Saturday, December 29, 2012

PMC Starfire 380 AUTO 95 Grain SFHP Clear Gel Test

I'd like to thank the folks at Lucky Gunner for donating the ammunition for this test.  They contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in testing some of the PMC Starfire ammo they carry.  I took them up on their offer because I was really interested in seeing how this load would perform.  I first started buying PMC Eldorado Starfire ammunition in the 1990's when it was made in the USA by the Eldorado Cartridge Corporation in Boulder City, Nevada.  When the Winchester Black Talon was pulled from the consumer market, the buzz was that the Starfire was a hollow point bullet with expansion characteristics similar to the Black Talon.  I actually found one box of .357 Magnum in the cabinet with the old packaging, but the rest of the old stock went into the berm years ago.  At some point over the last 20 years, Eldorado was dropped and PMC Ammunition is now manufactured in Korea. 

In the last few years, I've shot a bunch of the PMC Bronze full metal jacket practice/range ammo with very good results.  I was really looking forward to seeing how the Starfire would perform in terminal testing.

Pistol Specs:
Kahr P380  2.5" Barrel

Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at the end of a Clear Ballistics Gel block.  I take the shot from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured 2 inches away from the block.  Clear Ballistics Gel is calibrated to 10% ballistics gel density.  I shoot the block at the range and then bring it home to analyze the block and recover the bullets.  Immediately prior to shooting the block, I take a 5 shot velocity test over my chronograph.

The video below documents my entire test from range testing to bullet recovery.

My Thoughts:
PMC publishes a muzzle velocity of 925 fps for this load as measured from a "test barrel".  I honestly don't know what the proper test barrel length is for the .380 Auto, but I could tell during the 5 shot velocity average testing that it would be a miracle if this load fully expanded at the velocities measured during that phase of testing.  Even with the gel test shot running 22 fps faster than the 5 shot velocity average, it only achieved minimal expansion.  Weight retention was good at 94+ grains so I have to believe the dark areas we saw in the wound channel was simply smudging of the gel by the very dark lead core of this round.  12.25" of penetration would have been an excellent result if the bullet had expanded fully.  With partial expansion we would expect to see 14" to 16" of penetration as we have with flat nosed FMJ loads of similar weight and velocity.     

I really appreciate the folks at Lucky Gunner for supplying the ammunition for this test.  I'm probably guilty of shielding readers from more test results like this.  I like to write about, and I'm sure you all like to read about, the loads that perform well.  It's not quite so interesting to see the loads that don't perform perfectly in testing.  My gut told me that this load couldn't possibly expand fully at the velocity measured during the initial velocity testing.  Normally, I just move on to the next load and won't bother with a gel test.  Since the ammunition was provided for testing with the expectation of seeing an actual test result, I pushed ahead with the gel test.   

This load is simply hampered by low velocity.  If reconfigured to safely achieve 925 fps from a short 2.5" to 3" barrel, I feel more confident that it would expand as shown on the PMC website.  I have some rounds left after this test so I may try it again in the future with a longer 3.2" barrel and see if velocity improves to something closer to the 925 fps advertised for this load. 

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.


  1. Bruce,
    Thanks for another great test! I really appreciate and enjoy your efforts and willingness to share such valuable and interesting info.

    Unsure about PMC, but Remington advertises vels achieved in 4" bbl, and I don't know if that's a test barrel or a real gun--it's probably the former. Most traditional models of .380 have bbls in the 3+" range, and today's compacts and mini's tend to be less than 3". I suspect the mediocre JHP results you've documented in this caliber indicate that ammo manufacturers are designing bullets that need long barrels to achieve expansion.

    Thanks for providing us with realistic assessments of available ammo in actual guns!

    1. Thanks very much for the comment.

      One nice thing about the boutique ammo makers is their transparency on their test barrel lengths/test pistols. I'm speaking specifically about Buffalo Bore, Underwood, and Double Tap.

      380 is a hard nut to crack for ammo makers. The loads that do expand well seem to suffer from poor penetration depths. It's all a game of performance trade offs.

  2. It's not pretty, but it did expand a little (ugly), and it is one of the few hollow-point .380 rounds I've ever seen that reached above 12". I'd rather have this than a fully-expanded Winchester Ranger in .380 that only went 8" in gel.

    1. +1000! Penetration with .380 is king. Expansion in lieu of penetration is counterproductive.

      A sharp nasty bullet profile like the one pictured would do a nice job of cutting/ripping flesh along the bullet path. I don't see how added velocity would help this round.

  3. Energy expended within the target is a key component of handgun stopping power. Energy is a result of velocity squared x mass. If a bullet does not expand, it will likely exit the target, dumping its energy into an innocent bystander or an inanimate object. The FBI requirement of 12-18 inches of penetration resulted from the 1986 Miami shootout. The US Border Patrol, who traditionally has more officer involved shootings than all other Federal LE agencies, did a comprehensive study later. They found that a better standard, based on rounds that had worked to stop their actual gun battles, was 9-12" of penetration in gelatin. So, while a key factor, penetration can be too much of a good thing.