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.380acp "better than" 38 Special? Why?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Orion8472, Jul 12, 2010.

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  1. Orion8472

    Orion8472 Member

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    I've seen several ballistic charts showing from .22lr up to 45 Long Colt or more. It seems that the .380acp edges out the 38 Special. It seems backwards to me, since the 38 Special almost seems twice the size.

    Comments?
     
  2. Deus Machina

    Deus Machina Member

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    I'm betting that very heavily depends on the load.

    .380 ACP belongs in the 'light and fast' (sorta) category, and .38 Special in the 'heavy and slow'. One might edge over the other in ballistics, but for a human body, I'm going to go for something with the weight to expand and still penetrate deep, thank you.
     
  3. TechBrute

    TechBrute Member

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    Can you link to any of the charts you are talking about?

    How many rounds do the populous pocket pistols hold on a .380? The most popular .38 revolvers hold 5. Platforms are a legitimate part of any caliber discussions.
     
  4. Orion8472

    Orion8472 Member

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    One that I recently seen was on MidwayUSA's Youtube channel, as they test various rounds.

    As I said, it seems odd that a round that is considerably smaller than another [with the assumption of MORE powder in the longer shell] would even be equal with the larger one, let alone seeming to be more potent.

    For example:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFruwviuCvw

    At 1:04, you have to stop it there. The chart shows the 102gr. .380acp slightly edging out the 125gr JHP 38 Special. The +P version of the 38 Special, on the other hand, is better.

    Are these charts [such as MidwayUSA shows] in error, or is there something to this?
     
  5. loadedround

    loadedround Member

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    I assume you are referring to velocity and if this is the case "cartridge size" has nothing to do with it for several reasons. First of all the 38 special is a lower pressure cartridge compared to a .380 and neither cartridge is filled to capacity with powder. Secondly the 380 round uses similar powders and lighter bullets to achieve it's higher velocity. It will show higher pressure also. Have you compared any 38 special +P loads with the 110 or 125 gr bullets to the 380? See a big difference?ound lial.380 is a higher pressure load . t
     
  6. MedWheeler

    MedWheeler Member

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    I agree with TechBrute. A hi-po .380 round fired from a Bersa Thunder or Beretta 85 might very well outperform (in some respects) a standard LWC or LSWC .38 Special round fired from a two-inch snubbie.
    The "keychain" .380 pistols hold six rounds in their mags, plus the one on deck, so the round-count-only advantage goes to the .380. The ballistic advantage per shot would seem to go to the .38, especially in a revolver capable of firing +P loads.
    I'd like to see those charts, too..
     
  7. Orion8472

    Orion8472 Member

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    I'm checking some other sites and it may be that Midway's chart is erroneous. Found another that shows the 38 Special [even non +P] as having more energy . . . being equal with the LWC round, but even then, there isn't much of a spread between them.
     
  8. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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    The 380 is more efficient. The 38 Special was designed for black powder and the case is bigger than it need be. Top 38 Special loads will beat top 380 loads. A 2" J frame Smith is virtually the same size as a small 380.

    Advantage to 380 is it holds 2 more rounds and reloading is faster.

    Advantage to 38 revolver is that it carries easier (at least for me) being rounded and smooth edged.
     
  9. Mitch from LA

    Mitch from LA Member

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    The revolver also has less chance (generally speaking) of a mechanical malfunction. Also, if the first round misfires, you can simply squeeze the trigger again.

    That said, I'm sure there are incredibly reliable .380's and that many have trigger pulls far superior to that of a double action revolver. To each his own. My wife carries a .38 in a S&W 442 because in her case it leaves the least room for operator error.
     
  10. Orion8472

    Orion8472 Member

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    My brother had to resort to a light weight [S&W Airweight] due to back problems. He recently had a bad experience shooting +P with the tiny OEM grip, but changed it to a Hogue grip with the full grip and likes it much better, so I think he will be using +P in his revolver. He was thinking about switching to a pocket .380acp for the sake of weight, but putting the Hogue on the Airweight made his mind up on keeping the S&W. This was all done yesterday.

