We are definitely living in an interesting era when it comes to firearms. While you might argue there has not been much in the way of legitimate, real-deal innovation, there has been an almost unbelievable amount of refinement and improvement going on over the past decade.
Factory guns are more reliable, more accurate and more durable than they have ever been, with greater capacities, longer life span, and better options all the way around, from controls to sighting systems.
Ancillary equipment too has made some serious strides when it comes to efficiency, particularly in the field of suppressors with the best of modern cans being incredibly light and rugged, requiring virtually no maintenance.
Compared to the best we had on offer just a couple of decades ago it is hard to imagine we put up with what we had back then. This has led to an interesting effect: Better suppressors means a renewed interest in making guns as quiet as possible, and if we are talking about handguns, the obvious choice for a super sneaky pistol cartridge is the venerable .45 Auto.
The convergence of these two facets of firearms industry improvement has produced a new breed of high-capacity and heavy duty .45’s.
Many of them carry nearly as much ammo as a comparably sized 9mm or .40 caliber guns, and are capable of mounting all manner of flashlights, miniature red dot sights and oftentimes the aforementioned suppressor.
In today’s article will be diving deep into the how, the what, and the why of the double stack .45, and offering you a list of 10 options that are sure to scratch your big bore itch no matter what your objective is.
Table of Contents
Merits of the .45 ACP
It has become increasingly popular today in the shooting sphere to bash on the .45. What was the undisputed once and future king of combat pistol cartridges is now seen as something employed only as an alternate or “also-ran” to the current reign of the 9mm Luger.
Some even see it as a cartridge that only flagrantly flaunts its nostalgic qualities as the most American of all handgun rounds. How did this legendary cartridge end up here, especially when you consider that the current holder of the handgun crown is just as old as it is?
Simply put, technology and our institutional understanding have marched ever onward.
Today we know what we have to get out of a handgun cartridge to declare it effective enough against another human adversary, and through countless shootings and millions upon millions of dollars spent in laboratory testing we know that all of our major “duty” cartridges work just about the same so long as the shot placement is the same, and the projectiles are comparable.
Put another way, there just isn’t enough of an increase in terminal effectiveness to justify their use when it results in greater recoil and reduced capacity. Also, the ammunition costs more, and that affects training tempo.
The unhappy fact is simply that a pistol cartridge known for its power and decisive stopping performance does not have that much more power or stopping performance than the common 9mm, .38 Special, .40 Smith & Wesson, or any other typically employed cartridge used in service or defensive handguns.
Sacrilege! I know, but it’s true…
Think of it this way: if you were going to pick from one of several cartridges to serve in your defensive handgun, and their terminal effectiveness was effectively all the same, what other criteria would you base your selection upon?
If you said things like capacity, reduced recoil, accuracy and so on, you have effectively led yourself to the current gestalt mindset of the shooting complex regarding caliber in our era.
This is not the part of the article where I put on my Boomer hat, pick up an American flag, and lead the charge Mel Gibson-style into the teeming ranks of 9mm aficionados.
Not at all, because I am one of them! But I don’t hate the 45 and indeed I still love it as a special-purpose cartridge. What is that special purpose? I’m glad you asked, reader, because that purpose is what this article is all about.
The .45 Still Rocks
Even compared to the very best 9mm of today, the .45 ACP does two things extraordinarily well.
Number one, it is a remarkably accurate cartridge, inherently, and combined with an equally high-performance, accurized handgun, and high-quality ammunition you can have a tack driver of a pistol that will leave its competitors in the dust.
Number two, the .45 ACP is the most effective service handgun cartridge that is inherently subsonic in certain loadings. Why is that important?
Even the best suppressor that tames the most muzzle blast does nothing about the supersonic crack of a bullet breaking the sound barrier, and if you want to stay supremely quiet, you must shoot projectiles that are well below the speed of sound to eliminate that crack.
