Springfield’s 911, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The .380
What’s the problem with .380 ACP? It’s not 9 mm Luger.
Never mind that smaller, lighter and slower cartridges were used to good effect by the world’s military and law enforcement entities for much of the 20th century, the American ethos regarding auto-loading pistol calibers goes something like this: 9 mm is good, and your gun can hold lots of them; .40s are snappy to shoot, but have proven performance; and .45s—the most American of pistol calibers—are king.
The .380, then, is widely regarded as, at best, a marginal defensive round. The opinion, I believe, stems not only from the ballistic capabilities of the cartridge itself, but also the guns designed to fire it. Originally designed by John Moses Browning, the .380 ACP was developed for use in the Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless semiautomatic pistol, which, as the name implies—and despite long military service as a holster gun—was a firearm designed to be small and snag free for pocket carry. Sound familiar? Firearms chambered for .380 ACP have generally stayed true to JMB’s original design: small, lightweight, easy to conceal. Such guns tend to have a minimum of features, and they aren’t particularly easy to shoot due to their foreshortened dimensions and lack of useable sights, but they do meet an important demand for super low-profile firepower.
The counter-balance to power is accuracy. Whether in hunting scenarios or personal defense encounters, shot placement is a critical factor that determines lethality in the final equation—especially when lighter, “softer” cartridges are in play. And with good shot placement, even the “marginal” .380 ACP becomes a reliable fight stopper. Unfortunately, despite the .380 ACP’s modest recoil, most pocket pistols still do not provide ample grip areas, better-than-fair sights, or other accuracy-enhancing features that would promote good shot placement, lending the whole .380 category its reputation as tools of last resort.
Enter the Springfield 911—a .380 pocket pistol that is easy to shoot, and shoot well. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun at the range.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way—yes, the name is a little silly. Then again, in such a busy market it’s hard to be original, and everyone’s branding and naming conventions are getting silly (it really makes you admire Glock’s adherence to its simple, chronological numbering system). And, yes, it is very similar to another… ahem… 1911-style .380 from a Northeastern gunmaker. The 911, though, seems to offer a bit more bang for the buck, especially in the features department (see the G&GD Preview here).
At its core, the Springfield 911 is a hammer-fired, recoil-operated self-loading pocket pistol with all the bells and whistles. Despite its small size—it boxes at 5.5” long by 3.9” tall with the flush 6-round magazine and a 2.7” barrel—the 911 offers shooters performance enhancing upgrades not usually seen on backup guns: good, bright, tritium-powered night sights; hand-filling grip with slim G10 stocks and full-360 texturing; and small, but usable, bilateral manual safeties. In the hand, it really does feel larger than its dimensions, and much more substantial than some similar platforms. With the grip extending 7-round mag, the 911 is downright easy to handle.
Where the 911 really shines, though, is on the range.
This gun is really a peach. Not only did it reliably cycle a few hundred rounds of mixed .380 ACP ammunition during a recent range session, it was impressively accurate. On shots from 3 yds. to 20 yds., bullet impacts were right-on for a center hold behind the bold outline of the Ameriglo front sight. Recoil was virtually nil, which also aided accuracy for rapid, subsequent shots. You don’t expect a .380 to hammer you, but some polymer guns can still feel a bit snappy in recoil. The 911 was definitely more reminiscent of a good 1911, with recoil manifesting itself in a smooth, almost rhythmic cycle, that naturally returns the sights to the target. That consistency of function makes it very easy to control the pace of fire—ramping up or throttling back as each shot requires.
Overall, I was left very impressed with Springfield’s new platform. I ran the gun fast, repeatedly plugging 7 rounds into the large A-zone of a USPSA target as fast as I could work the trigger. I also dialed it back, really concentrating on sight picture and trigger press to shoot the smaller “head” zone ragged. The gun cycled a range of 90 and 95-gr. ball loads without issue, as well as Federal’s Micro HST 99-gr. JHPs—a load designed to provide a reliably expanding bullet, even when fired from short-barreled pistols. The 911 just plain performed, and, considering how quickly I was able to deliver accurate shots on target, it has changed my perception about the viability of a .380 for personal defense.
A few considerations for carrying the Springfield 911:
- Get a good holster. Whether you plan to carry in an IWB rig or in the pocket, the 911 is an exposed-hammer design intended for cocked-and-locked carry, so you’ll want a good holster that covers the trigger.
- Find ammo that works, and works for you. Try several loads to ensure the gun will run reliably, and that you can run the gun. Also consider finding a range load that shoots and recoils in a manner similar to your defensive load—perfect practice, and all that jazz.
- Consider adding a laser. The tiny 911 does not possess an accessory rail, but laser grips will add an incredibly useful sighting device to the platform, without changing the gun’s low-profile lines. In fact, Springfield will be offering a factory model of the 911 in just such a configuration.
- Practice, practice, practice. If you’re not familiar with drawing from a pocket, that is a new skill that will require repetition. As well, the gun’s manual safeties are much smaller and less exposed than those on a full-size 1911, so learning to reliably engage and disengage them is critical.
Chris A. Carter is a lifelong shooter who got hooked on firearms as a Boy Scout earning the Rifle Shooting merit badge at summer camp. Chris hails from the Midwest, is an NRA-certified instructor, and has a keen interest in introducing new shooters to the various disciplines, and showing them that shooting is a fun activity, as well as a life-saving skill.