The Walther PK380 and .380 ACP +P Ammo, A New Baseline

By Bob Campbell

Walther PK380.
Illustration courtesy of Bob Campbell.

A lot of thought should go into a concealed carry handgun. The small caliber handguns, in particular, are a weapon of last resort. The goal of the deep concealment handgun is to afford the user a chance of stopping an adversary while maintaining the smallest size, greatest possibility of concealment and usable power. The power these little cartridges offer, the .22 LR, .22 WMR, .25 ACP and .32 ACP among them, is far from laughable. Many people have been killed with such calibers. Some users feel that heavier pistols violate the principles of concealed carry. There have been quite a few small caliber .22 - .32 caliber pistols carried by citizens, but the introduction of truly compact .380 caliber handguns has resulted in more stopping power available, a new baseline. Small size, reliability and .380 power are the hallmarks of these pistols.

For some time, the debate has raged over the baseline in personal defense cartridges. Whether the lightest caliber that could be recommended with a good chance of effectiveness is the .380 ACP, 9x19 or .38 Special has consumed reams of stock paper in debate. The fact is the .380 ACP is a great improvement over the .25 or the .32 and those that have previously relied upon small caliber pocket pistols are now better armed with .380 ACP pistols. The caliber is here to stay, having survived well over a century while maintaining an enviable sales position.

One of the idioms that remains reasonably popular is the larger type of .380, a Walther PP or Makarov size pistol. These pistols are easily controlled with sufficient practice and surprisingly accurate. Since they are blowback designs, the barrel remains fixed to the frame at all times. This can result in improved accuracy potential. A handgun such as the Bersa .380 loaded with the hottest .380 ACP ammunition may change the outlook on the bottom line for personal defense.

I was recently taken to task concerning my recommendations against the .380 ACP. I am aware that reality often dictates a less than ideal choice for personal concealment. Certainly, a reliable small caliber handgun is better than a big bore handgun left at home. Several products moved me toward another test program, one a firearm and others in the ammunition field. Great strides have been made in the effectiveness of personal defense ammunition. The major manufacturers, such as Remington, Winchester, Federal and Hornady, as well as smaller specialty companies, such as Cor-Bon and Buffalo Bore, now offer highly effective self defense loads for most handguns.

Buffalo Bore ammunition began their business life with the catch phrase "Strictly big bore, strictly business." The company and its president, Tim Sundles, have continued to offer excellent choices for critical use. Buffalo Bore ammo is offered for hunting large game and personal defense. They have branched out to offer loads that maximize the effectiveness of the .38 Special and .380 ACP, among others. I thought it wise to examine both a popular pistol and these loads to determine if the baseline in personal defense might have shifted in favor of the popular .380 ACP pistol. An impressive combination of power and accuracy would have to be exhibited by both the handgun and the ammunition.

I have seen a few of the new Walther PK380 pistols come through my personal defense classes. Results have seemed good and the hit potential of these compact handguns is higher than the smaller pocket pistols. The PK380 isnít a true pocket gun, it really needs a holster. For carry in a purse, fanny pack, or simply stuck in the waistband for a trip to the local station to buy gasoline, the PK380 is light, friendly and handy. These are good attributes of a personal defense handgun.

The new polymer frame Walther bears no resemblance to the earlier PPK Walther. However, in common with the earlier design, the PK380 features double action first shot lock work. The succeeding shots after the first long double action press are fired with a short crisp single action pull of the trigger (DA/SA). As a result, the accuracy potential of this piece is higher than many .308 handguns. The large handle and the general handling characteristics of the PK380 make it pleasant to shoot. The Walther looks good and feels good in the hand.

A word of caution: the slide mounted safety is not a decocker. This safety does nothing but block the firing pin when applied. To decock the cocked hammer the safety is applied and the trigger pressed. I recommend applying the safety and then easing the hammer down with the fingers as the trigger is pressed. Not as handy as a decocker, this system is what it is and training will allow a shooter to master the type.

