In this article, we will compare 380 ACP and 38 Special to help you make an informed decision based on your needs and preferences.
There is a lot of debate as to which one is better, but ultimately there is no best gun or caliber, only what's best for the individual.
38 Special VS 380 ACP
380 ACP and 38 Special have obvious differences.
Essentially, Browning developed the .380 ACP because he wanted a round that was slightly more accurate than the existing 38 ACP cartridge.
38 Special is larger and has a rim because it's primarily a revolver cartridge, while 380 ACP has a recessed rim because it's primarily an autoloading cartridge.
The most popular guns for concealed carry in 380 ACP are the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard and the Ruger LCP, both with a six-shot magazine.
In contrast, for 38 Special, the most common gun for concealed carry is a short-barreled double-action revolver, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 36 or Model 637, with a swing-out five-shot cylinder.
Is A 380 Caliber The Same As A 38?
No, a .380 caliber cartridge is not the same as a .38 caliber cartridge. The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge has a bullet diameter of .355 inches and a length of 0.984 inches, while the .38 Special cartridge has a bullet diameter of .357 inches and a length of 1.155 inches.
Penetration - 380 VS 38 Special
380 lacks penetration than 38 special. Rounds that are too light and slow lack penetration, while lead projectiles usually deform before going deep and cause damage at the cost of penetration.
For more details please watch this 38 special ballistic gel test done by Lucky Gunner:
For more details please watch this 380 ACP ballistic gel test done by Everyday Nation:
Expansion - 380 VS 38 Special
A bullet that sails straight through the target does not do as much damage as one that expands, tearing into the tissues, causing blood loss and pain.
Bullet expansion slows down the bullet and stops the threat fast.
For personal defense, It's important to balance expansion with penetration, as over-expansion can limit the bullet's ability to over penetrate.
Referenced Personal Defense Network
For this, a larger round goes a long way. But, expansion is only second to penetration in terms of importance.
The projectile type determines how a round will penetrate and expand. Bonded jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammo has been a solid performer for a long time and is the best option.
Full-metal jacket (FMJ) rounds are sub-optimal as they have too much penetration, endangering people behind your target. Avoid gimmick projectiles that may look cool as they tend to function badly.
Most 380 ACP handguns are very compact, small with short barrels, which can affect the velocity of the projectile as well as its weight.
|Ammo Type||Bullet Weight||Bullet Velocity|
|Hornady Critical Defense||90 grains||1000 fps|
|Liberty Civil Defense||50 grains||1500 fps|
|Federal Personal Defense HST||99 grains||880 fps|
|Winchester USA White Box||95 grains||955 fps|
|SIG Sauer V-Crown JHP||124 grains||1165 fps|
|Hornady Critical Defense||110 grains||1090 fps|
|Federal Premium Personal Defense||129 grains||935 fps|
|Remington HTP||110 grains||950 fps|
|Winchester PDX1 Defender||130 grains||946 fps|
|Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel||135 grains||860 fps|
Detailed Ballistics Between 380 and 38 Special
|Case type||Rimless, straight|
|Bullet diameter||.355 in (9.0 mm)|
|Land diameter||.348 in (8.8 mm)|
|Neck diameter||.373 in (9.5 mm)|
|Base diameter||.374 in (9.5 mm)|
|Rim diameter||.374 in (9.5 mm)|
|Rim thickness||.045 in (1.1 mm)|
|Case length||.680 in (17.3 mm)|
|Overall length||.984 in (25.0 mm)|
|Case capacity||11.8 grains h20|
|Maximum pressure||21,500 psi (148 MPa)|
|Parent case||.38 Long Colt|
|Case type||Rimmed, straight|
|Bullet diameter||.357 in (9.1 mm)|
|Land diameter||.346 in (8.8 mm)|
|Neck diameter||.379 in (9.6 mm)|
|Base diameter||.379 in (9.6 mm)|
|Rim diameter||.44 in (11 mm)|
|Rim thickness||.058 in (1.5 mm)|
|Case length||1.155 in (29.3 mm)|
|Overall length||1.550 in (39.4 mm)|
|Case capacity||23.4 gr H2O (1.52 cm3)|
|Primer type||Small pistol|
|Maximum pressure||22,000 psi (150 MPa) CIP|
|Maximum pressure||17,500 psi (121 MPa) SAAMI|
Why Is 38 Special So Popular?
