What about Corbon .380 ACP Pow'R Ball for defense?

When one considers a handgun for “serious purposes”, i.e.: self-protection, more important than anything else is reliability; it MUST fire and function when the trigger is pressed.

If it doesn’t, you are probably dead.

Whether we “trust” .380 ACP or not as a defense load, few would argue that it was intended for any other purpose when Mr. Browning introduced this cartridge.  Though I personally do not put the round at the top of my list for protection calibers, I do enjoy some of the firearms chambered for 380. Be that as it may, quite a few folks do use and carry this caliber.  It may be in one of the newer, smaller designs or one with classic lines such as the Beretta 84/85 series, SIG-Sauer P230/232 or Walther PP-series.  Whether “new” or “old”, it has got to work.

One school of thought suggests carrying nothing but FMJ “ball” in the .380 ACP.  The reason most cited is “adequate penetration” but I believe that some might be hesitant to admit that their favorite 380 just is not all that reliable with other than a round-nose bulleted load.  Other folks cite the cartridge’s less than stellar “street history” with ball and opt for the expanding bullet to increase the cartridge’s potential to deck an opponent.  Either is a valid concern in my opinion.

Corbon and other ammunition manufacturers have offered JHP 380 ammo for decades.  Some, like Federal’s “Classic” 90-gr. JHP mimics the FMJ bullet’s ogive but none do it better than Corbon with their Pow’R Ball.

This Pow’R Ball bullet appears almost identical to the 380 Glaser Safety Slug, but it is an entirely different design.  Where the safety slug is a thin-jacketed bullet containing a core tightly compressed shot designed to aggressively fragment, Pow’R Ball is a jacketed gaping hollow point that has the cavity filled with a plastic plug.  Upon impact, this plug is forced back into the cavity, permitting a gap between it and the deeply-skived jacket to appear all the way around!  The light-for-caliber slug is able to penetrate while this is happening, but it then expands in extremely aggressive fashion.  Because its hollow cavity is not exposed until penetration has begun, the round has performed well in tests where intermediate targets have to be penetrated before the bullet enters 10% ballistic gelatin.  It has proven a consistent expander.

From left to right: Corbon 70-gr. Pow’R Ball, Hornady 90-gr. Critical Defense, Federal 90-gr. JHP, and Winchester 95-gr. FMJ.  That the Pow’R Ball most closely resembles the FMJ is very obvious.

So, we have a fast, reliably-expanding bullet that feeds like FMJ for serious purposes.

I cannot prove it but I strongly suspect that this idea came from the old Geco “Blitz Action Trauma” 9mm bullet from the ‘80’s.  I also think that perhaps Hornady’s 380 Critical Defense FTX bullet could be called “Son of Pow’R Ball” as it is very similar in construction, operates the same way, but has a malleable “plug”.  380 FMJ has traditionally weighed in at about 95-gr. @ 950 ft/sec.  (Some makes actually achieve that nominal velocity; others do not, and much depends on barrel length.)  Most JHP’s hit the scales at 88 to 90-gr.  Corbon Pow’R Ball is light-for-caliber, 70-gr.  That said, its advertised velocity is 1100 ft/sec, but does it actually attain that?

 Chronography: In a word, “yes”.  Based on 10-shots fired 10’ feet from the chronograph screen, the average velocity from my Bersa Series 95, the precursor to the current “Thunder Series”, was 1119 ft/sec, with a Standard Deviation of 14.

Pistol: I chose the Bersa because it is the smallest 380-caliber pistol I own.  The 3.5” bbl on the Bersa is as short as I have.  Bersa Thunder pistols are also pretty darned reliable and priced so that they’re quite popular.  All shooting was done with this Bersa. 

This Bersa Series 95 was used for all shooting of the Pow’R Ball ammunition.  Though it does not balk at JHP’s, even the bluntest I’ve tried, I do like Pow'R Ball's rounded ogive in this aluminum-framed pistol.  It does not ding up the aluminum frame below the steel portion of the barrel’s feed ramp.

