380 ACP : Is It Truly The Replacement Of The 38 Special?

By Mike Searson
. 380 ACP brief over view and history.

380 ACP
380 ACP
Mike Searson
Mike Searson

USA –  -(Ammoland.com)- One of the most popular rounds for Concealed Carry Weapon ( CCW ) holders in the United States in recent years is the lowly 380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol).

Its numbers seem to have eclipsed a few of the more traditional conceal carry rounds like the 38 Special, however it is still touted as a marginal round made for questionable pistols by many.

Or is it?

Twenty years ago it was definitely the case, but let’s take a look at how the round and the firearms for which it is chambered have changed over the past 100 or so years since its introduction.

History of the 380 ACP

The 380 ACP cartridge was designed by John Moses Browning in 1908 as a compromise between 2 of his earlier designs: 25 ACP and 45 ACP. The dimensions of the cartridge lie approximately midway between the aforementioned rounds. The round is sometimes referred to as 9mm Kurz, 9mm Corto or 9 X 17mm and was popular in Europe for decades.

Designed as a low-powered round intended for fixed barrel blowback pistols without a barrel locking mechanism, the round has evolved as manufacturers offer locked-breech pistols in this caliber.

In order to counter recoil, the slide of a blowback pistol has to be made heavier than a short-recoil operated pistol. This allows the pistol to be made cheaper and for decades many 380 pistols suffered a reputation for being “cheaply made”. This brought the stigma of unreliability (both real and imagined) and the round was often sneered at by most shooters.

Archduke Ferdinand would probably disagree.

380 ACP a Renaissance Round

The little round went through a renaissance as manufacturers moved away from the blowback design and turned to the concept of using a locked breech pistol for 380 ACP. This means that the round can be loaded a bit hotter as well as lightening the slide. We see this in the Sig P238, Colt Mustang, KelTec and a few others.

We suspect the reason to be twofold: The rise of concealed carry reform in the United States and non-US countries prohibiting military calibers such as 9mm and 45 ACP for civilian handgun ownership.

The latter lead manufacturers to offer traditional service size pistols (or pistols very close to that size) typically chambered in 9X19mm in the shorter cartridge. The former was an answer to making a smaller, lighter and more powerful personal defense pistol to meet the needs of shooters who wanted to carry a concealed pistol that weighed less than a pound.

Firearms in 380 ACP

By far the most common 380 ACP pistols will be the older Walther PPs, PPKs and PPK/S models and their clones. Sig Sauer introduced a pistol of this size as the P230 and updated it with the P232. Of course they dropped that model altogether in favor of the P238 which is superficially a single-action clone of the Colt Mustang.

Other 380 ACP handguns include Ruger’s LCP and LC 380, the pistols by Kel-Tec and of course the almost service size pistols made by Beretta in the 84 and 85 series. North American Arms released a 380 Guardian and Seecamp rolled out a 380 LWS after years of folks clamoring for one.

Beretta 84 & 85 Series Pistols both in 380 ACP
Beretta 84 & 85 Series Pistols both in 380 ACP
LaserMax CenterFire WeaponLight for Glock 42
LaserMax CenterFire WeaponLight shown on a Glock 42

One of our favorites is the Glock 42. It is on the large size for a 380, but its size tames recoil and makes the pistol very pleasant to shoot.

The big advantage is that most of these pistols can benefit from higher pressure loadings than the standard 85 to 90 grain bullet traveling a little south of 1000 feet per second.

As ammunition manufacturers are aware of the dearth of older pistols that cannot handle these hotter loads, you may have to hunt a bit to find them.

Replace the 380 ACP?

When most shooters look at ballistics, they tend to see velocity as king and the higher velocity of the 380 ACP when compared to 38 Special looks like a winner. Velocity unfortunately is only part of the equation. Bullets for the 380 tend to be lighter than the 38 Special and the mass makes for the main difference in the force equation.

The heavier 38 Special bullets make that round more desirable for self-defense. Yet the 380 typically offers the advantage of higher capacity (even if by only 1 or 2 rounds) plus the ability to reload quicker.

