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.380 ACP The Easy Way

by Lane Pearce   |  January 4th, 2011 1

Because of the recent scarcity of just about all factory-loaded ammunition, especially the .380 ACP…


Sometimes components for reloading are more readily available than factory-loaded ammo, as was the case with the .380 ACP. The author fashioned enough
handloaded .380 ammo to keep his pocket pistol up and running.

Because of the recent scarcity of just about all factory-loaded ammunition, especially the .380 ACP (which is most assuredly due in large part to the recent proliferation of .380 ACP pocket pistols), finding new ammo in the local gunshops has been awfully hard. But I found an easier way to have enough ammo in order to practice with my little .380. All I have to do is handload. Luckily for me, loading components–even primers–have not been hard to come by.

And handloading the .380 ACP is quite easy. You follow the normal routine of resizing and decapping, expanding the case mouth, priming, throwing a powder charge, and seating and taper crimping the bullet. My biggest obstacle is handling the small cartridge case.

Compared to the 9mm Luger, the .380 case is 17mm versus 19mm. It is not tapered. Because the .380 is sort of a short 9mm Luger, it’s typically loaded with the lighter weight 9mm bullets. Of course, 9mm bullets are 0.354/0.355 inch in diameter, so you might wonder how they can be correct for loading the .380. It’s because the .380 moniker refers to the case instead of the bullet diameter.

The .380 operates at lower chamber pressure compared to the 9mm Luger, so propellant charges and bullet velocities are correspondingly reduced. Muzzle energy of the .380 ACP is about 40 to 50 percent less than the 9mm Luger. However, it will launch 80- to 95-grain bullets fast enough to ensure adequate close-range energy to stop a perpetrator.

When I looked at my supply of bullets, I discovered one of those good news/bad news situations. The good news was I had two really great jacketed hollowpoint bullets to test. The bad news was that those were the only two I had on hand. Steve Johnson at Hornady was able to send a couple boxes of the excellent HP/XTP bullets, and there was even more good news because an unexpected remedy to the bullet shortage cropped up.

I live a few miles north of Cullman, Alabama, and, coincidentally, that’s where Zero Ammunition Company, Inc. is located. Again, coincidentally, my next-door neighbor, Carl, knows Zero’s proprietor, Fred Stallings. Carl arranged for us to tour the facility, and to make a short story even shorter, I returned home with a couple hundred JSP-HB bullets to include in this report.

As I prepared to handload some .380 ammo, I retrieved my latest loading manuals to review the recommended load data. Several excellent propellants are suited to reloading .380 and, as the chart on page 18 shows, are adaptable to various bullet selections. Matt Reed, a member of my gun club, fired most of the test loads in his laser-sighted Ruger LCP. I fired the rest in my carry LCP. We experienced a couple failures to feed. These mishaps were quickly remedied by adjusting the bulletseating depth to ensure they would not jam into the feedramp.

One reloading caution is very important. Published load data for the Barnes TAC-XP bullets lists only Accurate and Ramshot propellants. This bullet is made of copper and features a large hollowpoint. Although at 80 grains it’s the lightest bullet of those typically loaded in .380 or 9mm ammo, the appropriate charge weights are significantly reduced from those specified for heavier, conventional lead-core, bullets.

Why? Because the TAC-XP bullet is longer and must be seated deeper into the case so that the loaded round does not exceed maximum overall length. That, in turn, reduces the combustion chamber volume, so less propellant is needed to achieve maximum allowable pressures.

To repeat: It is not safe to simply substitute the lighter TAC-XP for any other .380 ACP bullet/propellant recipe listed in a published load manual/pamphlet. I experimented cautiously to develop the data shown for propellants from other suppliers.

There are several .380 ACP pistols available, and despite their less powerful ballistic performance, these compact-sized pistols are quite suitable for self-defense. Typically charged with seven to 10 rounds, they are easy to learn to shoot well and even easier to carry on your person or in a purse (where it is legal to do so).

In other words, these pistols are very much suited for self-defense. However, you must practice regularly to achieve and retain the skills required to ensure that you and your pistol are ready if needed. I handload as much ammo as I may need for practice and don’t rely on having access to an adequate supply of factory-loaded ammo. You can do the same and avoid an untenable situation.


TOP .380 ACP HANDLOADS
Bullet Powder Type Powder GRS. Velocity (fps) Extreme Spread (fps) Standard Deviation (fps) Muzzle Energy (ft-ilbs) 10-Yard Accuracy (inches)
Barnes 80-gr. TAC-XP AutoComp 3.6 858 52 17 131 1.70
Barnes 80-gr. TAC-XP Power Pistol 3.9 876 49 20 136 1.30
Barnes 80-gr. TAC-XP Silhouette 3.8 855 17 7 130 1.80
Barnes 80-gr. TAC-XP Universal Clays 3.1 893 95 25 142 1.60
Hornady 90-gr. HP/XTP AutoComp 4.4 971 53 13 188 2.00
Hornady 90-gr. HP/XTP Power Pistol 4.7 939 70 26 176 2.60
Hornady 90-gr. HP/XTP Silhouette 4.7 966 47 14 187 2.40
Speer 90-gr. Gold Dot AutoComp 4.4 942 58 21 177 1.90
Speer 90-gr. Gold Dot Silhouette 4.8 959 32 13 184 2.20
Speer 90-gr. Gold Dot Unique 4.5 993 76 32 197 1.10
Speer 90-gr. Gold Dot Universal Clays 4.0 1019 84 20 208 1.60
Zero 95-gr. JSP-HB AA No. 2 3.5 886 14 6 166 1.60
Zero 95-gr. JSP-HB Power Pistol 4.7 917 24 8 177 2.10
Zero 95-gr. JSP-HB Silhouette 4.6 956 33 13 193 2.10
NOTES: Accuracy is the average of four, five-shot groups fired from a benchrest. Velocity is the average of 10 to 20 rounds measured 6 feet from the gun’s muzzle with an Oehler 35P chronograph. All handloads used CCI 500 primers in various brands of brass.
NOTES: All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times, InterMedia Outdoors nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

  • jack moore

    Thank you very informative article.

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