Short-barreled firearms are great for concealment and ease of carry; but their short barrels don't give much time for propellants to burn, and as a result, the muzzle velocity they produce (and, consequently, the muzzle energy imparted to the bullets they fire) is usually lower (sometimes much lower) than that imparted by longer barrels.
Tamara posted on her blog this morning about that effect in .38 Special snub-nose revolvers. You should click over there to read the whole thing (it's worth it), but briefly, here are the average muzzle velocities she recorded out of a Smith & Wesson revolver with a 2" barrel for various brands of ammunition:
- Remington 158gr LSWCHP +P: 852.2 feet per second average muzzle velocity, 255 foot-pounds average muzzle energy
- Federal Hydra-Shok 147gr JHP +P+: 847.3 fps, 234 fpe
- Federal Gold Medal Match 148gr wadcutter: 662.5 fps, 144 fpe
- Federal HST 130gr. JHP +P: 782.9 fps, 177 fpe
None of those figures are terribly impressive, are they? They illustrate just how much velocity and energy is lost when using a very-short-barreled firearm.
That's the reason I have very specific recommendations for what to load into your small .380 ACP pistol, or your .38 Special or .357 Magnum snub-nose revolver. I've used all of these rounds myself, and I know they work as advertised. They're not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
For small .380 ACP pistols such as the Ruger LCP (which I use) or Kel-Tec's P3AT, and their ilk, I recommend the following (and I strongly endorse Buffalo Bore's warning about the cartridge, which you'll find at the links provided):
- Buffalo Bore 100 gr. Hardcast Lead Flat Nose (my personal choice);
- Buffalo Bore 95 gr. Jacketed Flat Nose (second choice to the above).
(I don't recommend hollow-point ammunition in very small firearms chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge, as the velocity they'll develop is too low to guarantee both penetration and expansion. When that's the case, it's more important to be able to reach vital organs to shut down your attacker - so go for penetration, and don't worry about expansion. Frankly, I regard a small .380 ACP pistol as being a backup weapon for my primary handgun, which will be chambered for a more powerful cartridge. I don't regard the .380 ACP round as an adequate primary performer.)
For standard-pressure (i.e. not +P) .38 Special ammunition, required in older firearms not rated for higher pressures (and/or for shooters who aren't comfortable with brisk recoil), I recommend one of the following loads:
- Buffalo Bore 150 gr. Hard Cast Wadcutter (my personal choice);
- Buffalo Bore 110 gr. BARNES TAC-XP bullet (second choice to the above).
For .38 Special +P ammunition, only in guns rated to handle the increased pressure:
- Buffalo Bore 158gr. Lead Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point with gas check (my personal choice);
- Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 135gr. JHP +P (second choice to the above - this round is widely used by law enforcement officers in their backup guns, and has a well-deserved reputation for good performance 'on the street').
- Buffalo Bore 140 gr. Barnes XPB (I prefer the heavier bullet, for better penetration);
- Buffalo Bore 125 gr. Barnes XPB (second choice to the above).
Just in case you were wondering, no, I've not been paid or otherwise compensated by any manufacturer to mention their products. I've bought and used all of the above rounds, using my own money, and I entrust my own life to their performance. That's why I'm confident in recommending them to my readers. In particular, I like Buffalo Bore's practice of testing their rounds in actual firearms, rather than in vented test barrels, and publishing the actual velocities thus obtained. This represents the way the ammo will perform in your gun, rather than under highly optimized, specialized laboratory conditions. I wish more manufacturers would follow Buffalo Bore's example.
Some will object that premium ammunition, such as that recommended above, is very expensive. Yes, it is. Clearly, one won't use it for daily practice, as it would rapidly become unaffordable. However, when the chips are down and you're fighting for your life, you want the best tools you can get to help you stay alive. It's worth saving up for a few boxes of the 'good stuff', and reserving it for 'social use', particularly when carrying a small handgun that can't offer the performance, or magazine capacity, or ease of use, of a larger weapon.
(I also recommend installing a lighter set of springs in your snubnose revolver, such as those offered by Wolff Gunsprings [available for revolvers from various manufacturers - see the list in the sidebar at the link] or Apex Tactical [available for Smith & Wesson snub-nose revolvers only]. They make the long double-action trigger pull a lot lighter, so that the gun is easier to control. Make sure to fire at least a hundred trouble-free rounds through the gun after fitting them, to ensure reliable ignition of the primers.)
That's my $0.02 worth, anyway. YMMV, and all that sort of thing . . .