If you use a .380 Auto for self-defense, load selection is critical. Since accuracy is key for successful threat elimination, the rounds you choose to hone your skills are also incredibly important. While it’s impossible to crown one specific load as king, we’re going to cover what you should look for when you’re deciding on the best .380 ammo for your needs. We even share a list of some of our favorites to get you started.
Table of Contents
- How to Choose the Best .380 Auto Ammunition?
- Best .380 Ammo on the Market Reviews
- Best .380 Auto (ACP) Ammo for Self-Defense
- Best .380 Auto Ammo for Target Shooting
- Final Thoughts
How to Choose the Best .380 Auto Ammunition?
Choosing the right ammunition is important, whether you’re shooting a .44 Remington Magnum revolver or a .380 Auto pistol. There are some traits you should consider no matter what cartridge you need.
Velocity, Barrel Length, and Projectile Weight
Most brands advertise the load’s muzzle velocity right on the box. Velocity in and of itself isn’t all that important. However, the speed of the projectile can affect expansion and penetration.
Many .380 Auto pistols have relatively short barrels. The popular Glock 42, for example, has a barrel that measures only 3.25 inches. Some micro pistols have even shorter barrels, like the Ruger LCP, which only has a 2.75-inch barrel.
Although a short barrel definitely makes a pistol easier to conceal, it can have negative effects on projectile velocity. Generally, a projectile fired from a short barreled handgun will have a slower velocity than one fired from a pistol with a longer barrel.
Finding the right balance between barrel length, bullet weight, and velocity can be complicated. Pocket pistols with short barrels seem to do better with a mid-weight projectile (like 90 grains). These projectiles have enough weight to penetrate deeply enough to be effective, even at slower, short-barrel velocities. Lighter bullets fired from a short barrel may produce faster velocities, but they tend to lack the weight necessary to plunge deep into soft targets.
Loads with bullets heavier than 95 grains perform best out of full-size handguns with barrels longer than 3 inches.
Penetration is particularly important in a personal protection load. To effectively eliminate a dangerous threat, self-defense projectiles need to penetrate deep enough to create substantial tissue damage and hit vital organs. This can be problematic for the relatively lightweight .380 projectiles to accomplish.
Although .380 Auto uses the same diameter bullets as 9mm (.355 inches to be exact), .380 projectiles weigh significantly less than 9mm bullets. Because .380 uses a shorter case length, there isn’t quite as much oomph created by burning propellant and the resulting expanding gases to push heavier bullets. Instead of the heavier 115 to 147 grains used in 9mm ammo, .380 pushes lighter projectiles in the 85 to 95 grain range (although you can find loads with weightier 120 grain bullets).
Penetration depends on several factors. However, when considering loads with the same projectile design, the heavier bullet will typically deliver deeper penetration.
As we mentioned, .380 Auto uses the same diameter bullet as 9mm handgun ammo. Some self-defense loads feature jacketed hollow points or other types of expanding projectiles. These loads mushroom in soft tissue to create a wider wound channel.
Expansion also causes the bullet to dump energy into the target. As the projectile expands, it also slows down. As a general rule, expanding projectiles do not penetrate as deeply as non-expanding projectiles. Since .380 bullets aren’t exactly famous for deep penetration, some shooters choose to use non-expanding bullets (like FMJs)both on the practice range and in their EDC guns.
When it comes to self-defense, you need to trust your ammo to deliver the same performance shot after shot. This obviously applies to accuracy, expansion, and penetration. However, you also need your ammunition to ignite, fire, and cycle reliably in your weapon. Few things could be worse than hearing a click when you pull the trigger instead of the loud bang you were expecting, especially when confronting a dangerous threat.
Best .380 Ammo on the Market Reviews
Best .380 Auto (ACP) Ammo for Self-Defense
We won’t lie. It’s easy to get major sticker shock when it comes to most personal defense loads. When it comes to price per round, Remington HTP (High Terminal Performance) is a refreshing change from some of the more expensive options. These affordable rounds are typically priced well under $1 a round, which feels like a steal when it comes to quality defensive ammo.
However, don’t let the price tag fool you. Remington uses only the best quality components in their HTP line. With top-of-the-line brass, Kleanbore primers, and premium propellants, Remington HTP offers reliable performance shot after shot. If you’re looking for serious performance and great value for the money, Remington HTP does not disappoint.
Remington HTP offers .380 loads with 88 grain jacketed hollow points that are engineered to provide respectable weight retention. These projectiles offer deep penetration and double-diameter expansion that creates an ample wound channel for effective threat elimination.
If you’re looking for an ultra reliable option for concealed carry or home defense, this is it. Hornady Critical Defense loads feature unique FTX projectiles. Topped with a flexible polymer tip, FTX “flex tip” bullets resist clogging and other ballistic inconsistencies that often plague hollow point self-defense rounds. The polymer tip also aids in terminal expansion, making these some of the most reliable self-defense rounds on the market today.
Hornady has designed every element of their Critical Defense line specifically for self-defense shooting. They use bright, nickel-plated cases that make loading and chamber checks easy, even in low light situations. They also use low-flash propellant, so as not to compromise vision, even if you’re using a .380 pistol with a short barrel.
Federal Hydra Shok has been a trusted name in self-defense since 1989. These loads feature an iconic center post design that controls expansion, preserves projectile weight, and drives the bullet forward for deep terminal penetration.
