Best .380 Ammo

These are the best loads to feed your .380 ACP
The best .380 ammo along with a Glock chambered in .380 ACP.

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I get it. The premise of using the .380 ACP for self-defense seems foolish to some. For those who think it’s inadequate, I’d like to point out that you’re not likely to find any volunteers to stand there and take a round from any pistol chambered in this short, stubby cartridge. The point being, no one wants to get shot with anything. The .380 ACP, designed by John M. Browning in 1908, has a respectable and useful place in self-defense situations. Most .380 pistols are smaller and more concealable than 9mm pistols, thus easier to carry, and today ammo manufacturers are producing capable loads for this cartridge.

If you’re going to carry a .380, you must carefully select the best .380 ammo for your intended purpose. In a self-defense situation the two most critical factors are reliability in your firearm and bullet performance. 

Practice is also critical. Finding a load that approximates the recoil and point of impact—yet is more affordable than the premium, self-defense rounds—will be useful for your training regimen.

How I Tested the Best .380 Ammo

All of the .380 ammo in the gel block.

With reliability and bullet performance in mind, we bought a 16-inch long block of ballistic gelatin from Clear Ballistics. We shot some of the test subjects into the high-tech Jell-O from a distance of 3 yards to see how they performed. We mainly wanted to see if bullets penetrated adequately, expanded and stayed together if (that’s what they were designed to do). There were no major surprises. Here’s our top pick for each category.

Best .380 Ammo: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Self-Defense Ammo: Hornady Critical Defense Ammunition 380 ACP 90 Grain FTX

Key Features

  • FTX Bullet
  • Low flash propellant
  • Gel block penetration: 9.5 inches


  • Polymer tip prevents hollow point from clogging and helps reliable feeding


  • None that we experienced
The hornady critical defense .380 ACP gel test.
The Hornady Critical Defense's temporary wound cavity. Matt Foster

Hornady’s Critical Defense line of ammunition is loaded with its FTX bullets. FTX stands for Flex Tip, and in this case the flexible tip is a semi-soft design that sits in the hollow point bullet. This helps the bullet feed reliably and keeps the bullet’s hollow point from clogging with clothing or debris that might prevent it from expanding as it should. The polymer tip also encourages more reliable feeding. This is a controlled expansion bullet, designed to open to a degree while maintaining bullet integrity. It also allows the round to strike a balance between expansion and penetration. To minimize its signature, the Critical Defense line is loaded with low flash propellant. It performed well in our gel block test, having 9.5 inches of penetration with expansion and bullet integrity.

Best Practice Ammo: Blazer Ammunition 380 ACP 95 Grain Full Metal Jacket

Key Features

  • 95 FMJ bullet
  • Non-reloadable aluminum cases


  • Inexpensive
  • FMJ Ball bullet design feeds well


  • Non-reloadable aluminum cases

Blazer ammo is often the least expensive per-round ammo available. Last time I checked it wasn’t much more than some 9mm FMJ loads, which is great for getting enough to do serious practice with. This particular load uses Blazer’s signature, non-reloadable aluminum cases, which is fine because who really wants to reload .380 ACP in any volume? These loads fed reliably in our S&W Bodyguard and Glock 42. Not surprisingly these and the other FMJ bullets went through the entire block of ballistic gelatin.

Best Ammo for Low Recoil: Federal Premium Personal Defense Reduced Recoil Ammunition 380 ACP 90 Grain Hydra-Shok Jacketed Hollow Point

Key Features

  • Low Recoil
  • Hydra Shok Jacketed Hollow Point
  • Gel block penetration: 9-10 inches


  • Reduced recoil
  • Proven bullet design


  • None we could find

The .380 ACP is not a large cartridge, and many of the guns it’s chambered in are tiny. That means they can be pretty snappy when it comes to recoil. If this is an issue for you, then this Federal Premium .380 ammo worth a try. The Hydra-Shok jacketed hollow point is a proven design. While the recoil reduction wasn’t dramatic, it did indeed seem to shoot a bit softer in both test pistols.

Best Ammo for Penetration: Lehigh Defense XD Ammunition 380 ACP 68 Grain Xtreme Defense Lead Free

Key Features

  • Xtreme Defense bullet
  • High velocity
  • Designed for penetration


  • Better penetration through clothing or barriers
  • Non-lead projectile


  • May over-penetrate if used indoors

If you are more concerned about penetration than expansion, then this load is your knight in shining copper armor. It utilizes uses Xtreme Defense bullet which is based off their Xtreme Penetrator bullets. These have a unique design and are machined from solid copper. While they don’t expand, they do create a hydraulic pressure moment that creates a larger-than-diameter wound channel. Because they don’t expand, they penetrate well through clothing and barriers.

Best Frangible Ammo: SinterFire Reduced Hazard Ammunition 380 ACP 75 Grain Frangible Flat Nose Lead

Key Features

  • Lead free bullets
  • Disintegrate upon impact


  • Will not ricochet or send fragments flying at the shooter or bystanders
  • Lead free


  • Training ammo only
  • Lighter bullets may not have same POI as carry ammo

There may be times when you want or need frangible .380 ammo. These bullets disintegrate upon impact with hard targets and are required for use on steel at close range or while shooting indoor simulators. The lead-free bullets are made from powered metal and they essentially turn to dust rather than send fragments flying. Fortunately, this training ammo is relatively inexpensive.

