These two rounds aren’t often compared, despite having a lot of similarities. This might be because most often, those interested in one of these handgun cartridges are more experienced with firearms and already have an intuitive understanding of why these rounds are so different.
That said, it’s an important thing to understand, so kudos to you for reading this article!
As for my personal credentials, the most important thing I can say is that I have shot both of these rounds and am well aware of the differences between them. Besides that, I have also made it my business for the last ~6 years to study, learn, conduct research, and publish my findings about firearms.
What Is the Main Difference Between a .44 Magnum and a .45 ACP?
The main difference between the .44 Magnum and .45 ACP is the size and power of the cartridge. The .44 Magnum is an overall larger cartridge that produces significantly more energy and velocity, while the .45 ACP is a smaller cartridge with less energy but greater control. The .45 is technically slightly wider in diameter, but smaller overall.
The extra control for the .45 largely comes from the reduced recoil. If you have shot .45 but not .44, the idea that the .45 has less recoil might be surprising, but it’s true. The recoil can be absolutely ridiculous on a .44 magnum depending on the specific load you’re shooting. The significantly larger case on the .44 can fit a lot more powder, and you really feel it.
What Are They Both Good For?
Both the .44 Magnum and .45 ACP are good for chasing the ever-elusive “stopping power”. The .44 Magnum packs a larger punch while the .45 ACP allows you faster follow-up shots. Either way, if you want to stop something from hurting you, they’re both a pretty solid choice. Unless that thing is a grizzly bear, then you definitely want the .44 Magnum.
They both have subsonic varieties, though you’ll have more options with the .45, since there are very few supersonic loads in .45 that I’m aware of. This means that either can be somewhat effectively suppressed, though you’ll need to pay more money required for a large-bore suppressor, and you shouldn’t expect either to be anywhere near as quiet as a .22.
What Are They Both Bad For?
The .44 Magnum’s stopping power can make it difficult to control, especially for novice shooters, and the .45 ACP is only somewhat better. Neither of these calibers are very suitable to someone new to shooting, a child, or someone tiny. Also, while the .45 ACP is better for magazine capacity than the .44 Magnum, neither are fantastic when compared to something like the 9mm.
As handgun rounds, neither are going to be fantastic for long range shooting, whether you’re hunting or just doing target practice. That said, the .44 Magnum maintains decent energy and trajectory out to about 200 yards target shooting. Both are, of course, lethal out to several miles, but if it’s a question of whether you can reliably hit what you’re aiming out that far, the answer is no.
.44 Magnum vs. .45 ACP: A Detailed Comparison
Major Differences Between .44 Magnum and .45 ACP
|Size:||The .44 Magnum is a larger handgun cartridge than the .45 ACP.|
|Power:||The .44 Magnum produces significantly more energy and velocity than the .45 ACP.|
|Control:||The .45 ACP is known for its control and versatility, while the .44 Magnum can be difficult to control, especially for novice shooters.|
|Magazine Capacity:||The .45 ACP is a smaller round, so usually you’ll find magazines made for it so that it can accommodate more rounds.|
|Intended Purpose:||The .44 Magnum was essentially designed to be the most high pressure, powerful handgun round in existence. The .45 ACP was designed for the US military to have more stopping power than what they had back in 1904.|
|Action:||The .44 Magnum was designed to work in a revolver, though semi-auto pistols chambered in .44 Magnum have come out since the round was introduced in the ‘50s. The .45 ACP was always intended for semi-automatics.|
The .44 Magnum cartridge measures 1.29 inches in length and has a diameter of 0.429 inches. It typically holds a bullet weight between 240 and 300 grains. The .45 ACP cartridge measures 1.275 inches in length and has a diameter of 0.452 inches. It typically holds a bullet weight between 185 and 230 grains.
For comparison, a standard bullet weight for a target load of 5.56 is 55 grains. Bullet weights for .308 Winchester are anywhere from 150 to 180 grains. So let’s be clear: both of these powerful handgun rounds have pretty large projectiles. The size of the projectiles alone are a pretty good indicator of what these rounds are intended to do.
History and Intended Purpose
The .44 Magnum was introduced in 1955 and was intended for use as a hunting cartridge. It quickly gained popularity among recreational shooters and has since become a staple in the shooting community.
The .45 ACP was introduced in 1905 and was intended for use by the military. It was later adopted by law enforcement and civilian shooters, and is now widely used for not only duty, but also personal and home defense and self defense.
The .44 Magnum was invented by Elmer Keith and the .45 ACP was invented by John Browning. The fact that both rounds are still so widely used demonstrates how effective each of them are at the task they were designed for.
Casing Design and Legality
The .44 Magnum is a straight-walled cartridge, making it legal for hunting in states that don’t allow necked-down casings. It’s legal for hunting in most states, and is one of the very few handgun rounds with the energy to bring down big game. It’s a good self defense handgun round against bears, good for hunting boars, elk, deer, etc; I’ve even heard it being used against elephants.
