, pretty much the pre-eminent maker of quality ammo in the world today, has developed a new non-expanding(!) round called the “Honey Badger”, which easily passes the FBI protocol tests.

Black Hills Honey Badger Gel Test - via Black Hills Ammunition

.45 ACP - Common And Not Hotly Contested

Even today, you can find pistols, pistol-caliber carbines, and ammo in .45 ACP. In the world of firearms, two is one, and one is none. You need backup and alternate firearms. Yes, consider a duplicate of your favorite handgun, but also consider a real “alternate” in case your favorite runs dry in either ammunition or spare parts. For me, it’s the .45 ACP. I know I can jump online right now and order as much .45 ACP ammunition as I need from one of many suppliers. Guns chambered in the round aren’t hard to come by either - that CMMG Banshee in .45 ACP is calling my name. In my mind, .45 ACP has the combination of the established base of over a century of manufacturing and innovation, coupled with being not-so-popular, but popular enough to warrant continued production. It’s not a bespoke crazy European round, but it’s not a ubiquitous common round that is subject to massive availability issues in times of crisis.

Think of it this way as well - it’s also kind of your duty as a Second Amendment Radical to have something with the touch of Gun Jesus on it.

45 ACP ammo at Lucky Gunner

.45 ACP Isn’t Hard To Shoot - It’s “Different”.

Some think that .45 ACP, by virtue of being a larger caliber, would be this stout-recoiling monster of a round to handle. Far from it actually. While it’s not as easy to handle as 9mm, the recoil and handling characteristics of .45 ACP, in my mind, can be best described as a heavy thump and a “push”, rather than a rapid “snap”. In a compact pistol, it can be managed. Out of a large pistol, it’s just too much fun. From a PCC or submachine gun - forget about it, you’ll be hooked. I had the pleasure of running a UMP 45 subgun by Heckler and Koch once - it just felt like a consistent heavy pushback - as if someone with a little bit of arm strength was just trying to push you backwards. You can train for it, in other words. Even smaller shooters can work with it.

And, it works. Again - .45 ACP rounds will most invariably pass the FBI standard tests, which are the benchmark for defensive rounds for both citizen and government use.

Yes, It’s Quintessentially American

Of course one cannot deny the cultural cachet of .45 ACP. From the 1911 to the Thompson, the guns of this caliber have served our nation for over a century, whether in use by military, law enforcement, or citizen use. Numerous cultural touchstones such as “.45, because they don’t make a .46” (well, there are .46 calber rounds…), and “.45 because it’s silly to shoot something twice…” are bandied about in gun discussions to this day. Plus, it’s a generational thing. .45 ACP has been passed down from parents to children and grandchildren. There’s 1911s from, well, 1911, that are now family heirlooms. There’s boxes of Federal and Super Vel from the 1940s that will chamber and still fire to this day. Like I said above, it’s pretty much also your duty to own something in the caliber. Be a Second Amendment Radical and do the spirit of John Moses Browning proud - own something in .45 ACP.

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.45 ACP