What’s the best self-defense ammo for a .380 pocket pistol?

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Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about selecting the right ammo for your service caliber pistol (9mm, .40, and .45) …

Almost immediately, I got a lot of comments and questions about .380 like this:

    “Now, how about the best self defense ammo for the 380 cal. that almost everyone now carries for self defense? This is the report needed by most people.”

And the fact is, the .380 is becoming more and more popular.

Because of this, it pays to look into what ammunition you should use if you’re carrying a smaller gun such as this — a so called “pocket pistol”.

Let’s talk about barrel length …

In service caliber pistols, barrel length is almost never a concern. To quote Dr. Roberts again “There is really no difference in performance between a 3.5″ and 4″ barrel in 9 mm and .40 S&W. In .45 ACP, we see a reasonably significant change in performance going from a 5″ to 3.5″ or less barrels. Since almost all viable pistols in 9 mm and .40 S&W use 3.5-4.5″ barrels, there are no “short barrel” worries for serious end-users.

On the other hand, if you are using a .380 then you need to consider barrel length …

Basically, the only reason to carry a .380 is because you want to carry a VERY small gun. Which means deep concealment of some kind, backup gun, or pocket carry.

As such, you are in the territory of barrels less than 3.5″ long. In fact, barrel lengths from these pocket guns can range from 2.5″ to 2.8″ all the way up to 3.25″ (like the “not so small” Glock G42 .380 pistol).

The point of all this?

While you only have to look at terminal ballistics of the actual projectile when choosing a service caliber ammo (9mm, .40 and .45), when choosing a .380 load, you have to look at the terminal ballistics achieved by a .380 with your same barrel length because velocity will differ.

The FBI tests as testing standards. Sort of …

As I’ve explained before, self-defense ammo must live up to a testing standard.

However, because the FBI does not carry any .380 pistols, there are (to my knowledge) no rounds that have been through the full battery of FBI tests (to include all intermediate barriers).

So what is the standard?

I’ll copy and paste what a popular blogger & youtuber “ShootingTheBull” has written about his .380 tests:

    “I set as my standard the guidelines established by the 1987 and 1993 Wound Ballistic Conferences, where wound ballistics experts, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, police officers, trauma surgeons, combat surgeons, and others who worked with street shootings and bullets (and the wounds they cause) day in and day out.  These were the recognized experts in their fields, and they conducted conferences to determine what properties and capabilities caused a bullet to be most effective, and how they could then develop tests that would best and most accurately reflect real-world results, so that ammo designers could then design ammo that would perform most effectively.  Effectiveness was determined to be the ability to penetrate deep enough into the body to reach the vital organs (such as the heart, circulatory system, and central nervous system).  A bullet that can’t reach that far, and can’t be relied upon to disrupt the vital organs, was deemed an ineffective bullet.”
    “… The FBI adopted these requirements for their duty ammo selection, which is only partially related to us in the self defense community; we’re not the FBI and we don’t need FBI duty ammo, but — ammo manufacturers love to sell ammo to the FBI, so many of the modern hollowpoint rounds on the market are designed to meet the FBI requirements.  Which is good for us, because what makes a bullet effective in stopping a criminal, are the same factors that make it effective in stopping someone who’s assaulting us.  The FBI requires their ammo to pass additional tests of barrier penetration, including auto windshield glass, plywood, drywall, and other tests.  In the self defense community, those aren’t likely realistic tests that we need our ammo to pass, so I didn’t bother with those tests, instead I focused on the two tests that are most important to self defense shooters: the bare ballistic gelatin test, and the 4-layer denim test.  The International Wound Ballistic Association standardized these two tests as a comprehensive evaluation of ammo performance in best-case and worst-case scenarios, and so that is the testing methodology I adopted.”

Now, I would RATHER have a bullet that has been tested through the full range of tests — including all intermediate barriers — like the FBI testing.

But, at the current time, I’m not aware of anyone who has tested .380 ammo to that standard. Right now, the best I’m seeing from testers are the bare gel, plus the bare gel and denim tests.

