Federal dropped something of a bombshell on the .380 ACP world recently releasing their HST in .380(!) For a long, long time, the only personal defense offering Federal made was the venerable, but (relatively) ancient Hydra Shoks. Now, about a dozen years after HST was first put on the market, it’s finally available for the .380 chambering. And not only that, it claims to be particularly optimized for micro guns . . .

I don’t know about you, but I was extremely interested in this new offering and put in an order immediately. HST has been an outstanding performer in my 9mm Ammo Quest, and I was optimistic about its potential in .380. HST was designed specifically to pass all the FBI testing protocols. Seeing as my testing is devoted to finding bullets that can pass the self-defense-related portions of those tests (the bare gel test, and the IWBA standard 4-layer denim test), I was extremely interested to see how Federal’s new offering would perform.

But I retained a bit of healthy skepticism, too. This isn’t my first rodeo, and so far I’ve already conducted upwards of 35 ammo tests on the little .380 pocket pistols, most of them disappointing. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was with Winchester’s PDX1, which was advertised as being “the duty round of the FBI” — and heck, you’d think that with advertising like that, it’d pass the FBI tests, right? Well, in the bigger calibers, it does. In .380, though, the PDX1 was a severe under-penetrator, delivering only around 8.5″ of penetration, far short of the minimum 12″ through gel that the experts established as the baseline.

So, we’d been here before, and came up (literally) short. Same story with Hornady’s Critical Defense — too much expansion, leading to too shallow penetration. How would the HST do?

My reasons for optimism centered on the notions that the HST has been a great penetrator in other calibers, the fact that HST itself was designed to pass the FBI tests, and that it’s a heavy bullet for its caliber (it weighs 99 grains, whereas most .380 defensive rounds usually clock in at around 90 grains). My reasons for pessimism were that HST is a gorgeous expander, and if they tried that kind of expansion in .380, it’s almost guaranteed to come up short. And, right on the box, it says “Extreme bullet expansion for caliber.” That gave me cause for concern.

Unfortunately, that concern was very much justified. The bare gel performance exhibited severe under-penetration. The bullets expanded beautifully, even gigantically; they averaged .543″ in diameter, so they expanded to over 1.5X their initial size, and the maximum expanded edges reached an average of .65″. Utterly huge for a .380.

But, the more a bullet expands, the harder it is to push it through the gel (or the body); expansion acts like a “parachute” that slows the bullet. And with a .380, where there isn’t a lot of power available, you usually can’t have both, so you have to choose — do you want expansion, or do you want penetration?

The HST’s designers went for expansion. Again, expansion is gorgeous, huge, and (in the bare gel) consistent. But the penetration was woefully below the standard; they averaged only 8.40″.

In the denim, the story is — well, it’s better, and it’s also maybe a little worse, depending on how you interpret it. Generally the bullets expanded a little less, and accordingly they delivered more penetration, but still not quite enough. And they didn’t all expand properly.

Three of the five bullets expanded, averaging just under .500″, and they penetrated between 10.25″ and 11.50″. So, while not quite meeting the standard minimum of 12″, they were at least getting close. The other two bullets didn’t expand properly at all; they only expanded partially and, as a side effect, their minimal expansion allowed them to push deeper. Those two partial expanders made it to 12.00″ and 12.25″.

So we got better penetration results from the denim bullets, but we didn’t get the consistency or proper expansion that HST is famous for. To be fair though, I can’t really knock the partial expanders for not performing properly because, after all, this is a .380 we’re talking about, and partial expansion or inconsistent expansion has been a fairly common occurrence in my testing with .380 ammo. Even the best-performing .380 hollowpoints I tested frequently showed inconsistent expansion through the denim, so the HST is on par with other offerings in that respect.

Interestingly enough, the results of the HST tests are almost identical to those of the PDX1. The penetration and expansion through bare gel are extremely similar. It’s also quite similar to the performance of Critical Defense. It seems that Federal was more concerned with making bullets that match what their big-name competitors were producing, and less concerned with delivering the penetration power that has been demonstrated and proven to be necessary to be able to reach and destroy the vital organs of an attacker.

All three companies know how to produce ammo like that, but none of them have done it in their premium defense loads for the .380. Hornady makes the best-performing hollowpoint I’ve tested in a .380, the XTP. It’s an extremely mild expander (usually expanding to only about .41″) and, as such, penetrates deeply; XTP bullets usually penetrated around 12″ to 14″. But they don’t exhibit the kind of expansion that the HST does, that’s for sure.

In the end, the results are that eight out of the 10 HST rounds didn’t meet the 12″ minimum penetration standard as set by the IWBA and the FBI. And of the two that did, the only reason was because they didn’t function properly, only partly expanding. Overall, it adds up to a load that I can’t recommend and won’t be carrying.