The tradeoff is that most self defense ammunition offered in 38 Special will yield 25% to 45% more power than the 380 ACP. As mentioned previous, there are 380 rounds available that will improve this, such as the rounds produced by Buffalo Bore, but these are not meant for every pistol on the market in that caliber and they do not come as close as some would make you believe.

For someone making the choice between a 38 special and a 380 ACP we recommend choosing the handgun that is more accurate for the individual.

Sig Sauer P230 Pistol in 380 ACP
Sig Sauer P230 Pistol in 380 ACP
FEG SMC 380 ACP Handgun
FEG SMC 380 ACP Handgun

Ballistics and bullet profiles aside, surviving a deadly encounter that involves putting down a bad guy comes down to shot placement. Five shots of one caliber through the bad guy’s aorta will trump missing a vital target by inches.

In our estimation, the 380 ACP may be more prevalent than 38 Special revolvers in today’s holsters among concealed carriers. More modern shooters are starting out on semiauto pistols than on revolvers and will naturally go to a familiar, but smaller design instead of opting for a revolver. Unfortunately, to try to compare the performance of a 380 ACP ballistically to a 38 Special does a disservice to both rounds.

380 ACP Load Data

380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) Load Data

About Mike Searson

Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, Examiner.com and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

  • Home page: www.mikesearson.com
  • FB: www.facebook.com/mike.searson
  • TWITTER: www.twitter.com/mikesearson

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BIG MOE
Guest
BIG MOE

I conceal appendix carry a Taurus Raging Judge Magnum, helps get the girls cuz they see a “big load” under my tight jeans. Only need one shot at 10ft for me bad guy to drop! Plus I get laid more! Can’t beat that (literally) lol!

Peterbuilt
Guest
Peterbuilt

I carry wherever I go. And I have done a lot of ballistic testing. Forget about caliber or number of rounds. They say you may never use deadly force. But I always have the ability to use it. And i’m fully aware of the sights and sounds that may deceive. Unless you have the ability to administer these techniques, no caliber will be better than the other.

Walter Kelly
Guest
Walter Kelly

Carrying a gun is no different than having a spare tire some are rated for no more than 55mph and some are regular tires if maintained they will both get you to a service station one just a little faster than the other
You cant plan for a fight because you dont know whats going to happen until it does
Just know if it does you will be taken off guard
You can stop an attack with a rock
Choose what you choose and have confidence in your decision
I hope that non of you guys ever have to use your spare tire

Christian
Guest
Christian

Do you truly want to know God and know you are going to Heaven?

https://www.biblebelievers.com/SimpleSalvation.html

God is waiting to hear from you!

JD
Guest
JD

Thank you Brother for putting His Word out there.

Ben
Guest
Ben

i carry a Bersa model 85 .380acp. (ppk clone) Incredible pistol, i love the .380. enough power to stop a crook in their tracks, and if you need it the Bersa sports 13 round magazines. My personal opinion, it is the perfect self defense caliber. affordable ammunition, and if anything hits you at 980 fps you aren’t going to just keep coming. especially knowing there are more of them that could come your way. Shot placement is king with any caliber, but blood loss and pain have stopped many a crook and with 17 inches of travel in ballistic gel… Read more »

Adam
Guest
Adam

I agree with this statement completely, I also have been shot, granted it was by a .38 special at 3 feet in the arm, I was lucky enough that it hit the bone and continued to go around the humerus *your bone from elbow to shoulder , incase some don’t know* and exited the back of my arms and proceeded to travel 3 more feet into a with heavy plaster , for another 8 feet!! And it the time I didnt feel it due to adrenaline *was getting robbed* and didnt know I was hit until I felt “wet” between… Read more »

Sonny
Guest
Sonny

Stick to the subject,it’s most informative, to read from experience pros.school yard remarks are a waste of great space & time.sonny,the marine vet.

Buckeye!
Guest
Buckeye!

