The 9mm may be the current “ideal” cartridge for self-defense, but that fact counts for very little with a contingent of American shooters. For them, the premier cartridge the reigning champ and undisputed king of calibers for semi-auto pistols is the venerable, legendary .45 ACP.
If there is one quintessentially American pistol cartridge, it is this one. It’s more American than two bald eagles out on a date on the 4th of July.
Now well over 100 years old, this classic round employed then and employs now a recipe for effectiveness and success that has changed little since firearms were young: hurl a big chunk of lead at the recipient. The .45 ACP still delivers on this classic doctrine today.
The .45 ACP is a solid defensive cartridge in all regards, and has an edge over many of its smaller competitors when deep penetration and maximizing a wound channel irrespective of a failure to expand is desired. Whatever new advancements in bullet technology have taken place, none of them have made the .45 truly obsolete.
But if there is one flaw you could lay at the feet of this beloved elder statesman of pistol rounds, it would be the same thing that has provided much of its strength: it is very big! And this means that magazine capacity in guns chambered for it has always taken a hit.
At least, it took a hit if you did not want to be coping with a comically oversized grip resulting from a big double stack magazine stuffed to bursting with .45 goodness.
Capacity is an important consideration for a defensive gun, considering multiple attackers is an increasingly common reality for citizens today. That and the fact that misses will likely occur and multiple follow-up shots will be necessary and suddenly the historical standard of 7 or 8 rounds may seem inadequate.
All that has changed now with the latest generation double stack .45 ACP pistols today, which can combine more than ample capacity and modestly sized grips, making them more than suitable for defensive use, even concealed carry.
In this article, I’ll be providing my list of what I believe to be the top tier double-stack .45 pistols on the market today.
Why a .45 at All?
That’s a fair question, especially in light of my preference for the 9mm which I have been vocal about in person and all over the internet, and considering that all recent studies point toward terminal performance between pistol rounds being damn near neck and neck when modern expanding ammo is used.
If you want to talk pure numbers, it looks like the 9mm has the most advantages all the way around, at least with technology where it is at today. But simply stated, to adherents of the Path of the .45, this does not matter much. It simply does not matter: the .45 ACP is their cartridge of choice, and damn the torpedoes
I could argue the merits of the 9mm over the .45 ACP, but aside from being done to death, it is useless, and not what I would consider productive or instructive: whatever users think about it, or the 9mm, they have made their choice, and furthermore the .45 ACP is entirely adequate as a defensive round. Why throw the baby out with the bath water?
All I care about as a trainer and consultant, as far as weapon and ammo selection by a client is concerned, is that it is reliable, of adequate ballistic performance and helps them shoot their best. The End. All of the guns on this list will do all off the above in spades and then some.
So as far as I am concerned, if you absolutely must have a .45, go with my blessing, so long as you get a good one. You’ll notice I did not feature any 1911 style pistols: that is deliberate, as with few (expensive) exceptions I have not encountered any reliable enough over the long run to declare them worthy of anything but competition use.
All of the .45s on this list do suffer from a couple of inescapable drawbacks compared to smaller calibers, though. One, among guns of the same model, the .45 versions are often more expensive, easily explained by their typically larger dimensions and greater mass.
Second, .45 ACP ammo is expensive, significantly more than 9mm. This makes training and practice more expensive, often for little practical benefit. Another issue is that even the slimmest of these guns may be a bit too big for those with small hands to easily operate; there are only so many ways around the simple physics problem of packing big bullets into confined spaces before you leave human ergonomics completely behind.
Those quibbles aside, though, let no man say he feels under-armed when he is packing a pistol chambering America’s fighting handgun cartridge, especially if it is one of the ones on this list. That’s enough preamble; presented in no particular order, let’s check out the guns!
Glock Model 21
When Glock started to secure their reputation as the premier provider of borderline invincible pistols in the U.S., with LE and civilian markets clambering for more, it was only a matter of time before they turned out the pistol that many of their American converts were already slavering for: the Glock 21, an upsized Glock that packed 13 rounds of hard-hitting .45 into a frame not much bigger than a 17.
