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Resurgence of the .380 ACP

Consider a .380 auto-loader as your backup gun for better concealment and capacity than a revolver.

May 26, 2010  |  by Brian Ostro - Also by this author

Today's modern expanding ammunition also elevates the .380 to a respectable defensive round. Ball ammunition (Full Metal Jacket) of the past was responsible for typecasting this round as ineffective. This is a thing of the past. Ammo manufacturers such as CorBon, Speer and Hornady, now offer load choices with near 100 percent bullet-weight retention and virtually no bullet deformation as the bullet penetrates media such as clothing. Of particular interest is Hornady's new line of Critical Defense ammunition, which claims zero bullet deformation and 100 percent weight retention. The bullet also contains a red polymer tip that helps ensure reliable feeding.

It must be pointed out that small semi-automatics are obviously less reliable than revolvers and need consistent cleaning and maintenance after each use. I would also recommend extensive practice to become proficient as these are pistols designed for close-quarters use and not for target practice.

Unlike larger semi-automatics with safety features such as thumb safety levers, trigger safeties, loaded chamber indicators and grip safeties, these smaller pistols require far more vigilance, visual observation and tactile inspection. Most employ double-action triggers that perform two tasks—cocking the hammer and/or striker and releasing it. Most have no external hammers, and have either an internal low-profile hammer or an internal striker. Most have no exterior safeties.

This is done to keep a low and snag free profile, especially in a deep-concealment pocket holster or ankle rig.

Those considering a .380 ACP chambered semi-auto should consider the Kel-Tec P3AT, Ruger LCP (Light Compact Pistol), North American Arms Guardian .380, Walther PPK, Walther PK380 (Walther P22 clone), Bersa Thunder (Walther PPK clone) or CZ-USA .380 (Walther PPK clone).

Capacity will range from six to 12 rounds depending on the model selected. Please also remember that as a general rule, the smaller the gun, the fewer the safety features, but also the lighter the package and the more concealable it is.

If you are someone who can live with more visual and tactile inspection, then go for the smallest. That is the point of the .380—to pack as much firepower into the smallest package. The Kel Tec, Ruger, and NAA mentioned above are great options, because if you go any larger, you can chamber the 9mm Luger or the .40 S&W in the same frame size as the Walthers or the CZ, which would defeat the purpose of the .380.

Whatever you decide, practice with your firearm and make sure the ammunition selected feeds reliably into the gun as these pistols are very ammo selective.

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Comments (14)

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14

JAYIRK @ 5/28/2010 2:08 AM



tpd223 @ 5/28/2010 1:27 PM

.380s are OK, IF you can't carry a real gun.

I'm not a guy to argue caliber, anything from .38+P to .45 works, but the .380 is sub-optimal. There is no .380 load that can pass the FBI testing, and even if the barrier shots are left out .380s have a great deal of trouble passing the bare gel and heavy clothing shots.
It's better than not having a BUG, but it's still not throwing a real bullet.

In addition, these timny guns are hard to shoot well, and they are much less durable and reliable than a mini-service pistol (Glock 26/27 or Sig 239 as examples) or a J frame .38/.357

triggercontrol @ 5/29/2010 4:26 AM

Great feedback guys.

I do agree that a larger caliber makes sense in a primary duty gun and that a pistol like the Glock 19,26,27 are exceptional guns, but the point of a BUG is size and deep concealment, dimensionally, these pistols(380s) are tiny and won't print through clothing like a much wider and longer baby glock. The point is to have maximum firepower in the most minimum package, and the much shorter 380 rd accomplishes that in a much shorter frame.

As far as the FBI protocolts are concerned, I doubt Hornady's New Critical Defense ammunition (which claims virtually zero bullet deformation as it passes through clothing and almost one hundred percent bullet weight retention upon entry) was part of the older testing.

For a primary pistol, the 9mm, .40sw, .45ACP, and .357SIG make sense, but as stated in the article, as far as the .380ACP is concerned, yesterdays ball ammo is no comparison to todays modern expanding ammunition.

