The responses elicited when people hear the term ".45" run the gamut from awe and wonder to some levels of objectivity. But usually, the majority remains convinced if you have a .45 in your hand you need not fear goblins, things that go bump in the night, or miscreants lurking in the shadows.
Right or wrong, the great .45 ACP has established itself firmly as a "protector of the protectors." Indeed, the recent renaissance of the caliber in our line of work has only further cemented the legends already well established for this reigning king of duty handgun calibers.
Whether the .45 ACP really is king can be disputed, but one thing is certain: Legions of cops today are enamored with it. And virtually every handgun maker has a cross-section of models to choose from in the caliber. The 1911 design has been at the forefront in the civilian market, and is making strong inroads in the holsters of uniformed cops these days. Still, the double action/single action (DA/SA) or double-action only (DAO) design is still usually the choice of agencies, and probably for some good reasons.
Ruger's New Idea
Ruger's original P-85 auto in 9mm appeared in the late 1980s and was met with a lukewarm reception. It looked "weird" and felt blocky. Saying it felt like you were holding a two-by-four may give you an idea. It worked fine, though, and in spite of its "weirdness" it gained a following among both civilian shooters and working cops. Ruger honed the design over the years and by the time the first polymer-framed versions were introduced, they had morphed into a pretty nice fighting pistol.
Still, they suffered form the "Oh, it's just a Ruger" attitude among cops. SIGs, Berettas, H&Ks, and others had splashy advertising campaigns and cost lots more so they must have been "better," right? Not always. And that John Deeretractor reliability that established Ruger's reputation in the hunting market quickly built among cops.
I was one of those cops, and was among the very first (if not the first) to carry a P-85 9mm on duty in the field. It shot like gangbusters, was dead-nuts reliable, and frankly, the "weird" look sort of endeared itself to me. Today, that same "weird" look is common among the hi-tech autos, so once again, Ruger was a decade ahead of the rest.
That first P90 in .45 ACP introduced around 1991 was a beast of a pistol and was, well, clunky feeling. It did all the right things and was more accurate than virtually any of the other duty .45s, but it suffered from a triumph of utility over design. Heck, even a toaster that looks good as it toasts your morning bagel is more appealing. Ruger actually listened, and maybe watched the sales figures a bit, too.
Ruger's newest generation of .45s starts out with the P345, a slimmed-down, re-designed version of Ruger's prior .45 ACP models. At the NRA show this year, Bob Sutler, a mucky-muck at Ruger, laughed when I picked it up and he said, "Feels pretty good, eh?" I agreed. Almost svelte, the new grip profile is slender and recontoured to better match an actual human being's hand. It looked like Ruger had changed gears in the duty auto department.
The P345's polyurethane grip frame is reinforced with glass fiber, is rugged, lightweight, and just makes sense in a duty pistol. This is one "P-series" pistol that no longer feels like you're holding that same two-by-four in your hand and, frankly, it gives the rest of the pack of duty autos a sound run for their "more expensive" money.
A predecessor of the P345, the P95 (a polymer-frame pistol from Ruger) was built a bit thicker in the grip, especially around the slide and mag well, and had a "chunkier" slide. The P345 shows an obvious attempt at both the slimming and re-contouring job. Areas of the slide and frame are slimmer and built much lighter on the P345. There are less "pokey" things on the gun, and over all it feels "smoother" in the hands.
The obvious addition of a built-in Picatinny rail to manage the current crop of gun-mounted lights makes the P345 as modern as today. Its magazine holds eight rounds, with one in the chamber, making the P345 a nine-shooter. The sights are steel, three-dot, and are adjustable for windage, with a setscrew in the rear to hold it in place. The slide release is where it should be and seemed to be nicely "rounded" to do away with sharp edges-a prior fault of the P-series pistols.
Trigger action on the P345 is a standard DA to SA, with the SA trigger pull on our test gun set at about 5.5 pounds and a bit on the gritty side. It would probably "shoot in" with some use. As it was, it didn't seem to affect our ability to shoot the P345 to its capabilities. DA was long, fairly smooth (think SIG, prior to their DAK system), and stacked a bit at the end of the stroke. All in all, the system was very manageable.
