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The venerable .45 ACP is one of the most well-regarded handgun rounds in American history, and one of the most popular as well. While this is great for us .45 fans, it does mean that it can be hard to narrow down the best .45 ACP handguns.
After all, with so many good options, it can be hard to separate out the truly great. This leads to a lot of debate on forums and in comment sections about which .45 guns are truly the best.
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks For .45 ACP Handguns in 2022
- Best Overall: HK45 Tactical
- Best on the Market: SIG Sauer P220 Legion
- Best for Accuracy: Wilson Combat Tactical Carry
- Alternative #1: FNX-45 Tactical
- Best Compact: Smith & Wesson Shield 45
To help settle the debate (or more likely just add to it), I’ve tested and reviewed as many .45 ACP handguns as I can get my hands on, in an effort to see which ones actually perform the best.
This is one of my favorite calibers, and I wanted to know for myself, but also so I could share my findings with you lovely folks.
After all of my testing, including several thousand rounds fired, this is the list I came up with below. Let’s talk about why each of these made the cut, and how to pick the best one to meet your specific needs.
Our testing named the HK45 Tactical the best overall, but of course, any of the options on this list are going to work great, and your final choice should come down to personal preference.
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Best on the Market
SIG Sauer P220 Legion
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Best for Accuracy
Wilson Combat Tactical Carry
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Smith & Wesson Shield 45
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1. HK45 Tactical
First up, we have our top choice, the HK45 Tactical. While not perfect, this full-size .45 is one of the best guns we’ve tested in years.
It was originally developed as part of the US military’s Joint Combat Pistol Program back in 2006 as a more tactical variant of the existing (and incredibly popular) HK45.
The newer Tactical version keeps the same full-size frame and total reliability of that original gun, as well as the same basic ergonomic stylings including interchangeable backstraps, molded finger grooves, and a Picatinny rail upfront for mounting a light or laser.
You also get a threaded barrel and Truglo suppressor-height fiber optic sights that work to capture all available light. The sights on this gun are particularly great and are manufactured solely for HK. I personally find them very accurate and I bet you will too.
Of course, if you’re going to be using this for something like home defense, you should look into some self-illuminating sights for the extra peace of mind in case something goes bump in the night. Thankfully, the HK45 enjoys a robust aftermarket.
- Overall Length: 8.5”
- Barrel Length: 5.2”
- Width: 1.54”
- Weight: 31.2 oz
- Capacity: 10+1
If you’re looking for a full-size, duty-style .45 ACP for carry or home defense, then it’s hard to argue with the specs or impressive reputation of the HK45 Tactical.
This awesome handgun has been proven to be as reliable as death and taxes and is made just down the road from me in Columbus, Georgia (Go Dawgs!). What’s not to love?
2. SIG Sauer P220 Legion
Next up, we have the SIG Sauer P220 Legion, one of my all-time favorites.
The standard P220 is an extremely popular duty gun with law enforcement, especially at the federal level, and the Legion edition just ramps things up with some gorgeous (and extremely grippy) G10 grips, and some high-vis night sights. You also get improved cocking serrations.
The heavy steel frame of this gun absolutely soaks up the recoil of the .45 ACP, making this not just one of the softest-shooting guns on this list, but one of the softest shooting guns I have ever had the pleasure of owning, at least as far as centerfire pistols go.
Related Article: 7 Best .380 Pistols
It’s also just as reliable as anything made by man can be, with some folks I know and trust telling me that they’ve put over a thousand rounds through it without cleaning and never experienced a stoppage.
I certainly don’t recommend doing that, and I definitely clean mine more often than that, but hey. What an endorsement, right?
- Overall Length: 7.7”
- Barrel Length: 4.4”
- Width: 1.3”
- Weight: 30.4 oz
- Capacity: 8+1
SIG has another hit on their hands with the Legion version of the venerable P220. This gun is as reliable as you could ask a firearm to be and shoots incredibly well to boot. Another great option in the full-size category.
