Monday, July 4, 2011

The Great .380 FMJ & JHP Ammo Test - The Results

I've mentioned this test a few times over the last couple of months.  The plan was to run 22 different types of FMJ .380 acp ammo through 3 different pistols and capture the velocity data with a chronograph.  Between bad equipment and then bad weather there were a few false starts, but I did manage to get through the testing on June 18th.  You are probably wondering what took me so long to publish the results and I'll go into those details a little later.

As suggested, I've added this listing of tested ammo at the top of the blog.  Details will be shown below.  Tested loads included:
Tested FMJ - 22
Aguila 95 Grain FMJ RN
Allegiance 100 Grain FMJ RN
Armscor Precision 95 Grain FMJ RN
Black Hills 100 Grain FMJ RN
Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN
Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN "+P Load"
Double Tap 95 Grain FMJ RN
Federal  American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ RN
Fiocchi  95 Grain FMJ RN
Independence 90 Grain FMH RN
Magtech 95 Grain FMJ RN
Magtech CleanRange 95 Grain FMJ FEB
Remington/UMC 95 Grain FMJ RN
Remington/UMC 95 Grain Leadless FNEB
Sellier & Bellot 92 Grain FMJ RN
Speer Lawman 95 Grain TMJ RN
Speer Blazer 95 Grain TMJ RN
Speer Blazer Brass 95 Grain FMJ RN
Tulammo 91 Grain FMJ RN
Winchester WINClean 95 Grain  BEB FP
Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP
Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP

Tested JHP - 10
Hornady 90 Grain Critical Defense FTX HP
Winchester 95 Grain Supreme Elite PDX1 HP
Fiocchi 95 Grain Extrema XTP HP
Remington 102 Grain Golden Saber HP
Double Tap 95 Grain JHP
Winchester 85 Grain Silvertip HP
Magtech 85 Grain Guardian Gold "+P Load"
Federal 90 Grain Hydra Shok JHP
Remington/UMC 88 Grain JHP Value Pack
Speer 90 grain Gold Dot HP

I'll start by describing the testing protocol.  5 rounds of each ammo variety was test fired through 3 different pistols and across a CED M2 chronograph positioned approx. 10 feet from the muzzle.  The testing set up looked like the photo below.  A new string of data was captured each time the load and pistol changed. 

I set up a detailed testing sheet and found this handy tackle box that allowed me to keep things as organized as possible when at the range.  Don't worry about reading the spreadsheet in the picture below.  I'll have a larger image available later in the post.

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.  This 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".  The differences in barrel length will be important when we get down to the final results.

Once I finally got over the issues with weather and a bad chronograph, the testing actually went pretty quickly.  I was able to get into a nice rhythm of loading two magazines for each gun with two different ammo types and then running 6 strings across the chronograph before taking a break and reloading the six magazines again.  I have to say that the CED M2 made this project possible.  All I needed to do was catalog the string number by gun and load so I could match my spreadsheet to the chronograph data as it was downloaded to my PC when I got back to the house.  The final results of my testing are displayed in the spreadsheet below.  I added the energy calculation column.  All other data came straight from the chronograph.

 Click on the results sheet to open a larger image you can read.

My first opportunity to test came on 6/18/2011.  You are probably wondering why the data for the Diamondback DB380 stops on the 10th test load.  Unfortunately, the DB380 broke a trigger return spring during testing and had to be shipped back to Diamondback Firearms for repair.  If you notice the last entry for the DB380, you can see the high and low velocities are the same.  I was only able to get one test round with load number 10 before taking the DB380 out of action.  I considered holding the results until the DB380 gets back so I could finish the testing, but decided not to wait.

I had a few people ask me if I was also going to test any of the hollow point ammo in addition to the FMJ.  Initially, I said no primarily due to the expense of adding them to the test.  I softened a bit and ran string 23 for a member of the Kahr Talk Forum that specifically asked about Gold Dots in the Kahr P380.  After the DB380 dropped out of the testing, I decided I would test as many varieties of HP ammo as I had on hand, but would not go out and buy additional varieties.  As it turns out, I had quite a few odds and ends on hand so while the testing may not be as comprehensive as the FMJ testing I was able to cover a good number.

I went back to the range on 7/3/2011 with 10 new .380 HPs to test.  I also wanted to run another string of load number 19 from the original testing as the numbers looked quite promising in the initial tests.  You may remember that my goal for this testing was to find a fast, heavy, and reasonably priced FMJ round that I could carry and practice with while not breaking the bank.  Load 19 from test day one was a bit of a surprise so I wanted to validate the results.  Adding the HP testing expanded my results considerably and the final spreadsheet is shown below

 Click on the results sheet to open a larger image you can read.

So now the fun part starts.  Being a numbers guy, this sheet was like opening a long anticipated and highly valued Christmas present.  I can't say enough good things about the CED M2 chronograph.  Once I got past the problem in the initial unit, and got a replacement that worked 100% it was very simple to capture the data and off load it to my Windows XP PC when I got home.  Transferring the data into a spreadsheet was a snap as the M2 comes with a data export utility that formats in Excel friendly files.  I really don't think I could have done this test if I had to manually log each string while I was at the range.  If I was doing the logging manually, I probably would have made a mistake or two and gotten frustrated with the time it was taking to keep things logged and organized during testing.

