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.380 Auto ballistic test

The 380 Auto was developed by John Moses Browning. It was added to the Colt Pocket Automatic in 1908 and introduced in Europe by FN in 1912. FN designated the .380 Auto as the 9mm Browning Short.

The 380 Auto is also known as the 9mm Kurz (Kurz being the German word for short), 9 x 17, 9mm Corto, 9mm Court, 9mm Browning, 9mm Browning Short, 9mm Browning Court, 9mm Kratak, 9mm Short, and (incorrectly) the .380 ACP.

The 380 Auto has been adopted by several countries in Europe as well as Sweden and Czechoslovakia as a military and police sidearm cartridge. It was used in World War II by German soldiers in the Walther PPK and Italian soldiers in the Beretta M1934.

As a service round the .380 Auto’s performance was not ideal. Compared to other pistol cartridges such as the 9mm Luger and .45 Automatic it  lags behind in stopping power. Truthfully any handgun cartridge is not ideal as a defensive round as compared to most any centerfire rifle cartridge. The primary reason the 380 Auto has remained so popular is the fact it is a small cartridge that can be chambered in small and light handguns for concealed carry. As a primary or backup cartridge it is surely better than harsh words.

Many do not want to carry a large and/or heavy handgun everyday so they either opt to carry a small light handgun or not carry at all. Not carrying at all would not be the best choice in this. Keep in mind I am referring to citizens who are legally carrying a pistol.

With the great improvements over bullet design in the past several years the .380 Auto is a much more viable choice now than when it was introduced. At least that is what I have heard so Jason, Tom, and I decided to set out and see what was what. The proof is in the pudding (or the ballistic gelatin in this case) so we set out with a few pistols, two blocks of ballistic gel, a chronograph, and some ammunition to figure it out.

Our SOP for ballistic testing is using the most popular barrel length but since the .380 Auto is chambered in so many different handguns we decided to use two different barrel lengths. We used a Bersa Thunder .380 with a barrel length of 3.54″ and a Diamondback 380 with a barrel length of 2.8″. That should give us enough of a difference in barrel lengths to have a good idea of how the .380 Auto performs in small handguns.

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380 ballistic updated 3.3.16


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Left: Hornady Critical Defense, Middle: Speer Gold Dot. Right: Federal Hydra- Shok


Far left: Winchester Train & Defend, Middle left, Remington Ultimate Defense  Middle right: Federal HST, Far right PMC fmj

BT PvsC-2

Left is Hornady American Gunner, Middle is Ruger ARX, and Left is Fiocchi. The top bullet was fired through bare gel, and bottom through 3 layers.

You will notice that the Diamond back with the Speer Gold Dots penetrated deeper than the Bersa did with less velocity through cloth. We thought that odd and ran that test again and got the same results. Our theory is since the Gold Dot from the DB was traveling on average 33fps slower the bullet expanded .077″ less. Since there was less expansion there was less surface area offering resistance in the gel the bullet penetrated deeper.

With this information it shows the .380 Auto is a viable defensive cartridge with modern ammunition. Would it be my first choice, no. With that said it would be much better than harsh words. It has been said time and time again a .380 Auto in the pocket is much better than a .45 Auto in your safe at home.

There are times when a full size pistol may not be feasible to carry and/or conceal and this is where this cartridge shines. It is also worth noting that many people carry a BUG (back up gun) and here again this is where this little cartridge is an idea choice.

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I would like to thank the following for their assistance with this article:


Clear Ballistics

Winchester Ammunition 

Ruger Ammunition 


By Hunter Elliott

I spent much of my youth involved with firearms and felt the call early on to the United States Marine Corps, following in my father's and his brother's footsteps. Just after high school I enlisted and felt most at home on the rifle range, where I qualified expert with several firearms and spent some time as a rifle coach to my fellow Marines. After being honorably discharged I continued teaching firearm safety, rifle and pistol marksmanship, and began teaching metallic cartridge reloading. In the late 1990s I became a life member to the National Rifle Association and worked with the Friends of the NRA. Around that time my father and I became involved with IDPA and competed together up until he passed away. I began reviewing firearms for publications in the mid 2000s and have been fortunate to make many friends in the industry. Continuing to improve my firearms skills and knowledge is a never ending journey in which we should all be committed. I am also credited as weapons master on a few independent films.

8 thoughts on “.380 Auto ballistic test, updated”
  1. Very thorough and detailed 380acp JHP ammo review! Great photos too! How many uses can you get with the Clear Ballistics Gel?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you very much.
      I am on the 5th remelt of the Clear Ballistics gel. Though it has yellowed a bit (as they said it would) it is still working as it should. I expect it to last quite a while and if you need it they sell small squares of the gel to replenish your block with.

  2. i love the article but you failed to test all the ammo equally making me feel like this was more geared to the db 380. more than anything else. i would like to see all ammo represented here tested in both guns. what was tested in the db380 should have been tested in the bersa to be completely fair as well as scientific.

    1. I no longer have access to the Bersa. That being the case, I am not going to stop testing ammunition just because I don’t have access to one of the firearms used for comparison.

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