Best 380 Ammo: Training & Home Defense

photo of the smith & wesson M&P shield .380 handgun with best 380 ammo

The .380 ACP is enjoying a very healthy resurgence in this modern age. The 380 ACP might be more popular now than when it first came out in the early 20th century. Initially designed for use in simple blowback pistols, it really found its stride in the last decade or so thanks to advances in metal alloys and polymers.

The original steel-frame pistols in .380 ACP were much heavier than modern pistols in the caliber, which is why the .25 ACP and .32 ACP were used; they were the only real way to get a truly micro compact, deep concealment pistol: the tradeoff for pistol weight and dimensions was caliber.

380 ACP Ammo Quick Answer Box:

a macro photo of 380 jhp ammo
Unfortunately, other cartridges like 9mm provide more bang for your buck than .380 ACP ammo

Why Is 380 ACP Ammo Expensive?

Several years ago, my very first deep-concealment pistol was a Beretta 950 chambered in .25 ACP. It was fun to shoot, but the problem was the cost of ammo. Although the .25 ACP and the 9mm look similar in shape, the .25 ACP wasn’t nearly as effective and cost almost $5 more per box.

The same holds true for .380 ACP ammunition. It costs more to manufacture than its slightly bigger parabellum brother. But even with a recent surge in popularity, the amount of .380 ACP manufacturers produce and the caliber’s ballistics can’t touch that of the 9mm. What keeps the cost of the 9mm down is being the NATO standard pistol round and being used by the majority of U.S. law enforcement agencies. Ask any manufacturer, they make more 9mm, which allows them to keep the costs lower. The higher pricing of the .380 ACP cartridge comes down to simple supply and demand.

.380 ACP vs. 9mm: What’s The Difference?

Unlike the multitude of .30 caliber rifle rounds which share a common bullet but have different cases to change the performance of the bullet, the .380 ACP and 9mm Luger don’t fire the same projectile. The .380 ACP bullet is shorter and lighter to accommodate the 2mm shorter case of the .380. The result is a cartridge which is lighter by necessity to ensure that the projectile is short enough to function properly.

This leads to considerably lighter bullet weights loaded in .380 ACP than 9mm, with 95 grain being the most common weight (or very close to that) for FMJ, MC, and LRN bullets. Hollow points commonly range from 85 grain to 102 grain. The three most common bullet weights for the 9mm are 115gr, 124gr, and 147gr. These two calibers share a common .355” diameter, however, they are not intended for the same purposes.

Generally speaking, 9mm ammo will give you increased power. It’s faster and will often penetrate deeper into a soft target than 380 ACP will.

Is .380 ACP A Good Self-Defense Option?

When carrying concealed, it’s best to choose a weapon that is chambered in a caliber that you can safely and effectively fire in a high-stress situation. For many, the small imprint and high-capacity of handguns that fire .380 ACP cartridges fit the bill nicely.

If it is the heat of summer and a pocket pistol is all I can realistically carry concealed, 380 ACP is a very good self-defense option. Its ballistics are superior to a .22LR, .25 ACP, or any of the other calibers used in pocket pistols over the years. The performance is most similar to the .38 Special, it can be used in platforms even smaller and lighter than snubnosed revolvers. Plus, it gives me higher capacity.

A popular myth persists that tiny pistols and revolvers are good for smaller frame shooters, especially small female shooters. I’m debunking this erroneous myth. Sub-compact and Micro pistols, which are the most prevalent offerings of the .380 ACP caliber, are often very hard to shoot. Many shooters find these small framed pistols too small to hold correctly.

These tiny pistols and revolvers also have significant recoil due to their light weight and lack of mass. They are also generally inaccurate beyond five feet due to extremely short barrels and low profile fixed sights. Pocket pistols are intended to be carried in a pocket and pulled without snagging on clothing. They are ideal for being fired at very close range targets.

Smaller framed shooters (or those with large hands) should consider a larger .380 ACP pistol (based on a full-size pistol). Otherwise, step up to one of the numerous 9mm pistols which feature a grip large enough to shoot effectively. Find a gun range that lets you rent, so you can try a variety of pistols. This is always a smart idea, so you can find what works best for you.

Best 380 Range Training Ammo

.380 Auto Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ

photo of federal american eagle best 380 ammo on a sheet of plywood
The Federal American Eagle line is popular with range shooters for training and plinking.