Yet, as you’re about to find out … even just those two tests alone are enough to separate the best ammo from the rest.

So what .380 rounds are acceptable for self-defense?

Again, you have to think “barrel length” first, then go looking for the right ammo …

ShootingTheBull.net did an extensive test of over 30 different types of ammo with his 2.8″ barrel pocket pistol.

His conclusion?

With his 2.8″ barrel testing, he found 5 out of the 30 loads tested met the standards. Every ammo load using the Hornady XTP JHP (jacketed hollow point) made it into the “winners circle”. Surprisingly, Federal Hydra-shoks did pretty well (even though they’re older bullet technology). The overall winner he chose was the Precision One .380 ACP 90 grain XTP. You can find his full summary of all 30 tests by clicking here.

There is also another blogger called “MouseGunAddict” who has done a lot of testing of the smaller .380 type guns. He did a series of tests on a Kahr P380 with a barrel length of 2.53″. In his tests, the Hornady XTP bullets and the Federal Hydra-Shok were also a consistent performer in the .380 with a shorter barrel length.

It’s also worth noting that the Federal Hydra-Shok did well even in the longer barrel length .380 test with a Glock 42 (3.25″ barrel length). It appears that the “lesser” expansion with the older bullet design of the Federal Hydra-Shok is a benefit to the typically under-penetrating .380 load fired from a shorter barrel.

Barrel lengths are confusing … What’s the bottom line?

It would appear that the best self-defense ammo for the .380 is some type of self-defense ammo loaded with the Hornady .380 ACP 90gr XTP hollow point projectile. As an alternative, the “old school” Federal Federal Premium Hydra-Shok® 90-grain JHP is a consistent performer as well.

As always, penetration is the first consideration for self-defense ammo performance (especially with a “weaker” load such as the .380) and these two projectiles were the most consistent and offered the best performance throughout all barrel lengths from what I have researched.

 

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Caleb
Caleb Lee is the #1 best-selling author of "Concealed Carry 101" and founder of PreparedGunOwners.com. He is a civilian (no law enforcement or military experience) who shares information about self-defense and becoming more self-reliant. He's a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo, NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor, Concealed Carry Academy Instructor certified & also a graduate of the Rangermaster firearms instructor course. He's also the author of numerous online courses including the UndergroundAssaultRifle.com course.

76 COMMENTS

    • Hey Tampa, you had better NEVER carry your gun again! Why? Because IF you ever use it, even in self-defense, and cause serious injury or death, YOU are the one going to prison for a long, LONG TIME, probably for MURDER! But, I’ll bet you don’t even know why, do you? The reason is simple. Any prosecutor worth his salt will refer back to this post as PROOF POSITIVE that your intent was a PREMEDITATED desire to KILL the attacker! You said it in YOUR OWN WORDS! You are looking for gun/ammo combinations to maximize “Kill Power”! You aren’t trying to STOP the attacker. If someone threatens you, my gosh, YOU want to KILL THEM! If YOU are smart, and you’ve proven to be QUITE dubious, you will get rid of ALL your guns, and carry NOTHING more lethal than pepper spray. Trust me. If you, and I mean ANY of you, shoots someone in self-defense or any other reason, YOU WILL BE ARRESTED! Even if you’re the VICTIM! So get the right mindset, all of you, or YOU will be the one to do hard time!

      • (Not so) SmartShooter,

        Please give up YOUR guns as a prosecutor will do EVERYTHING they can to get a conviction and it doesn’t matter what ammo one use’s or what one post’s on the internet. (The defense attorney’s job is to counter those arguments) If the shooting is justified, it’s justified…

      • Disregard Smartshooter! Smartshooter is an idiot! He’s undoubtedly an Obama lover and is voting for another idiot, Hillary! They all stick together!

        • What the hell does that have to do with anything?! Smart shooters comment is idiotic, but what does that have to do with Hillary, Obama & even Trump for that matter? No matter the topic, it seems that folks have to find a way to insert politics & race into it! Stick to the topic at hand which is Smartshooter is not so smart of a shooter & in fact ignorant when it comes to law! There you go! Have a blessed day.