Although the .38 Special and .380 ACP cartridges remain popular, larger pistols taking advantage of the .380 ACP’s lower recoil and designed for individuals with reduced physical strength have gained traction in recent years. (Small guns like SCCY CPX and Smith Wesson Bodyguard 380)
While most 38 special guns are most common in revolver platform and semi auto like the Smith & Wesson Model 52. the 38 special remains relevant as a pocket pistol caliber.
Additionally, the .38 Special offers sufficient stopping power for self-defense situations, while still being manageable for most shooters. The round is also widely available and relatively affordable compared to other defensive cartridges.
Most Popular 380 ACP and 38 Special Ammo
It depends on the bullet type. There are many different loads for each caliber. Here are some popular options for personal defense.
Best 38 Special For Personal Defense
- Hornady Critical Defense - The 110-grain FTX bullet in this round is designed to expand even at lower velocities, making it effective in short-barreled revolvers. It also offers good penetration and is reliable
- Federal Premium Personal Defense - This round features a 129-grain HP bullet that is designed to expand reliably upon impact. It also offers good penetration, making it an excellent choice for personal defense
- Remington HTP - This round features a 110-grain HP bullet that is designed to expand upon impact. It also offers good penetration and is reliable
- Winchester PDX1 Defender - This round features a 130-grain HP bullet that is designed for maximum expansion and penetration. It is also reliable and consistent
- Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel - This round features a 135-grain HP bullet that is specifically designed for short-barreled revolvers. It offers good penetration and expansion, making it an excellent choice for personal defense
Best 380 ACP For Personal Defense
- Hornady Critical Defense - This 90-grain ammo is a popular choice as it is designed to give the best possible muzzle velocity for the 380 ACP round. You get over 1050 feet per second, which is among the highest out of all the 380 ACP rounds on the market.
- The red polymer tips help with bullet expansion, and the bullet maintains trajectory for better accuracy. Inside the bullet is a lead core.
- Liberty Civil Defense - The Liberty Civil Defense rounds are only 50 grains, which is light but an excellent alternative for those who are recoil-sensitive or beginners. In terms of performance, Liberty Ammunition advertises that these rounds can reach up to 1500 feet per second with a muzzle energy of 250 foot-pounds.
- Federal Personal Defense HST - These heavier 380 rounds are known for their reliability and terminal performance. You get about 1030 feet per second out of a 2.75-inch barrel, and the total bullet weight is 99 grains. One reason why the HST is more reliable is that the jacket is attached well to the core of the round, which means it does not separate when hitting the target, translating to better penetration. The tips of the jacket are also thinned out to allow for optimal expansion.
- Winchester USA White Box - Winchester USA White Box is a middle ground between both ends. With a bullet weight of 95 grains, it is one of the best full metal jacket 380 ACP ammo on the market. Unfortunately, 380 ACP rounds are already lacking in penetration due to the low muzzle energy. So a full metal jacket allows for the best penetration
- SIG Sauer V-Crown JHP - This load is super effective in both expansion and penetration. Out of all the 380 ACP, this is one of the few that has no problems touching that 12-inch penetration mark and can expand up to half an inch in size. SIG Sauer V-Crown JHP is also affordable.
Is A .38 Special Good For Self-Defense?
The .38 Special cartridge can be an effective choice for self-defense, depending on the specific circumstances and the individual shooter's ability and preference.
The cartridge offers sufficient stopping power for most self-defense situations and is manageable for most shooters, including those with less experience or physical strength.
Most Popular 38 Special Pistols
- Smith Wesson Model 10
- Ruger LCR
- Smith Wesson Bodyguard 38
- Taurus 605
- Ruger SP101
Most Popular 380 ACP Pistols
- Ruger LCP Max
- Sig P238
- Kahr CW380
- Smith Wesson Bodyguard
- Glock 42
As the content creator of badassoptic.com, My background in the firearms industry and shooting sports gives me the experience to recommend tried and true products and keep away subpar ones.