    I know that shot placement is the most important. . . . AND that the likelihood of "using the gun" is extremely low. However, I think that his choice is the best. I have carried .380acp for a while [the 6+1 setup], and it would work, but even still, it is the limit of what I would want to carry. Having said that, finding one that DOES action correctly at nearly 100% of the time is hard. That really IS the "better than" for the 38 Special. No worries if the next round will chamber. . . I know that some will say, "I have [fill in the blank] and it has never failed." So far, I have not had 100% with the .380acp pistols I have shot. Revolvers will be potentially 100% just by their function.

    Having said all that, the one pistol that I HAVE had nearly 100% with is my Springfield Armory EMP. I may just carry that all the time and leave my .380acp pistol at home. AND have a more potent round. ;)
     
  11. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Member

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    Which ballistics charts are you referencing? Looking in to the Shooter's Bible, I find:
    Code:
     
     Winchester Ballistics
     .38 Special   158gr Round Nose Lead bullet   755 fps  200 ft/lb
     .380 ACP       85 gr Silver Tip Hollowpoint   1000 fps  189 ft/lb
    
     Remington Ballistics 
     .380 ACP       95 gr Metal Case                  955 fps  190 ft/lb
     .38 Spl +P    125 gr jacketed hollowpoint     945 fps  248 ft/lb
    Comparing the "plain jane" loads (158 gr lead roundnose .38 Spl v. 95 gr full metal jacket .380 ACP), the .38 Spl edges over the .380 ACP.

    Comparing the "premium defense" loads (125 gr jacketed hollowpoint .38 Spl +P v. 85 gr Silvertip hollowpoint .380 ACP), the .38 Spl still edges over the .380 ACP.

    That is on paper. One should be comparing ballistics actually chronographed from a ~3" barrelled .380 vs a 2" barrelled .38 revolver. Comparing forensics ballistics tables that summarize actual shootings would be even more helpful.

    I have had a .380 ACP pistol that only fed FMJ reliably; my current defensive gun is a .38 with 125gr +P (partially because I can hit more consistently with it target practice).
     
  12. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Member

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    Quote: the 38 Special almost seems twice the size.

    .38 Spl was a black powder cartridge originally. You can get the equivalent smokeless powder load in 1/3 the volume of black powder. So the .38 Spl case is big (the .380 was introduced for smokeless powder and has no excess case capacity). The .38/44 Outdoorsman revolver/ammo combination used a .38 revolver on a .44 Special frame to get performance that was not equaled until the introduction of the .357 Magnum.
     
  13. chieftain

    chieftain Member

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    Here is what the leading researcher on Terminal Ballistics in America has to say on the subject. Dr Gary K Roberts.

    I have been using the S&W “J” frame’s as BUG’s since 1966. Personally up until fairly recent I have preferred the “Bodyguard” series model 38, 49, 649, and 638. It’s only in the last 15 years or so that I have started with the “Centennial” series or 442, 642 family too.

    I prefer to carry the “air weight’s” as they work with lead bullets that the ultra lightweights are recommended by S&W not to use.

    In the last “snubby” class I took I used a laser on one of my 642’s. It worked wonders for accuracy beyond “belly” range. I am converting all my “J” frame “snubby’s” to Crimson Trace laser grips.

    Just applying my experience (both combat and personal preference) my opinion and the Terminal Ballistic science to BUG‘s.

    Just my way, YMMV.

    Go figure.

    Fred
     
  14. OregonJohnny

    OregonJohnny Member

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    Well, I guess "virtually" is a subjective word. I have both a S&W 642, and a Ruger LCP, and although dimensionally they are similar, the practical "carryability" or "pocketability" of the tiny .380 is far superior to the j-frame, at least for my pockets. Since carrying my LCP in a front pants pocket, my j-frame has been permanently relegated to coat pocket or belt carry. The difference in dimensions between the two, although not substantial on paper, are quite noticeable when carrying the gun.

    However, when comparing common .38 Special +P rounds from a 2" barrel to common .380 rounds from a 2.5" barrel (taking capacity out of the mix), the edge goes to the .38 Special, in my opinion.
     
