.380 semi. vs .38 special+p


March 14, 2012, 05:24 PM
Wondering, which is better as a ccw?

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March 14, 2012, 05:27 PM
I like a 380. if I think I need more its a 357 not a 38. 38 isn't bad though its in the eye of the beholder type of thing. 6 to one half dozen to another. That said I got some 38+p for a sp101 but usually its fed 357.

March 14, 2012, 05:32 PM
This has been rehashed a million times. They're both .35 caliber bullets and can kill someone. One is not significantly better than the other. Why beat a dead horse?

March 14, 2012, 05:34 PM
Oh, is it a new month and so time for this question again?

Just sticking to one ammo vendor, Buffalo Bore:
380 Auto +P Ammo - 90 gr. Jacketed Hollow Point (1200fps M.E. 288 ft. lbs)
Heavy .38 Special +P Ammo - 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P. --G.C. (1,000fps/M.E. 351 ft.lbs.)

Not huge but still a noticeable advantage to .38 Special +P. I prefer any revolver over the vast majority of the autos chambered for .380 so I picked .38 Special +P.

Pick your firearm.

Learn to use it well.

That will do more for you than worrying about .380 vs .38 Special +P.

(For the record, I carry 9mm 127gr +P+ JHP over either of them)

March 14, 2012, 05:55 PM
I like bigger bullets (diameter) and heavier bullets. The 38 has much heavier (more mass) than the 380. That said, there are some very nice little flat pocketable 380's out there and I would not feel too underprotected with one but I do prefer 5 of 38 to 7 of 380 in most cases.

March 14, 2012, 07:04 PM
Purely looking at the rounds? .38 Special IMHO.

But the problem is we're really talking about two different platforms. Small pocketable revolvers, or potentially much smaller/thinner and lighter pocket semi-automatics. If I were you I'd focus on the platform more and the caliber less.

I've got both, for general purpose pocket carry I prefer my S&W J-frame, but when I need something really small and skinny I go for my Sig P238.

hariph creek
March 14, 2012, 07:11 PM
I voted .38. Not because it's better. I just like it more. Both, will get the job done.
The only thing I have against .380 is, I'd rather have a 9mm. Nowadays some 9's are barely bigger than the .380's.
When I started carrying .32's (Seacamp in particular) and .380's (not as small or nice as todays) were the best out there. I tried them, didn't like them. Found snub revolvers worked FOR ME. Eventually figured out .357mag in a snub was alot of flash and bang. More effective yes, but, kind of wasteful. I figured I train and practice with .38, why not use .38? I still like .38special more, it suits me.

However, the Sig P238 has me thinking. A gun for when I can't carry a gun?

March 14, 2012, 07:43 PM
Let's see...I have owned one .380 in my life and sold it less than 2 weeks after I bought it. I currently own no less than half a dozen snub .38's....The .38 must be better.LOL.

March 14, 2012, 08:42 PM
Wondering, which is better as a ccw?

Better in which way, or ways?



Bullet weight?



Shooter's ability to accurately, consistently & effectively shoot them?

Felt recoil & controllability?

Susceptibility to feeding/functioning issues caused by grip stability, technique or ammunition?

Shooter familiarity?

Ease of cleaning, lubrication, maintenance?

Warranty, service & parts support?

Carry method for individual user?

Dunno. Depends.

I once owned a .380 pistol (Beretta M84). I didn't keep it that long. I've handled and fired a LOT of assorted .380's over the years that I've been a LE firearms instructor. Never really found another one I felt like buying with my own money.

However, I presently own seven 5-shot snub revolvers (all but one of which is DAO). I carry one or another of them quite often, and use them for range training/practice/quals more often than any other firearms instructor/armorer of my current acquaintance.

Probably any number of folks who could express an opinion and experience contrary to mine, though. Hardly surprising.

I remember the last time I helped audit the number of off-duty weapons chambered in both .380 & .38 Spl (for ammunition inventory purpose). The number of folks using both calibers was pretty similar, and I've continued to see new examples of both 5-shot .38's and .380's come through the quals.

I guess there's folks who like each of them.

Sales of both seem to be continuing to grow, too.

So, which do you think is a better choice for a CCW role, for your anticipated needs?

Which best suits your skillset & abilities, as you deem them to exist?

Once you decide which type of equipment is something upon which you're willing to stake your life and the lives of loved ones, etc), then let's talk about knowledge, training, practice, skillset & mindset. ;)

Equipment is just .... well, equipment.

Now, the equipment user ... there's something to give some serious thought to developing, improving & maintaining.

Do I tend to prefer the .38 S&W Spl cartridge over the .380 ACP? Yep. I do.

That's just me, though.

How about you? :D

March 14, 2012, 08:58 PM
Show me a .380 that opens to .60" and penetrates to 12" in short barrel lengths.

