What is the Best .380 Ammo for Your Pocket Pistol

Before getting to the list of the best 380 ammo, let's take a brief look at its formation.

.380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) is an extremely popular round for self-defense, despite how old it is. Wondering what some of the best ammunition choices for this popular caliber are? We will go over some of the highest quality ammunition offerings, reviewing them in terms of ballistics, deadliness, and price.

Before getting into specific ammunitions, we will talk a little bit about .380 ACP as a whole.

As the name probably implies, .380 was designed by Colt. It has been around for well over a century, as it was introduced in 1908. The round is extremely popular for self-defense due to how small it is and how small the weapons that shoot it can be. While there are other small cartridges, few perform as well as .380 ACP.

The projectiles measure 9mm in diameter and commonly weigh between 85 and 100 grains, dependent on the specific ammunition. While it is obviously dependent on the size, the projectiles are fired around 1000 feet per second.

As to be expected from a smaller caliber that isn’t fired all that fast, the round has a relatively short range. Another thing to be expected from a small round is that it doesn’t have nearly as much stopping power as some of the larger rounds.

However, despite these facts, there are some excellent ammunition choices that provide plenty of expansion and penetration on impact. These ammunitions would make for an excellent self-defense choice.

When choosing .380 ammunition, the primary factors that we will consider are:

  • Price: At the end of the day, this has to be a consideration for most people using ammunition.
  • Ballistics: If you are looking for a self-defense round, the ballistics are probably the most important factor to consider.

Without further ado, here’s our list of the best .380 ACP ammunition!

Best 380 Ammo on the Market


Top Feature

Terminal Performance




Cheap Range Ammo

Federal Premium 90gr Hydra-Shok

Federal Premium 90gr Hydra-Shok

This .380 ACP ammunition from Federal Premium is hands down the absolute best self-defense load available in .380. The Hydra-Shok ammunition is a jacketed hollow point round. For those that are unfamiliar, jacketed hollow point ammunition is some of the best available self-defense ammunition.

Jacketed hollow point (sometimes shortened to JHP) ammunition has a combination of a hollow pit in the tip, a lead core, and a hard metal “jacket.” The hollow tip is meant to cause expansion upon impact. The lead core wrapped in a hard metal “jacket” increases penetration, while also preventing the bullet from separating.

Hydra-Shok was originally designed for the FBI, but is now extremely popular for civilian self-defense ammunition. Overall, it is an accurate round that produces very low recoil. In terms of terminal performance, the copper jacket creates a very reliable and controlled expansion.

The initial muzzle velocity of the 90 grain projectile is 1000 feet per second, and the energy at the muzzle is 200 foot pounds. It retains this velocity decently well to 50 yards and beyond. The projectile expands to well over 10.5mm upon impact, while also creating around 12 to 15 inches in penetration.

In terms of ballistics and terminal performance, this ammunition has some of the absolute best performance available.

The cons of this ammunition are limited to mostly the price, as it is a very expensive ammunition. However, one thing to keep in mind is that this should only be your self-defense ammunition. I wouldn’t recommend shooting this ammunition at the range. Some people will tell you that you should shoot exactly what you are carrying, but I personally disagree with this, due to the price of self-defense ammunition.

Top Features

  • Expansion: This jacketed hollow point ammunition expands reliably every time, resulting in more tissue damage.
  • Penetration: Penetrates to the ideal depth for terminal performance.
  • Accuracy.
  • Ballistics: 1000 feet per second and 200 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle is great for a 90 grain projectile.

Hornady 90gr XTP


This Extreme Terminal Performance (XTP) ammunition is one of the projectiles available in Hornady’s Custom line. The projectiles are 90 grains, just like the previous Federal ammunition.

XTP cartridges are extremely precisely made. Similar to the Hydra-Shok, these rounds are also jacketed hollow points. The expansion of this round is controlled by serrations made in the projectile itself. These are placed specifically around the projectile to weaken the jacket in specific points. This allows for controlled expansion.

The expansion is guaranteed thanks to the fact that the nose of the bullet is protected by the metal jacket. This allows for the projectile to fly smoothly, expand as designed, and feed into the chamber each time.

The round expands even better than the Hydra-Shok ammunition. Upon impact, these projectiles expand to over 11mm. Similar to the Hydra-Shok, the initial muzzle velocity is 1000 feet per second, and the initial muzzle energy is 200 foot pounds. However, Hydra-Shok has the advantage in that this ammunition only penetrates to a depth of around 12 inches at best.

The pros of this ammunition are the expansion and the price.

For such a good self-defense ammunition, these rounds are very affordably priced. The extreme expansion of this ammunition is excellent, which will allow for the projectile to impact more tissue. For self-defense ammunition, this is critical.

However, the cons of this ammunition are that it doesn’t penetrate that deep. Most experts say that self-defense ammunition needs to penetrate more than 12 inches, in order to hit vital organs and cause more tissue damage.

Top Features

  • Expansion: The fact that this projectile will expand to over 11mm is absolutely awesome for self-defense purposes.
  • Price: For a great self-defense ammunition, this price is excellent.
  • Accuracy.
  • Quality control: Hornady meticulously hand inspects ammunition to ensure it is the highest quality.

PMC Starfire 95gr HP

PMC Starfire 95gr HP

PMC Starfire is another great self-defense ammunition. This jacketed hollow point ammunition has 95 grain projectiles.

Starfire projectiles are slightly heavier than the previous two ammunitions mentioned. While this does slow down the ammunition a little bit, it also provides a little bit more stopping power.

The muzzle velocity of this cartridge is 925 feet per second, and the muzzle energy is 180 foot pounds. As you can see, these marks are slightly lower than the previous two ammunition choices. The primary reason for this is the added projectile weight, which will be worth it on impact.

