Pros: Good brass; 100 round packs best 'value' in this niche; Packs a punch
Cons: Prices can vary widely
Not long ago, I decided to test a series of different brands of factory ammunition to see which might be good, or even acceptable, alternatives. Winchester USA Brand was for me, not to mention a host of others, something akin to the default choice in ‘value' ammunition. The problem was - and still is - that primarily due to the shortages still playing out on the market, "white box" ammo has not only been somewhat difficult to find, but the price has shot up noticeably. As a result, retailers now carry a greater variety of brands than I can ever remember seeing before.
I'm naturally suspicious in such circumstances; thus, the testing. While some of it is still on-going, one thing has remained consistent. While the data being generated is interesting, to say the least, it always seems that the standard question seems to be: "How does it compare to the Winchester (USA / "white box")? In that context, I figured I might as well start laying out the data/observations I've accumulated on this brand so that it can be used as a reference or ‘control' for the rest.
The One That Counts
The .45 ACP and the M1911/1911A1 are iconic American symbols. Both cartridge and firearm were designed by the premier American gun designer John Moses Browning. Both have served for nearly a century with our Armed Forces; despite having been ‘officially' replaced more than two decades ago. Why? Because the .45 ACP is the only FMJ (‘hardball' - ‘military') round to have developed a solid reputation as a fight stopper.
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, they are so numerous that many will accuse them of being simply "sea stories" or "myths" rather than ‘reality.' As noted in the Sellier & Bellot review, the physical evidence of Alvin York's feat may now have been found; the actual, updated report slated to be available in May 2010 (see http://www.sgtyorkdiscovery.com/).
A 2008 article entitled "The MEU .45: The 1911 Soldiers On" appeared in Guns magazine (online version found here - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_8_54/ai_n27506051/), notes that:
"...while the rest of the military was busy implementing the adoption of the new service pistol [the Beretta 92 or "M9"], a relatively obscure group of men saw a continued need for the 1911, or perhaps more accurately, a sidearm chambered in .45 ACP. These were the men of the Marine Corps' elite Force Reconnaissance Companies... These Marines required weapons with the ability to end fights quickly at conversational distances. They chose their pistol accordingly and their decision has proven itself valid. The pistol they fought for, and continue to use today, is the MEU (SOC) .45, a modified M1911A1... The MEU (SOC) .45, with or without modifications, is a bet-your-life reliable sidearm. Over the course of pre-deployment training a shooter can expect to fire between 10,000 and 20,000 rounds of 230-grain military ball ammunition... For most of the military, the 1911 is a distant memory, but for a few elite Marines she lives on as the MEU (SOC) .45. As I write this, there is nothing to indicate a replacement is being sought. At least for the foreseeable future the M1911A1 and the .45 ACP are where they belong - on the front lines, in the hands of Marines, "pushing the fight."
In another article from the July/August 2004 issue of American Handgunner magazine entitled "MEU 1911 .45: The Legend Lives In The Hands Of Today's Marines," author R.E. Brown states:
"The MEU (SOC) 1911 .45 Auto is the pistol these especially qualified SOC Marines carry. Why? Well, the official answer goes like, ‘The M1911A1 was chosen for this role... because of its inherent reliability and lethality...' - there is a selection program underway at this time to replace the existing pistol with a commercial gun, factory-built..." (online version of article here - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BTT/is_170_28/ai_n6040330/)
It's not that they were looking to replace the 1911A1 design or the cartridge, the problem was that all of these MEU pistols were being hand built from frames/parts taken from retired military 1911's and kept running in the field by, literally, ordering commercial parts catalogs while deployed. But, you get the idea. Rather than looking to political niceties or logistical constraints, there is a continuing reliance upon and fight to keep the .45 based on very sound reasoning...
Which is an emphasis and reliance upon the effectiveness of the 230 grain .45 ACP FMJ cartridge.
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... ready?... 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. The low end of this range might necessitate a ‘light' recoil spring and, while not quite up to true +P levels, the high end of SAAMI's margin is definitely touching the low end of the +P velocities and isn't something I'd like to feed my 1911 a regular diet of, especially without a slightly ‘heavier' recoil spring.
Another problem with this wide a range is the potential for inconsistency. Frankly, if a single box or lot of ammunition from the same manufacturer ranged that much, individuals would have trouble keeping things on target. Viewed another way, SAAMI specs allow for a margin of error equivalent to 21.7% in the .45 ACP (180 divided by 830). 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.
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)
Winchester Specs and A Standard For Testing
It can be effectively argued that Winchester USA Brand ("white box") is the most popular .45 ACP "hardball" currently on the American market. According to Winchester, the specs for USA Brand 45 Automatic, Product Number Q4170 (the ‘value pack' [USA45AVP] specs are identical), are...
230 gr. FMJ (full-metal jacket) with a ‘muzzle' velocity of 835 f.p.s.
Put that in a little perspective for a minute. 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) 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 70 - 75 degrees F and relative humidity around 35%.
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 Winchester USA ("white box") 45 Auto, 230 grs. FMJ to establish the following results:
Mean Velocity = 860.05 f.p.s.
High = 873.3 f.p.s.; Low = 835.9 f.p.s. - ES (Extreme Spread) = 37.4 f.p.s.
Standard Deviation (SD) = 14.986
While this puts it well within SAAMI specs in terms of velocity, it does put it make it a little ‘hotter' on average than the traditional military ‘standard;' though not detrimentally. This places the Winchester between the Sellier & Bellot at 842.17 f.p.s. and close to the PMC at 865.7 f.ps.; again, see review links below. (While the .45 ACP "white box" is still made in the U.S., you will note, as cited in the review linked below, some of their 5.56 ammunition is now made in Korea; which creates an interesting "mmmm" when you consider how close the USA and PMC average velocities came out.)
