Monday, March 24, 2014

Blast From the Past - Bersa 380

It's a weapon that's been out for a while, and there it was again, for sale at the gun store, at a price I was really surprised at. I picked it up, liked how it felt in my hand and REALLY liked the price. Certainly there are a lot of small weapons for sale and cheap, but not all are made with good craftsmanship and quality materials. Holding them up, they may look good, but the metals may be poor, zinc or some sort of mystery metal that may be too heavy or too soft, certainly not guns I'd stack up against someone attempting to attack me on a isolated street. I was looking for something for concealed that wasn't just cheap and light, but was made well. Not for a trip to downtown at night, but something small and light that I could carry running errands or in environmental conditions that result in less bulky clothing or as a back up gun.
When I first spotted one, store owner was quick to point out that this .380 is similar to the Walther PPK/S, including a seven round magazine with a plastic floor plate extension. But I'd just bought a Mark III days prior and passed on the purchase. But after that first fondle, I had a little crush on the Bersa 380. Sure I love my .38 Special, my 1911 and my Sigs, but this one drew me and I added it to my Christmas wish list. Last year my big brother got me a huge stocking completely full of ammo and dark chocolate, so you never know.

I did a little homework. On-line reviewers tend to rate them as reliable, well-built, and strong enough for the average "social situation". There are people that want a gun, but aren't into owning more than one or two, or paying a lot of money. The Bersa might be one of several good gun options in that case. The others, I'm sure my readers can suggest as well.
So I was delighted when my best friend came through and bought me a new one for Christmas, giving it to me early so I could enjoy while my favorite outdoor range is still open. Oh boy! Gun gifts! Out of the box I could see quality. The finish was very well done, in a matte blue with accents of satin nickle. The finish on the steel slide didn't vary from the tones and finish of the matte black alloy frame and the black composite grips. I could add fancier grips to them, but they really didn't need it.

The barrel length is 3 and a half inches, and it weighed in at 20 ounces (much lighter than the oft compared 9x18 Makarov). It's only 1.34 inches wide, which was a draw for me. With the right holster, this fits so snug into my body that I can wear something other than the giant arctic weight Carhart (which they only seem to make in overly large "abominable snowman" sizes) I wore to the outdoor range.

These are the things one must consider if buying a gun strictly for the purpose of CCW - weight, bulkiness, recoil, grip, hand fit and always the caliber. Small and light you WILL have less stopping power, but it is easier to conceal. Better small and light than a choice of NO concealed protection because of what you are wearing or the temperature. A .380 in the pocket is better than a .45 in your nightstand when you are facing someone with a knife as you get into your car in an isolated parking lot.

It also has some quite a few features for the price - manual safety and decocker lever, an internal locking system (not my choice feature but some people need one), a Rowel type hammer, seven shot magazine with extended finger rest, and white-dot windage-adjustable sights. This Bersa has a hammer drop thumb safety that blocks the firing pin and also a magazine safety to prevent accidental firing with the magazine removed from the gun (if you are someone that looks for that). My Thunder 380 also featured an extended slide release and a thumb operated magazine release button, that even with my fairly large size hand (for a girl) was easy to use without awkward reach.

The trigger was really nice, with a hooked and grooved trigger guard, for those who prefer to place a finger in that position. The DA pull is long, but relatively smooth and light. All in all, a very smooth double action trigger as nice as I've seen on guns costing three times as much. The single-action pull would not match that of a finely tuned 1911, but it broke clean and better than I expected. Slide to frame fit was very good. The thumb safety (as seen in the second photo) was easy to use, and works as a dropping lever as well. Down is safe and up being fire (with a small red dot that's exposed when the gun is "hot" as an additional visual clue, albeit a small one). This safety type is just like the Walter PP-series and some other guns like the Beretta 92.

Now of course, there will be people stating that the .380 ACP is just too underpowered. Certainly the .380 isn't my first choice for conceal, but it's a decent choice in some situations. Certainly Fall and Winter, where I can wear a vest or bulky sweater, my .45's are easier to hide. There are times when I'm not traveling somewhere where I need a need a .45 (running out to my shop for something) and there are times with temperature, clothing and environment, the .45 just isn't practical.