3. Wilson Combat Tactical Carry
I’m sure some of you have been getting a little itchy seeing no 1911’s in this article so far, but don’t worry. I’ve got you one hell of a 1911-style gun here.
The Wilson Combat Tactical Carry is a custom-designed update to the revered 1911 platform that brings John Moses Browning’s great gift to gun owners into the 21st century and truly makes it a force to be reckoned with.
The Tactical Carry features all of Wilson Combat’s excellent upgrades such as a full-size carbon steel frame, their Bullet Proof Round Butt Mag Well, an improved trigger, improved thumb safety with machined thumb rest, and some utterly gorgeous G10 grips.
All of this combines to give us one of the most accurate firearms on the entire planet.
I’m serious, this is one of the most accurate handguns I’ve ever fired, and I shoot and test guns for a living. It’s pricey, but if you want the absolute top-of-the-line performance out of a .45 ACP platform, then get your credit card out and add this on to your safe.
- Overall Length: 8.7”
- Barrel Length: 5.”
- Width: 1.3”
- Weight: 39.6 oz
- Capacity: 8+1
Wilson Combat guarantees this pistol to be mechanically capable of 1” groups at 25 yards. I don’t shoot that good most days and I bet you don’t either.
If you want something pretty much guaranteed to be more accurate than you are, or you just want to own the ultimate expression of the 1911 design, this is the one to get.
Also Read: Best Red Dot Sights for 1911
4. FNX-45 Tactical
Next up, we have another graduate of the Joint Combat Pistol Program, the FNX-45 Tactical.
This handgun was specifically designed to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ even in the harshest of conditions on the world’s most challenging battlefields. FN makes good stuff and has done so for military and civilian shooters for decades.
They brought all those years of experience to bear on this one, and the result is damn near magical.
This thing is quite simply one of the finest-shooting guns I own, or ever will own. It’s more accurate than I am and more accurate than anyone that I’ve ever lent it to. It’ll always do its job, even if I don’t do mine.
Related Article: 12 Best Pistol Red Dot
It’s also got a 15 round capacity, making it an extremely attractive choice for home defense, and is actually my number one recommendation for that role out of all the guns on this list. You can also take this to competition matches and know that your performance will be all on your own head.
Definitely no blaming the gun for a miss in the white with this one.
It also has all the features you could want such as suppressor-height night sights, an adjustable trigger, a match-grade barrel, and an external extractor that functions as a loaded chamber indicator.
- Overall Length: 8.6”
- Barrel Length: 5.3”
- Width: 1.58”
- Weight: 33 oz
- Capacity: 15+1
Honestly, this one missed being our top pick by about two points out of a hundred on the sheet when we tallied everything up. It’s as good as you could ask a .45 ACP handgun to be in a modern duty gun format, and mine frequently lives in my nightstand safe.
I can’t recommend it any higher than that.
5. Smith & Wesson Shield 45
There’s only really one subcompact on this list, and it’s not because I don’t like subcompacts. It’s because it’s really hard to do a subcompact .45 ACP well.
Fortunately, Smith & Wesson is here to save the day with the Shield 45.
This .45 ACP version of their incredibly popular Shield line has been out for several years now, and while it has some competition on the market now, it’s still the only .45 ACP I want to carry concealed.
It’s incredibly thin and lightweight, and while recoil is definitely noticeable, the stellar grip ergonomics make the gun very controllable even under rapid strings of fire.
- Overall Length: 6.45”
- Barrel Length: 3.3”
- Width: 1.22”
- Weight: 20.5 oz
- Capacity: 7+1
If you’re looking to carry a .45 ACP every day, especially concealed, then this is the best option for you in my opinion. It’s accurate, lightweight, easy to shoot, and comes in more different flavors than you can get out of a Coke Freestyle machine.
6. Glock 21 + 21SF
Come on, we can’t have any list of best handguns without including at least one Glock, right?
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Glock’s just work, and in a world where the bare minimum sometimes seems like too much to ask for, there’s something to be said for a pistol that just works.
