Picking a pocket .380

Is your .380 enough gun? Lately, the market has been flooded by compact .380 ACP pistols, from the brand new Diamondback .380 to the Sig P238 there are a ton of options out there for shooters looking for a compact pocket gun. In fact, Cheaper Than Dirt! recently went over some of the more inexpensive pocket .380 pistols available. Having carried a .25 ACP in a pocket for quite some time, it’s safe to say that I’m a firm believer that the .380 you carry is a step above the 9mm or .45 ACP that you leave at home because it’s too heavy.

The current generation of pocket guns have some serious strengths and weakness as well.  Starting with the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec guns, the sights are essentially non-existent.  Both the Ruger and the Kel-Tec sport what is commonly called a “gutter sight” which means that instead of the traditional 3-post set up we’re all used to, there is a trough down the middle of the slide.  All of these pocket pistols benefit greatly from the addition of Crimson Trace Lasers, but this goes more so for the LCP and the Kel-Tec.  By adding the Crimson Trace Laserguard for the LCP to your gun you then greatly improve your ability to hit close targets faster and to hit distant targets period.  Using a Crimson Trace equipped Sig P238 (pictured above) I was able to make consistent hits on an IPSC A/C zone target at 25 yards.  The Sig P238 doesn’t even need the Crimson Trace as much as the LCP as it has excellent factory night sights; and yet even on this gun it just makes sense to add it.

The next issue that you’ll encounter on these pocket guns is the trigger.  I like the Ruger LCP – I think it’s a great defensive firearm.  I don’t like the trigger very much.  The same can be said for the Kel-Tec, Diamondback, Bersa, and pretty much all the pocket .380s with the exception of the Sig P238 (again) which has an excellent single action trigger.  But that’s not without problems of its own, as the Sig P238 must be carried cocked-and-locked with the safety on…in a pocket.  That might be an area of concern to some gun owners, in which case a double action gun such as the LCP might be a better bet.

Of course, the most critical issue with the .380 is ammo selection.  The debate will continue to rage whether the .380 is “enough” gun, and whether or not you should use ball ammo to get more penetration or use JHP ammo to get more expansion.  The BVAC ammo at the right is a 90 grain JHP at approximately 1000 FPS using a Speer hollow point bullet.  I tend to prefer hollow points for .380 ammo not because I think they improve my stopping power but rather because a hollow point bullet is less likely to glance off the hard bones in the rib-cage if used in a dynamic critical incident.  FMJ rounds are great for practice and training, but for defensive carry I definitely want the heaviest, fastest hollow points I can get for my .380.

The final thing to consider for your defensive .380 is reliability and learning curve.  Your gun must run the ammo that you choose for it reliably.  If you carry the BVAC ammo above, it needs to work in your gun.  You also need to practice with you gun, and not just standing on the range.  A .380 that’s carried as a last ditch defensive weapon needs to be something that you can draw and get quick, accurate hits with.  Would you take a defensive shooting class with a Ruger LCP?  I honestly don’t know if I would, but it’s something to think about.

When selecting a defensive pocket gun, remember that the first rule of a gunfight is “have a gun”.  The .380 you have beats a .44 at home, but if you have the wrong ammo or can’t hit with your .380, it’s not much better than a magic talisman.  Carry your guns…but make sure your gear is the best you can get.  After all, your life may depend on it.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  1. Bought a Colt Mustang Pocket Lite back in the mid 90’s for my wife to carry, no problems with any good quality ammo.

  2. Great article; my wife carries a Sig 232 that she is quite happy, and good with. I on the other hand, when I want to go small, carry either a East German Makarov, CZ-82, or a P-64 chambered in 9×18 Makarov.
    The Makarov’s average feet per second is 1048 and energy at muzzle is 217 foot pounds, while the .380’s average feet per second is 975 with average energy at muzzle is 200 foot pounds.
    The 9×18 Makarov travels faster and hits harder and all pistols mentioned love Hornady Custom 95 grain XTP jacketed hollow points.
    Maybe not a round for everybody but it certainly shouldn’t be discounted. Did I mention it’s also extremely accurate?

  3. I am a technolgy teacher, NRA/military trained shooter of 50+ years, NRA firearms instructor, and gun shop/shooting range (Chris’s Indoor Shooting Range, Guilford, Ct) member. I have been fortunate enough to test many weapon and ammo combinations. My current carry is a Walther PK 380. I believe it cannot be beat for performance, features, value and manufacturer reputation. When loaded with a self defense pistol round, it is more than the equal of a standard 9mm for accuracy, reacquisition of sight picture and ability to deliver a hail of rounds down range. My previous carries have been an HP22 and a Walther P22 (both 3.5 and 5 inch) with Aguila Subsonic Sniper 60 gr. rounds; an unfortunately unknown and under estimated nasty little package. This is a great blog, keep up the good work!

