RWS .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ – Maybe as an Occasional Serving
Nov 17, 2011 (Updated Jul 2, 2013)
Review by morilla
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:'Softer' shooting than some other brands; Reasonable, practical accuracy
Cons:Availability can be an issue; More inconsistent than some other brands
The Bottom Line: If this was all that was available, I'd shoot it. Given a choice, well... It's unlikely to be my first or even second option.
While experimenting with a number of different brands of ‘value’ .45 ACP ammunition during the ‘shortage’ of the last couple years, I came across a local source for RWS .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ in the company’s Sport Line. While it can be effectively argued that Winchester USA Brand ("white box") is the most popular .45 ACP "hardball" currently on the American market, the price is creeping up. Even though the Winchester remains my default brand of value .45 ACP, since I mostly shoot ‘value’ ammo for the cases so as to reload, with the Winchester 100 packs now running $36 - $50 locally, it’s been worth the commitment to testing alternatives.
Recommend this product?
Having been delightfully surprised by the equivalent Sellier & Bellot ammunition (see link below), I figured I’d put the RWS in the accumulating batch of brands for testing. While the .45 ACP and the pistol most closely associated with may be iconic American symbols, it doesn’t mean that today’s American manufacturers are producing ammunition that is all it should be. The question is whether a second European manufacturer could do any better.
RWS – The Company
RWS is a relatively new brand name for the U.S. market. The company, however, actually dates back to 1886 when it was formed as Rheinisch-Westfälischer Sprengstoff; with factories established in Germany in 1889 and 1893. In 1931, RWS was joined with Dynamit Nobel. In 2002, Swiss RUAG took control of the small arms ammunition portion of Dynamit Nobel, forming a new company under the name RUAG Ammotec. RUAG Ammotec would later create a subsidiary branch in Tampa, FL in 2009, RUAG Ammotec USA, for operations in the U.S.
With ammunition production in 5 countries, the Sport Line series of ammunition is manufactured in various locations. For instance, the 9mm Luger tested for review (see link below) was in boxes marked “Made in Switzerland.” The .45 ACP ammunition used in this review was in boxes labeled “Made in Hungary.” The former is notated as RUAG Ammotec AG (Switzerland). The latter is denoted with RUAG Ammotec USA.
Over a Century and Still the Greatest
2011 is the Centennial anniversary of the 1911 handgun. According to A History of Browning Guns from 1831 -, published by J.M. & M.S. Browning Co. in 1942, at that time, this soon-to-be iconic pistol, designed by the legendary John Moses Browning: “…had the distinction… of being the only small arm to complete a government test with a perfect record… and the examining board’s reports stated that the pistol… was adopted ‘because of its marked superiority to all other pistols.. Six thousand rounds were fired from one pistol without a single malfunction.” (p. 40) If that sounds a little too ‘self-promotional,’ one could reference what prolific firearms author Mike Venturino stated in an article entitled “America’s Pistol: The Military 1911” for the May 2011 issue of Guns Magazine:
“…the US Model 1911 is still considered one of the finest fighting handguns ever developed. Many firearms experts consider it a major mistake that the US military dropped the .45 in 1985 in favor of a 9mm… The US Model 1911 and M1911A1 has not been standard American issue for 25 years but in its basic form it is still being used by special operators, many of whom feel it should never have been dropped in the first place.” (pp. 54 & 58)
In a sister article in the same issue entitled “America’s Pistol: The 1911 Turns 100,” author John Taffin makes a similar case:
“In 1911, Colt introduced what would become the most popular big bore semi-automatic pistol ever, the 1911 Government Model chamber in .45 Automatic Colt Pistol… the .45 ACP has always been the number one chambering in the Colt 1911… When it comes to self-defense there are really only two categories of semi-automatic pistols, namely the 1911 and all others.” (pp. 55, 57, & 59)
This combination of firearm design and cartridge wasn’t an accident. As stated succinctly in Lyman’s 49th Reloading Handbook (2008):
“The 45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) originated in the Colt Model 1905 pistol developed by John Moses Browning. The United States Army sought a 45-caliber pistol to replace the 38 Long Colt that proved semi-disastrous during the Philippine Campaign. John Browning subsequently chambered his masterpiece, the Model 1911 pistol, in 45 ACP and the legend was born… The 45 ACP has long been one of the most accurate and popular pistol cartridges around and shows no sign of slowing down despite its age.” (p. 380)
Such encomium is not simply self-promotion, individual bias, or magazine editors and writers looking for material to take advantage of a notable benchmark in the history of firearms. In this case, the ‘legend’ is largely built on fact. While there will always be ‘sea stories’ that ascribe mythical properties to this combination of pistol and cartridge, in this case, there are times when reality, does regularly equal or surpass fiction.
