There seems to have been a great deal of hoopla over the last number of years about the use of certain small .380 ACP handguns for personal defense. There’s a certain term that I’ve personally shunned that refers to small firearms and a certain species of rodent. I don’t care for the phrase.
I’ve long been a fan of small, well-made handguns and have carried various models over a number of decades. I’ve used these little guns both as a primary, concealed gun and also as backup during policework. Don’t get me wrong, I still like a good .45 ACP or .44 Mag., etc., but a small, handy pistol is still something I covet.
When I made it through the New Mexico State Police Academy years back, my dad gave me a brand new Walther Arms PPK/s—the Interarms model in .380 ACP. He had carried an older Walther PP in .380 as a U.S. Customs Special Agent and he had plenty of confidence in the gun and the cartridge. He carried the gun extensively when conducting more casual investigative work requiring concealed carry. He figured the Walther would make a perfect backup for a uniformed officer. As usual, he was right.
During nighttime traffic stops on lonesome New Mexico highways, I kept the Walther tucked in behind the front of my Sam Browne outfit. The dark-blue finish blended in well with the black belt and holster rig. Carried this way, the pistol was secure, comfortable and undetectable. My fondness of the .380 ACP cartridge was high, and coupled with my duty sidearm, a .357 Mag. revolver, I was well-armed.
I was called one day by a friend from Carrizozo, NM, my first state-police duty station, to help kill and process a good-sized pig. He’d asked to borrow a revolver for the job, but I also took along my PPK/s loaded with Winchester 85-grain SilverTips—obviously an older version of that ammo. With a head shot at about six feet or so, one round from the Walther dropped that big, old hog deader than a hammer, thus increasing my faith in the cartridge. I went on to carry this fine, little pistol as a federal agent on the Mexican border and never had an issue of any kind with it.
Since those days, a great deal of research has been conducted by ammunition companies looking to enhance the performance of .380 ACP. These examinations and engineering changes have been quite successful, for the most part, and as a result, shooters are turning to the 9 mm and .380 ACP more and more these days for self-defense.
One of several excellent choices available in the .380 ACP chambering (along with other calibers) is the Hornady Critical Defense round. Among the complaints from shooters about the .380 ACP has been the occasional failure of the bullet to expand on impact, especially when fired through layered clothing. The 90-grain Critical Defense bullet alleviates much of this expansion trouble and actually performs quite well when fired through cloth into ballistic gelatin.
This photo of Hornady factory testing shows the penetration of a 90-grain FTX bullet from the .380 ACP Critical Defense load fired into ballistic gelatin covered by clothing.
Hornady accomplished this goal through the development of its Flex Tip technology. Basically, the hollowpoint projectile is filled with a polymer that prevents the bullet from becoming clogged upon impact with clothing, bone or other material that would prevent expansion. This is the same polymer material Hornady uses for the tips of it’s popular LeverRevolution ammunition.
In my short-barrel .380 ACP concealed-carry guns, I’ve found the Critical Defense to run about 850 feet per second. At this velocity, these little pistols are pretty easy to handle while providing sufficient speed for excellent bullet performance. As with virtually all Hornady ammunition I fire, the .380 ACP Critical Defense is quite accurate, even in small, double-action-only pistols.
No doubt there are other ammunition companies manufacturing outstanding loads for the .380 ACP and other calibers, but I happen to have fired a great deal of the Critical Defense and have been very satisfied with the results.
For a backup gun or a compact pocket pistol, I have no hesitation recommending the .380 ACP, coupled with today’s great ammunition, as a personal defense round. Don’t get me wrong—if I’m expecting trouble, I’m going to want a heavy-hitting handgun caliber or a long gun, but that's just not always feasible.