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Hunting Bullets for the Fast 45s

by Dan Johnson   |  July 7th, 2011 14

No other revolver caliber is available in as wide a power range as the .45. Velocities with a 250 grain bullet, for example, range from 850 fps in standard .45 Colt loads to over 2000 fps in the .460 S&W Magnum. This makes choosing the right hunting bullet for the job critical and sometimes confusing, particularly for handloaders. You do not want to choose a bullet designed for the .45 Colt for use in a .454 Casull any more than a rifle hunter would choose a .30 caliber bullet designed for the 30/30 for use in a .300 magnum.

The simplest way to verify you have chosen the right bullet is to check with the manufacturer and learn what velocities the bullet was designed for and what the expansion/penetration characteristics are. A more interesting way is to test the bullets yourself in wet phone books or other test media.

I recently tested some .45 caliber bullets in wet phone books to see how they reacted at various velocities. I have included a few results here to illustrate the importance of choosing the right bullet for the velocity and intended use.

In the first photo, the bullet on the left is a Hornady 240 gr. XTP/MAG. MAG, of course, stands for magnum and this bullet was designed for higher velocities than obtained with standard .45 Colt loads. On the right is a Speer 250 gr. Gold Dot hollow point clearly labeled on the box for the .45 Colt. This means standard .45 Colt loads and the bullet is designed to expand reliably below 1000 fps. It is not designed for fast Ruger-only handloads and certainly not for the magnum chamberings.

Both bullets impacted at approximately 1300 fps, a velocity common in hot Ruger-only +P handloads. The 240 gr. XTP/MAG bullet expanded nicely and held together well with a remaining bullet weight of 230.1 grs. The Speer 250 gr. bullet designed for standard .45 Colt velocities, not surprisingly, over-expanded and had a retained weight of only 83.6 grs.

In the second photo, both bullets impacted at about 1800 fps, a typical velocity for this bullet weight in .454 Casull. The bullet on the left is a Freedom Arms 260 gr. jacketed flat-point designed for deep penetration and minimum expansion in the .454 Casull. As expected, there was little expansion, just some flattening and smearing off of the exposed lead tip. The retained weight was 243.4 grs. This bullet is an excellent choice for large and/or dangerous game where deep penetration is the priority.

On the right is a 260 gr. Winchester Platinum-Tip .454 Casull factory load. The bullet expanded violently and made an impressive show of scattering wet paper. Retained weight was only 94.1 grs. I have found the Platinum-Tip to be a rather soft bullet in various calibers and not the best choice where deep-penetration is desired. This does not make it a poor design. It is devastating on light game like deer and pronghorn, especially at longer ranges where reduced velocity may cause tougher bullets not to expand reliably. This test does emphasize that just because ammunition says .454 Casull on the box does not mean it is automatically a good choice for protection against large toothy critters.

These are limited tests on only four of the many .45 caliber bullets available. My goal was simply to demonstrate how important it is to know the expansion/penetration characteristics of handgun bullets and match the bullet to the game and the velocity for which it was designed.

Today’s question to you is a broad one. Please scroll down to the comment box and tell us what .45 caliber revolvers you own, what bullets you use and what your results have been.

  • NN

    I think your right about testing you intended round, a lot of people just pick up a box of ammo and think they're good to go.

  • Wambli Ska

    A few decades back I experimented quite a bit with the .45 Colt when many of us reloaders found out what wonderful potential we had in our Ruger BHs. Back then we were flying blindly adapting recipes for the .44 Mag and adding some sheer luck and foolishness into the pot. Today’s reloaders have a lot more information from powder and bullet manufacturers so they can tailor their loads specifically to the task at hand. I really like your suggestion on testing media. It’s a big eye opener!

  • Big Chief

    Good advice. Match the bullet to the caliber and it's intended purpose.

  • Chris Piere Jordan

    Good article Dan. I would like to see some hard cast lead bullets tested. I think it would be neat to see how the lead bullets react to increased velocity.

  • Scott E. Mayer

    Reminds me of a bullet test I did once. It was during the inline muzzleloader craze of the late 1990s. I tried a load with Hornady 185-gr. XTP bullets in a .50-cal. Knight rifle and IIRC, the charge was 100 grs. of Pyrodex RS. It was a screamer, and it was accurate, and I wanted to see what would happen, so I took it deer hunting. I "still hunt" so I ended up with a frontal shot on a doe at about 10 yards.