I wouldn't shoot anything but FMJ in the .380. IF they expand -which is woefully hit or miss- they do not penetrate deep enough.

I huff when I hear these two compared, a better comparison is 9mm to .38spl+p.

I'm sure enough .380+p out of the tiny guns would not only hurt, cause more flip but also wear out the slide, frame, spring or all of the above. The .38spl airweight revolver doesn't mind from cowboy loads up to hot BB +p.

March 14, 2012, 09:16 PM
i like wheel guns

March 14, 2012, 09:37 PM
To be honest, .380 isn't really high on my list.
I would rather the 9mm over it. But what I should've asked was stated above, 9mm vs .38. But I found a nice .38+p today for 300 and will be getting that mainly cause its in my price range and a small 9mm isn't. The lc9 is a maybe but the grips are so thin and uncomfortable for me.

March 14, 2012, 10:02 PM
I'm sure enough .380+p out of the tiny guns would not only hurt
as 38+p may do the same out of a plastic revolver. Its all in the shooter. try both see what you like. Having both in the arsenal doesnt hurt. A 380 fits in a pocket pretty darn easy, with an extra mag.

March 14, 2012, 10:03 PM
To be honest, .380 isn't really high on my list.
I would rather the 9mm over it. But what I should've asked was stated above, 9mm vs .38. But I found a nice .38+p today for 300 and will be getting that mainly cause its in my price range and a small 9mm isn't. The lc9 is a maybe but the grips are so thin and uncomfortable for me.
Well if you just can't do the thin grips then the small 380's wouldn't work out either. Another thin 9 is the Keltec PF9 for less than $300.

Maybe try out the compact versions of larger guns like the G26, XDsc and M&Pc. They sure have thicker grips. You'd gain some rounds too.

Personally I'm very happy with the S&W 442, its my "always gun". I think they run something like $360, good value IMO.

March 14, 2012, 10:05 PM
I guess the question "which is better?" is kinda inadequate to really look at this, because you're really asking a pretty darned big question.

Let's look at specifically what you're getting with each cartridge.

The .380 Auto is a round that fires a what .... 95 grain projectile at 800 to 1000 fps from an LCP.
Now, realistically this will probably make a bad guy's day pretty darned bad. How bad? Well, that depends on where you hit him and what mood he's in that day. Is he in a fightin' mood?
But look at what the LCP style weapon actually gives you. It gives you six rounds in a package that is small enough to fit in the pocket of a bathrobe, some fairly tight jeans, or even a wallet style holster. But let's be clear here. The average five shot snubbie while very, very concealable is not nearly that small. the .380 launched from a true pocket pistol is decent enough to get the job done and pretty much invisible.

Let's look at the .38 Special. From an LCR you can launch a 129 to 158n grain projectile at speed ranging from 850 to 1.1k fps.
This is arguable better ballistic performance, but look at the platform. You get a gun that is larger, wider, heavier and usually has less capacity. Don't get me wrong. A snubbie conceals just fine for most applications, but it is less concealable than for instance an LCP. I know people will chime in how they conceal snubbies just fine and I'm not contesting that. What I am saying a .380 pocket auto is even *easier* to conceal.

So really, you seem to ground your choice of concealment based on a cartridge. Instead of the platform you launch the thing from. A 155mm shell hits harder than a 105 shell. but can you airlift a 155mm Howitzer on a UH-60?

Instead of asking about the cartridge, ask yourself what you wanna do. Do you wanna be invisible in your carrying habits or borderline invisible?
Are you proportioned better to hide a fatter gun or does your bodyshape really not work well with a fatter gun?

Does this make sense?


An easy trap to fall into is for instance the idea that because someone has a bunch of whatever it must be great.

For the longest time people had single shot flintlock pistols and were doing just fine. So someone can say "Well, I have tons of them, so they have to be great." But the fact is that if we truly stuck to this line of thinking we'd never even have made it to rifling.
I for instance have a lot of Beretta 92 knockoffs. but that doesn't make a Beretta 92 knockoff the best weapon for everyone.

So whenever someone says "Well, people have been doing this for XYZ, so it must be working" that's kind of a moot point. People in theory have been scavenging nuts off the ground for millenia. That doesn't make it the best way to feed a civilization.

You gotta ask the right question. And judging a CCW weapon on cartridge is asking the wrong question. You need the gun you will have on you the largest amount of the time. Not the latest and greatest .500 S&W Magnum pocket reapater with an ammo belt.

So, ballistically speaking, the .38 special is the wider choice as it allows a lot of different loadings that work well. But you find me a five shot snubbie as skinny as a .380 autopistol.

March 14, 2012, 11:01 PM
Well said.

That ought to take care of the debate for a few days...