I've cited the story of Alvin York along with some of the feedback from troops recently and currently deployed overseas in my Sellier & Bellot and PMC .45 ACP reviews (see links below). Such anecdotal ‘evidence' is neither unique nor isolated; in fact, the battlefield stories are legion and not simply ‘stories from the past.’ In my review of Winchester USA, “white box,” .45 ACP (also see link below), I noted two articles detailing how the combination of 1911-design and .45 ACP cartridge is, today, being relied on by the United States Marine Corps; which, rather than looking to political niceties or logistical constraints, emphasizes the effectiveness of the 230 grain .45 ACP FMJ cartridge in a pistol design which is not only battle proven, but continues to live up to the standard it set in the government tests leading to its adoption 100 years ago.
When looking at ammunition, the first question which comes up is what was/is the ‘standard' by which to measure the ballistics of the .45 ACP. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) specs cite use of a 5" test barrel (consistent with a full-size, Government Model, 1911 style pistol) and 830 f.p.s. velocity at 15' from the muzzle for 230 gr. MC-FMC (FMJ). The trouble is that they also cite a ‘margin' of plus or minus 90 f.p.s.!!! That's a pretty wide range.
Think about it. The range they are listing is from a low of 740 f.p.s. to a high of 920 f.p.s. While that may be suitable from the standpoint of variance among different manufacturers, we've got to be able to do better than that in determining a standard for a single manufacturer's product; thereby, giving us some basis for comparison among different lots and makers. Put simply, if we were to accept the SAAMI allowed velocity range, most shooters would have trouble hitting a target with any consistency.
Since the M1911 and the M1911A1 are the archetypes and progenitors for most, though certainly not all, of the .45 ACP chambered pistols now on the market, let's look at what the standard was for these. According to Hatcher's Notebook...
"The Pistol Ammunition furnished for the National Matches during the period under discussion was loaded to the regular service specifications calling for a 230 grain bullet loaded to a muzzle velocity of 810 feet per second... A typical load was that of the 1929 National Match pistol cartridge... giving an instrumental velocity at 25 feet of 816 feet per second..." (p. 393)
National Match ammo is generally considered to be ‘premium' ammunition; not because it is, of necessity, a different load, but because it undergoes more stringent quality control. A few pages earlier, in a schematic of the "Cartridge, Ball, cal. .45, M1911," the following statement is provided...
"Charge of smokeless pistol powder to give 820 +/- 25 ft. per sec. velocity at 25 ½ feet in pistol, automatic cal. .45 M1911A1." (p. 351)
The 1940 published FM 23-35, Basic Field Manual, Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911 & M1911A1, declares that...
"One model of .45 caliber ball cartridge and one model of .45 caliber dummy cartridge are authorized for use in the caliber .45 automatic pistol. These cartridges are designated - (1) Cartridge, ball, cal. .45, M1911... Average velocity at 25 feet from muzzle, 800 feet per second." (pp. 16 & 17)
A 1986 reprint of an American Rifleman booklet by the National Rifle Association entitled The .45 Automatic posits the following...
"Reliable functioning of this pistol [the 1911A1] requires ammunition which works the mechanism with some reserve power. The Service cartridge with 230-gr. metal-jacketed bullet at 830 feet per second (f.p.s.) is somewhat more than adequate for this purpose..." (p. 6)
RWS Catalog Specs and A Standard For Testing
Alright. What does that mean for the RWS .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ? According to the company’s catalog, the Sport Line version of this ‘ball’ ammunition is…
230 gr. FMJ (full-metal jacket) with a ‘muzzle' velocity of 853 f.p.s.
In theory, that seems to mean it is ‘hotter’ than both the SAAMI and Hatcher-cited averages. But, you have to remember the range of velocities and testing criteria involved in both. With the more narrowly defined range provided by Hatcher, an average muzzle velocity of 845 f.p.s. means the 853 f.p.s. of the RWS would be out-of-spec unless you remember that RWS adheres to SAAMI standards; measuring velocity at 15 ft. from the muzzle rather than the 25 ½ ft. cited by Hatcher. In other words, while well within SAAMI’s accepted range, it is roughly equal to the upper range cited by Hatcher.
