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The History Of The .380 Cartridge

John Moses Browning was America’s most prolific and successful firearms designer. He designed handguns primarily for the Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale of Liege, Belgium, as well as our home-grown maker Colt, of Hartford, Connecticut.

In 1908, he provided Colt with what is now the most prevalent round used in most blowback-action auto pistols, the so-called .380 ACP. It is also known as 9X17mm, or 9mm Kurz which is German for “short.”

.380 Cartridge or .380 Auto.

Browning 1911-.380 Black Label Pro
Browning 1911-.380 Black Label Pro

The bullets actually measure .355” in reality, such are the vagaries of marketing. The round nominally launches a 90 grain full metal jacketed, round-nosed bullet at 950 feet per second. Nowadays of course there are bullet weights between 80 and 102 grain jacketed hollow points available at your local shop, traveling between 870-1,050fps. These would be the recommended bullets for self-defense.

The “problem” with the .380 Cartridge is due to the blowback automatics it is normally chambered in. One cannot load it beyond SAAMI specs for pressure and velocity without using a short-recoil design, and so there is a delicate balance between expansion and penetration with this round. If one favors one, the other suffers.

Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP
Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP img:

The round is considered by most ballistic experts as the absolute power floor for use as a self-defense round, being somewhat weaker than the even older .38 Smith & Wesson Special in a two-inch snub revolver.

However, the .380 Cartridge is nearly always found in a small or very small and discreetly carried auto pistol that is flatter still than a revolver holding just five shots, while holding as many as seven rounds in a single-column magazine plus one up the spout.

The original home for the .380 Cartridge was Colt’s own “Pocket Model 1908,” and this blowback auto pistol (which lacked the more usual Browning short-recoil tilting barrel delayed locking system used for more powerful rounds) was carried by such future luminaries as General George S. Patton during WWII.

The idea for the cartridge was to provide the shooter with a pistol with a minimal exterior profile, size and weight. Besides the Colt Pocket, the recently-reviewed Savage 1915 Auto, and of course the most famous Walther PP and Walther PPK all were chambered with this cartridge.

The round was popular with European police forces for decades, and it was abandoned mostly for its lack of power. Most of these police agencies went to the more powerful 9X19 Parabellum.

PolyCase: ARX 380 Auto Cartridges
PolyCase: ARX 380 Auto Cartridges

There is some confusion about the .380 and its supposed interchangeability in your auto pistol. There shouldn’t be. This cartridge is unique, and must not be confused with the 9X18 Ultra, or the Soviet 9mm Makarov.

While these two rounds outwardly look similar, neither will chamber and fire in a correctly-sized .380 chamber. Those two rounds are hardly more powerful either, and the Makarov round is the only one that is still in wide usage today thanks to the plethora of used, surplus ComBloc pistols imported into the U.S.

The .380 Cartridge has made a huge resurgence in sales in the U.S. in the past ten years, mostly because of a slew of modern, plastic-framed micro-compact handguns that feed a market obsessed with the smallest and lightest carry handgun one can buy. Examples include the Kel-Tec P-3AT, the Ruger LCP, and the SIG-Sauer P238. Each are under five inches in length and weigh under a pound.

The disadvantages of the pocket auto is that they are harder to shoot accurately, recoil more, and do not have the surety of “stopping power” as bigger and heavier rounds do.

.380 ACP Cartridge Load Data


Some older-generation shooters also believe that the two-inch .38 revolver may still be a better choice, and they MAY have a point. These micro-compact autos do have a tendency to be less reliable than their larger brethren even though they hold more ammo.

However, the shooter who desires this very discreet mode of carry can select from literally dozens of good choices in the caliber, “when you simply cannot carry anything larger.”

.380 ACP Resources

  • .380 ACP Ammuntion :
  • .380 AUTO Ammo Videos :

Source: Ammoland

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