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The .380 ACP

By Chuck Hawks

.380 ACP
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge was introduced in 1908 by Colt for their Pocket Automatic. It is the most successful of many attempts to design a cartridge that will maximize the stopping power of a simple blowback operated semi-automatic pistol. In Europe it is often called the 9mm Short or the 9x17mm. (9mm being the bullet diameter and 17mm the case length.)

While at one time the .380 was regarded as a "mouse gun" cartridge, those days are over. Modern bullets and powders have gotten the .380 up off of its knees and provide stopping power similar to the .38 Special, particularly in short barreled pistols designed for discreet concealed carry.

As loaded by the major ammunition companies, the .380 ACP delivers an 85-95 grain FMJ bullet at 955-960 fps with 190 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. These are figures developed in a 4" barrel, and represent the performance of the cartridge from a compact service pistol like an IJ-70 or PP. Far better for personal protection are the JHP bullets that generally weigh 85-95 gains (the Remington Golden Saber JHP weighs 102 grains). These are loaded to MV of 940-1000 fps and while their kinetic energy is about the same as the FMJ bullets, their expansion puts them in an entirely different class in terms of stopping power.

The .380 is about the smallest auto pistol cartridge that is widely reloaded. It uses the same .355" diameter bullets as most other 9mm (.35 caliber) pistols. Some other specifications of interest to reloaders include: maximum COL 0.984", maximum case length 0.680", MAP 21,500 psi. Since almost all .380 pistols are of the "blowback" design, this pressure limit must not be exceeded.

According to the 13th edition of the Speer Reloading Manual, the 90 grain Gold Dot JHP bullet can be driven to a MV of 978 fps by 3.6 grains of W231 powder, and 1031 fps by 4.0 grains of W231. These would seem to make excellent all-around loads for a .380 pistol

The slightly heavier (and much less expensive) Speer 95 grain TMJ bullet can be driven to a MV of 945 fps by 3.6 grains of W231 powder, and 1027 fps by 4.0 grains of W231. These would be good, economical practice loads.

These Speer velocities were measured in the 3.8" barrel of a Walther PP pistol and used CCI 500 primers and Winchester brass.

Note: A full length article about the .380 ACP can be found on the Handgun Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2004, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.