Revised/Updated May 28, 2017

Small pistols encourage concealed carry. Many armed citizens carry a .380 ACP pistol for personal defense or as a second or backup gun. The .380 cartridge was invented by the great firearms genius John Moses Browning in 1908. He created the .380 ACP as a small pocket pistol for concealment. One hundred and nine years later the .380 remains very popular for that purpose. Many sources rate the .380 ACP as the caliber most commonly carried by armed American citizens.

 Bullet technology of today requires close to 200 foot pounds of energy to achieve consistent expansion and more than 12 inches of penetration in ballistic gel after passing through heavy clothing (FBI standard). The .380 ACP normally generates less than 200 Foot Pounds of Kinetic Energy. There are however several .380 loads that will come close to achieving the FBI standard.

 Considering the limitations of the .380, it is incumbent upon each of us who rely on pistols in this caliber to find the most effective ammunition available to meet our self-defense needs. Therefore, we elected to research the potential of the .380 cartridge.

How much penetration do you need? No one knows exactly what scenario you may face. What will be the distance? How heavy is the assailants clothing? How large is the attacker? Will he be facing straight on or will he be bladed with his arms blocking his chest. Will you need to shoot through a barrier to hit the attacker such as the side window of your car or your bedroom door? The FBI recommends that a pistol projectile used by law enforcement officers should be able to penetrate 12 to 18 inches in both bare gel and gel with heavy clothing. This is a law enforcement standard set by the International Would Ballistics Association (IWBA).

 In evaluating these cartridges, we considered all the known factors including penetration, expansion, velocity, energy, performance against heavy clothing and the consistent shape of the expanded projectiles. Some of our previous favorite loads which excel in bare gel did poorly when heavy clothing was added. These loads did very well when fired from longer barrels but sometimes failed to expand when fired from short barrels.

 Drawing conclusions from a single ballistic test can be misleading. The data here is a culmination of all the ballistic test information we could acquire. We have provided information on the cartridges that appear to work the best in short barreled pistols. Increasing the barrel length or removing the heavy clothing and utilizing only bare gel in the tests would allow additional loads to meet the standard for expansion and penetration.

 These are simply our interpolations of the available test data. Others may well come to different conclusions after observing the same or similar test data. Everyone must decide for themselves which load best meets their needs.

We hope that this information helps you to make your selection but in the end the choice is yours and the responsibility for your selection is also yours.

 Many knowledgeable people advocate using full metal jacket ammunition in the .380 ACP in order to insure adequate penetration. 380 ACP FMJ ammunition penetrates between 16 inches and 27 inches depending on bullet shape, weight and velocity. Any penetration that exceeds 18 inches is generally considered to be “over” penetration and not likely to cause any additional incapacitation to the target.  

 Note that the LAPD currently requires the use of the CCI 95 grain Full Metal Jacket load in their .380 ACP backup guns. They have concluded that this load feeds in all their authorized pistols and it will not “under penetrate.” This bullet uses a total metal jacket as opposed to a full metal jacket. In tests conducted by LAPD SWAT (this author) total metal jacket bullets performed better when shooting through auto class and other barriers which would sometime cause  FMJ projectiles to shed their jackets. While there are some definite advantages to using FMJ or TMJ bullets in the .380 we must accept the fact that the diameter of the wound channels produced by this ammunition will be much smaller than that created by a fully expanded hollow point bullet.

 Some who carry a .380 ACP keep FMJ ammunition in their spare magazines based on the assumption that if one needs to reload, it may be that he needs more penetration than the hollow points carried in his pistol can achieve. If the fight involves reloading, the use of cover by the participants is more likely and additional penetration may be useful.

 If you elect to carry a .380 ACP FMJ you must know this load may pass through an attacker’s torso and could remain lethal after doing so. A hollow point bullet could also pass through an attacker and injure or kill someone else but it is less likely to do so.