Best Ammo for Night Training: Streak Visual Ammunition 380 ACP 90 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point – Red

Key Features

  • Tracer-like performance in very low light or darkness


  • Visibility in low light without incendiary compounds or fire hazards


  • None we could find

It’s a great idea to do some training in low light if you can, because it’s entirely possible a self-defense situation may take place sometime other than during broad daylight. Streak Visual Ammunition can make this more fun and productive because it acts like a tracer but is non-incendiary. So how does Streak achieve its tracer-esque performance without a fire hazard? Through patented, non-flammable technology that coats the base of the pistol bullets with a proprietary photo-luminescent compound. This compound is “charged” by the flash of the burning propellent, making the base of the bullet visible in low light and darkness while in flight. Not only is it fun, but it’s useful because you can see where you are missing, something that can often be difficult in low-light training.

Best High Velocity Ammo: Pilgrim .380 +P

Key Features

  • High velocity
  • Solid copper hollow point
  • Reduced felt recoil
  • Gel block penetration: 10 inches


  • Lower recoil results in quicker reacquisition of the target
  • Less chance of over penetration


  • Bullets my penetrate enough if shot through heavy clothing or obstructions
The Pilgrim .380 ammo gel test.
The Pilgrim .380 +P going through the ballistics gel. Matt Foster

High velocity .380 ammo may seem like an oxymoron, but Pilgrim does in fact offer a high velocity load for this short 9mm cartridge. This load leaves the muzzle at 1,500 fps, as a matter of fact. Pilgrim achieves this by using a light-for-caliber bullet, in this case a 50-grain solid copper hollow point. These bullets are turned on a lathe, but there is more to the design than just making a hollow tip. These bullets are designed to not over penetrate. The high velocity causes a substantial initial disruption to the bullet, where the hollow point nose breaks off in pieces, with the core continuing through the target. It worked as claimed in our gel-block testing. The nose did in fact fragment, with pieces continuing into the gel in a flower type pattern, and the core continued on, curving slightly, coming to a rest about 10 inches into the medium. The lighter bullet also results in less felt recoil, which is a bonus given the small size of most .380 ACP pistols.

How to Choose the Best .380 Ammo

The Hornady Critical Defense .380 ammo.
The right .380 ammo for you depends on your gun and your intended use. Matt Foster

Let Your Handgun Choose for You

To find the best .380 ammo, you are going to have to buy some and shoot some, it’s that simple. Start off with the bullet and performance you want and go try it. The bottom line is you want to use what works best in your handgun, and not all loads perform identically or as reliably in every gun. It’s not rough duty though, you’ll get some fun trigger time and learn something in the process. Fortunately, there’s a lot of great ammo available, and the loads we’ve selected are likely going to work great in your .380 ACP.

Bullet Selection

The .380 bullets in the gel block.
Ballistics gel can help you chose the right bullet. Matt Foster

Your intended use will determine bullet selection. For any high-volume practice, you’ll likely want FMJ bullets to save money. If getting better than average penetration is your goal, something like a copper solid or even an FMJ bullet might be appealing. Practicing on steel targets at close range or indoors? Then you’ll need some frangible ammo. For self-defense, some sort of controlled expansion hollow point is your best choice. If possible, buy a block of ballistic gelatin, such as one from Clear Ballistics, and try out some bullets to see which works best for you. We did and were surprised by some of the results.


The best performing bullet is useless if it won’t shoot from your pistol. That’s why reliable feeding is the number one criterion when selecting the right .380 ACP load.  There’s only one way to find out, buy some and try it out in the pistol you intend to carry. If a particular load doesn’t feed well, move on to another load that meets your performance criteria.

READ NEXT: 380 vs. 9mm


Q: Is the .380 ACP adequate for self-defense?

In short, yes. The .380 ACP is not a powerhouse, but it’s no slouch either. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you’re unlikely to find someone willing to stand their ground in the face of .380 ACP bullets headed their way. No, it is not the optimal cartridge for self-defense, but it is a fine choice for certain circumstances.

Q: Which .380 ACP handgun should I get?

Personal preference and budget are going to be the deciding factors. Most likely the main reason for carrying a .380 ACP is to get the smallest gun possible while still shooting a cartridge substantial enough for self-defense. That said, there are some larger pistols chambered in .380 ACP which can be a great choice because they are very easy to shoot due to reduced recoil and easy-to-manipulate controls. If you’re looking for the smallest pistol possible, handle as many as you can, shoot them if you can, and see which feels best in your hand.

Q: Should I be more concerned about penetration or expansion?

Yes. Flippant response aside, you need to consider both. For most applications a controlled expansion bullet is the way to go. Most are designed to achieve adequate penetration and still expand. If you really think penetration is going to be the primary objective, go with the Lehigh Xtreme Defense load or even a regular FMJ bullet.

Final Thoughts on the Best .380 Ammo

Is the .380 ACP the optimum self-defense cartridge? Of course not. In a perfect world we’d all be able to carry something chambered in .357 Mag that was small enough to easily conceal and had hardly any recoil. But reality and physics rule the day. It’s often not possible to carry a full-size handgun in 9mm or larger. This is where the best .380 ammo and diminutive, little guns shine. Many can be dropped into a pocket (with a good holster of course) and carried anywhere at any time. Fortunately, the ammunition manufacturers have met the demand for this short little 9mm cartridge by providing high performance loads with premium bullets that make it a more than adequate option for self-defense.