The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge dates back to 1905 – which actually makes it three years younger than the 9mm Parabellum cartridge – and 108 years later, the M1911 single-action semiautomatic pistol remains far and away the most popular – and as many experts insist, still the best – pistol platform in the caliber.
That said, hard to swallow as it may be for many dyed-in-the-wool 1911 gurus, that model is not the only quality handgun chambered for that ubiquitous caliber. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I consider the best .45 ACP handguns that aren’t 1911s.
Glock 21SF (“Short Frame”)
Those of you who’ve been reading my articles for a while shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that I’ve put the G21SF at the top of the list. As I noted in my review of this gun several months back, it is the most accurate and sweetest shooting handgun in my so-called “Orr-senal of Democracy” (see what I did there?), enabling me to win multiple gold medals at the Nevada Police & Fire Games (NPAF) as well as 1st Prize at the 2009 Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) Indoor Tournament at LAX Firing Range back in 2009.
And I’m far from the only one blown away by the G21SF’s accuracy; my friend Lou Chiodo, former U.S. Marine Corps captain, retired California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, and current President of Gunfighters Ltd. Combat Shooting Methods Inc. in Chula Vista, California, succinctly puts it thusly: “The 21 is a tack driver if we do our part.”
Besides the extraordinary accuracy, it also has the reliability, durability, simplicity, and ease of maintenance inherent to all Glock pistols.
SIG Sauer P220
Many out there will say that this is not only the best double-action (DA) .45 autopistol, but that it’s the best .45, period. That’s indeed what the then-manager of Los Angeles Gun Club in Downtown L.A. told me when I first fired the P220 way back on my 15th birthday on 20 August 1990. Yep, even better than the M1911, its adherents claim, as sacrilegious as that sounds. Indeed, some longtime single-action M1911 stalwarts like John Farnam and Ed Stock (the latter was a longtime instructor at Jeff Cooper’s Gunsite Ranch) actually switched to it.
As I noted in my standalone 19FortyFive piece on the P220, it’s not my favorite .45, but it was nonetheless the first gun in the caliber that I ever fired, and it is certainly accurate and reliable. Personal friends of mine with privately-owned and department-issued SIG P220s alike absolutely love them. It was the first DA .45 auto to make inroads in the U.S. domestic law enforcement market, when, under the assumed name of “Browning BDA,” it was adopted by the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department.
This is sort of the dark horse candidate of the bunch. Not as pricey or high-end or prestigious as the other guns included in this list, it nonetheless – as is true of a lot of Sturm, Ruger products – gives the best bang for the buck. As I stated in my review published back in March 2023, “It left a very positive first impression, with a “love at first shot” feeling I’d only previously experienced with the Beretta 92F (M9), Colt Series 80 Government Model M1911-A1, and the CZ-75. DA and single-action (SA) trigger and grip ergonomics felt optimal, and 21-foot head shot accuracy and 50-foot center-of-torso accuracy were impeccable.”
Smith & Wesson Model 645/4506
I’m lumping these two together since the latter is simply a slightly improved version of the former; the 645 was from Smith’s 2nd Generation autopistol series, whilst the 4506 was 3rd Generation. These Smiths further aided the .45 ACP cartridge/traditional DA lockwork combo’s penetration into the domestic police market, by virtue of three major factors: (1) being American-made and therefore appealing to the patriotism of street cops who might feel disinclined to carry a foreign-made handgun; (2) maintenance-friendly stainless steel finish; and (3) out-of-the-box reliability with jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) ammo, including the famed CCI-Speer 200-grain “flying ashtrays.” (Before the Colt Series 80 Government Model and Springfield Armory “90s Edition” versions of the M1911 came along, that classic platform needed aftermarket custom throat-and-ramp jobs by a reputable gunsmith to feed and cycle reliably with JHPs, especially the Speer load.)
As with the SIG P220, my personal impressions from firing the M645 and M4506 alike were “not great, but adequate.” Nonetheless, I consider these guns to be right up there with the Beretta 92F/M9 as amongst the most handsome-looking autopistols ever made, and plenty of shooters absolutely rave about them, in terms of accuracy, reliability, and shooting comfort alike.
Smith & Wesson Model 25
Hey, I have to include at least one DA revolver on this list, right? The original version was released in 1955, same year as that company debuted its legendary Model 29 .44 Magnum. When the second edition of this gun, the Model 25-2, was released around 1990, it had some teething issues, as was reported at the time by American Handgunner Magazine and sister publication GUNS Magazine (if memory serves me right, it was either Massad Ayoob and/or John Taffin who authored the negative reports), but fortunately, Smith & Wesson has long since resolved those issues. Guns.Com writer Chris Eger refers to the revolver as a “Wheel Gun Extraordinaire” in an August 2020 article. My own hands-on firing experience with the M25 was fairly brief, only a couple of cylinders’ worth, but it was sufficient to impress upon me the smoothness and accuracy I’ve come to expect from all Smith DA wheelies.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.