An Overview of Handloading .45 ACP by Pat Cascio

I’ve had numerous requests from SurvivalBlog readers for some articles on reloading, and in particular, on how to reload. It is beyond the scope of any single article to teach anyone how to reload in several easy steps. There are many videos and reloading manuals available that can teach you, step-by-step, how to reload. There are also some on-line courses you can take to teach you how to reload. There isn’t anything magical about reloading, it’s really pretty simple and enjoyable – I’ve been reloading for more than 40 years now, and I personally find it a relaxing way to spend my time.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to get started in reloading, either. You can get a simple, single-stage reloading press, powder scale, reloading dies, etc. for about $100 – add a couple good reloading manuals, primers, powder, brass and bullets and you’re ready to get going. One of the best things about reloading is the savings you’ll get by rolling your own ammo – you can reload most ammo less expensively than you can purchase it off your sporting goods dealer shelves. Plus, you can tailor loads to your own particular guns if you want the absolute best accuracy from a particular gun.

If you’re serious about survival, or serious about firearms, then you owe it to yourself to get involved in reloading. I make no claims as to being any sort of expert when it comes to reloading. My good friend, John Taffin, who is also a gun writer, is one of the best when it comes to reloading, and I often consult him when I have a question about reloading a particular round. I had a magazine editor offer me a regular column on reloading not long ago, however, I turned him down. As I said, I’m no expert when it comes to reloading. I do it because I enjoy it and find it very relaxing.

Most of my reloading is limited to only a few calibers these days. I reload the .45 ACP, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum – that’s about it! I probably shoot the .45 ACP round more than any other caliber, so I’m only going to cover this round in this article – besides, it’s one of my favorite rounds. That’s not to say I don’t reload other calibers, but the above three are the calibers I’ve reloaded the most.

I don’t own a reloading library, instead, I have a couple good reloading manuals I consult, and my favorite is the Speer reloading manual #13, and one of these days, I’ll get #14. I also use the Nosler Reloading Guide, (5th edition). There is also a wealth of reloading information you can find on-line from a number of bullet, brass and powder companies – and it’s free information, too.

The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) has been around since 1905 – that’s a good long time, and it has developed a solid following as a fight-stopping round. John Browning chose a 230 grain bullet at 850-feet per second for his 1911 handgun, and this is pretty much the “standard” for this round. Oh, to be sure, there are many ammo companies, like Black Hills Ammunition and Buffalo Bore Ammunition that produce some outstanding +P loads for the .45 ACP. However, I’ve never loaded my own .45 ACP ammo to anything except standard velocities.

Tim Sundles, who owns and operates Buffalo Bore Ammunition, turned me on to Rim Rock Bullets which is owned and operated by Frank Brown. Frank also manufactures the hard cast lead bullets that Buffalo Bore Ammunition uses in their rounds that use hard cast lead bullets. So right off the bat, I had a lot of respect for Rim Rock Bullets – if Buffalo Bore is using ’em in their ammo – then I knew they would be good.

Much of my own reloading for the .45 ACP has been either 230 grain FMJ, 200 grain SWC, 185 grain SWC and 185 grain JHP bullets. For shooting pleasure and target practice, it’s hard to beat the 185 grain SWC and 200 grain SWC lead bullets. My only complaint about using lead bullets in the past have been they were soft lead, and they really get a gun dirty and the barrel needs extra time to clean it – and I don’t enjoy spending a lot of time cleaning my guns – I’d rather be out shooting.

The Rim Rock 200 grain SWC bullet is lead, hard cast, so there is no excessive leading in your barrel – what’s not to like here? I wish I had discovered Rim Rock’s hard cast bullets long ago. And, truth be told, the hard cast bullets aren’t very much more money than soft lead bullets are. You can get 500 hard cast lead bullets from Rim Rock for $76.50 and that’s cheap enough if you ask me.

Okay, when reloading any semiauto handgun round, you need to put a taper crimp on the bullet – not a roll crimp. I’m not gonna go into great detail here, but most semi-auto rounds, like the .45 ACP headspace on the rim of the case. So the case mouth can’t be rolled over the bullet’s groove, like you can do on [straight-case] rimmed rounds. (Such as the .38 Special that headspace on the rim of the brass.) And it takes special care to get just the right amount of taper on the brass/bullet so the rounds will headspace properly. It’s a trial and error sort of thing, that you’ll learn as you get into reloading for semi-auto handguns.