Many typical .45 ACP loadings accomplish this handily, and still utilize the best in high performance hollow points available today. It is no exaggeration to say that some of these loads in certain guns equipped with a modern suppressor are so quiet the cycling action is the loudest part of touching off a shot!
Can you do this with a 9mm too? Yes, but you’ll need to use specialty subsonic rounds that are neither very effective, nor particularly reliable in most guns.
If you want to go to the 9mm route while staying as quiet as humanly possible today, you will be sacrificing in a couple of other areas when it comes to your performance envelope. But if you use a .45 you’ll be giving up nothing over the cartridge’s typical performance.
Combined with that hair-splitting accuracy (made even more easily achievable by the preponderance of MRDO’s) and the capacity afforded by modern double-stack pistols you really can have the total package in a supremely discreet firearm.
Big Iron is Not a Euphemism
But for all their merits and their unabashed American-ness, pistols in this category typically do have something of an Achilles’ heel, a flaw that is innate to what they are, and practically unavoidable; you’ll just have to work around it. That flaw is their size, and more particularly, their bulk.
Compared to any similar gun or even an identical model in a smaller caliber like 9mm or .40 S&W these double stack .45’s are just plain bulky. Their frames are larger, the grips are certainly larger in most instances and their slides and barrels are beefier.
It might just be a fraction of an inch here and a millimeter or two there, but you tally all those together what you wind up with is a noticeably chunkier pistol compared to one in competing calibers. Whether this is a problem for you or not depends on your objective and your anticipated use.
If you are carrying this gun concealed, you better believe you’ll be paying attention to the greater bulk of these guns, or at least you had better be. It might not be the end of the world if you get caught carrying concealed, but then again, it might be.
Everybody’s mission is different, and if you are just your family’s designated fixer-upper and grocery getter, you might think you can get away with a slightly more obvious gun than somebody who is working an undercover narcotics gig. Maybe, but maybe not.
Consider the fact that an emotionally high-strung individual who spots your gun out in public might call the cops on you. Do you think that could lead to a negative outcome, potentially up to and including your death? That is a possibility in these highly tense times.
How about if some hardened convict, some alpha bad guy, spots the tell-tale obvious bulge of your pistol and decides that he wants it more than you do?
The pistol itself might have led to you being targeted as a victim! Don’t think that just because you are armed that the gun is some lucky charm that will ward off the wolves.
Discounting these extreme scenarios other potential outcomes abound. You might just be seriously embarrassed. You might face social persecution from friends, co-workers or other people. Who knows what might happen.
This is not to say you should not choose one of these pistols, only that all things being equal you will have to work harder to completely conceal it and depending upon your context, typical method of carry, and the way you dress true concealment of this gun might be impossible if you want to carry it on your body.
I will save addressing all the issues of carrying full size and even “plus size” pistols for another article, but take it from Tom when I tell you that the lion’s share of the work when it comes to concealing these larger guns is done by a quality holster riding on a quality belt. Anybody who thinks otherwise is delusional.
Cheap holsters and cheap belts will not hold a handgun reliably enough and consistently enough in an orientation where it is accessible, secure and just as importantly, out of sight.
Yes, it is possible to completely conceal one of these guns “felony carry” just by tucking it in the front of your waistband, but for an armed citizen that is never a recipe for success.
If you’re committed to concealing one of these big boys go forth with my blessing, but make sure you are prepared to spend on some quality gunleather to do it.
Ten Tactical Double Stack .45s
All right, the time has come and without any further ado. Below you’ll find my list of 10 double stack .45s that are sure to be a fit for any shooter with any particular purpose. Some of these guns are tricked-out and hot-rodded tactical pistols ready to help you push the envelope and make the shot in the most demanding circumstances.
Others are surprisingly slim and compact examples of this category, ideal for a citizen who does not want to give up the big bore for daily carry. The rest of the guns fall somewhere and anywhere in between. Enjoy!