    Wow! It turned her lights out right then, but I swear there was NOTHING of that bullet to recover. I don't even remember finding the jacket or a piece of it. Had that been a raking shot, I might not have gotten that deer. Had that been a broadside shot and I hit the deer on the shoulder socket, I might not have gotten that deer. Switched to a tougher bullet, and I've never looked back.

  • Jermanator

    While I no longer have the gun (but I will get another some day) I would like to see what the light fast 200 gr loads do in .460 S&W. I deer hunt in a "shotgun only" zone so I am restricted to using handguns, (with straight walls) muzzle loaders, or shotguns. Shotguns tend to have brutal recoil and be inaccurate, muzzle loaders give you only one shot (which sucks while woods hunting), so a handgun makes a great choice. Keep up the good work Dan. I am all eyes.

  • dld

    you did not mention 45 Long Colt

  • Big Chief

    Although not for hunting, I once used the wrong bullets in a .45 Colt revolver. A LINB 4" S&W model 25 with Bill Jordan grips for $300. I didn't have any bullets suitable for .45 Colt to reload so I used .45 ACP 230 grain hardball. It fired them OK, but my brass cases were "Smokey". Way to much empty space in the brass cases for the powder charge I was using.

    Like a dummy, I sold that gun back to the same guy I bought it from for $300 to buy another gun.

  • robert38-55

    Dan J. Thanks Great article!!!!! I owned a .45 colt a while back a Ruger blackhawk.. I had to sell it in the summer of 2006. Like Big Chief me being a dummy, I wish I had never done that……I have been wanting another one ever since, just haven't found one yet…. I won't sell this next one….I always thought that the .45 colt is a pretty versitile handgun and its just one of many handgun calibers I really like.. As a matter of fact I had two .44mags, the same time I had the .45 but found myself shooting the .45 twice as much as the .44's

  • wolf049

    I went hunting last year with my S&W PC 629 loaded with handloaded Hornady 240 gr HP/XTP bullets. I didn't get an opportunity to shot a legal deer or elk with it and I haven't tested these bullets in wet paper. It would be interesting to see the results before I go out hunting this year.

  • Steven

    Unfortunately I have not found reliable information from the manufactures about the performance of their bullets. There appears to be a trend of misinformation from manufactures both overhyping new more expensive products and underrating older cheaper ones. Testing appears to be the only way to verify performance.

    After endless testing I ended up where I started. For whitetail hunting I have standardized on the non-mag version of the 300 gr XTP for all my whitetail loads. The non-mag 300 gr XTP appears to be the most accurate, versatile, and has right expansion/retention properties for deer. The firearms are a 10ML-II @ 2,300 FPS, R92 454 Casull @ 2003 FPS, and a Ruger SRH 454 Casull @1620 FPS.

    The ballistic tipped bullets don’t seem to gain anything other than being more expensive and less accurate if you crush the tip. The only time I would use the 300 XTP mag versions if I was literally loading for bear or other thick skinned/thick skulled game. However, the non-mag versions seem to hold up beyond what the manufacture says is max and they perform much better on deer then the more expensive "mag" or "tipped" brethren.

  • RalphP

    I will second the castlead info. Now that I started casting my own boolits I found out it take a while before you get things dialed in. The alloy, profile and charge make a geat difference in how the boolit performs. Now that I have a big thinking about getting a 45 Colt got me going on the research. Instead of getting another revolver, I should make use of the Encore and get a 460 barrel and be able to shoot the 45 Colt, 454 Casull and the 460 S&W. Now I don't need to get all three. I don't need the range and recoil of the 460 and 454 and want a bit more power than the 45 Colt while keeping it fun to shoot in preperation for hunting. There, not to big of a request is it. I will be playing with that for a long time.

  • Iceb

    Good article and good comments. I don't have a 45 revolver but a 454 carbine. The bullet performance is a big concern since some bullets are designed to be frangible or expand at low velocities, I cannot believe they would be useful for hunting in most situations. Can the author suggest this "study" for a video or TV episode? I think this would be of more interest than watching people whisper for 50 minutes and then stand beside a kill. They don't show the would channels, or recovered bullets (I understand why). Showing performance in wet paper or gelatin at different velocities and using a wide variety of styles would be very instructive for us and save me from buying lots of boxes of ammo where I will only fire a few rounds before deciding they are not suitable for anything but practice.

  • D.W.K.


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