The gun was an instant hit, despite its large frame dimensions, and inherited the light weight, sheer durability and hardcore reliability that made the original Glock such a breakout and paradigm shifting success.
The Glock 21 is now on its 4th generation, benefitting from improved frame texturing and controls like the rest of its stablemates. As this article goes to press, there is currently no 5th Gen. Glock 21, but you can rest assured that is only a matter of time till that particular variant starts rolling out of the factory.
The Glock 21 is the perfect pistol for big-bore Glock fans, or anyone who wants a base to build out their own customized widebody .45 with little fuss and fretting over the procurement and fitting of parts. OEM and aftermarket support for this pistol, while not as huge as the Glocks chambered in smaller calibers
If the 21 is a hair too much hog leg for you to carry, you can enjoy much of what makes this pistol so great in a more compact form factor in the Model 30, a compact double stack .45.
The FNX-45 is a direct successor to F.N.’s earlier FNP-45, which is noteworthy for being one of the very first factory complete handguns to come kitted out with an MRDS direct mounted to the slide. This was in 2007 before all of this was widespread, and the niche success of the Roland Special made MRDS’d and comped handguns cool for the masses.
The FNX-45is a DA/SA handgun with fully ambidextrous controls: safety/decockers, slide releases and mag releases. It is also highly notable for cramming a whopping 15 rounds of .45 into a frame that, somehow, does not feel like you are holding a fence post with a trigger stuck on it.
This FNX, like many of F.N.’s products, are supremely well thought-out and tested, and this intelligent design shows big time when you pick this gun up to fire it, with all controls being generous enough for sure activation, even under stress, but also placed in such a way that inadvertent activation is unlikely, with either hand.
The FNX-45 can be had in black or tan, with an optional Tactical trim that adds a threaded barrel with thread protector, suppressor height night sights, and a slide milled for direct mounting of an MRDS. A cold hammer forged barrel in all variants guarantees a long-lived barrel with plenty of accuracy potential.
If you prefer highly modern DA/SA gun with ammo capacity rivaling a 9mm, the FNX-45 is the gun for you.
Smith & Wesson M&P45
Like the Glock above, S&W’s M&P’s need almost no introduction for shooters. And like the Glock, the American shooting public was crying out for a .45 version before the first of the 9mm’s and .40’s had even hit store shelves. Smith & Wesson delivered in a big way with the M&P 45, pistol only slightly larger in proportion than its older siblings.
The M&P45 includes all of the features that make the M&P line so good and simply does so chambered in our favorite round, the .45 ACP. Ten of them, to be precise. The M&P45 still features the ambidextrous slide releases and reversible mag release found on other M&P’s and also has as an option a manual thumb safety in an ideal location, much the same in size, shape and feel as a 1911’s.
The M&P is one of the slimmer pistols on this list, making it and its smaller M&P45C compact variant ideal for concealed carry among big bore fans. It also features three interchangeable grip inserts that wrap around on to the sides of the frame, allowing the user to tailor the grip for their hand.
All in all, a fine American made .45 semi-auto, from one of the oldest and most cherished of the American gun makers. A winning combination if there ever was one.
Heckler & Koch HK45 Compact Tactical
Designed to meet the stringent requirements of the U.S. Military’s Joint Combat Pistol program, the HK45 has endured whereas that program went defunct in 2006.
The HK45 and its variants, including the one on this list, the HK45 Compact, have benefitted from a mind-boggling amount of refinements and input from some of the biggest names in pistolcraft, Larry Vickers and Ken Hackathorn foremost and most instrumental among them.
If you don’t know who either of those two gentlemen are, stop reading and go look both of them up.
The HK45 is the successor to H&K’s earlier and much beloved USP45 series of pistols. Those .45’s arguably culminated in the monstrously huge but much beloved (among civilians, anyway) USSOCOM pistol, the Mk23.
