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Convince me that a .380 is in the arena with a 38 spl

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by Dr_2_B, Feb 7, 2014.

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  1. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    Well, "in a light hearted way", let the lawyers downgrade the 38 special from it full power wonderful self of the 1930's to the 1950's and at the same time upgrade the power of the 380 auto a hair with better bullets.

    Go back and look up the ballistics for a 1930's 38 special round and you can find some rounds actually were close to 1000 fps with a 158 grn LRN. Today if you are lucky you can get some commercial (not boutique brands) ammo that will drive a 90 grn JHP to 1000 fps.

    Now take some modern 38 special, for example federal 158 commercial ammo and run it down a little detective special and you might find you get 651 fps out of it. (yes real data).

    So with modern ammo you can make a reasonable case that the 380 is on par with the 38 special.

    Now lets take some 1950's Remington 38 special 158 grn LRN ammo and do the same experiment. We might find that we get 803 FPS. Or if we do 200 grn Rem ammo, we might find we get 718 FPS (yes this is real data).

    Those are not the same beast as a 95 grn JHP at 1000 fps.

    So lesson learned. If you want 380 to equal 38 buy modern (big commercial) ammo. If you want the 38 to blow away the 380, go find some old 1940's/1950's ammo and you will get the ballistics but in a LRN or Round Nose format.

    If you really wanted more "knock out type power". One might change that old LRN to a LSWC and you might be impressed at what the 38 special could do.
     
  2. outerlimit

    outerlimit Member

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    Okay, while I don't claim to be a brainiac, you can load a .380 round pretty hot. Those hot .380 rounds typically are/were for submachine guns. Obviously not a super popular round nowadays, as submachine guns are also not in vogue currently. A .380 can be loaded pretty warm, but could never be loaded as powerful as a .38spl. It is possible to load a .38spl to power levels higher than factory .357 magnum you find on the shelf.

    Now that being said, you can load a 100gr. or so bullet into a .380 case at +p pressures and make a HP that is about as effective as really light and weak off the shelf .38spl ammo. With .380 you're really best off using FMJ, LRN, or LFP type ammo, since penetration is the most important factor in that power class.
     
  3. kokapelli

    kokapelli Member

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    "Velocity" and "knock out type power"! What about will the round reach vitals?

    I couldn't care less about "velocity" and "knock out type power".
     
  4. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    That was the interest in the 200 grn bullets for the 38 special. Big, heavy and depending on the vintage fast or slow.

    Does any of the big commercial companies even make a 200 grn 38 special anymore? It seems like all I see are the 110, 125 or similar weight JHP's now adays.
     
  5. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    Honestly, why? You're just as capable of looking up perfomance characteristics as I am.

    :)

    The .380 (0.355 inch dia) and the .38 special (0.357 inch dia) are close enough to the same diameter to be equal in that aspect, for all practical purposes.

    However, their respective bullet masses are significantly different, as are the guns for which they're designed to shoot from.

    If you were to obtain bullets of equal mass between the two, with comparable bullet designs, and shoot them at the same velocities, then they'd perform pretty much the same.

    But once you start changing the bullet mass and velocities, you'll start getting divergences in performance characteristics. And those divergences will be dictated by the limitations inherent in the cartridge design as well as the gun design.

    Certainly you can take a specific cartridge from one calliber and design a load for the other that would out perform it in some aspects. But it always comes at some cost, regardless of which way you go in this comparison.

    Ultimately, what really counts is whether or not you can reliably penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs. If you can't, then it doesn't matter which you use.
     
  6. JRWhit

    JRWhit Member

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    Apples and oranges.
    The 38 special is suited for a specific barrel length and weight. Velocities listed on the side of the box are useless without knowing what fire arm/ barrel length was used when data was recorded. Using a cartridge designed for a 4" service revolver, putting it into a snub nose, and then comparing it to a another cartridge is not exactly fair game.

    There is only oh so much powder that can be burned in a 2" barrel. To best take advantage of either round, a cartridge should be tailored to the firearm it will be fired from. If you take a cartridge that was designed for a 4" barrel,with a bullet designed to expand at X velocity, it will not perform to satisfaction when you use it in a snub nose. There are cartridges tailored to use in snub nose revolvers, but it is up to the consumer to research which rounds are best suited to their specific firearm. Research the data published per cartridge and see what it is test fired from.

