Best .380 Ammo [2019]: Self-Defense & Target Practice

Best .380 Ammo for Self-Defense & Target Shooting

  1. Liberty Civil Defense 50 grain SCHP
  2. Hornady Custom Ammunition 90 grain
  3. Remington 88 grain HTP
  4. SIG Sauer 90 grain 380 V-Crown JHP
  5. Prvi Partizan 94 grain FMJ
  6. Fiocchi 95 grain FMJ
  7. Silver Bear 94 grain FMJ

For many years the .380 ACP wasn’t a hugely popular cartridge for concealed carry or home defense, but times they are a-changing. 

Looking to buy your first .380? Have one and need to know what to feed it? Let’s take a look at some of my favorite ammunition choices and break down the important facts of ammo selection.

The problem with this is that with so many types of .380 ACP ammo on the market, how do you know which one is the best defensive ammunition for you?

Woman defending home with pistol
Someone broke into the wrong house.

We’ve got you covered!

Table of Contents

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How to Choose Defensive Ammo

Here are the most important factors to consider when choosing .380 defensive ammunition.  

380 ACP Ammo
.380 ACP Ammo

Penetration

Penetration refers to the ability of a projectile to travel through the body, determined by its composition, its weight, the velocity it reaches, and it’s projectile type.  A lead projectile will often bend, break and deform before it can penetrate deep enough to cause serious harm.  The same goes for a round that is too light and too slow.  

You want a round that can penetrate 12 to 18 inches of 10% ballistic gel.  You’ll need to find a test that utilizes a firearm with a similar length barrel to the weapon you intend to carry.  

Ammo penetration test
A penetration test will look something like this.

Expansion

Expansion of projectiles is critical for blood loss and even pain compliance.  The larger a round can expand the more damage it will do.  When researching expansion for a certain load know that bigger is always better, but expansion comes second to penetration.  If possible, find how the round expands through ballistic gel after being shot through denim.  Denim can cause some rounds to fail at proper expansion.  

When researching expansion you should know a .380 is a .35 caliber projectile.  Most ammunition tests measures expansion in inches.  So anything over .35 is measured expansion.  

Hornady Critical Defense 380 Ammo Before and After Expansion
Hornady Critical Defense .380 Ammo Before and After Expansion

Reliability

Reliability refers to the round’s ability to reliably expand and reliably penetrate.  During research, if you see tests with conflicting data or tests where only 3 out of 5 rounds penetrate at least 12 inches or fail to expand reliably that is something to consider.  The reliability factor also applies to the round’s reliability to ignite and fire.  Most defensive ammo is high quality and you’re unlikely to find an established company producing ammo that doesn’t go boom.  But stuff happens.  

Projectile Type

One of the biggest factors that determine how a round will reliably penetrate and expand is the type of projectile.  The classic bonded jacketed hollow point ammunition has long been a solid performer in both penetration and expansion.  Stay away from FMJ rounds since they do penetrate, but often penetrate way too much.  They also will not expand in any way.  

I also advise staying away from gimmick projectiles that look cool but function poorly.  

380 ACP gimmick ammo
For Example

Weight Retention

A projectile’s ability to retain weight after expansion and penetration is a good measure of the rounds ability to deal damage to a vital part of the body.  The more weight retention the better.  Bullets are measured in grains, so when researching ammunition look at what the projectile weighs before and after the test. 

Barrel Length, Velocity, and Weight

Most .380 ACP handguns are what we call pocket pistols.  They are very small with short barrels.  A large pocket pistol like the Glock 42 only has a barrel length of 3.25 inches.

Glock 42
Glock 42

Commonly these pocket pistols will have a barrel under 3 inches.  This affects the velocity of a projectile, as does the projectile’s weight.  When searching for the best .380 Defensive ammo you need to find a good compromise between barrel length, projectile weight, and the round’s velocity.  

For a pocket pistol, a 90-grain projectile seems to be the heaviest round that penetrates deep enough to strike something critical.  The rounds also meet a high enough velocity to expand.  The lighter 77 grain and even 50-grain rounds are fast but often fail to penetrate.  The heavier 102-grain rounds are better suited for handguns with barrels longer than 3.5 inches like the Beretta Cheetah and CZ 83.  

