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380 ACP Ammo Basics

.380 ACP Ammo

The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) pistol cartridge is a rimless, straight-walled pistol cartridge developed by firearms designer John Browning. The cartridge headspaces on the mouth of the case.  It was introduced in 1908 by Colt, and has been a popular self-defense cartridge ever since. Other names for .380 ACP include .380 Auto, 9mm Browning, 9mm Corto, 9mm Kurz, 9mm Short, and 9x17mm. It is not to be confused with .38 ACP.

,380 ACP Ammo Design

The .380 ACP cartridge was designed for early blowback pistols which lacked a barrel locking mechanism. The locking mechanism that is found on most other pistols is not necessary for the .380 because of the round's low breech pressure when fired. The recoil spring and the mass of the slide itself are enough to buffer the recoil energy of the round. This simplifies manufacture of pistols chambered for such a round, generally thereby lowering the cost. It also permits the barrel to be permanently fixed to the frame, which promotes accuracy. There have, however, been a number of locked-breech pistols chambered in .380 ACP. There have also been some diminutive submachine guns, such as the Ingram MAC-11 and vz. 83.

.380 ACP Ammo Uses

The .380 ACP has experienced widespread use over the years. It was famously used by many German officers during World War II in the Walther PPK, as well as by Italian forces in the M1934 Beretta. However, as a service pistol round, its low power did not provide suitable penetration for combat. It did find use as a backup gun due to low recoil, and is popular in the civilian market as a personal defense round. The .380 ACP round is considered suitable for self-defense situations, and as a result, it has been a viable choice for concealed carry pistols. The combination of decent penetration in close range defense situations with light recoil has made it a viable round for those who wish to carry a small, lightweight handgun that can still provide adequate defense.

.380 ACP Ammo Performance

The .380 ACP is compact and light, but has a relatively short range and less stopping power than other modern pistol cartridges. According to Massad Ayoob, "Some experts will say it's barely adequate, and others will say it's barely inadequate." Even so, it remains a popular self-defense cartridge for shooters who want a lightweight pistol with manageable recoil. It is slightly less powerful than a standard-pressure .38 Special and uses 9 mm (.355 in) diameter bullets. The heaviest bullet that can be safely loaded into the .380 ACP is 115 grains (7.5 g), though the standard has long been 85, 90 or 95 grains (5.5, 5.8 or 6.2 g). The .380 has had something of a recent upsurge in popularity with the increase of concealed carry laws, as have the compact and inexpensive pistols that make use of it. Popular pistols chambered in .380 ACP include the Walther PPK/S, Bersa Thunder 380, Kel-Tec P-3AT and Ruger LCP. Glock also produces models in .380, though they are not available to the U.S. market because they do not earn enough "points" for importation under Federal law.

The wounding potential of bullets is often characterized in terms of a bullet's expanded diameter, penetration depth, and energy. Bullet energy for .380 ACP loads varies from roughly 190 to 220 ft•lbf. Proponents of the hydrostatic shock theory contend that bullets transferring over 500 ft•lbf of energy in 12 inches of penetration can produce remote wounding effects known as hydrostatic shock. At .380 ACP levels of energy, these remote wounding effects and enhanced incapacitation do not occur. Consequently, bullet performance depends on directly crushing tissue by means of expansion and penetration. The table below shows common performance parameters for several .380 ACP loads. Bullet weights from 85 to 95 grains are common. Penetration depths from 6.5 inches to 17 inches are available for various applications and risk assessments. The Marshall and Sanow "one-shot stop" rating varies from 51% for the non-expanding FMJ to roughly 70% for the some JHPs. The average incapacitation times (estimated for a 170 lb male shot in the center of the chest) vary from 9.3 to 14.9 seconds.

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