Skip to Content

.357 Magnum vs .380 ACP | Detailed Comparison

The .357 Magnum and the .380 ACP are popular handgun cartridges known for their control, accuracy, and versatility. While the .357 Magnum is best for self-defense and hunting, the .380 ACP is more cost-effective and easier for novices. 

This article will discuss the similarities and differences between the .357 Magnum and the .380 ACP, including factors such as ballistics, cost, and self-defense applications. 

How Similar Are .357 Magnum and the .380 ACP?

The .357 Magnum and the .380 ACP differ in many ways, but they’re both categorized in the .38 family. Most gun manufacturers include handguns specifically made for these calibers, and they remain one of the most popular kinds of ammunition out there. 

The one you choose will depend on which is more suitable for your lifestyle. Many people value the power of the .357 Magnum, while others find the ear-splitting bang to be a deal-breaker. Here are the pros and cons of each kind to consider: 

.357 Magnum

The .357 Magnum is an extremely powerful round that’s great for a variety of activities such as hunting and silhouette competitions. 


  • Powerful 
  • Accurate 
  • Popular in law enforcement 
  • Easy to find 


  • Hard recoil that may inhibit accurate rapid-fire 
  • Shorter barrels reduce the cartridge’s velocity 
  • Difficult Double Action Trigger 
  • Loud 

.380 ACP 

The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is an excellent round better suited for those who dislike the loudness or hard recoil of the .357 Magnum. 


  • Controllable for those with weaker hands or arthritis 
  • Decent self-defense round 
  • Reputation for reliability 
  • Easy to find 
  • Guns tend to be small so that they can be concealed easily 


  • Some brands lack the power to penetrate the recommended 12 inches (30.5 cm) 
  • No longer as popular with the rise of compact 9mms 

Can You Use .357 Magnum and .380 ACP Cartridges Interchangeably?

Since the .380 ACP and .357 Magnum can technically be used interchangeably. Still, it’s ideal to use the cartridge recommended by the manufacturer. Also, be sure to thoroughly test the ammunition at a range before relying on it. 

.357 Magnum vs .380 ACP: Ballistics

Ballistics is the term used to describe a cartridge’s behavior in flight. 

For ammunition selection, ballistics is measured using velocity in feet per second (fps) and muzzle energy, which is how much weight a bullet can displace over a one-foot distance. Muzzle energy is measured in a unit called foot-pounds (ft-lbs) and is taken at the gun’s muzzle when fired. 

Foundry Outdoors compiled a comprehensive guide that uncovers the estimated average results of each cartridge. However, it’s important to note that since many cartridge manufacturers make these bullets, the statistics will vary depending on the brand of ammo you use. 

Here are the average results: 

CaliberVelocity (fps)Muzzle Energy (ft-lb)
.357 Magnum1290 (393.2 m/s)530 (718.6 J)
.380 ACP980 (298.7 m/s)190 (257.6 J)

Is the .357 Magnum Better for Self-Defense?

The .357 Magnum is better for self-defense, as it goes above and beyond the .380 ACP. Self-defense requires a reliable cartridge that will cause enough of a shock wave and internal damage to slow down an assailant. Still, both are adequate. 

The .357 Magnum holds the FBI record for the most one-shot stops, and it’s no wonder, considering the ballistic statistics. Even if you don’t hit your assailant in a particularly vital area, the fight will most likely be overdue to the shock wave from the impact. 

However, it has enough power to go through walls, so you could potentially hit and fatally wound an unintended target. Because of this, those with a weaker grip or who suffer from arthritis may struggle during the recoil. 

The noise is also worth considering. Since the .357 Magnum is so loud, it could easily damage the ears of anyone nearby, including you and your loved ones. 

On the other hand, for those who have difficulty shooting more powerful guns, the qualities of the .380 ACP offer a significant amount of control. 

As the smaller round, .380 ACP is more easily concealable than the .357 Magnum. Many of the handguns that use this round are smaller too, so it might receive points for the element of surprise. 

The Role of Shot Placement and Practice in Self-Defense

Many gun owners argue that power doesn’t matter as much as shot placement. If you are more comfortable with a .380 ACP and know the strengths and limitations of your gun and bullet inside and out, the caliber and power of your bullet won’t matter as much. 

Police recommend hitting center mass, which includes the chest, which houses the lungs and heart. The head is also an excellent place to aim for, particularly around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Still, it will be more difficult to hit since it’s a smaller target, especially in stressful situations. 