The magazine release is on the grip frame and protected slightly by a raised area around the grip. It does not appear to be ambidextrous, but functioned well as designed. The mags snap home with a satisfying "click" and clear the gun briskly when the mag release is pushed.
If you like safeties, you'll fall madly in love with the P345. As far as I could count, it has seven, if you count the "Before using read the warnings" label cast into the left side of the grip frame. There's also the firing-pin safety, the ambi-thumb safety (doubles as a de-cocker), the keyed lock, the cable lock, the loaded chamber indicator, the magazine safety, and that warning label.
The thumb safety functions normally, with "up" being off/safe. When it's "down" though, you can slip a tiny little key Ruger provides into an equally tiny hole in the starboard-side safety to lock things up tight. That puts the gun out of action until you unlock it. Thank you very much to all the attorneys who made this happen, rather than doing something else actually useful.
The "loaded chamber indicator" is a little lever on the top that cams up if a case is in the chamber. Which brings us to the fact it doesn't actually show the chamber is loaded, it only shows there's a case in there. So anyone who carries a pistol like this for serious work should always check manually to see if the round is a loaded round. The indicator is a good way to see that "something's afoot" in the chamber, but you'd better check to make sure exactly what's afoot.
The magazine disconnect simply renders the gun so it won't fire. As near as I could tell, it's somehow connected to the firing pin lock, since without the mag inserted the firing pin remains locked. The gun still cycles and such, but it doesn't appear to be able to go "bang" at all.
So, unless you're a complete idiot, you shouldn't be able to make the P345 go off unless you intend it to. If you really wanted to, you could take the magazine out, put the cable lock through the open action, lock the keyed lock on the slide, and read the warnings about safety regulations in 10 states in the owner's manual, and be pretty darn safe, if you ask me.
Does It Shoot?
Yup, it does. Maybe it's a function of that plastic frame, but I found the recoil to be almost mild and very controllable. The .45 ACP isn't exactly a powerhouse to begin with, but still, the P345 was a real pleasure to shoot. We put about 400 rounds through it, mostly Black Hills 185 JHP (at around 940 fps) and some Winchester 230 FMC (at 785 fps) and just a bit of Cor-Bon 165 +P JHP (at a blistering 1,230 fps).
We were in a bit of a rush to meet the deadline, so we didn't do lots of benchrest stuff, but mostly shot offhand at 15 yards. That's probably more realistic anyway, since it showed how the P345 performed in actual hands, in the real world. What happened wasn't surprising, based upon my prior experience with the Ruger P-series. The groups averaged two to three inches over all, with some that got into that scary region of around one inch when we sat down and tried real hard. It seemed to shoot anything we put into it and liked it all. That Cor-Bon was a bit on the hot side, but if you like such things the Ruger can handle them.
Lights and Such
I had a SureFire X200 weapon light and a tiny SML from Insight and Springfield Armory on hand to try on the light rail. Both went on fine, with the tiny SML being a bit far to reach well. It was intended for a short, 1911- sized pistol, so no foul there. It also looked awfully cute.
That X200 worked well and the ergonomics were just fine. A simple "push" against the switch turned it on momentarily, and a flip of the lever turned it on to stay on. The whole "gun-mounted light" idea is a sound one, but needs some addressing in training. There's no easy way to put one on without getting your hands awfully close to a loaded pistol's muzzle, so use your head there. Especially if things are, shall we say, "tense" at the moment.
The light rail is unobtrusive and shouldn't interfere with most duty holsters that would fit this model. There is a model available without a light rail, but why a street cop would opt for no light rail is beyond my imagination. Just remember, the light on the gun is to help you to identify a threat, not for general lighting chores. I only say that because I know cops.
The P345 is a solid value, and I generally find Rugers in shops at well below their MSRP, so it just might be the going value in a .45 ACP duty pistol.
Caliber: .45 Auto
Capacity: 8 Rounds
Finish: Stainless steel
Grip: Checkered black synthetic
Barrel Length: 4.5 inches
Rear Sight: Fixed, windage adjustable
Other Features: Loaded chamber indicator, magazine disconnect, internal lock.
Miscellaneous: Ergonomic grip, improved trigger pull, contoured slide, Picatinny accessory rail, Ruger Camblock design
Roy Huntington is editor of American Handgunner magazine and a member of the POLICE Advisory Board.