March 14, 2012, 11:48 PM
If limited to factory ammo it's a near toss up. My 2" J frames are almost exactly the same dimensions as my compact 380. The 90 grain 380 JHP at 950 FPS is so close to the 125@925 for the 38 +P that I don't see much difference. Big advantage to the 380 is seven rounds vs. five for the revolver.

Even so, I prefer the 38 revolver (with my 125@1100 load).

hariph creek
March 14, 2012, 11:59 PM
Nushif, well said.

March 15, 2012, 12:10 AM
Why beat a dead horse?

To make sure it's really dead.


March 15, 2012, 12:14 AM
This is about the two rounds out of small & short barreled guns, a class known as Back Up Guns (BUG)

Dr Gary Roberts, the leading Ballistic Researcher in the United States today:

BUG's: .380 ACP vs. .38 Sp



If you are an LE officer, carry a BUG!!!

Many small, easily concealed semi-automatic pistols which are recommended for law enforcement backup or concealed carry use fire .380 ACP or smaller bullets. While these small caliber handgun bullets can produce fatal wounds,they are less likely to produce the rapid incapacitation necessary in law enforcement or self-defense situations.

Handguns chambered in .380 ACP are small, compact, and generally easy to carry. Unfortunately, testing has shown that they offer inadequate performance for self-defense and for law enforcement use whether on duty as a back-up weapon or for off duty carry. The terminal performance of .380 ACP JHP's is often erratic, with inadequate penetration and inconsistent expansion being common problems, while .380 ACP FMJ's offer adequate penetration, but no expansion. All of the .380 ACP JHP loads we have tested, including CorBon, Hornady, Federal, Remington, Speer, and Winchester exhibited inconsistent, unacceptable terminal performance for law enforcement back-up and off duty self-defense use due to inadequate penetration or inadequate expansion. Stick with FMJ for .380 ACP or better yet, don't use it at all. The use of .380 ACP and smaller caliber weapons is really not recommended for LE use and many savvy agencies prohibit them.

While both the .380 ACP and .38 sp can obviously be lethal; the .38 sp is more likely to incapacitate an attacker when used in a BUG role.

BUG--Infrequently used, but when needed, it must be 100% reliable because of the extreme emergency situation the user is dealing with. Generally secreted in pockets, ankle holsters, body armor holsters, etc... Often covered in lint, grime, and gunk. By their very nature, usually applied to the opponent in an up close and personal encounter, many times involving contact shots. A small .38 sp revolver is more reliable in these situations than a small .380 ACP pistol, especially with contact shots or if fired from a pocket.


There have been many reports in the scientific literature, by Dr. Fackler and others, recommending the 158 gr +P LSWCHP as offering adequate performance. Please put this in context for the time that these papers were written in the late 1980's and early 1990's--no denim testing was being performed at that time, no robust expanding JHP's, like the Barnes XPB, Federal Tactical & HST, Speer Gold Dot, or Win Ranger Talon existed. In the proper historical perspective, the 158 gr +P LSWCHP fired out 3-4" barrel revolvers was one of the best rounds available--and it is still a viable choice, as long as you understand its characteristics.

While oversimplified, bare gelatin gives information about best case performance, while 4 layer denim provides data on worst case performance--in reality, the actual performance may be somewhere in between. The four layer denim test is NOT designed to simulate any type of clothing--it is simply an engineering test to assess the ability of a projectile to resist plugging and robustly expand. FWIW, one of the senior engineers at a very respected handgun ammunition manufacturer recently commented that bullets that do well in 4 layer denim testing have invariably worked well in actual officer involved shooting incidents.

With few exceptions, the vast majority of .38 Sp JHP's fail to expand when fired from 2" barrels in the 4 layer denim test. Many of the lighter JHP's demonstrate over expansion and insufficient penetration in bare gel testing. Also, the harsher recoil of the +P loads in lightweight J-frames tends to minimize practice efforts and decrease accuracy for many officers. The 158 gr +P LSWCHP offers adequate penetration, however in a 2" revolver the 158gr +P LSWCHP does not reliably expand. If it fails to expand, it will produce less wound trauma than a WC. Target wadcutters offer good penetration, cut tissue efficiently, and have relatively mild recoil. With wadcutters harder alloys and sharper leading edges are the way to go. Wadcutters perform exactly the same in both bare and 4 layer denim covered gel when fired from a 2" J-frame.

When faced with too little penetration, as is common with lightweight .38 Sp JHP loads or too much penetration like with the wadcutters, then go with penetration. Agencies around here have used the Winchester 148 gr standard pressure lead target wadcutter (X38SMRP), as well as the Federal (GM38A) version--both work. A sharper edged wadcutter would even be better... Dr. Fackler has written in Fackler ML: "The Full Wadcutter--An Extremely Effective Bullet Design", Wound Ballistics Review. 4(2):6-7, Fall 1999)
"As a surgeon by profession, I am impressed by bullets with a cutting action (eg. Winchester Talon and Remington Golden Saber). Cutting is many times more efficient at disrupting tissue than the crushing mechanism by which ordinary bullets produce the hole through which they penetrate. The secret to the increased efficiency of the full wadcutter bullet is the cutting action of its sharp circumferential leading edge. Actually, cutting is simply very localized crush; by decreasing the area over which a given force is spread, we can greatly increase the magnitude to the amount of force delivered per unit are--which is a fancy way of saying that sharp knives cut a lot better than dull ones. As a result, the calculation of forces on tissue during penetration underestimate the true effectiveness of the wadcutter bullet relative to other shapes."

