ShootingTheBull410 has just finished his exhaustive, intensive Ammo Quest for .380 ACP pocket pistols…gel has been cooked, shots have been fired, bullets have been weighed and measured and conclusions have been drawn. If you’re carrying (or considering carrying) an LCP, a TCP, or maybe the rumored new GLOCK 42, this might be useful information. Here’s a video summary of all the test results, a guide to how all the ammo performed and which were the clear winner(s).

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58 Responses to ShootingTheBull410 Concludes His Quest for the Ultimate .380 Round

  1. “ShootingTheBull410 Concludes His Quest for the Ultimate .380 Round”
    That’s an easy quest. Lengthen the case a bit, add some more powder for some more velocity. Toss in a heavier bullet. Call it something more suitable for its new form like say, 9mm luger. Bam! Done!

    • If you were looking for the finest turkey hat to wear all day tomorrow, I’m sure someone could point out the best one for you.

      But you’re not looking for a turkey hat, and most people aren’t looking for the “best .380 bullet”.

      Until Obama mandates that Americans can only own .380s, Americans will continue to make better choices than the .380 round.

      • The Ruger LCPs, Taurus TCPs and S&W Bodyguards flying off shelves would like a word with you.

        If you disagree on the .380’s effectiveness, just record a video of yourself laughing off a shot from one and I’ll be convinced.

        • Whether the .380 is your (or anyone’s) particular choice, doesn’t stop there from being millions of them sold. So much so, that it looks like Glock is set to enter the market with the Glock 42 (rumored to be a single-stack .380).

          Hey, I won’t argue — 9mm beats the hell out of .380, any day of the week. It’s much better. But my pocket 9 (Sig 938) weighs about twice what my pocket .380 (TCP) does. And costs over 3x as much. And doesn’t conceal as easily. The TCP is a true “pocket” gun, it disappears in a front pocket.

          So — no, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. And it’s not in the same class as a 9mm. But it is still a wildly popular product. And because it’s not as powerful, ammo selection is much more important with the .380 than it is with the bigger “service calibers”. Most 9mm rounds will do well. Few .380 rounds will. So if you’re GOING to carry a .380, I thought it’d be helpful to know what does work effectively, and what doesn’t.

        • Bull is right, I mean, he aint talking bull…er…he is. The point is, The micro 380 is a TRUE pocket gun. Hold one in your hand or stuff it in your front pocket and see how it compares to a 38 snub or single stack 9mm. A completely different animal. In a defensive situation, most people would run if you brandished it, and would poop bricks if you popped off some rounds at them (hit or miss), so you are statistically covered, in any case.

  2. I always eschewed the .380 since the second rule of a gunfight is “bring enough gun”. It looks like there are in fact good rounds for a .380 pocket pistol. I carry a 9MM “mouse gun” and while I like it, it is a handful to shoot.

    • I believe the .380 ACP mouse guns are only marginally more comfortable to shoot than 9mm mouse guns. A handgun that weighs something like 10 ounces is not much mass to absorb recoil.

      • That’s why I can’t stand them. I like nines only marginally more. I’d shoot .45s all day, if I could afford to.

        • IMO – your outgunned if you don’t have a weapon with you when you need it which brings in convenient conceal-ability got to be short, thin and light. You then need to balance adequate power with controllable low recoil to make it more likely you will hit what you are aiming at when under extreme mental pressure, because we are not all Jerry Miculek, again IMO – too little is made of situational awareness, training, good ergonomics, reliability and sights here. Its a compromise so If you need more power than a good 380 round penetrating 12″ to centre mass, use a rifle or shotgun, good luck with getting one in your pocket. Just saying …………………………….

  3. I’ll just go ahead and say that I am not a .380 fan. There was a whole lot of failure in most of the loads tested. While a PDX, Gold Dot, Critical Defense, etc. would do well in a larger 9mm / .40 / .45, it would fail in the .380. Since my usual CC gun is a .40 Glock 23 / 27 or .357 snubbie with .38 +P, I’ll stick with that. Still, the XTPs and Hydra Shoks did perform, so the .380 may be the ticket for the recoil sensitive wife.

    All in all, the .380 is better than nothing, but far worse than the 9mm / .40 / .45 class. The LC9 might very well be my next handgun purchase, even though I really don’t need one. With a 9mm, I could actually choose a round that shot well, was on sale, etc. The .380 is severely limited, and effectively forces a few narrow ammo choices in order to meet the FBI minimum requirements.