    The 380 is a round better suited, as far as case capacity, for a shorter barreled pistol. Limited by weight, the properly tailored round has proven to meet penetration requirements in a variety of different velocity/expansion/bullet weight combinations.

    Bottom line is that both cartridges, when properly tailored, are designed for a specific depth of penetration to meet certain LE requirements.
    The .380 meets those requirements with a lighter projectile/ the 38 with a heavier one. If you need to shoot through a t-shirt use the .380. If you need to shoot through leather or several layers of denim, use the 38. Beyond that you get into platforms and comfort to shooter, ease of concealment,exe,exe.

    You get the same argument about .357/38 special. When you take a .357 cartridge designed for use in a 6" or 8" revolver, stick it in a snubby, and don't see much more benefit than the ability burn, deafen, and blind an attacker.
     
  7. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    Regarding handling recoil for proficient use, if .380 gave you any problems then .22 short would be "better" for you to handle.

    That doesn't make .22 short a better, more viable self defense option. Training and gun selection would help more. You can dumb anything down and hot rod most things. Apples to apples, use "standard" loads to form a baseline comparison, or two "light" loads, or two "hot rods". Then you are making meaningful comparisons that explore the rounds potentials.

    A .44 spl. is a ballistically superior self defense load to a .22. If I can't handle the .44 that doesn't change the fact that the round is superior, but might change my selection. Select .22 if that is what is proper for your use, but don't be fooled into believing that it then magically will become as effective as a .44 by doing so.

    P.S. To expand a bit on JRWhit's excellent observation, paradigms are changing. .38 spl. loads using powder blending technologies and high tech hollow points to tailor performance to short barrels cause the 4" analogy while previously true to be a bit dated. There is a new "standard" available for .38 spl. snubby and IMHO it is an improvement over what is commonly available in .380. Revolver weight, grip fit and training "up" to the weapon instead of selecting "down" to current capabilities are available options for anyone with the will to pursue them.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fs4lFOvuTw

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTTuXpFChsA

    Bottom line if you believe .380 is sufficient in your overall defense package, it may indeed be your choice. Sufficient doesn't mean superior, and training can vastly improve performance.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  8. Deaf Smith

    Deaf Smith Member

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    Sure.

    Now if we are talking snubbie .38s and .380s like the Bersa .380 CC (not a bad gun) then the ballistics of the best ammo are:.

    .380 DPX 80 gr. 202 ft/lb or so
    Low Velocity (ft/sec): 1055
    High Velocity: 1084
    Average Velocity: 1067
    Extreme Spread: 28
    Std. Deviation: 9

    http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/Bersa Thunder.htm

    Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P 250 ft/lb or so
    Average Velocity 844
    Extreme Spread 11
    Std Deveation 4

    http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/38 Snub Ammo Test.htm

    .38s are somewhat better but the SA trigger of the Bersa is way ahead of the DA pull of any snub, even the new Rugers, and thus hit rate would be better.

    BUT, if were are talking 4 inch .38s then the .38 will do much better than the .380.

    Deaf
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  9. amd6547

    amd6547 Member

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    I'm a big fan of the 38spl, having owned several. I feel quite well armed with a four inch Model 15 or a snub Model 38 loaded with 158gn +P lswchp.
    But, I often carry a P3AT because it is so thin and light. So, I have done a lot of research on 380acp ammo choices.
    Coincidentally, I noticed that there are Israeli police surplus Beretta 84's on the market at very attractive prices. I bought one of these, a Beretta 84F, and I am very happy with it.
    Fits my hand very well, and points like a finger. I have only had it to the range once so far, where I put a little over 100 rounds through it. Perfect function and great accuracy.
    I don't feel underarmed at all with and accurate, reliable 14-shot 380 in my belt.
    Although I have other, more powerful handguns, I have been keeping the Beretta 84F handy as my HD gun, probably due to the newest and coolest factor.
    With a 3.75" barrel, it can get the highest velocities from the available 380 ammo.
    In fact, I just got some Underwood 380 +P ammo loaded with the XTP 90gn bullet, which is rated at 1200fps.
    Contrary to another posters opinion in this thread, and my own use of the P3AT, I don't feel the 380acp is best suited to tiny pocket pistols...I think it is best suited to medium sized pistols that can get the most out of the cartridge.
     