Currently, the Speer Gold Dot 135 gr +P JHP, Winchester 130 gr bonded +P JHP (RA38B), and Barnes 110 gr XPB all copper JHP (for ex. in the Corbon DPX loading) offer the most reliable expansion we have seen from a .38 sp 2” BUG; Hornady 110 gr standard pressure and +P Critical Defense loads also offer good performance out of 2" barrel revolvers.

Any of the Airweight J-frames are fine for BUG use. The steel J-frames are a bit too heavy for comfortable all day wear on the ankle, body armor, or in a pocket. My current J-frames are 342's and previously in my career I have used the 37, 38, 649, and 642. I like the 342 w/Lasergrips very much. Shooting is not too bad with standard pressure wadcutters and the 110 gr DPX, but not so comfortable with the Speer 135 gr JHP +P Gold Dots. Before the advent of the 110 gr Corbon DPX load, I used to carry standard pressure wadcutters in my J-frames with Gold Dot 135 gr +P JHP's in speed strips for re-loads, as the flat front wadcutters were hard to reload with under stress. There is no reason to go with .357 mag in a J-frame, as the significantly larger muzzle blast and flash, and harsher recoil of the .357 Magnum does not result in substantially improved terminal performance compared to the more controllable .38 Special bullets when fired from 2” barrels.

For years, J-frames were considered "arm's reach" weapons, that is until CTC Lasergrips were added. With the mild recoil of target wadcutters, officers are actually practicing with their BUG's; when combined with Lasergrips, qualification scores with J-frames have dramatically increased. Now 5 shots rapid-fire in a 6" circle at 25 yds is not uncommon--kind of mind blowing watching officers who could not hit the target at 25 yds with a J-frame suddenly qualify with all shots in the black…

2" J-frames are great BUG's and marginally acceptable low threat carry guns because they are lightweight, reliable, and offer acceptable terminal performance at close range--downsides are difficulty in shooting well at longer ranges because of sight design and sight radius limitations, along with reduced capacity coupled with slower reloading. Nonetheless, with the addition of CTC Laser Grips and an enclosed or shrouded hammer, the 2" J-frame models without key locks (I personally will NEVER own firearm with an integral lock) may be the best BUG's and most reliable pocket handguns available.

Another great BUG option if it can be comfortably carried, is a compact 3-3.5" barrel 9 mm pistol like the G26, Walther PPS, HK P2000SK, Kahr PM9, Sig P239, or S&W 3913, as these offer superior terminal performance compared to either .380 ACP or .38 Sp handguns. A G26 is particularly nice when using a G19 or 17 as a primary weapon due to the ability to use the same magazines.

As always, don't get too wrapped in the nuances of ammunition terminal performance. Spend your time and money on developing a warrior mindset, training, practice, and more training.

My BUG is a 'J' frame S&W. I have been carrying one shortly after I put on a gun for business in 1966. I have used my handguns in firefights several times, 11 IIRC. 4 times with a 4" Victory model S&W 38spl (WWII model 10 skinny 4" Barrel). The other times with a 1911 45acp. I was never wounded while fighting with my handguns, only my rifles.

Even though I had a BUG in each of the above cases, I never needed to go there.

I choose the 38spl over the 380 every time. Of course your combat experience may be different. Please let us hear your story.

Thank you.


March 15, 2012, 07:39 AM
It comes down to platform. If you like a revolver, then it's .38SPL. If you prefer a semi-auto, then it's .380ACP.

March 15, 2012, 08:48 AM
The smaller the semi auto = more likely to have issues like feeding problems and sensitivity to different ammo. J-frame revolver is more likely to launch its 5 cartridges under adverse conditions!

March 15, 2012, 09:02 AM
This has been rehashed a million times. They're both .35 caliber bullets and can kill someone. One is not significantly better than the other. Why beat a dead horse?

I am inclined to agree. I don't care really what anyone say's or what proof they think they have that a .380 vs. .38 Spl. or .9X19mm vs. .9X18mm I am willing to bet no "SANE" person would be willing to bet their life on any of those not killing them if they were shot by one just to test that theory!:banghead:
(I voted .38 Spl. "only" because I happen to carry a .38 "snubbie" for my CHL, the .380 would also do just fine.)