Full Metal Jacket

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Remington 95 grain
2.5-inch barrel
Velocity 887 FPS
No expansion
Penetration 18 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Buffalo Bore 95 grain + P
Bare gel
Unknown barrel
Velocity 992 FPS
No expansion
Penetration 20 inches 

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
PMC 90 grain
Bare gel
Velocity 850 FPS
No expansion
Penetration 19 inches plus 7 inches of water 

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Winchester 95 grain FMJ
Velocity unknown
No expansion
Penetration 19 inches plus 6 inches of water

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
Underwood 100 grain FMJ
1 layer of leather and 2 layers of denim
Velocity 843 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 17.5 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
Bare gel
Double Tap 95 FMJ
Velocity 927 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 21 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel
Winchester 95 grain FMJ flat point
Bare gel
Velocity 746 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 26.5 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel
Winchester 95 grain FMJ flat point
Bare gel
Velocity 778 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 27.75 inches

These 2 shots with the Winchester flat point bullet achieved more penetration than any of the other .380 loads that we included in this article despite the relatively low velocity. We believe that this occurred because neither of these bullets tumbled. Tumbling often occurs with .380 FMJ bullets but less frequently with flat nose bullets.

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel
Remington 95 grain FMJ
Bare gel
Velocity 801 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 23 inches 

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel
Remington 95 grain FMJ
Bare gel
Velocity 817 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 24.75 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
Buffalo Bore 95 grain FMJ
Bare gel
Velocity 843 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 16.85 inches

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Ruger LCP 2.8-inch barrel
Remington 95 grain FMJ
Automobile windshield
Angle – straight on
Velocity unknown
Expansion unknown

Penetration –The bullet passed through the heavy windshield and continued straight on course hitting the center of the target which was 15 feet behind the windshield. The bullet then passed though the target which was a large watermelon. The bullet continued and was not recovered. The fact that the bullet did not deviate from its initial path upon contact with the windshield is surprising.

.380 Full Metal Jacket
Ruger LCP 2.8-inch barrel
Remington 95 grain FMJ
Automobile windshield
Angle – from the side into a curved portion of the windshield
Velocity unknown
Expansion unknown

Penetration – bullet passed through heavy windshield and continued on course hitting the center of the target 15 feet behind the windshield then passed though the target which was a very large watermelon. The bullet continued and was lost.

 We have concluded that Full Metal Jacket .380 ammunition will always achieve at least 16 inches of penetration in gel with 4 layers of denim and will penetrate intermediate barriers better than .380 Jacketed Hollow Points. If a pistol will feed anything it will feed FMJ. It should penetrate the vital organs of a large man from almost any angle even if it must pass through his arm to reach his chest. FMJ is by far the least expensive .380 ammunition available and it can be purchased anywhere that .380 ammunition is sold. .380 FMJ will not produce as large a wound cavity as hollow point bullets but it will always reach the vitals if you do your part and shoot well. We are not advocating any particular cartridge. If you elect to carry FMJ in your pistol or in your spare magazine that is your personal decision. We are merely pointing out the advantages as well as the disadvantages of various types of ammunition.

 Additional information about .380 FMJ:

The .380 projectile is somewhat stubby weighing only 88 to 102 grains and being .355 inches in diameter. As such the bullet tends to tumble after penetrating approximately 6 inches of ballistic gelatin. This indicates that the bullet may be tumbling when it reaches the vital organs. When the bullet tumbles, it creates a large wound cavity in the gel which is several inches in length and diameter. The bullet usually stops tumbling with the base facing in the direction of travel creating a full caliber flat point surface for the remainder of its travel. This tumbling could explain why emergency room doctors have reported a high percentage of victims shot with a .380 ACP FMJ expire from their wounds. The tendency to tumble is unpredictable and occurs in many but not all tests.

 Round nose FMJ bullets are more likely to tumble than flat nose FMJ bullets which will also tumble but less often. Flat nose FMJ bullets will provide a slightly larger wound channel than round nose FMJ bullets when no tumbling occurs with either bullet. To those who claim that a flat point bullet is no more effective than a round nose bullet we suggest that you ask a “handgun hunter” about this. Having used both round nose and flat point bullets on small game and varmints I can attest to the fact the difference in effectiveness is substantial. Noted handgun hunters such as Elmer Keith have written much about the relative superior effectiveness of flat nose bullets.

When tumbling occurs the penetration of .380 ACP FMJ bullets will generally stop between 16 and 21 inches of ballistic gel. When no tumbling occurs, penetration will usually stop between 21 and 27 inches of gel. The diameter of the wound channel where the tumbling occurs is generally larger than that created by a .380 hollow point.