      • well smart shooter, i guess you should get rid of your guns too. then you could change your post to smart ass. hardly any of us will need to use our guns and if we do it is to stop the threat. unfortunately that usually means ki8ll them. the old say comes to mind tried by 12 or carried by six. get rid of your guns and if needed i will come and be one of the six. personally i if using a 380 which i very sledom carry would use full metal jacket because of the penetration problem. a round gong at 45 acp speeds in my humble opinion is not a good round. now if you drop the grains of the bullet from 230 down to 90, well, i would hate to depend on the 45 let alone the 380. it is speed that kills and that is why a 357 which is basically the same diameter as a 380 is a great one stop shot round. speed produces a crush cavity and that produces extreme trauma. oh, by the way pepper spray can kill also, but i guess you knew that, right??? a legal system that will allow our president to sell guns illegally to known criminals is not a good system. doing that has killed over a 1000 and still killing. WTF!!! holder might take the fall, but we know what it was all about , don’t we???

    • It’s almost like you didn’t even read my article … which mentions shootingthebull’s 380 tests extensively.

      And that XP penetrator deserves more research but I wouldn’t choose a brand new product to trust over proven hollowpoints. That’s just me though.

      • Your article did have a link to the “Final Results” from the Shooting the Bull series, a label that was accurate – at the time.

        I was pointing out that the XP test was a “Follow up” or addendum to the “Final Results”, which not only made the term “Final Results” no longer accurate, it more importantly changed the findings.

        I for one had purchased a couple boxes of XTP (in my case Fiocchi Extrema) based on the original “Final Results” before I discovered the Follow up / Lehigh XP review. Regrettably a series of problems with my trouble prone Bersa CC has prevented me from testing either one. I have had it repaired TWICE since then. The 3’rd and 4’th repairs to it since I bought it. It spends MUCH more time in the factory authorized repair shops than it does on the gun range.

        I have already “replaced” it with a 9MM M&P Shield, but I would really like to find a dependable 380 carry option.

        • I suggest you go on line and read about Makarovs. Get your hands on a Bulgarian or East German Makarov, best two manufactured. Russkie knock-off of the WWII-era German Walther. Reliable as a rock. Former Russkie duty weapon in a package the size of a .380. Barrel is 3.75 inches and it carries concealed well. With the assistance of Brownells they can be converted to .380, unless you like the hot little 9×18 mak round. At this time the 9×18 is not very expensive. Unfortunately, though, 9×18 mak seems to come only in hardball flavor and is getting harder to find.
          With respect to reliability and simplicity, if the Russkies were confident they could issue the Makarov to their troops and cops, bet it is simple to operate, reliable in all weather, and is easy to get back into action in the event of a malfunction. The only thing I do not care for is the bottom-of-the-grip mag release lever.

        • Ah ok, that makes sense then.

          (you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t read articles, then rush to the comments to just spout off whatever comment they want to make before reading/thinking)

          But yeah, that sucks to hear about your gun. You want reliability in a CC gun for sure.

          For .380 the Ruger LCP is a popular choice … and I’ve not heard anything bad about the S&W Bodyguard or the Glock 42 yet … but then again I haven’t been looking all that much either 🙂

  1. That’s pretty much right. I might also consider the Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator in .380. Although it technically overpenetrates a bit (about 22″ in gel), the wound channels created by the unique bullet design are impressive.

    I’d add a 3rd category for .380: recoil sensitive shooters. And perhaps a 4th: shooters with very small hands.

    I may pick up a .380 as a pocket gun.

    • Yeah, that new Xtreme penetrator is interesting — like I told the guy above though — I’d have to see more testing. I’m not the type that would buy a brand new gun or electronic the first year either (till the kinks get worked out) so I’d go with the proven hollowpoints.

      As for .380 for other reasons … are there a lot of bigger 380’s that have less recoil than 9mm? I’m sincerely asking? I find that the smaller guns (describing most 380s) have more recoil just by virtue of their weight.

      380 is a good size for pocket gun like you said. I see that the main reason people choose them.

