Range Report: Bersa "Thunder" .380 ACP Duo-Tone...


Stephen A. Camp
June 7, 2003, 12:43 AM
Hello. Many folks prefer heavier calibers or larger pistols for "serious" purposes, but there remains a contingent of folks who simply prefer the .380 ACP in a carry pistol. Examples of these would be Walther's PP and variations, Beretta's Model 84/85, the CZ-83, and SIG-Sauer's P230/232 pistols. All of these use a straight blow back action as does the Bersa and most share some similarities. The Bersa will cost less than any of the guns mentioned. I paid $199.85 for the one used for this report.

The Pistol:This Bersa Thunder .380 ACP Duo-Tone has a forged steel slide and an aluminum alloy frame that has been E-nickled. Grips are checkered black composite. It is a conventional double-action/single-action semiautomatic pistol obviously targeting the concealed carry market
with the light frame. The pistol has fixed sights with the familar 3-dots, but the rear sight is click adjustable for windage. It has a 3.5," conventionally rifled barrel. The magazine release is located to the rear of the trigger guard similar to the 1911 or Hi Power and is a single-side push button.

The slide is a matte blue and evenly covered. The trigger face is smooth with the front and rear grip straps having vertical serrations. The magazine floorplate has an extension for the little finger and the front of the trigger guard is both hooked and checkered. (I could do without this and would prefer the trigger guard rounded.) It does have a magazine "safety" and the single-stack magazine holds 7 rounds. Current magazine followers are steel. Slide to frame fit is very good. The top of the slide has a flat, slightly-raised rib that is knurled.The pistol weighs 19 oz., empty. The thumb-safety is single-sided and works as a dropping lever as well. "Down" is "safe" with "up" being for "fire," just like the Walter PP-series and other pistols like the Beretta 92. The take down lever is visible on the lower front of the frame. It is spring-loaded and must be held down while retracting the slide in order to remove it for cleaning.

Ammunition: This pistol was shot primarily with JHPs or ammunition intended for self-protection. One FMJ was fired for reliability "proofing" and was chosen. One make of defensive ammunition is no longer produced, but was shot out of curiosity on my part and some folks may still have some of it.

The average velocities, extreme spreads and standard deviations are based on 10-shot strings with the muzzle of the pistol approx. 10' from the chronograph screens.

Magtech 95-grain FMJ:

Average Velocity: 898 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 181*
Std. Deviation: 48
*One one shot was showed a really extreme spread. It was the low velocity for the string @ 769 ft/sec. The high velocity was 949 ft/sec.

Federal 90-grain Classic JHP:
Average Velocity: 969 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 40
Standard Deviation: 12

Federal 90-grain Hydrashok JHP:
Average Velocity: 975 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 13
Standard Deviation: 5*
*This was the most consistent ammunition fired today.

Corbon 90-grain +P JHP:
Average Velocity: 1015 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 64
Standard Deviation: 20

Glaser Silver 70-grain Safety Slug:
Average Velocity: 1221 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 172
Standard Deviation: 59

PPS .380 MPP 54.5-grain Copper Bullet*:
Average Velocity: 1399 ft/sec
Extreme Spread: 57
Standard Deviation: 27
This round is no longer manufactured. It was originally sold in plastic boxes holding 6 rounds.
Similar in design to Corbon's new "PowRball," the bullet is solid copper with a massive hollow point under the dark polymer ball. Advertised velocity was listed as 1200 - 1400 ft/sec, depending upon barrel length. I'd say they advertised honestly. PPS stands for Personal Protection Systems and the MPP for Maximum Pocket Pistol.

Here's most of the loads tested. From Left to Right: PPS 54.5-grain MPP, Corbon 90-grain +P JHP, Federal Hydrashok 90-grain JHP, Federal Classic 90-grain JHP, and Magtech 95-grain FMJ. Not pictured is the Glaser 70-grain Safety Slug.

Shooting: All shooting was done off-hand and standing, using a 2-hand hold. Distances were 7, 10, and 15 yards. The 10 and 15-yard targets were fired slow-fire. The others were fired as rapidly as I could get a "flash" sight picture.

