I sat down to my reloading bench this morning to put together some .45 Colt ammo for my new Ruger Flattop. It got me to thinking: The .45 Colt just might be the best—or at least the most versatile—handgun cartridge of all time. Of course, that only holds true if you consider the role of a handgun in its traditional sense—a reactive tool for stopping threatening or edible creatures at close range.
The .45 Colt was the result of a joint venture between Colt Patent Firearms and the Union Metallic Cartridge Company in 1872. This 140-year-old cartridge has a well-deserved reputation as a man-stopper, even with its traditional round-nose bullet with a small, flat meplat. It sends a chunk of lead the size of your thumb downrange with enough authority to mess up anything it runs into. Switch to a semi-wadcutter, and the stopping power increases. In all but the skimpiest of guns the .45 Colt is easy to shoot by a seasoned shot.
There is no doubt that the striker-fired semi-auto pistol with high-capacity magazines rules the self-defense market today. Most folks want to be prepared for a Miami- or West Hollywood-style shoot-out where dozens of rounds may be fired. Ninjas and law enforcement aside, the reality is that most armed encounters are settled with two or three shots.
A few years ago there was a trend to “magnumize” the .45 Colt—load to .44 Magnum velocities in heavy Ruger Blackhawks or T/C Contenders. You can do it, but case life suffers. If I need that kind of performance, I shoot a .44 Magnum. I find that a 265-grain semi-wadcutter at about 850 to 900 fps can accomplish anything I would reasonably ask a handgun to do.
I’m still pretty much wedded to my .44 Specials for day-to-day work, and when I am forced into more “civilized” environments—sometimes referred to as cities—there will usually be a 1911 nestled up next to me. But in all honesty a .45 Colt would do just as well.