Good write up .. I have SD carried for 40 years and I’m a BIG 38pl fan.once upon a time the only pocket SD firearm I would have considered was a small frame 38spl 5 shooter ! But with the small 380acp pistols evolving in very very realiable firearms and with newer SD ammo , I have began to useing the small pocket sized 380 pistols .. The small 380’s have more capicity.. Weigh less , and cost less. When comparing the 380acp performance to the 38 spl .. You need to compare there performance from similar length barrels ..… Read more »

Franco
Guest
Franco

I have a S&W360, 36, BG380, glock27 and Kahr CM 9. Each was purchased for concealed carry in the quest for the perfect carry gun. Guess what? None are perfect. The 360 is too light the 36 is too heavy. The 27 is too fat the cm9 is just about right but a bit too big for Pocket carry. The BG380 is the right size to insure I have it with me all the time. The problem is the trigger doesn’t make it easy for precision shots. Precision shots are needed for marginal rounds like the 380. I’m still practicing… Read more »

Brad
Guest
Brad

Most of these pistol caliber arguments about stopping power amount to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The differences in energy between most cartridges for carry guns are hardly worth arguing about. When you get to something like a hot loaded .357 magnum from a minimum 4 inch barrel, maybe then you have a power level worth caring about. Maybe. When it comes to cartridges for carry pistols what you should care about is reliability and accuracy more than power. In that context there are aspects about .380 vs .38 special which are very important.… Read more »

John Allendorf
Guest
John Allendorf

For years I carried a Sig P230 as a duty back-up weapon. Shot well, gave me some measure of reassurance in the event my duty weapon (P220) was lost in a scuffle or major malfunction. Went to a .38 airweight prior to retirement, and now carry either a kimber Micro, or a S&W Shield .40, depending on the activity I’m involved in. For comfort, I holster both in a Versacarry slide holster which I really like. What I don’t like is jerk-offs trying to disrupt an otherwise worthwhile conversation and comparison. So, Clark, find a safe space please, and stay… Read more »

TEX
Guest
TEX

HEADS UP TO EVERYONE ABOUT THE PISSANT CLARK KENT ! DISREGARD WHAT THE PISSANT SAYS,…HE IS TOTALLY ATE UP WITH THE DUMBASS !

Martin
Guest
Martin

How did this conversation go from a discussion on whether or not we agree that the .380 is replacing the .38 Special into a whining attack on a person’s character and if he knows how to insert earplugs.
I do believe that people who attack others in such a manner are themselves most assuredly lacking in character.

Lou
Guest
Lou

Wow, what a lot of jibber-jabber this article has generated. As a shooting instructor, I’ve developed a set of rules for self defense with firearms. Rule 1: Any gun is better than no gun. Rule 2: A reliable gun is better than a less reliable gun. Rule 3: More bullets in your gun is better than less bullets (capacity). Rule 4: Larger caliber guns ( the largest you can safely handle) are better than smaller caliber guns (which make smaller holes). Rule 5: A gun you will actually carry every day, is better than a gun you will often leave… Read more »

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Never confuse experience with wisdom. ‘Good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment’ – Old Farmer’s Almanac.

TEX
Guest
TEX

You still continue on with bad judgement everyday too ! What a moron you are !

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Coming from the expert moron……..

VT Patriot
Guest
VT Patriot

Old Clarkie thinks he’s superman. His mom even bought him a cape. His job is to invade sites that he knows nothing about, and leave snarky comments. He lives in mom’s basement, then finds a phone booth when she’s not looking.

Wild Bill
Guest
Wild Bill

I grow weary of play ground insults. They add nothing an otherwise informative debate, and they are not sophisticated enough to be entertaining. Come on Clark, there must be some bit of science, technology, or personal experience that you can contribute.

George S
Guest
George S

First you try to knock Searson, now you’re going after, Lou.
I have a question, are you on a Ruby Red Mountain Dew binge? Will mother bring you more cheetos, you poser!

Jp
Guest
Jp

In a self defense scenario bad judgement will kill you before you gain wisdom. You need to get out of your mom’s basement more often

John Jansen
Guest
John Jansen

I have carried as a “Back-up”, an L.W.SEECAMP .32 ACP PISTOL for years.
the Winchester .32 SILVER TIP is a great performer in gel tests.