The .45 ACP is also straight walled, but doesn’t have enough power to be good for hunting. I suppose you could use it for pest control around a ranch, but there are so many other calibers that are better for that. As far as I’m aware, the .45 ACP is not illegal to own in any of the states, though certain firearms that happen to be chambered in .45 ACP likely are.
The two projectiles are very close in size but not exact enough to be interchangeable. The .45 ACP is wider at .452” compared to the .44 Mag’s .429”. You can find most varieties (FMJ, hollow-point, etc) in either flavor, so projectiles aren’t really a differentiating point between the two rounds.
That said, I’m sure someone more intimately familiar with using these two rounds might disagree.
The .44 Magnum has much higher muzzle velocity. It is rare (but not unheard of) for a .45 ACP round to be supersonic, while it is equally rare (but also not unheard of) for a .44 magnum load to be subsonic. To get a .45 ACP to be supersonic, you need to use a very light bullet, and for a .44 Magnum to be subsonic, you need a very heavy bullet to get muzzle energy.
The average muzzle velocity for a .44 Magnum is around 1,400 feet per second (fps) while the average muzzle velocity for a .45 ACP is around 830 fps. The speed of sound is roughly 1,100 feet per second, so you can see the difference there.
Energy (In foot pounds)
The average energy of a .44 Magnum is around 975 foot pounds compared to the average energy of a .45 ACP around 411 foot pounds. For those keeping track at home, yes, the .44 Magnum has more than double the energy of a .45 ACP on average. Can you find .45 ACPs with a lot more energy? Yes. But the beefiest .45 ACP load won’t come close to the beefiest .44 Magnum load.
The energy obviously decreases as the bullet travels through the air, and the further the bullet is from the end of the barrel, the less energy it will have. As stated above, .44 Magnum is legal in many places to hunt whitetail deer and much larger game.
That said, I’m not sure how to square that with my understanding that 1000 foot-pounds of energy is generally accepted as the minimum for ethically hunting whitetail. I’ve looked at more ballistics sheets than I can count and I haven’t seen a one shot or single shot load of .44 Magnum that still has over a thousand foot-pounds at 100 yards.
Always check (and double-check) local laws. If any of our readers have any clarity to add to this, I would love to hear some insight.
Supersonic vs. Subsonic Varieties
Finding subsonic .44 Magnum loads is possible, but difficult. The vast majority of .44 Magnum ammunition is supersonic. The inverse is true for the .45 ACP – finding a supersonic .45 is difficult but not impossible.
Typically when you find a factory .44 Magnum with a heavy enough projectile to be subsonic or a .45 with a light enough projectile to be supersonic, you find that it’s ill-adapted to the task you have in mind for it, and you would usually be better off just buying another gun that is designed for whatever it is you have in mind.
That all changes when you’re handloading, though, which we’ll cover a bit more next.
Amount of Powder Used
The .44 Magnum uses a lot more powder in each round than the .45 ACP. You can find guidance online if you’re trying to match specific factory loads, and also some ideas for customizing your rounds.
Reducing or amount of powder used is the only other real option besides increasing the weight of the projectile if you want to slow down the bullet. My experience level in reloading is not super high, so I’ll refrain from commenting much on it. As with everything in regards to firearms, proceed with extreme caution whenever you’re trying something new and seek out a mentor if you can.
Magazine capacity obviously varies, but the .45 ACP beats out the .44 Magnum on this one. The magazine capacity for a .44 Magnum revolver is typically between 5 and 8 rounds. The magazine capacity for a .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol is typically between 7 and 15 rounds.
To get 8 rounds of capacity from the .44 Magnum, you’ll need something like the Desert Eagle, which is a hilariously large handgun, most recently showcased in the Amazon show Reacher. The Glock 21, arguably one of the most popular options for the .45, gives you 13 rounds in each magazine.
Semi-Autos vs. Revolvers
The .44 Magnum is most commonly used in revolvers and the .45 ACP is most commonly used in semi automatic colt pistol. You can find revolvers chambered in .45 and semi-autos chambered in .44 Magnum, but you won’t have nearly as many choices when you go off the beaten path that way.
You will definitely also want to check reviews, particularly if you want a semi-auto in .44 Mag that isn’t the Desert Eagle. Truthfully, I’m not sure any other semi automatic colt pistol in .44 Mag exist, but if you find one, you want to make sure it doesn’t have frequent malfunctions before you buy it.
Which Cartridge is Better for:
Hands down the .44 Magnum. The .44 Magnum is better for hunting due to its accuracy and power. The .45 ACP is not typically used for hunting due to its limited power and range. If you’re using a .45 ACP for hunting then you’re doing something wrong.