There are several other choices on the market that consistently reach 12″ or more, with some expansion (or, in the case of the Lehigh XP, they can go up to 19″ and do more damage than a hollowpoint, while not needing to expand at all!) So since there are other viable alternatives that meet the standard, I simply don’t see a good reason for settling for a bullet that won’t.

45 Responses to .380 Ammo Quest: Federal HST

  1. John (by God!) Moses Browning had the solution: .45ACP in a 1911.

    Doesn’t matter if it expands or not, since it starts at .45 – and penetration is not a problem, even for a “gigantically expanding” round. Of course, there are minor issues with carrying and concealing a 1911, but hey, that’s what oversize coats are for.

    • Yeah, I know, this was a review of .380 ammo and I am way off topic, yadda yadda – so sue me. I like 1911s.

      • Nobody is going to sue you. People will just think that you are obsessive and unrealistic.

        Anyways the 380 is also a John Moses Browning design. Not ironically designed specifically for pocket pistols.

        And he did later on took what he learned from 1911 and perfected his service pistol design; The Hi-Power. The double stack 9mm with Browning’s tiling barrel and link-less cam action is now the defacto configuration for service pistols all around the world. It took the rest of the world a few years to realize the superiority of this design, of course. Browning was always ahead of his time.

        Just imagine what he could design now with modern polymers and CAD machines.

        • Oh and lets not forget the Browning 1922. Although it wasn’t 9mm or 45 it did use a striker instead of a hammer. So, yet again, another example of John Browning being ahead of his time.

    • I carry a backup gun by John Moses Browning in a .380 1911 because I can fit it in the back pocket of my jeans. I keep it loaded with Buffalo Bore. Some of us have more than 1 gun. BTW, that ain’t the only thing John Moses Browning designed hoss.

      • True, but a MaDeuce is a bit heavy for everyday carry. Seriously, Browning was the greatest firearms designer, ever.

      • I don’t always carry my .380, but I always carry The Precision One with the XTP bullet. It way outperformed the Buffalo Bore .380’s.

      • I don’t always carry my .380, but when I do, I always carry it with the Precision One with the XTP bullet. It way outperformed the Buffalo Bore .380’s.

    • St. John the Browing also designed the .380 acp round. Don’t know what relevence that has to the discussion, but there it is.

    • Well, I just bought these rounds in HST. I have a Colt Mustang, a Sig P238, and just bought the Kimber Micro. And I too the Kimber out and had just bought the HST ammo. I was very impressed. Shooting went great absolutely no issues after 50 rounds. Lots of the other ammo I have tried if you fill the magazines (I have both a 6 and 7 round) full, the first round will nose dive when you drop the slide down. These rounds did not, the went straight in, and performed perfectly.

      And I know there are lots that say the .380 isn’t big enough. And I guess we’d all want that .45 Colt 1911 in our hand at the time we might need it. But this gun is one I WILL CARRY, and one at 10 to 15 yards I can easily keep in a 6 inch ring at that range, with just point and shoot. And the .380 when you need it, and it’s in your hand (and you would have left your 1911 or your 9mm on the dresser) is what I would need.

  2. Where can one find the mythical Leigh XP round?

    I limit my ammo purchases to what I can find locally if possible. I haven’t seen it at any of the big three store in my town. (Academy, gander, cabela’s) cabela’s almost always has one brand loading xtp’s or another so I have been using them. But too much is just enough when it comes to penetration (in my mind) so 19″ sounds about perfect.

  3. Would like to see this in a glock42, since expansion appeared be near the max you could expect for a .380cal projectile it seems the extra velocity from the g42 might curl the petals back around and push this a little further in the block?

    Can I smell a follow up test?

    • Ditto – as I have this ammo (along w/ Precision One 90grn XTP +P and would be interested to see if the above comments are true.

    • I saw this once, with pdx1 or golden sabers, can’t remember, but the result was about 1.5 inches deeper in the gel with the glock, still 2 inches shy of the 12 inch mark

  4. Who cares what the FaaBeeEyes think or want? Why is this the “standard” I’d like a .380 round that goes in 4 inches and expands to the size of a quarter and bursts into 20 pieces. I want internal damage that looks like a skill saw hit em. I’m not an LE or military.
    It’s almost as if “they” don’t want joe blow to have a decent stopping round?

    • DUh, just WATCHED the ammo test. Looks outstanding!!! I’ll be getting some of these for my wifes keltec .380. 6 inches thru denium would be better.

      You would think 8 inches would be the standard, but as amercians are overweight this might be how the standard is set.

