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Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Review: Pint-Sized Pocket Power

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Review

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not a huge fan of the 380 ACP. I feel that it’s an anemic round that lacks the kinetic energy needed to reach an acceptable penetration depth for self-defense. Needless to say, I’d feel a lot better with my trusty Glock 26 in 9mm Luger at my side over a Walther PPK or even an M&P Shield EZ.

However, if I did have a need to carry a 380 pistol, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be loading it with Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammo. But can this tried-and-true hollow point bullet design propel the 380 ACP to acceptable levels of penetration for self-defense? (Spoiler Alert: Yes, it can)

If you’ve been wary of dipping your toes into the land of pocket pistols and the 380 ACP for personal defense, then you’ve found the right article. In our in-depth ammo review of the Federal Hydra-Shok 380, we will take a look at the history of the hollow point design, how it has evolved, and how Federal has put the 380 Auto back on the map for concealed carry.

If you’re already sold on the idea, and you’re ready to stock up on some solid Federal ammo, then make sure you Click HERE. Otherwise, keep reading and enjoy the full ammo review!

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Ammo Overview

Federal Premium Ammunition is one of the three largest ammunition manufacturers in the USA (the other two being Remington and Winchester). Offering shooters a wide variety of shotshell, rimfire, and centerfire ammo, Federal Premium is always at the forefront of cartridge technology.

This is also true when it comes to handgun ammunition, as Federal jacketed hollow points are used as duty ammo by numerous law enforcement agencies across North America. Known for reliable expansion and rugged durability, Federal Premium handgun ammo is perfect for concealed carry, home defense, and personal protection daily.

In 1989, Federal Premium Ammunition released its brand new jacketed hollow point design, the Hydra-Shok. Hallmarked by its unique tapered center post inside the hollow, the Federal Hydra-Shok hollow point has been meeting the needs of law enforcement and concerned civilians for personal defense and concealed carry for over 30 years.

The tapered post is designed to direct fluid and soft tissue into the side walls of the bullet cavity, maximizing expansion, weight retention, and creating a large wound cavity to stop threats quickly.

The Federal Premium Hydra-Shok was designed to meet or exceed all the FBI specifications for handgun ammunition. This means the Hydra-Shok should perform well when fired through different barriers such as heavy clothing, drywall, and auto glass while still achieving 12-18” of penetration depth into ballistic gel.

James Bond

Although John Moses Browning developed the 380 ACP for personal defense and saw extensive use in the military prior to WWII and European law enforcement up until the 1970s, and of course, the legendary spy James Bond also used the 380 ACP in his beloved Walther PPK.

Although the 380 might have been good enough for MI-6 super agents, many shooters across the USA feel the 380 ACP is underpowered. This is markedly true when comparing the 380 Auto to rounds like the 9mm Luger or other larger handgun cartridges like the 40 S&W or 45 ACP.

However, many police officers still carry a 380 Auto as a backup gun (BUG), and firearms manufacturers have embraced the cartridge as a pocket pistol caliber, thanks to its low recoil and ease of use.

One of the biggest complaints about the 380 ACP is its lack of penetration. On bare ballistic gelatin, the 380 can typically reach the desired 12-18 inches of penetration. However, throw a barrier in front of it, and a 380 ACP hollow point bullet will have a hard time getting past 10 inches of penetration depth on a good day.

This has led many shooters to carry full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo in their pocket pistols instead of jacketed hollow points because a 380 Auto expanding bullet is a hindrance to penetration while the FMJ bullet will penetrate deeper.

Using FMJ handgun ammo for self-defense is often frowned upon, as the potential for over-penetration is considerably higher, increasing the potential for hitting an innocent bystander. However, many shooters felt this or the 102-grain Remington Golden Saber were the only options they had for their 380 ACP carry guns.

This mindset changed in 2017 when Federal Premium introduced its new bullet design, the Hydra-Shok Deep defense load. Foregoing the traditional center post in exchange for a pyramid inside the hollow point, the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep looked to increase penetration without sacrificing the benefits of an expanding bullet.

