January 02, 2018
By Brad Miller, Ph.D.
As many shooters know, the .45 ACP is the All-American pistol cartridge. It was the creation of John M. Browning, one of America's most prolific and talented gun and cartridge designers. When he created the .45 ACP in 1904-05, it pushed a 200-grain bullet to 900 fps. That load evolved into a 230-grain bullet moving at 850 fps.
Today's .45 ACP factory loads push 230-grain bullets at velocities ranging from the low 800s to the high 800s in fps. Several manufacturers offer +P loads that push 230-grain bullets over 900 fps, and some boutique ammo manufacturers (Buffalo Bore, DoubleTap, Underwood) claim to push 230-grain bullets up to around 1,000 fps at standard or +P pressures.
The usual way to get more speed is to add more powder. This also means more pressure. At some point you reach the pressure limit, and that's where +P comes to the rescue. It raises the pressure limit, allowing more speed. The .45 ACP has a SAAMI pressure limit of 21,000 psi; the +P version raises the limit to 23,000 psi.
If you want more speed than what the .45 ACP offers, you might have to look to a different cartridge. The .45 Super is the next step up, and it raises the pressure limit to 28,000 psi. It will push a 230-grain bullet to 1,100 fps. Externally, the .45 Super is the same as the .45 ACP, so the Super can be fired in a .45 ACP chamber, but guns generally need some modifications to handle the increased recoil.
Even farther up the scale is the .45-caliber .460 Rowland. It drives a 230-grain bullet to 1,400 fps . But the Rowland case is longer than the .45 ACP case and requires a longer chamber, although the cartridge overall length is the same.
That's the factory-loaded ammunition situation. Handloaders generally have a distinct advantage because they can carefully select different powders to reach their desired speed at pressures that might be lower than those generated by factory ammo.
Handloaders can find several loads that duplicate factory velocities of the .45 ACP and +P versions. The Western Powders reloading manual shows that Silhouette, True Blue, Accurate No. 5, and Accurate No. 7 can push 230-grain bullets close to or over the 1,000-fps mark when loaded to +P pressures.
There is one powder that will push 230-grain bullets to near .45 Super velocities yet remain within standard .45 ACP pressure limits. That powder is Ramshot Enforcer. Ramshot used to publish this data in its reloading manual, but it is not included in the current Western Powders load manual, which combines data from Ramshot and Accurate Powders.
I asked Western Powders if there was a reason why the Enforcer data was not in the current manual, such as whether it was no longer considered appropriate or safe. A company spokesman replied that the data was still valid, and the reason it was not included was because they felt it was not a very efficient powder for the .45. They thought faster-burning powders would give better results.
Efficient is a relative term. It depends on what you want to achieve. If it's high velocity, we handloaders use whichever powder will produce it and stay within safe pressure limits. It might require a lot of a certain powder to deliver those speeds.
Enforcer pushes 230-grain bullets fast, by which I mean 1,078 fps kind of fast, and that's at a pressure of 19,636 psi, which is below the maximum standard (not +P) pressure limit. What's not to love about those numbers?
Putting Enforcer to the Test
Naturally, I had to try Enforcer to see if it really delivers that kind of velocity. The old Enforcer data used a variety of bullets, including Star bullets, which are no longer made, so I had to make some substitutions. The Ramshot data used Magnum primers. That's no surprise, since Enforcer is spherical and considered a slow-burning pistol powder, and sometimes that type of powder burns best with a Magnum primer.
I also loaded some rounds with other powders that produce high velocities with 230-grain bullets, though these loads were rated +P in their respective loading manuals. They included Alliant BE-86, Ramshot Silhouette, Accurate No. 5, and Accurate No. 7. I wanted to see how the standard-pressure Enforcer loads stacked up to the +P loads of the other powders. I followed the load data closely to avoid exceeding +P pressures.
It's important for handloaders to remember that changing components from what was used to develop published loads can result in pressure changes. If you change any component, you must work your loads up from reduced charged weights and watch for signs of high pressure. And remember that your gun is different than the test equipment the manufacturers used to develop the loads, which can result in different pressures and velocities.
I also included factory ammunition from Underwood with 230-grain bullets in this comparison. I selected a .45 ACP +P version that claims 1,000 fps and a .45 Super load that claims 1,100 fps.
The recoil from these heavy loads is a little brutal. After all, this isn't a 230-grain bullet at 850 fps. I checked some numbers and found that 14.2 grains of Enforcer pushing a 230-grain bullet at 1,078 fps produces 11.6 ft-lbs of recoil (in a 2-pound gun). Compared with a 230-grain bullet at 850 fps driven by 6.2 grains of Unique (data from Hornady's reloading manual) that produces only 6.6 ft-lbs of recoil, we're talking about 76 percent more recoil with the heaviest Enforcer loads.
The concern with heavy recoil is that the gun will get battered. Setting up a pistol for a steady diet of +P or .45 Super ammunition generally involves using a stronger recoil spring, a heavy-power firing pin spring (where appropriate), a stronger hammerspring (where appropriate), and a shock buffer. A barrel with good case support has also been suggested when using .45 Super ammunition. I recommend you check with a competent gunsmith for advice.
I cheated a little when I test-fired this ammunition. I didn't use my usual .45 ACP pistol. Instead, I used a gun with a compensator to slow down slide velocity. My test gun had a Para frame and a Caspian slide with a Clark 5.0-inch barrel and an EGW three-port compensator. The compensator effectively tamed the heavy recoil from these loads, but if you're using a non-compensated pistol, stronger recoil springs are highly recommended.
To obtain the accuracy results, the gun was fired at 25 yards mounted in a Ransom Rest, and accuracy was derived from a single 10-shot group. Velocity was recorded at 7 feet from the gun's muzzle and was the average of 10 shots.
The Enforcer loads with 230-grain FMJ bullets did not quite achieve their published velocities in my test gun, but they were close. The published speed was as high as 1,078 fps, whereas the fastest average speed I reached was 1,040 fps. However, I must point out that the published loads clocked their highest speeds with a different FMJ bullet (Star). My highest average velocity was achieved with the Hornady 230-grain XTP bullet. That value is slightly above the published speed of 1,022 fps, and it is 42 to 89 fps faster than the other powders produced at +P pressures, giving Enforcer the edge on velocity and with much lower pressure.
The other powders tested with FMJ bullets actually exceeded some of their predicted top speeds and were on par with the Enforcer results. The load with Accurate No. 7 was the fastest, topping out at 1,077 fps. However, these other powders were operating at +P pressures, and the Enforcer loads are listed as below the standard .45 ACP pressure limit.
The factory loads from Underwood using the same Hornady 230-grain XTP bullet produced velocities that exceeded their published numbers. The .45 ACP +P load measured 1,076 fps, well above the 1,000 fps published speed. Enforcer's performance was slightly below that. The Underwood ammo was extremely accurate, measuring 0.98 inch. Again, that's for a single 10-shot group at 25 yards.
Underwood's .45 Super load clocked 1,182 fps, which was well above its 1,100 fps published speed, and its 25-yard, 10-shot accuracy was 2.17 inches. That's impressive performance.
Ramshot Enforcer powder definitely has a place in a handloading manual because it can push 230-grain bullets in the .45 ACP to muzzle velocities over 1,000 fps and stay within standard pressure limits. I think it's a valuable tool for .45 ACP handloaders.
As I stated before, efficiency is a relative term, and while some ballisticians might quibble over the efficiency of powders, many handloaders are more interested in performance and will use whatever works. The folks at Western Powders should reconsider including the Enforcer data for the .45 ACP in the next version of their loading manual.