The following is the fifth post in a multi-part series on ballistics tests of the major defensive handgun calibers in use done by one of our site sponsors, Ammo To Go. Top notch company with first class customer service- and committed to showing you the very best, no-BS data on ammo you’re likely to be using. -NCS

Join us as we dive in to a wealth of ballistic testing data to try to determine what some of the best options are for 380 ACP self-defense ammunition.

The .380 ACP round, also called the .380 Auto (among other designations), is a popular handgun cartridge that has been used for self defense, hunting, military, and law-enforcement purposes. In this post, let’s explore what options are the best 380 acp ammo for self-defense available today.

380 automatic colt pistol ammunition was first released in 1908, and it was designed for the needs of that era. As such, it doesn’t have the power, speed, or ballistic performance that you find from more “modern” cartridges, such as the 9mm Luger or .40 S&W.

Because of the reduced velocity/energy delivered by the bullet, some firearms enthusiasts and concealed-carry proponents feel that the .380 ACP does not deliver enough power to stop a threat. However, this cartridge is manageable, reliable, and (without a doubt) deadly. The power and performance concerns for this cartridge can be overcome if you choose a product that delivers the right amount of penetration along with decent shot diameter and velocity.

380 ACP & Pistol Ammo Performance Standards from the FBI

photo of ruger lcr handgun on broken glass

Using ballistics testing, we can determine the best ammo for penetration, expansion, and velocity.

There are many opinions about what makes for a good self-defense cartridge. From muzzle energy to the rate of expansion, you can find claims for different factors as the “most important” to a self-defense round.But when it comes to self-defense information, few organizations are as well equipped as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to their performance standards, a bullet should, during testing, penetrate at least 12 inches but no more than 18 inches. (Se below for over-penetration concerns.) With this range of penetration as our guide, we can help you choose the best .380 ACP rounds for self defense.

Testing Methodology

For our research, we used testing information on 17 different .380 ACP ammo options from testing conducted by Ammo To Go. With their stats as our guide, we can give you information on the best .380 ACP rounds for penetration, shot diameter, and velocity. We can then combine the stats to give you a reliable recommendation for your self-defense needs.

5 Best .380 ACP Rounds for Penetration

photo of .380 winchester ranger bullets

Winchester Ranger Talon, 95-grain HP ammunition.

Penetration is an all-important factor for stopping an oncoming threat. Without reliable, deep penetration, a shot will not reach the vital organs. In turn it will not cause enough blood loss to significantly stop the target.

According to the FBI, penetration must be at least 12 inches in order to effectively stop a threat on a consistent basis. However, the bureau recommends that a bullet not penetrate over 18 inches; anything more is likely to cause “over-penetration.”

Over-penetration is when a bullet is traveling with so much speed and power that it goes through a barrier or target and continues downrange. Over-penetration can cause injury or even death to an unintended target.

Maintaining the right balance of penetration is crucial to the performance of a bullet. To make our list of the best .380 ACP cartridges for personal protection, we first looked that the deepest-penetrating rounds that do not go over 18 inches of penetration. (Of all 17 .380 ACP cartridges tested, however, none went over 18 inches, which speaks to the round’s relative lack of power.)

  1. Remington Ultimate Defense, 120-grain JHP: 17.4 inches
  2. Remington HTP, 88-grain JHP: 17 inches
  3. Hornady American Gunner, 90-grain XTP: 16.3 inches
  4. Winchester Ranger Talon, 95-grain HP: 16.2 inches
  5. Remington Golden Saber, 102-grain HP: 16.1 inches

5 Best .380 ACP Ammo Loads for Bullet Expansion

photo of Barnes 380 ammo

Barnes TAC-XPD 80-grain HP ammunition.

Along with penetration depth, shot diameter remains an important factors for stopping a threat.

Essentially, the larger the diameter of the bullet as it travels through the target, the more damage it will do and the more likely it will end the threat.

Shot diameter involves bullet expansion. When a soft-nose or hollow point bullet strikes a target, the forward energy causes the projectile to expand or “mushroom,” creating a larger wound channel. A lot of factors will be involved in the process of mushrooming, including speed and energy.

Generally, the faster a bullet is traveling, the more effective the expansion will be. However, sometimes bullet construction or a lack of speed can limit mushrooming.

Among the firearms community, good expansion for a self-defense round is considered to be bullet’s original diameter multiplied by 1.5. For a .380 ACP, which has a bullet diameter of .355 inches, expansion should be at least .53 inches (.355 x 1.5 = .5325 inches) For the list of best .380 ACP rounds for shot diameter, we looked at the largest-expansion, and included all rounds whether or not they landed in the FBI’s desired range of penetration.

  1. Winchester Supreme Elite 95-grain Bonded: .62 inches
  2. Winchester W Train and Defend, 95-grain JHP: .6 inches
  3. Federal Personal Defense, 99-grain HST JHP: .59 inches
  4. Barnes TAC-XPD 80-grain HP: 55 inches: .55 inches
  5. MagTech Guardian Gold +P, 85-grain HP: .47 inches

5 Best .380 ACP Rounds for Average Velocity

photo of remmington 380 bullets on a wooden pallet

Remington HTP, 88-grain JHP ammunition.

Finally, we wanted to look at velocity for our list of the best .380 ACP rounds for personal protection.

Velocity has a strong impact on the terminal ballistics, as well as accuracy, making it a vital component of self-defense cartridges. Velocity has a significant impact on the expansion of a round at the target. Generally speaking, the faster a bullet is traveling when it strikes the target, the better it will expand and the deeper it will penetrate. Velocity also drives more energy into the target, bringing stronger knock-down potential.

  1. MagTech First Defense, 77-grain HP: 995 feet per second
  2. Federal Personal Defense, 99-grain HST JHP: 956 feet per second
  3. MagTech Guardian Gold +P, 85-grain HP: 954 feet per second
  4. Winchester Ranger Talon, 95-grain HP: 907 feet per second
  5. Remington HTP, 88-grain JHP: 902 feet per second

Final Thoughts: What’s the Best.380 ACP Round for Personal Defense?

photo of ruger LCP 380 handgun with 9mm bullets on a tree stump

Ruger LCP .380 handgun with Federal Personal Defense HST JHP ammunition.

Our Thoughts – Best .380 Ammo for Self-Defense

  1. Federal Personal Defense – 99 Grain HST
  2. Winchester Ranger Talon – 95 Grain, Hollow Point
  3. Barnes TAC-XPD – 80 Grain, Hollow Point
  4. Remington HTP – 88-grain JHP

Based on the numbers provided by Ammo To Go, the Federal Personal Defense loaded with 99-grain HST JHP bullets appears to be the best 380 acp ammo for self-defense. During testing, this round delivered penetration within the FBI’s desired range and had excellent shot diameter at .59 inches. Only two bullets delivered larger shot diameter, but neither had penetration over 9.56 inches. For this reason, it appears that the Federal Personal Defense HST is the top choice.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!