Hollow Points

Winchester SXT T series 95 grain

Winchester SXT T series 95 grain

Kahr P380 2.53-inch barrel
2 layers of denim
Velocity shot #1- 857 FPS
Expansion of shot # 1- .65
Penetration of shot # 1- 11.0 inches
Velocity shot #2- 896 FPS
Expansion of shot # 2 – .66
Penetration of shot # 2- 10.5 inches

 Winchester SXT T series 95 grain
Sig P238 2.7-inches
Velocity not given
4 layers of denim used
Classic expansion to .724
Penetration 10.25 inches  

Winchester SXT T series 95 grain
Kahr CW 380 2.58-inch barrel
Bare gel- no denim
All shots fired from 30 feet instead of the usual 10 feet.
Velocity average of three shots 888 FPS
Expansion .71 including the talons-Expansion .51 not including the talons
Penetration 9.5 inches

 Winchester SXT T series 95 grain
Taurus 2.8-inch barrel
Bare gel
Five shots were fired
One shot at 931 FPS Expanded
One shot at 915 FPS Expanded
Three shots between 887 FPS and 911 FPS did not expand
The three shots that did not expand exceeded 18 inches of penetration

Winchester SXT T series 95 grain .380 ACP
Bersa .380 3.5-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Five shot average 980 FPS
Expansion .654
Penetration 8 inches

 Winchester SXT T series 95 grain .380 ACP
Glock 42 3.25-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity 927 FPS
Classic expansion .55
Penetration 10.6 inches

 Winchester SXT T series 95 grain .380 ACP
Glock 42 3.25-inch barrel
2 layers of cotton
Velocity 956 FPS
Classic Expansion .50
Penetration 11 inches

Winchester SXT T series 95 grain .380 ACP
Glock 42 3.25-inch barrel
2 layers of denim
Velocity 948 FPS
No expansion
Penetration exceeded 24 inches

 Winchester SXT T series 95 grain .380 ACP
Glock 42 3.25-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 967 FPS
No expansion
Penetration exceeded 24 inches

Our observations and opinions regarding the Winchester SXT T Series .380 ACP:
Winchester designed the SXT .380 to achieve 1,000 FPS in a 3.8-inch test barrel. At approximately 1,000 the SXT works well in the heavy clothing/gel tests. As the barrel is shortened to less than 3.8 inches the velocity drops and the ability of the bullet to expand after passing through denim is significantly reduced.

 When fired from the 3.5-inch barrel of the Bersa .380 the average velocity of the SXT was 980 FPS which was sufficient to obtain full expansion after passing through 4 layers of denim. That is a difference of only 30 FPS above the velocity obtained in the Glock 42 and 80 FPS above the Sig P 238 but this difference in velocity causes a dramatic change in performance.

 In the G 42 with a 3.2-inch barrel the velocity of the SXT drops to the about 950 FPS. Expansion in bare gel and gel with 2 layers of cotton is excellent. Increasing the clothing to 2 layers of denim would sometimes cause the hollow point to fill with denim and fail to reliably expand. Increasing to 4 layers of denim would almost always cause a failure to expand.

 When tested from a 2.8-inch barrel the velocity usually drops to about 900 FPS. At this velocity the SXT often fails to expand after passing through denim and in one test it failed to expand in bare gel. Note that in several other tests the SXT did expand in bare gel when fired from a 2.8-inch barrel.

In one test the SXT fired from a Kahr .380 with a 2.58-inch barrel obtained an average of 897 FPS and produced classic expansion in bare gel. In another test using a Kahr .380 with 2.58-inch barrel the SXT obtained an average velocity (for 2 shots) of 876 FPS and both bullets expanded classically despite the fact that 2 layers of denim were used.

In a third test, using a Taurus .380, the velocity for the five shots was between

887 FPS and 931 FPS with an average of approximately 909 FPS.
All 3 shots that were below 915 FPS failed to expand in bare gel. The 2 shots that were clocked at 915 FPS and 931 FPS expanded.

 Our opinion is that the SXT when fired from a 3.2 to 3.8-inch barrel into a target wearing only light clothing is still a good choice. Expansion often exceeds .65. The expansion is greater than any other .380 we have seen tested. Penetration test results very from 8 to 11 inches which is on the lower end of the scale. Eleven inches is not bad but 8 inches would not be enough under some circumstances.

