I have been asked repeatedly to test Buffalo Bore’s .380 +P ammo. Well, “asked” is a kind way to put it; badgered would be a more accurate word, but hey, I like testing, so I don’t mind. However, I really don’t care for the idea of a non-standard caliber like .380 +P. I wrote an article explaining why, but the gist is this: gun manufacturers and ammo manufacturers got together and created a standards-setting organization (SAAMI) which, appropriately enough, set the standards to which gun manufacturers design guns . . .
They established .380 ACP as a valid caliber, and they made a few (very few) additional standards for +P. They added a +P for .45 ACP, one for 9mm, one for .38 Special, and one for .38 Super Automatic. And that’s it. There is no standard for .380 +P, there is no standard for .40 S&W +P, or any +P standard for any other handgun round.
Now, that hasn’t stopped some manufacturers from making overpressure rounds that violate the SAAMI standards, and selling them with the made-up name of “.380 +P”. Many, many manufacturers do it.
I am of the opinion that regardless of how many people do it, that doesn’t make it a good idea. Regardless, lots of customers seem enamored with the idea of making a .380 pistol perform like a 9mm, and they don’t seem to see a problem with manufacturers loading their ammo to pressures that exceed what the gun manufacturer designed it to handle.
Here’s how I look at it: my tires say “32 PSI max” on them. Know what I inflate them to? Yep, 32 PSI. I know there are people out there advocating that you should inflate your tires to 50 PSI so that you’ll get better gas mileage, but I think that’s a really foolish idea. And I think inflating your ammo’s pressure beyond the manufacturer’s standards is an equally foolish idea. If you need 9mm performance, why not just buy a 9mm?
Yet here we are. A viewer bought and sent me some of this, and asked me to test it, so … I did.
In this installment, I’m testing the Buffalo Bore 100-grain Hardcast Flatnose ammunition in .380 ACP, and also in .380 +P. These are Buffalo Bore part numbers 27A and 27E.
The ballistics on the standard-pressure round are reasonable; Buffalo Bore rates it at 975 fps. That’s faster than SAAMI standards allow for a 100-grain .380 (they list it at 910 fps) but it’s not outrageous. The +P, however, is grossly overpressure. The box states that the 100-grain bullet will travel at 1150 fps.
While some of you may be thinking, “Wow, how wonderful, I want that!”, I’d ask you to consider this: the SAAMI spec for a 9mm pistol is to send a 100-grain bullet at 1195 fps. How do you get a .380 to push the exact same bullet at 96% the same speed as a 9mm? Sounds to me like this is some seriously over-pressure ammo here.
Consider that the SAAMI spec for .380 is 21,500 PSI, and for 9mm it’s 35,000 PSI. Does that mean that this .380+P round is running at 96% of 35,000 PSI? I don’t know, maybe some of you reloaders out there can fill us in, but either way, this is not just a minor 10% increase in pressure like many of the +P calibers are. This seems like a lot of additional pressure, to get this bullet up to those speeds.
The next piece of the puzzle was to figure out how to test this safely. I don’t have a Beretta Pico or a Kahr P380, the only two pistols on the planet that are rated to actually be able to handle .380 +P. My pistol (a Taurus TCP) expressly forbids the use of .380 +P in the owner’s manual. And, given the fear that I have that this round may be loaded to near-9mm pressure levels, I really didn’t want to fire it in my .380 pistol. In the end, I was faced with a dilemma between two bad choice:
1) Fire the overpressure ammo out of a gun that is not rated to handle it, or
2) Fire it out of a 9mm pistol, which can definitely handle the pressure, but is the wrong caliber. That’s not a good idea either.
Faced with these two options, I chose to fire the ammo out of a 9mm pistol, rather than out of a .380. That’s not exactly a safe and/or sane thing to do, and I definitely don’t recommend you do this, but I figured it was basically the same idea as firing .40 S&W out of a 10mm pistol. And while I don’t think that’s a good idea either, enough people have done it successfully that I figured it was likely the safer option.
The 3″ barrel of the pocket nine was close enough to the 2.8″ barrel of the pocket .380 that I figured the results would still be comparable. I chronographed the standard-pressure rounds from both guns and found them to be within 2% of each other for speed, so I think my suppositions were validated.
Surprisingly, the .380 ammo actually fed, fired, and cycled the action repeatedly. I wasn’t expecting that. I could actually fill up a 9mm magazine with these and fire them over and over and it worked. I wouldn’t trust my life to it, obviously, but I was impressed that it worked at all.
The results: extreme overpenetration. The standard pressure round went 41″ into the gelatin and +P traveled 45″. That’s a lot of overpenetration. Consider that for personal defense against humans, the prevailing standards call for a maximum penetration of 18″. Any further than 18″ is considered overpenetration. These Buffalo Bore rounds went nearly four feet.
The hardcast bullets looked great and had no deformation. The ammo performed fine from the gun. I have no complaints about that. It’s just … well… what are you going to do with a round like this? Consider that a standard roundnose FMJ like Remington UMC will penetrate about 23″ from a pocket pistol. That’s already garden variety overpenetration, but these +P rounds went literally twice as far. Even a flatnose Winchester FMJ went only 27″.
So the question is, what’s the point in that? What purpose would you put these to? Hardcast bullets are typically used as deep-penetrating hunting rounds. A magnum revolver might use hardcasts against a bear or a large-bore rifle would use hardcasts against dangerous large game. But are you going to really going to rely on a .380 ACP for bear defense? I sure wouldn’t. Are you going to use a .380 to go elk hunting? Doesn’t sound like a reasonable idea to me.
So what would you use a .380 for? From my perspective, a .380 pocket pistol is used for one thing, and one thing only — personal defense, primarily against human attackers. It’s not really even the best tool for that job, but it’s the best purpose for a .380 pistol.
So how does a round that penetrates 45″ make any sense for personal defense against a human? Anything past 18″ is just wasted, and presents a hazard to any bystanders beyond the bad guy you had to shoot. One of these hardcast bullets would be potentially lethal to not only a person behind the bad guy, but probably to the person behind bystander #1, too. And maybe to the person behind them. Now, I feel that overpenetration is generally an overblown fear, but that’s considering most hollowpoints, when they do overpenetrate, don’t overpenetrate much. But nearly three feet of overpenetration? How is that a responsible choice?
So the bottom line is, these bullets do perform. They fire, they penetrate very deeply. They will smash through bones or … well, just about anything else. But I think they’re an unwise and perhaps even irresponsible choice for personal defense given the extreme overpenetration they exhibit. Personally, if I wanted a flatnose solid bullet in a .380 for personal defense. I’d look to the Lehigh XP, since in my testing the furthest it went was 19″, under half as far as even the standard-pressure Buffalo Bore hardcast.
It’s not that the Buffalo Bore is bad ammo, it’s not. It was actually really impressive for how far it went. It’s just that I think it’s a poor match to the role that a .380 pistol is generally tasked to do. And I definitely don’t think that +P is worth it here. It gained only 10% more penetration over the standard pressure version. If you can think of a valid use for this ammo, then hey, you’ve seen the results and you know what it can do.