Bersa Thunder .380 Auto Pistol Revisited


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

December 28th, 2007




I get a lot of email here at, both from the "ASK JEFF" and "FEEDBACK" sections. Everyday, I answer in excess of 100 reader emails, covering every conceivable gun topic. Some of it is just fan mail, some of it is hate mail, and much of it is of the "what is my gun worth?" type of email. However, since writing about the Bersa Thunder .380 auto pistol over five and one-half years ago, I still get more mail regarding that pistol than any other gun review that I have ever done. Typically, someone reads the review, buys the Bersa, and writes in to tell me how much they enjoy the little pistol.  The article is still in our ARCHIVE section, as are all our articles, and we get new readers everyday who are reading the old reviews and writing in about them. A great deal of the email from new readers is about the Bersa.  Almost all of the feedback on that gun has been positive. I wish that I could state that about every gun that I have reviewed, but I cannot. The typical Bersa buyer is one who wants a good, basic, affordable pistol for personal protection. I have often recommended the Bersa, as it fills that role nicely. Chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge, the Bersa has adequate power, acceptable accuracy, reliable function, relatively light weight, compact design, and all at an affordable price. The Bersa performs better than many .380 pistols that cost twice its price, or more. With the volume of mail received about this dandy little pistol, and in light of recent advancements in .380 ACP ammunition, I thought an update on the Bersa was in order.

The Bersa Thunder shown here is a special version sold only through one distributor; Lipsey’s of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lipsey’s is one of the country’s best gun distributors, and they offer many versions of firearms that are exclusive to them. This special version of the Thunder wears  a matte blued finish to the steel slide and aluminum alloy frame, with the external controls gold plated. The pistol wears a good set of three-dot sights, and the rear is windage adjustable. The Bersa has one of the best double-action trigger pulls on the market, measuring a smooth seven pounds, five ounces on this sample gun. The single action pull measures four pounds, five ounces. The Bersa typically fires the first shot double action, with succeeding shots fired in the single action mode. Pushing downward on the slide-mounted safety lever lowers the hammer, with it falling safety against a steel block that rotates between the hammer and firing pin. The Bersa also has an internal firing pin block, which prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled. There is also a magazine safety that prevents the gun from firing without a magazine in place. Finally, there is also an internal key lock that prevents the gun from firing until unlocked with a key, to secure the gun from unauthorized use. The magazine release is located just above and to the rear of the trigger, and is easily operated by both right and left-handed shooters. The Bersa locks the slide open on an empty magazine, and the slide release is located just above the magazine release. On the right side of the frame is the take-down latch, which easily allows the owner to disassemble the Thunder for cleaning. The barrel is fixed solidly to the frame, with the coil slide spring fitting around the barrel. The Thunder operates on the blowback principle, and the slide is easy to operate  to chamber the first cartridge from the seven-round magazine. Topping off the magazine after loading the chamber makes for a total loaded capacity of eight rounds.

The compact size and light weight of the Bersa makes it a natural for concealed carry. The Thunder weighs in at 19.7 ounces with an empty magazine. The overall height, including the magazine extension and sights, is 4.88 inches. The overall length measures 6.675 inches. The slide thickness is just .863 inch, and the width at the thickest part of the grips measures 1.290 inches.  The Bersa has a three and one-half inch barrel. The Thunder fits nicely into a front pants pocket, and is also a natural choice for carry in a good concealment holster on the belt, whether in a nice leather holster or one of the inexpensive Kydex models available.