My only issue with M2 is that my Windows 7 PC will not recognize the unit when attached via USB cable.  I'll have to call CED again and ask them to help me through that issue.

So what did I learn after going through all this testing?  Some interesting things jumped out at me that were surprising.
1)  Even though the Kahr P380 had the shortest barrel, it delivered higher velocities than the longer barreled Diamondback DB380 except for load 7.  There could be a number of reasons for this, but the learning was that I would have previously assumed the DB380 would yield higher velocities due to the added barrel length.

2)  The Kahr P380 had 3 loads that it would not chamber consistently.  For some samples I was able to get one or two of the 5 test rounds to chamber, while one would not allow the gun to return to full battery.  The Bersa Thunder 380CC was a new addition that was going through it's break in period during this testing.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run 50 rounds of Blazer Aluminum through the gun and commence testing with it.  Through the entire test the Bersa fed, fired, and extracted everything it was fed.  I'll be doing a full write up on this gem in another blog.  I've nick named the Bersa "The Pig" due to it's voracious appetite for everything it's fed. 

3)  Armscor Precision (load 3) was the slowest load of the test.  Buffalo Bore's "+p" load (load 6) was the fastest.  +P is in quotes because there are no published SAAMI standards for that designation in this cartridge.

4)  Using the NRG metric as a guide to gauge the "power" of a load, there seemed to be a sweet spot that helps you decide if a load may be better for practice or carry.  Putting it on a scatter plot showed me that the sweet spot is 160 to 175 for the Kahr and 180 to 200 for the Bersa.  The good news is that we have several choices of various FMJ and HP loads that are available for reasonable prices in this power range.  Some may want to chase the upper and lower end outliers for recoil sensitivity or to get the most ooomph from their load choice.

5)  Internet urban legend said that the Winchester White Box 100 count value pack (load 22) was a cheaper version of the similar loading in the 50 count boxes (load 21).  My samples did indeed show that the 100 count value pack rounds were slower than their 50 count box peers.  Just wanted to add a little fuel to that fire.

6)  Speer Lawman (load 15) was slower than Blazer Brass (load 17).  Shocking!!!  Lawman was my previous carry load.  I should have been using Blazer Brass!!

7)  I was really hoping to find a nice fast flat point FMJ in the testing.  While it's meplat is smaller than the Winchester and Buffalo Bore, the Remington UMC Leadless (load 19 and retested load 34) surfaced as an unexpected contender.  It sits between the Winchester and the Buffalo Bore in velocity and it's price is right.  I'm picking this one for my FMJ favorite.  The Remington UMC Value Pack 88 grain HP (load 33) isn't too bad either in the HP category.  It's reasonably priced and broadly available.

8)  If money were no object, I would probably run the Double Tap FMJ and HP loads (load 5 and load 28).  They cost roughly double the Remington/UMCs listed above, but their performance is impressive for a load that is labeled as a standard pressure loading.  You're probably thinking I'm a cheap SOB, but I love to shoot and practice so switching to Double Tap would mean I would have to cut my practice fun in half.

9)  Two loads tested are no longer available.  The first is the Fiocchi 95 grain Extrema XTP (load 26).  During the 380 ammo drought, I picked up several boxes of these for a reasonable price.  The boxes are indeed marked 95 grain.  The currently available loading from Fiocchi is a 90 grain XTP.  My boxes are either mis-marked or they changed the loading over the last 18 months.  The second loading is the Double Tap 95 grain JHP (load 28).  This load is no longer cataloged and has been replaced with a 95 grain controlled expansion JHP.

10)  You may have noticed that I really didn't get into a deep discussion about the cost of the various loads tested.  Initially, I thought I might put a cost per round column on the results sheet but since ammo is really just like any other commodity with prices that rise and fall with supply and demand there was little chance that my numbers would be accurate from one week to the next.  All I have to say is that if you ever see a super deal on Double Tap ammo, please send me an email about it.  =)

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or add a comment below.  I hope some of you will get some value out of this body of work.  I enjoyed pulling it together and perhaps one day I'll get back out to the range with some wet newspaper filled milk jugs and see how some of these loads perform.


  1. Thank you for doing all this work. After about 20 years I am getting back into shooting and have been looking for a good defense load for my 1980's PPK/S.

  2. Great info! I'll soon be carrying two Remington 51's in .380 when I need something flatter than my caliber .38 S&W revolvers, and your research sure helps me see what the various factory loads REALLY do. Thanks!

    1. Would love to see your pair of 51's. I've got a great appreciation for pre-70's pistols, even though I don't own many.

  3. Great data! Makes me feel good about the box of UMC I picked up blindly today for $22.

  4. Hello. How reliable has the P380 been since you bought it? I am seriously considering the purchase of one which would be my first .380 thank you.

    1. This one has been great. I had one of the first to come off the line and it was a disaster. I believe the early problems have all been resolved. You might want to check on the new CW380. That model wasn't an option when I purchased.

  5. Thank you very much for this extensive test. Hats off to you sir.

    In my P3AT I regularly use Armscor FMJ for practice ammo and carry Hornady Zombie Maxx because its a noticeably hotter round compared to Critical Defense.