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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.

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