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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.

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  1. I have an all stainless Sig P230 and I wouldn’t run +P .380 in it. Why beat up the gun for no good reason? I think that if you want to shoot +P loads in your .380 you should just carry the smallest 9mm you can find and stay safely within what the firearm can handle instead of trying to turn your .380 into a 9mm.

    • I can fit a SIG P238 in a wallet holster in the back pocket of my jeans and dockers. I can NOT fit the 938 in there. That’s that. Plus, the same argument could be made for 9mm fanboys that like to push +P and +P+ in the 9s. Step up to a .357 SIG. In fact, that is what I do. My regular carry is a .357 SIg.

      My back up .380 has flatnosed buffalo bore led off by a JHP in the chamber. I am not worried about wear and tear in a defensive situation except on the perp(s).

      • Very good review. The power and penetration of the BB HC FN ammo in both 380 and
        the new 9mm HC FN is very close to honest on BBs site. It does over penetrate compared to any other offerings I’m aware of. BBs site does emphasize this. He also gives real life
        experiences of his own use of a handgun against bears.
        I have the first two rounds in both my Bersa Thunder and Sig P232 with these rounds and then followed by standard pressure FMJ rounds.
        For my 9mm pistols? I think the BB FN/ HC ammo is not my choice for SD against a human attacker. But in bear county__Wow! Yes.

  2. Not only do I not see a use for this ammo, I also don’t see much use the .380 caliber. The 9mm hits harder and costs less.

    Still, it’s cool that you responded to your fans and did the test anyways.

    • The advantages to the .380 and “mousegun” calibers (as I see them) are reduced risk to bystanders and “tamer” recoil compared to the larger calibers out of the same size frame. I live in a densely populated area, so using a larger caliber is.. problematic. Around the time of the Boston Marathon Manhunt, TTAG posted a photo of someone’s room who happened to be near the gun battle.. the number of .4 inch holes going through that house has made me very leery of using the larger calibers in urban areas.

      My perspective is this:
      Against a determined attacker, short of a CNS/Headshot, I will wind up in hand to hand combat. I have better chance of a headshot with the smaller calibers, and a majority of criminals run when they are confronted with/shot at/shot by a gun, regardless of caliber. I train physically and have a level of aggression that makes hand-to-hand combat (while not my first choice) something I’m more prepared for than the average person.

      All that to say; 22lr, .25’s, .32’s, and .380’s fill a niche. It might not be a niche you have any use for, but they do have a purpose. I look forward to someday living in flyover country and open carrying a 10mm Witness. Until then, smaller calibers in packages like the Bersa Thunder .380 Plus will do just fine.

    • The point of .380 is to allow smaller and lighter guns than is possible with 9mm. For pocket carry, even a couple of ounces shaved off can make a big difference as far as comfort goes.

  3. Want a 9mm, carry a 9mm. Plenty of excellent options for carry and that is next on my list of purchases. My wife really wants a 9mm and I think I will oblige her, whatever fits her hand and she wants is fine with me. I think that guns are like cars, there is a power to weight ratio that is optimum for the weapon and the engineers do design them with that in mind. As for me, I love my Sig P230 .380 and my Tomcat 32ACP and 21A .22LR for what they are and the purpose they serve. I stick with solid point in those three for penetration. When I am serious, give me S&W 66 .357 or an 870 12ga.

  4. Can we petition Buffalo Bore to change the name to the Jeremy Clarkson .380 ammo? Somewhere in BB’s factory, there is an orangutan saying “POWWWEEEERRR!”

    • Alright that got a laugh out of me. 🙂

      I always thought Jeremy Clarkson would be just as gung-ho about guns as he is about cars if Britain weren’t so backwards on RKBA.

    • Why do I shoot a 380 that penetrates 45″ you ask? Because they don’t make a 380 that penetrates 46″ (I hope someone gets the reference)

  5. I fired Powr’ball out of my Tcp no problems at all. Extremely accurate too. Supposedly 1200fps. And I got the idea from Jeff “it’s a dandy pocket pistol” Quinn on Gunblast. Not a recommendation because YMMV…

    • This is why I go with the .357 SIG. The +P+ 9s barely clip the low end. As far as the .380 goes. Its a back up piece that fits in my back pocket.

  6. A last hope, grizzly get-off-me round, after it swats your Ruger out of your hand, knocks you to the ground and starts to chew your face off? Might help.