Smith & Wesson M&P45 M2.0
The preeminent American double-stack .45 and one of the only striker-fired handguns to truly challenge Glock supremacy, Smith & Wesson’s M&P45 is a hard running and capable service handgun available in a handful of variants to serve any shooter, and the advent of the second generation M 2.0 pistols only improve what is already an excellent package.
Readers who are seriously into the gun world will no doubt have noticed that Glock only made strides to significantly upgrade their long-running and legendary handguns after the M&P made a splash on the striker fired scene.
What does the M2.0 have that earlier versions of the M&P pistols lacked? For starters, the steel subframe or chassis that serves as the skeleton of the frame itself is now both stronger and longer in an effort to reduce flexing of the frame upon firing and improve durability.
The trigger has been improved both for greater tactility and improved reset. Revised barrel geometry has greatly enhanced the sometimes lackluster accuracy of previous M&Ps.
My favorite part about these guns, the superb ergonomics with the interchangeable grip shells has been made even better with the addition of aggressive texturing that provides a certain grip no matter the conditions.
Capacity is still a comparatively modest 10+1, but compared to the .45’s that our grandparents were forced to put up with that is a significant improvement in firepower.
Also like the previous-generation, the M2.0 series of M&Ps are available in a variety of factory configurations with optional upgrades: You can get your M&P with or without a manual safety, with enhanced Performance Center customizations in a variety of colors and finishes, and more. Smith & Wesson’s flagship striker fired gun continues to impress.
Springfield Armory XD-M 45
Love it or hate it, no one can deny the stellar success of Springfield Armory’s XD series pistols. First tiptoeing on to the American pistol seen as the Croatian HS2000, Springfield Armory started importing these guns and rebranding them with a few choice modifications as the XD.
The XD-M series pistols represent the latest evolution of these striker-fired pistols that have so endeared themselves to the shooting public for a combination of easy handling and extensive external safeties.
Probably the best attribute of the XD-M 45 aside from its ample 13-round capacity is its combination of excellent shooting characteristics for a modest price.
Coming complete with kits featuring several useful accessories to help get you up and running on the range with no additional purchase necessary, the XD-M has everything that a shooter wants in a thoroughly modern striker fired pistol.
The controls are well-placed and responsive, the trigger is crisp with a manageable reset, and a heavily textured grip will secure itself to the hand with or without gloves.
The only thing that might keep someone from thoroughly embracing this pistol is the feature that has caused so many to do just that: The grip safety. The grip safety on the XD-M works by blocking both the trigger and locking the slide if it is not fully, completely depressed.
If a gun is dropped or not in the shooter’s hand the chances of an accidental discharge are essentially zero. On the other hand, if that grip safety is not 100% depressed the gun will not function.
This can make it a potential liability if you’re ever forced to shoot with a compromised grip or with debris interfering with your connection to the gun. Nonetheless, these are one of the best values on the market and very popular.
Ruger is another company that has made great strides to modernize in the past decade, leaving behind such classic offerings as their tank-like P97 in favor of thoroughly modern striker fired offerings that continue to be the paradigm for semi-auto pistols.
They made a big splash with their SR-series guns and chambering them in .45 was a natural step for this All-American company.
While they lack the cachet of some German manufacturers and don’t quite reach the level of Smith & Wesson, Ruger’s SR45 is nonetheless a dependable gun for self-defense or target shooting.
Comparing the feature sets of the SR45 to any of its competitors it doesn’t miss a beat: A 10-shot capacity, interchangeable back straps with a variety of shapes that fit the user’s hand or simply their preference, reversible magazine release, ambidextrous slide releases, and a tactile as well as visual loaded chamber indicator are all features one would expect to find on a modern handgun.
But perhaps this gun’s best feature is the one you would not notice right away; this is an impressively slim handgun, measuring barely 1 and 1/4 inches wide at its widest point, and the grip is thinner than even that.
I give this gun good marks for its excellent design and affordable price, but I do have to knock off a few points for a trigger that is only mediocre as far as factory pistols go and Ruger’s liability-conscious design decision to include a magazine disconnector safety as standard.
