How to Choose The Right 380 Auto Ammo for Your Firearm

Despite the popularity and evident advantages of the 9mm, some gun owners still prefer the .380 ACP (aka .380 Auto). It’s likely due to the size of most .380 pistols - while you can find larger .380 pistols, most tend to have a barrel length of fewer than 3 inches. However, the .380 ACP cartridge has gained a bad reputation in the self-defense community for being underpowered and lacking stopping power. But with the right ammo, you can still be successful with any caliber. This article will guide you through choosing the right .380 Auto ammo for your firearm.

What Is Good Self-Defense Ammunition?

When choosing self-defense ammo, there are several factors to consider. One of the most important factors is the balance between penetration and expansion. To stop an attacker effectively, your bullet should penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs and expand wide enough to deliver adequate tissue damage - and do it consistently!

You have two options: Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP). FMJ bullets are typically used for target shooting and practice, as they have a higher penetration but do not deform or expand upon impact. JHP bullets, on the other hand, are designed to expand upon impact, creating a larger wound channel.

Next, bullet weight (expressed in grains) is one more important thing to consider, as it affects the velocity and penetration of the bullet. In general, lighter bullets travel faster but may not penetrate as deep, while heavier bullets have better penetration but may not travel as fast. Ideally, you want to match bullet grain to the barrel length of your pistol. Larger barrels allow the projectile to accumulate more energy and travel faster, which can compensate for the physics of a heavier bullet generally flying slower.

Finally, weight retention is also a crucial factor – a bullet that fragments upon impact will lose its effectiveness, while a bullet that retains its weight and expands appropriately will strike harder.

How to Choose the Best .380 Ammo?

In personal defense, the ideal penetration range is typically between 12-18 inches of 10% ballistic gel - It's a reliable indicator. When it comes to the low-powered .380 ACP cartridge, it is critical to choose a load capable of penetrating at least 12 inches of gel, which means the bullet will reach vitals. Note that not all rounds available on the market comply with this requirement. That's why you should look for the hands-on reviews of the .380 ACP rounds in question.

Now, let's talk about expansion in detail. As we've mentioned, FMJ is non-expandable ammo and can not be used for self-defense because FMJ bullets penetrate too deep and may go right through the attacker, hitting something or somebody behind them. Expansion slows down the bullet and makes it stick in the body. However, at the same time, we need bullets that can reach that 12-inch FBI-recommended minimum depth.

At this point, you have two options, considering the pressure limit of the .380 ACP: light bullets that fly faster or heavy bullets that hit harder. Stay away from .380 bullets that fragment (too light and fast) or fail to achieve proper penetration and expansion (usually too heavy and slow). Ideally, you want the best of the two worlds - heavier bullets optimized for higher muzzle velocities, but these babies are rare. Generally, .380 ACP with 90-grain bullets can penetrate deep enough and expand wide enough to stop an attacker.

By the way, when looking for the gel test results of your ammo, pay attention to whether the gel was covered with denim fabric to imitate clothes. The thing is that some .380 hollow-point ammo fails to expand because it gets clogged with material.

So, let's sum up: what's the recipe for reliable and efficient .380 ACP self-defense ammo?

  • Expandable bullets (JHP/HP);
  • Reliable and consistent penetration and expansion in the ballistic gel - 12-18 inches deep and at least 0.53 inches wide (1.5 times the bullet diameter according to FBI)
  • Bullet weight of 90gr for pocket pistols and heavier for larger pistols.

There are a few things to keep in mind. The barrel length of your handgun has a major impact on penetration and expansion. For example, the bullet fired from a 2.5-2.8-inch barrel will expand noticeably less than the one fired from a 3-inch barrel. Also, with many loads, you’ll get less than the recommended 12 inches of penetration in exchange for excellent expansion and a larger wound channel.

In conclusion, we'd like to say that whatever ammo manufacturers claim, doing your own research when considering .380 ACP ammo options will be very helpful because of the cartridge's limited pressure that makes achieving a perfect balance between penetration, expansion, velocity, energy, and bullet weight retention a challenge. Try several loads from different manufacturers to determine which one performs best with your gun. As we've noted, the barrel length will impact the bullet's performance significantly.

Also, remember these two things - one-shot stop is a myth, and shot placement is a more important factor in determining your ability to stop a threat than ammo. With proper training and the right bullets, you can use a .380 pistol just as efficiently and fast as any other caliber.


Is the .380 ACP cartridge powerful enough for self-defense?

While the .380 ACP has gained a reputation for being underpowered compared to more common self-defense cartridges like the 9mm, it can still be an effective choice if you choose the right ammo load.

What factors should I consider when choosing .380 ACP ammo?

There are several factors to consider, including penetration and expansion capability, reliability, bullet type, bullet weight, and weight retention. You'll also want to consider the barrel length of your firearm when selecting ammo.

What is the ideal penetration depth for .380 ACP ammo?

The ideal penetration depth for self-defense ammo is typically between 12-18 inches of 10% ballistic gel. This ensures that the bullet will be able to reach vital organs.

Can I use .380 FMJ bullets for self-defense?

.380 FMJ bullets have a higher penetration but do not deform or expand upon impact, which means they are likely to pass through the attacker. .380 JHP bullets are designed to expand upon impact, creating a larger wound channel and not over-penetrate.

Which .380 ACP load should I choose for self-defense?

There are several reliable and effective .380 ACP loads available, including Hornady Custom XTP, Federal Hydra-Shok, and Speer Gold Dot. Ultimately, the best load for your firearm may vary depending on your personal preferences and intended use.

Apr 19th 2023 Gritr Sports

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