Compared: The 9mm Makarov and .380 ACP

By Chuck Hawks

The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (9x17 or 9mm Kurz) cartridge was designed by John Browning and introduced in 1908 by Colt for their Pocket Automatic. It was an attempt to design a cartridge that will maximize the stopping power of a simple blowback operated semi-automatic pistol. It uses the same .355" diameter bullets as most other 9mm (.35 caliber) pistols, usually weighing about 85 to 102 grains.

The 9mm Makarov (9x18) is a later Russian attempt to do the same thing, and its ballistics are almost identical to the .380 ACP. The two cartridges even look alike, although they are not interchangeable. The 9x18 case is 1 millimeter longer than the .380 ACP (9x17) case. The Soviet Union and its satellites adopted the 9mm Makarov pistol and cartridge as the service standard after WW II.

Unlike the .380, however, the 9x18 uses a unique .364" diameter bullet, usually weighing 90 to 100 grains. I know of no other commercial cartridge that uses these bullets. The cartridge probably should have been named the "9.2x18" to avoid confusion.

The SAAMI pressure limit for the .380 ACP is 21,500 psi; for the 9x18 the pressure limit is 24,100 psi. It is therefore not surprising that the performance of the two cartridges is very similar.

There is any number of excellent .380 pistols on the market, from the expensive Walther PP ("Police Pistol") to the inexpensive Raven. The Russian Baikal IJ-70 (a civilian version of the Makarov service pistol) was chambered for either the .380 ACP or the 9mm Makarov cartridge.

The Baikal IJ-70, Walther PP, and Beretta Cheetah series are all medium frame duty sidearms. But perhaps the most popular class of .380 pistols are pocket pistols such as the famous Walther PPK. Pocket pistols are widely carried by civilians with concealed carry permits and off duty police officers. As a class they represent the smallest and lightest practical auto pistols for self-defense.

The selection of 9x18 pistols is essentially limited to the Makarov service pistol. The Makarov pistol is basically a Russian copy of the Walther PP. Makarov pistols manufactured in various Eastern European countries are still available, although production of the Russian Baikal IJ-70 has been discontinued. Most Makarov type pistols are chambered for the 9x18, and are the only commonly encountered vehicle for this cartridge.

The 9x18 Makarov pistol (at least in well made examples) is a fine weapon, but .380 pistols are produced by many manufacturers in dozens of models at many price points. This gives the .380 a commanding advantage in pistols.

The ballistics of the 9x18 and .380 ACP cartridges are comparable. In the U.S. Federal, Hornady, and Speer offer factory loads for the 9x18. These use American Boxer primers. In addition, military surplus ammunition comes from the various former eastern block nations. The technicians at Speer chronographed various lots of imported military surplus ammunition and found that, on average, it gave a 95 grain FMJ bullet a muzzle velocity of about 970 fps from a Makarov pistol. Foreign made 9mm Makarov ammunition uses Berdan primers and cannot be reloaded on standard American equipment.

Practically every manufacturer who loads pistol ammunition loads .380 ACP, giving the .380 a big advantage in commercial factory loads. In the U.S. this includes Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, Magtech, PMC, Remington, Speer, and Winchester. The .380 is also widely loaded in Europe and elsewhere. Federal loads for both cartridges, and their loads are representative, so I will use them for comparison purposes.

As loaded by Federal the .380 ACP delivers a 95 grain FMJ bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 960 fps with 190 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME). The equivalent Federal load for the 9x18 drives a 90 grain FMJ bullet at a MV of 990 fps with ME of 205 ft. lbs.

Far better for personal protection are modern JHP bullets. In .380 Federal loads a 90 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet at a MV of 1000 fps and ME of 200 ft. lbs.

In the 9x19 a 90 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet is loaded to a MV of 990 fps and ME of 195 ft. lbs. These figures were developed in a 4" barrel, and represent the performance of the cartridges from a compact service pistol like an IJ-70 or PP.

The trajectories of these .380 and 9x18 loads are virtually identical. The mid-range rise of both loads using the Federal 90 JHP bullet is 1.2" over 50 yards.

Marshal and Sanow found in their stopping power study that the .380 Federal 90 grain JHP was a 69% one shot stopper in actual street shootings. I don't have figures for the Federal 9x18 load, but it should be identical. Clearly there is virtually no ballistic difference between the 9x18 and .380 APC. Anyone comparing the two cartridges will have to look elsewhere for differences.

Not many shooters bother to reload either .380 or 9x18. For those that do, Hornady, Sierra, and Speer supply .364" bullets to reloaders. Bullet weights for the 9mm Makarov are 90, 95, and 100 grains, and reloaders can essentially duplicate the factory loads.

Since the .380 uses standard 9mm (.355") diameter bullets, the bullet selection is much larger. However, due to the limited case capacity of the cartridge, the best results will usually be achieved with bullets in the 90 to 100 grain range. Again, reloaders can duplicate the ballistics of the factory loads. Reloadable cases, of course, are much more available in .380 than in 9x18.

In conclusion, there is nothing to choose between the ballistics of the two cartridges. The difference is in the availability and variety of ammunition and pistols. In these areas the .380 ACP is far superior to the 9mm Makarov. Anyone contemplating the purchase of a pistol chambered for one of these two cartridges would be wise to go with a model in .380 ACP if it is available. For readers desiring more information about either cartridge there are articles about both on the Handgun Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2003, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.