Earlier, I alluded to advancements in .380 ammunition. The .380 is adequate for most defensive purposes under ideal conditions with standard ammo, but we are not guaranteed ideal conditions in a gunfight. Where standard .380 ammunition is found lacking is in penetration. If you cannot hit the central nervous system of an attacker, you will usually not get an immediate stop. I prefer penetration above all else in a defensive pistol. Any caliber pistol that is reasonably carried concealed is a compromise in a fight. If given the choice, I prefer a rifle or shotgun.  We carry pistols instead of rifles in our daily lives for convenience. It is hard to go through our everyday chores with a rifle in one hand, so we arm ourselves with a pistol, and hope that we never need it. Like all other concealable pistols, the Bersa .380 is a compromise. Buffalo Bore Ammunition has recently introduced three new .380 ACP loads that exceed the performance of all other .380 Ammunition on the market of which I am aware. Buffalo Bore has upped the velocity, and in one load the weight, over existing ammo choices in the .380 ACP. The goal is deeper penetration. Both the 100 grain lead bullet and the 95 grain full metal jacket ammo has a flat-nosed bullet to improve straight line penetration, while maximizing tissue damage. Their hollowpoint load uses a 90 grain Speer Gold Dot bullet that expands at .380 ACP velocities. In the solids, the cast lead bullet is the way to go, as lead is slicker than bullet jacket material, and results in "free velocity" when compared to the lighter jacketed load. I checked the bullet velocities from the barrel of the Bersa, with the chronograph set at six feet from the muzzle. Air temperature at the time of the tests hovered around the 42 degree Fahrenheit mark. The 100 grain lead bullet registered 1145 feet-per-second (fps). The 95 grain load clocked 1021 fps, and the 90 grain Gold Dot HP load registered 1094 fps.  Keep in mind that all of this is from a three and one-half inch barrel. The performance greatly exceeds that of other producers of high performance .380 ACP ammunition. Also, examining the fired cases showed no signs of excessive pressure. Buffalo Bore uses low-flash powder in their defensive ammunition, so to see how well it works, I fired off a magazine full in the dark. As most serious social conflicts take place in the dark, the muzzle flash is a good point to consider. The flash from the muzzle of the Bersa was very low, and I could clearly see the outline of objects just as easily after firing the rounds as I could before. There was no "fire ball" as is often seen when shooting at night, just a bit of muzzle flash, akin to the weak firecrackers that we have these days. Buffalo Bore ammunition is not cheap, but what is your life worth? You can do your plinking with the cheap stuff, but I recommend you run enough Buffalo Bore through the gun to make sure that everything works well, and carry the Bersa loaded with the Buffalo Bore load of your choice.

I fired the Bersa for accuracy and function at ranges between seven and twenty-five yards. At seven yards, the Bersa grouped tightly enough to assure head shots offhand. At twenty-five yards, all shots could be easily kept on the torso of a half-size human silhouette target firing rapid fire standing. I made no attempt to fire the Bersa for accuracy from a rest. All shots were fired from standing combat positions. This is not a target gun. It is made for resolving extreme social conflicts, and my shooting was aimed towards that type of situation.  I did encounter a few failures with this particular Bersa, which surprised me, as the reports that I receive from hundreds of Bersa owners confirm that it is usually one hundred percent reliable. I traced the feeding failures of this weapon to the lips of the magazine being slightly too wide apart. Squeezing the lips very slightly with a pair of pliers corrected the failures to feed, and no subsequent problems were encountered. That was all it took to make the Thunder a one hundred percent reliable pistol, but it does illustrate the need to thoroughly test any pistol that will be carried for social work to assure that it always works. Anything less is unacceptable.

After all these years that have passed since I started recommending the Bersa Thunder to shooters as a quality, reliable, and affordable weapon that is compact and easy to shoot, I still find it to be a very good choice for a defensive pistol. I always compare a carry gun to my old J-frame .38 Special S&W. The .38 is still a good choice, but some folks prefer the larger capacity and other features of an auto pistol. The Bersa fills the need, at a price that is way under its closest competition, without compromising quality. This special version of the Bersa is only available from dealers who order through Lipsey’s, so if your dealer is not yet a Lipsey’s dealer, they can call toll free 1-800-666-1333 and get set up to order from them.

For the location of a Lipsey’s dealer near you, go to and click on the DEALER FINDER.

For a look at the entire line of Bersa handguns, go to

To order high performance Buffalo Bore ammunition, go to

Jeff Quinn

For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:



Buffalo Bore's high-performance ammo maximizes the .380's defensive potential.



Seven-yard offhand group shows the Thunder .380 is plenty accurate to bet your life on.



At twenty-five yards fired offhand, the Thunder .380 easily keeps all shots on the paper.















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Click pictures for a larger version.


Lipsey's exclusive Bersa Thunder .380 auto pistol.



The Thunder .380 comes with one seven-shot magazine, making a total loaded capacity of eight rounds.



The gun hides easily in a front jeans pocket.



The Thunder .380 compares favorably in size to Jeff's S&W Model 342PD .38.



Sights are excellent for a pocket pistol, featuring a three-dot aiming system and windage-adjustable rear.



Grips are checkered plastic with thumb rests, and are equally comfortable for left-handed or right-handed shooters.



Wide, smooth trigger makes double-action shooting comfortable.



Another aid in shooting comfort: magazine has an extension for the little finger.



Manual thumb safety blocks hammer and disconnects trigger.



The Bersa Thunder also features a magazine disconnect safety... internal firing pin safety...



...and a key lock mechanism.



Slide locks open on an empty magazine.



The Thunder .380 strips easily for cleaning.



Shallow feed angle assures reliable feeding.



Magazine's feed lips needed slight adjustment.