      • Did you not hear him explain for 3 minutes why 8 inches is not enough?

        If the bullet hits an arm first, or goes into the bad guy from the side, 8 inches likely won’t drop them.

        • Also- 8in pen of balistics gell /= 8in pen human tissue/bone.
          Balistics gel provides a standard tissue/flesh simulaid that alows for direct comparisons of different loads- that reacts similarly to tissue.

        • “Why 8″ is not enough”
          I had something else in mind when I read that, But this is not the place to go into that! Hmmmmm.

    • I think the reason for the 12 inch benchmark Is to take into account heavy clothing fat bone barriers etc. Bare gel is not realistic so the 12 inch benchmark is a good goal.

  5. After 4 rounds of Buffalo Bore blew up and destroyed my nearly new Sig p238 – A loss neither company would cover – I believe I will give up my 380 experiment. The 380 is a compromise, and remains an inadequate one.

    Ex gun pictures available.

  6. Do people really buy 380’s? Every one of my friends that have one, have issues with them. The either FTL or FTE a lot. Ammo is expensive and harder to find. They feel like crap in your hand.

    • They do FTF/FTE more than other pistols do. And the ammo is way more expensive. And they have limited capacity and limited energy. There are a lot of things not to like about the little pocket pistols.

      On the other hand, they’ve been absurdly popular. At the SHOT show last year, I asked some of the various ammo manufacturers what their most popular chamberings were for self-defense ammo, and almost everyone I asked said they sold more .380 than anything else. Glock even brought out a .380 instead of the single-stack 9mm that (seemingly) “everyone” has been waiting for. Ruger has added a “custom” version of the LCP (in addition to making the LC380). Taurus has introduced a new “Curve” firearm in addition to their existing TCP. And, as said in this review, Federal, after 12 years of not producing HST in .380, has finally brought it to market.

      Whether any particular individual likes or doesn’t like the .380, or endorses it or doesn’t endorse it, it still stands to reason that yes, a whole lot of people have and use the .380, despite its shortcomings as compared to other, more powerful cartridges.

      • How do you like that little Taurus? I bought one (TCP) a few months ago. I hear Taurus’s are “crap” But I do not shoot a self defense gun to death. A few hundred rounds is enough for me to see if it’s reliable. Then an occasional magazine full, and that’s it.
        I have other non self defense weapons to shoot for sport. If you put 10,000 rounds through your primary “protector”, it might fail the one time you need it most!
        Steel is not infallible, plastic, even less so.
        By the way, the trigger on this little gun is a real Jewel. Much better than the Ruger 380.

        • I bought the Taurus after reading Jeremy S’s review on it here on TTAG. I have no complaints. It’s rather brilliant; for $199, 6+1 capacity, and it does what it says it’s supposed to do. I do have occasional fail-to-feeds with it; tweaking the magazine feed lips helps, as does firing it one-handed. Like many other guns, it loves some ammo, and doesn’t care much for other types.

          It’s so tiny that it really keeps endearing itself to me. My wife confiscated it from me, so I only get to use it for testing nowadays, but it puts a smile on my face.

  7. Perhaps because some micro .380’s don’t feel like crap when you carry them? My LCP disappears so effectively into my pocket that I can easily forget that I’m carrying it. Having a handgun that doesn’t intrude *at all* into your everyday life can make the difference between carrying and not carrying protection. It’s not fun to shoot, but it sure is easy to carry.

  8. Thank you for the test.

    What I’ve come away with, more than anything else, is that I’d rather have a defensive handgun in 9mm through .45 cal. I’ve seen way too much failure from .380s. Sure it’s better than nothing, but 9mm solidly beats it.

    • I totally agree that the 9mm is superior in just about every way as far as performance goes. It’s a much more powerful cartridge, and can push a big bullet deeper. And the ammo is usually quite a bit less expensive than .380 ammo is. If someone can handle the recoil of the 9mm, then yes I always advise to definitely go 9mm over .380 whenever possible.

      For some folks it’s not possible. Or some folks need the ultra concealability of these tiny pocket .380’s. Or for whatever reason, they just prefer their .380.

      Any of the “service” calibers (9mm, .357 Mag/Sig, .40 S&W, .45 ACP) are much more powerful than the .380, yes. But the .380 remains the choice of many folks, and so I continue to research what will work best from these tiny pistols, even though I recommend heartily that folks upgrade to at least a 9mm as soon as they can.