      • Yup, I’ve had a Walther PPK for decades. Don’t carry it much lately, used it as a backup while working. It’s very accurate, but a little heavy compared to most of the new ones. Way back when, all that was available for the most part was the Winchester Silver Tip. Never did any performance tests except for functioning, which it did well. I’m trying to talk my wife into carrying it instead of her little Smith model 60. I’ll have to pick up a couple of boxes of the Hornady XTPs and see how they do in the Walther. Thanks for the good info.

  2. have you tested DRT .380 frangible ammo? from what I’ve read and seen it is a very potent ballistic option, especially for close encounters…

  3. I know nothing about it. But — in general — frangible means “doesn’t penetrate very well” — and the number one wounding mechanism of handgun ammo is adequate penetration. 12-18″ being ideal.

  4. Cal. .380 or as it started life 9mm Kurz (short) was to be used ONLY for executions. From six inches, any bullet entering the base of the neck is terminal.

    Once you get beyond 3 feet, it is seriously under-powered.

    A good friend once told me that he shot an individual at 50 yards with a .380 only to have the round lodge in the victims parka! Needless to say, no knock down power should be expected from a close quarters execution firearm.

    • @ Fox: didn’t know that about the execution thing … interesting.

      And your friend hit a guy at 50 yards with a .380? That’s impressive!

      • .380 was carried by many European Police Agencies for years, and not for executions. Started out from similar revolver calibers. Teddy Roosevelt pushed for standardized .32 caliber Revolver when he was New York City Police Commissioner. Times change.

    • 1) There’s no such thing as a pistol round with “knock down power”. Doesn’t exist. Never has, never will. If it had that much power on impact, would exert the same amount of knock down power back into your hand.

      2) If you bother to read, you’ll see that there are .380 rounds that are more than adequate for the FBI penetration tests, even through multiple layers of denim.

      Science and testing has surpassed the “one shot one kill” 45 stories and all of the other stories people like to tell about calibers.

      • I’ve fired twice [civilian life] in self defense. First was a home invasion with a .357. Second was against a large rabid dog [Beretta 85 .380]. I fired four round and hit the dog 3 times. The final round went through his neck and severed his spine. The vet said all three were fatal. I now carry a .45 ACP but for a CLOSE RANGE self defense round the .380 is fine. The key is accuracy, place your shots well and live, miss and die. With a .45 your window expands but you still have to make the shot.

      • Ok… Im sorry, but I have to chime in on this .380 debate as an EFFECTIVE personal defense concealed carry round… I chose the Glock 42 as my first carry pistol, and still carry it quite often today… I constantly hear people say that the .380 doesn’t pack enough punch to slow, stop, or drop a decent size grown man during a hostile situation… Honestly, I truly believe it depends on the personal defense round that is used… I will admit that a .45, .40, and even a 9 mil pack a heavier punch, however… For all those people who say a .380 does NOT have the capability to neutralize a hostile situation effectively has NEVER been on the receiving end of one of those itty bitty rounds!! Unfortunately my family will beg to differ as a member of my family was a fatal victim of an unstable individual who killed him using a .380 from a distance of approx 20 yards… My cousin was slightly larger than average in stature at 6’2″ and 230 lbs… And he was wearing a leather jacket, a sweatshirt and undershirt, when he was mortally wounded…

        The specifics surrounding the incident are not important, but both parties were a little amped up, and unfortunately my cousin was neither armed or had the chance to defend himself effectively… The point I am trying to make is this… Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of that tiny little round has never been shot by one, nor will EVER volunteer to be a human guinee pig to prove their point.