10 Yards:

I used a "dead-on" hold with the top of the front sight horizontally bisecting the smaller, inner circle. I figure this is the longest distance most shooters of these pistols would practice with them.

15 Yards: This was fired slow fire as were the 10-yard groups. The little thing was easy to shoot and I wanted to shoot it just a little farther out. This group would end the slow fire accuracy work.

The fifteen-shot group was fired using a fully-loaded pistol (8 rounds) followed with one magazine-full.

7 Yards: Groups fired at this distance were fired as quickly as I could obtain a "flash" sight picture. A group was fired using only the double-action for each shot as the gun has no provision for cocked-and-locked carry and a two groups from the firing of controlled pairs are shown. One was fired strictly single-action while the other was fired with the first shot in each set being double-action with a single-action second shot. I used the Corbon ammunition as it had the sharpest recoil of any of the ammo fired today.



The transition from DA to SA did appear to result in some vertical stringing of shots.


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Stephen A. Camp
June 7, 2003, 12:45 AM
Observations: First, the gun is reliable. On a previous day, the pistol had been fired with 100 rounds of Remington UMC 95-grain FMJ, 50 rounds or PMC 90-grain JHP, 50 rounds of Federal Classic 90-grain JHP, 40 rounds of Federal 90-grain Hydrashok JHP, and 50 rounds or Corbon 90-grain +P JHP. The gun was wiped off, but there was no lubrication nor cleaning inside. Though not a "torture test" by any means, smaller automatics can be less reliable than we like. Today's shooting consisted of 50 rounds of Corbon, 50 of Magtech, 20 of Federal Hydrashok, 24 rounds of PPC, 15 rounds of Glaser Safety Slugs, and 50 rounds of Federal Classic JHP. I believe that totals about 499 rounds with no cleaning. There were zero malfunctions of any kind. Ejection was positive throughout. For reasons I just flat don't know, the gun hits high for me with Federal's Classic JHP even though velocities are very similar to the others.

Felt recoil is subjective. This light-weight, relatively "mid-size" .380 was very easy to shoot and recoil was not unpleasant at all. To me, the "most" felt recoil was from the Corbon, which seemed greater for the relatively small gain in velocity. The least recoil was from the PSS and Glaser rounds and in that order. None of it was "bad" and I personally prefer to shoot this pistol than SIG-Sauer's P230 or 232. It's just more comfortable for me. I much prefer it to my Walter PP .380 as it does not bite me with both the hammer and slide as does the Walther. It is also utterly reliable with all ammunition I've tried; I cannot say this about my Walther PP.

You can see the residue and dirtiness of the pistol after 499 rounds of factory ammunition. Note also the position of the round in the magazine relative to the chamber. This pistol has proven very reliable.

After cleaning the pistol, the frame and slide were checked for undue wear or cracks. The slide-to-frame fit remains as before, very good, and no undue wear was observed.

Certainly, there were some "scientific mud expansion testing."

The Corbon expanded nicely with one recovered slug showing fragmentation.

Federal's Classic JHP showed some variation in expansion in the "scientific mud." This round feeds so smoothly in the Bersa that you think no round is chambering. The blunter JHPs did not "hesitate" in the feeding cycle at all, but this fed "slickest" of all the conventional JHPs.

Federal's Hydrashok in .380 is a popular round from what I read.

The PPS copper bullet appears to have expanded and fragmented with only the copper base and deformed polymer ball being recovered.

Here they are all together for a visual comparison. I did not try and recover the Glaser as finding each little piece of shot would be impossible. These "tests" are just for fun and not as "accurate" as water and cannot compare to the serious 10% gelatine tests....but, they are kind of fun.

In this price range is another reliable and popular pistol and a comparison is inevitable. The 9x18 Makarov is roughly the same size, but a little thicker and heavier as it is all steel. The picture below shows the stock Bersa .380 next to a stock E. German Mak.

Though very similar in size, the Bersa is considerably lighter. Were I required to carry one or the other in a pocket holster, I'd go with the Bersa. On a belt, I'd probably go with the Makarov if I could use my Bulgarian which has had Novak fixed sights added. Others may disagree, but I really prefer having a pistol I can see the sights with at speed. The stock Bersa beats the stock Makarov in this regard, at least to me.

