380 Ammo Buyer’s Guide [2021]

If you carry a concealed firearm for self-defense, you probably carry a small caliber handgun. The popularity of these guns is through the roof these days. And one of the finest calibers you can choose is the .380. The best .380 ammo can serve you well for home defense, if you know what you’re doing. Before we get started, here are some of our favorite options. 

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How to Pick the Best .380 Defense Ammo

A variety of factors determine the effectiveness and stopping power of .380 caliber bullets. I find that certain combinations are best for certain purposes. That’s despite some .380 ammo selections having better overall performance than others.

Penetration

The projectile’s ability to travel through its target is one of the first things to look at. Not all .380 bullets penetrate as deep. Some may even break too soon after impact.

Of course, .380 ammo can have sufficient stopping power. But, penetration also has to do with how much damage you want to inflict. Generally speaking, a projectile that can travel at least 12” through ballistic gel is acceptable.

Expansion

The secondary element to any .380 round is its expansion. This determines how much the projectile expands after impact. More expansion translates into more significant damage. Still, it’s not as important as penetration.

Type of Projectile

When researching the best .380 ammo for self-defense, understand that there are different types of projectiles. The type or design of the projectile can have a purpose. Yet it can also be a simple gimmick for aesthetic purposes.

For example, FMJ (full metal jacket) rounds don’t expand, despite having a penetration rating that’s off the scale. A stable balance between penetration and expansion can be found in classic-bonded and jacketed hollow point rounds (JHP).

The former type of rounds tends to favor fully automatic firearms. The latter, JHP, comes with weakening scores on the jacket. This allows for easier expansion after impact and prevents over-penetration. It also creates a wider wound channel, which should compensate for the overall lack of velocity and stopping power.

Round Weight Retention and Barrel Length

These two factors affect the velocity and the ability to do damage. Weight retention is the ammo’s capability to retain weight after impact. And also, after it expands.

At the same time, weight affects travel speed. Also consider the barrel length when choosing the best .380 ammo. Most of my experienced friends use .380 ammo with pocket pistols. These tend to have barrels of just under 3”.

Why is it important?

Because it should give you an idea of how to choose your grain. A 90 grain round is a good fit for pocket pistols. It has sufficient weight retention and enough penetration to hit critical areas.

But, a 77 grain or 50 grain round may not be as good. The velocity is impressive but the ability to penetrate isn’t.

Why Choose Defensive Ammo?

Defensive ammo has two main goals – defense against people and against animals. The same round won’t necessarily be best-suited for both. However, this type of round has a design that allows you to put an end to a threat.

Some gun owners consider the .380 round to be less lethal than other options. It’s obviously intended for small, concealed firearms. But it’s far from not deadly.

In fact, one of the biggest advantages of .380 rounds is their reliability. I also find it easy to manage the cartridges. And, it’s also easy to pair this type of round with accurate and powerful handguns.

Although it may lack in overall performance compared to a 9mm Luger with .40 ammo, it’s still more than enough in most situations.

Avoid Over-Penetration

Another reason why I recommend using the best .380 ammo for personal defense is this. You can avoid over-penetrating your target. One of the biggest issues with discharging your weapon in training or real-life self-defense situations is hitting unintended targets.

The FBI recommends going with bullets that can’t penetrate more than 18”. And .380 rounds almost always adhere to this requirement. Although this may indicate a lack of power, if you shoot with accuracy you can still stop a threat.

But with a .380, you can also do it a bit safer.

Don’t Sleep on the Recoil Either

I once shared this common misconception. Small guns and small rounds result in little recoil. In reality things are different. Most beginner shooters understand quickly that a small pistol can still have plenty of kickback.

Why? It has to do with the gun design.

Tiny guns have less mass. This means that there’s not a lot to absorb the recoil. Of course, in some situations, a more massive frame can limit the recoil. And it’s true that it’s easier to get comfortable with .380 handguns instead of any of the larger caliber alternatives.

Best 380 Ammo

Speer Lawman Training .380 ACP

This is one of the best .380 rounds for training and self-defense purposes. The bullet weight of 95 grains gives it good velocity and power. The muzzle velocity rated 950 fps is among the highest in this ammo category. Note that this drops to 920 fps, and further down, after 25 yards.

Speer-Lawman-Training-95-gr-Total-Metal-Jacket-.380-ACP-Ammo-50-box-53608_1

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The bullet design is a TMJ or total metal jacket. It’s quite different from an FMJ as its base style is different. These rounds provide a sense of consistency when shooting from a small caliber handgun.

Its defining characteristic is the brass-covered base. This creates a total plated jacket, which covers the whole core.

The fully covered base provides an extra boost to accuracy. That’s why I also prefer this for training and match shooting.

I find the packaging advantageous too. Each box comes with 50 bullets – quite a bargain considering the quality of the rounds.

Testing the Speer Lawman .380 ACP bullets show the best results in barrels up to 3.75”. This is enough to make the rounds compatible with a large selection of small caliber concealed firearms.

Despite their primary purpose, training, I find the Speer Lawman bullets quite proficient for self-defense too. Even though the rate of expansion is not too impressive, the bullet’s velocity and penetration are on point.

