Cartridge of the Week, the .380 Auto, .380 ACP, 9mm Browning, 9mm Short, 9×17, 9mm Kurz

The best gun ever made is the one you have on you when you need it. It may not be your first choice but as long as it goes bang in the right direction, to you there will never be a better gun made. The key to having that gun is that you will keep it with you; always…

.380 ACP, 9mm Browning Short, 9×17

Years ago as a young police officer, I remember my first chance to carry concealed, my choice was a 4 inch full-sized Smith & Wesson 686 in a shoulder holster. That lasted two weeks. Then I discovered my first pocket pistol, a Model 60 Smith and Wesson. The lesson is if it is too big or awkward to carry, then you will not likely carry it. It will be in the glove box of your car when you are in between the car and the store. While I carry a sub-compact .45 ACP religiously, there are times when even this is too big and I need another more compact option.

Now we have many choices in pocket pistols, or Get- Off-Me-Guns as I call them. The most popular come in a caliber once again designed by his Excellency John Moses Browning, the 9mm Browning or, as we now know it, the .380 ACP. Here is the absolute perfect pocket caliber. For those that are screaming foul, I did not say the best caliber, just the best pocket caliber.

Sig Sauer P238 .380 ACP

Let’s look at our choices. The .22 Long Rifle (.22LR) is a great little bullet and light. A full magazine of .22 LR is not going to weigh a gun down and you can get a gun that will fit a pocket. However, when we speak of ballistics there are much better calibers. Do not get me wrong, the Deuce Deuce can get the job done. The next step would be the .32 ACP. However, decent guns and ammo in this caliber are harder to come by. The .25 ACP is not even worth talking about. I got physically ill just thinking of some of the guns it is chambered for.

Smith and Wesson 642 .38 Special. Little gun, big kick, only five shots.

If we move just above the .380 ACP we get to the .38 Special. This is a great caliber for pocket pistols, good ballistics and good punch but usually only available in wheel guns and only five shots at best. Of course, now we have to talk about kick or recoil. Pocket pistols are a handful in most any caliber but .22 LR. Yes, .38 Special is a good pocket round as well as 9mm but the recoil in these small packages is a handful. Small gun equals big kick.

This brings us back to our .380 ACP, the best of all worlds, a 9mm bullet but in a smaller package. Designed by J.M.B. in 1908 for the Colt Pocket Automatic and subsequently introduced to Fabrique National (FN) in 1912 as the 9mm Browning Short. This became a standard for police calibers in Europe. It is the smallest caliber acceptable for police use. Some countries still use it as a military caliber cartridge.

The .380 ACP in both the Cartridges of The World and the Ammunition Encyclopedia recommend this as the very smallest caliber for personal defense. I would have to agree with that statement. The smaller calibers, .22, .25, and .32, are still better than nothing, but if you are looking for the best pocket pistol cartridge then the .380 ACP has no rivals. A simple comparison of ballistic capabilities should resolve that argument.

Walther PPK .380 ACP

One point of note is if you choose the small .380 cartridge and a pocket pistol, this is not the gun you take to range and shoot all day. They kick and at times are uncomfortable to shoot. I once shot a Colt Mustang in this caliber. It was the best in quality worst shooting experience with a gun I can remember. It is a great pocket gun with lousy recoil. Larger .380 pistols are much more pleasant to shoot. The best of these are usually in the Walther PPK packages or medium size Berettas. However, these are not true pocket pistols.

I recently took a first time shooter out to the range. I had him start with a medium-size 1970s Beretta .380 Garcia. He really enjoyed it and shot it quite well. So if you are looking for that small gun for a family member who is really gun shy to recoil, the medium framed gun chambered in the .380 ACP is a great choice. Lets be real, James Bond carried one what more do you need.

James Bond Sporting a Walther PPK .380 ACP
9mm Luger, 9mm Mac, .380 ACP
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Comments (24)

  1. I carry the versa thunder 380cc as my concealed carry weapon during the warmest months (I have a Rock Island 1911a1cs but it’s kinda hard to conceal wearing a t-shirt linguine the summer), I find the versa thunder to be extremely accurate pistol with a natural point and shoot capability. I keep it loaded with Hornaday critical defence ammunition at all times.

  2. I’ve had a Desert Eagle Micro since they were released in the U.S. ,
    All stainless Croat? air force survival pistol that passes BuffaloBore non-+P high velocity Gold Dots like they are hardball practice cartridges.
    A Remora keeps it stuck where I place it, and it is a nice alternative or back-up to my short XDS.45.