While gargantuan, the Mk23 was a technical achievement without peer as far as handguns go, capable of a superior accuracy and extraordinary reliability and service life.
But even its smaller USP 45 cousins were known as somewhat clunky, bulky pistols for all their other attributes. So for their next generation of handguns, H&K took what worked well and was liked from the USP’s and scrapped what was poorly received.
The result was the HK45 and HK45C, or Compact, pistols which are leaner, easier to conceal and more accurate but lose nothing in terms of reliability or durability.
An 8- or 10-shot hammer fired gun available stock with 9 different control variants allowing traditional DA/SA operation with a decocker, consistent light DAO operation, or cocked-and-locked single action the HK45CT, or Compact Tactical, also features a threaded barrel for suppressor mounting, tall adjustable night sights and ambidextrous mag and slide releases.
The HK45CT is one of the smallest and yet most capable double stack .45’s in the world, offering an ideal blend of performance, shootability and ruggedness that hardly any other handguns in its category can match.
While the Joint Combat Pistol program is history, the HK45 Compact Tactical was adopted by one branch of the U.S. Military, specifically the U.S. Navy seals as their Mk 24 Mod 0 pistol. H&K has for a while been highly respected as providers of military-grade firearms, and that reputation precedes them with the HK45CT.
Springfield Armory XD 45
Springfield Armory’s breakout handgun was a radical departure from the 1911s they are best known for, but turned out to be a minor phenomenon on the U.S. handgun market, offering a viable 3rd way besides the Smith & Wesson M&P series and the dominant-as-always Glock.
The XD pistols have grown into several sub families, each offering a different spin on these wildly popular handguns. The model we are talking about is the classic, striker-fired XD, chambered in .45 ACP.
The XD hit so big with American shooters because it offered a feature set that no other striker-fired pistol did for a modest price, and remained a pretty nice shooting gun.
The XD formula is based on passive safeties galore: a trigger safety ala the Glock, a grip safety that harkens to the 1911 and also locks the slide, and passive drop safeties provide plenty of assurance that this is one pistol that will not go bang unless the trigger is pulled while in the user’s hand.
Ambidextrous magazine releases and both striker and chamber status indicators round out the package containing a generous 13 rounds of .45 within the ergonomic grip.
The XD is a chunky pistol, wide, blocky and possessing all the aesthetic of Soviet-era mass housing, much like the Glock it strives so hard to beat. The XD is not my favorite of the striker fired guns, as I have found their durability and reliability to be a little lacking compared to its two biggest competitors, but many people like them and they are pretty solid guns, with little doubt.
If you are already an XD fan looking to go big bore or are just shopping for a striker fired .45, the XD 45 is worth a look.
The big bruiser on this list, CZ’s 97B is an all steel heavyweight that is operationally identical to the renowned CZ 75. While it is an older design and lacks some of the modern conveniences we have come to expect from newer handguns, it is nonetheless an excellent pistol.
The 97B holds 10 rounds of .45 within its elegantly sculpted frame. The magazine is enclosed by thin aluminum grip panels in an effort to make the grip as small as possible. A cold hammer forged barrel delivers accuracy in abundance, and this accuracy is easy to achieve thanks to a very good DA/SA trigger, with a particularly sweet single action pull.
My readers know I am a fan of DA/SA guns, and here the CZ gives you that option, but with a few caveats: the 97B is DA/SA, but lacks decocker, instead having a manual safety lever that allows you to safely carry the pistol in single action mode if you desire.
You can carry the 97B safely with the hammer down, safely, thanks to a safety stop on the hammer, but lowering the hammer on a loaded chamber means you’ll need to do so by first restraining the hammer and then depressing the trigger to allow the hammer to descend under control to the stop. While this may give less experienced pistoleros the willies (with cause) it can be safely done so long as correct procedure is followed.
The 97B’s only other quirk is its weight: hailing from an era before polymer completely took over the pistol world, the all steel construction of the 97B makes it very heavy, although its overall lines are somewhat more slender than its appearance would suggest. This may make carrying the pistol aggravating for some depending on holster, location and so on.
