One of the fundamentals of growing a business is to identify a niche and fill it. That’s all the folks at Federal were doing.
There has long been a small space between the performance of 9 mm Parabellum and .380 ACP. Though they have the same diameters, the former is the NATO and law enforcement standard and has really been pressing its advantage over every other defensive cartridge over the last several years. The public has embraced it as well. Once new bullets and loadings came along that demonstrated the round’s efficacy as being equal to that of the vaunted .40 S&W and .45 ACP, the reduced recoil of the 9 mm and the superior firepower of gun’s chambered for it made for an easy choice.
The .380 ACP, though, was thought to be a considerable step down. Although bullets like the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep made it a materially better self-defense round, it was still considered the absolute minimum for personal protection. Its favorables were small pistols, light recoil and a relatively soft recoil spring. It wasn’t lauded for its power unless compared to a .22 LR, .22 Mag., .25 ACP or .32 ACP.
Federal, a division of Vista Outdoors, hoped to design a new cartridge with modern bullet technology that would fill the performance gap between the two chamberings. With recent skyrocketing gun sales, largely by new consumers interested in concealed carry due to the recent spike in crime, Federal believed that the time was ripe for a new, dedicated CCW cartridge. But a funny thing happened on the way to the online ammunition forums.
The company created an entirely new cartridge that, while smaller than the 9 mm, skews heavily towards it in terms of power. Dubbed the 30 Super Carry, the new cartridge has a .312-inch bullet diameter, although it’s the same length as a 9 mm. The narrower circumference, though, means more rounds will fit inside a given frame, all else being equal. It also means that, in short order, we’ll be seeing guns specifically designed for the Super Carry that are smaller and lighter than current 9 mm pistols. In other words, we’ll have new guns of .380 ACP size, but with 9 mm muzzle energy.
The chambering generates nearly 50,000 psi of pressure and, with modern design, offers performance not possible just a few years ago. The 100-grain Federal load will provide 347 ft-pounds of muzzle energy; Remington’s 100-grainer offers 336. Meanwhile, the Speer 115-grainer generates 338 ft-pounds. Those numbers compare well to the 381 and 313 ft.-pounds produced by Federal’s 124-grain and 147-grain 9 mm loads, respectively. Moreover, JHP bullets in the new cartridge expand 1.9 times original caliber, almost identical to the best 9 mm loads, which expand 1.915 times initial diameter.
The new round is intended for civilians and was therefore tested in both bare and denim-covered ballistic gelatin, but was not put through the FBI protocol, which includes such things as auto glass and building materials.
The very first 30 Super Carry-chambered guns will be ultra-premium Nighthawk Custom pistols, specifically the President and GRP (although you’ll eventually be able to order any Nighthawk model in 30 Super Carry). The 1911 manufacturer was the first company to respond affirmatively to inquiries from Federal, but Smith & Wesson will have guns (Shield Plus and Shield EZ) in the new chambering soon, too. Right now, virtually the entire industry is on board.
The 30 Super will not be prohibitively expensive. In fact, Vista Outdoors has set the price point to be right on top of the affordable .380 ACP.
We got some trigger time with the 30 Super Carry in Arkansas, where Nighthawk Custom was building the first of the new pistols. In a full-size frame, the smaller circumference of the round allows it to semi-stagger in the magazine, meaning two extra rounds.
The round consistently clover-leafed the target at 7 yards. What really impressed, though, was the ability to ring 10-inch steel plates off-hand at 50 yards. Recoil was virtually indistinguishable from the 9 mm pistols provided for comparison.
Will the new cartridge dramatically impact, if not kill its much older siblings? Doubtful. There is a slew of 9 mm pistols out there. Smaller and lighter pistols with the same muzzle energy will be appealing, as will extra capacity in larger guns, but the 9 mm, in addition to being ubiquitous, is a military round, which means there’s the continuing draw of all that military-surplus ammunition.
What about the .380 ACP? For those who’ve prized the little cartridge for its small size alone, little pistols chambered in 30 Super Carry will be difficult to resist. However, for those who’ve opted for the .380 ACP because they are recoil sensitive or lack the hand strength to manipulate the slide of a more powerful pistol, the .380 may remain a better option.
Vista Outdoors is betting big, though, that the 30 Super Carry will be a game changer. It’s offering loads in all its ammunition brands, including Federal HST (100 grains), Blazer TMJ (115 grains), American Eagle FMJ (115 grains), Remington HTP (100 grains) and Speer Gold Dot JHP (115 grains). Cleaning kits, holsters and reloading dies are already on the way to market. Later, expect to see everything from competition pistols to carbines as various manufacturers start to explore the round’s potential.