Mousegun ballistics

One of the topics we address a lot here is terminal performance from service pistols, and how it’s all basically the same when you’re dealing with calibers from 9mm to .45 ACP. One of the things we don’t cover a lot are terminal ballistics from mousegun calibers, .380 on down to .25 ACP. Generally speaking, mouseguns are what you carry when you can’t carry a proper service pistol like a 9mm, and you’ll see serious ballistic compromises when you do go down to mousegun calibers.

doubletap .380 penetration

That’s a DoubleTap .380 unobstructed frontal shot into uncalibrated ballistic gel. Unlike a lot of the other gunwriters, I’m not a big fan of .380 out of proper mousegun platforms. I’m a big believer in getting accurate hits, and when you’re dealing with tiny calibers, getting good hits becomes even more important. So when you have guns that are about the size of the most popular .380 on the market, the Ruger LCP I actually prefer them in .32 ACP. In fact, the only Kel-Tec I’ll ever recommend is the P32 (or whatever it’s called) specifically because it’s easier to shoot well than the P3AT or the LCP.

So where do we like .380s? In guns that are about the size of the Glock 42 or M&P Shield. Walther PPk, Sig P232, etc. The Ruger LC380 is a great example of this. This guns are great because they fit the basic requirement of “have a gun” but they’re easier to shoot well than their 9mm counterparts. Yes, you’re making a ballistic compromise, but honestly it’s not going to matter that much.

We’ve established then that I prefer micro-guns in .32, and the small framed autos in .380. Let’s take a second and talk about the two baby calibers, .25 ACP and .22 LR. It’s no secret that I carried a .25 ACP Jetfire for quite some time. It was a great little gun, but only really was a gun in the technical sense. If you’re down to choosing between a .22 and a .25 for self-defense, I’d always recommend the .25 ACP because centerfire cartridges tend to be more reliable than rimfire rounds. That’s pretty much it. Out of the tiny micro-barrels you get on guns in that class, the ballistic performance is going to be marginal anyway. Honestly though, if you’re thinking about a .25, you can probably upgrade a little bit to a .32.

Bullet selection is a much debated topic for the little guns. There are some really great .380 JHP loads that will actually get over 10 inches of penetration, and if you’re carrying a .380 by all means go with one of those…if it’s shootable. That’s the thing I really come back to, and it’s why I don’t ever tell anyone to carry full house magnum loads in an airweight j-frame. If you can’t put steel on target, than all that penetration and terminal performance is totally pointless. I’d much rather have someone who carries a Beretta Tomcat in .32 ACP that they practice with on the reg and carry with FMJ than someone who carries a .45 ACP loaded with 185 grain Hot Death JHP…that they never actually train with. I will generally default to FMJ for rounds smaller than .380, so for .32s and .25s I’d say carry ball ammo. But again, your mileage may vary. In .380s, if your gun will feed JHP and you know the load has been tested and verified to provide adequate penetration.

That brings me around to the last, and most important point. If you are going to carry a mousegun, you have to actually shoot it. Far too many people get a pocket gun and drop it in their trousers, never to train with it. These guns are difficult to shoot well. I’ve actually had people say to me that they don’t need to train with their pocket gun because they’re “just going to shove it into the guy’s belly and pull the trigger.” Well, that’s great…if your self-defense encounter goes exactly how you’ve predicted it will. Protip: most of the time, they don’t. If you’re going to carry a pocket gun, you need to know what it can and can’t do. What your performance limitations with this gun? Can you make an on-demand headshot at 7 yards with it? Does it eject reliably with a compromised master grip? These are important questions that can only be answered on the range.

To summarize, here are my personal recommendations on mouseguns.

  • If you want a .380, go a little bit bigger than an LCP.
  • If you want LCP size, go with a .32 instead.
  • Carry the ammo that gives you the best penetration


  1. best .380 I’ve fired: Sig P238. amazing little pocket pony. I want a little weight in a .380 to offset the toothy recoil. Haven’t fired the Shield or G42 yet, but neither is going to be as small as the .238 while still being so controllable and easy to shoot (though they’re probably both the latter). blowback .380s (including anything PPK-shaped) are universally nasty. I agree that the 380s smaller than large pocket are going to be a handful and more trouble than they’re worth.
    32? Beretta Tomcat. Just wish it had better sights.

    1. I’d agree on the blowback being the key factor in the little autos. For me the Colt Mustang’s actual locked breech makes it very easy to shoot in a gun in the same weight and size class as the little blowback guns. The SAO brings in its own factors, but the Mustang/Sig 238 are exceptions worth noting, if only that they prove the rule.

      My “full-size” Government Pocketlite was a dream to carry and shoot.

      1. Years ago i bought a Star Model S .380 and Walther PP .32 same day and went to the range.

        The locked breech Star was a pussycat, didn’t feel much different than a .22. Even though the blow back Walther was a bit heavier and a lighter cartridge, it came back harder and was slightly nasty to shoot after a while.

  2. Toted a .25 Baby Browning for a number of years. Easiest gun to carry I’ve ever owned.
    However, I’ve replaced it with a J frame- I was never too hip to the idea of relying on a .25 ACP to stop an attacker.

  3. OK, but what is the best caffeinated beverage setup to pair with a mousegun for self defense purposes? Speedy light roast or heavy but slower dark roast? Tall, Grande, Venti? Paper (jacketed?), Polymer, Stainless Steel or Porcelain container? Oh, and what about accessories: Cream, half & half, sugar, stevia? How is one to choose?!

  4. The LCP (I recently bought a newer one with shooter trigger and almost sights) is okay to shoot. If somebody were to have trouble with pain or “web of Palm” sting I suggest a sleeve (Hogue or Pachmayr). Some have pins so no sliding over mag release button. There is also rubberized grip traction tape. Very thin. No slip grip.

    LCPs are reliable and shoot well. Standard pressure critical defense feeds and recoils well. I looked into tomcats and other species by beretta. Barrel tilt was attractive, but not cracked frames. Or feeding issues. I am sure there are good examples out there. I like beretta a lot. But in the “more often than not” you will get a solid LCP out of box vs many others makes. And Ruger seeks parts cheap or will warranty if sent in (I never had an issue). But this factor influenced my decision for the LCP.

    I can carry the LCP anywhere without ever thinking it is a drag to be armed. I think it gets overlooked as so common now. And based on a kel tec p3at. It is my go to choice if only one gun. As can be used anywhere anytime. And much easier to handle than a 442/642/638.

    One day I will save up for an all steel snubbie. LadySmith or chiefs special. I think the weight matters most for accuracy. But the slimness of the LCP always impresses. It will be hard to go bigger.

  5. I would truly be shocked if I could shoot an equivalent (size, trigger, sights) .32ACp as well as I can shoot my LCP. Aedmittedly, I don’t shoot it as well as I do a full size pistol, but that’s primarily due (IMNSHO) to the tiny size, mediocre sights, and a DAO trigger. I suspect I’d be putting .32 bullets in pretty much the same size groups if you waved a magic wand and handed me an identical pistol, only chambered in .32.

    So, I’ll stick with the .380ACP mousegun, thanks. Beats the .25ACP Baby Browning (only gun I ever had that had a name – roomie called it “The Warmth” because it was too small to be packing heat) I carried many moons ago when attire said “No 1911 or M65, thanks.”

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