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Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About .380 Auto Ammo

Midway USA

The .380 auto. The little round that could.

The .380 ACP cartridge: Under-appreciated, overlooked and oftentimes forgotten about. Mention the .380 and all sorts of responses get huffed around. Many manufacturers are still making guns that chamber and fire the round, so there is still some desire for the cartridge in the gun culture.

But so many people are so staunchly against the thought of even firing the round, let alone using it for self defense. How can such a small cartridge ignite such harsh feelings and debate over whether it is effective or not?

Background and History

The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge was introduced in 1908 by Colt Manufacturing and developed by John Browning. It has many other names that it is known by: .380 Auto, 9mm Browning, 9mm Short and 9X17 to name a few. It was developed for early blowback design pistols. The relatively low recoil allows the slide and recoil spring to absorb most of the recoil of the shot.

The .380 did see some military service with the Germans and the Italians during World War II. There have even been a few machine guns developed that use the .380 ACP. Unfortunately, the size did not make it a viable round for combat.

Side view of a .380 Auto CartridgeWikimedia


The .380 ACP is a straight-walled pistol cartridge and is a relatively light round, but it has a shorter range then most center fire pistols. It is basically a cut down version of the 9mm Parabellum.

It uses the same diameter projectile as the Parabellum and you can, in fact, use a 9mm 115 grain bullet at the top end to load it. However, most bullet weights range from 85 - 95 grains for standard rounds. They have an overall case length of 0.984," almost one half inch shorter then the standard 9mm Parabellum.

A 95 grain hollow point projectile will travel at approximately 980 fps and penetrate approximately 17 inches but only expand to .36 inches in ballistic gel tests. Depending on the pistol used, there can be a lot of felt recoil and it tends to be a snappy round. When I shoot it out of a Ruger LCP, I can feel it pushing backwards hard into my palm, for example.

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Self Defense

The .380 auto has seen a recent surge in popularity with the concealed carry crowd. Because of its small size and light weight, it is a great option for use in a pocket sized gun and as a backup caliber. When an alternative is available to use as a primary caliber, it is recommended you should use it, otherwise, if .380 auto is all you have available or is all you can conceal because of your situation, then that is better then no gun at all. There are many good pistols available that use .380 that are excellent options as a pocket or a backup gun. Some choices include the Glock 42, the Ruger LCP, the Sig Sauer P238, the Walther PPK.

Because of the popularity of the .380 auto as a backup caliber, some practical shooting sports allow BUG (backup gun) stages at the local level to allow people to practice with a backup gun. IDPA also has a National Level BUG Match. When I shoot the BUG stage at the local club I shoot IDPA with, I use the Ruger LCP in .380. It's simple, quick and fun.

Always remember that if you use a .380 as a carry weapon, and it is one of the smaller handguns, put it in a proper pocket holster and keep other objects out of that pocket. That way you don't hit the trigger without meaning to.

The little .380 is an often overlooked caliber, but it has some serious potential as the little round that could in competition, combat and even self defense. This little round is not one that should be dismissed so quickly.

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Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About .380 Auto Ammo