If you’re in the market for an affordable carry gun and shop around long enough, sooner or later you’ll run into the Bersa Thunder. Looking a bit like the PPK and carrying an attractive price-tag it can be tempting but remember the adage, “buy once, cry once.”
Bersa Thunder Background
The Bersa Thunder is an all-metal, single-stack, DA/SA pistol most commonly chambered in .380 ACP (a .22 LR version is also available).
Manufactured in Argentina and imported by Eagle imports, the Thunder is available in over a dozen different variations, not including some distributor-exclusive variations.
Most of the variants are simply variations of the color scheme, but a few have some substantial changes.
The Bersa Thunder is exactly the type of handgun that normally draws my eye in the gun shop.
I love off-the-wall, metal guns that deviate from the current striker-fired/plastic SOP.With its clear homage to the Walther PPK/S, the Thunder never fails to catch my eye.
Bersa Thunder Specs
|Sights||Blade Integral (Front), Notched-Bar Dovetailed (Rear)|
Unfortunately, in practice the Thunder falls just a bit short of my expectations.
The version we reviewed is the “CC”-model which is, in my humble opinion, the poorest execution of a gun that I would already consider marginal. The “CC” stands for concealed carry.
Its most notable features are…well, a reduction in its features. No features have been taken away but most of them have been considerably downsized.
The Thunder CC has a thinned safety, thinned slide release, and sights that are, well, vestigial at best. Let’s take a look.
Bersa Thunder Features
18+1 Rounds of .380 ACP
It’s enough rounds to get the job done.
2Traditional DA/SA action
The external hammer makes the gun inherently safer.
3Safety / Decocker
Makes for a much safer concealed carry.
Bersa Thunder Variations
There are several different variations of the Bersa Thunder including different caliber options. And while the main differences are listed below, you can these in different colorations from Bersa and other retailers.
Bersa Thunder – Our Take
So, let’s start digging into the ins and outs of the Bersa Thunder and why there are a bunch of better options available.
The Bersa Thunder was something of a disappointment in the “reliability” department. For the most part the gun ran OK…except on the last round of the magazine. The rim of the last round would be held in place by the feed lips, and the round itself would be vertical into the action, fouling it. This was a fairly easy malfunction to clear (just pull out the magazine and the round comes with it) but is certainly suboptimal.
I experienced a malfunction roughly every third or fourth magazine. I fired 200 rounds of ball ammo and didn’t really feel the need to test beyond that, as the problem didn’t seem to abate with time. I used two magazines – both with under a hundred rounds on them – to rule out the possibility of a single bad magazine.
This is the only kind of malfunction I experienced with the Bersa. It’s not the worst malfunction in the world but it’s certainly doesn’t instill confidence. I have heard of some extremely reliable Thunders from some trusted people I know, and maybe one day I’ll run across one…but this one wasn’t it. Since reliability is THE number one criterion for a carry gun, this rules the Bersa Thunder out (or at least this one) for me.
The Bersa Thunder is a reasonably accurate pistol. I’m not going to lie: I got much better accuracy out of it than I expected. The accompanying group shows a (very) slow-fire, 8-round group fired at seven yards. Considering the miserable sights, I don’t think this is too bad at all. Which brings me to the sights…
Most models of the Bersa Thunder have sights in dovetails. Bersa chose to go a different route with the CC. Instead of dovetails, sights are milled into the slide. Calling them “sights” might be a little charitable considering how tiny they are. They are extremely difficult to align in any kind of hurry and don’t provide much precision beyond about seven years.
Which is a shame. This pistol has much more potential than the sights allow for. On top of that, I’m really don’t see what good reducing the sights has done. The net effect on the pistol overall is minuscule, but the effect on shooting is massive. I wish I had gotten my hands on a standard model Thunder.
This thing seems like a panoply of bad ergonomics. I think a lot of that is due to getting the CC model rather than a more typical Thunder. First, the grip: the built-in finger grooves are just terrible. They place my fingers at a weird spot that never felt comfortable. As I mentioned in my Sig P238 review I don’t mind a pinky handing off the bottom of the grip.
The Thunder is the exception, though. The spot where my pinky fell was right at the corner of the grip and was terribly distracting. It felt like my finger was neither on nor off the gun. As big as this gun is I should have been able to get my whole hand on the grip like I can with the similarly sized S&W Shield 9 [insert link]. In fairness I didn’t have an issue shooting this gun. I think the size and weight are such that the .380 cartridge is right at home and not unpleasant.
The ergonomics of the controls also aren’t great. I’m not sure why Bersa chose to thin down the safety lever on the CC model but boy, did they. Though it might modestly reduce the risk of the gun snagging, this dubious benefit pales in comparison to the chances of missing the safety. It is very thin, and very difficult to actuate quickly.