Now, take a moment and put these numbers in a little perspective. We all know about the devastating power of a shotgun slug. According to SAAMI specs, a 2 ¾", 1 ounce (437.5 grains), rifled shotgun slug, 30' from the muzzle, should be traveling around an average of 1,600 f.p.s. (+/- 90 f.p.s) from a 30-inch test barrel.
What that means is a 230 gr., .45 ACP ball round is just over half the weight (52.57%) of a ‘standard' shotgun slug; traveling at just over half the average velocity (51.88%) of that slug; from a barrel that is one-sixth (16.67%) the length of that used to generate those statistics for the shotgun!!!
In other words, considering the average, not to mention legal, ranges involved in self-defense situations, you're sending a pretty robust chunk-o'-lead downrange with a .45 ACP pistol.
Ultimately, it becomes apparent that we do not need to look for a ‘standard' of ballistics measurement. It has been there from the beginning. This is what the 1911 archetype was designed to function with. The round has served our Armed Forces from 1911 to this day; for, despite the politics-driven adoption of the 9mm cartridge in 1985, modern manufacture, along with WWI and WWII era production, 1911's and 1911A1's still see active service in the field with U.S. service members.
Put in a nutshell, the ‘standard' for .45 ACP ‘hardball' is precisely what Hatcher cited all those years ago: a 230 gr. FMJ bullet with a velocity of 820 f.p.s. - plus or minus 25 f.p.s. - said velocity measured 25 feet from the muzzle of a full-size, government model, 1911 or 1911A1 style pistol. That gives a low end of 795 f.p.s. and a high end of 845 f.p.s.; a margin of 6.1% or less than 1/3 the margin allowed for by SAAMI specs.
I set up a Chrony F1 (chronograph, see link below) and measured a distance 10 feet from the muzzle. (I know that I just said SAAMI measured 15' from the muzzle and military specs called for 25' from the muzzle. First, you don't need to be that far; 10' is sufficient to mitigate the muzzle blast's potential to influence the chronograph results in this handgun caliber. Second, all testing was done offhand. Finally, if you want to set up your chronograph at eight yards and not worry about inadvertently shooting the unit while simultaneously hitting ‘the sweet spot' between the arms...) The elevation was 5,500 ft., on a clear day with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees F and relative humidity around 25%.
The test gun was a military spec 1911; i.e., your basic ‘rear'-in-the-grass .45 Government Model. Bearing in mind that I am not a ‘gun writer' with access to manufacturer's in terms of obtaining ‘donated' ammunition for testing, the sample size is, of necessity, a bit small. Be that as it may, 10 rounds from two different boxes/lots of RWS 45 ACP, 230 gr. FMJ to establish the following results:
Mean Velocity = 827.8 f.p.s.
High = 880.7 f.p.s.; Low = 778.7 f.p.s. - ES (Extreme Spread) = 102 f.p.s.
Standard Deviation (SD) = 36.575
While this puts it well within SAAMI specs in terms of velocity, it also places the resultant average just above dead center in the range noted by Hatcher; making it marginally ‘hotter' on average than the traditional military ‘standard;' though not detrimentally. Interestingly, it also makes the RWS the lowest average velocity .45 ACP of those reviewed thus far; with Winchester at 860.05, the Sellier & Bellot at 842.17 f.p.s. and the PMC at 865.7 f.ps. (Again, see review links below.)
Interesting? If so, then we might need to take a closer look at a couple of the other numbers as well.
The highest recorded velocity is the second highest recorded for all four brands and the lowest recorded velocity for the RWS is a full 52 f.p.s. slower than any of the lowest from the other three. Likewise, the extreme spread is more than double that of the next highest. Even if I were to throw out the lowest and go with the 2nd lowest recorded velocity (783.3 f.p.s.), the results would only marginally improve.
While I know of no ‘official' marker for standard deviation on factory ammo sold on the civilian market, an SD of around 20 has always been a bit of a rule of thumb; with low-end ammo starting to verge on ‘unacceptable' around 30 or so and ‘match' ammo having an SD of somewhere around 7 - 10. Remember, you're talking about assembly line production, not individually weighed handloads.
With that said, an SD of 36.575 is verging on ‘unacceptable’ and is almost 2 ½ times the SD of the next most variable; e.g., the Winchester USA.
One observation, well… more of a ‘suspicion,’ I would point to is that, as noted, the RWS .45 ACP used in these tests was marked “Made in Hungary.” The parent company, RUAG,took over MFS 2000 in Syrok, Hungary in 2008. The MFS brand has had mixed reviews here in the US and, assuming the RWS .45 ACP is being produced in the same factory, that could ‘answer’ a number of questions in the context of the numbers generated.
