Last year I did an article on Browning’s Black Label .22 LR pistols (MIGHTY MINIATURE: Browning Black Label 1911-22, April 2015 S.W.A.T.). They are tiny clones of properly equipped 1911s in defensive calibers, with high-visibility fixed sights and enlarged grip and thumb safety. I bought two of them, one with a rail and one without, and have been shooting the hell out of them—they’re great.
The 2015 SHOT Show revealed the next step: a Black Label in .380 ACP. The .380 is usually considered the bottom line in defensive pistols, and most police agencies I know allow a .380 as the minimum for off-duty or second guns. But with modern ammunition, it is not a bad choice for those who have small hands or are recoil sensitive. And although the .380 may seem minimal to most Americans, it’s used regularly by police officers all across Europe.
I thought a .380 might be of interest to S.W.A.T. readers, so I arranged a sample gun.
BROWNING BLACK LABEL IN .380
The gun is almost identical to the .22s mentioned earlier. The only difference is a barrel length one-half inch longer. This made it a little less comfortable when carried in a bellyband, but guns are supposed to be … S.W.A.T. readers can surely complete this sentence.
I sent the gun to Jon Grossman of SheepDog Knife & Gun to remove the magazine release safety, clean up the trigger, and build a couple of right- and left-handed IWB holsters. As always, the work was outstanding and quickly done.
I did have some trouble locating .380 ammunition. My local gun store had a partial box of factory ball of unknown age and history. It looked clean and uniform and they were happy to get rid of it. Winchester stepped into the breach and provided their high-quality PDX1 Defender hollow-point defensive rounds.
I fieldstripped and cleaned the pistol, which is pure 1911—no surprises. I function fired the little gun with the ball and there were no malfunctions. I was surprised that it shot well, with little muzzle flip and good accuracy. It seemed to have less bark and bite than my old PPK/S. Even with ball of questionable ancestry, the gun held one-hole groups at five yards—not bad for a pocket pistol.
I was more surprised when I was hitting clay birds stuck in bushes and on stumps out to ten to 15 yards. I cleaned the gun and stuck it in the safe until it was time for my annual trip to Thunder Ranch. Clint Smith, a legend in the gun world, holds one weekend every year for my martial arts students and me.
The nine-hour drive flew by in the company of Sgt. Rob Boothe, Spokane, Washington PD, with the Browning tucked into the IWB holster, with a spare mag in an IWB carrier. The lightweight and compact gun and mag pouch went practically unnoticed on the long drive.
ON THE RANGE AT THUNDER RANCH
We arrived at Thunder Ranch early, and Clint turned us loose on the range. We decided to run the .380 through some drills with the Winchester Defender, shot by Boothe and myself.
Each of us fired five-shot groups at seven yards, with all the rounds touching. We performed fail-to-stop drills, non-standard responses (five to seven hits in the torso), and head and pelvis shots.
We switched to steel, getting solid hits in compressed time frames out to ten or 12 yards. We fired 100 rounds of Winchester Defender ammunition without a single malfunction.
Both of us were impressed by the little Browning’s accuracy, reliability, and ease of shooting. We both carry .45s most of the time but agreed the compact .380 would be a handy gun for summer clothing or as a second weapon for those of us who usually carry two guns. As I write this, it’s 107 degrees, so when I ran into the grocery store, the .380 went into the IWB holster under a loose tank top.
I figure that a small pistol (.22, .38 or .380) is an up-jumps-thedevil at close range affair. I’d probably be at bad-breath distance and I practice presentations to head shots often. I’d likely press the trigger several times quickly in that type of situation. A round or two should find their way inside the brain-housing group and solve the problem.
The Browning Black Label .380 is a reliable, accurate, lightweight compact pistol, on the low end of defensive calibers. If you believe that any gun is better than no gun, and that a small pistol in hand is better than a big pistol at home in the safe, the Black Label .380 is a good choice.