Expansion Testing:  I am not wealthy nor do I have a temperature-controlled lab so that I can use 10% ballistic gelatin and get repeatable results.  I have not coughed up the money for “Perma-Gel”.  Instead, I use what Col. Cooper did years ago.  I shoot super-saturated newsprint.  I soak it for 24-hours and then drain it 30 minutes before shooting.  It does not give the same results as gelatin, the gold standard of expansion media.  That does not mean that it is useless in my view.  Results have been similar to what I’ve seen when expanded bullets have been pulled out of animals I shot as well as some seen taken from people in my past as a police officer.  The bullets are usually not as symmetrical in non-homogeneous animals and humans as in gelatin, which has one uniform consistency.  (I have been told that gelatin’s homogeneous nature makes no difference, but I do not believe it.)  Anyway, looking over “gelatin penetration” data from several sources, I found that multiplying the bullet’s penetration depth in soaked newsprint by 3 and then dividing by 2 will come in fairly close to the penetration in gelatin…and that’s what I do.  It has proven to be pretty consistent in predicting how deeply a bullet will penetrate in gelatin. Others may prefer a different method.  Anyway, that’s what was done today.

I shot five 70-gr. Pow’R Balls into the “wet pack” from 10’ with an average penetration depth of 5”. Just for comparison, I did the same with Hornady’s 90-gr. Critical Defense FTX load and Federal 90-gr. JHP.  The FTX averaged 6 1/4” and the Federal, 5 3/4”.  This means that in 10% ballistic gelatin, you would probably see the Pow’R Ball average about 7 ˝” of penetration.  Tests I’ve seen have run from about 7 to 8 ˝”.  The Hornady would get about 9 .4” penetration and the Federal, 8.6”.   Are any of these “sufficient” for self-protection against human beings?  In my opinion, they are ONLY if used in a frontal, unobstructed torso shot.  Of course, this can never be guaranteed.  If any of these bullets hit an arm while on the way to the spine, it may very well fall short.

Here is a picture of a couple of the expanded Pow’R Ball bullets.  They expanded very reliably and were consistent.  It is also evident that the jacket fragmented.  I did not recover all of the fragments for all five bullets, but the average weight of the recovered expanded lead bullets and jackets was 57.4 grains.  Average expanded diameter was 0.504” x 0.492”, with the lead bullets resembling little flattened pancakes.

Here is how the Pow’R Ball compared with a few other expanding bullets. I have no idea why the Pow'R Ball lead bullet cores are darker unless it is a different alloy.  They are dark gray while the other two bullets are much brighter.

Accuracy:  I shot at 10 and 12 yards, no closer and no farther.  The reason that I shot at 10 yards one time and 12 the next is a simple one.  I forgot that I’d fired at 10 yards, mistakenly remembering 12!  All shots were fired from a standing position, using a two-hand hold.  I fired only in single-action and there was no effort at speed.  I wanted to see if the stuff would group.

From my pistol, the load hits very close to the POA, which is the middle of the dark circle and marked on the target.  It strikes just a tad high and to the left in this particular gun…but close enough in my opinion. I let the “flyer” happen with poor trigger control on the third shot.

To see where the Pow’R Ball hits compared to standard Ball, I fired three shots of both at the same bullseye.  The 95-gr. FMJ’s holes are marked with a line.  I was surprised as I expected the 70-gr. Pow’R Ball to hit lower.

Observations:  I think that 380 Pow’R Ball still suffers from insufficient penetration except for unobstructed head-on shots if facing an aggressor who will only stop if you physically force him to.  At the same time, I believe that the Pow’R Ball is a better choice than either the Blue or Silver Glaser Safety Slugs.  I do not believe that Pow’R Ball would ever penetrate the average adult male torso.

Felt recoil was “sharper” than the 95-gr. ball but that does not mean that it was “worse”.  It was in no way hard to control or unpleasant at all.

Pow’R Ball is a standard pressure load.  The primer on this recovered case shows no signs of flattening or any other visual indicator that the load produced excessive pressure.

If a .380 ACP pistol will feed ball reliably, I believe it should do the very same with Corbon’s Pow’R Ball.

There were no malfunctions of any kind with Corbon’s Pow’R Ball and it was a very nice surprise that POA was close to POI at what would probably be considered “long” self-defense distances.


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