All that aside, the 97B is an excellent handgun and almost criminally underrated, like many of CZ’s firearms. Accurate, and very soft shooting, the CZ 97B is a throwback to a time when steel ruled the roost and big bullets were the choice for serious shooters, and it still acquits itself with distinction today.
Beretta PX4 Storm
Beretta’s rotary barreled PX4 series are excellent pistols that are a love letter of sorts to Beretta’s earlier designs.
Featuring a safety and trigger system more or less lifted from the legendary 92/M9 series pistols mated to the rotary action of the ill-fated 8000 Cougar series guns, the result is far more than the sum of its parts: a flat shooting, accurate DA/SA gun with a very good trigger, and one that features more modularity and easier servicing than its better known 92 series cousins, with triggers, mag and slide releases, safeties and more all being easily swapped out for different components.
Aside from its great handling characteristics, the PX4 series guns make use of clever engineering to enhance functionality. The rotary breech is assisted in unlocking via the torque generated by the fired bullet. This is achieved by way of counterclockwise rifling in the barrel.
Additionally the rotary action means that no tilting of the barrel need occur, and so the top round in a magazine is very nearly in line with the breech, mandating only the slightest of feed ramps for reliability. This design does much to help assure feeding reliability, especially with big bullets like our favorite .45 ACP.
The .45 Storm was born from the previously mentioned Joint Combat Pistol trials. While that version of the Storm as spec’d can be had in the SD (special duty variant) can be had with a tan frame and extended barrel, the normal versions feature a flush barrel and black frame.
The PX4 series as a whole is a minor oddity in the U.S., where it is typically greeted with a “huh” more than anything. This is curious as the gun has found widespread success and adoption for its greater qualities worldwide, and only recently thanks to the efforts of Ernest Langdon is the platform starting to garner recognition.
Here is hoping that continues, as American shooters, especially lovers of double stack .45’s, have missed out for too long on this one! Mild recoiling, a great trigger, and plenty of room for customization, the PX4 in .45 ACP is a pistol you should not write off!
Ruger SR 45
The largest in Ruger’s new flagship series of polymer striker-fired of semi-auto pistols, the SR 45 is still one of the slimmest double stack .45’s around, and one that is a worthy heir to the example set by the now retired P97. Not just a budget offering, the SR 45 was designed from the ground up to compete head-to-head with any modern polymer .45.
Featuring all the features discerning shooters expect like an accessory rail, slide top loaded chamber indicator, reversible grip insert for a flat or arched backstrap, and an ambidextrous manual safety, this is a thoroughly modern design.
Of some contention, the gun also has a magazine disconnector, meaning that it will not fire without a magazine inserted fully into the mag well. A very low bore axis helps tame the stout recoil of high-performance .45 loads. Capacity is 10 rounds.
Ever a safety conscious company, even with the passing of notoriously liability conscious founder Bill Ruger, the SR 45’s trigger is a little longer and little heavier than most of its competitors.
This is not necessarily a bad thing when you consider guns used for self defense will be used in very stressful conditions, and contrary to the prognostications and oaths of tactical fanboys, fingers often end up on triggers even when they are not supposed to be.
The performance offered by the SR 45 is quite good, in its price range, and it offers all the capability and conveniences that modern shooters expect with an additionally heavy emphasis on safety and prevention of accidental discharges. If you are a Ruger fan or just looking for a solid widebody .45 on a budget, the SR 45 has you covered.
The .45 ACP is not dead! Long live the .45! For some shooters, there is just no other choice to make besides the .45. Now big bore aficionados no longer have to choose between the ominous maw of a big .45 caliber muzzle and the capacity they may need to get lots of work done.
The modern breed of semi-auto .45’s feature double stack magazines in any shape, form or fashion you may desire: polymer, steel, double-action, single action or striker fired, you are sure to find a trusty pistol to meet your requirements.