June 17, 2013
I know this blog is supposed to be about gunsmithing, not reloading, but if you test-fire a lot of guns like I do you need a steady supply of quality ammunition. Much of my work involves 1911 .45 ACP pistols so I load a lot of .45 ammo. What follows are tips on loading my favorite pistol cartridge.
Bullets: Years ago I settled on the 200-grain H&G 68-style cast lead semi-wadcutter for all sporting purposes. The SWC works well for bullseye, IPSC or IDPA. Bullets of this type feed well in any modern pistol and accuracy is excellent. For the past few years I've been using Laser Cast bullets from Oregon Trail with no complaints, but any good quality .452" lead bullet in this style should work. Seat them to an overall length between 1.24 and 1.25 inches. Longer cartridges may prevent the slide from closing in guns with fitted barrels and match chambers. The case mouth must be taper crimped (.469"-.470").
Brass: The .45acp is a low pressure cartridge and brass lasts virtually forever. If you shoot a lot you will accumulate buckets of it. I don't trim my cases but I do separate them by headstamp. I also clean brass in a vibratory tumbler to keep the crud out of my dies.
Powders: A wide variety of fast-burning powders work well in this cartridge including Bullseye, W231, HP38, WST and others. Lately I've been running WST but Bullseye is pretty hard to beat for versatility. A basic target load for precision shooting is the 200 SWC over 4 grains of Bullseye. That charge can be increased closer to 5 grains for action pistol sports.
Bullseye is dirty but seems to be exactly the correct burning rate for the .45 ACP. A general purpose load I've been using lately for test firing pistols is 4.2 grains of WST under the 200 SWC, and it functions well in factory pistols including the S&W M&P .45. My goal is a load with a bit less recoil than factory offerings that will function well in pistols with standard springs. The .45 ACP cartridge is not fussy when it comes to powder selection.
Primers: Any large pistol primer seems to work fine. I've used mostly Winchester and lately CCI. Primers should always be seated below flush. Cleaning primer pockets is recommended. You may encounter some .45 brass with small primer pockets such as Federal NT (non-toxic?) which was loaded with lead-free primers. Regular small pistol primers and standard loads seem to work OK with NT brass in the limited testing I have done.
Equipment: Don't kid yourself when it comes to reloading presses and the .45 ACP. You need a progressive machine. I'm biased in this category after using Dillon machines for 25 years. My 650 is simply great. I'm sure other brands work well but I have no experience with them.
Attention to detail is important when loading ammunition. At Camp Perry I saw malfunctions caused by poor reloading technique many times. Proper overall length, taper crimp and primer seating depth are all critical ingredients to reliable function.
The classic Hensley & Gibbs
The classic Hensley & Gibbs 68-style 200-grain SWC bullet is versatile enough for IDPA, IPSC, NRA Bullseye and casual plinking. It's reliable in most any 1911, Norcross says.
The 200 SWC
The 200 SWC is an ideal bullet for 1911s and also works well in more recent autoloaders like the S&W M&P .45. It's available from a variety of custom makers, or just cast your own.
Overall length should be set between 1.24 and 1.25 inches for best function. Longer cartridges may not chamber in tightly-fitted match pistols, says Norcross.
Progressive loading machines are the only way to go for high-volume reloading. Save the single-stage for experimentation; you need speed when loading for competition.