March 15, 2012, 10:01 AM
Scratch that. Mods feel free to delete. I apparently have a reading problem!

hariph creek
March 15, 2012, 10:56 AM
What beatledog7 said.

March 15, 2012, 11:14 AM
If i was going to carry a small compact auto it would be in 9mm not .380acp. I just feel it is inadequate but that is one man's opinion. I just feel that with the new polymer pistole and the very slight size difference why not carry the bigger caliber. That said I would carry a J-frame 38 over any of the tiny autos.

March 15, 2012, 01:48 PM
I'll put into words what some others have said. For me I choose the platform first and then choose the caliber. If you like a wheel gun for carry or backup use, there are plenty out there to choose from. you can go 38 or 357 snubby. If your preference is for an auto pistol for easier concealment or quicker reloads or what have you, then you can start at .380 and go to a 9mm or bigger depending on how you carry and your comfort level. In the end you should be confident with your choice and practice enough with that gun to be proficient with it. The best choice for me is the one that I can CC easy and shoot well.

March 15, 2012, 02:31 PM
For me I choose the platform first and then choose the caliber.

Bingo....For these calibers.

.380 LCP vs 38 Snub....38 Snub, unless you need the discreetest of carry.

.380 Beretta 84 vs 38 Snub......380 Beretta by a LONG shot because it's a much better fighting platform by means of, well um, all means fathomable. Not to mention practically the same size as a snub and 14 rounds of insurance that has proven to be as reliable as well, perfect.

March 15, 2012, 06:07 PM
.38 |||||||||||||||||||||||
.380 |||||||||||||||||||
Any centerfire rifle ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Kind of a wash, IMO. The .38 is a bit better, but they're still handguns. They'll both likely require multiple hits to get the job done. So, put me in with the platform guys. Pick a gun that you can get rapid, accurate hits with, and use it.

March 15, 2012, 07:51 PM
I'm went with a revoler.
.357 to be exact.

March 15, 2012, 08:57 PM
.380 Beretta 84 vs 38 Snub......380 Beretta by a LONG shot because it's a much better fighting platform by means of, well um, all means fathomable. Not to mention practically the same size as a snub and 14 rounds of insurance that has proven to be as reliable as well, perfect.

Well, these sorts of things aren't exactly axiomatic for all folks, in all situation & conditions, for all perceived roles, I'd think.

The only .380 I've ever owned was a Beretta M84. It wouldn't consistently feed ball, meaning feeding failures sometimes occurred unpredictably, even after replacing the springs. For the size, I decided a S&W M469 was a better choice (better reliability & a more powerful defensive cartridge).

Of course, given the availability of similarly sized 9's & .40's in subsequent years, I'd not choose to carry a 'full-size' .380, myself.

Being a revolver shooter, the diminutive 5-shot snubs are practical and useful choices for their intended purpose ... for me.

Sort of depends on the individual, and how he/she prefers to prioritize their considerations, to some extent.

March 15, 2012, 11:56 PM
The only .380 I've ever owned was a Beretta M84. It wouldn't consistently feed ball, meaning feeding failures sometimes occurred unpredictably, even after replacing the springs. For the size, I decided a S&W M469 was a better choice (better reliability & a more powerful defensive cartridge).
Fair enough...With that said, your misbehaving M84 is certainly an anomaly, just like a broken revolver but it does happen....Sometimes a gunsmith is needed.

Of course, given the availability of similarly sized 9's & .40's in subsequent years, I'd not choose to carry a 'full-size' .380, myself.
This rationale should also apply to carrying a 38sp snub but that requires being rational.

March 16, 2012, 01:11 AM
because it's a much better fighting platform by means of, well um, all means fathomable.

This rationale should also apply to carrying a 38sp snub but that requires being rational.

Twice is no coincidence...

A Beretta 84 isn't necessarily the ultimate solution for everyone just because you happened to own a good one. If you don't like the .38, that's your perogative.

I knew somebody would call you on reliability, so I didn't have to bother...

Also, the jump in controllability from .38 upwards is a bit bigger than .380 to 9mm. You could do the .44 Special thing, but that route has some downside for the non-reloader. Maybe that's why the .38 snub has been around in some form for so long.

March 16, 2012, 01:16 AM
What are you more proficient with? Pick that... I like revolvers so .38

March 16, 2012, 07:44 AM
Wondering, which is better as a ccw?
Reduce it to simplest terms by using lowly police trade CZ82 or CZ83 as example. Would you rather carry one CZ or two revolvers? That is really what you are asking. The choice seems very obvious to me.

March 16, 2012, 10:01 AM
A Beretta 84 isn't necessarily the ultimate solution for everyone just because you happened to own a good one. If you don't like the .38, that's your perogative.

You act as if most are bad...lol...scour the web to find 84 owners with malfunctioning pistols. Report back on your findings.