John Jansen
Guest
John Jansen

I have carried a ROHRBAUGH R9 – 9MM PISTOL for years now.
Take a look at it, small, reliable, but expensive.

VT Patriot
Guest
VT Patriot

Never shot (or handled) a 380. My CCW’s are a S&W 9MM and a S&W 38spl snubby. A lady that I’m trying to assist since she got her CCW has been practicing with my 22LR and 22WMV pistols. I’m soon going to move her up the the 9MM to get a feel of more recoil.. Not the 38 tho, as it could undue all the work she’s done. Are there any medium sized 380s that would have less, or at worst similar, recoil than my 9MM? She’s moderately small so the idea of a small pistol is appealing, but recoil… Read more »

Jp
Guest
Jp

Sig p938 9mm and use federal low recoil ammo. Great package.
Nice to see a poster from my home state

Parnell
Guest
Parnell

A really nice .380 is Sig’s P250 compact. Holds 15 rounds and carries nicely. Bought one as a HD in a townhouse but subsequently sold it after moving. Now regret giving it up.

Cea
Guest
Cea

I thought that Sig “discontinued” the P232 due to stupid import laws. Not because the P238 is so much better. In fact, it is just the opposite. There is not a P238 that can hold a candle to the P230/P232 series of guns.
The 238 is the worst example ever of a single action gun. The trigger pull is horrendous! a S&W Sigma has a better trigger pull. Why can’t Sig import German guns, when other companies can?

Infidel7.62
Guest
Infidel7.62

I have seen a .380 that failed to penetrate a skull at close range, just going under the skin from the forehead to the back of the head, did not even knock the victim out. Better a .22 than a .380, I will keep my pocket 9.

Smedley54
Guest
Smedley54

Stories of .380 failures are legion enough that many of us will need a lot of convincing. So we read articles like this and wonder, “Maybe this time they really will keep their promise…” Or maybe I’ll stay with 9mm or .38.

Jp
Guest
Jp

Dude, if your going for headshots in a high intensity, high adrenalin and pressure situation you need further training. Center mass….always center mass.

Are you related to the rambo clark kent poster above?

Gregory Peter DuPont
Guest
Gregory Peter DuPont

Don’t look at me….I tend to carry 9×18 mm guns(Makarov or P64, suitably resprung).

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

You cannot make a silk purse from a sows ear. No matter what new space age bullet you stuff on top, the 380 is and never will be what a 38 special can be. The 380 is very light in comparison to the 38 Special. Both having similar velocities makes the 38 special a much better penetrator and a much better self defense round as a whole. The 380 is borderline at best for S/D in comparison to other rounds that can be had in guns of similar size. Yes, you can buy a very tiny 380 but they are… Read more »

Bw
Guest
Bw

Not true.
Buffalo Bore makes standard load 380 at 300ft #energy.
That’s coming close to standard 9mm. 16 inches of penetration. And hollow points just under that n
This Exceeds 38special loads. Buffalo Bore makes loads for 38Special as well though.
No sane person would volunteeer to get shot by that round.

Dave
Guest
Dave

gentlemen PLEASE the only real answer here is placement, placement & placement- second thing to consider is distance, wither you are USING a 380 or a 45 it only matters if are carrying your weapon when you need it and how much faith you have realistically in your ability to use your weapon in a STRESSFUL situation. THAT means practice practice, practice, until you feel comfortable with your weapon and then practice some more. I carry (depending on sit., clothing, etc) either my lcp lc9 38-357 DA snubby or 45 mod 2 and yes I do practice with each because… Read more »

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

WRONG! You want a caliber that will STOP THE THREAT PRONTO! Faith in your weapon means NOTHING to your assailant. Fuggitabout the 22 LR, 25 ACP or 32 ACP for self defense.