    • I pretty much agree across the board. While I have spent an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort into researching the best .380 stuff, my EDC is a .45, and my normal pocket pistol is a 9mm. The service calibers are just much better.

      However — the TCP is just a fantastic little affordable micro-pistol. It’s something I am quite comfortable pocket-carrying around the house. And with the right ammo, and good aim, it’s capable of stopping an attack. And it’s cheap. So — as they say, horses for courses. No question the 9/40/45 is vastly more powerful and more appropriate for serious defense.

  4. To bad my Sig P238 hates XTP bullets more then any other hollow point. I guess here in the land of t-shirts and cotton. I think I will stay with his least favorite. The good old Ranger…….. Works for me.

  5. Happy to see the choice of ammo I use in my .380 made the cut.

    I love the bigger caliber handguns also but my Taurus 738 is the easiest to carry all day and every day.

  6. But he didn’t test any hardcast lead bullets! I really wish he would test hardcast lead bullets. They penetrate better than hollowpoints and yet they still make a relatively large wound channel that is certainly larger than the bullet. As best as I can determine, a .380 ACP 100 grain hardcast lead bullet coming out of a “micro pistol” should make a .45 caliber hole in an attacker regardless of whether the attacker is naked or wearing heavy clothing and a leather jacket. And it will most likely exit the attacker which means two holes to lower the attacker’s blood pressure. And yet I don’t expect the bullet to have enough velocity after exiting the attacker to seriously injure any bystanders.

    I seriously believe that hardcast lead bullets are the only way to go with .380 ACP and tiny (barrels less than 3 inches) pistols.

    • I would like to have tested a hardcast load, but the only commercial manufacturer I found offering it was Buffalo Bore, and the only loading they offer it in is “+P”. From the first day I had ruled out any so-called “+P” in .380, because it is a nonstandard round and the pistol manufacturers prohibit the use of it in their guns, saying it’s potentially dangerous and it will immediately void the warranty.

      My goal was to test commercially-available loads, and standardized loads. My thought is — if you really think you need “+P” to get adequate performance, then you should probably just step up to a 9mm.

      That said, I admit my research (er, well, googling) was not exhaustive in trying to find a hardcast load. If you know of any commercial manufacturers offering a SAAMI-compliant .380 ACP load, I’d be glad to test it. I’d also like to try some good old-fashioned JSPs too, but couldn’t find any current loads in that type of bullet.

  7. I watched this whole process with great interest.
    Never mind the whole .380/good-enough argument, I found the Bull’s methodology very clear and well implemented.
    I now know from which group of .380 ammunition that I can pull reliably.
    Thank you Bull!

    • Furthermore, I switched to Hydra-Shoks from Critical Defense. That decision was also validated by this test.

      Win-win.

  8. I’d like to see a comparison between .380s and the recently introduced .22wrm defense loads from Speer and Hornady. The initial bragging said they were comparable in penetration and permanent wound channel, but I haven’t seen any thing about them since.

    I have an LCP for the simple reason of weight. When I’m just rattling around the house, I’m usually wearing sweats or gym shorts, depending on the season. Size is not a concern, but anything heavier can’t be supported by an elastic waistband. S&W makes a Centennial (enclosed hammer) AirLight (not AirWeight) revolver in .22 mag with an alloy frame, cylinder, and barrel shroud. Loaded, it weighs the same as an LCP, with the same seven round capacity. It’s considerably more expensive, but after decades of practice I can shoot a J-frame a whole lot better than the tiny autos, and it would prevent a lot of problems common to mouseguns, like limp-wristing, inability to fire if pressed against the attacker, etc. I could cut way down on my holster inventory, too.

    • I don’t have any .22WMR firearms at the moment, but if I did have one, I’d definitely do a comparison test against the .380. I know the tests you’re referring to, which showed them as comparable to the .380, but — I dunno, just looking at Critical Defense, the .380 bullet is literally twice the weight, at the same muzzle velocity from a test barrel, with twice the muzzle energy; hard to see how they’d deliver comparable terminal wounding… but heck, I’d be glad to test it. Might give me a reason to pick up an NAA in .22WMR…

      … and I totally agree about the weight. The thinness and light weight are my favorite features about these micro pistols. I carry my TCP as a “home carry” pistol more than I do out and about, simply because of the feather weight, and the flexibility of “relaxing” clothes that it can be carried in.