  15. Manco

    Manco Member

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    Personally, I wouldn't give much credibility to some random chart that says "Knockdown Factor." It could mean anything depending on who made it.

    .38 Special was originally a black powder caliber, and black powder is less energy-dense in terms of volume, which requires a larger case. Using modern smokeless powders these days, the case will be mostly empty. Still, most knowledgeable shooters would place .38 Special ahead of .380 ACP in terms of general effectiveness, because while they're comparable in many ways, you can use much larger (longer) and more effective types of bullets in .38 Special cartridges. I have no idea what Midway's chart is based on.
     
  16. Deaf Smith

    Deaf Smith Member

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    Guys,

    First the cartridges:

    Yes the .38 special is more powerful than the .380, hands down. Even the top Buffalo Bore .380 loads are no where near top Buffalo Bore .38 special loads. Who argues that the 158gr LSWHP at 1000 fps, which is 100 fps more than the FBI .38 spl load, is not the king of the .380 .vs. 38 debate?

    Now guns.

    The smallest .380s, like TCP and LCP, are hard to shoot fast at anything but very close range. And the 2 inch snub, especially the airweights, are also hard to shoot fast, especially one handed! But the mid size .380s, like Bersa .380s, are quite easy to shoot fast and accurate.

    But I find the revolvers, like Smith J frames and Colt ‘D’s are overall more reliable than .380s. The reason is the .380s have small parts and need lubrication while the revolvers have more robust parts and very little need of lubrication.

    So the .380s have a few more rounds and easier to hit with, the .38s are more powerful and a bit more reliable.

    I have examples of both types. I use the Smith Centennial .38 as a primary sometimes (other times a Glock 26.) The .380 TCP is a backup gun ONLY. It has to do with its small size and difficulty to shoot fast with accuracy, especially one handed.

    I would not lose any sleep if I carried my Bersa .380 as primary as long as I had a backup, say the TCP.

    But folks, I do use my Centennial for that. I shoot it well and it is more powerful.

    Deaf
     
  17. Robert101

    Robert101 Member

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    Ballistics are relevant and so is real world shooting. I shot a lot of "stuff" as a teenager with 38 and 380: car doors, refrigerators, lumber, trees, trash cans, you name it...... The penetration of a FMJ 380 will suprise a number of people. It really doesn't matter which one is superior as both are in the same class. They are minimal in their role of self defense. I have and still do rely upon the 380/38 class guns as they do play a role. Pick the one you like and shoot it well. What are my classes? I thought you'd never ask...

    Self Defense Classes
    1. Minimal - .380 & 38
    2. Adequate - 9MM
    3. Adequate + - .357 SIG & 40 cal. & 45 ACP
    4. Optimal - 10MM, .357 Magnum

    Anything larger doesn't seem appropriate for self defense due to excessive recoil.
     
  18. earlthegoat2

    earlthegoat2 Member

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    In the confined world of 380 vs. 38 Special

    Give me the 38 loaded with 158 gr +P lead hollowpoints (a load all these "studies" repeatedly refuse to mention). The heavyweight bullet will carry through obstructions better than any 380 round and penetration will be better.

    At least someone has it finally figured out.:p
     
  19. The Lone Haranguer

    The Lone Haranguer Member

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    A long time ago (I first read of it in the early 1970s), the late Skeeter Skelton did some penetration testing of .38 Spl. LRN from a snub revolver and .380 FMJ from a Walther PPK and found the performance to be nearly identical. This was of course with the common ammo of the day, which has improved since then. With heavier bullets the .38 undoubtedly has an edge in power, but .380 can be had in a smaller, slimmer gun that holds a couple more rounds.
     
  20. KJS

    KJS Member

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    I think some would find the calibers you rate more highly as not appropriate due to excessive recoil for THEM, where excessive is a matter of personal preference and ability.

    Didn't the FBI find that 10MM wasn't optimal when a majority of their agents couldn't qualify using it? It doesn't matter if your gun can make a wound the size of the Grand Canyon if you miss.

    Isn't the best caliber the one that you can fire the best?