Though I have not shot the gun enough to know if it has long term durability, I think it very well might and I personally believe that it is a "best buy" for folks wanting a .380 ACP for carry, but who cannot or will not pay higher bucks for "better" pistols. While I find it an inexpensive pistol, I don't find it cheap. It is not my first, second, or third choice for a primary personal protection piece as I just flat prefer something a bit more powerful, but were I wanting to carry a .380 ACP concealed, this would very likely be my choice. In short, I was very positively impressed with not only the fit and finish, but the reliability and that the sights were decently-regulated out of the box. The DA pull is long, but relatively smooth and light. The single-action pull would not match that of a tuned 1911, but was pretty clean-breaking and better than expected.

The gun is a pleasure to shoot. The generous tang prevents hammer bite and I experienced zero slide bite.

In short, I think these are darned good little shooters.


June 7, 2003, 01:37 AM
Great range report.The Bersa has been on my to get list for a while now,but this CA one gun a month thing has slowed my purchaces down.Got to shoot a couple over he last year and found both accurate , reliable,and well made for such a inexspensive gun.CW

June 7, 2003, 06:25 AM
Thank you Mr. Camp for providing us with another excellent range report. I don't know if you know this or not but when you give a gun a thumbs up or down, it means a lot to those of us that read your reports. I would not but a gun that didn't pass the Camp test.:)

I knew these Bersa pistols were fine guns but now everyone does. Perhaps you can do a long term review of it to see how well it stands up to shooting many rounds. I'll look for that report in about a year, O.K.?;)

June 7, 2003, 06:32 AM
I have a question about the Magtech ammo. Did you have any failures to fire because of hard primers?? The reason why I asked is that I bought two boxes of .357mag in this brand and experienced many such failures. More than one would expect, I'm afraid. For this reason, I'm reticent about purchasing it again!!

June 7, 2003, 06:53 AM
I just knew that this was going to be good. I always look forward to Stephens reports. Great report Stephen.;)

June 7, 2003, 07:47 AM
Great report, everyone that has a Bersa seems to enjoy it.

Thank you Mr. Camp.


June 7, 2003, 07:59 AM
Hey Denfoote-

I shoot Magtech almost exclusively in my Bersa, its my favorite ammo, clean and accurate. Even better than any expensive JHP's I've tried. Its my carry ammunition. Costs only $7.00.

Stephen A. Camp
June 7, 2003, 10:53 AM
Hello and thank you all. I'm glad the report was interesting and appreciate your kind words.

Denfoote: No, I've had no problems with Magtech ammunition in .380, 9mm, or .45ACP, but I have not shot over a case of it in the latter two calibers and just a few hundred in .380ACP.

firestar: You are reading my mind! That's exactly what I plan to do for the next few months! During range trips, the Bersa will go and be fired a few rounds and a tally kept. When I hit about 1500 rounds or so, I'll report back on how it's doing, holding up, etc. If it gives up the ghost or has problems at any time, I'll report that, too.


June 7, 2003, 11:04 AM
Thanks Mr. Camp, very well done and I look forward to a follow-up, longevity report.

Does anyone have this Bersa in .22LR??? After reading all these great reports on the Bersa I am now jonesing for one in .22. It would be great to hear some feedback on it as its a less expensive alternative to a Berretta 87. Thanks.

June 7, 2003, 11:07 AM
Excellent as always! Your reports are a pleasure to read, and the pictures are extremely helpful. :D

June 7, 2003, 11:35 AM
As always, another excellent report from my favorite gun writer! :D

I alway knew the Bersa to be a quality gun. If I could, I'd really want to own one.

Thanks a lot, Stephen! ;)

June 7, 2003, 01:20 PM
Thanks for this review, Mr. Camp.

The generous tang prevents hammer bite and I experienced zero slide bite.