We expected the .380 SXT to be a top performer in the ballistic tests. The 9 MM 147 grain SXT, the .40 S&W 180 grain SXT, the .45 ACP 230 grain SXT are some of the very best cartridges in each of those calibers.  Apparently the .380 does not have enough energy to make the SXT technology work consistently with heavy clothing.

Due to the SXT’s failure to consistently expand when heavy clothing is involved we can no longer recommend this cartridge for general use in the .380. The tendency not to expand when heavy clothing is involved would obviously be a problem in Utah in the winter when people tend to wear heavy jackets. We might carry this ammunition in our G 42 during the summer but not in our Ruger LCP with the 2.8-inch barrel.

Winchester SXT continued/conflicting test results
Bersa 3.5-inch barrel – 4 layers of denim – 980 FPS – .654 – 8 inches

 G 42 3.2-inch barrel – bare gel – 927 FPS – Expanded
G 42 3.2-inch barrel – 2 layers cotton – 956 FPS – Expanded
G 42 3.2-inch barrel – 2 layers of denim – 948 FPS – No expansion
G 42 3.2-inch barrel – 4 layers of denim – 967 FPS – No expansion

 Sig P 238 2.8-inch barrel – 4 layers of denim- unknown vel – .724 – 10.25 inches
Taurus .380 2.8-inch barrel – bare gel- 887 FPS to 911 FPS – no expansion
Taurus .380 2.8-inch barrel – bare gel – 915 FPS to 931 FPS – good expansion
Kahr P380 2.58-inch barrel – 2 layers denim – 857 FPS – .65 – 11.0 inches
Kahr P380 2.58-inch barrel – 2 layers denim – 896 FPS – .66 – 10.5 inches
Kahr P380 2.58-inch barrel – bare gel – 897 FPS – .71 – 9.5 inches

Notice the contradictions:
In one test we see a G 42 at 967 and 4 layers of denim fail to expand
In another test we see a Sig P 238 and 4 layers of denim expand perfectly.
Remember that the Sig has only a 2.8-inch barrel and lower velocity. In one test we see a Kahr at 857 FPS with 2 layers of denim expand. In a second test we see a Kahr at 896 with 2 layers of denim expand. In a third test we see a Taurus at 911 FPS fail to expand in bare gel. In still another test we see a G 42 at 948 FPS and 2 layers of denim fail to expand.

 We can only conclude that there is significant difference between the gels being used by various testers. Each tester claims that his gel is calibrated to the specs given by the FBI and the International Wound Ballistics Association. If so, then how we do we account for the discrepancies. We believe that some of these testers are not calibrating their gel correctly. When the results of one test is not even close to several others we tend to disregard or at least give less consideration to the unusual findings.

 Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP

Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity 976 FPS
Expansion .59
Penetration 9 inches 

Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
2 layers of cotton
Velocity 980 FPS
Expansion .59
Penetration 9.25 inches

 Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
2 layers of denim
Velocity 960 FPS
Expansion .54
Penetration 10 inches

 Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
3 layers of denim
Velocity 964 FPS
Expansion .54
Penetration 10 inches

 Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 966 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 18 inches plus

Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP-more recent test
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
Heavy clothing four layers
Velocity 879 FPS
Expansion .52:
Penetration 11 inches plus one inch of bounce back for a
Total of 12 inches:

 Winchester Silver Tip 85 grain JHP-more recent test
Taurus 2.8-inch barrel
Bare Gel
Velocity average for five shots 830 FPS
Expansion none
Penetration 19 inches

 This velocity of the Winchester Silver Tip used in more recent tests was noticeably lower than that obtained in older tests with older ammo. It is our opinion that Winchester has reduced the pressure and velocity in this cartridge. This has resulted in a lack of expansion when used in short barrels and inconsistent expansion in a 3.2-inch barrel. No doubt it would still expand reliably in a 3.8-inch barrel. The velocity in older boxes of this ammo was in the high 900 FPS range. The newer ammunition is in the 800 FPS range. As such we can no longer recommend this ammunition.

 We have noticed that there is often a two-inch difference in penetration by two different testers even though they were using the same ammunition in the same make and model pistol. We also observed that three different types of gel are commonly used for these ballistic tests. By carefully studying the slow-motion videos of the gel tests we noted that when the clear gel was being used there was, on average a two-inch bullet bounce back. When the bullet reached its maximum penetration, it would bounce back because of the elasticity of the clear gel. If we added the two inches of observed bounce back to the penetration depth of the bullets recovered from the clear gel the results more closely aligned with the depth of penetration achieved in other types of gel.

