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Thread: Stopping power of the .380acp?

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    Member arizonaguide's Avatar
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    Default Stopping power of the .380acp?

    I have been asked what round would be best for the .380auto for a SELF DEFENSE situation (I didn't have an answer)...and if a .38special would be a better "pocket gun".

    Any advice on pocket guns and their reliable loads?

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    My only frame of reference is deer shooting with a bunch of different handguns back in the 1980's. Both 380 and 38 spec were among the rounds I tried. I'd sum it up this way: Both deer I shot with the 380 were inside 30 yards, and both were shot with hollow points- one a factory load and one a handload with Sierra JHC bullet. Both deer dropped within 10 or 15 feet. That's about on par with what 38 spec loads did, as long as they weren't traditional round nose. The two deer I shot with RN lasted 50 yards or so before dropping, while those shot with SWC, JSP and JHP dropped quicker, with the variant seeming to be distance. The further away they were, the longer it took. Those that were as close as the 380 shots seemed to die just as fast. BTW- The only HP that expanded in the 38 Special was the Sierra JHC, and the same for the 380.

    Another interesting result on deer, one that lots of handgunners HATE: The 45 ACP with standard ball ammo fared as badly as the 38 Special RN. Both 380 deer actually died quicker. The only 45 ACP round that did okay was the Remington 185 grain HP.

    Stopper? I'd take the 380 over the 38 with the right bullets and the wrong bullets in the 38. I'm not "up" on the current offerings in terms of having killed things with them, but I'd be looking for something that whacked hard (probably +P), but expanded in the 38. Depending on the weight of the gun and controlability, I'd range from 110 HPs in the lightest up to the 140's in heavier guns. Single choice would probably be a 125.

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    Interesting post BrownBear. Thank you.

    That was one of the questions was whether to go with a HP round or one for better penetration. Very interesting about the HP's having better results on Deer stopping....and the .45 results as well. Thank you for the "real world experiences".

  4. #4

    Default Any gun/cartridge

    will work IF you place your shot in the right place. A 380 through the heart or in the eye will outperform a .44 Special in the thigh, so carry what you're comfortable with and be sure you can use it when that moment comes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arizonaguide View Post
    Interesting post BrownBear. Thank you.

    That was one of the questions was whether to go with a HP round or one for better penetration. Very interesting about the HP's having better results on Deer stopping....and the .45 results as well. Thank you for the "real world experiences".
    Thanks, AG (I think).

    I always get a little "twitchy" about those results. Two deer with a 380 don't prove much except that I shot well and the deer were close. Lots more kills with that round and others would be needed to prove anything. Trouble is, with 2 deer under my belt from a 380, I'm surely in a very small minority who have shot and killed ANYTHING with the round.

    The vast crowd of 380 critics has probably never fired a round, much less drawn blood from any species, human or otherwise. Billions of dollars have been made on speculation (and criticism) about killing power and reliability of different rounds. Human nature and marketing savvy.

    I'd love to hear more first-hand reports of kills with various 380 and 38 rounds, but I sure aint holding my breath. That's not going to stop the marketers and promoters from saying theirs is better, though.

    Note- Based on killing deer exclusively with handguns for over 20 years (5- to 7-deer limit for most of that era) and trying out a whole lot of calibers and bullet designs, my "go-to" carry gun became a ported and tuned 4" 629 loaded with 240 grain Keith SWCs @ 850 fps. That's a crossover for me between experience shooting bowling pins for speed and accuracy, and tests of killing power on deer. Others will define combos that are "better," but experience and careful comparison has already defined what's better for me.

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    What a delightful post by Brownbear, thanks much. When folks would come into the shop and start poormouthing a particular handgun cartridge, I would make the offer like this: "If you think this won't work, stand right over there and I promise I'll only shoot you once with it." That usually made them reconsider their opinion. I think if you shoot someone once or twice with almost any "small" handgun, it will usually make them seek medical attention. Luckily, I've never had to test that theory.
    "A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind."

