Bersa Thunder .380
December 20, 2008
In these days of economic recession and rising prices of both guns and ammunition an economical alternative to the standard priced $600 and up guns is good idea especially if it’s a very good gun which the Bersa is at $279.
This is written by Stephen Camp of Hi-Powers and Handguns. Thanks Steve!
Bersa Thunder .380 with Corbon 80-gr. DPX Ammunition
The .380 ACP continues to fill pockets or holsters among private citizens lawfully carrying during the turbulent crime-filled times in which we live. Though “ballistically challenged” when compared to the delivery of full-power 9x19mm or even .40 S&W in similar size handguns, the 9mm Short still has a fairly significant cadre within the shooting community. If not a primary weapon, it is frequently on duty as a back up gun or “BUG”.
I suspect that it remains a popular handgun because at .380 ACP pressures, the pistols chambered for it are straight blow back. The combination of forces from the recoil and mainspring must be overcome by momentum imparted to the slide when the weapon is fired, and the bullet and gases begin forcing their way out the barrel. There is no other mechanical locking system as on more powerful weapons such as the 9mm, .38 Super, or .45 ACP. This makes it possible to produce and sell 380-caliber pistols a bit cheaper than for an equivalent quality 9mm.
Anyway, the little things are still popular, but some see a problem with the 9x17mm, a.k.a. .380 ACP, and that is expansion versus penetration. Folks fearing too little penetration to reach the vitals from any angle at which the body might be struck, use FMJ. They get penetration, but at the cost of expansion. It is generally accepted that traditional 95-gr. FMJ @ 950 ft/sec or so yields about 14 to 16″ in 10% ballistic gelatin. This exceeds the 12″ minimum set forth by the FBI for effective handgun penetration. The problem is that tissue collapses on what is already a small wound channel. If shots are accurately delivered, the 380 ball might very well suffice, but it is also generally accepted that the cartridge is not a ballistic powerhouse compared to many other defensive rounds.
On the other side of the issue, we find people who use frangible rounds. These can vary from pre-fragmented loads such as the Glaser Safety Slug to other exotics designed to either completely disintegrate within the target to JHP bullets, which expand and tear a wider permanent wound cavity. The problem is that when these bullets expand, penetration is frequently in the 7 to 9″ range…and this bothers some people.
Evidently, the good folks at Corbon were listening and have completed work on their .380 DPX. This standard pressure load uses a solid copper alloy bullet with a large hollow cavity. It has been tweaked by Corbon to provide both expansion and still meet the FBI’s 12″ minimum. The term “DPX” means Deep Penetrating X-bullet; the bullet is made by Barnes of rifle X-bullet fame.
Here we see the 80-gr. Corbon DPX flanked by Federal 90-gr. JHP (left) and the same company’s 95-gr. FMJ (right). FMJ is considered the most reliable ammunition in some semiautomatics and hollow points having a rounded ogive that mimics ball can aid in reliable feeding. The Federal Classic JHP shown is such a round, but notice that the DPX is also shaped such that in most guns, it should feed without problems. Always test any defense gun with ammo to be used for “serious purposes.” The DPX round has a LOA of 0.949″.
It is well known that bullets with sharp edges can dig into aluminum frames if the magazine doesn’t position them at an upward angle. The Bersa had no problems with the Corbon DPX. There was no gouging of the frame that constitutes the lower portion of the gun’s feedway. This can be as much a function of magazine as ammunition shape, but with two separate magazines, this Bersa suffered no dings or gouges from 40 shots using this new ammunition. For those interested the hollow point measures 0.169″ wide at the mouth and 0.206″ deep.
I opted to test this ammunition using the Bersa Thunder .380 ACP pistol. The gun is completely stock. It was chosen because it seems to be an up-and-coming favorite for people opting for its caliber and can usually be had at around $200.00. In my limited experience with the gun, it is well worth the tariff and apparently others feel the same way. I also picked it as this gun has the shortest barrel length of my very limited .380 collection. The motivation for this is to test the Corbon ammunition at the lower end of the velocity envelope with what I had access to. My particular Bersa usually runs about 30 to 50 ft/sec slower than my Walther PP or FEG PMK 380 handgun.
The only pistol used in these informal tests was this bone stock Bersa Thunder. Two factory magazines were used and both worked fine.
Shooting: The pistol was shot for function and groups at two distances. At 10-yards, the gun was first fired with Winchester 95-gr. FMJ to establish POI vs. POA. Five rounds of the 80-gr. DPX were then fired at the same target.
These groups were fired using a two-hand hold from a standing position at ten yards. Holes that are circled were made with DPX. The Winchester 95-gr. ball made those that are marked with straight lines. At this distance, it is apparent that with this gun, the two loads’ points of impacts overlap. Each group consists of 5 shots.
This 5-shot group was fired at 15 yards using a two-hand hold and a rest. It was fired from a seated position. It is evident that the DPX load groups plenty well, striking just a tiny bit high for a dead-on sight picture. Most would agree that this is plenty close enough for the purpose that this ammunition is intended.
Ten rounds were chronographed. They were fired 10′ from the chronograph screens and figures obtained are listed below:
Low Velocity (ft/sec): 1055
High Velocity: 1084
Average Velocity: 1067
Extreme Spread: 28
Std. Deviation: 9
I do have neither the money nor the temperature-controlled setting to use 10% ballistic gelatin. For that reason, I used two other mediums. These were water and “wet pack”. The latter was plain newsprint that was soaked for 24 hours until super-saturated and allowed to drain for 30 minutes before firing. Both of these will stop bullets more rapidly than the gold standard gelatin, but some inferences can be made, I think.