The Walther PK380 features ambidextrous magazine release that is handy once learned. Rapid magazine changes may be handily accomplished with a bit of practice. The sights are good combat sights, broad and flat with good visibility. The sights are regulated for 95 grain FMJ loads from the factory, with the Winchester .380's used in initial testing firing about two inches high at 15 yards. Function is good and recoil is light.

There is a lot to like concerning this pistol. Among its other advantages, the PK 380 is not a blowback design; it is a locked breech. The barrel and the slide recoil together and the barrel tilts in Browning fashion. A locked breech .380 is capable of taking more pressure than a blowback action. A careful handloader might be able to produce an improvement of fifty feet per second or more in velocity over the average factory product, but that is a project for another day. Here are some Walther PK 380 specifications.

  • Type: DA/SA autoloading pistol
  • Action: short recoil, locked breech
  • Caliber: .380 ACP
  • Magazine capacity: Eight rounds
  • Frame material: Polymer
  • Magazine material: steel
  • Overall length: 6.5 inches
  • Barrel length: 3.66 inches
  • Rear sight adjustment: windage only
  • Unloaded weight: 19.4 ounces
  • Maximum width: 1.2 inches
  • Features: Picatinny light rail, Ambidextrous magazine release and safety
  • 2012 MSRP: $393

The proof of any handgun, of course, is in the shooting. This pistol has been fired less than 1,000 rounds at the present time, but it was purchased used and appeared to have had a few hundred rounds under its belt at the time of purchase. There have been no failures to feed, function, fire, or eject.

The pistol gets a clean bill of health. The PK 380 is remarkably easy to shoot well. Recoil is light and control is excellent. It is far easier to use than the ultra-compact LCP/ Kel Tec type pocket pistols and also easier to use well than the authorís vintage .380 Browning Model of 1955. The sights are good combat style sights; the trigger is adequately smooth and the pistol, while small, does not cramp average size hands. Accuracy is excellent. The pistol is surprisingly accurate when firing from a solid barricade. The PK 380 gives up nothing to the Beretta, SIG and Walther full size .380 ACP pistols.

Most of my test shooting was done with Winchester 95 grain FMJ factory loads. It wasnít difficult to produce a group of less than three inches at 15 yards. X-ring hits and even hostage rescue shots were easily taken. As the results show, later shooting at a Bull's Eye target at 25 yards was rewarding.

I still prefer a heavier caliber pistol, but I have to admit the Walther is an interesting counterpoint to snub nose .38 revolvers. It is easier (for me) to shoot quickly and well and the Buffalo Bore loads give the pistol a much needed measure of authority. The PK380 is an option worth considering. There are some students that have difficulty handling a .38 snub-nosed revolver. While they have trouble with the long double action press of the revolver, they often seem to handle the slide and trigger action of an autoloader well. The PK 380 offers a useful option that is affordable. We cannot ask for more than that.

15 yard, five shot groups measured from the inside of the furthest spaced bullet holes:

  • Buffalo Bore 95 grain FMJ: 3.0"
  • Buffalo Bore 100 grain FP: 1.75"
  • Buffalo Bore 90 grain JHP: 1.5"
  • Buffalo Bore 90 grain JHP +P: 1.5"
  • Winchester 95 grainFMJ: 2.0"
  • Fiocchi 95 grain FMJ: 2.15"
  • PMC 90 grain Starfire*: 2.6"

(*the only failure to feed, with a bullet pressed into the case; had to be ammunition related.)

Buffalo Bore ammunition performance

The 100 grain flat point lead bullet breaks 1050 fps and penetrates over twenty inches in water. Even when an assailant is heavily clad or behind cover, this load should get through. At 1100 fps, the 90 grain JHP fragments at about twelve inches in water. It is a personal choice and the shooter may even choose to alternate rounds in the same magazine, but the Buffalo Bore loads certainly get the .380 ACP up off of its knees.

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Copyright 2011 by Bob Campbell and All rights reserved.