 After adding the bounce back distance to the penetration of various .380 bullets tested in the clear gel, they came very closer to the FBI suggested minimum depth of 12 inches. With this information, we reevaluated some of the better expanding .380 cartridges and came to some conclusions. In the G 42 with a 3.2-inch barrel we found several cartridges that would expand to more than .40 after passing through heavy clothing and penetrate approximately 10.5 to 12 inches. While this is still on the low side of the FBI standard of 12 inches to 18 inches, it is our opinion that this is reasonable for civilian self-defense and is about all that can be obtained with a .380 cartridge using a conventional hollow point bullet.

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP

CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Kahr 2.53-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 887-
Expansion .48
Penetration 16 inches- Questionable gel calibration

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Kahr 2.53-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 901
Expansion .48
Penetration 16 inches- Questionable gel calibration

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Taurus 2.8-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity average 940 FPS of 5 shots-bad chronograph or a very hot box of ammo
Average expansion- .43 to .45
Average penetration 11.7 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Taurus 2.8-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Average velocity 963 FPS-5 shots-bad chronograph or a very hot box of ammo
Expansion – 4 of 5 expanded to an average of .41 caliber
Penetration 11.0 inches

CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Sig P 238 2.8-inch barrel
Bare gel
No velocity given
Expansion .60
Penetration 10.5 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Sig P 238 2.8-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
No velocity given
Expansion .40
Penetration 16 inches-
Questionable gel calibration

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity 951 FPS
Expansion .52
Penetration 11 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
2 layers of cotton shirt
Velocity 936 FPS
Expansion .49
Penetration 12.5 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
4 layers denim
Velocity 956 FPS
Expansion .48
Penetration 14.5 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 947 FPS
Expansion .48
Penetration 13.125

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
4 layers of heavy clothing
5 shot average velocity 937 FPS
Expansion .49
Penetration 11.0 inches with 2.5 inches of obvious bounce back
13.5 inches of penetration including bounce back

CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Glock 42 3.2-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 940 FPS
Expanded to an average of .50
Penetration 11 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Berssa 3.5-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 989 FPS
Expansion .52
Penetration 10.25 inches

 CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Ruger LCP 2.8-inch barrel
Hog’s Head covered with 4 layers of denim
Velocity 971 FPS- very high for 2.8-inch barrel-
Expansion .45- the petals were nearly flattened against the bullet after passing through the skull bone.

Penetration- In this test of the CCI Gold Dot .380 the tester placed the head of a recently slaughtered hog on a table, covered it with 4 layers of denim and placed milk jugs of water behind the hog’s head to capture the bullet. The bullet passed through the denim and struck the hog’s head between the eyes. The 90 grain CCI Gold Dot penetrated 6.5 inches of denim, skin, skull bone and tissue contained within the head and neck. The bullet exited the hog’s head and then penetrated two, one gallon milk jugs filled with water. The bullet was then stopped by the third jug. This equates to an estimated 13 + inches of ballistic gel. The expanded bullet was uniform and lost very little weight.

 Winchester PDX-1 95 grain bonded 

Winchester PDX-1 95 grain bonded
Bersa 3.5-inch
4 layers of denim
Velocity 987 FPS
Expansion .65
Penetration 8.25 (possible 2 inch bounce back)
Likely penetration 10.25 inches

Winchester PDX 1 95 grain bonded
Taurus 2.8-inch
4 layers of denim
Velocity 910 FPS
Expansion .55
Penetration 8.5 inches (possible 2 inch bounce back)
Likely penetration 10.5 inches

Winchester PDX 1 95 grain bonded
Sig P 238 2.8-inch barrel
Bare Gel
Velocity 905 FPS
Expansion .57
Penetration 8.27 inches- (possible bounce back of 2 inches)
Likely penetration 10.27 inches

Winchester PDX 1 95 grain bonded
2.5-inch barrel
2 layers of denim
Velocity 865 FPS
Expansion .66
Penetration not given

