I enjoy firing a variety of handguns and I will
give house room to a handgun that does not have a clearly
defined purpose. Numerous
examples exist of the one hand gun have interesting mechanical
features or historical significance. I would never consider some
of these personal defense weapons, nor use them for hunting.
In an in-between position are various small semi-autos.
I enjoy firing, disassembling and examining the handguns
but cling to my various snub .38s and 1911 type pistols for
personal defense. Recently,
I tested two better examples of the .380 auto pistol out
of curiosity. Beginning almost as a lark,
I came away with an appreciation for this genre.
No, I wonít retire my Charter
Bulldog .44 but in
certain situations these stylish pistols have much to recommend.
In this day of compact 9mm pistols, we may ask,
why anyone would consider a .380 auto? The fact is, these
pistols have desirable features to many people.
a preference. The
racy and picturesque small semi autos have a certain suave faire
than quite a few shooters are willing to pay for.
Many are satisfied with the fit and feel of these pistols
and find them the perfect size for their personal comfort level.
The blowback pistols commonly chambered in .380 ACP are
less expensive to manufacture than locked breech 9mm types,
resulting in lower prices across the board than the low-end
locked breech 9mm compacts.
Yet, these pistols are inexpensive, not cheap. Some may even call them little gems.
I elected to test two pistols that are in the
same category as far as self defense handguns go.
I hope anyone considering a purchase of either will gain
something from this information.
Both have similar dimensions and the performance of
either is comparable. Both are first shot double action autos. A
long pull of the trigger cocks and fires the pistol. After the
first shot, the slide recoils and cocks the hammer for single
action fire. The handguns are the Bersa
Thunder and FEG
PMK .380. We will refer to each as the Bersa and the PMK for
are in the same price range.
I have seen examples for sale from $199 to $249 or so in
reputable shops. This
is a good price for a quality handgun of any type.
I think that these handguns are popular with many
shooters as they have a reputation for reliability and low
maintenance, and I wished to confirm these perceptions.
First, I did a little sizing up of the two pistols. Here
is what I found:
The PMK is a clone of the Walther PPK.
The pistol resembles the PPK outwardly, but is not as
refined. Still, the pistols performance was comparable to various PPKs
I have fired and owned over the years.
The PMK has a longer and more comfortable grip tang than
the PPK, an important improvement. The Walther is known for
biting the hand of the user, and
the PMKís slight alteration in the grip frame neatly
solves that problem.
My example is finished in a matte blue.
I have seen examples polished in a bright blue equal to
that of practically any make, but some users will prefer the low
profile finish. For
those who find the James Bond mystique attractive, the
PMK fits the bill. However,
the PMK has Walther-like drawbacks as well as appearance.
When the last round is fired, the slide is held back by
the follower in the magazine. There is no slide lock, the
magazine must be removed to lower the slide.
This dates the design. Another drawback is a very stiff
double action trigger. The
weight was off the scale, but I estimate it at sixteen pounds,
perhaps more. As a comparison, a
smooth SIG runs about twelve pounds, a Beretta
thirteen to fourteen pounds and much smoother than the Walther
types. A CZ
can be delivered with an eleven pound double action trigger
a sixteen pound trigger against such a light handgun, without
the leverage of a large grip,
is not conducive to good accuracy.
The double action trigger should be considered a point
blank range option. That limits the user of this handgun.
The single action trigger broke at five and one
half pounds, with some creep. The PMK uses the standard Walther
safety. After loading the gun, the safety is pressed downward to
lower the hammer safely. The PMK may be carried safety on or
safety off. The safety is quite stiff in operation.
Fit and finish of the handgun cannot be faulted,
especially considering the modest price.
The Bersa is a more original design but
obviously owes much to Beretta's influence.
The pistol shows good fit and finish throughout.
Like the PMK, the Bersa features a ring hammer.
However, the Bersa has a slide stop that is superior to
the jam open hold open of the PMK.