No problems at all with 38sp....Own a 38sp LCR, 38/357 Taurus and .380 LCP also so I have a little experience with these calibers and platforms but no way would I choose the snub over the Beretta 84 if I knew I was heading into a dangerous SD situation....I buy different handguns because I like them, like practicing with them and evaluating which ones I find to be superior should the need arise to fight my way out of trouble.

I stated my opinion based on my experience with said platforms so your problem is what exactly? Some have come to a different conclusion than you, of how affective the 38 snub would be for multiple SD scenarios? You die-hard snub guys sure are a sensitive bunch. If you're comfortable and confident you have it all covered there's no reason to be so defensive, my opinion is different than yours, that all.

March 16, 2012, 12:38 PM
If I were going to return to active duty in LE, neither a .380 nor a 5-shot .38 would be among my first choices for a primary plainclothes duty weapon that's going to be carried when I'm actively & repeatedly putting myself in situations that could involve people committing crimes of violence.

The .380 primarily for reason of its caliber, and the 5-shot .38 primarily for reason of its diminutive grip and 1 less round compared to a 6-shot revolver. (I would, however, accept being given a 6-shot .38 with a 3-4" barrel, for use with one of the better modern +P loads, which is probably another subject. ;) )

For off-duty & retirement CCW purposes, though? Well, my normal daily activities don't involve actively inserting myself into such situations on a hourly basis. My risk assessment is different when I'm on my own time.

My reasons for accepting the "inherent limitations" of the .38 S&W Special for an off-duty (and now retirement CCW) weapon have more to do with being a long time revolver shooter and the ability of the snub revolver to use some heavier bullet weights (as well as bullet profiles which might offer some increased effectiveness, such as LSWC, WCD and some of the newer hollowpoints designed to expand when fired from the shortest snub barrels).

Both of the diminutive models that use both calibers seem to offer some challenges to many users. The smaller .380's & .38's both often offer diminutive grips, heavier triggers, short sight radius & less-than-optimal sights (visibility) and a light weight that doesn't exactly enhance controllability and recoil management.

However, when you factor in the feeding/cycling issues that can present themselves (ammunition sensitivity, slide travel interference caused by the shooter's hand/grip, short slide travel & reduced slide velocity, less-than-optimal maintenance by many users, etc), the littler .380's may introduce some shooting & functioning issues not often experienced by revolver shooters.

I've watched a lot of folks shoot .380's for training, practice & quals over the years, more than 20 of which has been as a LE firearms instructor. I've seen far more feeding stoppages and general functioning problems occur with folks using .380's than I have folks using .38 Snubs. (On the other hand, I've seen more feeding & functioning issues with the similarly diminutive .22's & .25's, but less with the .32's, FWIW.) Being able to properly grasp and support a diminutive semiauto pistol so that it feeds, cycles & functions properly seems to be a "problem" seen more with small pistol shooters than small revolver shooters (although short-stroking a smallish DA/DAO revolver can certainly create problems).

Loading (or reloading, if you'd prefer) can offer some potential issues for users of each style of small handgun, but when you consider that a dismaying number of folks who choose to lawfully carry such small handguns don't seem inclined to even carry spare magazines, speedloaders or speedstrips, it might be a moot point in some circumstances. Dunno.

It's just a personal opinion, mind you, but I'd think that if someone were going to intentionally choose one of the less powerful, harder-to-shoot calibers & small handgun platforms, then practicing my skills would be a pretty significant priority. When you see someone performing some qual course-of-fire where they can easily miss the intended target a couple (or more) times from as close as 3 yards (before they can "get used" to effectively grasping a small grip and not jerking a heavy trigger stroke) ... and yet they have no similar issues when using a larger pistol or revolver ... it makes you wonder how much thought they put into their selection of the itty bitty handgun for use under actual stressful & physically demanding conditions. Again, I dunno.

The larger .380 platforms (Beretta & Sig .380's) seem to perform much better than the smallest ones in the hands of some owners, but they arguably aren't in the same category of being as "pocketable" (in pocket holsters) as some of the newer small .380's.

The larger .380's, though, belt (holstered) pistols, can share the same overall size as many of the newer 9's & .40's.

When you consider the variability of skillset & experience among the wide range of handgun owners ... and the sometimes not-so-easily-defined reasoning behind personal preferences ;) ... I suspect there's always going to be folks who feel drawn to using one or the other, and both .380's & .38's have seemingly been enjoying a strong resurgence of popularity in recent years.

As a firearms instructor who has worked with mostly LE, but also fair number of non-LE, I generally don't shill handguns. I'm much more concerned with someone's knowledge & experience base, as well as their skillset & mindset. The particular handgun & caliber are something for the shooter to determine for themselves (bearing in mind existing policies, regulations, etc).