 Winchester PDX 1 95 grain bonded
Glock 42 3.2-inch
Heavy clothing
Velocity 870 FPS
Expansion .63
Penetration 9.5 inches – definite 2 inches of bounce back
Actual penetration of the bullet 11.5 inches-(close enough to 12 inch standard)

Winchester “Train and Defend”

 Winchester “Train and Defend”
Glock 42 3.25-inch barrel
Heavy clothing
Velocity 895 FPS
Expansion .63 all five expanded to perfect shape
Penetration 9 inches – definite 2.5 inch bounce back
Actual penetration of the bullet 11.5 inches

Winchester “Train and Defend”
2.8-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity 927
Expansion .62
Penetration 12 inches

 Winchester “Train and Defend”
2.8-inch barrel
3 Layers of denim
Velocity 927 FPS
Expansion .63
Penetration 10.5 inches

Hornady Custom XTP .380

 Hornady Custom XTP .380
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
Bare gel
Velocity average 870 FPS
Expansion .44
Penetration 12.5 inches

Hornady Custom XTP .380
Kahr 2.5-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 820 FPS
Expansion .41
Penetration 14.5 inches

 Hornady Custom XTP .380
Taurus 2.8-inch barrel
4 layers of denim
Velocity 853 FPS
Expansion .43 – one out of five did not expand fully
Penetration 12.3 inches

 Examining all the test results we dismissed those test results that were so different they seemed to be suspect. We then averaged the remaining tests to calculate a likely standard result.

If we were carrying any of these cartridges in our Glock 42 we would feel that our ammunition would be among the most effective .380 jacketed hollow point self-defense cartridges available. 

Hollow Point Finalists

These loads will give the best balance of expansion and penetration in a shorter 2.5 or 2.8-inch barrel but will not expand to as large a diameter as they would in the 3.2-inch or longer barrel. Note that even very small differences in barrel length will affect velocity and bullet performance noticeably. This is particularly true with short barreled pistols. A half inch difference in barrel length on a 4 or 5-inch barrel has far less effect on the performance of the bullet than a half inch difference in a 2.5 or 3-inch barrel.

CCI Gold Dot 90 grain JHP
Average velocity in the various barrel lengths was 950 FPS
Average expansion was .49
Average penetration was 11.5 inches with allowance for visible bounce back in two of the tests

 Winchester PDX 1 95 grain bonded
Average velocity in the various barrel lengths was 917 FPS
Average expansion was .61
Average penetration 9.0 inches
Average penetration 11.0 inches with allowance for visible bounce back

Winchester “Train and Defend”
Average velocity in various barrel lengths was 916 FPS
Average expansion was .63
Average penetration was 9 inches
Average penetration was 11.0 Inches with allowance for visible bounce back

Hornady Custom XTP .380
Average velocity 850 FPS
Average expansion was .42
Average penetration was 13 inches  

At the time we first posted this report we found only one test for the Federal HST. We have since studied several additional tests. The HST bullet works well even from the very short barrels and is not bothered by heavy clothing. The HST technology has proven outstanding in other calibers. With this limited additional information, we must consider the Federal HST .380 as possibly one of the better cartridges in the caliber. It will not achieve 12 plus inches of penetration in gel but in all other respects it excels. It is heavier at 99 grains than most .380 cartridges. Velocity and energy are very good for cartridges in this caliber. Expansion is outstanding, as good or better than others. Performance through barriers is good due to the bonded bullet design.

Federal HST 99 grain JHP
Average velocity 950 FPS
Average expansion .64
Average penetration 9.5 inches
Test 1-8.5 inches
Test 2-10.5 inches
Test 3-10.5 inches 

The Hornady Custom XTP achieved approximately 13 inches of penetration but less expansion than the other cartridges listed. If you feel that achieving the recommended 12 + inches of penetration is essential then the Hornady cartridge would likely be your best option. Remember this is the Hornady Custom XTP and not one of the other Hornady .380 cartridges.

 The two Winchester loads and the Federal HST had the most expansion but less penetration. If you are willing to accept a .380 cartridge which achieves less than then the recommended 12 inches of penetration in exchange for excellent expansion and of course a larger wound channel, then the either of the Winchester Cartridges or the Federal HST would be good choices. The HST is a bonded bullet.

