Bersa Thunder .380

Reviewed By J.C.

Thunder .380
Illustration courtesy of Eagle Imports.

When shopping for a pistol for personal defense and/or informal target shooting, one has many choices. That was the dilemma I faced when I went looking for a pistol for self-defense purposes. I also, from time to time, anticipated doing a little informal target shooting and plinking.

Everyone has their own preferences regarding the type of pistol and caliber to use. After considerable research I found that the .380 ACP cartridge is an excellent choice for a pistol intended for conceal carry. With the right ammo, the .380 ACP can have a 75% one stop shot rate, right up there with a .38 or .44 Special snubby. The .380 ACP cartridge is designed to work in blowback operated semi-automatic pistols, which are relatively easy to design and manufacture. Because of this there is a large selection of .380 ACP compact pistols, at affordable prices, suitable for concealed carry. A well-designed .380 pistol offers acceptable accuracy, mild recoil, good controllability for fast repeat shots, and greater cartridge capacity than a revolver.

Having decided on the .380 ACP cartridge, it was time to find the right pistol chambered in that caliber. I looked at several different makes including Beretta, AMT, Llama, Firestorm, and Walther.

I tentatively decided to go with the Walther PPK/S, practically the standard of comparison in compact .380 pistols. Besides, what is cooler than having the same gun that James Bond used for covert ops?

My local sporting goods store, however, did not stock Walther pistols. They offered to special order one for me, but quoted a price that was more than I was willing to pay.

At that moment a pistol in the gun case caught my eye. At first it looked like a Walther, but when I asked to see it the salesman told me that it was a Bersa. Bersa? I had never heard of Bersa. Are they for real or do they make junk? The clerk told me that Bersa has been in the business for about 40 years, and while most of their models are imitations of better-known pistols, they produce well made guns.

The Bersa Thunder .380 is similar to the Walther PPK/S, including a seven round magazine with a plastic floor plate extension. There is also a Deluxe 9-shot model. There are 3 available finishes: matte blue, satin nickel, and Duo-Tone. The pistol has a 3.5" barrel an overall length of 6.6" and a weight of 23 ounces. Magazine capacity is 7 rounds (plus one in the chamber). The sights consist of a front blade integral with the slide and a notched-bar dovetailed rear.

This is a conventional single action/double action pistol with an exposed hammer. The Bersa has multiple safeties. There is a manual safety, which disengages the trigger. The manual safety also acts as a decocking lever and firing pin block to lower the hammer when it is cocked. And there is a magazine safety that prevents the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed.

Full list price (according to the 2007 Shooter's Bible) is $275 in matte blue, $292 for the Matte CC model, $299 in nickel, and $308 for the Deluxe blue model. Some retailers further discount these prices. I decided to sleep on it, and do a little more research.

I was able to confirm what the store clerk had told me. I was also able to find some comments on Internet message boards regarding the Thunder .380, most very complimentary to the Bersa pistol.

I returned to the store to examine the Bersa .380 again. After handling the pistol and dry firing it a few times, I was satisfied with the fit and feel of the pistol. I decided to make the purchase.

The Duo-Tone model, which is the version I chose, has an aluminum alloy frame. The grip panels are made of black polymer. The heaviest components are the slide and barrel, which are made of steel. With the slide off, the pistol is amazingly light in weight.

The Bersa can be field stripped with great ease for cleaning. First remove the magazine and verify that the chamber is empty. Remove the slide by pressing down the slide release and pulling back the slide. That is all the disassembly necessary for routine cleaning. For further ease of maintenance, the grip panels can be removed with a screwdriver.

After returning home with my new Bersa, I proceeded to test fire 2 boxes of ammo. To my consternation, I found that the gun jammed when it had about 2 rounds left in the magazine. I figured that it was probably just the recoil spring, and in any case it needed to be worked-in before any definite conclusion could be reached.

Another fairly minor problem had to do with the plastic magazine floor plate. One of these broke, scattering the magazine spring and cartridges everywhere. I have found an aftermarket replacement magazine made by Pro Mag, which is of better quality than the factory magazine. The Pro Mag magazine is all steel, so no fear of breaking off a plastic bottom.

The Bersa comes with a limited lifetime service contract, which covers any factory defect for as long as you own the pistol. I only had to pay for shipping and handling to get my magazine repaired.

To fulfill the requirements for a concealed firearm license, I had previously decided to take the handgun training course offered by the local Sheriff's Department. So, after thoroughly cleaning my new Bersa, I decided to put it to the ultimate test.

I took my new Bersa .380 to the class and shot it on the Sheriff's indoor firing range. I fired 4 boxes of ammunition (200 rounds). The first couple of magazine loads it jammed on that last shot or two. Then the malfunction disappeared. It did not jam once after that. It functioned perfectly, even when I intentionally tested it by shooing as fast as I could pull the trigger.

As for accuracy, I have found this pistol to be fairly accurate. At 15 yards I can shoot about a 6" group, and out to about 40 or 50 yards my accuracy is about 50%, with the bullets striking about 2 inches high. I don't think that I will have to use this pistol in a self-defense situation at that range, but it doesn't hurt to practice. Besides, it's fun! Reasonably speaking, at any distance over 40 yards I would be better off using my Ruger Mini-14.

In conclusion, I have found the Bersa Thunder .380 to be an excellent alternative for anyone who cannot afford, or cannot locate, a better known concealed carry pistol (such as a Walther or SIG). The only real negatives I have found are the jamming problem discussed above, and the plastic magazine floor plate. A minor complaint is that the trigger free play is a little excessive. I have been told that some adroit action honing can correct this. Despite those three imperfections, the pistol is generally of good quality, especially for a pistol that sells in this price range.

So there you have it, the Bersa is a creditable quality pistol for the money. Sure, I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for, but every once in a while . . . .

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Copyright 2001, 2007 by J.C. All rights reserved.