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    Quote Originally Posted by gunbugs View Post
    What a delightful post by Brownbear, thanks much. When folks would come into the shop and start poormouthing a particular handgun cartridge, I would make the offer like this: "If you think this won't work, stand right over there and I promise I'll only shoot you once with it." That usually made them reconsider their opinion. I think if you shoot someone once or twice with almost any "small" handgun, it will usually make them seek medical attention. Luckily, I've never had to test that theory.

    my line is similar:

    "If you think this cartridge isnt effective, let me shoot you in the face with it"

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    Well, nobody wants to get shot in the face with even a .22...but that doesn't make it a GREAT defensive choice.

    Neither exactly would I choose the .380...but the question did come up about using it (or the .38special) for easy "pocket carry" and still defending against someone who may be on drugs.

    I didn't know whether to advise for a "penetration" round, or if the .380 would have enough velocity to actually "expand" a hollowpoint and do any damage with a Center-of-mass shot. Trying to shoot out an eyeball or hit the forehead while under stress protecting the family is probably not realistic.

    But, I didn't have much .380 experience to base any good advice.

    I did learn (with some reservations, on another thread) that perhaps a solid bullet with the proper "meplat" (100grain 975fps/211ftlb) may be better than a Hollowpoint (in theory).

    I myself prefer a higher velocity expanding round.

    I carry a .38special (158grain LSWCHP at 1000fps/350ftlb) and feel pretty adequate with it.

    But I didn't want to stear a person wrong in protecting their family with something like a 100grain .380 that wouldn't penetrate and do the job. And 100grains at 975 may be ineffective in the expansion OR penetration of ANY kind of heavy clothing/drug induced pain tolerance.

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    Neither the 380 nor the 38spl are what I would call stoppers. The 38spl has a small advantage in power but not a lot. The right bullet will help. HPs are not reliable expanders on heavy clothing at 38/380 speeds. RNs are very poor at doing damage. In 38 a full wadcutter loaded to the max should work well. In the 380 I would use the bullet with the largest meplat I could get that is 100% reliable. All that aside, hitting where you want is the most important part. If the first two to the chest don't work then if you can put one in the mouth it will be channeled to the brain stem by jaw bones and such and is very effective. What bullet or caliber you use there doesn't matter much. Bullet placement is vital especially using small handguns. Lots of proper practice is the answer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arizonaguide View Post
    And 100grains at 975 may be ineffective in the expansion OR penetration of ANY kind of heavy clothing/drug induced pain tolerance.
    If it doesn't expand, you've got your large meplat. If it does expand, your meplat just got a whole bunch bigger.

    And if standard velocity loads will completely penetrate a deer at 30 yards, the only clothing that will stop it will have some kind of rating and be sold mostly in self-defense stores.

    And druggies have bounced up and walked away after being hit by cars. And almost anything else. If you want surety against them, I'd recommend putting a sling on your 12 gauge, because anything but a CNS shot with any handgun isn't going to do it.

    The best thing any of us can do is pick a round and handgun that we can shoot well enough to hit the CNS. Then pray. The creep who killed the 4 deputies in Lacie, WA, took a torso hit with one of their 40 cals. And was still walking around 4 or 5 days later when they finally put him down. And he was drugged up on hatred rather than chemicals, as far as I can tell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BrownBear View Post
    The best thing any of us can do is pick a round and handgun that we can shoot well enough to hit the CNS. Then pray. The creep who killed the 4 deputies in Lacie, WA, took a torso hit with one of their 40 cals. And was still walking around 4 or 5 days later when they finally put him down. And he was drugged up on hatred rather than chemicals, as far as I can tell.
    Well put.

    So, what .380 round would you folks recommend for self defense (center of mass shots)?

    Go with a HP or a SOLID?

    I ALWAYS liked the Wadcutter in the .38special...good choice, and proven in the past.
    I also like the "FBI load" but have debated changing away from the Buffalo Bores.
    And YES, practice, practice, practice!!!

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    .380 ACP insufficient?

    I've used the .380 off and on for a good while and I wouldn't characterize it as that. I' ve shot small game, a feral dog that needed destroyed and delivered a couple of finishers to large game with one and its worked every time. Good shot placement is required but thats a given with every pistol round out there IMHO, at least until we can set a weapon on "stun" or "immolate". A nice flat .380 carries better than a lot of weapons out there and a .380 in the belt beats a .454 in the glovebox. I would rather tote a .380 than a .38Spec any day of the week and I've got a lot of favorable mileage from the .38Spec.