While this feature does have some proponents, and it might be a good thing to have if you are in a physical tussle for control of your own gun, having a gun completely disable itself if the magazine is removed or simply not fully seated is a problem in my eyes. This system also typically further impairs the quality of the trigger, to boot.
But if that doesn’t sound like a showstopper for your purposes don’t let it dissuade you from picking up the SR45.
Glock Model 21 SF
You don’t need me to introduce Glock or their pistols unless you have been stranded on a desert island with no radio for the past three decades.
Everything one would expect out of Glock as a company and out of Glock pistols is present in the model 21 SF, only it is distinguished and improved compared to its earlier predecessors by being ever so slightly smaller to make it less brick-like in the hand.
As you might have guessed, the ‘SF’ suffix stands for “short frame” (not slim frame as is sometimes reported) and this is one instance where just a fraction of an inch can make the biggest difference in how a pistol handles.
If someone is looking for a true duty-grade double-stack .45 or a candidate for a fleet of pistols this one is going to be hard to beat.
A 12 round capacity, supreme durability and excellent reliability are all hallmarks that Glocks are known for and each attribute is present in spades here.
Like all of its siblings, the factory trigger is entirely manageable and the guns are the picture of simplicity when it comes to manual of arms. Unfortunately, that manual of arms is still hampered by controls that seem to be designed as an afterthought.
With a flat and difficult-to-actuate slide release, and a magazine release that is still too small and mushy in operation, not much has changed from legacy versions. Considering that all of the above are typically the first things to be replaced with aftermarket upgrades on a Glock, this might be a non-issue for the typical shooter.
Also, don’t forget that the factory fixed sights are non-starters for self-defense; they are made out of soft, easily damaged plastic, and notorious for being knocked off the gun entirely upon the first sharp impact or scuffle.
Make sure you plan on upgrading to the factory steel or night sights, or get aftermarket replacements before you do anything else to these guns. Losing your sights when you need them the most will be a major bummer!
The first hammer fired gun on our list and probably the heavyweight contender among modern double-action, double-stack .45s, the CZ 97B was a pistol that was designed from the ground up for the American shooter, and it definitely shows.
CZ has been enjoying rising popularity in the past few years due to a string of successes in various sectors, but humorously the CZ 97B might be considered a classic in their catalog; this brawny semi-auto was first introduced way back in 1997.
The concept driving this big bruiser is simple: Take the proven and spectacularly successful CZ-75 action, complete with the slide running inside the rails machined into the frame, and upsize it until it can hold 10 rounds of the All-American .45 ACP.
In that regard they succeeded utterly, producing a 10-shot, all steel pistol with attractive lines and a reputation for soft shooting characteristics, accuracy and reliability that CZ is known for.
The gun did well way back then out of the box, and CZ hasn’t changed much today, deeming it only necessary to shrink the grip circumference by way of installing ultra thin aluminum grip panels, and replacing the traditional metal front sight with a fiber optic version.
Everything else on the gun is definitively CZ and that is a good thing: the controls are all well-placed, crisp and responsive. The double-action trigger is good and the single action trigger is excellent with only a little bit of take up.
The safety is positioned at the rear and configured correctly, with down-is-fire a-la the legendary 1911. But it is with that safety that my chief complaint lies.
This is a double-action handgun that is ostensibly intended to be carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, even though it is completely possible to carry it safely with the hammer back and the safety on in classic cocked-and-locked style.
What this gun does not have is a decocking mechanism, meaning the shooter must manually lower the hammer under control after pressing the trigger if you want to carry it in double action mode ready to fire.
You don’t need me to tell you how risky this is compared to any built-in mechanical decocker. I have long hoped that CZ would upgrade this pistol to bring it more in line with the standards of modern DA/SA guns but, so far, no dice.
This though may only be an academic concern for some shooters, and if that describes you, you would be really missing out on one of the best sleeper guns in this category.