  3. My PPK/S jammed frequently even with new mags so I sold it to a gunsmith who said he could fix it. Didn’t happen. Feed ramp polishing didn’t help either. Now I have a Sig P230 for a CC. it’s slightly lighter than my old 469 but I can’t get used to the stupid magazine latch. It takes both hands- one to hold the weapon and one to release the latch… Bummer!
    That and only Sig magazines work reliably and they’re pricey… Bummer again! I usually find out these things too late… Bummer some more!

  4. I love my Ruger LCP. It has laser sights, and a square inside the pocket holster with non-slip strips that keep the holster ready to draw. It is invisible in most pants, and shoots ragged one-hole groups at seven yards, so who needs iron sights? The recoil is no big deal, but the trigger pull is nothing to brag about.

  5. I like the PPK/S as a .380 as well. For regular carry it is fine but as a back-up pistol it is too heavy for me. I enjoyed shooting it. I switched to a smaller Ruger LCP in .380 which doesn’t weigh anything and fits into any pocket. True, it has no sights, a horrible trigger, recoils like a mule and doesn’t lock open when empty, but it is a backup. It is also accurate enough at 15 feet to be usefull. I hope the new version out will fix the LCP’s weaknesses. Normal carry for me is a 9mm Nano or PX4 subcompact with a spare mag. I do think the PPK/S is not a good choice for a first hand gun.

  6. I have both the original Colt Mustang and the Colt Government Model . 380. The Government Model is more comfortable to shoot but I have never found the Mustang to be offensive . My daughter even shoots it. I would not recommend the Pocket Light or the polymer frame version but the all steal version should not be a problem for any but those who are hypersensitive to recoil.

  7. I own the Lcp and the PPK/s. The PPK is a pleasure to shoot but the Lcp with a pocket clip screwed to it hangs beautifully on the upper opening of my pocket. It never gets into the bottom of the pocket thereby making it much more accessible and keeping it cleaner. Its the Lcp for me for everyday carry.

  8. This was a great article, as far as it went. I sometimes carry a model 60 and it is a decent back up. My first home defense gun is my PPK/s in .380. I agree that there is a great difference between that and the PP .32 I used to carry. Modern ballistics have made these calibers viable again. I wish your article talked more about the options in ammo for these guns. By the way, “OldCavGuy,” I like the weight in my PPK/s. It helps fast action and accuracy and isn’t as heavy as my usual full size carries.

  9. I had a PPK/S in 380. Good single actio, accurate, small and heavy. Heavy was the main problem. It weighs as much as a 9mm Luger sub-compact. I now carry a Ruger LCP with a spare mag in a pocket and a sub-compact 9mm in an IWB holster. The LCP is small and light. You can easily hide and carry it. On the other hand it kicks, has a bad trigger, no sights worthy of the name, and doesn’t lock back when empty. A BUG for last resort and not a pistol I recommend.

  10. I carry a Bersa thunder .380. The extra weight of it makes it better for my hands, in which I have some nerve damage. It is still small enough for me to carry comfortably. I’ve carried others and used them at the range, but to me, for what I carry it for, it is the best option. And Tar Heel, thanks for posting the vid.

  11. Great article! Love my PPK .380; don’t go anywhere without it! I bought my wife a PPK knockoff in a .380 Bersa Model 83 (Her choice; she liked the wooden grips) Loaded with JHP, it’ll get the job done.

  12. I agree with TarHeel – recently added a P238 to my collection and I love it. A nice pocket holster hides the outline so nobody is the wiser. I carry it regularly.

  13. Mistols like the M&P Shield, Walther PPS, and Springfield XDS may change this in the long run, putting, 9mm, .40, and .45 into small packages previously reserved for .380.

    But for the time being, a modern .380 is will do the job.

  14. I own a PPK/S in .380, and it is a good pistol for its niche-something to carry when my XD45 and Para Ord GI Expert are too large. it is a flippy little gun.

    1. I appreciate your video and comments. I use Critical Defense in all my carries except my 1911, in that I use Critical Duty. This is what makes the difference from earlier ammo to the modern more proficient ammo available today.

  15. I carry my Sig P238 in my pocket–it is a great gun with little recoil. You can shoot it all day at the range (I’ve put 300+ rounds through it in a single range trip with no discomfort). Incredibly accurate for such a short barrel gun. Also disappears in my pocket. IMHO, the best .380 carry gun on the market!

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