If you want it for protection from a bear or another large animal, I would recommend finding .45 ACP +P rounds. Most handguns chambered in .45 can take the +P, but you’ll want to double-check for your specific model. The +P rounds open up a lot of options, but they still don’t make the platform a great fit for most hunting situations.
Home Defense and Self Defence
Either of these rounds can be used for home defense and self defense, but I would argue the .45 ACP is better suited to it. Being subsonic, the loudness of the .45 ACP won’t be nearly as devastating to your situational awareness and your family as the .44 Magnum would be, and the .45 ACP has more choices in projectiles that are designed not to over-penetrate for Self Defence.
I don’t feel like magazine capacity plays much of a role here unless you’re trying to prepare for a shoot-out with multiple shots assailants who don’t flee or surrender at the first shot. You don’t need the extra foot-pounds from the Magnum, so 10x that will be plenty.
This is a clear win for the .45. The .44 Magnum is not typically used for concealed carry due to its size and difficulty in getting off quick follow-up shots. Let’s be honest, though, the .45 is only good for concealed carry when you’re comparing to something like the .44 Magnum.
.45 handguns are not small, and are consequently much more difficult to conceal than many 9mm options. The few .45s that are small enough to conceal conveniently are very difficult to shoot. If you’re choosing between the .44 and the .45, definitely go with the .45, but if you have other options, I would recommend considering those.
The .44 Magnum hasn’t been seen much on duty for a long time. Some jurisdictions have classified it as too powerful handgun, causing too much damage, etc. Even in jurisdictions where it’s allowed, the need for higher magazine capacity and quicker follow-up shots tend to make the .44 Magnum impractical for duty.
The .45 is a much more popular option for law enforcement, military, and armed security. Many officers find that it strikes a good balance between stopping power and capacity. 13 shots per magazine is only a little less than most 9mm options, and you get a lot more oomph from each shot.
Neither are good for novice shooters, as I mentioned briefly above. Not only are guns chambered in these calibers on the heavier side typically, but they have a lot of high recoil that can create bad first experiences. I’ve had a lot more success using very mild calibers like .22LR when I’m introducing someone to firearms for the first time.
Once they have seen a .22 round and felt the heavy recoil that goes with it, they tend to be more mentally prepared for the increased recoil from a round that is obviously much bigger. If you have to choose either the .45 or the .44 for the friend you’re taking to the range for the first time, go with the .45.
The .45 is, overall, more versatile than the .44. You can get +P rounds for heavy-duty applications, can get supersonic loads if you absolutely need to, and have a lot more gun models and ammo to choose from based on what you’re specifically trying to accomplish with it.
I wouldn’t call the .44 Magnum a one-trick pony, per se, but it’s pretty close. A .44 Magnum gives you a hefty punch from a handgun at close ranges. If your use-case requires that, a .44 Magnum is the way to go, but if you need anything else, you’ll have a harder time getting a .44 to work the way you want it to.
Variety of Handgun Models to Choose From
I’ve touched on this a few times, but the .45 will give you more options, especially if you’re looking for something semi-automatic pistols. Even if you’re looking at revolvers, the .45 is a more popular cartridge, hands-down.
If you want to find a handgun in pink camo, you’re more likely to find it in .45 than .44. This may not be something that matters much to you, but the more you shoot the more you start to notice the little differences from gun to gun.
The point is, having a variety to choose from makes it more likely that you’ll find that goldilocks fit if you take the time to test out all your options.
Availability of Ammo
This will obviously vary based on global events, shortages, and supply chain issues, but generally .45 ACP will be easier to find than .44 magnum. .45 ACP is also usually a bit cheaper, sometimes as much as $0.25 per round, but it changes all the time.
If you’re looking for a SHTF gun and you want to be able to stock up on a few thousand rounds, the .45 ACP will probably save you a fair amount of money.
Absolutely not. Luckily, even if you tried you would likely be thwarted by the magazine, but even if you find some way to jam it in there, don’t. This is a good way to get yourself or someone around you hurt or killed. These two rounds are in no way interchangeable.
This depends on what you mean. If you’re talking about width, then the .45. If you’re talking about anything else, then the .44 Magnum is bigger. It’s longer, holds more powder, has a higher muzzle velocity, and has higher energy.
The .44 magnum has an extended casing when compared to the .45, which allows it to hold more powder. The casing is also thicker, which lets it handle pressures up to 36,000 PSI, compared to the .45’s relatively low max pressure of 21,000 PSI. When you combine more powder (fuel), with higher pressures, you get more power.
The .44 Magnum and the .45 ACP are two very different calibers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The .44 Magnum is more powerful handgun and is better suited for hunting and long-range shooting, while the .45 ACP is more versatile and is better suited for home defense, concealed carry, and law enforcement/duty use.
Choosing between the two will ultimately come down to personal preference and the intended use for the firearm. If you have any other questions to ask about these two rounds, you can leave a comment below or even tweet at me @cameroncporter.