Walther PPQ 45
Walther is another venerable firearms manufacturer with a storied history, famous for producing guns made with exacting tolerances, and capable of excellent accuracy. Several of Walther’s firearms have become iconic in their category, including their most famous product the PPK and PPK/s pistols.
This history of innovation and indeed excellent accuracy continues with one of their newest series of pistols, the PPQ- Striker fired guns, all with exceptional triggers and equally good barrels.
There is much to admire about the PPQ pistols and with the PPQ 45 in particular Walther has pulled off quite the trick. Even though it crams an incredible 12 rounds of .45 ACP into a magazine, the grip circumference is completely identical to its smaller PPQ brethren in 9mm and .40.
For those of you who have always wanted a big, double stack .45 but just could not make it work owing to issues of comfort or control thanks to smaller hands, this is the undisputed winner in its category when it comes to ergonomics.
Aside from the larger chambering this pistol is a PPQ through and through: A perfectly textured grip that is neither too aggressive nor too mild, excellently placed controls that includes an ambidextrous slide release, the updated button-style magazine release (as contrasted with their typical European style twin levers), and another standout feature a frankly incredible trigger right out of the box.
I have heard it argued by gun pundits that Walther is doing a “Glock” pistol better than Glock ever has, and aside from parts availability I might have to agree with them based on performance and human engineering alone!
Beretta PX4 SD
Beretta’s PX4 Storm line of pistols are what you might call a sleeper in the gun industry: an excellent gun in every regard, but for one reason or another, they never really took off commercially or attained much traction with purchasers and shooters.
That has changed in the past few years thanks to the efforts of trainers and industry pros that specialize in DA/SA semis touting the pistol’s many merits. At long last, these pistols are finally gaining recognition and more importantly are being seen in the wild in even greater numbers.
These guns are soft shooting, accurate, and especially critical for DA/SA pistols, they come right from the factory with a smooth, crisp trigger that is highly functional in double action or single action.
The PX4 SD is more than a standard PX4 upsized to the venerable 45. No, this pistol has a little bit more going on under the hood as it was an entrant into the U.S. military’s Joint Combat Pistol trials, a distinction it shares with a couple of other pistols on this list.
At first glance, this is a strange looking gun: A tall, sculpted slide is perched upon a frame with obvious Beretta styling cues.
Housed within, an extended barrel utilizing a rotary action; a rarity on modern pistols, but one that Beretta has some experience with thanks to their previous work on the Model 8000 Cougar handguns.
Don’t let that turn you off. Despite their top-heavy appearance, these are flat and accurate shooting guns with mild recoil and the extended barrel is suitable for being threaded or otherwise adapted for suppressor usage.
This pistol holds 10 rounds in a slightly extended magazine or 9 in a flush fit magazine that is a little bit better suited for concealed carry. These guns are accurate, extremely durable and reliable, and are natural upgrade if one is already confident and comfortable with Beretta’s other legacy pistols.
FN FNX-45 Tactical
It seems like the Belgian firearms juggernaut is everywhere these days, and many of their guns are used at the highest levels of competition, military service and law enforcement duty.
In a way, you might say their entrant onto this list, the FNX 45 is a sort of progenitor for this category, being a feature-packed, high-capacity, and typically optic equipped double-stack .45.
This pistol has been around since way back in 2007, and is another entrant into the Joint Combat Pistol trials.
You can say for sure this was the “tricked-out tactical racegun” that was available from the factory with all the trimmings before it was cool with the general shooting public.
This is another Hammer fired gun on our list, and again is DA/SA, but the list of features packed into this pistol is quite extraordinary.
Get this: capacity is a staggering 15 rounds of 45 Auto that the wizards in the FN engineering department somehow fit into a frame that does not feel like a power pole.
The gun also has ambidextrous safety-decockers, slide releases, and mag releases, making it just as suitable for lefties as righties, and together these controls allow any shooter to run the gun easily switch-handed in any situation.
The sharp and aggressive checkering molded into its polymer frame is noteworthy both for how effective and how bloodthirsty it is: this is a gun that will definitely lock into your hand, but lengthy practice sessions will leave those hands looking like lunch meat! Consider wearing gloves.