After watching my buddy have my Mak fail repeatedly, I realize this is a bigger point than I had thought. His mitts are bigger than mine by virtue of thickness only. He's about 1-2 inches taller and we pretty much have the same hand-span, but he is large framed (not fat, big). I have put at least 300 rounds through my Mak with zero failures. He was only able to fire the first round each time he tried, the slide dragged on his hand and didn't re-engage properly. I wouldn't believe it until he showed me the parallel marks between his finger and thumb. Basically, the Mak is useless to him, while I believe he could use the Bersa Thunder.

John Mc

June 7, 2003, 02:32 PM
A "gun expert" like me and I don't know where these are made! I thought Turkey or something and I been avoiding them for years! Where are they made?:o

June 7, 2003, 02:43 PM
I have a Bersa model 23 (pre-Thunder) in nickel that I really love. I don't want to hi-jack Mr. Camp's thread but if you do a search on Bersa, you should find some great posts. If you want to know something specific, just start a thread and "Bersa people" will come out of the woodwork.:D In short, if you can find one of the older .22s, they are very well made and preform great. I have no experience with the Bersa Thunder .22lr but I have not heard anything bad about it.

Stephen A. Camp
June 7, 2003, 04:41 PM
Hello. They're made in Argentina.


June 7, 2003, 07:02 PM
Excellent work Stephen.

What really gets to me is that you can get them for under $200 (was that including tax?), around here, you're talking just under $300.

All this took some work on your part, I just wanted to say that it was worth it.


Stephen A. Camp
June 8, 2003, 12:23 AM
Hello and thank you, sir.


June 8, 2003, 02:01 AM

I got mine, a duo tone model just like Mr. Camp's, at On Target about a year and a half ago for $214. They are now only $10 more, and another $10 or so if you want all blue or all nickel. If you buy elsewhere around here they seem to run $250-275 so stick with On Target for that gun.

June 8, 2003, 05:21 AM
Great report Stephen. You wouldn't happen to have done a report on the little Berretas would you? I'd like to know what you think about the Tomcat and the Jetfire...

June 8, 2003, 09:19 AM
I note that 'Academy Sports & Outdoors' (academy.com) is promoting the Bersa for $199 in their Sunday newspaper flier. (Pretty gutsy in a PC day and age when handgun ads have been all but stamped out in the newspapers)
I have a PA-63 & several Maks, so don't need a Bersa, but if the supply of those drys up, the Bersa will still be available. The Bersa, with its' light construction lends itself to 'carry much, shoot little'. The all steel Mak. on the other hand, lends itself to a lot of shooting, with no harm, but is haevier to carry.

Thanks for the report Mr. Camp, I always enjoy your range tests. :)

June 8, 2003, 11:55 AM
Stephen.......I had a 380 AMT back-up, and the only reason I got rid of it was that it would not penetrate an old piece of tin roofing that I shot at from about 10 feet away....I really didn't think too much of its penetrating power after that....I can't remember the ammo I was using, probably FMJ..........it put big dents in the tin but not one went through......I went to a 9MM after that.....but, after reading your article here, seriously thinking about buying a Bersa and giving it another try with different ammo.....Minnesota finally has passed a concealed carry now, and am looking around for a small pistol and the Bersa might just be it...........

June 8, 2003, 11:53 PM
Stephan, excellent, just excellent. Turns out we have the same model.

You missed your calling. You should own one of the gun rags. They could use THIS kind of quality in their reporting.
Would that the folks at Bersa in Argentina would see this.
Take care,


I shot my Bersa today right after the 45 Colt and the 1911. The recoil was so much less it almost seemed to have no recoil at all.

Stephen A. Camp
June 8, 2003, 11:54 PM
Hello, and thank you very much. It is appreciated.


June 9, 2003, 11:53 AM
Stephen - my experiences with my Bersa .380 match yours exactly (except that your shooting is somewhat better!)

Great little gun for an amazingly low price.

If I can't get good enough with my Kel-tec for carry purposes I may get one of these (the one I have now is being given to my mother in about a month - but I had to, um, test it at the range first :D )

June 9, 2003, 12:29 PM
Thank you Mr. Camp for putting this into words far better than I can. I've been saying since I purchased my Bersa (satin nickle finish) that I believe it to be one of the best values on the market today. I got mine used for $175 and so far have approximately 2000 rounds through it with zero failures and no signs of wear at all.