Initially launched with a 135-grain 9mm load, the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep was also adapted to 40 Smith & Wesson, 45 ACP, and then finally 380 Auto. The 380 ACP version of the new Hydra-Shok Deep ammo was released in 2020, and initial reports have been very positive, with exceptional penetration and expansion results.

Although it took a good 28 years for Federal Premium to update its flagship Hydra-Shok, the company has released its newest hollow point bullet, the HST. This round is utilized by multiple police agencies and is also a favorite of civilian concealed carry permit holders as well as those concerned with home defense.

Regardless, Federal Premium continues to innovate and seems to always be at the forefront of personal defense ammunition technology. And if you ask me, I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to change anytime soon!

Our Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Ammo Review

Federal Hydra-Shok 380

During the early 2010s, single-stack 9mm subcompact pistols were the new hotness in the American shooting community. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon (except for me), with most shooters opting to carry the new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield chambered in 9mm Luger.

Everyone expected Glock to follow suit with the highly anticipated launch of the Glock 42. But in 2014, Glock fans (like me) were shocked that the company released the Glock 42 chambered in 380 ACP instead of 9mm.

Initially, the Glock 42 was a major disappointment as it was closer to the size of a compact pistol, and it was chambered in 380 ACP instead of 9mm Luger. However, the Austrian Tupperware manufacturer might have been onto something, as the low recoil impulse of the 380 Auto made the Glock 42 extremely easy to handle.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of super lightweight 9mm pistols, and I explained why in the “Recoil” section of this article: 9mm vs. 380 Auto.

However, if you do love your tiny pocket pistols, then picking a solid self-defense ammo for it is critical to stopping a threat. The 380 ACP is underpowered already (compared to larger calibers), so having a defense load with exception terminal performance loaded in your magazines should be a top priority.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Federal Ammunition, and its Hydra-Shok hollow points are no exception. I carry them daily in my EDC Glock 26, and I’m very impressed with their newer hollow point bullet design, the HST.

If you carry a 380 pistol for personal defense, then I’d have no problems loading it with Hydra-Shok handgun ammo. These rounds are extremely reliable, accurate, and deadly when your shot placement is on point.

Federal Ammunition loads all their Premium defensive ammo in nickel-plated cases, which I absolutely love and are great for reloading. These cases are corrosive resistant, and offer added reliability thanks to the high surface lubricity of nickel. To read more about nickel-plated cases, check out this article: Nickel-plated vs. Brass Cases.

The new Federal Hydra-Shok Deep ammo takes the 380 ACP to a whole other level, though. These rounds really put the 380 ACP on the map, and if I were to carry a Sig Sauer P365-380, Glock 42, or Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ, then I’d load up my mags with Hydra-Shok Deep.

I love the reengineered design of the hollow point, ensuring that these rounds not only punch through heavy clothing but also have enough penetration depth to reach the vital organs and stop the threat.

Although I’m not planning on retiring my Glock 26 anytime soon, I’d have no problem carrying Federal Hydra-Shok 380 as my EDC handgun ammunition. This ammo is an excellent choice for home defense or concealed carry, and it won’t let you down if the worst should happen.

What’s It Best For?

Federal Hydra-Shok 380

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammo is best for home defense or concealed carry. It has excellent terminal performance, is extremely accurate, and offers amazing expansion to ensure your rounds don’t over-penetrate.


The biggest disadvantage to this round is the 380 ACP design itself, as many shooters feel it is an underpowered round. Furthermore, since the 380 Auto is less popular than the 9mm Luger, you’ll find that 380 ammo is generally more expensive even though you’re shooting a smaller round.

Pros and Cons

As much as we love ammo, we understand that no manufacturer is perfect. Here are some of the pros and cons of Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammunition you should be aware of.


  • Hydra-Shok Deep engineered for excellent penetration
  • Low recoil
  • Reliable
  • Accurate


  • Lower penetration than more powerful rounds like 9mm Luger
  • A little pricey

Cartridge Specs

Here are the cartridge specs for Federal Hydra-Shok 380.

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Cartridge Specifications

Variation Review

At the time of writing, Federal Premium currently offers two different variations for their 380 ACP Hydra-Shok defense loads. Below, we will review both and explain why each one might be a great choice for your 380 ACP carry pistol.