Federal American Eagle is popular because it is inexpensive, has brass cases and goes ‘bang’ when you pull the trigger. I recommend buying the best 380 ammo you can for two reasons. When training, if you use junk ammunition, you will get junk results. I like to spend time shooting guns, not cleaning them. Shooting cheap dirty ammo means the gun owner spends much more time spent cleaning afterward.

The AE 95gr FMJ is a fine choice to break in a new weapon, as well as maintaining proficiency with your chosen weapon. It is advertised at 980 feet per second and 203 ft/lbs at the muzzle. The AE 95 gr FMJ shows 937 feet per second at 25 yards, 899 feet per second at 50 yards, 865 feet per second at 75 yards, and 835 feet per second at 100 yards. The .380 ACP is most similar to the .38 Special in performance, but the concealment and capacity advantage is valuable.

Fiocchi 380 Auto 95 Grain FMJ  

photo of fiocchi best 380 ammo on a sheet of plywood
The Fiocchi pistol and revolver line is good looking ammo. It’s always fun to open a new box at the range.

Fiocchi 380 Auto does advertise higher performance at the muzzle with 1,000 fps and 215 ft/lbs of energy than its competitors, but who’s counting? Fiocchi fires cleanly and is as accurate as any of the other prominent brands. It is also easy to purchase inexpensively. Fiocchi uses a reloadable brass case and will work fine in any modern .380 ACP pistol.

Best 380 Self Defense Ammo

Federal Premium Low Recoil 380 Auto 90 Grain Hydra-Shok JHP

a photo of best 380 ammo federal premium low recoil self defense
Low-recoil Federal Premium JHP ammo allows the shooter to stay on target with follow-up shots.

In a firearm which has already traded capacity and stopping power for concealability, why would anyone opt for low recoil ammunition with reduced power? I can think of one good reason, the ease of ability to fire a follow-up shot. Full power rounds make follow-up shots all but impossible for less-skilled shooters using diminutive pocket pistols, which is exactly the reason Federal Premium created their Low Recoil offerings with their Hydra Shok ® bullets.  Low Recoil ammo equals less stopping power traded for enhanced ability to take the follow-up shot. Sometimes the follow-up shot makes all the difference in self-defense situations.

The Federal Premium Low Recoil 380 Auto 90 Grain Hydra-Shok JHP still carries very decent ballistics with 1,000fps and 200 ft/lbs at the muzzle.

Hornady 380 ACP 90 Grain Critical Defense FTX

photo of hornady best 380 ammo critical defense FTX
The Hornady Critical Defense line features the penetrating power of the FTX bullet.

The ammunition which is currently in all of my handguns, Hornady Critical Defense ® FTX ® is a great choice for defensive posturing in environments where you may need to fire through at targets wearing thick clothing (cold climates) and through glass. Makers of the JHP bullet molded it with a polymer plug in the cavity. This keeps it from clogging when making initial contact with objects other than flesh.

The ballistics for it are identical to the Low Recoil Hydra Shok ®, and are fairly consistent with other .380 ACP loads of 90gr. A wise king once said: “there is nothing new under the sun.” 

Should You Buy A 380 ACP Handgun?

photo of a man shooting a smith & wesson M&P 380 acp handgun
When choosing a pistol, find an easy to use gun in a caliber that you are comfortable with shooting.

.380 ACP handguns have become very popular in the 21st century after a fairly significant hiatus after their introduction in 1908.

Thanks to manufacturers like Glock, Ruger and Smith & Wesson changing the game with polymer pocket pistols, the useful caliber was revitalized and now more popular than ever. The .380 ACP is a viable cartridge as long as you take the time to understand it. Meaning, you take the time to understand its limitations and don’t ask more than it is capable of delivering.

For deep concealment, especially in the hot months, a .380 ACP pocket pistol is ideal. It lacks the bulk and concealment limitations of a full sized pistol. For example, a Ruger LCP, or Glock 42 pistol tucked into an IWB holster conceals easily under a tee-shirt. In the situations where attire allows for nothing else, the .380 ACP provides a comfortable and reliable pocket pistol option. You are much better off with pocket pistol in .380 ACP than forgoing carrying altogether because of legitimate discomfort.

Useful article?

Share on social media!

Let your fellow shooters know – share this article using the Facebook,
Twitter and other social media icons below.
The more we all know, the better organized and stronger the shooting and hunting community will be.