June 9, 2003, 07:59 PM
Steve - More excellence! I've just forwarded to lady friend in Austin - and a couple of others. Will PM ya about lunch when a little more known here. ' Thinking maybe Thursday? Again, great write-up! :D

June 10, 2003, 07:51 AM
I hate to just repeat what everybody else said, but.....
Awesome dude!

I don't even "need" a .380, but now you've got me wanting a Bersa! :banghead:

I've gotten my daughter a bobbed hammer Taurus .38 that she likes, but I wonder what she would think of a Bersa?

June 10, 2003, 03:04 PM
It sure is a good looking little gun isn't it?

I noticed some vertical stringing on the 90 gr CorBon JHP; I had similar results shooting CorBon's 115 gr JHP in 9mm out of my Kel-Tec P11. Don't know what causes that but if you're shooting at a human target, you're going to hit something anyway!

I haven't examined one of the Bersas up close; are they as quality looking up-close as in the pics?

Thanks again......

June 10, 2003, 03:42 PM
very nice, i too am interested in what people have to say about the less well known .22lr version.

what are the differences between the "Bersa" model and the "Firestorm" model? it looks like just a classic rounded rather than curved trigger gaurd (better for looks, and holster compatability) but i don't really know.

Stephen A. Camp
June 10, 2003, 05:18 PM
Hello. Yes, they look as nice as the photos show.

The vertical stringing in the DA/SA target was due to my having some problems with the transition from DA to SA at speed.


June 10, 2003, 11:52 PM
Stephen, is there any pistol that you do not shoot well? Great report as usual. Thanks! Which do you like over all, The maks.cz-83 or the Bersa. Just curious about which one you would walk out the door withright now if you had to.

Stephen A. Camp
June 11, 2003, 12:20 AM
Hello. First, thanks for the kind words. Yes, there are pistols and revolvers I have trouble with and they are ....ALL of them. Some days I cannot shoot as well as I'd like. I'm right on the edge of having to have my glasses changed again and on some days, I just flat cannot get a sharp focus on the front sight. Some days I cannot get mind mind in gear. On those days, I pack it up and go to the house rather than ingrain bad habits...or just do the chronograph stuff.

If I "had to walk out the door right now" in a fight, I'd go with a .45 automatic...(or a Browning 9mm HP) if required to use a handgun. Just kidding, I'll answer.

If I left the house with the pistol concealed in a pocket holster, I'd go with the Bersa, no question. Were I wearing it on a belt and could use my Bulgarian Mak as it has Novak sights, I'd probably take it, although the Bersa would be OK. I have no problem with the folks who carry Maks concealed via belt holsters, but to me, it's just as easy to tote a Gov't Model or Hi Power if wearing a belt gun and jacket.

Folks should understand that if I wind up liking a pistol that fills the same "tactical niche" as another, ie: Mak vs. Bersa, it does not mean that the other is "bad" or "less good;" just means that I've found another one I like.

In a pure "torture test," I suspect the Makarov would win in sheer numbers of rounds fired before the gun suffered a catastrophic parts failure. This is not because of any inherent design weakness I can find (so far) in the Bersa, but because the Mak is built like a tank and all steel.

Were I giving one of these two to my wife, it would be the Bersa.
It fits her a bit better and on my particular pistol, the DA trigger pull is lighter (if a bit longer) than either my Bulgarian or E. German Mak.


June 11, 2003, 12:29 AM
Thanks again for sharing your observations!

June 11, 2003, 12:29 PM
Thank you sir,

Excellent review. Though never having owned a Bersa, I have heard nothing but good things about them over the years.

And I love the two-tone look.


Johnny Guest
June 12, 2003, 04:55 PM
You've done it again, Esteban. You just keep churning out this objective, well-written, and useful information. Your tests are always of tremendous value, and I have yet to read one that doesn't increase my knowledge in one way or another, even when you cover a model with which I am quite experienced.