  4. I like to carry a 380 pistol. I have a PPK/S and A Sig238 with the crimson laser.
    Both are very accurate at 25 ft and out of all the 380’s on the market, they are
    very well built. With high power hollow points loaded in ether handgun I would
    ,and do, trust my life to ether handgun. Witch one is best? The Sig 380 is a mini
    1911 in all ways, it breaks down and fires just like it’s bigger brother. The PPK/S
    has a learning curve, it breaks down different and the action is DOA ,very well
    built. Its just so easy to tuck one inside your belt ready for use. I even keep one
    under my pillow at night.
    regards to all

  5. read that mossad still prefers .22autos(!); guess .380 wil git’r’done; probably rapidfire muzzle blast to eyes while trying to block, parry whatever U can, turn him & get a few into side of cranium

  6. I have a SW.380 (used) first time out I would Jam every third shot using hollow points. I was told by dealer this gun was not made for HP and to use ball ammo. Also the pistol was not properly “broken in”. has anyon eelse experienced this with a SW

  7. I carry a Colt Mustang Plus II .380. It is very accurate and feeds ammo without a problem. Great pocket gun and just a shame that Colt stopped production years ago. A set of rosewood finger grips from Eagle Grips makes it not only great looking but easy to hold.

  8. I bought a new Keltec .40 cal some years back and truly liked it. Holding a good sight picture with the long trigger squeeze was an obstacle, for sure. I finally figured the secret for accurately firing this little power house; Using a 2 hand grip is a given, you gotta do it, but the secret lies in PINCHING the front of the trigger guard VERY tightly with thumb and first finger and doing ALL the aiming and holding with the weak hand while doing ONLY trigger squeeze with the right hand. I get groups as tight as possible this way. My only problem with this gun was that it picked up blue jean pocket extremely bad. I had to take it apart every couple of days for this reason alone. Getting the strong spring back in place was very difficult for me and the wear and tear on the spring eventually resulted in jamming of the action. For this reason only, I traded it away. I surely miss it. ( I was firing HP hollow points in it exclusively.)

  9. First, I don’t think range is an issue with conceal carry guns. If your attacker is more than a few yards away, chances are you will be able to take cover or get away before he can complete his attack. 25 yards is a very long way in situations where you might need a concealed gun. So I don’t think sights are all that important in a conceal carry gun.

    Second, some .380’s do not take hollow point. I know the Jimenez is such a gun. It is actualy affordable to some of us who don’t have $500 to blow on a carry gun. Besides who want’s to lose that kind of money if something happens to your carry gun, like loss or theft. I’m pretty hard on cell phones I can only imagine what kind of beating a carry gun will take when I start carrying one.

  10. ” I like the Ruger LCP – I think it’s a great defensive firearm. I don’t like the trigger very much. The same can be said for the Kel-Tec, Diamondback, Bersa, and pretty much all the pocket .380s with the exception of the Sig P238 (again) which has an excellent single action trigger. ”

    How ’bout the Kahr? Kind of a glaring omission, especially since it has a wonderful trigger.

  11. I have a Taurus 738 TCP in .380 Auto.

    My only complaint with the pistol is the trigger pull and travel. The pull seems a bit heavy and the pull seems longer than my Mil-Spec. 1911 (then Para-Ord, now Para-USA).

    Everything else
    Sights – A true 3 post sighting system. They are short and have the edges shaved to give a “snag free” design. From the factory they allowed for a full load (6+1) to be shot at 25 meters into a full size silhouette with all 7 in the black.

    Size – Easily fits inside any pocket of my jeans, jackets, and MC vest. With my larger hands, if I extend my index finger along the slide, the tip of this finger extends approx, 1/4 inches past the end of the barrel. This compactness makes it a little awkward to first get used to and establish my grip, but after 300+ rounds I’m confident in my grip and it feels a bit more comfortable. Be mindful of were your fingers wrap around, they may (like mine) inadvertently rest on the magazine release. Took some a bit of practice with my grip but spontaneous magazine drops are now a thing of the past.

    Ammo – I use the El-Cheapo American Eagle 90gr. FMJ’s. There have been no feed, dead primer, or FTF issues at all.

    Safety – If there is one, they hid it well. There is no mention of a safety and once a round is placed into the chamber, it’s ready to fire. You must keep this in mind when putting it into a pocket, purse, or any confined space with other objects that could inadvertently manipulate the trigger. Keep your pocket free of anything but your pistol and your about as safe as your gonna be.

    Weight – 10.2 ounces (dry I believe). With the polymer frame every bit of the recoil is put into your hand. Did contribute to some trigger slap, but as with everything, practice allows your to get used to the little quirks like this. After all, am I gonna be worried about a little recoil or trigger slap when my life is on the line? Most likely not.

    Rapid fire with only indexing on the back-strap and my hand at a distance of 12 meters (the maximum distance from wall to wall through a doorway inside my house) yields all shots fired into a full sized silhouette landing in the black with 5 hitting the heart and lung areas. I am pleased with this pistol, it makes for a good summertime CCW pocket pistol when I am not able to carry my larger .40S&W CZ 2075. In the winter time I can keep it inside the jacket I always wear and no-one is the wiser. The slide release if virtually useless, my thumb is not able to operate it like I can on a standard 1911 style pistol. I am happy with the pistol overall, it shoots well, is compact and feels fairly good in my hands. It seems nearly perfect for the job it’s intended for, concealed carry self defense in close quarters (<10 meters). I hope I never have to use it, but I feel confident in it should the need arise.

  12. I have a Walther PK380. I love the little rascal but I seldom carry it because it is as big as my HK P7M8 and I get a lot more punch from the 9mm than the 9kurtz.

  13. I currently have a Kel-Tec P3AT Freedom Edition. I have yet to shoot it but have heard lots of good things about it. I’m carrying Hornady Critical Defense ammo in it. I agree about having the Crimson Trace grips. Mine came with one already. Can’t wait to get it out to the range & broken in. I’d also recommend a good pocket holster. It just doesn’t feel right having it in anything but that.

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