And make no mistake, the G21 and G21SF work. Rain, sleet, snow, forgot to clean it, cleaned it too much, they just go bang every time without complaint. If you’re worried at all about reliability in your handgun and want to sleep easy, then the G21 or G21 SF (short frame) are both great options for you.
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The trigger is a standard Glock trigger, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective and fondness for Glocks, and the sights are standard Glock sights which means you can at least swap them out quickly and easily.
And of course, if you want to tinker and upgrade your gun, then the G21s have you covered. While there aren’t quite as many aftermarket upgrades for this model as there are for the 9mm models, there’s still enough to give you a headache trying to look through them all.
Key Specs for G21:
- Overall Length: 8.07”
- Barrel Length: 4.61”
- Width: 1.54”
- Weight: 29.28 oz
- Capacity: 13+1
All in all, this Glock is made of Glock, and if you’re into that sort of thing, and you want one in .45 ACP, then you’ll be into this.
7. Springfield Armory 1911 Loaded
Next up we have another 1911, the Springfield Armory 1911 Loaded edition
I have tested a lot of 1911s over the years. My spouse and bank account would probably say “too many” 1911s, but that’s my problem, not yours.
In that time, I’ve developed a strong sense of what’s out there and what you should expect to get for your money, so I wanted to find a 1911 that was both a good shooter and a good value.
And that’s how I found the Loaded edition.
This gun is, as the name implies, absolutely stuffed full of every upgrade and custom-shop-style accessory Springfield could think of, including an ambi safety, polished Speed trigger, tritium 3-dot sights, a match grade barrel, and a forged slide.
I really appreciate the sights in particular for being both self-illuminating, and low profile to avoid snagging on the draw, even from concealment.
It also has an extended beavertail safety and is available in both classic Parkerized finishes as well as some truly gorgeous stainless finishes (my personal favorite). There’s also a Marine Corps-inspired Operator version with a green frame and Picatinny rail for a light.
I’ve been shooting this one for a while, and it has absolutely stolen my heart. I just wish I had bought this one first before I bought some of my other 1911s.
- Overall Length: 8.6”
- Barrel Length: 5”
- Width: 1.39”
- Weight: 40 oz
- Capacity: 7+1
If you’re looking for a modern 1911 that will perform extremely well without breaking the bank, then this is the one to go with. 1911s are notoriously jam-happy in this price range, but I’ve had no issues with the Loaded model from SA.
8. Ruger Redhawk .45 ACP Auto
We’re going to end on something a little different: a .45 ACP revolver.
I know, right?
The Ruger Redhawk comes in a few different chamberings, but my favorite is the .45 ACP model. This gun is so accurate it’s silly, even with the moon clips, and I personally have used it to defend myself from a feral dog deep in the swamps of my home state of Georgia.
It’s a double/single-action model with a smooth but heavy double-action trigger pull and a suitably crisp and clean single-action pull that, on mine at least, is almost too light. Almost.
Related Article: 8 Best Subcompact Pistol (with Buying Guide)
It’s also heavy enough that .45 ACP recoil is light, light, light. Shooting .45 ACP out of this feels comparable to shooting .38 Special in other full-size revolvers.
The lasered hardwood grips are also textured very nicely to further help you tame the recoil, and they look damn fine as well. Overall, I’d say this is one of the best-looking guns on the list, if only because of the awesome Old West aesthetic.
- Overall Length: 9.5”
- Barrel Length: 4.2”
- Width: 1.86”
- Weight: 44 oz
- Capacity: 6
While not the semi-automatic pistol you were probably expecting, the Ruger Redhawk revolver absolutely deserves its place on this list. It’s a hard-hitting gun that tames the recoil of the .45 load it’s chambered for admirably.
Why Use a .45 ACP Handgun?
Sometimes, bigger really is better, and for many people that includes the discussion around bullets. Of course, there’s so much more to the .45 ACP than just the sheer mass of the projectile and the power behind it.
