One of the most popular handgun cartridges available on the market today, the .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) is an easy-to-carry self-defense cartridge. With a variety of small, lightweight compact pistols chambered in this caliber, its mild recoil and minimal muzzle blast make it a popular choice among those who carry concealed, police officers looking for a capable back-up gun, and general backyard plinkers and target shooters.
Typical .380 ammunition, also called .380 Auto ammo, features an 85-95 grain (gr) bullet that measures .380 inch in diameter and headspaces on the mouth of a case that measures 0.984 inches in length. The cartridge is rimless and straight-walled, and is equipped with low-pressure percussion caps.
While .380 ACP ammo has gone up, down and back up in popularity over the last century, there’s still not a general consensus about the cartridge. When asked about their opinion on .380 ACP ammo, shooters either love it or hate it – and there’s not much middle ground for discussion.
Development of .380 ACP Ammo
Designed by John Moses Browning, .380 Auto ammunition was first introduced by Colt’s Manufacturing Company for the Colt Model 1908 Pocket Pistol in 1908. Browning’s design stemmed from his previous .38 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridge, which are made for blowback pistols.
In 1912, .380 ACP ammunition was introduced in Belgium, where it became known as the 9mm Browning short. It remained popular during World War II – German forces used the Walther PPK and Italian forces used the Beretta M1934, both pistols chambered for .380 bullets.
The .380 Auto ammo was also used in other military pistols around the world until many replaced it with the 9mm. European law enforcement agencies also issued pistols chambered for .380 ACP ammunition as duty sidearms for their officers during the first decades of the 1900s.
In Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Sweden, the .380 still remains the official military cartridge.
Uses for .380 Auto Ammunition
The .380 ACP is not a high-energy round, but its accuracy makes it suitable for self protection, especially since recoil and muzzle blast are moderate. The bullets feed well and the firearms chambered for this round are as dependable as most other semi-automatic pistol rounds.
.380 ammunition shows a significant improvement in power and force when compared to the .32 Auto, especially in stopping power. The .380 ACP has become the standard minimum chambering for military, law enforcement, and self-defense rounds.
Outside of self defense, the .380 Auto provides high velocity and sufficient power for hunting small game. Many hunters use the round for rabbits, birds, and vermin like groundhogs and opossum. Using .380 ACP snake shot can come in handy for reptiles and indoor varmint, including rats.
Throughout history, even a few machine guns have been chambered for the .380 Auto, including the Mendoza HM-3 and the PP-19 Bizon.
Types of .380 Ammo
The range of .380 ammunition for sale today – from practice ammo to personal protection and target shooting – is abundant, with all major manufacturers of pistol ammunition in the U.S. producing .380 ACP ammo.
Today’s self-defense ammo is high quality and light years ahead of the basic round nose or simple hollow point bullets that the .380 ACP was originally created for. These advances have made .380 ammo cheap, readily available, and a viable choice of self-defense rounds for those who criticized past stopping power.
While there’s specialty .380 ACP ammo for sale, like Hornady Zombie Max, the cartridge is generally found in traditional ammo types:
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): The FMJ is a typical range round and consists of a lead bullet nestled into a brass, nickel-plated, steel, or zinc-plated steel casing. The visible part of the bullet is covered with a harder metal, most often copper. When looking for bulk .380 ammo, this is often the cartridge people opt for. It’s a great round for practice, but is not designed for self defense or personal protection.
Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP): Designed for self defense and hunting, JHP .380 ACP cartridges feature a lead bullet that, like FMJ, are jacketed in a harder metal. Yet instead of being round, these .380 bullets have a hollow point. This allows the bullet to expand significantly more than FMJ bullets, increasing the .380 ACP bullets’ stopping power and wound size.
Lead Round Nose (LRN): When a shooter’s goal is to buy .380 ammo cheap, they can find it with LRN rounds. These cartridges have the same lead bullet, but these aren’t jacketed, making them less expensive than other options. LRN bulk .380 ammo is used for plinking, target shooting, and training. While they offer an economic option, they’re restricted in some public hunting grounds, certain shooting ranges, and even in some states because of lead exposure. They do not offer the best options for self-defense rounds.
Total Metal Jacket (TMJ): TMJ rounds are similar to FMJ, but even safer when it comes to lead exposure. The lead bullet in TMJ .380 ACP ammunition is completely covered in a harder metal like copper. Buy .380 ammo like this to protect the shooter and environment from accidental lead exposure. TMJ cartridges are mandatory in some shooting ranges.
Popular Names for .380 ACP Ammunition
Like other ammunition cartridges, when shoppers are looking at .380 ACP ammo for sale, it often comes by many different names. Depending on location and need, shoppers may hear people refer to this ammo as:
- .380 Automatic Colt Pistol
- .380 ACP
- .380 Auto
- .380 ammo
- .380 ammunition
- 9mm Browning
- 9mm Short
- 9mm Kurz
All of these names are correct to use for .380 ammo, but sometimes incorrect versions arise. Many people reference these rounds without the period, simply using 380 ACP or 380 ammo. While this relays the information in a way that’s still understandable, it’s grammatically incorrect. The period in .380 ACP signifies the measurement of the bullet’s diameter, so in this case, the bullet measures .380 inch across. Without the period, this meaning is lost.