      • You know, I doubt they took the time and trouble that you did to pick out the MOST effective .380 load to compare to their .22wmr rounds, so that would change the results of a comparison right there. Naming the most effective load for any cartridge is a moving target these days, anyway, with new products constantly under development,

        I’m still pretty interested in that Smith, though. In addition to the advantages I noted above, add the availability of all the grip configurations available for J-frames. I have a Hogue grip sleeve on my LCP, and I still get the occasional failure to fire if my finger contacts the trigger with anything other than the tip. If my index finger meets the trigger at the first joint, where it normally belongs for a double action stroke, the finger tip will come up against my thumb before it can come all the way back and fire. The distance between the trigger and the back of the grip is so short that I haven’t been able to find any natural feeling hand position that eliminates this possibility.

        Despite good results with most modern semi-autos (my nightstand gun is a CZ P-07), I’m still of the generation that just TRUSTS a revolver more, and a carry gun really should inspire confidence.

      • Find someone that will lend you a Keltec PMR-30 for your tests. I’d lend you mine, but have to actually shoot it first! I have another friend w/30 yrs experience as an INS officer (he escorted criminal illegals out of the country & served as area lead officer for part of the US Border w/Canada) – he usually CC’s a Glock 27, but also has an NAA stashed as a BUG.

        • The only issue with the KelTec as a comparison is the barrel length. The NAA Mini Revolvers typically have about 1 1/2″ barrels, the S&W J-frame is 1 7/8″, and most of the itty bitty auto loaders about 2″, more or less. I don’t recall the barrel length on the KelTec, but it’s at least 4″. That’s a big enough difference to up the velocity, penetration, and expansion to a whole other level from the pocket pistols and revolvers we want to compare here.

    • Not just old elastic from sweatpants, but a thong and a tight mini-skirt. My wife’s NA Black Widow barely prints in her tight outfits. Sure a 1911 would be better than a .22anything, but a .22 is better than nothing.

      http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/06/foghorn/ask-foghorn-22l-for-self-defense/

      besides if she is within 5 feet of who she is shooting at, if the round doesn’t hit she will burn off their eyebrows with the fireball that explodes out of the barrel. 2/3rds of the people who are stopped by an attack by a firearm aren’t stopped physically by the round, and if you are on PCP, even a 9mm probably wont stop ’em.

  9. I’ll buy a 3-4 boxes of that precision one ammo. I shoot it in 9mm a lot. So I am not afraid of the brand.

    If it shoots from my P238 it will stay in it.

  10. IMHO, a VERY good series of tests!

    However I’m betting if the same series of tests were repeated with the same ammunition brands the the results would be different. Major? Minor? I don’t know…neither do you.

    I’m a .45 fan because in these standardized tests, flawed as they may be, the 9MM is also going to have it’s share of favorites fail in one way or another. In fact it is the failure of the 9MM that has lead us to the plethora of caliber selections we now have. Sorry 9MM fan boys…it’s the truth!

    I have a variety of .45s I could carry, BUT…no not this one…but…no…well sometimes, SOMETIMES even a small pistol is too big……so I bought a BG380. I’ve been shooting for 45 years mind you. Worked ‘in the business’ and have shot HUNDREDS of different pistols but NEVER though I would own a .380 any thing!

    I do now….because it is accurate, AND concealable! It has a niche…..and an important one….sometimes….I need a small ultra concealable pistol….no 9MM or larger caliber can fill.

    Again…good compilation of very specific criteria and the .380’s ability to meet or not that criteria…. though the real world will not necessarily abide by these results, this is good info!

    • The 9mm has “failed” when it was either loaded with FMJs, poorly designed hollowpoints, or unrealistic expectations. Newer 9mm JHPs are much better than some previous designs which were easily clogged by heavy clothing. Now, the heavy clothing test is standard protocol. I eagerly anticipate Shooting the Bull’s 9mm subcompact tests, and may even purchase an LC9 if it or a similar pistol performs well.

      I’m a .40 user, but respect the capabilities of anything that works.

  11. Just ordered several boxes of the Precision One for my new Sig 232 which has been in need of a good SD round. While regular carry is a P229 in 40 (Gold Dots), there is a time and a place for a “mouse gun” and it is nice to know which rounds might “get it done” if the worst comes to worst. Thank you to Dan and the others responsible for bringing this to the TTAG pages.

  12. Bull,
    Thank you for your methodical and exacting study. You have added some valuable data to the store of firearm knowledge. I applaud you for your efforts.
    Although my EDC is a 9mm, on many occasions and for various reasons my go to is a P3AT with Hydra-Shoks. It’s always my backup gun of choice.
    Again, thank you for your time and effort.