CZ 83
CZ 83

The Goal of Defensive Ammo

Defensive ammunition is purpose-built to shoot people, animals, and the occasional overtly aggressive watermelons that are trying to cause you harm.  As a civilian concealed carrier or home defender, your goal in any defensive situation is to end the threat.  It’s not a matter of shooting to kill, or shooting to wound, you shoot to end the threat.  I tell people all the time if you shoot an attacker and all it does is graze them and they run away, you’ve stopped the threat.  So if your goal is to stop a threat, your ammunition’s goal is to be capable enough to stop the threat as well.  

Bullets stop threats in a number of ways.  The first and most unreliable is fear.  It relies on criminals thinking, “he has a gun and he can shoot me.” It doesn’t matter what kind of bullet it is since the very thought of the bullet is enough to end the threat.  

Women with handgun in purse
This is the wrong soccer mom to threaten.

Next, we have pain compliance.  Pain is subjective to the person being shot.  The difference in pain tolerance has an effect on ending the threat.  So does the location of the gunshot wound and the presence of drugs and alcohol in the body.  

Blood loss can also be an effective means to stop an attacker and can be caused by a bullet depending on where the bullet is placed and the size of the projectile.  Now, when I say projectile size I don’t mean the size of the actual bullet before it’s fired.  The difference between a .380 ACP and 40 S&W is literally a millimeter in projectile size.  The projectile size that matters, in this case, is how big the round expands after it hits the body.  Blood loss can often take several seconds to several minutes, so it’s not the quickest means to end a threat.  

Lastly, the most effective means of stopping an attacker is through trauma to the central nervous system.  This will typically result in the death of an attacker, as well as near instant incapacitation.  This kind of trauma requires a shot to or near the spine, the brain, and brain stem. 

Gun shot to brain diagram
Basically how a shot to the head works.

Remember that just because this is the most effective means of stopping an attacker does not mean it is always appropriate or legal to use this level of force.  Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding self-defense.

This is all important when it comes to ammunition selection for any handgun.  The round you choose must be able to accomplish these tasks to incapacitate an attacker.  A .380 ACP is a lower powered round, so ammunition selection is even more critical.

Carrying pistol concealed
Otherwise, what’s the point of carrying this around?

Legends and Myths

There are a lot of myths and legends regarding pistol ammunition.  People who believe these myths will often use them to discourage the use of .380 ACP and even 9mm.  These myths are quite popular, so to help you sort through the bull mess we’ll go over the biggest two.

Movie pistol
Anything Goes in Hollywood

Stopping or Knockdown Power

The stopping power myth is so widespread that it has seeped into gun culture.  I cringe when I hear someone bring up stopping power.  There’s simply no such thing.  

The ability of a round to stop an opponent hinges on the shooter’s ability to strike a vital portion of the body, and for the round to penetrate deep enough to hit something vital enough to incapacitate.  Shot placement and penetration are the key to stopping an attacker.  A miss with a .45 is still a miss, and the heart, lungs, and brain do not know the difference between a .45 and a .380.

Hydrostatic Shock

Hydrostatic shock is a thing, but it’s not something that really occurs with handguns.  To achieve hydrostatic shock damage, a projectile has to move at over 2,000 feet per second.  Very few handguns can achieve a speed of over 2,000 feet per second and .380 ACP rounds certainly can’t.  

Best .380 Ammo

While I won’t name one round to rule them all, I can make some suggestions based on my personal research into an effective round for my SIG p238.  For reference, this weapon sports a 2.7-inch barrel.  

SIG P238
SIG P238

Let’s start with .380 Defensive Ammo

1. Hornady Custom Ammunition 90 Grain .380 ACP

The Hornady Custom .380 ACP features their XTP projectile that penetrates very well.  This projectile is really the key to this ammunition’s success.  It penetrates and has controlled expansion to allow the round to gradually expand as it travels through the body.  The rounds aren’t too expensive and are pretty common.  

Best .380 Defensive Round
20
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on Hornady’s defensive .380 round?

Readers' Ratings

4.93/5 (239)

Your Rating?

