Feature Article

380 ACP Loads Update: Choices Are Getting More Interesting

380 ACP Loads Update: Choices Are Getting More Interesting
As testing progressed, the loads gave interesting performance. Top row from left are the Hornady Critical Defense Flex Tip, the Winchester Defend hollowpoint, and the Cor-Bon DPX hollow point. Bottom row, from left, are the Federal Premium HST jacketed hollow point, Hornady XTP JHP, and the Fiocchi 90-grain JHP.

In the October 2010 issue we published a report on 380 ACP defense loads. The work was interesting and reader feedback intensive. During the tests, the loads proved accurate and reliable. The problem was the balance of expansion and penetration. We had either adequate expansion or good penetration but not each in the same loading. Some loads penetrated as little as 9 inches, with the average load at 12-13 inches. Expansion was modest in most cases. As a result, we felt that the full-metal-jacketed non-expanding bullet was a viable choice because there was a chance it would reach vital areas and create a stoppage. Surprisingly, even FMJ loads penetrated but 14 inches in water in that test. So, the search was on for a loading that might offer superior performance to the original test choices.

This time, we tested ten different loads using the same media — water and water jugs — and came away with a couple of loads that showed good promise for personal defense.

Since our initial test, many readers have continued to ask us about the effectiveness of the 380 ACP outside the ability to make highly accurate cranial shots. If the bullet cannot be counted on to reach the vitals, then it would hardly be of much use even if it did expand. However, FMJ loads do not necessarily solve every problem. A lightweight FMJ bullet is far more likely to stop short in penetration than a heavier bullet of moderate velocity. Often, a heavier-for-the-caliber-bullet will penetrate more even at lower velocity.

In our experience, modern shooters tend to look at the 380 as a lighter alternative to the 9mm, but a better comparison is between the 38 Special snubnose and the 380. So, as a point of reference, we included a middle-of-the road 125-grain JHP 38 Special +P load fired from a 2-inch-barrel revolver to represent an average for performance with the 125-grain JHP. It makes a striking example of how the 380 ACP fares against what we believe is at least an adequate 38 Special load. Also, for your convenience, we’ve listed the performance of the first round of 380 ACP loads we tested six years ago. Also, the top-ranked loads from the first test were the Fiocchi FMJ 95-grain No. 380FMJB and Speer Gold Dot 90-gr. No. 23606. Read More

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