  13. I have a Walther PK380 for my wife’s ‘bump in the night’ gun. I really want an LCP380 for a pocket gun. All I can go back to is the poor Aussie baseball player who was shot in the back once with a .22 and died. I would think that would cull any critics from saying the .380 just ain’t enough. It’s nice to know what rounds are the most effective but isn’t it all about shot placement?

    I spent summers on a farm in Iowa growing up with free reign and a .22. My grandpa always said not to underestimate the distance and lethality of that gun because the right placement will take a cow down right now.

    Any thoughts?

    • Yep, I got a few thoughts for you. A .22 to the back is not normally a defensive shot but if it hits spine or brain it will kill very easily. So will just about anything else, including a BB. Proves nothing about how a .380 will perform in a frontal shot. With ANY handgun round you are just play the odds, and stacking the deck in your favor as much as practical is just smart. Bigger, heavier, faster, combined with proven bullet construction is what is needed when your life or that of your loved ones are on the line. If a .22 is the most you can handle, do it. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking it, or a .380, is just as effective as a standard defensive round.

    • And yes, your grandpa was right about being careful with that .22. But he was referring to the POTENTIAL for the .22 to cause harm, not the likelihood. Using a round with much greater potential for defense is another thing entirely.

  14. Good enough to start WWI with two one shot kills. Good enough for me.

    Thanks for the comprehensive series of tests S T B

  15. Thank you for taking the time to do such a thorough job with these tests. Very impressive and informative. I have a ruger LCP that I stick in my pocket during the warm months and now I know I have to ditch my hornady critical defense for something more effective. It is awesome to know what I should consider. Sure, I would carry my glock 26 everywhere if that was feasible, but sometimes it just isn’t.

  16. I’ve always doubted the FBIs standards as adequate. Penetration should not be the sole determinate in a rounds effectiveness. Simply expanding while penetrating within a st parameter does not mean the round would be most effective in stopping an attacker. The wound channel only needs to be deep enough to reach vital organs. If it over penetrates, it creates two hole to let blood escape from. To determine true effectiveness you need to consider the size of the wound channels, both primary and secondary, as well as if it penetrated enough to reach vital organs. Over penetration is not an effective indicator of a rounds inability to stop an attacker. Failing to penetrate 12″ seems to be an arbitrary distance, as most people would be passed through in less than 12″, that also means most folks would suffer trauma to vital organs at far less than 12″ of penetration.

  17. Who worries about over penetration in a .380? And why test only standard pressure buffalo bore?

    Penetration equals increased range. .380’s have a short range anyway, they need all the help they can get. This guy was testing at very close ranges. The .380 will lose energy fast. FMJ = a few extra feet, maybe even yards, that could save your life.

    Also, .380’s have a rep for being jamomatics. They need all the help they can get getting up the feed ramp correctly. Round nose FMJ fits the bill. Honestly, if pocket semi-autos (even 9mms) are going to be taken seriously then more designers need to STOP PUTTING IN A NEEDLESSLY LONG TRIGGER PULL that make these guns jam more then they do already. They do not make anyone safer they just make the gun jam more often.

    Anyone doubt that if .380 glocks were not under import restriction that they would fly off the shelves in the U.S.A.?

    • I mostly agree. The only place I disagree is that anyone who has ever shot a pocket .380 will never choose to shoot one again.

    • Wow, your comment is just full of baseless rhetoric. I’ll get to that in a second. But first, he only tested standard pressure Buffalo Bore because there’s no such thing as an “official” +P loading for .380. Some folks make it, but there’s no standard, and most gun manufacturers tell you not to shoot +P in their guns.

      “.380s have a short range anyway… FMJ = a few extra feet”

      At what range do you plan on shooting? Trust me, a .380, whether FMJ or anything else, will work just fine to well out past the range that anything you’re doing could conceivably be called self-defense.

      “.380s have a rep for being jamomatics.”

      That’s funny, I researched .380s extensively before I bought mine, and I don’t recall finding any kind of majority opinion on that. Sure, there were a few, but they were likely user or ammo related, just like I could find you anecdotes about GLOCK-brand GLOCKS, XDs and XDms, and 1911s jamming up. And the Kimber Solo is just a gimmie.

      “more designers need to STOP PUTTING IN A NEEDLESSLY LONG TRIGGER PULL”

      The “needlessly long trigger pull” is there because many pocket .380s, just like many pocket 9s, lack a safety. Thus a long, heavy first (or every pull) of the trigger is your safety. I’m not sure how you opine that they make the gun jam more often. Either the trigger is pulled or it isn’t, but it isn’t somehow going to make the gun stop ejecting or start double-feeding.