  7. Well, will a 380 hollow point go through a Carhart jacket, a hoodie, and 250lbs of bad guy? As I live very near the city of Detroit, that seems to be the standard attire. Sometimes, my Kel-tec is all that I can conceal. A flat point bullet will go through. Although like most things Buffalo Bore makes, that +p is just too hot.

  8. >> But are you going to really going to rely on a .380 ACP for bear defense? I sure wouldn’t.

    While the instinctive response is “hell, no way”, given your results, I’m not sure it’s actually justified. A 9mm hole is still a 9mm hole, and if it penetrates that deep in gelatin, you can expect meaningful penetration through bone and/or thick layers of fat that bears have. There are plenty of people who carry 9x19mm to defend themselves against black bears, and there are certainly success stories for that choice. If this round can give you 90% of the same performance in a smaller package, why not?

  9. Round-nose bullets are said to deflect off bones, whereas flat-nose bullets are said to break bones.

    What kind of gelatin was used for testing, 10% or 20%? I don’t want to have you re-do these tests, but it would be interesting to see how the ammo performs against clothed 20% gelatin with a section of pig rib embedded in the gelatin.

  10. Laser-like straight-line penetration, for taking out the spine from any angle and regardless of arms etc. in the way.

    Sounds like a valid option to me.

  11. Excellent demonstration. It makes perfect sense. I Had a Sig P230 which I like for its ergonomics and looks but the caliber is anemic so I traded it in as part of a payment for a Sig P226 about 20 years ago. I often wondered that same question about the Buffalo Bore 380 +P with hard cast bullets. Now the question has been answered. Taurus used to sell a high capacity .380 that looked like a short version of their model 92. It was hefty and maybe it could have handle the +P. It was manufactured in the late 1980’s but it was dropped shortly thereafter. The 380+P is a just novelty round, nothing more, to give a false sense of security. If you like the .380, have at it but remember it is only useful at very short distances and then only as a back up gun or pocket gun. It requires a lot of practice to put three rounds close together under stress to be effective. A good load at standard pressure would the Federal Hydrashock or the Remington Golden Sabers.

  12. “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’ve found that standard pressure 9mm ammo tends to fall between 31 and 33kpsi if pushing ball at SAAMI book velocities. Now SAAMI gives some wiggle room for standard pressure, and Max Probable Lot Mean for .380 is 22,200 psi. The standards for +P are 10% overpressure, so that brings us to 24,400 A proof load is about 1/3 overpressure, or 28,595. I wouldn’t recommend using proof loads through a gun, but it also won’t blow the gun up if it’s at all well designed.. As an educated guess I’d say that the .380 “+P” is somewhere between those two. Technically they should probably be calling it “+P+” because I don’t think they can get that velocity at under 25,000 psi.

  13. ShootingTheBull410,

    I really appreciate your assessment of the hardcast lead rounds. I have been wondering what they would do for a long time.

    Did you happen to slice the gel blocks to measure the size of the wound channels? I realize the side view through the gel indicated a tiny hole. However, hardcast flat nose bullets are supposed to make a considerably larger than caliber permanent wound channel. (According to an estimator that I found, those rounds should have made a .45 caliber permanent wound channel.) I would love to hear how wide the channel was.

    Thanks again for your tests!

  14. I carried this ammo and it would be the only ammo I would ever carry in 380! I actually fired this with my TCP 738! If you read BB website and description on this load and they will tell you why to carry this round, also gel is not human flesh so your results are not valid. 

    • since STB follows the FBI methods and standards, the FBI specifications are also invalid. that would seem to mean we need some live humans upon which to test actual ballistic performance. interesting idea. know where we can quickly acquire such test dummies?

  15. Buffalo Bore’s marketing indicates that the round is intended to go through everything as it did. Their logic is that you should load two or three JHPs on top with these hot hard casts or FMJs for the rest of the magazine, reasoning that the bad guy will be dead or behind cover. I guess they live in the land of “criminals only work alone”. There are loads of problems with trying to shoot through cover instead of running away, not least of which is not knowing who else may be behind that cover (like someone trying to hide from the people shooting at each other). I can’t see the utility in this load other than animal defense, especially versus the Lehigh XP.

