The .380 cartridge has been around since early in the last century. It was another of John Browning's designs, and has been known as the 9mm Kurz, 9x17, 9mm Browning Short, and .380 ACP. We also know it as the .380 Automatic, or simply the .380 Auto. It's been chambered in a host of small autoloading pistols, some of them quite famous, such as Walther's PPK.
The .380 is not a cartridge many of us would pick for all-around use. It's hardly a plinking cartridge, because of the relatively high cost of ammunition, and because the pistols that chamber it are generally not all that accurate. Reloaders don't exactly flock to the diminutive cartridge, for a variety of reasons. Ammunition manufacturers have produced some excellent fodder in recent years for the tiny guns, but none of it can make a mountain-size "stopper" out of the molehill .380 Auto.
Guns for the cartridge abound, some of them expensive, some of them — like the ones tested here — discontinued for a variety of reasons. Some .380s are great firearms, and some would make better table lamps. We acquired four examples of discontinued .380-Auto handguns, all of which pop up on the used market from time to time. They were all locked-breech pistols, with barrel locks similar to that of a full-size 1911 .45 Auto. Our test guns included the Colt Mustang and its lighter twin the Mustang Pocketlite, both of which cost in the $500 range; an Iver Johnson Pony ($250) that was similar in size and overall shape to the Colts, and a close clone of the Pony from Firearms International ($300). Here are our findings.
Smaller guns have always had a certain appeal. In some cases it was just the aspect of miniaturization that captures our imagination. In other cases it was the reassurance of a highly concealable weapon. One niche of such guns were semi-auto .380s, which have long been popular sidearms because of their flat, short footprint and sufficient, if not outstanding, power.
Fourteen hundred feet per second from a pistol in 1930? Make that 1896! In the late 1800s Hugo Borchardt designed a pistol, and a cartridge for it, that became the Model 1893 Borchardt pistol. Borchardt was an American, but his pistols were made by Loewe in Germany. (The Borchardt pistol evolved into the Luger pistol, which used a shorter, less-powerful .30-cal. cartridge.) A hotter loading of Borchardt's cartridge was adopted by Mauser for his 1896 pistol, known as the "broomhandle." Velocity was in the 1,400 fps realm, and it was the fastest handgun cartridge around for many years.
In our view, these limited-capacity pistols have limited usefulness for most shooters. Reviewed: American Derringer DA 38 and Model 1, and Bond Arms' Texas Defender and Cowboy Defender.
The Browning 1911 single-action pistol and big 0.450- to 0.452-inch bullets are synonymous. So is a level of power that demands respect, not to mention the recoil that goes with it. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can enjoy the benefits of the 1911 design with what we found to be a pleasing flash and satisfying jolt simply by rolling back the clock almost a hundred years ago.
The unending popularity of John Browning's Model 1911 design is due in equal parts to its simplicity, reliability and durability. No other handgun has been subjected to more words, tinkering, accessorizing or imitation and still survived—let alone remain in demand.
After World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, thousands of 1911 pistols found homes with the Doughboys and GIs who'd carried them in combat. In the late forties and early fifties, Government Models were being sold out of arsenals for less than dirt. Some of them had seen action. Some had never been through basic training. Harbor no hopes of buying any used M1911 or M1911A1 at such prices today, unless it's a total junker.
The three entries in this shootout are prime examples of the multiple caliber concept. Magnum Researchs Lone Eagle is available in 15 centerfire calibers and has a rotating breech that field artillery veterans may find familiar. Its caliber is changed by installing a different barreled-action on the pistols grip assembly. Thompson/Centers Encore and Contender are both...
One shot, well placed, at great range: this is perhaps the ultimate shooting test. If the target is a varmint or a distant rock, the flat-shooting .22-250 will do the trick nicely. This is the realm of the precision rifle — or is it? Why not do it with a handgun? A bolt-action or break-open single-shot pistol might be lots more fun and is certainly more of a challenge to the shooter. Such handguns naturally require the use of a scope to get the most out of them, and also to help you to see small targets at extreme range.
Make no mistake, such a handgun is capable of at least as good accuracy as a comparable rifle. All barrels vibrate when you shoot a bullet through them, and the longer an...