  9. Had a 380. Unless I can get a tiny Taurus with 2 mags for nothing I’ll stick to a bigger caliber…380 is a last resort hide it anywhere thing…

  10. So .380 ACP sucks compared to 9mm or .45 ACP…? Golly, what an informative thread.

    I can’t ever remember posting a snide comment around these parts in the past, but give me a break guys. There’s a reason some people carry a .380 ACP instead of a 9 or a 45. And yes a little .380 ACP pocket pistol is going to have tighter tolerances and *gasp* be more ammo sensitive than a larger gun.

    It’s not the CC gun for me but I certainly won’t begrudge or criticize anyone who does find a .380 auto is right for them. Be glad that the proliferation of these pistols has resulted in a TON of “good guys” (and gals) carrying that probably wouldn’t have carried otherwise. Besides, nobody wants to get shot. I still have yet to find a situation where a bad guy asked a good guy what caliber their weapon is before deciding their plan of action.

  11. Hello Dan , you make an outstanding video as usual ! ; ) and I thank you for it since I was thinking in purchasing it . Now I already have the answer , based on your demonstration . As far as some of the comments that the folks saying or may be disagreeing with you , if the bullets hits the the arm from the hst1 ammo to where it’s already passes the arm after 5 inches , I think some of the folks there are saying that the ballistic gel don’t have nerves to react , as we humans do with feelings . For instance , hehe , I’m not a doctore here , but it’s like this , when we go to see a doctor and he/she has a little hammer to slightly hit our elbow or knee , we react ( funny bone ) because of our nerve . And that’s what some of them were arguing or commenting about , in saying the tissues , bones , and etc . However , it is a possibility that there may be a flip side to that coin since the intruder , who may have a big arm and who knows if that intruder may be on heavy drugs that he/she may not react to the pain at all , that’s supposed to feel with agony , especially coming from a small challenging .380 caliber , as you stated way in the beginning ! Anyway , keep up with the good work ! You’re Awesome ! ; )

  12. He’ll ya! I’d rather have my trusty45 than a 380 ;who wouldn’t?! But for summertime carry here in the southwest where it does get HOT! And lighter clothing is a must I like the little tcp in my pocket where it’s next to invisible in its pocket holster ,after watching the video comparison and a little more checking I ordered some underwood xtps in standard pressure loading for carry and feel confident that they will do the job at hand. I only have to test run(fire) them when they arrive for reliability I hope that they live up to expectations as the are an impressive performing round for this caliber xtps are a great bullet in any caliber, still waiting for my ruger lightweight commander as it feels great in my hand has a great trigger and is a best buy value in an American made 1911. IMHO that is!

  13. Still looking for that one person whom always says a .380 is not enough gun to stand in front of me and let me shoot them with it. Funny, I still have not found any takers. Really guys as long as you place the shots right any gun will incapacitate someone. Don’t get me wrong I have .45 carry guns, 9mm carry guns, ,40 carry guns. But none of them are as easy to carry and conceal on a hot summer day than my g42.

  14. I understand that poor penetration results were achieved with the .380 Federal HST ammo through a 2″ barrel, but I have a Beretta 85 Cheetah with a 3.8″ barrel. Wouldn’t there be sufficient additional muzzle velocity with a 3.8″ barrel that would push the otherwise excellent HST round past the 12″ threshold? What do you say, Mr. Shooting The Bull?

  15. Love my 45, Love my 9, Love my 380. I wanted a small tight weapon, did some research and chose the Kahr CW380. yes it is small. Took about 250-300 rounds to get it broken in. Now I throw it in a Remora holster, tuck it in the waist band of my shorts, put on a wife beater and run some trails. Then I can walk into the grocery store and all the while you wouldn’t know its there. I load it with Hornady Critical Defense but might check out the HST’s. Thanks for the article and some of the funny comments!!!

  16. So many are so far off and so ignorant when it comes to a self defense rounds…

    You are not trying to kill someone hiding behind a 400 cubic inch iron engine block, you are generally only a few feet away with only air and clothing between you and where you need to land a round.

    You do not need 12 inches of penetration, the goal is stop the assailant, not terminate life of a moron, stop, not terminate, if they die as a result that’s too bad, so be it, however that is not your goal, the goal is to stop and preserve your life.

    A round with a 380 load of powder that expands to near 3/4 inch is going to stop any assailant, chemically altered or not, they are going to go into shock and fall from their feet. Game over. If it only penetrates 3 inches chances are they will quickly lose consciousness and bleed out long before EMS arrives.

    All these so “hero” wannabes are ignorant of two facts,
    1. Hero’s come home in boxes
    2. You never forget or leave the souls you take, or help leave, they are with you until it’s your turn, and often they will lead the way to your demise through bullet or bottle, believe it or not, they will be there for you, try and forget, bravado or not, denial is more than a river through Egypt, and those who have never waded naked through shat talk big. The goal is to defend your life, NOT to terminate another

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