I do, however, have my own reasons & experience to select 5-shot .38's for many daily situations when I don't feel like wearing a belt gun, but still desire being armed. For those times when I feel a larger weapon might be prudent, or I simply don't mind wearing a larger belt gun, then I have a number of compact & subcompact 9's, .40's & .45's from which to choose (and which also see a lot of range use).

Just depends.

For the purpose of this topic/poll, however, I've gone with the 5-shot .38 based upon my knowledge, experience, training, practice ... and simple preferences. ;)

If I couldn't shoot one of my lightweight DAO J-frames and produce a 5-shot fist-sized group at 3 yards, in 3 seconds, shooting 1-handed from a low position ... and make aimed hits on a steel target at 40-50 yards ... I'd probably leave my J's in the safe and choose to carry one of my next larger handguns which met that requirement.

Making a (hopefully) informed decision is an individual responsibility when it comes to selecting and lawfully carrying a dedicated concealed weapon.

Just my thoughts. I'm not what passes for any sort of expert, after all.

March 16, 2012, 06:11 PM
I'm not going to scour the web or report back on anything.

And I'm not defensive. I'm at peace with my decision, and I hope others are too.

It just irked me to see someone talk in such absolutes on this topic about a single model of .380 from a single manufacturer. Enough to click "Post Reply", anyway.

Your opinion is nowhere near absolute, nor is anyone else's. Enjoy your day.

March 17, 2012, 10:06 AM
It just irked me to see someone talk in such absolutes on this topic about a single model of .380 from a single manufacturer. Enough to click "Post Reply", anyway

I like the s&w BG380 not a single malfunction had it for a year and shot hundreds of rounds. Fed all sorts of cheap stuff to pricey gold dots and hornady hollow point stuff.

As Happy As A Hippo.

March 17, 2012, 10:08 AM
To each his own, mind your plate, half dozen to one, and so on, and on...... all applies to this one.

March 17, 2012, 10:45 AM
No kidding, my opinion is absolutely mine and in my experience one is certainly better armed for a SD situation with a Beretta 84 and/or CZ83/82 type pistol over a snub, for this topic of .380 vs 38sp.

The truth of the matter is that some are simply "irked" because everyone's opinion doesn't jive with theirs.....Get over it.....Maybe others should also reconsider when they hit the post reply button. :rolleyes:

March 17, 2012, 10:54 AM
I carry both depending on the situation. I never knew it had be either/or:neener:

In the fall/winter I carry an LCR on my belt under my coat when the family and I take the dog for a walk. No reloads or speed loaders or anything. Just 5 shots of +P loaded in the revolver. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood. The most I worry about is an overly aggressive dog.

For business attire, I keep an LCP in my back pocket. 6+1 in the gun and a reload in my jean's fifth pocket. It's just too easy to carry a reload for this little pistol. I don't anticipate a shoot out in my line of work. The LCP is easiest enough to carry that I don't even know it is there, I shoot it better than I do the LCR despite the terrible trigger of the pistol and the heavenly trigger of the revolver.

I like carrying my Glock or my Blackhawk. They're big tough guns. Loud and belch fire and gobs of lead...I just can't conceal them nor do I particularly enjoy the weight. My lifestyle just isn't dangerous enough to warrant such a big and bulky gun. Granted, if I'm traveling to sketchier locations I holster up more firepower. If I'm going camping outside of a KOA campground I bring along a pistol and rifle. If there is a bump in the night, I don't grab my dinky LCP. I get the .45.

But for day to day, I shoot and feel well armed with either the .38 special or the .380. I look at small/pocket guns like I do any other provision of day to day life. I carry AAA even though my car is very reliable. I'm 31 years old with term life insurance even though I HOPE my wife and daughter will never collect on it:p I carry a pocket pistol because it's better than nothing. We all pays our monies and takes our chances. Any gun you shoot well and is on your person at all times is probably an ace in the hole.

But if you made me pick one, the .38 special trumps the .380 for most practical applications beyond pack-ability.

March 17, 2012, 06:39 PM
Both! I really like the Beretta .380 pistols, but will always want a snubby revolver.

March 17, 2012, 08:04 PM
Years ago, I would have gone with a .38spl+P. But in the last few years, with the increase in CCW across the country, both gun and ammo manufactures have been pouring some serious R&D into the .380ACP. There have always been some quality .380 out there, like the older Walthers, the Berettas, and Sigs. Today you also have some nice Kahrs, and I hear even the KelTec P3AT is decent. Combine that with excellent new loads from Speer (specifically designed for shorter barrels) and Hornady Critical Defense, and he .380 holds its own in the game of personal protection. I carried a Sig P232(my grandfathers after he passed) while I saved up for another larger pistol. I had a Ruger SP101 3" in .357, but the sig carrried so well, was lighter, carried more rounds and was SUPREMELY accurate. In fact, I have stopped telling people how accurate it was because they call me liar when I tell them what I could do with it. The SP101 became my nightstand/truck gun. The only reason I stopped carrying the Sig was that I got a Ruger LC9, just about the same size, same capacity, but in full 9mm. Some say the .38spl+P hits harder, and that is true, but the .40 hits harder than that and the .45 harder than that and .458 Cassul even harder. But they also kick considerably harder, and followup shots are much slower. If I have to shoot someone, I am probably going to have to shoot them more than once, and I want my followup shots to be as quick as possible. That is more easily accomplished by a good .380 than most snubbie .38s. Now, if you want to try to carry a GP100 full of .38spl+ you are talking about a whole new game, and a whole new thread.