The safety of the Bersa works in the same manner as the
PPK, down drops the hammer safely and the down position allows
safe carry. If the
gun is carried in a proper holster, you may wish to carry either
pistol off safe for speed into action and simplicity. The Bersa
has very little travel in the trigger before beginning a smooth
double action compression. This is as smooth a trigger action as
I have ever used, no
matter the price of the handgun.
The double action trigger is a very smooth ten pounds.
This allows the user to have an expectation of quickly
drawing the pistol and making a good hit at conversational
range. The single action trigger broke at four pounds, smooth and
light. The Bersa features a small trigger stop. The Bersa
features a grip tang that comes over the web of the shooters
hand comfortably. I expected this handgun to be comfortable to fire, and I was
Before test firing the handguns, I field
stripped each for initial lubrication. The PMK was more
difficult to field strip. It features the standard Walther type
disassembly in which the trigger guard is unhinged from the
frame and the slide is then pressed to the rear and tipped
upward to free the slide. To replace the slide, reverse the
action, making certain the trigger guard remains unhinged or the
slide will not return to itís original position. The Bersa
features a simple latch on the side of the frame that is turned
down to release the slide. The slide is then moved to the rear
and pulled off the barrel forwards after unlatching at the back.
The PMK design shows its age with a more complicated take
I lubricated each handgun carefully, making
certain the long bearing surfaces were well covered and adding a
drop or two around the slide and barrel juncture. I added a good
squirt into the trigger action of the PMK in hopes the action
might smooth up with use, but this proved wishful thinking.
I had on hand a good selection of ammunition of several
types, including ball ammunition and modern hollow point loads.
When choosing ammunition for a handgun that is underpowered for
defense, reliability must come first.
As power goes down, shot placement becomes more critical.
A light gun with low recoil has much to recommend if it is easy
to use well. The
majority of firing was undertaken with Fiocchi ball
ammunition, an affordable and accurate choice.
I also had on hand a handful of the popular hollowpoint
loads, including the Winchester SXT and Silvertip and the
Hornady XTP. Also, I had fifty rounds of hand loads for each handgun.
The .380 is a wonderfully economical handgun to handload.
Only 3.5 grains of clean burning Hogdgon HP 38
will push a Sierra 90 grain JHP to well over 950 fps,
with typical Sierra accuracy.
I elected to fire the PMK first.
I had the pleasure of having on hand a very nice belt
holster from High Noon holsters.
Of first class leather,
with the distinctive gold nylon thread that is a High
Noon trademark, this is a very nice holster. Designed for the
PPK, this holster fit my PMK perfectly.
I loaded the first magazine, racked the slide, decocked,
and holstered my pistol, safety off. I squared myself to a seven yard silhouette and prepared to
draw and fire. I
drew the PMK smartly - the little pistol slips into the hand
quickly. The front
sight came on target and I pulled the trigger--- and pulled---
and pulled. Finally,
the trigger broke and I sent a shot outside of the X ring into
the far shoulder. Not acceptable.
The gun was cocked now and I aimed for the X-ring.
The remainder of the ball rounds went into a single
I thumbed more of the Fiocchi ball into the
magazine and considered my next move.
I could either hold on the target and try and move the
trigger slowly but smoothly or bring the pistol to the target and than quickly pull the trigger while
attempting to keep the sights on target. This is such an issue I
hesitated to follow through with the rest of the test until I
resolved the problem of controlling such a heavy trigger.
Neither technique worked for me, then I remembered the
Master technique. This is a technique developed years ago,
during the dawn of the issue of double action pistols to peace
officers. It is not
the easiest to master but might be faster than thumb cocking for
the first shot. I
drew the gun and just after my hands met in front of my belt
buckle in a solid two hand hold, I began trigger compression.
Just as the front sight came on target I broke the shot.
After some acclimation I began to see improved results,
but this is not a tactic that can be used successfully
without practice. I
also practiced drawing the pistol and cocking it as it came on
target - NEVER cocking the hammer while the PMK was in the
holster! In the single action mode, the pistol was enjoyable to
fire, with a tendency to place all of the rounds into the X
ring. The pistol
proved capable of feeding all JHP styles including my handloads.
