Best 380 Ammo: Tested and Reviewed

by Travis Pike

January 17, 2024

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The .380 ACP is a very interesting cartridge. It’s popular around the world, where it’s served as a military and police cartridge, as well as a concealed carry option. Among its numerous aliases, it is known as 9mm Short, 9mm Kurz, 9mm Corto, 9mm Browning, and the list goes on. It’s the Mr. Worldwide of automatic handgun cartridges. The little round has had an interesting progression of popularity. These days, it holds pretty solid ground due to the concealed career market. 

With popularity comes options, and with the .380 ACP, you have plenty of options. Today, our goal is to propose the seven best .380 ACP loads on the market. These include options for self-defense, training, and just having a little bit of fun at the range. 

Best 380 Ammo

The History of the .380

Like most long-lasting things in the gun world, John Moses Browning had direct involvement in its creation. The .380 ACP saw the light of day in 1908. Prior to the .380 ACP, the .32 ACP was the dominant cartridge for compact pistols. In fact, the .380 ACP was first used in the Colt 1908 Pocket Hammerless. This 1908 was an update to the 1903 Pocket Hammerless that fired the famed .32 ACP. 

The .380 ACP was an instant hit. In this early era, straight blowback was the most popular option for smaller pistols. The .380 ACP pushed the limits of what a straight blowback pistol could be with a larger, more powerful cartridge that didn’t break blowback guns or create excessive recoil. The .380 ACP and the various compact pistols that chambered it remained popular for some time but faded away in the 1970s. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, concealed carry became all the rage, and the .380 ACP was brought back from near extinction. A new genre of pocket pistols had spawned. The KelTec P3AT, the Ruger CLP, and S&W Bodyguard became the go-to carry guns for many concealed carriers. The round remained popular, but admittedly, the pocket .380 waned a bit. 

The recoil was uncomfortable, and the ammo was still pricier than 9mm. The single stack 9mm and the later Micro Compact took over the market and still have a firm hold on it. Recently, we’ve seen a slight revival in .380 ACP in the form of larger-than-pocket pistol options. 

Guns like the S&W EZ, the Beretta 80X Cheetah, and the Ruger Security-380 provide a lower recoil option for those who desire it. These soft shooting guns aren’t pocket-sized but often offer higher capacities and easy shooting options. 

Thus, the .380 ACP has once more established a foothold for itself to continue serving the firearms community. With that said, we have taken into account a number of different-sized .380 ACP pistols and hope to provide a little something for everyone. 

How We Chose the Best 380 Ammo

Ruger-LCP-II-22-review_shooting-the-pocket-pistol

I review a lot of guns, including this list of best 380 pistols, but my revolver shooting has been lacking. The problem is, I have never given it the proper training time. I decided to change that for a recent article I wrote on a revolver in 380 ACP.

For that review, I wanted to put a lot of rounds down range for both the purpose of the gun review and to get more time and practice with wheel guns. So I did some research, along with my past experience, and ordered many 380 ACP offerings. This list is the results of that effort.

Some of my picks are for different sized handguns, while some are for practice or duty. Heck, one is just for fun. If you are ready to hit the range with your 380, but need ammo, start here with our best .380 ACP ammo choices.

Gun University’s Choices of the Best .380 ACP Ammo 

Best .380 ACP Ammo

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil
  • Low recoil
  • FTX projectile
  • Excellent short barrel performance
Check Price
Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP
  • Heavier bonded JHP
  • Perfect mid length barrel performance
  • Excellent expansion
Check Price
Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil
  • Easy shooting design
  • Hydra-Shok projectile
  • Nickel plated case
Check Price
Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP
  • Low-priced defensive option
  • Brass case
  • Solid penetration and expansion
Check Price
Federal American Eagle 95 grain FMJ
  • Replicates defensive ammo
  • Brass cased
  • Reloadable
Check Price
PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ
  • Cheap
  • Low recoiling
  • Brass cased
Check Price
Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers
  • Glow in the dark tracers
  • Subsonic
  • Won’t start fires
Check Price

Spec Comparison of the Best .380 ACP Ammo 

Below is a table of the specifications for the best .380 ACP Ammo.