    • most confrontations are from 20 ft or less anyone that would take a shot at 50 yards is a fool there is no need! good luck hitting a target at that range with a typical concealed carry hand gun

    • Well….I was warned that a 380 would just piss the adversary off and the round could be stopped by a jacket, etc. So I did the phonebook test. I put a 2″ thick phone book against a stump and stepped back about 40 feet, or about 14 yards, and took a couple shots. Each round shot out of my Bersa Thunder Plus (98 grain lead RN handloads) went clear through with no problem whatsoever. I don’t know what in the world is wrong with that kind of demonstration to disprove the parka stop story – and a hit with a 380 at 50 yards? Well, I sure don’t want to be hit by one of my loads from that distance because it would go through more than a parka.. I also shoot 100 yard prone smallbore on a regular basis with subsonic ammo and the round will punch clean through target holder uprights made of 1/2″ EMT conduit and it obliterates the heavy-duty binder clips holding target paper. Those shots were not intentional- just bad shots or no zero.

  5. How about LibrertyAmmunition “Cival Defense” 9 mm 50 gr HP 2000 fps / .380 50 gr HP 1500 fps ?
    The people at my gun store I go to load out with the 9 mm

    • in the words of DocGKR: “This ammunition is NOT barrier blind, has poor penetration capability, does not meet minimum LE terminal performance guidelines, and is expensive.”

  6. Any info on .38 special amo would be appreciated. I’m using a .38 S&W snub nose aluminum frame Chief Police Special. Any comments on this 5 shooter would also be appreciated.
    Many Thanks, Randy

  7. Someone should tell ISIS that it’s wrong to carry or fire a gun. Obama says so. Someone should tell ISIS before they get in trouble.
    P.S. I forgot, Obama is on the side of the Muslims so their carrying and firing guns is O.K. If these two terrorists were white they would have had Obama and his former Attorney General Eric Holder all over them.

  8. I see no mention of the 380 rounds that are 102 I think that’s the correct grain as I bought 50 rounds for my wife’s 380 Bersa no problems but there again no test

  9. Sorry. I don’t have a CCW or own a .380. I open carry in NV. GP100, .357 Magnum, 4″ barrel. Does the trick nicely. One shot does the trick. I use different loads. 158 gr. flat nosed .357 as my 1st shot. Then 130 gr. Winchchester, 38 Special +P (hollow point). Then 125 gr. Hornady Critical Defense FTX (hollow point). As I said, it does the trick.

  10. The reason the Hornaday XTP bullet has the soft red plastic (possibly silicone sealant) in the nose is to improve penetration through heavy clothing. I purchased a tube of silicone and filled the nose of ALL of my hollow point bullets in all calibers. Use a table knife or spatula to level the end and wipe off excess. It may increase penetration and make the bullet come closer to the Hornaday. It would be interesting to see some comparisons using ballistic gelatin. I did it just on a hunch. I don’t have the ability to test penetration. I figured that it’s like chicken soup (Jewish penicillin), “might not help, couldn’t hurt.”

    • You’re thinking of the FTX, the XTP doesn’t have the plastic insert. Shooting The Bull found the Hornady Custom with the XTP performed better than the FTX

    • Gerald you’re thinking of the FTX in the Critical defense load. Shooting The Bull found the XTP in the Hornady Custom performed better.

  11. Hey Caleb, All your article and others that I have seen does is further convince me that while the .380 “Mouse guns” may be convenient to carry, they are just not powerful enough for me to risk my life by carrying one for self defense.

    Especially with the introduction over the last few years of numerous “micro” 9mm pistols that can carry a much more powerful self defense round. I own both the 9mm and the .45 ACP version of the Springfield XDs which are easily carried in a front pocket or any other position that you would carry a .380 mouse gun and will outperform any .comparable sized .380.

    I currently carry a Springfield 9mm Subcompact MOD. 2 with a 13 + 1 capacity. I carry Hornady Critical Duty 135 grain Flex Tip rounds. And while some may think that this pistol is too big for pocket carry, I find that to be totally untrue. I use a small trigger guard type “holster” called the Guardian made by Aegis Armory that has paracord attached to it that you tie off on your belt loop that causes the holster to pop off the pistol when you draw from your pocket and start to aim the pistol towards your target. It works great.

    I carried .380 pistols in the past. But not since the smaller 9mm pistols became available. The only .380 that I would even consider carrying at this point is the Beretta “Cheetah” which is a very well made “mini” version of the military M-9 and can handle souped up .380 rounds such as those available from Buffalo Bore. But, it IS really a bit large for pocket carry.