Here are two .380 ACP 80-gr. DPX bullets that were fired from the Bersa. The one on the left was fired into water. The one on the right impacted the soaked newsprint. Expanded diameters are quite similar, but the one fired into the wet pack is slightly smaller. This appears not to be due to less expansion, but because of the denser medium forcing the petals slightly more rearward. Notice each of the expanded bullets has not attempted to turn nearly inside out, as can some rapid expanders. I believe that this aids in the bullet’s penetration capabilities. The bullet that impacted water measures 0.724 x 0.734 x 0.354″ tall and weighs 79.9 grains. The DPX that was fired into the wet pack measures 0.708 x 0.715 x 0.332″ tall and weighs 80 grains. This is very consistent performance, something for which DPX bullets are noted.
Some other ammunition was fired into the wet pack as well for purposes of comparison. Penetration depths are listed below. The wet pack was 10″ thick.
Winchester 95-gr. FMJ: 10″ + (It completely penetrated the stack and went into the ground.)
Federal 90-gr. JHP: 5 3/4″
Corbon 80-gr. DPX: 5″
Remington 102-gr. Golden Saber: 4 ”
Corbon 90-gr. JHP +P*: 4″
Remington 88-gr. JHP: 3 1/2″
*The Corbon .380 JHP currently sold is not rated +P. This is some older Corbon that I had on hand and it clearly is so marked, both on the 50-round box and on the cartridge case. Chronographed against newer 90-gr. Corbon JHP, I find no difference in chronographed speeds from the Bersa. I have no hard facts on why the earlier ammunition was given the +P rating.
I am going to go out on a limb here and anticipate that the DPX will penetrate approximately 12″ of calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin. Note that the Federal 90-gr. Classic JHP penetrated a bit deeper. Checking the works of several researchers, I found that this expanding bullet often penetrated roughly 14″ of ballistic gelatin. I think that part of this can be found in the bullet’s inconsistent expansion, at least from the Bersa. That load only averages 969 ft/sec from my Bersa while it gets 1033 ft/sec from my FEG. I like the load, but I never got two to expand quite the same, regardless of the test medium …when using the Bersa.
On the left is the Federal Classic 90-gr. JHP. This is a standard pressure load that has been around for years. Averaging about 969 ft/sec from my Bersa, the expansion was irregular and erratic. No two recovered bullets were the same. Often, expansion was not nearly to this degree. On the right is Corbon’s 90-gr. JHP +P. It expanded consistently in the wet pack and usually shed its jacket. The DPX cannot shed its jacket, as there is none. From the Bersa, the Corbon averaged 1050 ft/sec on the nose.
Of the ammunition fired in my informal tests, the most consistent was the Corbon 80-gr. DPX and Remington’s 102-gr. Golden Saber. The lighter DPX did penetrate deeper. In ballistic gelatin, the heavier Golden Saber usually penetrates between 9 and 10 inches. The 1″ deeper penetration in the same medium by the DPX probably means it will get another couple of inches in the gelatin tissue simulant. Time will tell. From my gun, the 102-gr. bullet averages 855 ft/sec. I was disappointed not to have any Hornady XTP ammunition in my meager stash of .380 ACP ammunition. It would probably give it a good run for the money with regard to penetration, but normally does not reach nearly the same expanded diameter. The XTP usually goes to about 1.5 times its original diameter. I like the XTP quite a lot, but I do think that the DPX is probably going to do a bit more damage.
From the Bersa, this load was accurate and reliable. Note that Corbon lists its velocity at 1050 ft/sec. Even the lowest measured velocity exceeded it by 5 ft/sec. It has been my experience that Corbon ammunition almost always exceeds nominal listed speeds.
Observations: Corbon DPX ran smoothly through the Bersa with no hesitation whatsoever. It did not ding or gouge the frame portion of the feed ramp and ejection was positive and fairly uniform. Edges of the fired primers were rounded and there were no overt signs of high pressure. Though only forty shots were fired in today’s testing, the ammunition seemed quite reliable with the two magazines used.
I noted no unusual problems in cleaning the gun’s bore, something I have not been able to say when using Barnes X-bullets in certain rifles. At normal handgun speeds I do not think this will present any concerns whatsoever.
Frankly, I was surprised to see that this light 80-gr. bullet penetrated as much as it did. I expected about 3 1/2 to 4″ penetration. Perhaps the spaces between the sharp, stiff “petals” enhance its ability to drive deeper while still causing a wider permanent wound channel that ball for sure and many hollow points in this caliber. I think the fact that the expanded bullet doesn’t flatten out might help in this regard as well. Whatever the reasons are, the ammunition penetrated better than I expected. Hopefully, those with more sophisticated testing methods will be reporting soon. If their results show that the .380 DPX gets 12″ or more penetration, I’d probably go with this load over any other in this caliber.
Sounds like the “magic bullet” thing doesn’t it? Nope! I don’t think the .380 can be made into a “stomper” caliber that can compete toe-to-toe with considerably more potent rounds, but I absolutely do believe that this load enhances its ballistic capability. To my layman mind, it appears that trying to use the “best” ammunition one can in a given caliber is a good thing, but rather than trying to make that caliber something it is not, accept its limitations, but learn to use it quickly and accurately.