The Bersa is easy to conceal with it's relative flat profile. I also like the fact that I can carry it in my Galco holster, snug to my body, hammer down, and one in the chamber, ready to use. The thumb safety/hammer drop left or right handed safety gives that little extra measure of protection if you need or want it. Wearing this close and tight to my body, I'm really not comfy with a single action hammerless pistol with one in the chamber and if I need it, I do NOT want to have to jack the slide to be safe.

Inexpensive, light and good quality. Bersa has got that covered. But we need to talk about what is REALLY important. Reliability -

Simply put, I don't care how pretty it is, or how well it fits under my black silk shirt, I want a gun that goes "BANG" when I tell it to, and will cycle properly for the next shot. As they say, in a gun fight there IS no second place. This is the area where, compared to my little snubby, I had some concerns. Auto pistols are much more finicky, especially small ones like the .380s. The problems are not private -feed ramps that resist some bullets sliding up them into the chamber; extraction and ejection issues, (i.e. the "stovepipe” jam), and underpowered or "dud" rounds that fail to cycle the action. 

It may not be a big deal if a small auto balks occasionally when the target is tin cans or some harmless clown. When it’s an armed criminal, OBT (Occasional Bullet Disfunction) can’t be tolerated. Both the small .38 and the .380 are normally selected for close-range defense in the gravest extreme. These guns aren't usually purchased for sporting but for self defense.
So how did it do? Outdoor range. It was cold, I could see my breath after each shot, and yes my hands were cold. I had gloves but decided to shoot without to see how I did. One shouldn't always practice when it's warm, dry and sunny out. Usually on those days, the bad guys are sunning themselves on their rocks anyway. No, you will likely use your weapon when the lighting is poor, and it's nasty and cold. So an occasional shoot, if you're not fighting a cold or sinus thing, on a cold snowy day is ideal.
My first magazine, I shot off quick and from low ready. Succession was fast - bang bang bang bang bang bang bang (and I could have added one more bang had I put one round in the chamber to add to the 7 in the magazine, but I didn't). I like a pistol where I can see the sights quickly with speed. This is a gun that may mis-fire if you "limp wrist" it so a firm grip is important.
First shots, out of the box at 20 yards. Any of those shots should have stopped him, certainly, and for a first shoot I was pleased. For a three and half inch barrel, the accuracy in the "hot zone", at a 20-30 foot distance, was great and was quite controllable with quick firing.

Felt recoil is subjective. I thought this more a "mid size" than a tiny pocket pistol and the recoil was minimal to the point I didn't even notice; in part
due to the textured surface and shape of the grip panels as well as grooved forward and aft surfaces of the frame. The recoil of the slide causes a push back thrust to the hand, which results in almost no muzzle jump. It was also more comfortable than the Walter PP .380 as it didn't try and bite me with both the hammer and slide.
I got my first mis-feed at 15o rounds. I was trying various bullets. First, some Winchester, then some Silvertips, which it ate up like biscuits and gravy. The feed angle is almost straight in, which enables the weapon to feed the best hollow point you want to get for it.   However it did NOT like the truncated cone bullets (hand loads, Hornady XTP bullets). It did not feed them well, and I had a mis-feed on about 4 of the 40 I fired. NOT acceptable for a concealed piece, but again, I don't normally  do NOT use handloads for anything other than practice.  But I believe that was a handload ammo issue, NOT a gun or bullet brand issue, as all other ammo feed and ejected smoothly and I fired almost 200 rounds of several varieties. So I'll make sure there's some good Silvertips on hand when I carry, or some Cor-Bon 90 grain jacked hollow point.      This is a caliber that if carrying for anything other than plinking, you need to choose your ammunition VERY wisely.