2. Remington 88 Grain HTP

I’m not going to lie: the biggest reason I was attracted to the HTP loads was the price.  These High Terminal Performance loads come in boxes of 50 and are priced at less than 50 cents a round.  The round is a solid performer that penetrates and even expands to an impressive degree.

23
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. SIG Sauer 90 Grain .380 V-Crown JHP

Testing done by Chris Baker at Lucky Gunner has shown this round to be incredibly effective in both penetration and expansion.  The round has no issue reaching that 12-inch mark, and also expands up to half an inch in size.  SIG’s ammunition is well built and surprisingly affordable.  

15
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. Liberty Defense 50 Grain

If you are recoil sensitive, then the Liberty Defense 50 grain rounds are comfortable, but you should know they are poor penetrators.  But if you can’t handle the recoil from a traditional round then these bad boys are better than nothing.  

Least Recoil Defensive Round
29
at Natchez Shooters Supplies

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Now let’s move onto Target Ammo Suggestions.

5. Prvi Partizan 94 Grain FMJ

Prvi Partizan makes a huge range of ammo and much of it is odd calibers or calibers that just aren’t in production anymore.  That is how I first started using them with their .303Brit ammo.  Since then, I’ve come to know and respect many of their calibers and they have become one of my goto picks for range ammo.

6. Fiocchi 95 Grain FMJ

I’ve never had a problem with Fiocchi, every round has gone bang like it should.

However – it is some of the dirtiest ammo I’ve used.  After 200 rounds of their 9mm my slide starts to stick and after 300 I need to clean it if I want to keep things running smoothly.  Still one of the main brands I use for range ammo.

7. Silver Bear 94 Grain FMJ

Two things to be said for Silver Bear: it’s steel cased and it’s cheap.

Generally, it is very reliable, at least for me it has been, but it is stunningly inconsistent.

Groups with otherwise very accurate firearms will bust open wide when using Silver Bear ammo of any kind.  But it is by far my top pick for range ammo when I need to dump rounds, mostly because it is just so much cheaper than almost anything else on the market.

250
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Getting the Right Round

There is strength in community, and the gun community is no different.  I’ve listed what I think is important to consider when choosing ammunition, but I’d love to hear what you think.  

Need more ammo reviews or recommendations? From .22lr to 5.56mm We Got You Covered.

Do you consider other factors when choosing defensive ammunition?  Do you have suggestions for .380 ACP defensive loads from companies?  Tell us in the comments below.  

38 Leave a Reply

  • Frank

    The author mentions the steel Silver Bear with saying "by far my top pick for range ammo when I need to dump rounds." Uh, pardon my ignorance, but when is "dumping rounds" an effective use of ANY range practice time or ammo? I haven't got recent experience with steel ammo because the range I frequent doesn't allow it. I have shot steel 223 in an AR rifle (some color bear, and Wolf) and agree with you about it's inconsistency and dirtiness. But don't understand the whole concept of just shooting "fast and down and dirty" for no apparent gains in ability, just to hear the firearm go bang. So i don't understand the recommendation. Otherwise, as a new 380 shooter (well, carrier), thanks for the defense rounds recomendations.

    1 month ago
    • Dennis

      Frank, "dumping rounds" is just meant to be a semi-humorous term for some serious target practice at the range. Some think going to the range once or twice a month, and shooting a 50 round box is going to make them an expert. Even "dumping" a 1000 rounds a month hasn't made me an expert... yet.

      1 month ago
  • Jerre Peak

    How about Federal Hydra-Shok 90 grain h.p. in .380's ? They're very accurate and reliable in my Ruger LCP ll and my Glock 42.

    3 months ago
    • Kevin

      If you look at the Lucky Gunner trials, the Hydra-Shoks over penetrate and do not expand as well as the Hornady Critical defense or Sig V-Crown rounds . Those two were the best performers out of all of the .380 rounds tested. The Federal HSTs over penetrated with poor expansion and the Speer Gold Dots under penetrated. You must test the V-Crowns in your guns to make sure the feed properly as they have a wider cavity than the others mentioned. https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/

      2 weeks ago
    • Dennis

      Yep. "Precision One" is my top choice for 380 defense. Clean, dependable, very effective... BUT... hard to find, expensive. Federal Hydra-Shok comes in at #2, and is my most used round. #3 - Any Hornady XTP, #4 - Fiocchi Extremist, #5 - Hornady Customs. Any of the above 5 rounds exceed 12" penetration (usually 14-16"), always expand VERY well, and they go boom every time.