Hydra Shok Deep builds on this design to deliver even deeper, more reliable penetration, even through tough barriers. Federal .380 99-grain Hydra Shok drives a full 15 inches into bare ballistics gel. According to FBI testing standards, this is the ideal depth for most self-defense scenarios. In fact, Federal Hydra Shok Deep delivers deeper penetration than any of the other self-defense loads on our list.
Federal Hydra Shok loads also feature reliable, proprietary propellants and primers, and highly visible nickel-plated brass cases.
Winchester PDX1 Defender is some of the most popular self-defense ammo on the planet. Plenty of law enforcement agencies around the globe use PDX1 Defender (although usually in larger calibers). However, even in .380 Auto, these loads deliver plenty of power for personal protection.
Loaded with Winchester’s patented PDX1 projectiles, these rounds deliver massive, violent terminal expansion. Expanding up to 1 ½ times their original diameter, PDX1 bullets feature a uniquely notched jacket that preprograms the projectile for seriously consistent mushrooming.
PDX1 projectiles are made with a special bonding process that electrochemically fuses the outer copper jacket to the inner lead core. This helps preserve projectile weight to drive bullets deeper, especially in soft tissue.
Speer Gold Dot is the preferred duty ammo of law enforcement officers across the country. Gold Dot is perfect for both duty and personal use and features nickel-plated cases, sealed primers, and high-quality jacketed hollow points.
While few police officers trust .380 Auto for duty use, when loaded with Speer Gold Dot ammo, these low recoil weapons can be quite effective for self-defense applications.
Gold Dot projectiles are engineered with a sturdy, pressure-formed lead core that is bonded atom by atom to an extremely uniform copper jacket. This design prevents core/jacket separation for superior weight retention and deep terminal penetration. The hollow point design delivers consistent expansion (even through tough barriers), dependable ignition, and reliable cycling.
Best .380 Auto Ammo for Target Shooting
Speer designed their Lawman line of ammunition to provide performance as close to their corresponding defensive loads as possible. This provides shooters with a realistic practice option that offers the same recoil, handling, and point of aim as their Gold Dot carry ammo.
Speer Lawman provides an affordable and practical option for range training. Just don’t be fooled by the economical price tag. These rounds are anything but cheaply made.
All Lawman cartridges are topped with high-quality TMJ (total metal jacket) bullets that provide cleaner shooting for indoor environments. They also come with quality, reloadable brass cases for reloaders who want an even more economical practice option. The brass cases also help shooters easily distinguish their target rounds from their nickel-plated defense counterparts.
Although WInchester White Box ammo sometimes gets a bad rap on shooting forums, we are big fans. It’s hard to find ammo that provides better dollar-for-dollar value. There’s a reason White Box ammo has been the go-to ammo for generations of shooters.
For range training, you’ll want to opt for the 95-grain FMJs (full metal jacket). Perfect for target shooting, Winchester White Box FMJs provide reliable function and zero terminal expansion. They are also designed to reduce barrel fouling, so you can spend more time on the firing line and less time cleaning your weapon.
It’s easy to be seduced by super-cheap discount ammo for range practice. However, most of that stuff is cheap for a reason. Namely, because it’s unreliable, inconsistent, and can cause serious feeding issues. Shooting junk ammo can cause major wear and tear on your pistol. Plus, cheap ammo tends to be dirty, which means you’ll spend more time cleaning your pistol after every training session.
Federal American Eagle is the answer. This is high-quality ammo that offers reliable performance at a price point that won’t break the bank, even if you’re a high volume shooter.
Perfect for punching paper targets, Federal American Eagle .380 Auto is loaded with 95-grain FMJ projectiles and features high-quality, reloadable brass cases.
Americans often overlook Italian-made Fiocchi ammunition in favor of more popular American-made brands like Remington, Winchester, and Federal. However, Fiocchi is one of the oldest European ammo manufacturers still in business. The company has been making ammo for almost 150 years, and the quality of their products definitely makes them competitive with the big names in the industry.
Fiocchi offers a clean, consistent shooting option perfectly priced for high-volume or budget-conscious shooters. Pistol Shooting Dynamics .380 Auto loads feature quality 95-grain FMJ bullets and premium brass cases that are fully reloadable.
The Blazer Brass brand is currently one of the most popular options for target training on the market. Highly affordable, Blazer Brass is one of the most reliable “cheap” ammo brands you can get your hands on. These rounds are designed specifically for range training, so don’t expect to win competitions with them. However, they do a better-than-adequate job of punching holes in paper practice targets.
Blazer Brass .380 Auto loads feature 95-grain FMJ projectiles and premium, reloadable brass cases.
If you want to use Blazer for range training, be sure to look for Blazer Brass specifically. Blazer also offers an even cheaper version loaded in aluminum cases. Although the aluminum-cased ammo offers significant savings per round, they rounds can cause feeding issues in some semi-auto weapons.
Recommending ammo, especially for .380 Auto pistols, is anything but cut and dry. Handguns can be finicky beasts, and ammo performance can vary wildly between models. Loads that perform flawlessly from a full-size Bersa Thunder could prove less-than-stellar when shot from a micro pistol like the Sig SAUER P238. If possible, test out several different loads to see how they function and perform in your specific handgun. The best .380 ammo will be one that cycles and patterns consistently and reliably in your pistol.