The .45 ACP Part 1

Time well spent

John’s well-worn 75-cent copy of Col. Cooper’s Fighting Handguns
along with a $75 collector’s copy and a current reprint.

As this is written we are at the apex — hopefully — of the Corona Virus Lockdown. This has had many negative results including businesses that will never recover and many people losing their jobs. On the positive side families are spending more time together, there is a lot less traffic, gas prices locally have dropped over $0.50 a gallon and I have gone to work doing things I didn’t think I had time for before the Pandemic.

Brass, Not Chicken

Over the past couple years I have been tossing my spent .45 ACP brass into five-gallon buckets. I have shot enough to accumulate three such buckets full of brass and was always going to get to this brass “someday.” So, instead of spending time eating at Jalapeño’s Mexican Restaurant, I decided to attack the .45 ACP brass instead of Arroz Con Pollo. If I had realized how much time and effort it was going to take, I may have seriously reconsidered.

How many rounds of brass will three five-gallon buckets hold? The first thing I did was sort everything by head stamps. I don’t know how practical this is, however, I do know when I did a test with .44 Special brass, my groups with all of one kind of brass were smaller than the groups resulting from mixed brass. Was it enough to make it practical to sort? It’s debatable.

I looked at every piece of .45 ACP brass in those three buckets and sorted them individually. This allowed tossing out any with small primer pockets and those I knew were old military brass I had started loading 40 years ago. When I got through sorting, I had 5,250 pieces of quality brass ready to be reloaded with 10 different head stamps. Now it was time to really start to work.

A worthy project during the lockdown — above, 1,000 .45 ACP cases along
with Lee Undersized Carbide Sizing die, Universal Expander and Factory Crimp Die.

Hit The Bench

Using a RCBS RockChucker single-stage press, each case was sized and de-primed using the Lee Undersized Carbide Sizing Die. After this, I used the Lee Universal Expanding Die to just kiss the mouth of the case enough to allow the bullet to enter. The use of these two dies ensure the tightest possible bullet-to-case fit. This is especially important as there is no crimping groove with .45 ACP loads.

After priming each case with Winchester Large Pistol Primers using the RCBS Bench Mounted Priming Tool, I charged each case with powder using a loading block so I can look in each case with a flashlight. Bullets are seated and then separately taper-crimped using the Lee Factory Crimp Die, bringing the total handling of the cases up to 36,750 times. Is it/was it worth it? I don’t want to even count the number of hours spent or the energy expended, however this is overshadowed by the fact I have over 5,000 .45 ACP loads which are as perfect as I can make them.

Die Hard

The use of the Lee Undersized Sizing Die, Lee Universal Expanding Die and the Lee Factory Crimp Die accomplish two problems encountered with .45 ACP loads. In semi-auto pistols we have to watch out for bullets being pushed back into the case, thus raising pressure, while in revolvers the problem is just the opposite as the bullets can move forward under recoil. The use of these three dies, even though it requires one extra loading step, prevents either one of these situations occurring.

The John Browning-designed 1911 Government Model and the .45 ACP cartridge did not arrive at the same time. In fact, the cartridge first appeared in the John Browning-designed Model 1905 and used a 200-grain bullet. When the military adopted the new semi-automatic pistol, the 1905 version became the 1911 version with one of the main changes being an angled grip frame. The new version of the .45 cartridge used a 230-grain bullet at 825 fps, a dead ringer for the .45 Schofield black powder cartridge used by the military since 1877 in both the Colt Single Action Army and the Smith & Wesson Model #3. As adopted by the military in 1911, the Colt Government Model .45 would last as the official military sidearm until 1985.

Today, for many of us dinosaurs, there are only two semi-automatic pistols — the 1911 and all others.

John uses the Lee Undersized Sizing Die and Factory Crimp Die
for loading the .45 ACP to Col. Cooper specifications.

The Man

When it comes to the .45 ACP we give the accolades to Col. Jeff Cooper for making the 1911 Government Model so popular. I first discovered Col. Cooper in 1958 when I found a 75-cent Trend Book #172 paperback entitled Fighting Handguns.

These are words about the Colt 1911 I found in Cooper’s book more than 60 years ago. “This rugged old bruiser has been sworn at by generations of U.S. servicemen, and has baffled regiments of target shooters, but I’m going to stick my neck way out and say flatly that it is the finest fighting sidearm ever produced up to now. It’s a long way from ideal, to be sure, but there isn’t anything better around to supersede it.”

This still remains true today! To continue with Cooper’s words: “I must admit that the weapon is less remarkable for its merits as a piece of engineering than as the only sidearm which combines the advantages of an auto pistol with a cartridge in which a man can place some confidence … The 1911 and 1911 A1 are big pistols, and their 39-oz. weight is not light. The grip is not comfortable for small hands and I don’t know any sort of custom work that will make it so. It’s a hard gun to shoot tight groups on the target range, and its trajectory leaves a lot to be desired at rifle ranges. But as something for steady wear in situations where some uncouth characters may try to brain you without notice, it’s tough to beat.… Like many skills, mastery of the big pistol doesn’t just drop in your lap, it takes a good deal of effort. In the hands of a man who knows how to use it, the .45 auto is a terrible weapon — very quick, very powerful, very accurate and completely reliable. To get its full potential it must be hand loaded with Keith-type, semi-wadcutter bullets, but even with service loads it’s no slouch.”

Over the next installments we will be looking at loads for the .45 ACP, both jacketed and cast and definitely at Col. Cooper’s favorite load. We’ll also look at the Commander, of which Cooper says: “I don’t count the Commander as a rival, but rather as a sort of special purpose modification.” Stay tuned.

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