Best .380 ACP Ammo 

Here is our list for the best .380 ACP Ammo:

  1. Best Defensive Ammo for Pocket .380s: Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil
  2. Best Defensive Ammo For Mid Size .380s: Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP
  3. Best Low Recoil Defensive .380 Ammo: Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil
  4. Best Budget 380 APC Defensive Ammo: Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP
  5. Best .380 Training Ammo: Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ
  6. Best .380 Plinking Ammo: PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ
  7. Best .380 Tracer Ammo: Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers

Best .380 ACP Ammo – Reviews 

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil Specs

  • Projectile Type JHP
  • Bullet Weight 90 Grains
  • Velocity 1,000 FPS

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil Review

So you’re still carrying a pocket .380 ACP? Why not? They are super small, very convenient, and literally fit in your pocket. They might not be the best fighting guns, but they could be enough for the average self-defense encounter. Because of their very lightweight and very short barrels, you have to be fairly selective about what ammo you use. This leads us to the Hornady Critical Defense lineup.

This load packs a 90-grain jacketed hollow point round that moves at a reported 1,000 feet per second. Admittedly, that’s likely measured from a longer barrel. From a pocket .380 ACP, it’s likely moving a little slower, but it’s still fast enough to both penetrate and expand reliably. The Critical Defense projectile penetrates beyond the recommended 12 inches in ballistic gel and still can expand when fired through thick denim. 

That red polymer plug isn’t just to look cool. It’s specifically designed to prevent the projectile cavity from filling with clothing and preventing expansion. The FTX projectile helps ensure excellent expansion from most small guns. Plus, the recoil isn’t so harsh that it feels like your hand is getting a good slap with every shot. 

The Hornady 90-grain Critical Defense load is a premium defensive load. The cartridge is super reliable, ignites with ease, and cycles without a problem. Basically, it’s the total defensive package for small pocket pistols. 

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil Pros and Cons

  • Excellent penetration
  • Great expansion
  • Controllable recoil
  • Costs a dollar a round

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low Recoil Deals

Best Defensive Ammo for Pocket .380s

Hornady Critical Defense 380 Auto 90 gr FTX

Hornady Critical Defense 90 Grain Low

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.79
Firearms Depot $0.94
Sportsman’s Guide $1.07
Guns.com $1.07
Gritr Sports $1.14

Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP Specs

  • Type JHP
  • Weight 102 Grains
  • Velocity 940 FPS

Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP Review

If you’ve moved to a larger-than-pocket pistol .380 ACP, then it’s wise to consider that size when choosing a dedicated defensive cartridge. Those longer barrels can throw heavier bullets at faster velocities, which ensures great expansion and excellent penetration. Guns like the Ruger Security-380 can make the most out of the .380 by choosing a purpose-built, heavy projectile. 

The Remington 102-grain bonded jacketed hollow point projectile pushes the .380 ACP about as big and heavy as it can go. The 940 FPS velocity means it’s moving pretty fast for a heavy .380 ACP, and that works well with the larger-than-pocket-sized .380 ACPs. The heavier bullet aids in excellent penetration and great expansion. In testing, the projectile can expand up to nearly .45 of an inch. The bullet also does well through heavy clothing barriers. 

From a mid-size gun, the recoil is fairly light, especially with the short recoil systems most of these guns use. Remington defensive ammo makes a point of using special primers and propellants to reduce muzzle flash. The cases are nickel-plated cases that resist corrosion, which is nice when a gun and ammo type are carried for extended periods of time. This ensures reliable feeding regardless of whether the ammo is old. 

Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP Pros and Cons

  • Heavy projectile
  • Excellent expansion
  • Low flash design
  • More than a dollar a round

Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP Deals

Best Defensive Ammo For Mid Size .380s

Remington Ultimate Defense 380 ACP 102 Grain BJHP

Remington Ultimate Defense 102 Grain BJHP

Marketplace
Cost
Gun Deals $0.71
Firearms Depot $0.77
Guns.com $0.84
Gritr Sports $1.08

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil Specs

  • Type JHP
  • Weight 90 Grains
  • Velocity 1,000 FPS

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil Review

If you’re carrying a pocket pistol and want less punch to the hand, or maybe you really want to minimize recoil as much as possible from your EZ series pistol, then I have the round for you. The Federal Hydra Shock 90-grain personal defense low recoil load will minimize recoil while still providing a capable defensive option for your .380 ACP handgun. 

The classic Hydra Shok projectile is at play, which means this jacketed hollow point expands around a set pyramid in the base of the bullet. This helps encourage excellent penetration while the round expands and grows inside the target. With this particular load expand, it will depend on your gun. 

The cartridge has an advertised speed of 1,000 feet per second, but the test barrel length is 3.42 inches. That’s longer than most pocket pistols. A mid-size handgun can reach that velocity, which will grant you excellent expansion and penetration. From a smaller pistol, your expansion will be limited, but it can reach an adequate level of penetration. Penetration and shot placement are more important than expansion. 

If you need something that won’t beat your hand up, then this offers you an adequate defensive loading without the sting of your average .380 ACP cartridge. 

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil Pros and Cons

  • Low recoil
  • Good penetration
  • Proven projectile design
  • Expansion depends on barrel length

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil Deals

Best Low Recoil Defensive .380 Ammo

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil

Federal Personal Defense 90 Grain Hydra Shok Low Recoil

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $1.04
Guns.com $1.29
Gritr Sports $1.40

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP Specs

  • Type JHP
  • Weight 90 Grains
  • Velocity 975 FPS

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP Review

So far, every round I’ve listed has cost at least a dollar a round. That’s pricey. While defensive ammo isn’t something most people shoot often, it is something that should be shot occasionally. If you never shoot your defensive ammo, you’ll have no idea how it performs. The Fiocchi Defense Dynamics line of .380 ACP gives you an affordable option for training and carrying. 

At right around 50 cents per round, the Defense Dynamics ammo won’t break the bank. It’s only a little more expensive than standard FMJ rounds. The Defense Dynamics rounds give you a pretty standard defensive round. It’s a 90-grain JHP round with a plain brass case. There is no nickel-plated casing or polymer plug in the projectile. It’s as standard as it gets. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t get good effects on the target. Testing has shown that the Defense Dynamics rounds expand to about .45 caliber and consistently penetrate 12.5 to 14 inches through ballistic gel. These cartridges deliver adequate terminal performance, but admittedly, it’s nothing special or exceptional. It might not penetrate the deepest or expand the most, but it does an adequate amount of both while not breaking the bank. 

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Adequate penetration and expansion
  • Is not exceptional in any category

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP Deals

Best Budget 380 APC Defensive Ammo

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 380 ACP 90 Grain JHP

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics 90 Grain JHP

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.39
Firearms Depot $0.47
Guns.com $0.51
Sportsman’s Guide $0.53
Gritr Sports $0.56

Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ Specs

  • Type FMJ
  • Weight 95 Grains
  • Velocity 980 FPS

Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ Review

It is important to train with your defensive handgun in a realistic manner. You should use your normal carry method, holster, clothing, etc. The only weak point is ammo. Shooting defensive ammo gets expensive, so we often look for a cheaper, full metal jacket to fit the bill. When training, you should aim for a cartridge that mimics your defensive ammo, and since there are tons of .380 ACP defensive rounds, we had to aim at one that mimics most of their traits. 

The American Eagle 95 grain FMJs from Federal are that ammo. They throw a 95-grain projectile at 980 feet per second. This mimics the typical .380 ACP defensive load and provides the same muzzle flip and recoil you’re used to. This makes it easy to transition between cheaper target ammo and more capable defensive ammo while maintaining the effectiveness of your training. 

The American Eagle line from Federal is well known for its high quality. The round will feed, fire, and eject reliably from any modern .380 ACP. It won’t provide any difficulties in the training process. It’s also very common and easy to find at most ammo retailers, which makes it easy to shoot and train consistently. Heck, it’s even fairly clean, so you don’t have to be obsessive with cleaning your weapon, and you can take high-volume classes without worry. 

Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Replicates most defensive loadings
  • Easy to find
  • Reloadable
  • Snappy recoil

Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ Deals

Best .380 Training Ammo

Federal American Eagle 380 ACP 95 Grain FMJ

Federal American Eagle 380 ACP 95 Grain FMJ

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.32
Gritr Sports $0.45
Firearms Depot $0.45
Sportsman’s Guide $0.51
Guns.com $0.51

PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ Specs

  • Type FMJ
  • Weight 90 Grains
  • Velocity 910 FPS

PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ Review

PMC Bronze is one of those classic cheap rounds that’s perfect for informal shooting or training. You don’t always need to do with the harsh recoil of a full-powered round from the pocket .380 ACP. In a medium-sized gun, this stuff feels smooth and easy. The PMC Bronze ammo doesn’t try to push the .380 ACP to its maximum capacity. 

The light 90-grain round is only pushed to 910 feet per second. This creates a fairly pleasant round that’s not super snappy or painful in the hand. It’s a light recoiling option that’s also cheap and perfect for just a day at the range. Sometimes, you just want to shoot for fun, and that’s where the PMC Bronze comes in. 

There are cheaper rounds, but this ammo uses reliable brass cases with jacketed projectiles. These rounds feed smoothly and easily in all quality .380s. It’s basic ammo that does basic ammo things with noticeably lower recoil than most. 

PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Low recoiling
  • Reliable
  • Range ammo only

PMC Bronze 90 Grain FMJ Deals

Best .380 Plinking Ammo

PMC Bronze 380 ACP 90 Grain FMJ

PMC Bronze 380 ACP 90 Grain FMJ

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.30
Firearms Depot $0.36
Sportsman’s Guide $0.41
Brownells $0.36
Gritr Sports $0.61

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers Specs

  • Type FMJ
  • Weight 100 Grains
  • Velocity 890 FPS

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers Review

Tracer ammunition is something typically employed by military forces. When a typical tracer is fired, an incendiary compound burns, leaving a trail the shooter can visually follow. Tracer ammunition can be used to mark targets, adjust the fire of machine guns, and more. It’s also just fun to watch! It turns low-light shooting into a Star Wars-like scene. The problem is that tracer ammo is incendiary and likes to start fires. 

I’ve set lots and lots of fires with tracers from machine guns while I was in the Marine Corps. A company called Streak saw the potential for the fun of tracers for low-light shooting, but eliminated the risk of starting a forest fire. The Streak brand of tracers is pistol rounds that fly at subsonic speeds with a luminescent coating that allows you to follow them in the dark. They won’t set fires and can be used indoors without issue. 

It’s a ton of fun. There could be some legitimate practical training usage for these rounds, but for me, they are just fun. I don’t own a shoot house or night vision, so I just enjoy seeing the rounds fly through the air. It’s a just-for-fun type of ammo. These are 100-grain rounds moving at only 890 feet per second. They feature brass jackets and fire from brass cases. They function reliably and give you that glow-in-the-dark goodness. No, they won’t make your gun glow in the dark, either. 

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers Pros and Cons

  • Affordable tracer round
  • They glow in the dark!
  • Seriously, they glow!
  • Expensive

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers Deals

Best .380 Tracer Ammo

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers 380 ACP 100 Grain

Streak Non-Incendiary Tracers 380 ACP 100 Grain

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $0.37
Palmetto State Armory $0.50
Optics Planet $0.51

The Little Cartridge That Can 

It seems like every few decades, the .380 ACP gets some new life breathed into it. It’s an adaptable round that has become a favorite in the realm of self-defense. Heck, Hi-Point even makes a pistol caliber carbine in .380 ACP if you want to match your handgun ammo to your rifle ammo. 

The little .380 ACP is over a century old at this point and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. That’s great for everyone. More options are better than fewer options. When it comes to .380 ACP ammo, you certainly have plenty of options. Hopefully, we’ve helped you find the right ammo for your gun and your overall purpose. 

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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