August 27, 2019
By Brad Miller, PhD
People have preferences for the type of handgun they prefer for concealed carry: a semiautomatic pistol or a revolver. Each has its advantages. Semiautomatic pistols tend to be flat and narrow, and many have greater cartridge capacities than a revolver, while revolvers have a reputation for being more reliable and easier to use.
Small revolvers are usually .22, .32, or .38 caliber, but they can also be found in semiautomatic pistol calibers, such as the 9mm Luger. Taurus Firearms makes several small revolvers for concealed carry, and surprisingly, one is chambered for the .380 ACP: the Model 380 UL.
The Taurus 380 UL is part of the company’s Ultra-Lite line, and it has an aluminum-alloy frame. The cylinder and barrel are steel. The little revolver weighs just 16.0 ounces.
The .380 ACP might seem like an unusual caliber for a revolver, but it has advantages, including small size and low recoil.
At first glance, the Taurus 380 UL looks like any other small revolver. But it’s a little shorter than most. It has a 1.75-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.95 inches.
How can the Taurus 380 UL be so short? The short overall length of the .380 ACP cartridge allows the cylinder to be shorter, which allows the frame to be shorter. Taurus has reduced the length of the frame and the cylinder to make the 380 UL one of the shortest mid-caliber revolvers on the market.
As I said, an advantage of the .380 ACP is low recoil. It has about 40 percent less recoil than the .38 Special and about 50 percent less recoil than the 9mm Luger in a handgun of the same weight. Less recoil means more control and faster follow-up shots.
Like many mid-caliber guns of this size, the 380 UL’s cylinder holds five rounds. The revolver has a double-action-only trigger mechanism and a bobbed hammer. A bobbed hammer means no hammerspur to catch on things when drawing from concealment.
The 380 UL is available in matte black or matte natural anodized (silver) finishes. Mine is the matte natural anodized version. The satin finish is attractive, although there are a few small scuffmarks here and there on the frame. Aluminum alloy is a soft metal, and it doesn’t take much to mar the finish. There are also scuffmarks at the front of the stainless-steel barrel.
Parts fit is good, and the seams all align nicely. Cylinder timing is good. The cylinder fully rotates and locks into position before or just as the hammer falls, even when a little resistance is applied to cylinder rotation. The barrel/cylinder gap measures 0.006 inch.
The trigger face is smooth. Measured with a Timney trigger pull gauge, pull weight averaged 14 pounds. That’s a little heavy compared to other double-action revolvers, and those with weak hand strength might find it to be too much. A slow pull is smooth but not consistent throughout the pull. But this isn’t a target pistol. It’s a point-and-shoot defensive gun, and when I pull the trigger faster, it is consistent.
The 380 UL points well, and grip angle is much like that of my S&W J-Frame and Ruger LCR revolvers, so it feels familiar to me. The grip is on the small side for my hand size (average), though it’s a little bigger in circumference than my S&W J-Frame. The soft rubber grip material is very comfortable, and because it wraps around the rear of the frame, it helps mitigate felt recoil.
The rear sight is black, and the front is gray and striated. The gray front sight tends to blend in and disappear on some targets, so I “painted” it orange. The rear sight has a half-moon shape and can be adjusted for windage.
Like most revolvers chambered in a rimless semiautomatic round, the 380 UL uses moon clips—Taurus calls them Stellar clips—to hold the ammunition to facilitate extraction. They measure 0.020 inch thick, and five come with the gun.
Using moon clips takes a little getting used to. I can load and unload these clips by hand, though removing the spent cases is a bit awkward. The clips are not very thick, and although they are made of hardened steel, it is possible to bend them, so care must be taken during handling. Tools like the moon clip loaders and unloaders from TK Custom and Revolver Supply make the task easier.
The moon clip also headspaces the round so that it’s the correct distance from the firing pin to ensure reliable ignition. That said, if the cylinder is chambered properly, the round can headspace without the need for a moon clip, and you can shoot the revolver without them. Can this gun do that? Yes—at least mine can. I fired two full cylinders without the moon clips. The downside of not using the moon clips is that the spent cases might have to be pushed out manually with a rod or a pencil. In my case, the spent cases dropped out with a little shaking. For the best reliability, I recommend you use the moon clips, but of course, the choice is up to you.
The 380 UL has an integral lock in the hammer. Two keys are included. Insert a key, rotate a quarter turn, and the screw moves outward and prevents the hammer from moving.
At the Range
I fired the Taurus 380 UL for accuracy at 10 yards because most defensive encounters will be closer than that. The average five-shot group accuracy with five different loads was between 3.04 and 3.83 inches. Velocity was quite good for such a short barrel. The slowest load still pushed a 95-grain bullet to 887 fps, producing 166 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, which is plenty to get the job done.
The inconsistent trigger pull was fully apparent during the accuracy testing because this is where I used a slow trigger pull, and it might have negatively impacted group size. In any case, the gun proved to be accurate enough for its intended purpose.
Casual shooting and running drills with this revolver are fun. It points naturally and the recoil is manageable.
I did have one problem. During the accuracy testing, the screw on the right sideplate that retains the yoke gradually unscrewed itself and fell out. I only noticed when it actually came out during a reload. The screw is one of three parts that hold the yoke in place, with the yoke pin and spring located under the yoke screw. I found the screw, but the pin and spring were lost.
This did not disable the gun, but I had to be careful when loading/unloading to prevent the cylinder and yoke from slipping forward. I was able to finish the accuracy test and do some casual shooting drills, too.
While having this screw back out during firing is not good, in all fairness, I’ve had screws and pins on guns from other big-name manufacturers back out. I caught those before they fell out. I wasn’t as lucky this time.
Taurus didn’t have the parts in stock, and because this gun is made in Brazil, they had to be ordered. The customer service rep said they get a shipment in about once a month. They took the order and shipped them when they arrived. Total downtime was two months. Lesson learned: Now I make sure that screw is tight.
A consideration for concealed carry is whether to carry extra ammo. Moon clips are round and bulky and don’t carry or conceal as easily as a flat magazine for a semiautomatic pistol. Some might opt to not carry extra ammo, but for those who want to, there are options. One could carry a moon clip in a pocket or a purse, but carrying one loose leaves it vulnerable to being bent, and a bent moon clip just won’t do because it could prevent the cylinder from rotating. A moon clip holder is best. TK Custom’s Taurus 9mm concealed moon clip holder will fit the 380 UL, and Revolver Supply has single- and double-post moon clip holders that also fit the 380 UL.
There is another option. My 380 UL would fire without using a moon clip, and if yours will, a speed strip might be a viable option for your extra ammo. They are flat like a semiauto magazine and easily fit in a pocket or a pouch. Speed strips are generally made for rimmed revolver rounds, but they can work with some rimless cases. Tuff Products makes six- and eight-shot QuickStrips that will hold .223, .32, .327, and 9mm Luger ammo. They’ll work with the .380 ACP, too.
The Taurus 380 UL revolver is a good choice for concealed carry. It offers small size, mild recoil, and adequate accuracy.
Taurus 380 UL Specs
- Type: Double-action-onlyrevolver
- Caliber: .380 ACP
- Cylinder Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 1.75 in.
- Overall Length: 5.95 in.
- Width: 1.4 in.
- Height: 4.4 in.
- Weight, Empty: 16.0 oz.
- Grips: Rubber
- Finish: Matte natural anodized
- Sights: Windage-adjustable rear, ramp front
- Trigger: 14-lb. DA pull (astested)
- Safety: Transfer bar, integralkey lock
- MSRP: $513.79
- Manufacturer: Taurus, taurususa.com