    Imagine an 80-year-old woman who can manage to put some holes in a bad guy with a .22 revolver. Isn't she better prepared than an elderly woman who doesn't fire at all because there is no way she can manage to handle her late husband's .357 Mag or .45 ACP 1911?
     
  21. chieftain

    chieftain Member

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    So are the mid size revolvers like the “K” frame S&W’s 3” all steel “J” frames, and of course large frame 38 and 357 magnum revolvers. Also in most of the modern renditions of these guns where they were once limited to 38spl, now also offer 357magnum.

    Number 1 requirement of any fighting weapon by a long stretch is reliability. Always, no exceptions, and second to no other requirement. NONE!

    Not in today’s world. Those medium sized 38/357 revolvers can have 7 or 8 shots too. The exception are two models that are available in the USA that I am aware of. The Bersa and Beretta.

    If I am going that size I will be carrying a 9mm. Same size much more effective on target, and I have yet to find a 9mm SIG/HK/Glock that is less reliable than any 380acp offered.

    Yup, more powerful and more reliable. Can’t really beat that combo with anything.

    I have both too. Colt Pony Pocketlite is my favorite to shoot of my 380's, but I shoot it sparingly as parts are hard to come by. The Walther PPK, Kel-Tec and Ruger LCP with the Crimson trace laser attached, are all the additional 380's I have right now. Got rid of the Colt 1903, Beretta both 84 & 85 years ago. Never owned a Bersa but shot a couple years ago.

    As a BUG I always come back to a S&W “J” frame, and still do to this day. These days it’s usually the 642 from the Centennial family, Up until just recently about 15 years ago, I always used the Bodyguard version, Models 38,49,649,638. In actual combat I used a model 38, never got that bad. Got to my sidearm a few times, but never the BUG.

    380 is better than a spit in the wind, but I would rather have a 5 or 6 shot snubby. See above: More reliable, more powerful cartridge, and if I was going to carry a weapon the size of the Bersa, my HK P2000sk or Glock 26 make more sense to me.

    Roger that!

    An additional benefit of both the Centennial (hammerless) and Bodyguard (shrouded) families is they are the only handguns that can be fired reliably from a pocket or under blankets/sleeping bag. I do like this benefit. Many a myself and many LEO's I have known, particularly in the cooler months had one of the two models in that jacket pocket when approaching a questionable character. The muzzle was already on the badguy, and all one had to do was pull the trigger 5 times. (Someone made a shroud for the old Colt "Dick" special too, for the same reasons. A bit bigger than the "J" frame but it had 6 vs 5 rounds.)

    When you are getting training, don’t forget to train with your snubby. I shot my last snubby class about 18 months ago, again. What was new to me was the Crimson Trace Laser grips. I did learn to love the laser grips on my 642. I am now transitioning all my snubb’s to the laser grip. Much more accurate both up close and at range.

    And please read #13 above again. There is both experience and real science talking there. This is the same guy the FBI use.

    Go figure.

    Fred
     
  22. Guns and more

    Guns and more member

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    I'm no expert, but here's my take. .38 special is a revolver round and .380 is for semi-autos.
    Just because the round is longer doesn't necessarily mean it has more powder in it.
    I also understand the powder is different with the newer more powerful powder in the .380.
    I wanted to say smokeless, but I may be wrong.
     
  23. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    When all is said and done the .38 Special is a much better SD round than the .380 Auto...
     
  24. saturno_v

    saturno_v Member

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    To put it in very oversimplified terms

    Your run of the mill 38 Special launch a 158 gr. slug with an average muzzle energy of ~250 ft/lb

    The 380 Auto reaches about the same energy with a 90 gr. bullet (same diameter)

    So the 38 Special has much higher sectional density with the same energy...all things being equal, the 38 Special is the more capable round
     
  25. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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    OregonJohnny- My samples are limited but I have compared my S&W M40 Centennial to my FEG R61 380 (which I think is about the same size as the Walther PPK) and I found them almost exactly the same length, height and thickness. I was surprised at how nearly identical the dimensions were. Other models will vary, of course.
     
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