Upon impact, you can expect this ammunition to expand to around 9.7mm. As you can see, this ammo doesn’t expand as much as the other two. In terms of penetration, you can expect the ammunition to penetrate from 16 to 25 inches. This wide range of penetration depth is likely caused by the ammunition not expanding as designed every time. Most experts say that 16 inches would likely be a little bit too much penetration.

The pros of this ammunition are the price, extra weight, and the accuracy.

The ammunition does shoot very accurately, and the extra weight is good on target.

However, the cons of this ammunition are that it arguably doesn’t reliably expand each time. Some people have had issues with this ammunition expanding, depending on what the target is. Another con is that it doesn’t expand as much as the other cartridges, which limits how much tissue it can damage.

Due to the extra penetration, this ammunition might be best 380 ammo suited for winter time use, when people are wearing more clothing.

Top Features

  • Accuracy. The round shoots extremely accurately.
  • Price: Another excellently priced self-defense round.
  • Penetration: Although it may be a little too much penetration, there is no arguing that this round offers deep penetration.

Winchester 95gr PDX1

Winchester 95gr PDX1

Winchester’s PDX line is designed specifically as their self-defense line of ammunition. Overall, most of the ammunition in this line performs well, but as you will see, their .380 offering is outperformed by some of its competition.

The projectiles of this cartridge are jacketed hollow point. I’m sure you’re seeing a trend here, most of the best self-defense 380 ammo ammunition is jacketed hollow point. The bonding process ensures consistent and reliable expansion on impact.

Despite the heavier projectile, this ammunition still has a muzzle velocity of 1000 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 200 foot pounds. Upon impact, this ammunition expands extremely well. You can expect the projectile to expand to over 14mm, which is by far the most expansion on the list.

However, as a result of this expansion, the bullet isn’t able to penetrate nearly as deep. The average penetration is less than 10 inches. As mentioned, this is much shorter than what most people would consider optimal.

The pros of this ammunition are the expansion and velocity.

Despite the heavier weight, this ammunition manages to keep 1000 feet per second of muzzle velocity. The expansion of this projectile is unmatched.

The cons of this ammunition are limited to mostly the penetration. Most people would say that 9 inches of penetration is not nearly enough for a self-defense round.

However, due to the extremely high expansion, this round has potential to be an extremely deadly round. When the projectile expands to over 14mm, it will certainly damage a lot of tissue. This ammunition would be a decent choice in the summer months.

Top Features

  • Expansion: This round expands more than any of its competition, by a sizeable margin.
  • Accuracy: The ammunition does shoot accurately.
  • Reasonably priced.
  • Stopping power.

PMC Bronze 90gr FMJ

PMC Bronze

As I mentioned before, I don’t think it’s advisable to shoot your self-defense ammunition at the range. My reason for this is that the self-defense ammunition is so expensive, while range ammunition is much cheaper.

My general way forward with self-defense ammunition is to take it to the range once or twice, to get the weapon zeroed and make sure the ammunition cycles through the weapon smoothly. From there, I usually switch to a much less expensive range ammunition. I shoot pretty frequently, so this saves me a good bit of money.

PMC Bronze is a very inexpensive range ammunition that has always worked well for me. I have had no issues with the ammunition, and most other people seem to like it as well. I will not go into pros and cons of this ammunition, as it is nothing more than simple range ammo. I will say that the ammunition does shoot pretty accurately, and I have had no issues cycling it through any of my firearms.

Price per round: $0.34


There are quite a few options to consider when looking for the best .380 ACP ammunition. Since this is primarily a self-defense cartridge, there are a few different things to keep in mind:

  • Expansion: Remember, the more the bullet expands, the more tissue it can damage. In terms of self-defense, this is extremely important.
  • Penetration: Most experts say that the ideal penetration is around 15 inches. Anything more or less, and the bullet may miss the vital organs.

Considering those two terminal performance facts and adding in the price and ballistics will help to pick the best 380 ammo for you.

Generally speaking, you cannot go wrong with the Hydra-Shok from Federal Premium. This ammunition performs extremely well in terms of terminal performance. Hornady XTP also does well in this matter.

All of these ammunition choices have their own pros and cons, but all of them are good options for your self-defense. Be sure to check them out and give us your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “What is the Best .380 Ammo for Your Pocket Pistol”

  1. The article is incorrect by saying Colt designed the 380

    John Moses Browning Designed the 380 cartridge , but Colt introduced it.

  2. “The cons of this ammunition are limited to mostly the price, as it is a very expensive ammunition. However, one thing to keep in mind is that this should only be your self-defense ammunition. I wouldn’t recommend shooting this ammunition at the range. Some people will tell you that you should shoot exactly what you are carrying, but I personally disagree with this, due to the price of self-defense ammunition.”

    While the HS is a little high at $1.00 a round, what is your life worth?

    In training, we were taught to target practice with the same weight of FMJ that we carried, but since we rotated our stock in the weapon, shooting the old up every once in a while insured that you were up on the actual carry rounds. While it might last years in a firearm, you don’t want to risk it in a life or death situation. Fire your old rounds to stay in practice and keep fresh, new rounds in your weapon.

    I rotated stock every six months, to be safe. Some went a year. I was just addicted to target practice.

  3. Well, when mentioning the Starfire, which is not a bad round, there was immediate loss of what little credibility you had left after the .380 being designed by Colt nonsense. (JM Browning himself!)
    You mentioned the slightly heavier bullet adding “stopping power” (which is BS with low velocity, and BS in the way it has gained foothold in the shooting community, but I digress…) then mention it ends up with less energy…. Yeah, you can’t have it both ways. Nice try with heavier bullet theory. Less energy in no way equals more “stopping power”.


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