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.38 Special vs. .380 ACP?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by StrikeFire83, Mar 23, 2008.

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  1. StrikeFire83

    StrikeFire83 Member

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    Hello, everyone.

    I’m more of a semi auto person, as the Ruger SP-01 in .357 mag is the only revolver I own. I wanted to drop in here and ask those in the know about the how the .380 acp measures up to the .38 special. Given that the .380 pocket pistol market seem to be exploding...the Kel-Tec P3AT, the new Ruger LCP, and the forthcoming Kahr P380, many of these guns are going to be compared against the trusty j-frame for pocket carry folks. Now, P3AT sized guns are always gonna carry better than a J-frame, but how does the .380 ACP stack up against the .38 special?

    I know that 9mm loads are generally superior to the .38, but I assume that with all that casing the .38 has got to be more powerful then the .380 ACP. Is the difference in ballistics significant?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. batmann

    batmann Member

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    Personal choice. I doubt there is a lot of difference in the real world with the right ammo choice.
    I have both a S&W 442 and a Kel-Tec .380 and I carry the Kel-Tec more.
    Hpoe this helps.
     
  3. Ala Dan

    Ala Dan Member in memoriam

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    With the likes of many S&W J-frames in my stable of fine firearms; I find
    myself using my KEL-TEC P3AT .380 auto as "my always" firearm, when
    a larger weapon such as the J-frames or .45 ACP's are impractical cuz
    of dress or rules and regulations. As a personal choice, I carry the 102
    grain Remington Golden Sabre's in my P3AT. Probably lacking a bit in
    stopping power when compared to the .38 Special JHP's; but with
    proper shot placement, the difference is only marginal~! ;) :D
     
  4. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    I plan to pick up probably a new Ruger LCP or perhaps a P3AT alternatively in the future and I own a .380 I occasionally carry, but I really trust the 158 grain .38 special +P load to fully penetrate where as I have more doubt with the .380, but I reckon it's all in where you place it. The .380 is the minimum power level with which I'm comfortable as primary defense, but as it's available in such small, excellent little guns, it is attractive compared to smaller rounds which come in similar sized guns, the .32ACP in particular.

    What I normally carry is a 9mm which has more umph than either .380 or .38, but I don't see the .38 as lacking much. The heavy bullet gives it enough penetration.
     
  5. Dan-O

    Dan-O Member

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    I kinda like this article. Follow the link. He has a lot of good things to say about guns in general. Hope this helps. I have a small 5 shot .38 snubbie, two Kel Tec .380's, and they all seem to find their way into may daily carry rotation on a regular basis.

    Sorry for the tangent. Here is that link.

    http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/38specialor380acp.htm
     
  6. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    The .38 Special has a large case because it was originally a black powder cartridge. Case size, per se, means very little in this case.
    The .38 Special will drive bullets of similar weight about 200 fps faster than the .380. Given the low velocity range of both cartridges, this is a significant increase in favor of the .38 Special.

    The .38 Special will also drive much heavier bullets -- and generally drive them faster than the .380 will drive its lighter bullets.
     
  7. cherryriver

    cherryriver Member

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    To finish Vern Humphrey's thought: And heavy bullets are more likely to get where you need them to be to do the work you need them to do.
     
  8. mossy141701

    mossy141701 Member

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    I also own both and carry the p3at most of the time, I carry it with corbon ammo and feel comfortable with it. I carry in a back pocket wallet holster and almost forget it's there.
     
  9. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    That right there is the reason I want one. :D
     
  10. go_bang

    go_bang Member

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    Muzzle energer wise, factory ammo for the .380 ACP usually clocks in at right around 200 ft lbs, give or take 10-15. The same for .38 Special tends to range between 200-300 ft lbs, depending on the round. Bullet weights for .380 tend to range from 88gr to 100gr or so with your typical defense load being 90-95gr, while .38 Special bullets range from 95gr to 200gr with the typical defense load having a 125 or 158gr bullet.