Pros

  • Reloadable ammo cases
  • Encapsulated lead core
  • Promotes pinpoint accuracy
  • High muzzle velocity

Cons

  • Limited rate of expansion
  • Significant drop in speed after 25 yards

PMC Bronze .380 Auto FMJ

Similarly priced per round, the PMC Bronze .380 is another one of my favorites. These rounds come in brass casings and in a full metal jacket style. This bullet design offers superior penetration, especially when combined with good muzzle velocity.

PMC BRONZE .380 AUTO FMJ AMMUNITION (50RDS) - 380A

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Speaking of which, the velocity of these rounds is 961 feet per second at around 25 yards. The bullet weight is 90 grains and the weight retention is top-notch too. Although these are fast, heavy rounds, the rate of expansion is close to nothing.

This means that the rounds are likely to cause smaller entry and exit wounds. That said, they can still shatter or ricochet once they hit bone.

The ammo also has a very good reputation for not malfunctioning. No one wants to fire duds. PMC also does a good job of making sure the .380 FMJ rounds are compatible with a variety of popular handguns.

I personally recommend these bullets for a Bersa BP380. But, I also consider them perhaps the best 380 ammo for Ruger LCP handguns.

Pros

  • Reliable performance
  • Consistent workmanship
  • Very high muzzle velocity
  • Not prone to jamming

Cons

  • No rate of expansion due to the bullet design

Remington 380 ACP

The Remington 380 ACP comes in at a lower grain of 88gr. Compared to other alternatives, it’s lighter but not necessarily less powerful. Its superior muzzle velocity of 990 feet per second is complemented by the muzzle energy of 191 ft/lbs.

REMINGTON 380 AUTO ACP 88GR JHP HIGH TERMINAL PERFORMANCE AMMUNITION 50RDS - RTP380A1

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Make no mistake, these rounds have stopping power. It’s suitable for both protection and performance applications. I also like that the bullet type is a hollow point. As previously mentioned, this allows the jacket to expand.

As a result of the expansion, the entry wound widens. Furthermore, it prevents over-penetrating which can also benefit in home defense or on-the-street defense situations. The casing material is standard brass.

Although you get 50 rounds in each box, the price per bullet is slightly higher. At least when compared to other popular 380 ACP choices.

That said, the quality and track record of Remington ammunition is reflected in the pricing. In the end, what you may appreciate the most is the instant knockdown power. That’s due to the rapid jacket expansion that causes severe damage upon impact.

Pros

  • Rapid rate of expansion
  • Jacketed hollow point bullets
  • 88 grain for higher velocity
  • Reliable line of ammunition

Cons

  • Higher price per round

Sig Sauer Elite Performance V Crown

Sig Sauer makes some of the best ammunition there is. And the Elite Performance V Crown is no exception. These 380ACP bullets come in a jacketed hollow point style that favors rapid expansion and the widening of entry wounds.

Sig Sauer Elite Performance V-Crown 380 Auto (ACP) 90gr JHP Handgun Ammo - 20 Rounds

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If you want to cause significant damage with your concealed pistol, this is the ammo to do it with. These rounds have superior weight retention and consistent penetration. The V-shaped top cavity offers a uniform and controlled expansion rate.

Another cool feature is the nickel casing. It has good corrosion resistance and facilitates reliable bullet feeding and extraction. In other words, it minimizes the risk of a misfire.

With the muzzle velocity rated at 980 fps and the muzzle energy at 192 ft/lbs., the stopping power is unquestioned. But, in all honesty, these bullets don’t come cheap. As great as they are for .380 pistols, they are also pricier than other alternatives.

Pros

  • Not prone to feeding failure
  • Ideal caliber for concealed firearms
  • Controlled and uniform rate of expansion
  • Superior stopping power

Cons

  • A bit expensive

Hornady Critical Defense 380ACP

This is one of the most reliable bullets for small firearms. It shoots with a muzzle velocity of up to 910 feet per second at 50 yards, which says a lot. The bullets also feature a unique and patented FTX design.

Hornady Critical Defense 380 Auto (ACP) 90gr FTX Handgun Ammo - 25 Rounds

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FTX bullet technology improves penetration through thick layers of clothes. All while still having the bullet functioning as a jacketed hollow point. This means that while you gain velocity and penetration power, you don’t miss the rapid expansion.

It’s unlike most traditional bullets you come across. The stopping power, whether against human attackers or large game animals, is dependable.

Apart from the overall design, what’s characteristic of the Critical Defense 380ACP is its silver-nickel casing plating. It minimizes corrosion and improves feeding. At the same time, these bullets are much smoother and therefore cut like a hot knife through butter. Thus, the superior high velocity rating.

Pros

  • Based on patented technology
  • Smooth feeding silver-nickel casing
  • Very high velocity and stopping power at long distances
  • Great penetration through thick layering

Cons

  • Doesn’t have the most consistent rate of expansion

Final Thoughts and Recommendation

.380 ACP ammunition comes in so many variations. It’s understandable why you have to go through tons of testing before you find something satisfying. However, when you look at something like the Hornady Critical Defense 380ACP, you can understand why some bullets outclass others.

This unique spin on the traditional hollow-point round gives the ammo a clear edge. It combines excellent penetration and velocity with enough expansion to create damage in two ways. And, it’s a bullet less likely to fail you when shooting through thick denim, leather, or animal hide. So, is this the best .380 defense ammo? It is in my book.

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