    • @Northman: Yeah, the newer 9mm pocket guns are getting better and better … the Glock 43 is quite slim … not quite Ruger LCP disappear in your pocket small but still pretty darn tiny.

  12. Browning BDA – Big for todays .380’s – 3.8″ barrel – but it fits in a pocket that a govt model .45 won’t, and safe DA/SA with lots of ammo – years ago I used IMI FMJ, which was recommended for .380 for penetration – Nowadays I use Speer Gold Dot which is supposed to work as good or better than most anything on the market.

    • I too carry a BDA .380 but am restricted to non-HP ammo. I use Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain FTX for my chosen defense load. I like the magazine disconnect feature on my BDA very much.

  13. The .380 must be all about the length of the barrel to hold it’s power down for the Glock 25 .380 auto
    has a barrel length of 4.02 and the Glock 28 has a barrel length of 3.46 and for some reason they cannot
    be sold in the U. S. unless they are sold to Law Enforcement or Government Agency.
    I have a Glock 26 9×19 with a barrel length of 3.46 the same length as the Glock 28 so why can they sell a
    9 mm here with the same length barrel as the .380.

    • @Roy: I have no idea bud. Not up on all that restrictions stuff. But we have the G26 and now the G42 and G43 so I think we have everything available right?

  14. All I can find here is Fiocchi Extreme XTP. I can’t find powder or lead to reload anything. I was told the plant in Australia burnt. It has been rebuilt and they have started shipping powder again. However, none of the gun shops will order gun powder. The closest place to buy it is 100 miles away. What do you do when you can only get certain ammo?

    • @Tony: Hey bud I think that Fiocchi Extrema XTP is on the “approved” list of XTP ammo right? so you’re all good?

      As for what to do … keep an eye out and get whatever you can for right now. That’s what I do.

  15. Why didn’t they test the Rip 2 type….I personally like them and carry them my Sig Sauer .380, my BDA Browning .380 and my Springfield 9mm

  16. Thank you so much for the test information on my Ruger.380…now I know what to buy, you are the best
    Have a great 2016

  17. I’m with Mr. William Johnston! The Llama .380 is a vastly underrated and beautiful pocket pistol! It is very ergonomic. Too bad the socialists in Spain killed off all of the old time handgun companies like Star, Llama, etc. that Generalissimo Franco had allowed to stay in business. Sometimes a less obvious dictatorship is worse than the obvious one.

  18. I picked up my 380 SWenson Bodyguard two days ago. I field stripped it at the counter in the store and found small copper shards in the receiver area. An air spray removed them effectively. I took the piece directly to the range and after dumping two mags to get the feel I emptied one mag at 21′ one at 50′ and one at 75′. I put six in the 10″ circle at 21′, 5 at 50′ and 4 at 75′. The pistol is more accurate than my SIG p250 subcompact 9mm. Most defense shots are at 25′ or less so I comfortable carrying thy weapon. Although for target practice I would recommend the soft butt sleeve. After 10 mags (60 shots) the palm of my shooting hand was getting tender. I particularly liked that the tear-down consists of removing one locking rod similar to the Sig p250. The slide is extremely hard to maneuver and put the thumb lock in position at the same time. Put in an empty magazine and that problem is solved.

  19. Well, I am carrying the Browning 1911-380 with a 4.25″ barrel. I am looking at LeHigh Defense and Buffalo Bore but I am probably going to use Hydra-Shoks, too.

    They have been making Hydra Shok a long time so I expect they have the kinks worked out of it, even in .380.

  20. […] What's the best self-defense ammo for a.380 pocket pistol. – It would appear that the best self-defense ammo for the.380 is some type of self-defense ammo loaded with the. You are looking for gun/ammo combinations to. […]

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  22. […] What’s the best self-defense ammo for a.380 pocket pistol. – Home Gear What’s the best self-defense ammo for a.380 pocket. how about the best self defense ammo for the 380 cal. that almost everyone now carries for self. […]

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