While there is more variance than with the PMC, as with the average velocity, it is not markedly different (i.e., 14.986 vs. 14.271 for the PMC). It is, however, noticeably and significantly higher than the Sellier & Bellot (7.799). 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.
Viewed from that perspective, an SD of 14.986 is good, solid consistency in factory, ‘value' ammunition; with consistency being a key to accuracy...
It's been nearly 20 years since I actively shot Bullseye and IPSC competition. 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.
Now? Well... I'll admit to being able to hit the broadside of a barn - provided it's not moving and I'm standing inside. It's not that I can't hit what I aim at - most of the time. It's that 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. While I'm too far out of practice to have competitive speed, as for the practical accuracy necessary for IPSC...
I filled two magazines with Winchester USA 230 gr. FMJ, set a target with an 8" black at a measured 15 yards. Since I already pretty much knew what to expect, I didn't ‘play' too around much with stances. Using a modified isosceles, ALL rounds ended up inside the black. I then measured 25 yards and set up a standard silhouette ("B27") target and shot one magazine Bullseye (one hand) and one magazine with the same, modified isosceles. The results...? Let's just say Larry the Cable Guy would have been satisfied since I "got ‘er done."
Over the years, Winchester cases have been the ‘working man's (or woman's)' brass. I do not use cases until failure. When it comes to auto loading firearms, I figure on 5 or 6 loadings, then it's into the brass bucket and this holds true for the brass from these rounds. However, bear in mind that, for many, the brass is a primary motivation for purchasing this particular ammunition; at least it used to be, before prices shot through the roof.
Speaking of price... Just over a year ago, Wal-Mart was selling the 100 round value pack (Product number USA45AVP) for as low as $29.97. Recently, Cabela's actually lowered their price for the value pack from $40.99 to $39.99. I was shocked. Why? Because, over the last year, the availability through Cabela's has been spotty, at best. Locally, it has been almost nonexistent; I haven't seen a box at Wal-Mart for about 11 months. One local retailer sold the last of 3 boxes they'd gotten in last week for $54.99. Another local retailer had 5 boxes on the shelf yesterday, priced at $53.99. However, last summer, during the height of the ‘shortage,' I saw it go locally for as high as $69.99 for the 100-pack.
Fortunately, things seem to be loosening up a skosh; as ‘evidenced,' I hope, by Cabela's reduction in price. Unfortunately, I don't see things coming back down locally any time soon. Neither do I see other, online retailers flush with stock. So, it pays to shop around.
Are there ‘better' .45 ACP loads for self-defense? It depends on a variety of factors; much of which is beyond the province of this review. Let's just say while I am in no position to recommend it for such use, I did seem to spend a considerable amount of time in this review addressing how effective 230 gr. ball has proven and is still considered to be on the battlefield.
Hunting? No comment - except to say that today, I find it now costs about as much to hunt ground squirrels and rabbits with .22 LR as it once did to ‘practice shooting moving targets' with .45 ACP. Bigger stuff? Well, I do know one kid who recently took a wild boar with his 1911; but, he wasn't using ‘hardball.'
Winchester's catalog/website lists this ammunition as suitable for plinking and target shooting; which would be consistent with the ‘value' ammunition marketing concept. To be frank, I had a hard time reloading it for the $30 Wal-Mart price, but $40+ a box for 100-packs that aren't always easy to replenish right now makes this kind of expensive ‘plinking' ammo and the variance doesn't lend itself to my thinking of this as ‘target' ammunition; at least not in a competitive sense.
With no failures to fire and no failures to eject, reliability isn't an issue; at least not in my firearms. While the Sellier & Bellot is more consistent, you also end up paying a bit more for that consistency; which is arguably worth it depending on your intended end use. While the PMC is relatively close and a practical alternative, it too ends up costing a bit more on average. In the end, given the alternatives, the price of the Winchester USA 230 gr. FMJ 100 round value pack, and the results of my testing, combined with a little jingoism, I'm hard pressed to recommend a better ‘bang for your buck' in terms of general, practice ammo.
Other Ammunition Reviews
Aguila .30 Carbine Ammunition – Good Enough
CCI .22LR Mini-Mag (HV) Ammunition - It Can Be an Ace in the Hole
CCI .22LR Mini-Mag HP Ammunition - My Hunting Standard
CCI .22LR Velocitor Ammunition - When You Want to Reach Out and Touch Something
CCI .22LR Stinger Ammunition - My 10/22 Likes It...
Fiocchi 9mm Luger 115 gr. FMJ - The Whole Point of Testing
Magtech 9mm Luger 115 gr. FMJ (9A) - For The Purposes Intended...
PMC .45 ACP Ammunition - 230 Grains Of Series 70 Fodder
PMC 9mm Luger - 115 Grains Of Pretentiousness
PMC .38 Special 132 gr. FMJ - Not My First Choice, But Not My Last
PMC .223 Remington - If I Had A Choice...
PMC .30 Carbine - It Functions The Bolt, As For The Rest...
RWS .45 ACP 230 gr. FMJ - Maybe as an Occasional Serving
RWS 9mm Luger 124 gr. FMJ - Worth Experimenting With
Sellier & Bellot .45 ACP - Say It Ain't So...
Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger - It's An European Cartridge... What'd You Expect?
Sellier & Bellot .223 Remington - Is It Really 5.56mm?
Sellier & Bellot .30 Carbine - About As Good As It Gets
Winchester USA 5.56 - "White Box" Is Something Of A "Gold Standard"
Winchester USA 9mm 115 gr. FMJ - More Than A Slight Deviation
Winchester Super-X Power Point .22 LR 40 gr. Lead Hollow Point - Uh...