Miscellaneous Things to be Annoyed By
There are two other things that bug me about this gun. The first is the action lock. There is a “key” hole on the left side of the frame with an “F” for fire and an “S” for safe. This isn’t a huge problem and I had no major malfunctions with it. But with the already suspect design and reliability I’m understandably skeptical.
Secondly, there is a magazine disconnect. If the magazine is removed the trigger is dead and the gun is inoperable. This isn’t the first and only gun I own with a magazine safety…but I don’t like it.
Ok, one more little nitpick and I’m done – I promise. the magazine release is in a non-traditional spot. Most magazine releases – at least on guns of this size – are at the base of the trigger guard. This one is up much higher on the frame. Every other pistol I’ve ever shot appreciably has taught me to go one place, now this one is teaching me to go another.
For an MSRP (and, seemingly, street prices) around $300, you can probably do better than the Bersa Thunder. Again, I know there are Thunders out there that will run and run and run, but I think the odds of getting one are lower than they ought to be. And even if you get a good one there are some ergonomics issues that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
If you do decide to go with the Bersa Thunder, go with something other than the CC model. Get a model with actual sights, a safety lever that hasn’t been thinned down, and a non-grooved grip panel. Or better yet save another $100 and get an M&P Shield.
Bersa Thunder Pros and Cons
- Very affordable
- Comfortable shooter
- Poor ergonomics
|Couldn’t make it through a box of ammo without two or three malfunctions. Some are better than this one but reliability is important.|| |
|Actually, not too bad considering the terrible sights.|| |
|The gun is relatively comfy to shoot–when it decides to.|| |
|Safety that is extremely difficult to disengage, poorly designed grip|| |
|If the gun was reliable, yes. Since this one wasn’t…no|| |
Bersa Thunder Starter Pack
If you do end up with one of these Bersa Thunders, you’re going to need some essentials to make sure that you can fire your gun safely and efficiently.
- Magazines: Bersa Thunder Mec Gar Mags at Palmetto State Armory
- Gun Cleaning Kit: Gloryfire Universal Cleaning Kit on Amazon
- Shooting Glasses: If you’re shooting, you’re going to want eye protection. Find out which is best for you at our Best Shooting Glasses article.
- Hearing Protection: Don’t lose your hearing due to failing to use proper ear pro. See what best fits your situation in our Best Hearing Protection article.
- Storage: Vaultek Lifepod on Amazon
Upgrades and Accessories for the Bersa Thunder
When it comes to areas to upgrade on the Bersa Thunder, there’s quite a few that could use improvement. But the areas that the shooter has the most control over are the terrible sights and the near non-existent grip. The following accessories provide some relief in those departments.
Best Accessories for the Bersa Thunder
|Accessory||Details||Check Price||Mobile Bottom Line|
Meprolight Night Sights
Crimson Trace Laser Grip
Best Holsters for the Thunder 380
Once you’ve got your Bersa somewhat shootable, you’re going to need a quality holster if you plan on using it as your carry. Here are two options that we’d recommend if you decide to do so.
Best Holsters for the Bersa Thunder
Best Ammo for Your Bersa Thunder
There are several reasons why your Bersa may jam up. It could need a thorough cleaning. Or you might just be limp wristing it. Maybe there’s a problem with the magazine itself. And it could just be that it’s not broken in fully.
In any situation, you’re going to want to head to the range and put at least 200 rounds through it. And we don’t recommend spending all your money on HPs. Instead, grab some cheap ball ammo to starting bringing your gun up to snuff.
Other Budget CCW Pistols of Its Class to Check Out
So…if my review didn’t make it abundantly clear that there are better CCW options available, I’ll say it again. There are much better options available. But here’s the thing. The Bersa Thunder may be an attractive choice based on the budget alone. That doesn’t mean it’s the only low-cost choice though.
I mentioned the Shield 9 in my closing remarks, and I stand by what I said. Sure, it’s $100 more. But honestly, the M&P Shield performs like a (if not better than many) premium priced CCWs. It’s super reliable, super accurate, and something you’ll be happy you saved for…READ MORE
How to Care for Your Bersa Thunder
If you are a Bersa owner, you’re going to need to learn how to care for your gun. And if there’s anyone I’ve seen truly get down and dirty with the Bersa Thunder, it’s Paul at Heavy Metal Guns & Outdoors LLC.
Important Links and Manuals for Your Bersa Thunder
Well, after seeing Paul’s video on the Bersa Thunder, you might want to get a little more research on the Bersa Thunder. Here’s some different resources for you to check out in order to best guide your opinion.
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