Paramount Tactical Solutions put together a list of the things you should consider for self-defense situations when thinking about the comfort of your weapon and caliber and whether or not you can use them in stressful situations. Here are a few of the items: 

  • Can you accurately shoot your weapon one-handed? 
  • Are you able to shoot rapid-fire? 
  • Will your caliber do significant damage even if you don’t hit center mass? 
  • If you miss, will your cartridge over-penetrate? 
  • Can your gun hold a high amount of ammunition? 
  • Are you used to training under stress? 
  • Do you include finding cover and engaging a moving target in your training regimen? 
  • Do you train with reduced profile targets? 
  • Are you able to hit your target when there are “no shoot” targets around? 
  • Are you able to draw your weapon instinctively? 
  • Is your holster placement safe, secure, and accessible? 

All of these things will affect how you perform in a self-defense situation, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with your gear and practice with your cartridge to learn how it performs. After all, if you hit an attacker in the chest with a .380 ACP, it’s a lot better than missing with a .357 Magnum. 

Is the .537 Magnum or .380 ACP More Cost-Effective?

The .380 ACP is more cost-effective than the .537 Magnum, especially among the popular brands. For example, the Winchester USA White Box .380 ACP stands at under $1 per round, while the Remington Wheel Gun .357 Magnum is just over $1 per round. 

What Is the Best .380 ACP Ammo?

The best .380 ACP ammunition includes Winchester USA White Box, Hornady Critical Defense, and Federal Hydra-Shok. By comparison, the most cost-effective option is the Winchester USA Box, which has almost the same muzzle velocity as the other two. 

  • Winchester USA White Box: This is one of the best brands, complete with 95 grains (6.2 grams), and has a full metal jacket. 
  • Hornady Critical Defense: A notable trait of this cartridge is its high muzzle velocity of around 1,050 feet per second (320 m/s), which is high for .380 ACP. 
  • Federal Hydra-Shok: This round has decent penetration and expansion, and as the name implies, it’s more water-resistant due to the nickel coating. 
BrandMuzzle Velocity (fps)CostBullet Weight (Grains)Bullet Style
Winchester USA White Box955 (291 m/s)~$0.60 per Round95 (6.2 grams)Full Metal Jacket, Flat Nose
Hornady Critical Defense1,000 (304.8 m/s)~$1.20 per Round90 (5.8 grams)Flexing Tip, Expansion
Federal Hydra-Shok1,000 (304.8 m/s)~$1.60 per Round90 (5.8 grams)Jacketed Hollow Point

What Is the Best .357 Magnum Ammo?

The best kinds of .357 Magnum ammunition for self-defense include Remington Wheel Gun, Buffalo Bore, and Federal Premium Personal Defense HST. The Remington Wheel Gun ammunition is the most cost-effective. However, if you face self-defense threats, the Federal Premium might be the way to go.

  • Remington Wheel Gun: Perfect for competitive target shooting because of its flat tip, Remington Wheel Gun ammunition was designed specifically for revolvers. 
  • Buffalo Bore: Designed for deep penetration that can tear through both flesh and bone. It’s perfect for more difficult threats like bears. 
  • Federal Premium Personal Defense HST: This round was designed for law enforcement, and it continues to be a favorite. 
BrandMuzzle Velocity (fps)CostBullet Weight (Grains)Bullet Style
Remington Wheel Gun 1,235 (376.4 m/s)~$1.15 per Round158 (10.2 grams)Lead Semi-Wadcutter
Buffalo Bore1400 (76.7 m/s)~$2 per Round180 (11.7 grams)Hard Cast, Long Flat Nose
Federal Premium Personal Defense HST1,240 (378 m/s)Over $2 per Round125 (8.1 grams)Jacketed Hollow Point

Final Thoughts

Comparing the .357 Magnum and .380 ACP is like comparing oranges and grapes. While both are high-quality cartridges, each has its strengths in certain situations. 

In self-defense, the .357 Magnum has enough power from the shock wave to stop an attacker even if not vitally hit. However, the .380 does a good job with shot placement. 

Ultimately, those who don’t mind the loudness of the .357 Magnum and have the hand strength to maintain accurate control will succeed with Remington Wheel Gun ammunition. Those who prefer more easily controlled, quieter rounds will be satisfied with something similar to the Winchester USA White Box.

For more, check out .357 vs .45 ACP for Self Defense | Which Is Better?