      2 months ago
  • William Shaw

    what about Lehigh defense 65gr. xtreme defense rounds? it creates ballistic's close to 9mm.

    4 months ago
    • Dennis

      I love the way Lehigh's splatter on paper, so maybe their art resale value could help you recover some of their high price. They only do surface soft-tissue damage, and makes a bloody mess. Hitting a bone usually stops the bullets dead in their tracks, but not an attacker. Kinda like a 22, your attacker will probably die tomorrow, maybe.

      2 months ago
  • Gga

    The title including training ammo. Thanks for covering usable cheap stuff, but what about softer shooting rounds. My 380 is a micro 1911 and kicks like the dickens and muzzle dilutes badly with the non-extended mag. Also after a box of ammo my joints hurt. I really needed to train with that pistol since it is considerably different than my other Pistols (1911 style). So what is a soft shooting round just for training? BTW: that pistol is a beast to clear a jam. Most Pistols, just drop the mag and rack the slide twice. This one just seems to jam tighter. It's a Springfield 911, shoots well, but hates Federal ammo.

    5 months ago
    • Dennis

      Hmm, sounds like a Springfield. If you like to clean your gun, use Fiocchi, it burns hot (fewer jams), but a bit dirty, about 20 cents per round. MagTech makes descent range ammo, at around 25 cents per round, that burns clean relative to other cheap ammo. Ammo picky or sensitive guns may not like MagTech (Sig, Mossberg, Canik), but Springfield, Glock, S&W, Taurus, seem to eat it just fine.

      2 months ago
      • Dennis

        ...and if anybody says "Remington", it's because they hate you. Plug your ears, and run the other way!

        2 months ago
  • Spidero

    First review I’ve seen saying Fiocchi Ammo is dirty. Most reviews mention how clean it is! I’ve used it. Cleaner than most ammo I’ve used in 9mm, 38 Special, 380 Auto, 357 Magnum.

    8 months ago
    • Dennis

      Yeah, but he said 380, and he dislikes the recoil kick. I like Fiocchi in 9mm/38/357 cause it's hot, cheap, medium-clean. It still has more kick than Federal or MagTech. MagTech seems to balance recoil, reliability, and price, with a cleaner burning powder, that still works for most 380's.

      2 months ago
  • Keith

    Buffalo Bore +P 95 grain hollow point, 1125FPS with 267 ft. lbs.

    8 months ago
    • Dennis

      Killer 380 round... just to rich for my pocketbook.

      2 months ago
  • Steve Carpenter

    Last night the wife and I were at the range. She : M&P Bodyguard, Me : Kel-Tec P3at. Rounds we fired for the first time : Hornady Critical Defense and Sig V-Crown. 1&1/2 boxes of each/each. No feed or ejection problems. The wife prefers the V-Crown due to less muzzle flip & lower recoil. For me it was a tie. At 15 feet with these non-target rated ccw pistols, we both printed 9 ring groups. Both rounds are smooth performers. Next time we will try Remington 88gr HTP, and Federal Hyra-Shok and let you know how it goes. Thank you for your advice and info.

    11 months ago
    • Dennis

      Well, it's been 8 months and Steve never came back. I warned y'all about using Remington.

      2 months ago
  • Jerre Peak

    My favorite for my .380"s are Federal Hydra-Shok and Fiocchi XTP hollow point bullets.

    1 year ago
  • Sean McGroty

    Come on, why does the brain picture show a complete round flying at the brain? :)

    1 year ago
    • Ken Clark

      Because that's how liberls know they are smarter than the rest of us.

