Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Great .380 acp FMJ Ammo Test of 2011

I've read a bunch of posts and articles about the .380 acp cartridge.  Back in the good old days, you bought a Colt Mustang Pocketlite and kept it loaded with Winchester Slivertips and all was right in the world.  As long as you could stomach cocked and locked pocket carry, you could go about your daily routine with confidence that if needed, your Colt would go bang.

Spin the clock ahead 15 years and now we've just experienced a pocket .380 extravaganza.  So many new pocket .380s have shown up on the scene over the last few years it's really difficult to keep track of them all.  Over the last couple of years, I've been trying different pocket .380s in a quest to update my beloved Colt with something a bit more modern.

About this time, I also started reading about the effectiveness of .380 hollow point ammunition.  There were as many articles and photo essays condemning the ,380 for lack of penetration  and marginal expansion as there were folks singing the praises of the cartridge.  So about 18 months ago I made a personal decision.  For the occasions I do find a .380 in my pocket, it would be loaded with full metal jacket (FMJ) ammunition.  My primary reasons were that penetration is more important than expansion, risk of over-penetration is minimized due to the low velocities of the .380 in sub 3 inch barrels, .380 hard ball ammo is typically cheaper and would allow me to practice more with my carry round of choice, and finally that .380 fmj ammo feeds more reliably in most pistols due to the lack of a hole in the nose of the bullet.

So I went about gathering FMJ ammo samples from various sources locally and with the help of the internet.  Back in the day when you went to Walmart for .380 ammo you would find UMC yellow box for $7.97 and red box Federal Champion for $9.97 in boxes of 50.  If you wanted hollow points, you had to go to one of the specialty gun and hunting stores.  Things have changed quite a bit since then and I was able to track down a few more options.  Some came from Walmart, but most were purchased from specialty gun shops.

My plan was to run 5 rounds of each variety through 3 different .380 pistols and see which brand and variety delivered the fastest speeds for a given bullet weight.  I knew I needed a chronograph to measure the bullet velocity so I tracked down the guy that bough my Pact chronograph and asked him if I could borrow it back for a few days.  He was more than willing to let me borrow it, but Valentine's Day came along and my wonderful wife gave me a fist full of Midway USA gift certificates.  So why not just get my own chronograph again.

I've been doing a little IDPA shooting over the last year or so and part of that discipline involves measuring the "power factor" of the ammo you shoot in sanctioned matches.  I heard that many match organizers were using the CED M2 Chronograph from Competitive Edge Dynamics for this testing.  I was brand loyal to Pact, but the M2 had some really nice features like allowing up to 500 strings of shots and the ability to connect the data logger to your PC and off load your measurements.  What the heck, I'll give it a try.

I had some time away from work recently and also recently gained access to an outdoor shooting facility so it was time to get this ammo testing started.  I got all my gear together and headed out to the range.

Ammo - Check
Spreadsheet Organizer - Check

I decided to use the following guns for the testing.  Clockwise from top left they are the Diamondback DB380, Kahr P380, and a Bersa Thunder .380CC.  Each of these could be carried by me on any given day and while I have a favorite, they all see their tours of duty.  This also gave me 3 different barrel lengths to work with.  The Kahr is shortest at 2.5".  The Diamondback comes in at 2.8".  The Bersa has the longest barrel and measures in at 3.2".

Time to head out to the range and get busy with the testing, so off to the range I went and got all set up nice and cozy.  It was a little dark and overcast, but that never caused me any issues with chronograph testing in the past.

On tap for testing were 22 different varieties of FMJ ammo:
Load Mfg Desc Prod. Number Weight
1 Aguila 95 Grain FMJ RN
2 Allegiance 100 Grain FMJ RN ALG 380 100
3 Armscor Precision 95 Grain FMJ RN
4 Black Hills 100 Grain FMJ RN
5 Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN 27F 95
6 Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN "+P Load" 27B 95
7 Double Tap 95 Grain FMJ RN
8 Federal American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ RN AE380AP 95
9 Fiocchi 95 Grain FMJ RN
10 Independence 90 Grain FMH RN 5262 90
11 Magtech 95 Grain FMJ RN BN0511 L-341 95
12 Magtech CleanRange 95 Grain FMJ FEB BN0916 L-14 95
13 Remington 95 Grain FMJ RN L380Ap 95
14 Sellier & Bellot 92 Grain FMJ RN
15 Speer Lawman 95 Grain TMJ RN 53608 95
16 Speer Blazer 95 Grain TMJ RN 3505 95
17 Speer Blazer Brass 95 Grain FMJ RN 5202 95
18 Tula 91 Grain FMJ RN
19 UMC 95 Grain Leadless FNEB LL380AP2 95
20 Winchester WINClean 95 Grain  BEB FP WC3801 95
21 Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP Q4206 95
22 Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP USA380VP 95

I mentioned previously that I was brand loyal to Pact chronograph equipment.  Well, I should have followed that conviction because I started testing, but couldn't get good readings from the CED M2.  I blamed the lighting and packed up for the day with plans to try again the following day.  It was a sunny and glorious day on my second attempt, but the M2 still wasn't working.  After some trial and error, I determined that one of the sky screen sensors was not registering the bullet passing over it.  Another nice thing about the M2 is real time error messages.  I was being told that the chono was registering a start signal, but no stop signal.  I reversed the sky screens and tried it again.  I was now getting an error message that the chrono was not getting a start signal, but was getting a stop signal.  It had to be one bad sky screen sensor.  Luckily I was smart enough to bring along a 9mm on day two so at least my messing around with debugging the M2 didn't waste my .380 ammo stash.  If I was really smart, I would have brought along a .22, but I'm not that smart.

The great .380 FMJ ammo test of 2011 became a bust due to a faulty chronograph!  Luckily for me, I had purchased it from Midway USA and I gave them a call about my problem.  Sure, sometimes Midway is more expensive than other places, but Midway has the 90 day no questions asked return policy.  I was still in my 90 day window so the faulty chrono went back to Midway for a prompt and courteous exchange for a new one.
So, for now testing is on hold.  While we wait on delivery of the replacement chronograph, maybe Competitive Edge Dynamics will get around to calling me back about a problem I am having when trying to connect the chronograph unit to my Windows 7 PC.  Windows 7 doesn't want to recognize the device.  I can attach the same chronograph to a Windows XP machine and it recognizes it just fine and dandy.  Keep that in mind if you are shopping for a CED M2 and you only have a Windows 7 PC.  The PC is probably not going to recognize the chronograph.

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