(PS: this is the author)

saint @ 6/3/2010 5:49 AM

One thing to seriously consider is availability and cost of .380 ammunition. There is a serious shortage nationwide of ball / target ammunition in .380, and many retailers are elevating prices based on supply and demand. If your department provides a monthly ammo allowance then no worries... if you are footing the bill however, practice sessions will end up costing you more than the price of the weapon in short order... food for thought. P.S.- Midway, Cheaper than Dirt, and the Sportsmans guide sell .380 in bulk at competitive prices.

walkin' trails @ 8/21/2010 6:10 AM

I personally prefer a five-shot .38 Special over a .380, but its a preference based on the fact that I like five shot revolvers and the cost and availability of ammunition. Making small packages to shoot the .380 was an excellent idea that has apparently caught on big and probably contributed to the .380 ammo shortage. I have fired both the Kel Tec and the Ruger LCP. Neither were that pleasant to shoot but made excellent backup or third guns. I shot the Ruger at 25 yards and will attest that it will shoot a 10" group at that distance on a Q target if you really pay attention to the stubby front sight. Most of the officers I know who have acquired those pistols wanted them to carry off duty or UC (or probably more likely for every day plain clothes investigative duties though they wouldn't admit it) because they were so light and concealable. Any gun is better than no gun, but I would not want to rely on anything smaller than a baby Glock if I wound up in an off-duty situation such as an active shooter.

John G @ 1/4/2012 8:00 AM

Where you live has a bearing on what you carry. I live in Fla. while I feel well armed w/ a 357 sig., often the heat, and the light clothing, do not lend themselfs well and or comfortable , and or practicle to carry. I recently recieved a ppk/s in 380, and was skeptical, never having a 380 that I was comfortable or felt confident with. I waited to build up several hundred rounds of hardball, to make or break, this gun, cleaning it every 100 rds, getting used to small sights, smaller grip frame, recoil, I have gained a good,feeling for it now, as well as the most important aspect, of any gun you carry confidence in it. Albiet a sub-calibre to my mind ,hitting your ''target'' is much more important, then the size of the projectile, just look at what the Israelis have done with a 22.

john ray @ 1/14/2012 6:39 AM

im a small person and the victom of a hold up so i got a 380 for personal proction. will this wepon stop the next person who shoots at me

Dave @ 9/23/2012 11:18 AM

I have a bersa thunder .380. I consider it a great gun. Very little kick and fairly accurate. On the other hand, the Keltec .380 has a terrible kick and even tho I wear a glove on my right hand I go home from the range with my Hand in pain. In addition the Keltec has a bad habit of
Jamming every 4-5 shots. I'll take the Bersa

Lou Jarocki @ 2/23/2013 4:00 PM

A couple of months ago I went out to buy a 40 cal auto. I don't have very large hands and most of the guns didn't. Feel that comfortable in my hand. My wife was with me and she fell in love with a Bersa 380 Thunder with Crimson Trace laser sights in the grip. I have never been that good with a hand gun but this made me a lot better shot. Today my wife went with me to the range and the first time she ever shot a gun and was putting them in the block at 20 and 33 ft. We shot 100 round today and as comfortable as can be. 200 rounds through this gun and I am truly impressed. We both love this gun.

Gott Mit @ 8/4/2013 8:30 PM

It has been proven that FMJ in 380 acp penetrates better than the JHP.
In fact, it exeeds the FBI's requirements.
This does not apply to 9mm+ rounds. Only 380.

Zack @ 2/20/2014 6:05 PM

For those who haven't seen it... Sig Sauer P238 is a .380 that's small, safe, and packs enough rounds to make you feel safe. It has almost full size SigLite night sights and you can get am extended mag with extra finger space. They also make a 9mm version that is almost as small, but not sure of model # or round capacity. I do know the P238 is a sweet shooter that would hold -1.5" groups at 21 feet (standard conceal carry qualifying rangehere in Missouri) with the 5 different kinds of ammo I had at the range right out of the box.

Todd @ 2/28/2014 3:57 PM

I've had my P238 for several; months now, and I can't say enough about it. Stable, accurate, comfortable to shoot incredible workmanship. I use a crossbreed minituck IWB and it virtually disappears. Also a Desantis pocket holster that I use with cargo shorts no print at all. Have 250 rds or so through it so far, no failures of any kind. A little pricey but a great 380 acp

lou @ 1/10/2015 3:27 PM

New at this, purchased a Walter PPK .380 ACP. Seems to jam about every 4 or 5 rounds. Am using .380 Auto TMJ 90 Gr ammo. Have been cleaning and oiling regularly. Should I be using a different ammo, or is it something I'm doing that's wrong?

Old Cop @ 8/20/2015 12:06 PM

After going through the Ruger and Glock .380 and finding them to be very unreliable I picked up the no laser S&W .380 and after 600 rounds of FMJ & HP ammo found it to be boringly reliable. The HPR 90 grain hollow point round tested out the best and functions in my S&W .380. It has replaced my J frame .38, carried for over 40 years, as my EDC. I'll leave the caliber wars for others to wage.

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