.380 ACP is not the most popular cartridge by any means, especially for concealed carry or home defense. That said, thanks to new technology, it is getting a second wind. These cartridges are some of the best ammo for concealed carry. A lot of people like the .380 ACP because it is smaller than 9 mm, meaning that you can fit more ammo into a smaller package. Did you know that the .380 ACP is actually also called the 9 mm short because it is just 9 mm but shorter?
If you are shopping for .380 ACP rounds, you will find that there are a lot of them on the market. One notable drawback of this cartridge is the fact that it lacks penetration. According to the FBI, a good self-defense round should be able to penetrate at least 12 inches. Some .380 loads struggle to cut that deep. Others do not expand well, which minimizes the damage.
That said, the .380 ACP is still a viable defensive round. Armed citizens have saved many lives with this cartridge. The trick then is to find the right .380 round that can do the job. So how do you do that?
How to Choose Defensive Ammo
The following are the most important factors to consider when picking out your .380 ammo: penetration, expansion, reliability, projectile type, weight retention, barrel length, velocity, and weight. That are quite a few things to consider but it demonstrates how complicated ammo selection is.
Penetration is the projectile’s ability to go through the body. It is determined by its weight, composition, velocity, and projectile type. Lead projectiles usually deform before they go deep to cause a lot of damage at the cost of penetration. A round that is too light and slow also has the same problem. It lacks penetration. You want a round that can penetrate about 12-18 inches of 10% ballistic gel.
Expansion is important for doing damage. A bullet that sails straight through your target does not do as much damage as you think. You want the bullet to expand, tearing into the tissues, causing blood loss, and causing a lot of pain. For this, a larger round goes a long way. Bigger is usually better in this case, but expansion is only second to penetration in terms of importance.
Reliability refers to the consistency of the round’s expansion and penetration. In other words, the rounds should perform reliably from one shot to the next. Reliability also applies to the round’s ability to ignite and fire. Luckily, most defensive ammo nowadays is of high quality so this is not such a big issue. You rarely have rounds that do not perform consistently.
The projectile type determines how a round will penetrate and expand. Bonded jacketed hollow point ammo has been a solid performer for a long time, so they are the best option. FMJ (full metal jacket) rounds are sub-optimal. They have too much penetration endangering people behind your target. Do not forget here that you are liable for each round you send downrange no matter if it hits the bad guy first or not. Also, avoid gimmick projectiles that may look cool as they tend to function badly.
When it comes to weight retention, the more the merrier. It influences a round’s ability to dish out damage to vital parts of the body. The measurement for bullet weight is grain. Shedding weight happenes when the bullet fractures or loses its jacket. That decreases penetration.
Finally, the final factor has less to do with the ammo and more with the gun that fires it. Most .380 ACP handguns are very compact. They are small with short barrels, which can affect the velocity of the projectile as well as its weight. Taking out all the calculations, a 90-grain projectile seems to be the sweet spot as it offers the best penetration while having enough velocity to expand.
With the theory out of the way, let’s get down to the fun part. I have here a list of 8 of the best .380 ACP rounds you should get.
Hornady Critical Defense
This 90-grain ammo is a popular choice as it is designed to give the best possible muzzle velocity for the .380 ACP round. You get over 1,050 feet per second, which is among the highest out of all the .380 ACP rounds on the market.
Another notable feature of the Critical Defense is the red polymer tips. They are there to help with the bullet expansion as well as maintain the bullet’s trajectory for better accuracy. Inside the bullets is a lead core.
Liberty Civil Defense
The Liberty Civil Defense rounds are only 50 grains, which is a little light but is a good alternative for those who are recoil sensitive or beginners. If you have problems with the recoil from normal rounds, then pick up this ammo. In terms of performance, Liberty Ammunition advertised that these rounds can reach up to 1,500 feet per second with a muzzle energy of 250 foot-pounds.
Federal Personal Defense HST
These are heavier .380 rounds that are known for their reliability and terminal performance. You get about 1,030 fps out of a 2.75-inch barrel. The total bullet weight is 99 grains. One reason why the HST is more reliable is that the jacket is attached well to the core of the round. That means, it does not separate when hitting the target, which then translates to better penetration because of weight retention. The tips of the jacket are also thinned out to allow for optimal expansion as well. In short, the Federal HST is a great option for personal defense. The only downside is the price, but you are getting what you paid for.
Hydra-Shok is a popular load with law enforcement agencies across the United States, and it is available in various calibers. It is different from HST in the sense that it has a serrated jacket and features a center post design. That translates into a more controlled bullet expansion and maximum energy transfer.
The nickel coating on the rounds also ensures reliability in feeding as well as resistance to corrosion and moisture that is much better than brass. The coating helps preserve the quality of your ammo for a longer amount of time.
Winchester USA White Box
You do not have to use hollow points for self-defense if you are running a .380 ACP gun. Of course, hollow point bullets do more damage and it is better to use them in a self-defense situation, but they tend to lack penetration. Unfortunately, .380 ACP rounds are already lacking in penetration due to their low muzzle energy, so going for a hollow point on a .380 ACP would hamper its performance even further. That said, going for the opposite end is also not a good idea. A full metal jacket allows for the best penetration but there is always a risk of over penetrating and causing collateral damage.
Luckily, there is a middle ground between both ends. You can go for a flat nose full metal jacket ammo. One of the best in this category is the Winchester White Box, with a bullet weight of 95 grains. It is one of the best full metal jacket .380 ACP ammo on the market. You get 955 feet per second in muzzle velocity and it is quite accurate as well.
One of the biggest selling points of the HTP, or High Terminal Performance, is its low price point. In the box, you get 50 rounds of 88-grain bullets and they are priced very competitively. But just because they are affordable does not mean that corners are cut. The round still performs well and can penetrate and expand pretty well.
Sig Sauer V-Crown JHP
This load is super effective in both expansion and penetration. Out of all the .380 ACP, this is one of the few that has no problems touching that 12-inch penetration mark and can expand up to half an inch in size. Sig’s ammo is also affordable to boot.
Black Hills HoneyBadger
Originally called the Xtreme Defense, Black Hills’ 60-grain load is on the light side. You get a solid copper bullet that is advertised to do 1,150 feet per second. It has flutes at the tip so it can tear through clothing. It must be said that the bullet is not a hollow point and it is not designed to expand. However, that does not mean the load is ineffective.
Black Hills utilized what is known as hydraulic displacement. Simply put, we are mostly water. So, the flutes and high muzzle velocity push away all the wet tissues, creating temporary wound cavities. In terms of damage, this is similar to or even better than traditional hollow point bullets.
It is also lacking in terms of penetration, which is why the bullet is solid copper. Even with that, it only penetrates around 9 inches deep. It is not up to par with what the FBI recommends, but 9 inches should be enough to do a lot of damage without the risk of overpenetration. Not to mention, the load produces far less recoil compared to other .380 loads, which is going to be important if you want to carry micro-compact pistols with you.
And there you have it, folks. These are my top picks for .380 ACP loads. On top of having a solid gun and the right bullets to feed it, practice is also important. It does not matter to have the best and most accurate gun in the world with the best bullet to pulverize your target if you miss by a country mile. The accuracy of the gun and bullet themselves are about as good as your aim, so put in time behind the gun. In most self-defense scenarios, the sight of you whipping out your gun should be enough to discourage any kind of attack. Still, it pays to learn how to hit vital parts of the human body in case someone really hates your gut. Shot placement is key.