All in all, I think I'd fire another 150 rounds of good ammo through it before I'd give it a complete thumbs up for small auto reliability, but it was very good overall, feeding, firing and ejecting anything other than the those truncated rounds. Any gun can fail on rare occasions. A grain of unburned powder stuck under the extractor star can prevent fully closing the cylinder, and a cartridge case can get stuck under the extended extractor. Things happen, but I want the odds definitely stacked in my favor and won't carry something CCW that hasn't had about 300 rounds through it and been cleaned and lubed a few times. This was cleaned and lubed before first fire, but I found it was going a bit dry at the end and made sure it got a good servicing when I was done. As they say, "how much lube do guns need?". . . and the answer is "more".

Cleaning it was a snap. Just to remind you, unlike my carry Sig which is a locked breach, the Bersa is a "blow back" operated pistol. These typically get dirtier on firing because the action often opens before pressure is completely dropped in 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. However it also means some unspent powder and fouling can accumulate in the action. So cleaning it after each shoot is vital.

Good thing it's so easy to do. The take down lever is located and easy to get to on the lower front of the frame. It's spring-loaded and must be held down while retracting the slide in order to move it for cleaning. I found that if I used my right index finger on the lever and my left hand to work the slide back and up to release it took no real physical strength to get it apart. After cleaning, I checked the frame and slide for undue wear or scratches. The slide-to-frame fit remained very good and no undue wear was noted, still smooth and tight, just a couple small spots where in the future I might give a tiny "fluff and buff" with some very
(800 grit) sandpaper and just gingerly smooth those spots out. I DO NOT recommend you do this without experience however and most guns will not need it.

To sum up -this would not be my first choice for concealed.  Ff I could only buy one and money wasn't an object, the Sig Sauer 232 in 380 would be my first choice.  But it you are economy minded, or just want another addition to your collection, this is an excellent choice for an inexpensive, smaller caliber gun, one that conceals well and handles so that even a novice shooter can get the hang of it quickly.  This of course, is not the "perfect" small gun, but it's something that hides well, shoots well and accuratey and is inexpensive enough that your spouse won't go "you bought another what?" It's a gun that can take the day in and day out beating of constant carry in warm weather.
In the end though, this is more than being about size or economics or being the envy of the neighborhood. It is, as J.R.R. Tolkien said - "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend. (The Two Towers)

My Bersa may be small, but it's mighty.  Joined with the right ammo, it's a light, compact, lethal weapon that I can conceal so easily that it can always be with me, ready to defend.


  1. At the risk of being a richard head, I think you may have made a typo. I think you meant to type Hornady XTP rather than XTO.

    I am interested in carryable .380s. The Taurus TCP is about $100 cheaper. Do you have any thoughts regarding how the Bersa and TCP compare? Unfortunately, there are not very many places where I can fire them side-by-side to form opinions.

    Finally, excellent shooting. I applaud you.

  2. I have a Firestorm .380, which is essentially the Bersa, but with finger grooves. I have never not been pleased with it. I'm not going to say it's as 'nice' as the similar Walther or Sig, but for the price, I have never felt I got a bad deal, and my wife really likes it.

    My only problem with it is if I try to hold it like my CZ-75, I can get side bit.

  3. I have had a Bersa Thunder for going
    on 7 years now and love it. I am getting too old and portly to carry my 1911 with comfort to my body.My wife took it away from me because she liked it so well. Rats !!! I had to go out and by the Thunder Plus which has a 15 rnd capicity. Love it too.

  4. Noted. Thank you.
    Could be my backup.

  5. Thanks for the thorough review.

    The scariest sound in the world is "click" when you expect "Bang!"

  6. Thanks for the thorough review.

    The scariest sound in the world is "click" when you expect "Bang!"

  7. I have owned several Bersas over the past 8 years including 3 chambered for the .380 cartridge and one in .22LR. While there is no argument that either of those rounds is pretty anemic, either will suffice for the close-quarters purpose so long as the shot placement is good.

    Each Bersa has been amazingly accurate without any tune up. And so long as premium ammo is used along with good cleaning, there is no problem with jams.

    Makes me think I should try one of their 9mm models....

  8. I've had a Thunder 9 for several years and just love it. Very good quality, reliability, accuracy and affordable. I've also shot the .45, .380 and the .40 and they all have the same Bersa Quality.

