44 Magnum vs 45 ACP: Expert Cartridge Comparison

The 44 Magnum and 45 ACP are iconic cartridges with unique characteristics. They are widely recognized in the firearm world, boasting a long history and a storied legacy. However, they offer different performance features regarding power, recoil, and application. Therefore, the choice between the .44 Magnum and .45 ACP depends on your shooting application, whether it is hunting, self-defense, or target shooting. In this article, we analyze both cartridges, discussing their strengths and weaknesses and ultimately helping you decide which cartridge is more suited for your shooting needs. 

44 Magnum vs 45 ACP

What Is The History Of The 44 Magnum?

The .44 Magnum’s origin can be traced back to 1955, following the efforts of the firearms and outdoor enthusiast Elmer Keith, who had been developing high-velocity rounds and experimenting with them in the .44 Special.

Impressed with Keith’s new rounds, Smith & Wesson created a new .44 Special case to accommodate these powerful loads – the .44 Magnum. The .44 Magnum was initially paired with their N-framed revolver, creating the Model 29.

The .44 Magnum became widely known through Clint Eastwood’s character in “Dirty Harry,” where he used a Model 29. The cartridge remains one of the most popular and powerful handgun rounds to this day.

What Is The History Of The 45 ACP?

The .45 automatic Colt pistol (ACP) is another venerable cartridge and is much older than the 44 Magnum. It was developed by John Moses Browning in 1904 for use in the Colt’s M1911. The cartridge was developed because of the U.S. military’s need for a larger caliber than the .38 Long Colt during the Philippine-American War.

The .45 ACP was adopted in 1911 and saw action in both World Wars and beyond. Today, it is used primarily for self-defense and among law enforcers.

Main Differences Between 44 Mag vs 45 ACP

Although they may seem similar in many aspects, there are actually many differences between these two cartridges.

1) Size Comparison

The .45 ACP:

  • Case type – Rimless, straight
  • Bullet diameter – .452 in (11.5 mm)
  • Land diameter – .442 in (11.2 mm)
  • Neck diameter – .473 in (12.0 mm)
  • Base diameter – .476 in (12.1 mm)
  • Rim diameter – .480 in (12.2 mm)
  • Rim thickness – .049 in (1.2 mm)
  • Case length – .898 in (22.8 mm)
  • Overall length – 1.275 in (32.4 mm)
  • Case capacity – 26.7 gr H2O (1.73 cm3)
  • Rifling twist – 1 in 16 in (406 mm)
  • Primer type – Large and small
  • Maximum pressure (CIP) – 19,000 psi (130 MPa)
  • Maximum pressure (SAAMI) – 21,000 psi (140 MPa)

The .44 Magnum:

  • Case type – Rimmed, straight
  • Parent case – .44 S&W Special
  • Bullet diameter – .429 in (10.9 mm)
  • Land diameter – .417 in (10.6 mm)
  • Neck diameter – .457 in (11.6 mm)
  • Base diameter – .457 in (11.6 mm)
  • Rim diameter – .514 in (13.1 mm)
  • Rim thickness – .060 in (1.5 mm)
  • Case length – 1.285 in (32.6 mm)
  • Overall length – 1.61 in (41 mm)
  • Case capacity – 37.9 gr H2O (2.46 cm3)
  • Primer type – Large
  • Maximum pressure (SAAMI) – 35,000 psi (250 MPa)

The .44 Magnum is a larger cartridge and is loaded with heavier bullet weights ranging between 180 and 300 grains. In comparison, the .45 ACP uses lighter 185-235 grain bullets. It is also evident that the .44 Magnum’s case is longer than the .45 ACP’s – 1.285 vs. .898 inches, respectively.

2) Stopping Power Comparison

Both cartridges have excellent stopping power, and it shows in their mass adoption as self-defense cartridges. However, the .44 Magnum has more brute force than the .45 ACP. It is loaded to higher pressures and has heavier bullets. It also has a higher muzzle velocity and maintains that higher muzzle velocity throughout its flight path. Therefore, it is able to hit harder and is more effective at taking down targets.

