John Moses Browning’s .380 ACP, developed for the Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless, has soldiered on for more than a century. It’s been used mostly in underperforming full-metal-jacket (FMJ) form until about the past 20 years—and with much ho-hummery among defensive handgun buyers. Pistols chambered for it tended to be comparatively sizable and almost as heavy as some smaller 9mm handguns. The caliber has been an also-ran largely for those reasons. With advances in effective bullet designs and tiny pistols, however, it’s catching up. Balancing an efficient JHP bullet with moderate power and low recoil in a light gun that carries extremely well in a pocket or purse, the combo is not intimidating to shoot. It’s small enough to actually carry instead of being left at home because of weight or bulk.
It’s difficult to say which drives what—smaller pistols driving ammunition makers to higher performance levels, or high-performance ammunition driving gun makers to smaller pistols. Either way, the race in premium defensive ammunition development has positioned the humble .380 ACP well. Some of the better loads rivaling standard 158-grain .38 Special lead round nose (LRN) ammo in terminal effectiveness. And that’s from a thin pistol no longer than 5 inches stem to stern, weighing less than a pound fully loaded.
To see how modern .380s have evolved to keep pace with the defensive ammo they’re chambered for, I’ve tested three of the best on the market from Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Remington.
The oldest and smallest of the three pistols tested here—and the lightest at just less than 10 ounces empty—the Ruger LCP was introduced in 2008. It was Ruger’s first entry into the subcompact market. A polymer-framed seven-shooter when fully loaded, the Ruger LCP instantly attracted heavy interest among Ruger fans. It remains one of the company’s best sellers. Not that much bigger than some .25 ACPs available, the pistol is extremely concealable as a primary carry or backup gun. Its popularity has increased to the point where Ruger offers a number of variants. This includes one with a laser, those with carbon or stainless steel slides, and a variety of color schemes.
The standard Ruger LCP features fixed sights; MIM hammer; short extractor; slide-lock lever; 2.75-inch barrel; textured grip surfaces, and no manual safety. It also features a reinforced plastic trigger; pull-out takedown pin; left-side magazine-release button, and a partially cocked double-action firing mechanism. Rounding out the features are a loaded-chamber window above the extractor; dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; black-oxide slide finish above a black polymer frame and a six-round, blued-steel magazine. The Ruger pistol ships in a cardboard box with one magazine, a manual, a padlock, a black nylon zipper case and two magazine baseplates. One baseplate is flat and the other has an extended finger rest.
M&P Bodyguard 380
In 2010, Smith & Wesson took a leap onto the polymer pocket-gun bandwagon by introducing two new Bodyguard models—one a five-shot .38 Special revolver and the other a subcompact seven-shot .380 ACP pistol. Of the two, the .380 rode that wagon the hardest. The current M&P Bodyguard 380 line comes in any color you want, provided you want basic black, but you have a choice of six variants, including those with iron sights, red or green Crimson Trace lasers, a natural stainless slide or a darkened stainless slide, and a thumb safety or no thumb safety.
The base model, at almost 12 ounces unloaded, has a stainless slide on top of a polymer frame. It comes with a long extractor; alloy trigger; MIM hammer; slide-lock lever; 2.75-inch barrel; manual safety (or not); double-action-only (DAO) setup; two stainless six-round magazines; swivel-pull takedown pin; left-side magazine release button; windage-adjustable sights made of steel; a dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; textured grip surfaces with one-and-a-half finger grooves; and two loaded-chamber indicators with a hole in the barrel hood and a window above the extractor. This S&W pistol ships in a cardboard box with a manual; padlock; black nylon zipper case and two magazines—one with a flat baseplate and one with an extended finger rest.
The newest of the three pistols, Remington introduced the RM380 in 2015. It’s a much-modified version of the design acquired when the company bought Rohrbaugh Firearms and its small 9mm R9 pocket pistol design in 2014. The original Rohrbaugh was an expensive, almost-handmade pistol with a short-lived recoil spring. Remington’s redo retained the concealability and adapted the gun to mass production methods. It also extended the life of the recoil assembly and decreased the caliber and manufacturing costs. As of this writing, only one version of the RM380 is currently available, but if market demand supports it, I’d expect to see at least a couple of others down the road.