Slow Recoil Impulse
For one thing, the recoil impulse tends to be very slow, rather than the quick “snappy” recoil that you get with some other similar handgun rounds. You absolutely feel more of a big push than the sudden punch you get with other rounds.
Even though there is more overall recoil energy from slinging this big heavy projectile, many people find .45 ACP to be much more pleasant to shoot than, say, .40 S&W because of this slower, less intense recoil.
The fact that many .45’s tend to be large and steel framed certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of recoil either.
Superior Performance in Soft Tissue
Of course, there’s also the fact that a .45 ACP bullet passing through soft tissue is going to do more damage than say, a 9mm bullet (assuming similar velocity, hollowpoint design, etc). You get more recoil, more weight, and a higher cost…but you do get a bigger hole too.
There’s a great deal of debate out there over whether the pros outweigh the cons, but at the end of the day, the biggest thing that matters is your personal preference and what you shoot the best with.
Which for me, is the biggest reason you should use a .45 ACP handgun. If you shoot this caliber well, especially if you find you shoot it better than 9mm or what have you, then stay with it.
And of course, shot placement is important when stopping a threat, but so is creating a significant amount of soft tissue damage. Shoot well with .45 ACP and you’ll have both factors well in hand.
Excellent Suppressed Performance
There’s also one place where the .45 ACP has a distinct advantage over every other major handgun round on the market: suppressed performance.
While the .45 ACP has a lot of energy, this is more due to the mass than the velocity of the round. The round itself is fairly slow, relatively speaking. The advantage here is that it is very easy to suppress.
A lot of the noise you hear when a suppressed handgun fires is from the supersonic crack of the round breaking the sound barrier. With a .45 ACP, you don’t have to lose a lot of power to get under the speed of sound, and a subsonic round is much, much quieter.
This can make for some fun Splinter Cell-style shooting at the range, but you’ll also appreciate not having your ears blown out if, heaven forbid, you have to use your pistol to defend yourself inside your home.
An Unmatched Military History, Unmatched Cool Factor
Finally, there’s the sheer cool factor. Not every gun has to be a defensive, save-your-life-in-your-darkest-hour kind of gun. Some guns can be for the range, for carrying as a sidearm on the hunt, or just for blasting tin cans and plastic bottles off a berm.
When it comes to the rule of cool, well, it’s hard to argue with the legendary history of the .45 ACP.
It was in service with the US military for nearly 72 years as the primary sidearm of almost every service member, and today, well over 100 years later, it’s still being used by Marine Special Forces units.
It also helped the US and its allies win two separate world wars. Not a bad record at all.
Types of .45 ACP Handguns
When it comes to .45 ACP handguns, you have choices in basically as many form factors as you do with any other common handgun round. We’re going to look specifically at Full-Size, Compact, and Subcompact designs and talk about what each excels at.
Full-Size .45 ACP Handguns
First up, full-size .45s are probably the standard that most people think of when they think “muh forty-five”. The reason for this is probably because of the original M1911 design that John Moses Browning sent out into the world.
Since then, I’d guess that the bulk of .45 ACP handguns that have been produced have been full-size duty guns. The form factor just makes sense.
A larger framed gun is better suited to taming the large amount of recoil energy from the .45 ACP, and since capacity is limited in .45 guns compared to say, 9mm guns, having more room for rounds in the mag is no bad thing either.
Full-sized .45 ACP guns are also the weapon of choice for competitors in various competitions looking to get the maximum points for the “power factor” of their gun of choice. In many different competitions, you get more points for using more energetic rounds.
Short of 10mm, .45 ACP is generally going to be the most powerful round on display at these competitions, making the .45 king of the “high-power” lineups. There are even some divisions within 3-Gun that require .45 pistols.
This “Heavy Metal” division isn’t always run at every match, but it sure is fun when it is.