March 17, 2012, 08:16 PM
I'm hip to the snub as I've packed one for more years than I can remember. Totally reliable, carries easy, and point-and-click simplicity. What more can you ask for? ;)

March 17, 2012, 08:56 PM
I'm hip to the snub as I've packed one for more years than I can remember. Totally reliable, carries easy, and point-and-click simplicity. What more can you ask for? ;)
And they too have actually benefitted from most of the advances in ammo technology, perticularly Speers Short Barrel loads designed for snubbies.

March 18, 2012, 03:36 PM
For the LE shooters with whom I work, I tend to agree with Dr Gary Roberts when it comes to caliber selection for secondary & off-duty weapons.

However, I've often felt that a number of folks seemed to put comfort & convenience (overall size & slim profile) and any personal model preference or bias (pistol vs. revolver) ahead of functionality and effectiveness when it came to how well they could actually use their choice of weapon & caliber. (In this case, we're discussing the choice of .380 ACP or .38 S&W Special.)

Sure, the newest of the lightweight & slim .380's more easily slip into pocket holsters for many folks. The most common observation I seem to hear is that the pistol's narrow & flat slide is preferable to the revolver's cylinder bulge.

Okay. Granted.

Or, as one highly skilled shooter (and instructor) of my acquaintance commented to me a while back, the little .380 he chose to replace his 442 made less of a bulge in his spandex biking clothing. FWIW, he can shoot the little .380 well enough for his perceived needs (and meet his accuracy/effectiveness standards for drills), and he's less comfortable with DAO revolvers. He's made sure his choice of weapon/caliber were supported by his skillset, though, and his mindset is superior.

Can the same be said for everyone that chooses to carry a dedicated defensive weapon, let alone one chambered in one of the less powerful center-fire defensive calibers?

Once we get past the pro's & con's of design, function & maintenance, how well can any particular owner/shooter do with whichever of them he/she has chosen when considering these two calibers? I've seen the wide eyes of some shooters when they run one of these smaller pistols or revolvers through the same qual course-of-fire in which they had just easily used their full-size or compact primary handguns to good effect ... and they suddenly discover they don't do nearly as well with their choice of diminutive handguns. It can (and should be) sobering.

It's not always just a question of "caliber".

March 18, 2012, 07:34 PM
One reason we should train and practice with the guns that we may very well fight with. That is why I use the 642 I presently use, with the 638 now in back up. Until recently I always preferred the traditional Bodyguard series, starting with a S&W model 38, then the 49, 649, and lastly the 638. I switch over to the 642 of the Centennial series type recently in 1998.

There are other considerations when fighting than many folks realize. For instance, many self defense weapons, particularly of the BUG type will be used at contact range. How many folks realize what happens to a semi auto when placed at contact during a fight.

It gets pushed out of battery, and will not fire. This will not happen with a revolver or fixed barrel semi autos such as the Walther PP family or the HK P7 family for example.

The second problem with a contact shot is if your weapon does fire, lots of "guacamole" (My term for body fluids and viscous tissue) often will be blown onto, and into, the guns action. This will not impair a revolver, but often Will jam many semi-Auto's, particularly the smaller ones with short barrels which place the action very close to the entry point of the target.

There was a 'reason' the little revolvers were called "Belly guns". Carried on the "belly", and fired on contact into the "belly".

One other advantage of the revolvers that are hammerless or shrouded (In my case 642 or 638), is the ability to shoot from inside a pocket, under a blanket, or from inside a sleeping bag. As I have trained for this, I also learned that in most cases you will also set the material you are shooting through on fire, if it isn't fire proof. The fire is small and easily manageable. This is another capability in the carriers tool kit.

How many folks take specific training classes dedicated to BUG's and unique tactics you may need to deploy them effectively? Then practice accordingly? I do.

With my aged eyes, and such, I now use a laser on both my fighting "J" frames. Some folks preferred that slightly larger 6 round Colt's, such as the "Dick's special". I don't know if the outfit that used to fit them for hammer shrouds is still in business. If you find one, grab it up!.

Remember your mission statement. You can win the pissing contest, INTERNET debate then hopefully be around to wonder why you lost the fight.

Regardless, good luck with your choice.


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