Over the last year or so, I have been reviewing Liberty Ammunition’s Civil Defense Fragmenting Hollow-Point Defensive Ammo in some of the most common self-defense handgun calibers. So far I’ve covered their .45 ACP, 9mm, 10mm, and .38 Special loadings and have been impressed with the results. I’ve verified the velocity of the ammo out of commonly used self-defense handguns using a chronograph, and shot the various loads for comparison in 25-pound blocks of moist modeling clay. There are only a couple of handgun calibers that I haven’t tested yet. One of those is the .380 ACP. I remedied that situation over the weekend.
The .380 ACP has been around for a long time—since 1908 to be exact. It has traditionally been a low-powered cartridge, operating at a level some experts consider to the absolute bare minimum for self-defense. Its power level was purposely kept low because it was designed to operate in blowback-action pistols. In blowback actions, only the pressure of the recoil spring and mass of the slide keep the breech closed after firing (just long enough to allow safe opening of the action, ejection of the empty cartridge case, and the chambering of a fresh round). Locked-breech pistols, such as the 1911 .45, use a barrel/slide locking mechanism that must be overcome before the slide can be opened. With these systems, the power level of cartridges used in them can be much higher than blowback pistols. While there are some blowback-operated pistols available in the larger defensive calibers, they are large, bulky affairs compared to locked-breech actions. Over the last few years, locked-breech actions have been adapted to .32 ACP and .380 ACP pistols, which resulted in the current crop of the very popular defensive micro-pistols.
Whether fired from locked-breech or blowback pistols, the .380 has never been the equal of the .38 Special and 9mm, although it has been equated to them because all three are mid-size calibers. The .380 has been limited to bullet weights not higher than 105 grains, while the .38 Special can carry bullets up to 200 grains in weight. Even when loaded with bullets of equivalent weights, the .380’s velocity is still normally below that of the .38 Special; that is…until Liberty Ammunition’s Civil Defense loads came along. Both the .38 Special and the .380 ACP rounds are loaded with Liberty’s 50-grain copper, monolithic hollow-point fragmenting lead-free bullet to the exact same velocity and energy—1500 feet per second (yielding 250 FPE).
Testing Civil Defense .380 Ammo
I decided to test the Civil Defense .380 using a traditional Walther PPK/S pistol. When I tested the .38 Special load from my 2-inch Smith & Wesson 642, I got an average velocity that was pretty close to what was advertised—1353 feet per second. Had I tested it out of my 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 67, I am sure I would have been right at 1500. I had a remarkably similar result with the .380 load—1383 feet per second actual average velocity from the PPK/S. Essentially, the .38 Special and .380 Civil Defense loads are exactly the same in terms of performance from comparable handguns.
Accuracy was very good, and recoil and blast were remarkably low, a huge factor in being able to fire multiple shots accurately. The last test though, was the clay block.
The results were rather spectacular. The .380 Civil Defense load blew out a 6-inch diameter cavity, but only penetrated 7.5 inches deep. Why the difference between the .38 Special and the .380 load? Simple: operator error. I shot somewhat high on the block, and actually at a slight upward angle. Much of the energy that would have continued to drive the bullet to a 12-inch depth was wasted blowing out the top of the block, and driving up, not forward. Hunks of clay came raining down several seconds after impact. Usually I have to be concerned about clay blowing back from a well-centered hit, but this time I had to worry about it dropping through the trees on my head. I am sure had the hit been centered, the .380 would have driven 12 inches deep just like the .38 Special.
The folks at Liberty Ammunition have taken the .380 to a level where it hasn’t been before—to that of the .38 Special (something I had always assumed wasn’t possible)—and without raising pressures to dangerous levels.
For more information, check out all the Civil Defense loads at: www.libertyammunition.com.