The 12.2-ounce Remington is also the heaviest of the three test pistols. This is because of its wider aluminum frame and thicker, heavier stainless steel slide. It comes with fixed sights; 2.9-inch barrel; long extractor; steel trigger; MIM hammer; no manual safety; ambidextrous magazine release; slide-lock lever; textured grip; DAO trigger pull; push-out takedown pin; dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; two steel six-round magazines and two loaded-chamber indicators with a hole in the barrel hood and a thin window above the extractor. There is no manual safety. This .380 ACP also ships in a cardboard box with a manual, a padlock and two magazines—one with a flat baseplate and one with a finger rest.
The Bodyguard and the RM380 use true DAO triggers, which means the hammers are never cocked, and they need a deliberate trigger pull to fire. Some carriers consider that a form of safety device, similar to a double-action revolver. I’m among the group that believes no manual safety is needed with a DAO model. As a beneficial side function of the DAO trigger, the design includes a double-strike capability. This lets you keep clicking after a misfire without having to do a “tap-rack-bang” drill to clear or re-cock a tiny pistol. That’s not very easy to accomplish.
The Ruger LCP uses something of a semi-DAO action. Racking the slide leaves the hammer half-cocked, with the shortest trigger travel of the three. It has a shorter pull than a true DAO model but a longer pull than a single-action pistol. That means it has no double-strike capability, though. If it clicks, you must use the tap-rack-bang to get back in the game, and that takes time, two hands and some fiddling.
At the range, the Ruger LCP was easiest to work with trigger-wise. The Bodyguard came in second, and the extremely long, stacking pull of the RM380 made it difficult to deal with for accuracy testing. And it was the slowest of the three by far in rapid-fire speed dumps. With light .380 bullets, and correspondingly lower energy figures compared to more powerful pistols and calibers, one theory of close-in defensive use with these pocket pistols is to smartly empty the gun on target. If that’s your plan, the Remington’s trigger is a definite handicap. Overall, the LCP is the quickest for speed and the best for accurate aimed fire. The Remington trails the pack in both areas.
Does anybody care about sights on pocket pistols? I mean, it’s point and pull, right? Wrong. For most scenarios in which these pistols would be considered useful, target sights on such distinctly non-target guns are not absolute requirements. But as the Tueller drill taught us more than 30 years ago, a determined man with a knife at 7 yards can be standing on your toes in 1.5 seconds. You can’t wait until he’s within hip-shooting range to commence firing. Sights—even small sights—have a place, and they matter.
Although none of these pistols shot precisely to the point of aim out of the box, the S&W’s windage-adjustable sights provide at least some room to center a preferred load, and they’re the tallest and most visible of the three. Conversely, the fixed sights of the Remington and Ruger can’t be knocked out of alignment, and they’ll stay where they came forever. They’re also snag-free, and the back of the rear S&W sight is sharp enough to potentially grab a covering pocket holster or lining during a draw. The winner? It depends on your preferences.
These models have small grip areas, and they’re not one-size-fits-all deals. Larger hands won’t like the smallest, the Ruger LCP, and the flat magazine floorplate allows only a one-finger hold on the abbreviated pistol, even with smaller mitts. The M&P Bodyguard 380’s grip extends down almost a quarter-inch farther, but even there, with its finger groove, it’s still pretty much a one-finger proposition, unless you have the skinny digits of a 4-year-old. The largest grip, the RM380’s, adds another eighth of an inch in length, and with its undercut triggerguard I can get two fingers wrapped around it using the flat floorplate (three using the extended floorplate).
The .380 ACP is a mild caliber to shoot, but it produces some muzzle rise in these tiny pistols. You’ll have to choose between comfort and concealability. The flat-bottomed magazines are fractionally more compact, but not enough to outweigh the control added by the extended finger rest versions—at least for me.
All of the triggers are smooth-faced, and all the grip areas are well textured and hold still under recoil. The S&W slide lock sticks out enough from the slide to function as a slide release, if you insist. The Remington and Ruger levers are far too small and inaccessible to use as a slide release under pressure (don’t even bother), and the Ruger can be manually locked open via that miniscule lever. However, the Ruger slide does not lock open after the last round is fired. The other two do, and that Ruger feature might be a no-go for some potential buyers.