Other common variations include .380 acp and .380 auto. Again, while the connotation of these remain, these names are grammatically incorrect. The “ACP” in the .380 ACP ammo is an acronym for Automatic Colt Pistol, and all acronyms should be capitalized. In this same way, when referring to the round as the .380 Auto, auto should remain capitalized, as it’s an abbreviation for the Automatic Colt Pistol.
.380 Ammo Ballistics
Since .380 ammo is often used for personal protection and self defense, the ballistics of the cartridges chosen greatly impact its performance.
When people buy .380 ammo for self defense, they should look for a cartridge that penetrates at least 12 to 18 inches into ballistics gel, and expands to at least .35 caliber on impact.
Remember, .380 shells are a low-powered round, so ammo selection, especially when buying bulk .380 ACP ammo, is vital to performance standards.
Check out the following .380 ballistics, as detailed in Cartridges of the World:
JHP WEIGHT: 90 gr VELOCITY: 900 fps FOOT-POUND FORCE: 162 ft·lbs
FMJ WEIGHT: 95 gr VELOCITY: 900 fps FOOT-POUND FORCE: 171 ft·lbs
JHP WEIGHT: 85 gr VELOCITY: 1,000 fps FOOT-POUND FORCE: 189 ft·lbs
JHP WEIGHT: 88 gr VELOCITY: 990 fps FOOT-POUND FORCE: 191 ft·lbs
JHP+P WEIGHT: 90 gr VELOCITY: 1,200 fps FOOT-POUND FORCE: 200 ft·lbs
The .380 Auto for Self Defense
While popularity of the .380 fell with the modernization of the 9mm in the 1990s, the U.S. market showed a renewed interest with the release of the Kel-Tec P-3AT pistol by the early 2000s. This pistol was ultra-lightweight, easily concealable, reliable, and inexpensive – and the people loved it.
This spawned a movement and soon other lightweight, concealed carry pistols hit the market with increased demand, including offerings from Diamondback, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Sig Sauer.
After the 2008 election, the desire for .380 ammo and firearms again boomed. This increased interest has led to better performing and more effective ammunition, as well as mass production of .380 bulk ammo.
As .380 ACP ammunition has grown in popularity, manufacturers of firearms and ammunition have been responsive, increasing the availability and use of this round for handguns. Because of this, cheap .380 rounds are available coast to coast and throughout online markets.
Popular .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry
Due to its popularity, the .380 Auto has many small guns chambered for it. Some of the most popular of these small caliber pistols include:
- Glock 42: Glock’s smallest pistol, the Glock 42 is chambered for .380 ammo and is designed with training in mind. Made in the U.S., this slim semi-automatic pistol is easy to carry, easy to conceal and handles just like a Glock should.
- Ruger LCP: The Ruger LCP has become the go-to for super small, concealed carry firearms. It brought Ruger into the playing field of ultralight firearms and became the cheap .380 pistol that many gun owners were looking for.
- Sig Sauer P238: Sig Sauer’s P238 comes in an all-metal, 1911-style frame and weighs in at under one pound. It’s known for its accuracy and the newest models come stock with night sights.
- Walther PK380: With a classic Walther look, the PK380 doesn’t disappoint shooters. Its low-profile design and small grip make it a great choice for concealed carry, and its double-action and single-action options allow shooters to have an 11- or four-pound trigger pull.
- Kel-Tec P-3AT: The first ultra-compact .380 pistol specifically designed for concealed carry, the Kel-Tec P-3AT is the firearm that rose the .380 ACP into what it is today. It features a 2.7-inch barrel, internal hammer, and double-action trigger set to a five-pound pull.
How Lethal Is the .380 ACP Cartridge?
Although its adversaries may not like to admit it, .380 ACP ammo is lethal. And while it’s smaller and not as effective as larger handgun calibers, such as the 9mm, .40 S&W, and the .45 ACP, it’s performance numbers are not that far off. The .380 actually performs more like a .45 round than its closer-in-size cartridge, the .32 ACP.
So why all the hype about it not packing enough punch? Because while the .380 is comparable to larger rounds, it is weaker. But because of this weakness, it ends up with benefits that may make it the right choice for concealed carry and personal protection.
Even when compared to the 9mm, .380 Auto ammunition has significantly less recoil and muzzle blast. This makes a handgun easier to fire and allows the shooter to get back on target for round two quicker and more effectively. And in a self-defense situation, target acquisition is vital to stopping the threat. Since .380 shooters get back on target quicker, they fire subsequent rounds faster.
This is especially true for concealed carry firearms. Although many manufacturers make subcompact and ultra-light handguns for a variety of calibers that are similar in size to guns chambered for .380 ammo, they don’t handle as effectively. Even 9mm pocket pistols have strong recoil and muzzle blasts, making them hard to control, even for experienced shooters.
Back to the question of the .380 being lethal. It is deadly, especially at close proximity, which is why it’s designed for self defense, not distance shooting. Within 10 yards and with decent target placement, a .380 ACP bullet will stop a threat, beyond a doubt.
Where Can You Buy .380 ACP Ammo?
All handgun ammunition manufacturers make variations on standard and bulk .380 ACP ammo, with some of the most popular including Federal, Winchester, and Magtech .380 ammo.
It’s no wonder that after making its debut, the .380 quickly established a presence in the world of firearms, which it’s maintained for the last century. Today, it’s still an excellent choice for concealed carry and even as a primary sidearm. Many people carry handguns chambered for .380 ammo and even more like to shoot this easy-to-fire round.