    My problem is finding extra magazines - if you can find them they are really expensive as magazines go.

  9. I have two. One I have shot and carried for 14 years, no problems with reliablity or accuracy even when it doesn't get cleaned as often as it should. I have carried it into trouble without worrying if I had brought enough gun (to late that day). The second one I bought a few years ago as a spare and because the price was right. It is just as accurate and reliable. It will fit in the pocket of my trousers, and rides very well in the pocket of a Field Jacket or Chore Coat. If I know I am going into trouble I will pick up a larger pistol or shotgun, but for toting just in case, it works. I have carried it many miles as back up to rifles and shotguns and seldom have my friends noticed it.

    I have tried the very small .380s and don't like them. To hard to handle, finicky, hard to hit with etc.

  10. Thanks for the detailed review! We have a Bersa .380 range rental. That thing takes a lot of abuse and comes back for more.

  11. Thanks for the review. I know of at least one LEO who uses a Bersa .380 as a backup gun, and he's a bit of a "gun guy", not often synonymous with LEO. JoeMama asks about the Taurus TCP. I haven't owned one, but have a few acquaintances who got rid of theirs with 6 months of purchase. Too many general problems, and slow customer service were their complaints. YMMV, of course. My own Model 709 in 9mm has had no troubles since getting a new slide... ran out of windage adjustment.

  12. I have a cheap Raven Arms .25, for a gun that isn't worth 25 bucks it has never missed properly loading the next shot. Of course it is only good for about ten feet.

  13. Fabulous little weapon ! Thanks for reviewing it !

  14. A nice review Brigid. I just can't warm up to .380, though. It is such a PITA to sort out from 9x19 for reloading. I even have the special .380 sorter plate and it still misses a few.

    I know there are the new gen micro 9mm pistols, but I have not been convinced they are better than a 642.

  15. " occasional shoot, if you're not fighting a cold or sinus thing, on a cold snowy day..."

    I've intentionally shot a match or two on days when I was coming down with or getting over some bug and shoulda stood in bed. (Though of course not to the point of being unsafe to either handle guns or to drive to the range.)

    The results made me glad that our informal league let you toss out your low score for the season. However, they also told me something well worth the entry fee: not just how well I could shoot when having a good day, but how poorly I could shoot when having a bad one.

    At an outdoor range, finding out how your carry gun behaves in sloppy or even merely cold conditions might be a plus... not to mention how glove-compatible its ergonomics are.

  16. I have had one for over 20 years. Has about 4k rounds through it. (different importer, but the same gun I think).

    You'll love it.

    have fun finding a decent holster for it, other than that it is a great gun (except that the safety is all backwards and such).

  17. JoeMama - a typo indeed and thank you for being kind as you pointed it out.

    Thank you all for the feedback on this fine weapon.

    I'm working this week, also at Chapter 30 of "The Book of Barkley" and sort of on a roll with it, a month since his death. So I will have some saved posts but may continue to be a bit scare on blog visits and comments for a few days.

  18. A Stainless Bersa 380 was my first concealed carry gun. Once I polished the feed ramp a little, I never had a lick of trouble. Over the years, I've steadily upped the ante on caliber and size, but the Bersa was my first love. I still have it and a couple times a year, I pack it in the range bag and pop off a few rounds and it never fails to make me smile. :-)

  19. Not particularly a fan of Bersa, or the .380.
    Of course, I wouldn't want to be shot by one, and if my choice it or unarmed combat I'd gladly use it!
    Dave (the genius) has Mauser HSc which is pretty sweet, except for the .380 part...

    PS - he carries a Glock 26.

  20. ON the money about limp wristing... And for the money, it's a workable CCW weapon.

  21. I had one for a minute but I couldn't master the DA. Too much 1911 time maybe.

    On the lube front, I have been using Brian Enos' Slide Glide and it does what it claims to. You put it on and it stays there. I have had no issues with it stiffening up in the cold and my 1911 and .45 XD cycle like butter.


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