Jp
Guest
Jp

Actually, a very valid concern is over penetration. Your point about placement is quite correct, though

Drew Dowdy
Guest
Drew Dowdy

Yeah right. I’ve heard that joke so many times I could puke. I don’t care how good you are with a gun. When it comes to crunch time in a gunfight, some of your best trained police officers struggle just to even hit the target with an adrenalin rush trying to hit moving targets taking cover who are shooting back at you. You won’t guarantee shot placement in a gunfight. But you’re right about practicing. A large caliber handgun easy to control and plenty of ammo is a very good friend in a gunfight. And best of luck. It is… Read more »

Thomas Kane
Guest
Thomas Kane

What r your comments on liberty ammo?lighter grain w phenomenal fps velocity and accuracy?thx [email protected]

morris
Guest
morris

he should try the new underwood 380 pretty close to a reg 9mm

Hugh
Guest
Hugh

I enjoyed the article, I also carry a KelTec 380 in a pocket holster, works great in any pants I have. I also have a Glock 43 that I carry in a front pocket holster and it works great in most of my pants, but the KelTec goes everywhere I go, even to church.
I have been shooting the Ruger ARX in the KelTec without any problems.

Silver Bullet
Guest
Silver Bullet

CCW for me is a 32NAA. Six years old now. Never a burp. Gelatin shots show a minimum of eight inches. Got the extended clip and it works good for my oversize hand. I know it may have a few shortcomings but eight inches in the right spot is gonna stop any bad guy. And did I mention I love it. Back then it cost me around $600.00 and months to get one. Id do it all over again. Hornaday hollow points are brutal in the .32NAA. If you havent tried it, dont knock it. It fits in my hand,… Read more »

Jorge Norberto Pedace
Guest
Jorge Norberto Pedace

UNA DE LAS MUNICIONES MÁS ESTABLES Y PERFECTAS PARA LA DEFENSA ES EL 38.Special,PERO DEBEMOS RECORDAR QUE ELLA SE SIRVE MUCHO MEJOR EN REVOLVER QUE EN PISTOLA,ADEMÁS CON LA VARIEDAD DE PROYECTILES QUE EXISTEN TODOS MUY BUENOS,ALGUNOS REGALAN UN POCO MÁS DE POTENCIA.
SOBRA PARA PARAR A UN CHICO MALO,DE CUALQUIER MANERA DEBEMOS PENSAR,QUE EN UN CASO DE EMERGENCIA DE VIDA,LA CUESTIÓN SE DILUCIDA ENTRE LOS SIETE Y 14 METROS,ALLÍ EL .38 SPECIAL TIENE CERTIFICADO DE SUFICIENTE.NO NECESARIAMENTE DEBE SER LETAL,BASTE CONQUE SE DEJE AL ENEMIGO FUERA DE COMBATE,Y ESTE DEBA BUSCAR AUXILIO URGENTE.

TEX
Guest
TEX

Here’s the wetback talking Mexican again !

Jim Clary
Guest
Jim Clary

A rough translation… my spanish is not very good… however: ONE OF THE AMMUNITION FOR MORE STABLE AND PERFECT DEFENSE IS 38.Special , BUT WE MUST REMEMBER THAT SHE IS SERVED IN MUCH BETTER THAN REVOLVER GUN IN ADDITION WITH VARIETY OF MISSILES ARE ALL THAT VERY GOOD , SOME given away A LITTLE MORE POWER. SURPLUS TO STOP A BAD GUY IN ANY WAY WE THINK THAT IN AN EMERGENCY LIFE , THE question is decided between seven and 14 meters, THERE HAS THE SPECIAL .38 CERTIFICATE MUST NECESSARILY BE FATAL SUFICIENTE.NO , Yea BASTE THE ENEMY IS LET… Read more »

Samuel
Guest
Samuel

Not a bad translation.
Amplifying on the last sentence: “It’s enough to put the enemy out of the combat, so that he should be looking for emergency help”; I will add: for his wound.