      10 months ago
  • John Weir

    This was a good and informative article, however, I must disagree with the assumption that there isn't any hydro shock damage below 2000 fps. A look at. projectile testing in 10per cent test medium shows enlarged wound chanels at speeds well under 2000fps,

    1 year ago
    • Dennis

      I think Federal Hydra-Shoks do plenty of damage, even at 1000 fps, and can neutralize a threat (if the threat is not on alcohol or drugs). KEEP IN MIND: Ballistic gel is for testing bullet performance relative to other bullets. It does not necessarily, accurately or realistically, demonstrate the damage or effect on a human or animal target. An attacker's size, weight, motion/velocity, clothing, health (fat/thin, athletic with muscles, or weak puny out-of-shape wimp), will all give you bullet performance characteristics that cannot be simulated with gel. So... unfortunately we have to compare bullets to bullets with gel. We just couldn't get enough volunteers to do testing of bullets to bodies (and NAPCA said we couldn't use animals, NACME said we couldn't use cadavers).

      2 months ago
  • Towjon

    I hope this does not duplicate prior coments that I wrote just a real thanks for well written and easy to follow believeable infro just on 380/9/45 have all know but looking at 4 kimber why? Why not. PS what do you gel is easy-most comfortable Cary for older over weight 70 yr old that’s bin carrying for many yrs and still looking around

    1 year ago
  • Towjon

    Thanks a bunch just spent several hrs reading and educating my self on what gun to buy next your 9 and 45 infro is easy to read and follow I think you just might have keep me looking at another 9 over the 45 again very impressive writing style and believesble infro thanks again. TowJon

    1 year ago
  • Buck

    No affiliate $$ kickback for Federal HST's?

    1 year ago
    • Dennis

      I wish!!! Fed HST is my most used go-to defense round. I've heard Hickok45 admit Fed gives him free ammo, but he's been with them since he came off the Ark with Noah.

      2 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      I really like them for 9mm and .40 but for .380 which I don't have a lot of experience with...I fall back to the expertise of our writer choosing the best rounds.

      1 year ago
  • Eric

    Thanks for the article and very well written. I use the Precision One XTP bullet for my Kimber Mirco 380. I've been researching this a lot and you have some great ammo suggestions too.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, fellow Eric!

      1 year ago
  • DEWAYNE H

    The Underwood Defender is my choice. As a retired police officer, I wish this ammo had been around when I was on the streets. Take a look at some of the videos that have been posted. I don't think you will be disappointed.

    1 year ago
  • Jack

    I use Fiocchi Extrema. A reputable ballistics test recently demonstrated that they expand and penetrate very well out of small barrels. The vast majority of. 380 ACP hollow points don't, including the majority manufactured by the most well known brands. XTP bullets seem to do the best for this caliber.

    1 year ago
    • Dennis

      Federal makes excellent "heavy" HST bullets specifically for very small pocket guns. It's designated as "Federal HST Micro" ammo. Gel results very similar to Hornady 9mm 147gr in a 4.6in barrel.

      2 months ago
  • Doug Snapp

    I live in Florida...shorts and t-shirt all year... I have been shooting everything all of my young 60 years... I love my 380 because of size... I train with laser round at least 3 times a week and range 2-6 times a month pistol and mostly rifle... More power on a lighter gun means more recoil...and...on a very short barrel hitting your target can be very challenging...forget the stress Using the laser round is an inexpensive way to learn and train at home without recoil...trigger pull...and shot follow up. Then figure out the rounds you like the best at the range...PHYSICS don't go away...a big bullet in a tiny gun is not of much use and certainly not FUN...placement...PLACEMENT...placement...LASER ROUND practice sure opened my eyes...in a good way...thanks for all the good info PEW PEW.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Exactly, Doug!

      1 year ago
  • MarkWynn

    I've done my amateurish, little range tests with vaious Hornady lines, in .22WMR, .380 and .45ACP, and found them to perform as claimed. Disclaimer ... as a Lincoln, Nebraska native I've toured the Hornady facilities in Kearney. Found their development and testing programs impressive. Certainly more to ammo development than I imagined.

    1 year ago
  • Pandaz3

    I use Underwood with XTP' as my go to 380, but I have Sig Gold Crown, Federal Hydro Shock, Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HST, For hardball I use Fiocchi, and PMC primarily but I have a few other hardball choices.

    1 year ago
  • Monte Walsh

    Buffalo Bore.

    1 year ago
    • Dave

      I alternate BB and Hornady CD. BB is a good bone breaker but doesn't expand.

      1 year ago
  • Bobo

    Fiocchi Extrema (uses hornady xtp bullets)

    1 year ago
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