  16. Thanks for the test and video of the .380 +P ammo.
    I practice frequently using standard pressure .380 cartridges, so I am not in the least worried about extra wear and tear on my Sig P238, when I carry the Buffalo Bore +P loads (90 grain JHP), and also fire a few of those in practice.
    Keep in mind there are still many blowback .380’s on the market – and some of less than robust construction. The P938 really has no heavier construction than the P238, the biggest boost would be the stouter recoil spring. Obviously very few manufacturers are going to suggest +P for their .380 pistols, since there is no actual SAAMI criteria for that load. However, quality pistols such as the Sig P238 with stout construction and locked breeches are certainly not going to come apart at the seams, with any reasonable pressures.
    As far as penetration being excessive on that particular load, not every self defense situation is going to take place at six feet, with open air between the two combatants. It could be a robbery at a store and the suspect takes immediate cover behind a counter or the tough glass of the entry/exit doors, rendering most .380 hollow-points very ineffective. The woman who is cornered at a lonely Wyoming rest stop might prefer to shoot right through the stall door – before it gets kicked in, knocking her down. As with all things, pistols are a compromise, and the chosen ammunition and caliber is also a compromise, and not all scenarios can be covered at any given moment in time.
    I carry my P238 because it is every so slightly larger and heavier and easier to shoot well, than many of it’s “pocket pistol” competitors, yet it fits into a couple of small places I can not get slightly larger pistols to fit properly – even the P938. When I have a bit more room, I generally step up to my XDs .45 – or even one of my 1911’s in .45.
    Your testing is top notch and provides us with valuable reference to bounce personal ammunition choices off of. Keep up the fine work!

  17. Worthless commentary but very useful results report. These cartridges function superbly in SIG’s 380 ACP version of their P250 (subcompact) and P290.

  18. The case for this ammo, is that you are testing it from a shooting distance of 10 ft. from the gel. I would think that a 15 to 20 ft self defense encounter is very likely. Add to that someone wearing a full leather jacket (not full metal jacket) on a cold day, then having to penetrate breast bone, then tissue from a possible distance of 20 ft. I think this would get the job then and I don’t think the standard HP’s tested would do very well given that real life scenario. I think the standards would fall off dramatically given the 5 to 10 extra ft. Of course this is my “untested” theory, albeit reasonable, methinks.

    However, I do keep looking over my shoulder for bare naked gel blocks that might be stalking me with evil intent, just in case!

  19. Forgot to mention, thanks for all your reviews. They are a great education! I am glad you are online. Keep up the good work!!

    And always shoot straight.

  20. I have a compact .45, regular size 9, and a KAHR 380. Each is suitable for a given situation although the 380 is the most concealable and accompanies me on my daily 4 mile walks. For home defense, I prefer a 12 gauge pump loaded with #4 magnum duck loads; very effective at personal ranges and perhaps WILL NOT OVER-PENETRATE. To each his own.

  21. Over-penetration is easily the most overrated thing in handgun ammunition performance.
    Your misses over-penetrate far, far more than your hits, even with the BB .380 +P.
    You will miss more than you hit. If one of your hits “over-penetrates”, it still won’t do anywhere near the damage your misses will. And at more than two feet, you’ll miss sometimes.
    The poster above referencing the Boston Marathon manhunt shooting spree references bullets that by and large missed. Some penetrated some barriers, some made those 4/10″ holes mentioned. Hits on the bad guy? No issues there at all.
    The mission of the self-defense bullet it to get to something important within the offending creature and break it.
    This lead flat nose bullet is capable of doing that with a fair chance of success.
    For reference, this load chronoed 1050fps out of my old Mustang. It unfortunately did not function well enough with the standard power recoil spring. An extra-power Wolff spring is on the way. We will see.
    .380 may suck, but a 100gr bullet going 1050fps exceeds (for example) the ballistics of the Critical Defense .38 Special 110gr load, which pokes out of my 2″ Colt at a piddling 880fps. The CD may expand, which may cause more damage, or it may not. So we’re still, ballistically, in the same ballpark.

  22. If you’re going to rant about pressure levels, you owe it to your readers to get a test barrel and pressure measurement rig.

    Everything else is guesswork – and Mr. ShootingTheBull410, you’re just not a very good guesser.

  23. I fired a few BB +P hard cast .380 flat points out of my Ruger LCP and it was fun! Nothing exploded. Reminded me of the “cricket” blaster from Men In Black.


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