3) Recoil Comparison

Unfortunately, power comes at the expense of extra recoil. As such, you can expect to feel that high recoil of the .44 Magnum, especially after multiple shots – it reminds me of the recoil produced by the 10mm & 357 Magnum rounds. In comparison, the .45 ACP has much less recoil as it was designed to be more manageable in a semi-automatic pistol, making it a better self-defense handgun.

44 Magnum Stopping Power

4) Bullet Speed & Penetration Comparison

With a 180-grain bullet weight, a .44 Magnum produces a muzzle velocity of 1610 fps and an impressive 1036 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. In comparison, with a 235-grain bullet weight, the .45 ACP only produces an initial bullet speed of 835 fps and muzzle energy of 356 ft-lbs.

While the .45 ACP has good knockdown power, it can compare to the .44 Magnum’s faster bullet speed and deeper penetration.

5) Magazine Capacity Comparison

Magazine capacity varies with the specific firearm you use, but generally, semi-automatic pistols chambered in .45 ACP can have magazine capacities of 7 and 14 rounds. In comparison, a Magnum revolver typically only holds 6 rounds at a time.

6) Price Comparison

Both these two cartridges are popular ammo calibers, which helps reduce the price per round when in surplus. One shot from a 45. ACP can cost you between $0.5 and $1.6, depending on the type of ammo you use. The .44 Magnum’s ammo costs a bit more, which is understandable, considering it takes more materials to produce the ammo. The typical .44 Magnum ammo costs range between $1.2 and $2.5 per round.

Which Is Better For Hunting?

The .44 Magnum has more power and better penetration than the .45 ACP, which makes it better for hunting, particularly for larger game. However, the .45 ACP is also capable of performing as a hunting cartridge but should be limited to small game and fowl.

Which Is Better For Self-Defense Situations?

It depends on the shooter, but generally, if I am in a self-defense situation, I would feel much more comfortable knowing I have 14 rounds compared to the Magnum’s six rounds. Also, the .45 ACP has much less recoil, making it easier to handle and shoot accurately in very stressful situations.

Which Is Better For Target Shooting?

For target practice, I prefer the .45 ACP because it is cheaper, has less recoil, and usually has a higher ammo capacity than the .44 Magnum. However, the .44 Magnum is a good option if you want to train yourself to handle intense recoil.

Can The 44 Magnum & 45 ACP Be Handloaded?

Yes, both cartridges can be hand loaded/reloaded. I do it regularly on all my calibers as it allows me greater control of the specific loads, such as optimizing the trajectory, velocity, and power to suit my particular shooting need.

Reloading requires resizing and cleaning the spent case. Next, you would need to re-prime it and add the exact amount of gunpowder as required. Finally, you will seat and crimp a new bullet into the case.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which cartridge is more powerful, 45 ACP or 44 Mag?

The 44 Mag is more powerful than the 45 ACP. It produces roughly three times the amount of kinetic energy than the .45 ACP (1065 vs 365 ft-lbs of energy)

Is the 44 Mag hard to find in stores?

No, the 44 Mag is a very popular handgun cartridge, and it can be commonly found at most gun shops. It might not be as popular as the 115 grain or 124 grain 9mm or 45 ACP, but it is still one of the most used handgun cartridges.

Is 44 Mag too much recoil for a home defense gun?

Yes, it can be for many people, especially inexperienced shooters. The heavy recoil of the the .44 Mag makes it difficult to control, which can compromise accuracy and follow-up shot speed.

What is the maximum range of a 45 ACP bullet?

The maximum effective range of a 45 ACP is 50-75 yards for self-defense and 100 yards for target practice.

Which is easier to shoot a 45 ACP or 44 Mag round?

A 45 ACP is easier to shoot because of its lower recoil, especially for novice shooters.

The Bottom Line

When comparing the .44 Magnum and .45 ACP, it’s clear that each cartridge possesses its own unique advantages. The .45 ACPs lower and more manageable recoil, as well as impressive stopping powers, makes it ideal for self-defense and target shooting. In comparison, the .44 Magnum’s power and penetration makes it perfect for hunting. Ultimately, the choice of which cartridge to choose depends on your personal preference and shooting needs.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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