The Remington’s ambidextrous magazine release button and larger grip dimensions would probably tip the scale for others. It fits more hand sizes, and it’s altogether a more lefty-friendly package, using that button and over-handing the slide instead of trying to thumb the slide release on loading or tap-rack-banging. Advantage: Remington.
Most of these pistols will live in the carry-lot/shoot-little category, but eventually you’ll at least need to evict spiders and dust bunnies, and the takedown process is similar on each but not equally convenient.
The M&P Bodyguard 380 uses essentially the same swiveling pin as its full-sized M&P cousins. You manually lock the slide open and swivel the pin down about 95 degrees. You then pull it out and slide the top half forward off the frame rails—no tools are required. The LCP has a mushroom-headed pin that has to be pried out with something like a screwdriver, with its slide locked open. I’ve never been able to get one out with just a thumbnail.
The RM380’s straight-shafted pin is hidden inside the slide, and it can’t be accessed through its holes without some sort of tool, such as a paper clip, to push it out through the left side. It also takes some back and forth on the frame to line up the holes, and you have to manually keep those holes aligned with the frame and slide under recoil spring pressure while you poke the pin in or out. Locking the slide leaves them well separated. For simplicity and ease of disassembly, the S&W takes the cake.
I know. These guns are not built for counting points on paper targets. But like the sight issue, accuracy can be a factor. If you’re considering a tiny gun as your only CCW, would you not want to know what it’s capable of if you must push the distance envelope?
Most print reviews hold this class of gun to a 7- or 15-yard standard, but I wanted to see what the test samples might accomplish during controlled situations at 25 yards. That meant shooting each of the guns off a rest during bright sunlight, with six .380 ACP loads that ran from FMJs to one of the newest bullet designs. Firing five-shot groups of each load through each pistol, I was surprised at what they managed with the loads they liked.
The 100-grain FMJ load from Black Hills was a disappointing washout at that distance in the Remington and Ruger, with the results spreading out more than a foot and not worth recording. That load performed best—8 inches—with the S&W. However, Black Hills’ new 60-grain, all-copper Xtreme Defense ammunition produced the best group of the day through the Remington RM380, at 2.25 inches. Winchester’s 95-grain PDX1 JHPs came in second, at 4 inches through the S&W M&P Bodyguard 380, and the other loads ran from 4 to 9 inches in their best groups.
Remember, a sample of one is not binding across the board, and these results came from my samples, my hands and my eyes. Your mileage might vary, good or bad. Just remember that these little pocket pistols can handle human-sized silhouette situations farther than many people believe. Also note that all of the pistols shot high at 25 yards, with many rounds going higher than 12 inches above the point of aim. Straightest shooter? Too close to call.
These guns were reliable with all of the test loads. The only misfeed stoppages occurred while trying to chamber rounds using the Remington slide lock as a release and not sling-shotting the Ruger’s slide hard enough. Also, I had two misfires with a Sig Sauer load in the S&W, one of which lit up on a second strike. Ejection ran from mild and consistent in the Bodyguard and RM380 at 2 to 10 feet to wild and inconsistent (as expected) in the Ruger LCP at up to 30 feet. That doesn’t affect dependability and only matters when it’s time to chase the brass. The Remington has an annoyingly sharp edge above the trigger on the right side, and the S&W typically needs its magazine release depressed to fully seat a magazine.
These subcompacts are good buys as candidates for their intended role. If you’re in the market for a pocket .380, there’s no best among them. It’s just a matter of choosing the features you consider most important for your needs and finding a load that plays well with it. My choice? The S&W, but that’s just because it works best in my hand, and I prefer its trigger over the other two. Your choice is up to you, and I wouldn’t consider any of the three a bad one.
Ruger LCP, S&W M&P Bodyguard 380 and Remington RM380 Specs
|Manufacturer||Ruger LCP||S&W M&P Bodyguard 380||Remington RM380|
|Caliber||.380 ACP||.380 ACP||.380 ACP|
|Barrel||2.75 inches||2.75 inches||2.9 inches|
|OA Length||5.16 inches||5.3 inches||5.27 inches|
|Weight||9.6 ounces (empty)||12 ounces (empty)||12.2 ounces (empty)|
|Grip||Glass-filled nylon||Polymer||Glass-filled nylon|
|Finish||Blued||Matte black||Matte black|
This article was originally published in “Concealed Carry Handguns” 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.