    My big gripe is that a lot of .380 pistols are dubiously made at best. Lots of elcheapo .380s that function poorly and that would have a hard time hitting a barn from the inside. My favorites have been the Sig 230/232 and the Beretta 85s. I've also had a .380 that would have been more effective by dropping it in a sock and using it like a flail.

    In a self defense shooting I think if the outcome boils down to cartridge selection the deck was probably stacked against you from the start.

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    Had a Remington Model 51 in 380 years ago. Sure wish I had kept that one.

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    Yup, I was at a loss as to what round to advise. I wasn't sure if the .380 would expand...even though they sell plenty of hollwpoints.

    All I could compare it to in a (familier) "pocket pistol" was the .38special...but that will shoot a larger/heavier slug.

    Sure I could quote the "marketing hype" from common manufacturers...but that's not my style.
    I wanted to give this guy RELIABLE advice on the BEST round for his .380.
    and didn't have it.

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    The 380 I used is very high on the list of guns I regret letting go. It was a Browning 380 Model (1971 type). Barrel was 4- 4.5" as I recall and it had great adjustable sights. It probably weighed between 1.5 and 2 pounds, so it was no lightweight, but STEADY in the hand. It was so gosh darned accurate that I carried it for a couple of years and picked off lots of gray squirrels during midday lulls on west coast deer hunts. I'm not kidding!

    Between handloads and factory loads I can pretty well be sure that I put something on the far side of 2,000 rounds through it. Like any semi, OAL length was critical, but when I got that right my handloads were as flawless as factory loads.

  17. #17

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    I often carry a Walther PPk/s in .380 ACP loaded with Federal Hydra Shocks. I shot this ground hog at about 7 yds broadside and was absolutely amazed at the damage and penetration. Bullet went thru both sides, pulled out one lung and heart as it exited, then striking a steel pole barn wall making a deep dent. Mr. Groundhog didn't go anywhere. If you have never shot a ground hog the hides and hair are tough. I would estimate the chest thickness to be about 6". I certainly consider the 9mm kurtz to be adequate for self defense at close range.


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    This is what I carry every day. When I first got this gun, I tested the Remington Golden Sabers (90 grain JHP) on a few gasoline jugs filled with water. Like someone else said below, I had heard that .380 JHP can sometimes have a hard time expanding when it's shot through thick clothing, so I wanted to make sure that my ammo was sufficient. I wrapped some denim from old Levis around the gas jugs and then I put an old Carhartt jacket over them. I fired 12 rounds, and I got full penetration/expansion every time.

    The biggest issue with .380 ACP is the lack of hydrostatic shock that it provides. Nevertheless, it's still a highly lethal round.



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    Thanks Will. See, that's a very interesting read on the Buffalo Bore website you mentioned...even Buffalo Bore seems to have more faith in a solid. He recommends loading a single hollowpoint in the chamber, followed up with a magazine full of Solids.
    Item 27C/20 is a 90gr. Jacketed Hollow Point bullet. It is traveling over 1,200 fps out of my BDA (Browning Double Action) with its 3.75 inch barrel. We've utilized the very same flash suppressed powders that we've used in our two other 380 auto +P loads. If you like the idea of the extra big hole this expanding load makes in human flesh, we would advise that you load this bullet in your chamber, followed by a magazine full of our non-expanding loads.
    Interesting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by F-Trooper05 View Post
    This is what I carry every day. When I first got this gun, I tested the Remington Golden Sabers (90 grain JHP) on a few gasoline jugs filled with water. Like someone else said below, I had heard that .380 JHP can sometimes have a hard time expanding when it's shot through thick clothing, so I wanted to make sure that my ammo was sufficient. I wrapped some denim from old Levis around the gas jugs and then I put an old Carhartt jacket over them. I fired 12 rounds, and I got full penetration/expansion every time.
    GOOD LOOKING Pistola, FT! Maybe I'll have to look into the Remingtons for my .38special.
    That's what I'm looking for is folks that have had actual "hands on" results...like several of the folks that have posted above. Good information on "hands on" field results. I KNEW you guys would have answers.

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