Federal Hydra-Shok Standard expansion

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok Low Recoil 380 Auto 90 grain

If you’re sensitive to recoil or simply want to put a lot of rounds on target, then the Federal 90-grain Hydra-Shok defense load is a perfect choice. Engineered for fast follow-up shots, this low recoil option makes shooing a micro subcompact pistol considerably more enjoyable.

Many shooters report having better accuracy with low recoil rounds, making this an excellent choice for home defense or concealed carry. With 1,000 fps muzzle velocity and 200 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, this round is no slouch and can easily defend your life should the need arise.

Federal Hydra-Shok Deep expansion

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok Deep 380 ACP 99 grain JHP

Loaded with the new 99-grain Hydra-Shok Deep bullet, this cartridge makes the 380 ACP a legitimate caliber for concealed carry. Engineered to meet the penetration standards set forth by the FBI protocol, the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep bullet represents a new chapter for the 380 ACP.

Traveling at 975 fps at the muzzle with a heavier 99-grain bullet weight, this self-defense handgun ammo will be more than enough to stop any bad guy who threatens your life or your loved ones.

Ballistics for Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Ammo

Below, we’ve compiled ballistics tables for Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammunition currently available on the market. Please note that muzzle velocities listed might vary depending on your handgun barrel length.

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 Ballistics table


As much as I love Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition, sometimes it’s hard to find in stock. However, this doesn’t mean your EDC handgun needs to sit at home in the gun safe. Here are some viable alternatives that you can load into your carry pistol with confidence.

Federal HST Micro 99 Grain JHP

If you can’t get your hands on Hydra-Shok Deep, then Federal HST Micro 99 Grain JHP will make a fine substitute. Loaded with the deadly HST hollow point, these defense loads offer deep penetration and excellent expansion.

Speer Gold Dot 90 gr JHP

A classic self-defense handgun round, Speer Gold Dots are one of the most commonly used hollow points at police departments across North America. Known for extremely reliable expansion, this lighter-weight bullet provides excellent muzzle velocity and penetration for the 380 Auto and is a fine substitute for Hydra-Shoks if you can’t get your hands on them.

Hornady Critical Defense 90 gr FTX

Hornady Critical Defense 90 gr FTX

Designed specifically to meet the needs of civilian shooters, Critical Defense ammo by Hornady utilizes a polymer tip to initiate expansion and protect the hollow point from clogging. These rounds were specifically designed to NOT meet the FBI Protocol, but they are particularly effective against targets wearing heavy clothing.

Remington Golden Saber 102 gr JHP

For a long time, the Remington Golden Saber 102gr JHP was one of the few rounds that consistently achieved 12” or more of penetration for a 380 Auto. Although the Remington Golden Saber hollow point is considered by many as an outdated bullet design, this classic JHP will still get the job done should you be unable to source Federal Hydra-Shok Deep ammo.

Parting Shots

Federal Ammunition is a company that never feels safe resting on its laurels and is constantly innovating and developing new products to bring to the American shooting community.

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammo is no exception, and their new Hydra-Shok Deep bullet is a prime example of how the company is taking older technology and updating it for the modern era.

Without question, Hydra-Shok 380 ammo is an excellent choice for your favorite semi-auto pocket pistol or Glock 42. It’s a reliable round that is more than capable of defending your life should the need arise.

If you find your ammo supplies are running a little low, make sure you check out our full selection of Federal Ammo for sale and ready to ship to your door. Regardless of whether you plan on taking out your AR-15 carbine, Colt Python revolver, or Ruger 10-22, Federal has the ammo you need to keep those marksmanship skills high and ready to defend freedom at a moment's notice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some questions we get asked a lot here at Ammo.com about Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammunition.

Is Federal Hydra-Shok 380 worth buying?

Yes, Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ACP ammo is extremely reliable, accurate, and has low recoil for faster follow-up shots. It’s a great self-defense ammo option for your CCW pistol or home defense handgun.

What is the range of Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammo?

Federal Hydra-Shok 380 ammo will be effective at most all self-defense distances; however, I wouldn’t use it past 50 yards.

Chris Dwulet
Written by
Chris Dwulet

Ammunition Reviews