Of course, just because most .45 handguns are full-sized duty-style guns doesn’t mean there aren’t a host of other options out there. Such as…
Compact .45 ACP Handguns
Now we move out of the world of duty-guns meant to be carried outside the waistband into the more civilian and concealed carry world of compact .45 ACP handguns.
These are some of the most common .45 guns you’ll find in the pistol case at your local gun store, or even a large sporting goods store. Many folks, particularly in the US, like to carry a .45 ACP, especially if they’re worried about defense from dangerous animals like bears, wild hogs, etc.
Of course, .45 ACP is perfectly suited to defending one’s self from human attackers as well, making it a very versatile carry choice for backwoods hunters, campers, and hikers. This is where we really start to see compact .45 ACP guns come into their own.
Subcompact .45 ACP Handguns
Lastly, we have the subcompact .45 ACP handguns. These are meant mostly for concealed carry, and they excel in that role. If you want to discreetly carry a .45 for self-defense, this is the way to go.
These are also the lightest of the options out there, making them a great choice for hikers and backpackers who want to stay armed on the trail.
The only real issue is that recoil out of these little guys can be a bit rough, so you really need to spend your time at the range training to get used to it.
They’re perfectly shootable and they aren’t going to fly out of your hand or break your wrist or anything crazy, but you do need to practice to be proficient.
What Should You Look For in a .45 ACP Handgun?
When choosing your .45 ACP handgun, I recommend following the same basic criteria that I put together for making the list above. Follow these steps and you can’t go too far wrong.
First and foremost, we want to look for something reliable. This means that it always goes bang when you want it to, and just as importantly, never goes bang when you don’t want it to.
Safety is of paramount importance and in a defensive situation, you always want to be able to rely on your gun of choice, no matter the size or caliber.
Next, you’ll want to look at ergonomics and shootability. This is going to be primarily dictated by the grip, grip angle, and trigger on your gun, as well as the sights (though those are easy to swap out).
Everyone’s hand geometry is different at the end of the day, and what works for me may feel awful to you, and your least favorite gun may feel like it was made for my hand. So with that said, it’s hard for me to say “this gun will also feel the best in your hand”.
Of course, what I can tell you is whether a gun has a good trigger, or if the grips aren’t very, well, grippy. But what I can’t do is tell you how something will feel, where your finger will rest on the trigger, etc.
So what I will always recommend is that you get something that fits your hand and feels good. Your grip is going to have a very large impact on your accuracy, so it’s important to get something that works well with your hand shape and size.
The other issue is getting something with a good trigger, and either good sights or the ability to easily swap sights out. These are the main interface points you have with the gun, and they all have their part to play when it comes to putting rounds where they need to go.
With modern handguns, especially the ones on this list, they’re all going to be accurate enough to get the job done. Most handguns are more mechanically accurate than the people shooting them.
So worry less about the mechanical accuracy of the gun and what rifling it has, or exactly how long the barrel is, and instead worry about what the gun does that helps you shoot better.
Aftermarket Support and Accessories
Of course, if the gun doesn’t really work for you right off the shelf, then you can always tweak and customize things with aftermarket parts and accessories.
No handgun is perfect, but you can probably get one pretty close if you’re willing to:
A) shoot several before buying to find one you really gel with and
B)Adjust the trigger, sights, and grip to make something that truly works for you.
Towards that end, I always recommend going with manufacturers and models that seem to have a lot of aftermarket support. Do that, and you can easily turn a good handgun into a great one, especially if you tweak things in a way that works with your shooting skills and style.
There are a lot of great .45 ACP handguns out there, but only a few can really be called the best of the best. Our overall pick is the HK45 Tactical because of its excellent reliability and wide variety of aftermarket accessories, but there are plenty more good options to choose from.
Of course, the goal is not to sell you on any particular handgun, but instead to arm you with the knowledge that you need to then arm yourself, with the best handgun for you.
This list is full of great handguns, all tested and selected by myself and a few other industry and military experts to be the absolute best of the best on the market today. Now all you have to do is decide which one you want to add to your own collection.