The 380 ACP (for Automatic Colt Pistol) round is a classic that was given birth in 1908 by the infamous engineer of all that is holy in firearms, John Moses Browning. Also known as 9mm kurz (German for short), 380-auto and 9x17mm, but we will simple call it 380 here. The 380 was long used around the world by military and security forces as a duty round, especially for senior military officers and police detectives. The Germans loved it in their Walther PPK while the Italians used it in the Beretta M1934. These two pistols, dating from before World War 2, are still in use and even in production in one form or another with the 380 as fodder.
Today almost every manufacturer that makes pistols makes a compact 380 including Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Sig Arms, Kel Tec, Hi-Point and others. Overseas imports such as Bersa and CZ are often very effective designs and are priced right.
- My wife's CCW under some circumstances. A nice scrolled Ruger LCP inside a wallet holster with 7 rounds of Gold Dot. Dont leave house without it. - Image from the authors personal collection.
Finding popular loadings for the 380 is easy, as virtually every manufacturer of center fire pistol cartridges have at least two varieties of the round to choose from. These range from 80-100 grain loadings in hardball FMJ and JHP clocking anywhere between 900-1200fps. There are even extreme loads such as 70-grain Glaser Safety Slugs and Pow'R Balls that touch 1200fps. Hand loaders have experimented with up to 115-grain bullets, near-duplicating 9mm Luger ballistics, but that is another article.
The 380 isnt setting the world on fire with its ballistics performance, but it is adequate and has been so for over a century. In ballistics tests published in Marshall and Sanow's "Street Stoppers" (Paladin Press, 2006) 88-grain CCI gold Dot 380 and Federal's 95-grain in teh same caliber both penetrated over 17 inches in ballistic gel. The FBI says that any depth over 12-inches in a duty round. Enough said.
Cost and availability of 380 ammunition
Many complain that 380 ammunition is expensive. That is both true and false depending on how you look at it. By surveying various online wholesalers that sell to the public typical 380 prices is about $20 a box for either 50 FMJs or 20 JHPs. When compared to other popular cartridges this is about twice the price of 38Special and 9mm Luger but is still very slightly less than 40S&W and .45ACP.
- A sidebyside comparison of the 40S&W, 9mm Luger, and 380 Auto.
Many smaller over the counter sporting goods stores and gun shops do not stock 380 in great quantities. The reason for this is it is generally not volume sellers like 12-gauge, 9mm, and 5.56 are. Often avid shooters will pick up quantities of this more popular ammunition, and in business you stock what people ask for. While there is no shortage of 380 pistols on the market, many owners of these guns buy a box (or less) a year to stoke their own tastes. If your local store does not carry 380 in your particular flavor choice, ask them if they can start before shopping online. However, remember, if they do start carrying it, then return the favor, and buy some!
Muzzle Flip and Bad Recoil
With a relatively tubby round (when compared to .32 and .25ACP) coming out of small-barreled blow back semi-automatics, invariably many 380 users complain of excessive recoil. This recoil can contribute to muzzle flip, which makes quick follow-up shots hard. When you are only shooting an 80-grain bullet on average, the ability to come up with a fast and accurate follow-on shot is important.
To correct this phenomenon, experiment with different loadings. Some manufacturers make low-velocity defense ammunition, such as Federal Premium 90-grain Defense Low Recoil JHP that can drastically reduce muzzle flip. My wife, who carries a Ruger LCP, finds that Winchester Silvertip is more controllable than some of the other 380 JHPs on the market. Shop around and see what you like the best.
If your choice of ammunition still produces stouter recoil than what you would like, there are other options. You can try aftermarket grip panels such as those by Hogue and Pachymar. This, combined with varying your grip to find one that is most comfortable and practicing with it can make a world of difference.
- The Bersa 380 models are nice, neat little guns that many have used for home defense and CCW carry with good results. Image from authors personal collection
The fact is, even though legions of ninja pirate commando zombie-killers insist that only a handgun with a cartridge that starts with a '4' or a '5' in size is capable of personal defense, the 380 is here and will remain so for probably another century or two. In the right loading and with the right person on the other side of it, you had better believe it can save your life.