  10. SDGlock23

    SDGlock23 Member

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    Nearly the same caliber (.355 vs .357) and both shoot at rather low velocity. But the 38 Special shoots heavier bullets so in that sense, the 380 isn't the same as the 38 Special, it's less than. But it usually has better capacity, which is a plus for the tiny 380.

    Yet it is somewhat similar to the 38 Special in that both are definitely lethal to humans if correct shot placement is used, as humans aren't that hard to kill, but with incorrect shot placement can seem much harder to kill. So basically both can work quite well, or both can seem to fail miserably.
     
  11. 56hawk

    56hawk Member

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    It's always hard to make comparisons like this since most people will pick and choose ammo and guns to make their point. I looked in my safe and noticed that a J frame S&W with a 1 7/8" barrel is about the same size as a Walther PPK.

    Went to "Ballistics by the Inch" and compared the most mainstream ammo out of the two platforms. Winchester 95 grain PDX1 out of the 380 and Federal 125 grain Hydra-shok out of the 38 Special:

    Walther PPK
    380
    95 grain bullet
    969 fps
    198 ft-lbs. of energy

    S&W 642
    38 Special
    125 grain bullet
    847 fps
    199 ft-lbs of energy

    Now I'm sure you could find better ammo or longer barrel guns and get completely different numbers, but with what I think is a very realistic comparison the two rounds are almost identical in energy.
     
  12. Gun Master

    Gun Master Member

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    .38 Spl., .380, etc.

    My THR signature is "Gun Master", but I am in no way asserting I am a gun "expert" (ex= a has been; spert or spirt= a drip under pressure). But, I have been shooting and studying all types of guns for parts of the last eight decades. I'm 74 1/2 years old (go figure). There has been no official tally, but I've probably owned over 200 guns. Some on THR state they now own that many. My current ownership is around 1/5 as many.

    Today I have five .38 Specials ; 2 S&W Model 10's (4'' heavy & 5'' pencil), a Colt Police Positive 4" small frame, and three S&W J frames (two 2" & one 3'').

    I have only one .380 (Colt 1908). Also, two "close relatives" to the .380 but a little more powerful, CZ82 and P64 in 9x18mmMak.

    There are other handguns and long guns, but they are not pertinent to the situation.

    Most of the time I carry a S&W J frame Mod. 38 (2''), but some times a Kel-Tec P32. That is another story. Stay tuned for the further adventures of "Gun Master". :D

    Point being, carry what you think best for you. As for me, I like S&W BodyGuard Airweight Model 38. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  13. SharpsDressedMan

    SharpsDressedMan member

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    Obviously, both types of guns have their respective advantages: size, handling, heavy/light bullets, recoil, number of rounds, simplicity, personal preference. It all plays into selecting one over the other. With advancement in the last 20 years in bullet design and performance, I don't think anyone gets left out; both serve their owners well. The only "problem" I have recommending a .380 (and I own and enjoy them) is that there are now comparable 9mm's that are equal to, or smaller, in size than the smallest .38 specials, so one has to deliberately avoid the reality that a more powerful alternative exists to the .380 in standard sized guns. The big advantage to the .380's now is the "micro" guns, which are way smaller than either the small 9's or snubbie .38's.
     
  14. Rexster

    Rexster Member

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    A colleague (police patrol) worked a shooting incident in which a .380 bullet, fired from a Colt Government .380, broke a femur, causing an instant one-shot stop-and-drop. (Remington FMJ, if I recall correctly.) While nothing is a death ray, anything that can break a femur has to be taken seriously.

    I am neither advocating nor slamming the .380 ACP. It makes a hole. The shooter must direct the placement of that hole.

    With my right shoulder/arm/wrist/hand/thumb not aging very well, I am looking into milder-recoiling pistols, and my new Walther PPK/S-1 is undergoing function testing, as I am able to find ammo.
     
  15. Eb1

    Eb1 Member

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    With the ammo I shot and chrony'd today out of my Bersa, there isn't any reason not t carry a .380 with a 3.5" barrel. It will shoot through leather. No doubt.
    Not that I am stuck on foot pounds, , but at 10 feet I am getting 288 ft. Lbs, from my .380. The ammo is deadly accurate with 3.5 to 4" groups at 15 yards with eight shot groups offhand.
     
