Pocket .380s

Let’s talk about pocket guns here for a second.  Shelley’s post yesterday about the Ruger LCP (and indirectly the Kel-Tec P3AT) inspired quite a bit of commentary both here on Gun Nuts and on my Facebook page.  First off, let’s get a couple of things all cleared up – we don’t hate the concept of pocket .380s.  Shelley isn’t a big fan of the Ruger LCP, mostly because she’s seen multiple examples of the gun crack right on the slide after heavy use.  That would turn me off on a platform as well.  My objection is more training oriented than anything – I am a firm believer that any gun you’re going to carry is a gun you need to practice with for it to be useful.  Here is my logic train on pocket guns in general:

  • A gun is better than no gun, so that .25/.32/.380 in your pocket beats a knife or a cup of coffee
  • You need to practice with a carry gun for it to be any good
  • Many of the pocket guns are not robust enough to hold up to the kind of practice necessary to master their use

That’s the issue I have with them.  Even my beloved Jetfire wasn’t going to stand up to serious and repeated practice, and I found that with a little care in wardrobe selection I could just as easily conceal a much larger pistol in business casual.  That being said, there are some pocket guns that will stand up to the kind of repeated practice that’s necessary to master their use.

The J-Frame

The S&W J-frame in its various lightweight configurations will in fact hold up to repeated practice.  This is good, because a J-frame is most definitely an “expert” gun, requiring the most amount of trigger time to truly master.  However, the lightweight guns offer stout recoil.  However, because it’s a DA revolver, you can get a lot of quality practice in dry fire.

Sig P238

P238 with Crimson Trace LaserGuard
Sig P238 with Crimson Trace Laser Guard

I know I’m going to catch hell for this, but the fact of the matter is that this is the only “true” pocket gun that I’ve seen and personally run hard and still function.  I’ve run them in the pouring rain stripped of lubrication, and the one in Shelley’s rental case has taken an obscene round count and continues to run.  Both of us at Team Gun Nuts absolutely adore this gun, and unabashedly recommend it for people looking for a pocket gun as a backup.  Yes, it costs more money than an LCP or Kel-Tec.  But it also works better than an LCP or a Kel-Tec.

I am certain that there are other pocket guns out there that can hold up to serious round counts.  If you’ve got a pocket gun that’s seen north of 1000 rounds and is still ticking, I’d love to hear about it.  Email your pocket gun stories to me at [email protected] and we’ll try to collate them into a post.

The bottom line here at Gun Nuts though is that your carry gun is useless if you don’t practice with it.  While most defensive gun uses don’t involve a shot being fired, that’s a hell of a thing to bet your life on.  Rule number 1 is always going to be “carry your guns”, but rule number 1A is “practice with your carry gun so that if you need it you’ll be ready”.


  1. Dont be too quick to popo .380 as a caliber. You can get the full FBI 12 inches of penetration (If thats your thing) as well as reliable expansion up to .645 out of that little pipsqueak.


    Now, if you truly feel like they are too difficult to shoot well, then drop down to .32 ACP. CorBon makes a great load that will get you 8 inches of penetration and reliable expansion to .435 – they are also now producing their DPX in .32 ACP which gives ya even more expansion. .32 ACP shoots like a .22 lr and you could probably limp d**k that thing and still shoot it well.


    Make no mistake… mousegun ammo has come a long way and now they are “enough gun”.

    As far as reliability and round count goes, I asked yesterday about what Ruger was going to do about those two range guns, and I am sure that if the gun shop sent them back for warranty work that Ruger would make it right. I would also bet that those two LCPs were in the same serial number batch… Even in a SIX Sigma manufacturing environment there are mistakes.

    Hell, Kel-Tec pretty much has a no questions asked lifetime warranty and there have been many a case that I have read over at KTOG.org where high round count (and user abused ) Kel-Tec’s have been sent in for repair and Kel-Tec just sent them a brand new gun. I dont worry about round count on my Kel-Tec… If it breaks I’ll just be without it for the 3 or 4 weeks that it takes for them to get it up and running again or to send me a brand new piece. No worries!

    1. Interesting link. I knew that the FMJ were getting around 17″ in .380. Most of the stuff I have seen on the hollow points hasn’t been good. 6-8″ and inconsistent. I’ve always run solids through my .380’s for this reason. Looking at the tests, the Corbon interests me. The Gold Dot as well. I always wondered about the GD in .380. Looks good if that is consistent.

      I have some of the Buffalo Bore 95gr FN. That stuff is MAJOR hot! 1150 fps M.E. 279 ft. lbs. !!! OUCH After 5 shots or so through my up until then flawless Kel-tec, the slide came off. It felt a lot like shooting a .357 mag snubby. I’m afraid to run the stuff through my P238 or P380.

      1. One problem with shooting calibers such as .380 is that it will tend to find a route through the body with least resistance. It may go around an organ instead of penetrating it for instance. It’s a light small bullet and going slow. Not a great recipe for deep straight penetration.

  2. That’s one thing I’ve been curious about – especially when people talk about .380’s being easier to shoot than a J-frame or LCR. How well does down-loaded target-type 38 special compare to .380’s for self defense purposes?

    Some self-defense .380 acp at 102 grains at 940 fps and some target shooting .38 spl at 158 grains and 755 fps have similar power factors…

    I guess what I’m saying is, is it possible to trade off some of the additional power of a +p 38 special to make your pocket snubby easier to shoot, and still have performance comparable to a .380 acp?

  3. I got my P238 after shooting the LCP and deciding I would actually want to shoot the P238. I can easily run 300 rounds though it in a sitting, and then only stop because I’m out of ammo.

    I like shooting it, and I am surprised at how well it handles everything from point shooting to longer ranges. Well longer for the .380.

    A lot of people own the LCP, but I’ve rarely seen anyone at RF&G run more than 50 rounds through it at a time. That’s totally anecdotal of course.

    That’s a real shame because I’d like to steal their brass.

    Now if only Sig didn’t charge $50 for every magazine they make regardless of size.

  4. I recently visited my local gun shop and indoor shooting range. They feature a large selection of rental firearms and seem to be very busy at any time I drive by on the freeway they are adjacent. They too rent the LCP, Kel-Tec, and Sig and sell all three among others.
    I asked the sales people there specifically about .380 pocket guns. Mind you I went in to buy a Sig 380. They all told me they owned and carried LCP. One counterman said he had bought three and given two away as gifts to family members, “they are so cheap” he said. There were four men working that day and they all owned and carried LCP’s.
    I don’t doubt that Shelley has seen ruined LCP’s. But I do believe the typical gun owner rarely fires, in a lifetime of ownership, the round count any of those guns have seen.
    Let’s face it most of us are not going to practice every week(much less multiple times a week). Once a moth for every gun owner in America is surely pushing it.
    I believe that any gun is better than “a knife in your pocket or a cup of coffee”, practiced or not. I am assuming basic operation is understood.
    I live and work in a world where 97% on my fellow citizens aren’t prepared to defend them selves with armed response (only 3% of this states population are even licensed to carry concealed and most I know don’t daily carry if ever).
    I would bet that a low life expectancy LCP, Kel-Tec or other such gun get’s carried more often, because it is better than nothing(training or not).
    97% or more of this states population is currently defending themselves with nothing and no practice.
    I didn’t buy the LCP or the Sig. They didn’t fit my XL size hands very well and I continue to carry daily my compact 9mm. If I get lucky I will get out once a month.

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