But the long double action trigger press dogged my
The Bersa was a different story.
I didnít have a suitable leather holster but used one
of the handy plastic holsters from Fobus. This proved
acceptable as a range holster and certainly is a good option for
those hard to fit handguns. I loaded the Bersa and stood ready
to draw and fire. As
I decocked the Bersa, I found the controls not as stiff as the
PMK. Holstering the
piece, I took a deep breath and shot my elbow to the rear,
cupping the pistolís grip in my hand and bringing the pistol
on target. As the
front sight lined up with the X-ring, I pressed the trigger in a
sweeping arc to the rear. I almost fired before I intended to,
there is such as difference in the trigger action!
The smooth double action press of the Bersa allows a high
hit probability. I
decocked the action and fired a run of two magazines, decocking
and firing each shot double action.
I was rewarded by a well centered group in the X-ring. The pistol proved smooth and accurate to a first shot.
In the single action mode it was no problem to center
each shot in the X ring. Overall,
excellent performance. The
Bersa fed everything I could stuff in the magazine.
I settled down to weighing down a man sized
silhouette at ten yards. I
would fire all of these rounds single action, and this would
even out the guns' performance, factoring out the long and heavy double action first shot of
the PMK. I emptied
several magazines from each gun, firing as quickly as I could
pull the trigger. The
pistols are very controllable.
Firing Fiocchi ball for record,
I simply ate the X-ring out of either target.
In this test, the pistols were comparable, with little to
choose from in performance. I fired a handful of rounds from the Bersa double
action as a test and found that I could center punch a target
quickly at ten yards in the double action mode.
This would not have been possible with the PMK.
I was beginning to see that the concept of a high
quality, accurate and controllable .380 auto may have some
this point each gun had fired one hundred rounds each. There
were no failures to feed, chamber fire or eject.
I settled down to fire a number of groups at
fifteen yards, to test for absolute accuracy.
I felt that 25 yards is unrealistic for a compact semi-auto
pistol, and the limits of small sights and my eyes were
frame fixed-barrel semi-autos can be surprisingly accurate. I have fired numerous Walthers and SIG P 230 type handguns
that were practically as accurate as service pistols. The performance of the two .380s in this test were not
is more than accurate enough for defense, even for precision
shooting at moderate range.
This is important in a small caliber defense gun.
It also makes practice more enjoyable.
five shot groups at fifteen yards/ Group in inches
grain Sierra JHP/HP 38
95 grain ball
90 grain JHP
SXT 90 grain JHP
Hills 90 grain XTP
90 grain XTP
When it comes to personal defense loads,
we must have adequate penetration. With that in mind,
ball ammunition is sometimes chosen in the lighter calibers.
number of JHP loads offer sufficient penetration in a frontal
shot, although a transverse shot might be another matter.
Notably, the Fiocchi load, at 1,030 fps, was consistently
faster than competing loads,
offering good expansion in limited testing in wet
newsprint. The XTP
bullet used in the Black Hills load and the Hornady
product offered a good balance of expansion and penetration.
The Winchester SXT was the most accurate.
I wouldnít fault anyone who chose any of these JHP
loadings. Shot placement is what will carry the day in this
caliber. I am none
too enthusiastic considering the .380 ACP cartridge, but we can
see the cartridge and the guns that chamber it are accurate,
reliable and controllable.
gun would I choose? They are both well worth their modest price.
Each is reliable, accurate, and well fitted and finished. But the Bersa has the more modern features,
a superior slide lock and take down,
and the Bersa trigger is not simply nice...it is superb.
The PMK trigger action is rough.
Unless you are willing to spend money on adroit
Bersa wins this contest hands down.
Those who like the classic Walther styling may disagree
and may ignore the double action trigger.
Thatís fine, itís your hide but for overall utility
the Bersa is my choice. Now,
if I can just find a .22 version of the pistol to compliment my
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