  16. JRWhit

    JRWhit Member

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    I believe the overall scope of this is that both defense rounds are designed to penetrate, expand, and stop in a soft tissue target at 12 to 16", or abouts. Both do so as per their respected design. It is hard to try and say one is better than the other when they are both designed to meet the same requirement.
    Manufacturers choose a bullet design and match it to a velocity that equals to all projectile energy being transferred within that depth.

    Not to kill with a car analogy, but it is like two cars, one with a v8 and one with a v6, with a speed limiter of 50 mph. It's hard to say which one does 50 better. One may have more potential, but it is at it's requirement of 50mph.
     
  17. huntsman

    huntsman Member

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    Funny how you can tell one's prejudices just by the choice of cartridges for comparison, why is it the .38 spl fans get nervous when their pet cartridge gets linked to the .380acp?

    I believe there's not much difference in performance when guns are size comparable so really what the choice comes down to is platform, once you move away from the pocket gun the .380acp gains big time in capacity(14 round BDA) and really if you're going to carry a 6" .38spl why not something a little bigger in Dia and power.
     
  18. Bush Pilot

    Bush Pilot Member

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    I agree with the posters that say the most effective round is the one you have with you. If you leave the gun in your car or at home it's a paperweight.
     
  19. gym

    gym member

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    If I only have time for 1 shot, I would choose the 38 every time. After carrying both for 20 years, the advantage that the the 380 had was a few extra rounds and the ability to fire them faster, and reload it faster. The 38 was more powerful especially with hand loads, after 30 years of reading about this back and forth, I go with what I have seen and that is that the 38, will do more damage with the right ammo.
    Also when you measure barrel length, don't forget the cylinder of the 38, it's part of the gun. Also the 38 will do better on longer distances, than the 380, from personal experience.
     
  20. Shadowdancer

    Shadowdancer Member

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    I have both. Given the choice between carrying a S&W Air-weight .38 and the Sig P238, I choose the Sig. Shooting the S&W is miserable. I have Pachmayer grips on it and practicing was unpleasant. Each shot felt like a gorilla pulling a cheese-grater out of my hand. Getting back on target took longer. The Sig was more accurate for me. The Sig is smaller.

    So... while the Sig may not have as much brute force behind it, it is easier to carry, more accurate (for me), easier to practice with, carries more rounds, is faster to reload, and has been reliable.
     
  21. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Member

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    The biggest problem with the .380 is that it has historically been chambered in guns that were nearly impossible to shoot in a manner that could even remotely be called "accurate."

    If you have not read Skeeter Skelton's 1980 piece on "The Mama Mia Mishap," now is the time to do so.
    Clear all beverages from vicinity of keyboard.

    http://www.darkcanyon.net/The_Mama_Mia_Mishap.htm
     
  22. silicosys4

    silicosys4 Member

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    Until you compare Underwood .38 spcl against Underwood .380acp.

    Underwood .380 +p is 90 grains going at 1200 fps.
    Underwood .38 spcl. +p is 125 grains going 1200 fps.

    From there the .380 runs out of steam in every arena...bullet weight, velocity, etc...the .38 is still going strong, and if you want to go outside the boundaries, the .38 will run into magnum velocities in reloading where the .380 runs out of case capacity.

    Aside from the physical differences between the cases, and the fact that they were developed for two entirely different applications, the ballistics are not comparable. When you start comparing capacity you are comparing different types of guns, not the cartridges themselves. If guns are to be debated, I'd argue that the .380 is limited by the action that most .380's are using, the blowback. There is a physical limit imposed on the cartridge, too much and the action cannot handle it unless massively overbuilt...and I mean Hipoint massive...huge slides and heavy springs. The .38 spcl. is not limited by action type to nearly the same amount, and I'd bet you can more easily load .38 hotter than SAAMI out of a revolver and not have issues (immediate ones, anyways), than you can .380 out of a blowback semi auto.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  23. mooner

    mooner Member

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    I can definitively tell you that the 38 special is superior.....


    ....when it comes to ease of reloading. Those darn little 380 cases are a pain in the butt compared to the nice long 38 cases. :neener:
     
  24. Gun Master

    Gun Master Member

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    Loading .380's

    Yeah, I hate having to poke those little short .380 boogers down that barrel, one at a time, after each shot. Somebody ought to invent some thing to make them load themselves, after each shot. Man, that would be a relief!:neener:
     
  25. R.W.Dale

    R.W.Dale Member

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    Think reloading

    Not reload

    There is a difference ;-)
     
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