The CCI Gold Dot was in the middle, achieving slightly less than 12 inches of penetration in some of the tests and expanding more than the Hornady but less than the Winchesters bullets. If you like compromises the CCI Gold Dot might be your best option. This is a bonded bullet and is better able to penetrate barriers like auto glass and bone without shedding its jacket and coming apart.

 Make your own choice as you will be the one to bet your life on your ammunition. We suggest that you buy a box of several and test them for function and accuracy in your pistol.

 Within the limitations of the .380 ACP hollow point cartridge you should be well served with any of these five loads. If you elect to carry a full jacketed .380, two that we tend to favor are the Winchester 95 grain FMJ flat point and the CCI 95 grain TMJ. The Winchester FMJ flat point has light recoil and has proven accurate in our pistols. Note that the .380 cartridge when fired from a 9.5-ounce pistol can seem snappy to an inexperienced shooter. The CCI 95 grain TMJ was the load selected by LAPD after extensive testing although we have not found any other sources reporting test data with this load.

 Doing your own research is helpful. This will enable you to make decisions based on your own criteria. The more you learn the more confused you might become. In the end, you must make a selection knowing that no cartridge can be the best at all aspects of effectiveness.

 Once you have selected a specific load and made certain that it functions correctly in your pistol, learn where it shoots in your gun at a variety of distances. Adjust your sights if necessary. Train so that you can put your bullets in places where they will be most effective.  Always carry at least one spare magazine and two is better. .380 magazines are generally small and easy to carry and conceal. Find a practice load that shoots to approximately the same place as your defensive load. Using a bullet of the same weight is a good starting point.

 As we have said many times, the single most important factor in determining your ability to stop a determined attacker is where you place your bullets.

There is a current You Tube video of Jerry Miculek test firing a Glock 42 .380 ACP for the first time. When the buzzer sounds, Jerry starts from the guard position, raises the pistol to eye level and fires two center chest shots into each of three silhouette targets at a distance of 30 feet. Six center hits on three separate targets in a total time of 1.9 seconds including his reaction time and the time required to get the pistol up and on the first target. It should be obvious that Jerry could handle most self-defense situations with a .380. Your ability to place accurate shots on target quickly is more important than which cartridge or even which caliber you elect to carry.

Always carry where it is lawful to do so. Remember that no matter who you are or where you are, be alert. Look behind you. Look all around you. Notice things that are out of place and people who do not look right. No one is exempt from random attack. Anyone can be a victim. Make yourself a hard target and mentally practice responding to an attack. Watch people’s hands and when you cannot see one of the hands of an approaching person try to maintain distance, put something between you and the potential problem and be mentally prepared to defend yourself.

Many of us carry a 9 MM pistol or we keep one for home defense. Our next project will be to find excellent 9 MM loads for short barreled concealed carry pistols as well as for full size 9 MM pistols. Our goal is to rate several of the best cartridges based on the available tests.

Thank you for your interest in this subject matter.

If we can answer any questions please contact us.

We generally do not have time to answer questions on the blog

Please consider signing up for our self-defense Pistol class.

Larry and Stacey Mudgett
Marksmanship Matters

 

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4 Responses to .380 ACP Ammunition Comparison

  1. Lew Gosnell says:

    Terrific info. Thanks Larry.

  2. Jim says:

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read about the .380 ammunition. Thanks for this article

  3. CW says:

    I live with two adult women….yes two! Anyway, one currently carries a stubby .38 and the other a .22 Ruger automatic. My goal…is to have both on the .380. This article really helped, thanks.

  4. Mike Waidelich says:

    I have read most of what is available on .380 ammo and run a few tests of my own. I agree with Larry’s conclusions throughout. If someone wants to choose an ammunition for a .380 he should be able to make an informed decision after reading this article. My personal choice for my LCP is Winchester FMJ FP, but I have a lot of confidence in my ability to get good quick hits under almost any conditions. My reasons: The FMJ will nearly always achieve sufficient penetration to reach vital organs, even when faced with heavy clothing; the Flat Point creates a bigger, more consistent wound channel than FMJ RN; the ammo is reasonably available; and it functions flawlessly in my LCP. I do mean flawlessly. After 500 rounds I have had zero malfunctions. Well … I didn’t get a good grip shooting an ambidextrous drill and got a stovepipe, but I take the blame, and forgive the gun and ammo for that one.

    DVC,

    Mike Waidelich

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