The tactical pedigree of the gun is obvious at first glance, featuring as it does suppressor height sights, an extended threaded barrel and a slide pre-milled for accepting a direct mounted MRDO.
Like all FN products, this is a pistol that was designed sparing no detail and tested to the ends of the Earth. The activation of all controls (save the slide releases) is positive, and their dimensions are generous to allow easy use under stress or while wearing gloves.
Heckler & Koch HK45 Compact Tactical
H&K is rightly famous for making stupendously durable and hard running guns that are typically over-engineered according to German custom. Whether or not that is praise or criticism depends on how you feel about their guns in the first place!
But however you might feel about the German giant, their HK45 Compact Tactical is probably the exemplar in this category based strictly on overall performance, and it is even more admirable considering it comes in such a reasonably sized package.
This is the last pistol on this list that was an entrance into the JCP trials for the military, and it later went on to be formally adopted by the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Command as the Mk.24 pistol.
Frankly, it seems obvious to me: an accurate, o-ring equipped barrel capable of producing excellent accuracy with an extraordinary service life, a high degree of modularity in the fire control (allowing the user to configure the guns operation to their liking), suppressor-height adjustable sights, ambi controls and a compact frame with interchangeable backstrap makes for an obvious fighting handgun for special missions.
But, even for civilians, this gun offers much to commend it. The nominal capacity is 8 rounds with a flush fit magazine. That might seem pretty limited compared to some of the other guns on our list but this is also, by far, the most compact of the pistols featured.
If more payload is desired one need only to pop in an extended 10-round magazine and roll on, bringing the total capacity up to 11 rounds if the pistol already has a round in the chamber.
The only thing that holds this pistol back from being a defacto choice is its price tag. With an enviable combination of shootability, small size and reliability the HK45 Compact Tactical is still among the very best in the world in this category.
SIG Sauer P227
This pistol, though recently discontinued, expands on SIG’s excellent track record of making DA/SA pistols for armed professionals and civilians who give a damn.
Their legendary P220 in .45 ACP regularly makes its way onto many “best of” lists for combat handguns in general and .45’s in particular, and the P227 took the proven track record earned by that mature handgun and simply gave shooters more of what they wanted; “more” in this case referring to capacity!
Instead of a modest seven or eight rounds in a large single stack handgun, the P227 says if you are going to go big, you might as well go all the way, and packs in 10 rounds of .45 into a new and proprietary double-stack magazine.
It did so while maintaining the overall dimensions of its legacy brethren in every regard except a little bit of extra width around the hips. But SIG didn’t declare it “good enough” and rest on their heels there.
At the time they were already rolling out the then-new E2 series grips for their legacy handguns, a pairing which would prove fortuitous.
While a new pair of grips is often nothing to get excited about as far as pistol technology, these innovative grips utilize no screws, and snap on to even older P-series frames in a way that greatly enhances the ergonomics and the thinness of all these notoriously chunky pistols.
The result, aside from greater control for shooters with average size hands, is a pistol that is scarcely bigger than its single stack progenitor.
Everything else that shooters loved about the classic SIG P-series pistols has been preserved, including the control layout and most notably the excellent SIG decocker that is a component of their famously reliable 3-point safety system.
It is a shame that these pistols have been discontinued, but there are still plenty of guns and parts to be found on the market if one cares to look for them.
For fans of the older SIG pistols of yesteryear, a P227 and a good supply of magazines might be just what the doctor ordered heading into the new millennium.
The .45 ACP is still the first choice, and indeed “only” choice for some shooters, and for the longest time one had to give up capacity if they wanted a reliable, durable fighting pistol in this most American of calibers. Those days are past and that hateful choice is no more.
Today’s shooters of any stripe can truly have their big bore and the capacity needed to solve problems, too. Any of the guns on this list will serve you well if you desire a high-capacity double-stack .45 for self-defense, competition, or duty use.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.