Most of my life, I’ve only used single-stage reloading presses. This means you can only perform one reloading step at a time. You need to de-prime your old brass, then re-prime it, add your powder and then your bullet and seat it. It takes time to do each step. Usually what I’ll do is take about 500 pieces of brass and punch out all the old primers, then I’ll use a hand primer to seat new primers – at some point, down the road, when I’m ready to start loading the brass – and this could be months down the road – I’ll get my reloading dies all set and adjusted and start measuring and pouring powder in my empty brass, then seat the bullets. Like I said, I’m not gonna try to teach you to reload in this article. There’s more to it than this – and one step is to get a case tumbler to clean your old brass and make it nice and shiny before reloading it.

I like a single-stage press as I feel they give me more control and I can precisely load each round exactly the way I want it. I have several single-stage reloading presses, but the one I use most was given to me by a friend from Alaska (now deceased) and it’s an ancient single-stage press made by Pacific. I use this press because it works best for me, and there is the nostalgia there – it was given to me by a good friend. I also have several Lee brand single-stage reloading presses as well. The only time I used a progressive reloading press was when I worked for the late Col. Rex Applegate – he loved shooting .38 Special rounds and it was my chore to keep the good Colonel well-supplied in this caliber. Still, I prefer single-stage reloading presses for my own use. Sure, you can pump out hundreds or thousands of rounds faster on a progressive press. However, as I mentioned, I find reloading very relaxing and I’m never in a hurry to reload.

There are any number of good reloading powders you can find for rolling your own .45 ACP rounds, however, I’ve found that the ol’ standby of “Unique” to take care of a lot of my reloading chores – it’s been around forever and it’s, well…”unique” in that it is very versatile. The .45 ACP doesn’t have to be loaded to high velocities to get the job done all the time. For sheer shooting pleasure, I like to keep the 200 grain SWC load under 800 f.p.s.. I’ve found that with the hard cast 200 grain SWC bullets from Rim Rock, and 5.4 grains of Unique, I can keep these bullets moving along at slightly under 800 f.p.s.. Remember, when working up any new load, to reduce your starting load by about 10% and work your way up to the desired velocity you want – and keep an eye out for excessive pressure – one way is to look at your empty brass for flattened primers. Of course, this isn’t the only sign of over-pressured rounds. You’ll learn as you go along.

The Rim Rock 200 grain SWC is not only a good bullet for target practice, it’s also a good round for self defense and small to medium game out in the field. You don’t always need super-hot rounds in a .45 ACP to get the job done. Remember, you are already starting out with a bullet that is almost half an inch in diameter to start with – so it’s gonna make a big hole going in. The Rim Rock hard cast lead bullet is gonna give you some good penetration and it’s gonna hold together for you and not easily deform when hitting bone, either. I did some non-scientific testing on the Rim Rock bullets, shooting them into water-filled milk jugs, and it easily penetrated through three milk jugs – I ran out of milk jugs for more testing after several tests of penetration.  However, all the Rim Rock bullets looked as if they could have been cleaned-up and reloaded once again. (Tough bullets, to be sure!)

For target shooting, you can load the 200 grain SWC Rim Rock bullet down a bit, by using 4.9 grains of Unique powder, which will have that bullet traveling at slightly more than 700 f.p.s. and it’s a very accurate round for punching holes in paper and “killing” rocks and other targets of opportunity out in the field.

I tested the Rim Rock 200 grain SWC hard cast bullets in several different M1911s and there were no feeding problems – the rounds slid out of the magazines and into the chambers without any problems – not something I can say of soft lead SWC bullets at times.

I knew from the start, that these bullets would be good ones, if Buffalo Bore is using ’em in their ammo, then I knew they’d be good stuff. Frank Brown, at Rim Rock Bullets, is one of the good guys. Check out his web site, and I’m sure you’ll find some bullets you’ll want for your own reloading projects. Frank Brown deserves your business. As I said at the start of this article, I’m not “expert” when it comes to reloading, but I’ve been at it for more than 40 years, and I know quality bullets when I see ’em – the Rim Rock 200 grain SWC samples I had are high-quality in every respect. And, if you buy in large quantities, shipping is only $15 for up to 70 pounds of bullets – that’s a deal!