      I carry a .380, every day, because my XDm .40 just doesn’t work for my current situation. I realize it’s not perfect, and it has some definite shortfalls, but I’m aware of those shortfalls and I don’t go making random nonsensical stuff up to go along with them.

  18. “he only tested standard pressure Buffalo Bore because there’s no such thing as an “official” +P loading for .380”

    Yeah but b. bore makes a loading that is hotter than what he tested. That is relevant because the b. bore he tested under performed. So yeah, there is no “official” +p in .380 – that is if SAAMI is the end all to be all – but + p can just mean “hot loaded” these days. Why not test the other rounds b. bore makes?

    “At what range do you plan on shooting?”

    As far as I can see, and pistols (not just .380’s) are very short range devices. Pocket .380’s are even more so. Heck a large parking lot can be over 50 ft across. I want those few additional yards.

    “That’s funny, I researched .380s extensively before I bought mine, and I don’t recall finding any kind of majority opinion on that.”

    And my research found just the opposite. The overwhelming consensus was that pocket pistols jam often. And I have seen and experienced it myself. Pocket pistols (including 380’s) in general are prone to jamming (feed ramp issues are often the culprit), and others even have/can testify to that. It has more to do w/ the size of the gun than the round, but most .380’s are small.

    “The “needlessly long trigger pull” is there because many pocket .380s, just like many pocket 9s, lack a safety. Thus a long, heavy first (or every pull) of the trigger is your safety. I’m not sure how you opine that they make the gun jam more often.”

    I know this already. These guns typically do not have safeties and the designer tries to add a longer trigger pull to make the gun “safer”. Not necessary according to me and so says many other people (hence why I mentioned .380 glocks). Like you stated – either you pull the trigger or you don’t. I do not need the ergos messed w/ for the illusion of safety. And I will tell you how the long trigger pull messes w/ reliability: If you pull the trigger before it completely resets (easy to do under duress) it will often cause these guns to jam . . . at the least it will not go bang. And I do not want to wait for a (needlessly) long trigger pull to reset before I shoot someone/something before he/it tries to kill me.

    “I don’t go making random nonsensical stuff up to go along with them.”

    And nor do I. I am not completely against .380’s like many here; they have there place. I own a Mak chambered firearm myself and that is only slightly more powerful than the .380 (pros/cons and the shortfalls you mentioned). What I do advocate is FMJ’s or solids for those chamberings. And not just me, many others take the side I do when it comes to sub 9mm parabellum firearms. I wrote on FMJ vs. hollowpoint issues years before this article video.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/hollow-points-vs-solids-8908905.html?cat=15

    I do not join in with the bigger is (always) better motto that many here in the good ole US have. The gun needs to get to the fight to matter and smaller guns do that more often than larger ones.

    • Only the reviewer can answer your first question, then. I just gave the answer that he gave. If the hotter loads are labeled +P, they didn’t get reviewed. If they’re not, then I don’t know. Maybe he reviewed what he could get.

      Any pistol you buy is going to perform at self-defense distances. If you’re seriously worried about 50 feet (or more), you’re either laying down cover fire in Fallujah or you’re preparing for a Hollywood shootout-style engagement, in which case you need to have a different weapon anyway. Selecting a larger caliber over a .380 because “it works better at 20+ yards” is both nonsense (because any caliber is going to work fine at that distance) and unrealistic (because the chances of you even being concerned about trying to shoot someone 50+ feet away are approaching zero).

      I guess we did our research in different places, so we’ll agree to disagree.

      If you want a pocket gun without a long trigger pull, they are available. They virtually all have manual safeties. It’s an either/or game, pretty much. Get one with a great trigger and carry with the safety off, if it’s that important to you, I guess. Most companies (and most people) don’t want that kind of potential liability.

  19. The problem with the test is that it doesn’t include bone. Hardball is still the best choice for the .380 auto because, it penetrates. In real life hardball ammo often tumbles and creates tremendous wound channels.

  20. Excellent review. I would like to know your opinion about flat nose bullets, either jacketed or with exposed lead on the tip. I live in Peru where both, hollow points and “military calibers” (9 para and up) are prohibiited. Thus, only ball and flat nosed (soft point or jacketed) are available. What would you recommend. 38 spl revolver is also legal but I am a better shot with the pistol.

  21. People could go on arguing about the ineffectiveness of small calibers like .22lr,.22mag,.380acp all day long but ask them if they are willing to take one in the chest and you will most certainly put an end to their pointless argument.Get the point!Shot placement is everything regardless of bullet size!!!Just my two cents.

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