In this particular instance, though, you've given me some very valuable insight on a pistol about which I knew exactly nothing. I've seen a couple of Bersas at the range, but never shot one. I guess I have to confess a certain, uh, disdain for some guns, and you've expanded my consciousness today.

The Bersa appears to be more or less the size of a PP or PPK/S - -Is this correct? Anyhow, I will now move this pistol onto my list to recommend to those seeking input on a handgun purchase.


Stephen A. Camp
June 12, 2003, 05:23 PM
Hello, Johnny, and thanks for the kind words. I like the Bersa, which is similar in size to a Walther PP better and I own both. The ONE example I've tried feeds anything and the sights are dialed in pretty close from the factory. The only question I still have is its long-term durability. As it's not an ultra small gun and the .380 is low-pressure, I suspect it's OK, but don't know that for sure and will wag it along just to get the round count up as I shoot other guns in future days and will report back at about 1500 rnds.......or if there's a problem.

Thanks again, sir.


June 12, 2003, 06:43 PM
Does anybody know if there is any signifigant difference between the bersa and the firestorm? I saw a nicely priced firestorm the other day and was considering it. Both are made by the same company, right?

Stephen A. Camp
June 12, 2003, 09:38 PM
Hello. The Bersa is made in Argentina and the other pistol is made by Llama* in Spain........I think.


*I'm not sure exactly how the deal goes, but I seem to recall that Llama and Star are now combined in one operation.

June 12, 2003, 11:05 PM

I should start writing down the prices at On Target.

I hope your collection continues to grow, there are very few guns I shoot as accurately as that .45 Charles Daly of yours.

Newton (aka Mike)

PS - I hope you picked up that Winchester 9mm from Bass Pro at Arundel Mills for $3.88 a box, I got 2 cases for $80 or so, incredible value.

June 13, 2003, 11:21 AM
I've been looking into buying a pistol in this size and caliber range for a while. After each of your reviews I think I have my mind made up then the next one comes along. Are you planning any more reviews in the near future of this type of firearm?

Also, what is the status of your book on the HP? I can't wait to get a copy.

You are head and antlers above the rest!

Stephen A. Camp
June 13, 2003, 11:49 AM
Hello, sir. I'll probably wind up the .380 reports with the Walther PP. The Hi Power book is already being sold. Contact me via email for details.

Thanks and best.

June 13, 2003, 12:16 PM
I'll drop you a line this weekend. Looking forward to my copy.


June 14, 2003, 10:33 PM
MR Camp:I know you've tested both , which is 'better' PA-63 or Bersa and why?:D

Stephen A. Camp
June 14, 2003, 10:36 PM
Hello. I prefer the Bersa as it has better sights and just "feels" better. The finish is better as well. That said, my FEG PMK .380 has been reliable with all but Corbon 90-grain JHP.


June 14, 2003, 10:44 PM
Mr Camp,

Your reports are better than anything in the gun mags!;)

Stephen A. Camp
June 14, 2003, 10:59 PM
Hello, and thank you. I just finished an article on my first Hi Power that will go on my site, which is still under construction, but should be up in a day or two. Right now, it won't have a forum, but hopefully will have some interesting information.

Thanks again and I'm glad you liked the post.


June 15, 2003, 11:34 AM
Great report! Thank you.

June 15, 2003, 12:02 PM
Excellent report! I just picked up 100rds of Corbon for my 383-A for testing, and carry use.

June 17, 2003, 11:18 AM
Question: Have you found any holsters that do work well with this gun, particularly IWB? My wife is considering one for a carry gun, and does like a small gun in an IWB, so holster selection would be important.

Stephen A. Camp
June 17, 2003, 11:19 AM
Hello. I've not looked hard, yet, but so far the only one I see specifically for the Bersa is made by Fobus.


December 16, 2003, 11:47 AM
Excellent report, though I would have saved myself some embarrasment by looking up your web site prior to emailing you! I may need to get a paypal account to order a book...

Stephen A. Camp
December 16, 2003, 12:11 PM
Hello and thank you for the kind words.


PS: Regular mail orders are accepted if you prefer. Just Email for details.

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