A common question for people looking to buy their first handgun is what’s better a 9mm or 380? Let’s jump into the tables and graphs so you can see exactly the pros and cons of each cartridge:
Table of Contents
How To Use This Article
I used similar grain bullets (95 vs 115 gr) for the two cartridges for a more apples-to-apples comparison.
The Ballistic Tables
If you want a 1-on-1 comparison table comparison from 0 to 100 yards in 25-yard increments for any of these ballistics, you can find that after the graphs in the ballistic tables section.
The Ballistic Graphs
Keep in mind that with different bullet grains, you will get slightly different results than shown below. But you can use the information below to determine the potential of each caliber.
Let’s jump into the graphs first because they’ll answer your broader questions faster.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Velocity Ballistic Comparison Graph
From the graph below you can see that the 9mm, even with a heavier 115-grain bullet is faster by 200 fps at the muzzle. The speed does drop off faster with the 9mm at first, but at about 40 yards it loses velocity at about the same rate as the 380. After about 40 yards there is about 135 fps difference. So how does velocity affect the bullet trajectory of these rounds? Let’s move onto the next graph.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Trajectory Ballistic Comparison Graph
You can see that the higher speed of the 9mm gives it a flatter trajectory than the 380. Though the difference here is pretty marginal until you get to about 100 yards. Other than that you’re talking just a couple of inches. So was the extra velocity in the 9mm worth it then? Let’s jump to the bullet energy graph next.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Energy Ballistic Comparison Graph
Energy = 1/2 × mass × velocity2. Since the 9mm bullet is heavier and faster, it has an advantage over the 380 when it comes to bullet energy. Similarly to the velocity, within 40 yards the 9mm has much more energy, around 140 ft-lbs more. After 40 yards the difference in energy retention remains about the same, with the 9mm having about 100 ft-lbs more energy.
From 0 to 100 yards, the 380 has 172.6 ft-lbs of energy on average whereas the 9mm has 288 ft-lbs, a difference of 115.4 or on average the 9mm is 67% more powerful. For self-defense, this makes a difference.
But if it’s more powerful does it have more recoil? Let’s move on to the recoil graph.
380 vs 9mm Recoil Comparison Graph
Recoil is interesting when it comes to handguns because there are more factors than just the cartridge. For example, in the graph below you will see a Glock 42 (.380) vs a Glock 43X (9mm), these two guns have marginal differences in recoil. This is because of the weight of the two guns (16 oz vs 23 oz). By using a slightly heavier 9mm handgun you can lower the recoil energy and velocity.
I also included a 9mm handgun that is the same weight as the 16 oz 380 for an apples-to-apples comparison. You can see that in an identical handgun (same weight), the 9mm is more than double the recoil energy and has much more recoil velocity than the 380.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Velocity Ballistic Comparison Table
From the table below you can see that the 9mm has more velocity from 0 to 100 yards. It has a 200 fps difference in velocity at the muzzle and a 126 fps difference at 100 yards.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Trajectory Ballistic Comparison Table
From the table below you can see that the 9mm has less bullet drop from 0 to 100 yards even with a heavier bullet. However, there is not much difference in drop until about 100 yards. You’re only having a few inches difference in drop out to 75 yards. Most people don’t need a handgun to shoot 100 yards.
380 vs 9mm Bullet Energy Ballistic Comparison Table
From the table below you can see the 9mm has much more energy than the 380. From 0 to 100 yards, the 380 has 172.6 ft-lbs of energy on average whereas the 9mm has 288 ft-lbs, a difference of 115.4, or the 9mm is 67% more powerful on average.
380 vs 9mm Recoil Comparison Ballistic Table
I would refer to the recoil graph for the best information on recoil in this article. However, you can see in this table how handgun weight affects recoil energy and velocity. You can get a 9mm that recoils similar to a 380 just by increasing the weight of the handgun. It’s up to you to decide the trade-off of weight vs recoil.
380 vs 9mm Final Thoughts
The 9mm is better than the 380 in every way ballistically except recoil. But even then, you might just opt for a heavier 9mm handgun which would make the 9mm feel more like a 380.
There are perks to the smaller 380 rounds. For example, smaller handguns for concealment, ease of use, more bullets in a clip…etc. However, there are great 9mm options that do well in these categories.
It’s up to you to decide if the additional ballistic performance is worth the recoil.
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