    On paper, the .38 Special appears to be the better stopper. In reality, it's hard to say. The .380 guns can be easier to conceal than snubnose revolvers, are faster to reload, and single stack magazines are easier to conceal than speedloaders. The .38 snubnose revolvers are regarded as being more rugged and can fire in situations that would jam an auto (jammed up against an assailant, fired from a pocket, etc).

    As I see it the differences are more in the compromises for the kind of gun each uses than in the ballistic performance. Pick what suits you and go from there.
     
  11. btg3

    btg3 Member

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  12. lanternlad1

    lanternlad1 Member

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    .38 is better than .380, hands down. They aren't even in the same class. .38 is actually closer to 9mm (.357 vs .355 diameter bullet size). I read an article by Mas Ayoob once where he compared .380 and .38 by killing pigs with a gunshot to the back of the head. The .38 would drop them like rocks every time, the .380 wouldn't even penetrate the skull in some cases. After a few tries he thought the .380 was inhumane so he stopped using it. I like .380, but it simply does not compare to .38 or 9mm.

    "I also own both and carry the p3at most of the time, I carry it with corbon ammo and feel comfortable with it. I carry in a back pocket wallet holster and almost forget it's there."

    I can do the same thing with a Smith 642.
     
  13. shooter429

    shooter429 Member

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    .38 bests .380 hands down

    No contest. Not even close. My J-frame beats your KT any day. Of course, come to think of it, mine are .357s anyway. :) That having been said, I kept a KT in my tackle box on the boat for years. Nothing wrong with the .380 per se. But no thinking person would choose 80 grains over 180 when the chips are down.

    Shooter429
     
  14. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    I don't know where he got that! :rolleyes: I've seen 400 lb slaughter house pigs dropped quite dead by a .22 short properly applied to the head fired from a slaughter house "stun gun" which is a .22 short on a long stick. Whack him on the fore head, the thing fires and he goes down NOW. I've popped pigs and calves with a .22 handgun with good results....to the head point blank. Maybe I'll tote my .380 next time I check my hog trap. I shot the last ones I caught with a .38 to the head, was what I was carrying. One round, a +P 158, penetrated through the head and all the way through the neck and exited the forward chest. I was pretty impressed with the penetration. That's what I like about .38 special, penetration. Energy, well, six of one, half dozen of the other, but neither is powerful enough to kill with energy and I'm an energy kinda guy with the magnums and high caliber guns, anyway. But, 200-300 ft lbs? Sheesh, gimme a break. I'll go with the heavier bullet, though, given the choice for the penetration. Put that .380 on the chest, though, and I have a feeling the fight will stop.

    All that said, most of the time, I tote a 9mm loaded with 115 grain Hornady XTPs at 1262 fps. The gun is 1" wide, 14 ounces unloaded, carries 11 rounds on tap, and disappears in a pocket. I made a wallet holster for it and it'll even ride in a jeans back pocket, though it's a bit of a lump. I prefer it in the front pocket. It is easier to carry than a .38 revolver and has more power and more firepower. The subcompact 9s are pretty awesome for CCW.
     
  15. btg3

    btg3 Member

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    Seems the comparison was made using .38 +P HP against "various" .380 rounds. This may have excluded .380 +P rounds which are "hotter" than .38spl rounds, so some bias may exist
    in the cited comparison?
    Suppose the "pig test" were made between various .38spl and .380 +P?
    http://www.gunweek.com/2005/feature0620.html

    This is not to say which caliber is better, but just trying to avoid conclusions when some of the facts are obscured.

    Also, as posted in THR archives:
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2008
  16. go_bang

    go_bang Member

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    I was wondering how long this thread would go before the words "hands down", the parroting of old yarns spun by old gun writers, veiled insults, and other such territorial markings would appear.

    Well, why would any thinking person choose 180gr of .38 Special over 230gr of .45ACP when the chips are down? In fact, why not 240gr of .44 Mag? Better yet, if said thinking person knew the chips would be down why didn't he bring a semi-auto rifle, various BUG's, and several friends toting the same?

    btg, excellent point on swine skulls versus human. I was going to dig that up, but you beat me to it.

    I like snubnose revolvers, and I've carried snubnose revolvers. They have their place, but they are just one of many options and they don't fit every need.
     
