Sunday, October 9, 2011

Feeding a compact .380 pocket pistol


Long ago, the Carteach armory held a few .380 pistols. A venerable Walther PPK, a Bersa, and a Colt Government Model .380. The PPK was stylish, but fussy. The Bersa was well built and tough, but heavy. The Colt..... the Colt was something special. While just a bit heavy for a sub-compact pocket pistol, it was leagues ahead of it's pocket-pistol competition in power. The .32 acp pipsqueaks had nothing compared to the awesome defensive knockdown power of the.380 (Okay... that was over the top). Besides... it was a miniature Colt Government Model, and who could resist that?

Back then, nobody knew nuthin about defensive loadings in pocket pistol calibers. Sure, a few small ammo houses made some impressive stuff for the little poppers, but it wasn't going to be found in the average gun store. Add in the fact that all the factory ammo was loaded to function in blow-back pocket pistols, while the Colt was a locked breach and could handle somewhat hotter foodstuffs than the average .380.

The answer came in handloading. Carteach cooked up a rather snappy little load using a 90 grain Hornady hollowpoint and a ragged edge thrust from a stiff load of fast powder. It made that little Colt into quite a barker, but it performed far outside the envelope of factory .380 ammunition at the time.

Those times are past, and the little Colt went to a new home many years ago. It's special loading went to the back of the ammo locker, catching dust with some of the other specialty loads built over the years.

Spin the dial forward, and now pocket .380s are becoming quite the rage. They are, in fact, filling a downright important niche in a self defense role. Small, outrageously light, and amazingly easy to carry, new pocket poppers such as the Ruger LCP have taken the self defense market by storm. Coupled with one of the new compact laser sighting devices such as the Laserlyte unit, pistols like the LCP are becoming a staple of pocket carry in a society more comfortable each day with the idea of self defense as a human right.

Carteach is not immune to such attractions, and acquired his own LCP. It was quickly adopted into carry rotation, filling it's role whenever the situation held against carrying a larger pistol on the belt.

When the little Elsi Pea came home, the old special .380 handloads were pulled from retirement and pressed back into service. Built for the somewhat heavier Colt, the hot ammo surely made the pocket Ruger come to life with an impressive voice.

Looking at how popular the pop-squeak pocket .380 pistols have become as a defensive alternative, it was only a matter of time till the ammunition makers an$wered the call for a high end loading to match the new market. In a world where people will willingly pay $1 a round for ammunition that offers a distinct advantage in performance, it's no wonder companies such as Federal got busy and designed something impressive to fill peoples needs.

As Carteach is want to do when such thoughts occur, a note was sent off to the folks at asking what the latest and greatest thing on the market is. Steve Otterbacher was kind enough to describe some of what was on hand, and this Federal Hydroshock loading was chosen for a look-see.

Many... many.... years ago I had the fun of sharing the range with a friendly young fellow. Since the man was shooting an MP-5, sidling up for a look see was a no-brainer. In conversation, the gentleman shared that he was a trainer with the FBI..... and the discussion turned shooty technical from there on out. The main topic was Federal Hydroshock, and the results of testing the FBI had performed on it. Since then, finding Hydroshock ammo in a Carteach pistol has been anything but... shocking. (I know... Booo... Hisss.... I couldn't help myself).

Now that Federal has introduced the same bullet type in a version specifically for the .380, testing it became another no-brainer.

The Ruger LCP and it's cousins present a particular problem for defensive ammunition makers. Their short barrels don't offer a lot of room to build velocity, and their small bores don't offer room for a heavy bullet. The trick is to get some kind of decent velocity from the tiny pistol, while using it to propel a bullet specifically designed to perform at that velocity.

Federal seems to have done a fair job of it. The Hydroshock design bullet in the .380acp offering is thin walled enough to encourage expansion, even at pocket pistol velocities. Speaking of speed.... Federal was able to get their factory load spitting out the short LCP barrel every bit as fast as Carteach's hot handload.

Spending some time with a chronograph, the numbers make the results pretty clear. In the following graph, the Federal round is compared to Fiocchi ball, Carteach's special hot handload, and just for fun.... some Remington 9x19 124 grain Golden Saber ammunition fired from a short barrel S&W M&P 9c. Both muzzle velocity and muzzle energy were compared.

Function in the LCP was flawless, as well as in several other .380 pistols. The Federal Hydroshock did manage to pick up another 75 fps when fired from a longer barreled Bersa pistol, something not unexpected.

Overall impressions? It's good ammunition, and can easily hold it's own in a tough market where performance is the only criteria. Yes... even with's good prices, it's expensive stuff. That said, the pocket . 380 pistols don't typically get heavy range use. Shooting enough cheaper ball to break in the pistol is not a chore, and switching to the high end ammo for carry is reasonable. Running enough of the carry ammo through the pistol to assure flawless function should go without saying.


Old NFO said...

Very nice report, thanks!

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

Thanks for the review...

We recently switched here at home to the Winchester PDX1s in 380 for the LCP and have had good success reliability... after many years of using Hydra-shoks... I've found nothing wrong with the Federals, just thought the bonded bullets might be a better technology these days...

Guess it's hard to tell with certainty... until it's time to tell, which we all hope never comes...

Dann in Ohio

LaserLover said...

Hornady has a similar line of bullets called Critical Defense (in fact, they're about to come out with one in a .22 Magnum). The bullets look very much like the Federals, but they have a soft rubber insert in the hollow point. This is supposed to help ensure that the hollow tip expands consistently and uniformly. Might be an interesting comparison for you.