I’m going to let you in on a lesson I learned in the military after having to replace a busted Beretta 92 with an even worse Smith & Wesson Sigma while deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. Being the butthurt Lance Corporal I was, I complained about not getting a better replacement until my team leader shut me up by pointing out that the best gun is the one you have with you. The Bersa Thunder 380 can be just that and more in the right hands.
Bersa Thunder 380
After working with the Bersa Thunder .380 for almost a year now, I can confidently recommend this to newer gun owners or someone searching for a small caliber that they can still depend on. The concealable lightweight platform is loaded with features meant to appeal to the widest variety of buyers. At some point, you may wonder if all these are absolutely necessary but most of the safety features have a negligible impact on the Thunder’s performance overall. We’ll go into detail on the mechanics, operability, and shooting with a few personal recommendations to wrap it up.
Welcome to the Thunderdome …380
The Bersa Thunder .380 is an Argentinian made .380 ACP blowback operated DA/SA semi-automatic handgun. For some context, the work put into developing the Thunder was mostly out of a distinct need in South America. Gun ownership is not universally guaranteed and besides an extensive and expensive process, several countries have caliber restrictions meant to limit the number of large caliber handguns in the public’s hands.
Being blowback operated, the barrel is in a fixed position and has a smaller feed ramp as opposed to the floating barrel found in recoil operated handguns. The fixed position barrel results in more accurate performance but may have also been a factor in the failure to feed stoppages we saw most prevalent in the past 10 months training on it.
Capable of firing in double and single action, the external hammer is ergonomically positioned and grooved to accommodate smaller hand sizes. Magazine capacity is at 7+1 with the standard flush magazine and 8+1 with the extended pinky grip magazine also manufactured by Bersa. My experience with this gun so far can be broken down to the extensive safety features, concealability, and shooting performance.
The safety features packed into this handgun are likely meant to accommodate those aforementioned countries with very restrictive gun laws. The most useful safety feature is probably the safety selector lever that doubles as a decocking mechanism. Especially when being used for conceal carry, being able to easily decock the Thunder after chambering a round is an invaluable safety benefit.
From the inside, the firing pin safety ensures that the gun won’t fire if dropped. The next semi-internal safety is a key activated trigger lock. This added layer of security allows the owner to manually lock in the safety with a key. Ideally, this is intended to deter unauthorized persons from attempting to use the gun. The magazine disconnect safety will not allow the handgun to fire if a magazine isn’t fully inserted.
Understandably, this feature is meant to mitigate negligent discharges during disassembly and maintenance. The culmination of all these features may initially appear to be cumbersome and unnecessary, but they have a negligible impact on the overall operation of this platform.
After training a client on her Bersa Thunder .380 for over 10 months now, the gun has handled nearly every situation thrown at it. The smooth slide travel during the blowback action seems to be balanced just enough to allow shooters to get multiple shots on target without overcompensating for recoil in the aluminum frame.
Manipulating the handgun through disassembly and reassembly, reloads, and clearing stoppages is a breeze once you take the time to become familiarized with the gun. Even for maintenance, the gun breaks down into 3 major parts that make carbon collection points easy to access and clean.
Perhaps the biggest drawback was the failure to feed stoppages that happened a little too often. The unassisted feeding of this design does result in a smaller feeding ramp which could have also been the culprit of these failure to feed stoppages. After shooting various types of ammunition, switching out magazines, and getting some great immediate action drills in, the best we could do was mitigate the problem.
For that reason, I recommend to only buy Bersa magazines (we did have a few aftermarket magazines that caused some stoppages) and maintain the gun well. Any given handgun will have unique challenges and this is just Bersa’s. When the Thunder is well maintained and skillfully employed, these issues fall by the wayside of a competent shooter.
Shooting and Ammunition
Shooting in double action, the trigger pull is a smooth 9.5 pounds and predictable 4 pounds in single action. As with any DA/ SA handgun, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the feel of both action modes. The trigger is forgiving though and resulted in consistent grouping from 3 to 25 yards on the range.
The Bersa was able to handle most ammunition except for some hand loaded cartridges that caused a nearly catastrophic squib load last year. Luckily we noticed the reduced noise and recoil and called a cease-fire before my client fired a second time. After hammering out the lodged bullet, we kept on shooting and the Bersa earned even more respect that day.
On that topic, choosing the ideal self-defense ammunition is critical when choosing to carry a .380 handgun. Research supports the fact that the ballistic technology is here to make a .380 just as deadly as the other defensive calibers.
Take Speer Gold Dot .380 ammunition for example. After attending a ballistics demonstration myself, I learned about the tradeoff between expansion and penetration that manufactures make. Speer hit the optimal nail on the head with sacrificing some expansion for deeper penetration.
In tests, Speer Gold Dot reached anywhere from 11 to 13 inches of penetration which is very impressive for a .380 in general. While that may not exactly be on par with the FBI 12 inch standard or the 14 inches I’m more privy to, this is still much deeper penetration than many of the other .380 options.
For scale, Federal HST .380 only penetrated about 8 inches in tests, mostly due to the heavier bullet and larger expansion. Additionally, Speer’s bonded core bullets maintain their integrity and expansion much more consistently through barriers like denim and drywall.
In conclusion, the best way to decide if this handgun is for you is to get some real hands-on time with it at your local range. I hope that sharing this ballistic information especially puts to rest the dogmatic argument that only large caliber handguns are worthy of personal protection. The best gun to have is the one you have on you and if it happens to be a Bersa Thunder 380, you can rest assured that it will perform. Do you already have a Thunder? Share your experience with us in the comments!
What did you think of the review of the Bersa Thunder 380? Let us know in the comment section!