  17. P. Plainsman

    P. Plainsman Member

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    I'll confine my thoughts to .38 Special in quality +P loadings. What's been documented is that the "FBI load" (Remington or Winchester 158 grain LSWCHP+P) can meet the FBI penetration standard while fully expanding. It's a 158 grain pure soft lead slug that typically leaves a 2" snubby at a bit over 800 fps. It has been viewed for decades as an effective stopper, particularly by small bore cartridge standards.

    If we're talking that kind of .38+P, then yes, from the data I've read, I view it as being in a different, superior ballistic category from any .380 available, even the hot Buffalo Bore stuff. It is "more gun."

    But the .380 semi-auto pistols have their own advantages. The teensy ones (Kel-Tec; Ruger LCP) are even more concealable than a J-frame revolver. They are the most concealable halfway serious handguns in existence. And bigger .380s like a PPK or Bersa have their own advantage. They are generally easier to shoot than a .38 snub (particularly an airweight snub with .38+P loads like I carry). Plus reloads are quicker and easier with a semi-auto.
     
  18. rgs1975

    rgs1975 Member

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    Shot placement shot placement shot placement. What ever you use, practice with it and get good. If you can put that bullet where you want it to go it doesn't matter what caliber you're using. A skilled shooter can kill a man quicker with a .22 than a non skilled shooter can with a 50 cal.
     
  19. ZeSpectre

    ZeSpectre Member

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    Either. If you are good enough then they'll be good enough. (in other words...shot placement).
     
  20. Elmer

    Elmer Member

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    And that's the bottom line.

    When PD's were transitioning to auto's, many of them allowed plainclothes officers to carry .380's as primary weapons, (including my own). That went away after some pretty horrendous failures in gunfights.

    Souping up lightweight bullets to hyper velocities, doesn't work any better with .380's than it did with the lightweight +P+ .38's of the dark age "computer man" studies in the 1970's.

    The late Gene Wolberg, one of the Father's of modern wound ballistics's, used to recommend ball ammo in .380 or .32 auto's. "At least you have a better chance of penetrating deep enough to poke a hole in something important", he used to say.

    But as long as there's a market for +P+P+P rounds that exhibit more "muzzle energy", there will be manufacturers willing to sell them, and gunwriter hacks willing to tout them (for a little......ahem...... consideration..... ).....

    Heck, some of them even wrote "books" on the subject.....

    :rolleyes:
     
  21. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    +P .38 Specials are actually *the* standard self defense loads in that chambering. Low pressure .38's are primarily for target use. So you really need to compare 380 with .38 +p. The larger capacity special leaves the small ACP behind quickly, as you might expect.
     
  22. wnycollector

    wnycollector Member

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    I guess for me its not about fps of this and lbs of that...its about the most reliable platform that you can carry. I just can't feel comfortable carrying a small auto in my pocket. I just like the 100% reliability of my j frame revolver. I will say, the Ruger LCP may change my mind sometime down the road...but for now 5 rounds of +p .38 in a S&W 638 is the combo I am sticking with!
     
  23. bdjansen

    bdjansen Member

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    .380 was good enough to stop Hitler. Of course, shot placement was pretty good. :D
     
  24. 351 WINCHESTER

    351 WINCHESTER Member

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    The .38 is more powerful. It fires a much heavier bullet, penetrates more even from a snubbie.
     
  25. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    So, um, Elmer, you're sayin' I'm better off with a standard pressure 158 grain load than a +P? I don't think so. Remember, a faster bullet of the same weight not only gains energy, it gains momentum. I shoot +P 158s in my .38.

    As others have stated, there is no SAAMI standard for +P in the .380 and the blow back nature of many of the pistols severely limits pressure levels in that caliber. You won't find pressures jacked up a whole lot in .380 even if the manufacturer states it as a "+P" load for marketing reasons.

    Oh, and Hitler was helped by a cyanide tablet. That stuff doesn't need good shot placement to work. :D I'm pretty sure I can greatly increase the lethality of any .380 hollowpoint by stuffing the hollow cavity full of potassium cyanide. Not sure what a jury would think of the practice, just sayin'.....:D
     
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