George Cascio
Guest
George Cascio

I just bough the LCP. My reason for choosing .380 is simple. The only gun that can save your life is the one you carry. The 380 fits in an Uncle Mikes pocket holster in all of my pants and shorts. So it goes with me. Sometimes I carry a 5″ 1911 .45, sometimes a compact 9mm, but that all depends on if I can hide the gun in the clothes I’m wearing. The .380 is just plain easy to hide.

Larry C
Guest
Larry C

George C. I carry my Sig P238 in a Uncle Mikes Pocket Holster #2 and it hides well in all pants or shorts.

Martin
Guest
Martin

I own a Browning M1910 in .380. It will fire the modern rounds with zero problem and I really would hate to be standing downrange from that “mouse” gun.
It was the Browning M1910 in .32 caliber that took out Arch-duke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo and was one of the triggers for World War I.
It’s a great little gun and the person I got it from used it as a backup to his 9mm duty pistol in the Mid-west.

Larry Jackson
Guest
Larry Jackson

I have carried a BERSA Model 85 380 ACP for 25 years, it has never failed and is very very accurate and easy to carry

Peter Tanner
Guest
Peter Tanner

Have older SW wheel gun loaded +P and Walther PK380. Carry Walther and very satisfied.

nate
Guest
nate

If you’re trying to decide between the .380 and a .38 the answer is simple. 9mm

Jp
Guest
Jp

My Combat Masterpiece begs to differ

Jon
Guest
Jon

My first pistol was an AMT .380 Backup. Shot well,carried well..Never a problem!

K johnson
Guest
K johnson

If your going to compare that brick sized glock to compact 380’s than just buy a 9mm

Janek
Guest
Janek

The Seecamp LWS380 loaded with modern defense ammo is a good choice if you’re carrying a .380 ACP.

willford
Guest
willford

@Janek: I have a SIG 232 and a KAHR P380 I carry a lot for CCW. I usually load with Horandays. Have good results at the range. Enough I would trust the package for my Life.___ I would like to try the SEECAMP, never have got my hands on one.though.

willford
Guest
willford

HORNADAYS> DAMN IT

Smedley54
Guest
Smedley54

Oh good! If you were using hard candy instead of bullets, things really would be tougher than I knew.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

The author ignores 38 Special +P rounds. He also does not know how to correctly insert foam ear plugs into his ear canals. Methinks he is a poser.

Michael Z. Williamson
Guest
Michael Z. Williamson

He admits .38 Spl is 25-45% more powerful. What else did you need?

Without a shot from the side, it’s hard to tell how the plugs were inserted. It will depend on their length, the depth and shape of his hear.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Wrong! Obviously YOU don’t know how to properly insert a foam ear plug. Nice try.

borg
Guest
borg

It seems to me that the reason he did not have the ear plugs properly inserted was so that he could hear the photographer give him instructions to get the best picture. He probably chose to keep the plugs in his ear because he was not finished shooting the day that the picture was taken and would potentially adjust the plugs properly before continuing to fire guns.

willford
Guest
willford

Me thinks you are a snob

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Methinks you don’t know how to write ‘methinks’ correctly.

Miles K
Guest
Miles K

Searson was peobably killing people before you were born

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Well THAT was the most ignorant, irrelevant comment of 2016 so far this year. Congrats! P.S. ‘Peobably’?

Uncle Tom
Guest
Uncle Tom

He says it’s a brief overview. That means, every detail is not covered. Earplugs don’t need to be screwed in for a picture, unless it is intended to show how they should look when properly inserted.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Why would he put them in just for a photo? THINK before you post, Uncle Tom.

Cea
Guest
Cea

Well, just to take a photo of someone with ear plugs in, maybe? You know, just to demonstrate.
Sometimes people just need a cover photo for whatever reason.

MR
Guest
MR

I happen to know him personally. He is most certainly not a poser.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Methinks you are BOTH posers.

TEX
Guest
TEX

ck,one thing about you is known as fact ! You’re ate up with the dumb*ass and you know it !

George S
Guest
George S

From the little boy who thinks he’s Superman…what a goober!

Mattheiu
Guest
Mattheiu

Careful guys, someones trying to be edgy.