Is the 380 ACP Powerful Enough for Hunting?

The 380 ACP can be effectively used to take small game and varmints at mid to close range. The 380 ACP is not an effective option for hunting large game. This pistol cartridge is more powerful when fired from a carbine like the Hi Point 389.

Considered a defensive cartridge for over 100 years, the 380acp has made its way onto the hunting scene.  So, just what are its uses and limitations? 

Is the 380 Enough to Hunt With?

   100 foot pounds is about the lower threshold of power for a small game hunting gun.  when you get below that, it really starts reducing your maximum effective range to very close distances. you also greatly reduce the depth of penetration when you go below that threshold.

     The average 380acp launches a 90-grain bullet out of a 4-inch barrel at 1000 feet per second. That’s an impact energy of 200 foot pounds right out of the barrel. This means that it has well more than enough energy to take small game.

    The 380acp is available in a wide variety of cartridge and bullet options. The 380 isn’t generally thought of as a hunting gun, since it’s usually chambered in a small handgun which is hard to aim. But with carbines such as the Hipoint, the caliber is being considered more often for small game and varmint hunting.

   In a longer barrel, such as the 16 ½ inch barrels on the HiPoint carbine, the 308acp suddenly has more to offer. It takes the cartridge and pushes it to its maximum power potential.  The longer sight radius allows you to aim much more precisely too.

   I don’t have  380 myself, but I wouldn’t mind shooting rabbits or coyotes with it as long as I was accrete enough with it to reliably hit my target.  I would in no way feel under gunned with a 380acp against the largest of Michigan coyotes.

   It doesn’t take much to take small game.  On a raccoon or coyote, 6 inches of penetration will darn near shoot right through the body.  I find it funny when people think the 308 is under powered for hunting but they wouldn’t hesitate to carry one for protection against two legged threats.

   let’s look at some real-world numbers to see what velocities people are actually getting with the 380acp.

16 inch barrel   3-inch barrel pistol 
Hornady Critical Defense 90 g.1165879 
Remington 102 gr. BJHP1012808 
Winchester 95 gr. JHP1246927 
Fiocchi 90 gr. JHP1039863 
Hornady 90 gr. XTP1158912 

   In a carbine with a 16.5-inch barrel carbine, you can expect around 1150 to 1250 feet per second with standard pressure loads.  That’s about 261 to 315 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.  A 380 carbine can be a fine choice for small game hunting should you want to use one.

   The 380 runs between a range of 150 to 200 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle from a 3 inch barrel pistol.  Most published data is from a 4-inch barrel, although most 380 pistol barrels are closer to two and a half or three inches.  Most 380 pistols will shoot 10 to 15 percent lower than published data because of this.

   If you are using a loner barreled pistol, or a carbine, you can expect a more potent bullet.  For hunting, I would not suggest a pistol with a barrel under 6 inches because it gets really hard to aim precisely when the sights are closer together. That really limits the selection, but it is what it is.

   The loadings of the 380acp are roughly split into three different groups.  You have your range ammo, which is a 90 grain fmj bullet going 1000 feet per second. Range ammo is cheap bullets on top of cheap powder.  they are usually loaded near the bottom of the working spectrum for a semi-auto pistol.

   Second, you have the defensive ammo.  The defensive ammo is generally hollow point, though there are some soft lead round nose bullets out there.  Defensive ammo is usually loaded more consistently, and with better brass, bullets, and powder.

   The third category is what I call boutique ammo.  Boutique ammunition is often loaded with top of the line materials.  Boutique ammo is generally only available from smaller, more custom manufacturers. This kind of ammo is usually loaded to maximum pressures, and with less common bullets.    

What can I Hunt With the 380?

The 380 is a prime choice for most any animal smaller than a whitetail deer.  That would include small game like rabbits, armadillos, and opossums; as well as raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. For these animals, it’s not a question of will it do the job.  The bullet will work as long as you do your job and hit the target.

   The 380, like most pistol bullets, has a very poor ballistic coefficient.   Basically, the sectional density is not conducive to good aerodynamics or penetration.  In other words, the projectile is very short and fat, and that hinders performance.  It makes it more effected by wind, and minor inconsistencies in the bullet.

   All that said, the 380 has enough oomph’ to reliably do the job on small game if it has at least 100 foot pounds of energy remaining upon contact.

380acp VS. 22WMR for Hunting

    The most common cartridge used for small game is the 22 lr. Its big brother, the 22WMR (22 magnum) is said to be the perfect small game and varmint cartridge.  The 22 magnum boasts velocities u to 1800 feet per second. But with a lightweight 40-grain bullet.  So how does the 380 stack up against this classic?

   The 22 magnum start out ac a cruising speed.  It has a better ballistic coefficient too (more aerodynamic).  It is a much flatter shooter, and has less felt recoil because it’s going fast, it will expend nicely inside the animal for an increased wound cavity.

   The 380 doesn’t need to expand on small game.  The size of the bullet, .357 inches, is much larger than the diameter of the expanded 22 magnum, about .25 inches.  The 380 will create a larger wound channel than the 22 magnum will.  That’s why the 380 is recommended for personal protection, and the 22 magnum is not. 

   Penetration will be similar for most 22 magnum and 380 loadings. There really isn’t a worry about penetration with the 380 at any practical distance for hunting.

How Far Can a 380 Shoot Small Game?

The 380 acp has more than enough power to reliably take small game out to 50 yards in a full-sized pistol, and out to 100 yards in a carbine.  Coincidently, 100 yards is also about the limit of the 22 magnum. Beyond those distances, the 380 is lacking the power and accuracy the do the job.

   The more important question is how far can you shoot?  For small game hunting, you’re really looking to hit a 4-inch target at the largest, and a 2-inch target for some animals. go draw yourself a 4-inch bullseye on a cardboard or a piece of paper and see what the maximum distance you can keep all your shout inside of it. That will be your maximum hunting distance. 

Other Facts About the 380

The 380acp (Automatic Colt Pistol) was invented by John Mosses Browning in 1908.  It was designed for a pistol made by the classic FN company in France. It had several different names, depending on which country you were in. It was originally called the 9mm Browning Short.  The 9mm Long was already a thing.

   A few years later, it was somewhat replaced by the more powerful 9mm luger.  The 380acp is still issued to many police officers in Europe.  It is also one of the few calibers of firearms allowed in many Central and South American countries. 

Jordan Buck

Jordan Buck is an outdoor writer, a man of faith, and a family man. He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Jordan has taught marksmanship, woodsmanship, and self-defense classes. He has earned black belts in four martial arts and is a certified Krav Maga instructor. He also runs his own Gun Blog and YouTube Channel. Jordan enjoys giving his time and resources to help others and has spent 15 years volunteering in a boy's mentoring program He is and will always be an American Patriot. MOLON LABE

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