(Insofar as these numbers and the comparisons made to this point, allow me to reiterate…
*** I remind you that I said of the .45 ACP ammunition reviewed thus far; not those tested. Pending reviews may, and likely will, change these comparisons/rankings of the numbers. ***)
While there does come a point where the slower velocities can create function issues with a given firearm, not to mention bringing up questions related to ‘stopping power,’ bear in mind that a mean average velocity of 827.8 f.p.s. is pretty much where it should be; with the lower velocities still within SAAMI specs and only marginally outside those provided by Hatcher. For me, the Extreme Spread and the Standard Deviation represent more of an ‘issue’ than the ‘slower’ velocities. Why? Because these numbers are suggestive of potential…
I’m no longer interested in competitive shooting. There are a number of reasons for this and we won’t go there. Suffice to say, however, it's now been over 20 years since I actively shot Bullseye and IPSC competition. Even “in the day,” I didn't shoot anywhere near the thousands of rounds per week that champions such as Rob Leatham or Doug Koenig average; nor did I ever come close to Bob Munden's speed. But, I did get rounds downrange and have a handful of plaques to show for it. Likewise, within the parameters of financial and time constraints, I still get some rounds down the pipe from time to time.
Even though I no longer have the speed or ‘absolute’ accuracy I did then, I can still pretty much hit what I aim at, most of the time. Put it this way, I'll admit to being able to hit the broadside of a barn - provided it's not moving and I'm standing inside. I'm not going to be winning any Bullseye matches in the near future. Further, I have none of the technological aids which help to take the ‘human factor' out of accuracy tests; e.g., a proper rest such as a Ransom Rest.
With that said, I’m more interested in the practical accuracy I can achieve with a particular combination of firearm and ammunition. In that vein and given my concerns over the numbers generated, I opted to use a B-27 silhouette target at 10 yards for punching paper. (Okay. I discovered I only had the one target left over from a previous session; having left the others sitting on the table at home. Happy?) The result? Eh. I didn’t blow out the “X” ring; but, they got the job done if I did my part.
Just for the sake of satisfying curiosity, I loaded up a magazine, paced off about 15 yards or so, ‘selected’ a 3-inch diameter branch sticking out of a nearby woodpile… Well, let’s just say the branch doesn’t stick out as far as it used to.
As with the RWS 9mm Luger 124 gr. FMJ, though I’d like to speak to the reloadability of the brass, I haven’t used it in that regard – yet. I have a supply of cases deprimed and cleaned, waiting to go; but, they haven’t worked their way into the rotation yet. I’m unwilling to speculate other than to say they don’t show any signs of being unsuited for my needs; bearing in mind that, when it comes to auto loading firearms, I figure on a maximum of 5 or 6 loadings, then it's into the brass bucket.
With no failures to fire or failures to eject, reliability wasn’t a problem. The trouble is that I’d like a little more consistent numbers, even from a ‘value’ ammunition. With a local price tag of $19.99 per box of 50, it’s not the most ‘cost effective’ choice for someone looking more for the brass. (Winchester USA .45 ACP 100-packs are currently running $36 at the local Wal-Mart and I know what the brass is like with that.)
Online availability is only marginally less ‘spotty’ than locally. Sportsman’s Guide has it in 50, 250, 500, and 1,000 round packages, with pricing running from $21.77 - $389.97. At the time of this post, MidwayUSA lists the 50-pack for $22.49; but, also notes that it is out of stock. Since the company is still expanding their availability in the US market, my sense is that, if you want it, you’d probably better grab it when the price suits you and the grabbin’s good because there are people, like myself, who are ‘experimenting;’ with some already ‘convinced’ if some of the chat room conversations are to be given any ‘weight.’
I guess I’d have to say that, while the RWS .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ is something I’d shoot if that’s what was available, it’s not something I’d go out of my way to obtain so long as I’ve got the Winchester or PMC as readily to hand as it is slowly becoming again. In that context, the Winchester USA remains my default choice and not only because of the ‘numbers.’ I mean, when looking to feed “the Greatest” combination of pistol and cartridge design in US history, there is the ‘value’ in a steady “Made in USA” diet – even though an occasional dish of ‘European cuisine’ thrown in there periodically for a little variety or for the sake of experimentation isn’t an entirely bad thing.
Reviews Cited Above
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