Ammunition is a critical component to the use of a firearm in self-defense. With the Train & Defend 380 ammo, Winchester Ammunition hopes to give an edge to shooters who carry subcompact pistols. Target shooters, competitors and especially victims of violent crime all need ammo that will run reliably and put rounds on the intended target. This line offers something for all kinds of shooting.
Called Train & Defend, this line of ammunition is designed with new shooters in mind but serves anyone looking for a simple solution for both personal protection and practice needs. The line offers two loads in each caliber: one round is a jacketed hollow point (JHP) defensive load while the second uses a lower-cost full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet. The FMJ duplicates the ballistics of the defensive load so your self-defense load should act exactly the same as the round with which you practice.
For brand new shooters, it would appear Winchester is trying to make ammo selection easy.
Widener’s Reloading and Shooting Supply contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing this line as I had with the Hornady Critical Defense in .357 Magnum. As a long-term customer of Widener’s, I was happy to partner with them on this Winchester Train & Defend 380 review. Be sure to read my disclosure statement to understand all potential biases in this review.
Winchester Ammunition offers the Train & Defend line for five cartridges:
- .380 ACP
- .38 Special
- .40 S&W
- .45 ACP
Winchester announced the Train & Defend line of ammunition in December of 2013 with a formal launch of the ammo at the 2014 SHOT Show. At the time of launch, there were only four calibers offered; the .45 ACP was not an option. The company soon corrected this, and you can now find the famous cartridge in the lineup.
In most of the calibers, the weights tend toward the heavy end of the typical bullet weights. For example, 9mm uses a 147-grain bullet and .45 ACP uses a 230-grain bullet. The loads being reviewed here are in .380 ACP. Both the FMJ and JHP use 95-grain bullets, which is fairly standard in this caliber.
All of the loads are standard pressure, subsonic rounds. According to Winchester, these loads were developed to “limit the felt recoil by the shooter.” Keeping the velocities down helps to reduce muzzle flip and felt recoil when compared to +P loads.
Distinguishing between the two loads in the same caliber is easy. In addition to the different bullet designs, the defensive ammunition uses nickel-plated cases. The training loads use standard brass cases.
The packaging of the two products is also different. The practice ammunition comes in 50-round boxes while the hollow points come in 20-round boxes. Additionally, the training ammo is marked with a large, black “T” on a yellow background. The defensive ammo has a black “D” on a yellow background.
FMJ ammunition, sometimes called ball ammo, is most frequently used for informal target shooting and practice. It tends to be less expensive than other kinds of ammunition.
While the bullet is not a round nose (it is a flat nose,) it should still feed more reliably than a hollow point. Most modern guns do not need FMJ bullets for reliable feeding, but older guns can have problems with hollow point bullets.
The Train loads in this Winchester line are pretty typical of FMJ ammo. I loaded and shot them in five different .380 ACP pistols that I had on hand. All of the rounds fed reliably and offered acceptable accuracy to 15 yards (the maximum distance on the range where I was shooting.)
|Kel-Tec P-3AT||835 fps||147 ft-lbs|
|Rock Island Armory Baby Rock 380||903 fps||172 ft-lbs|
|Ruger LCP||835 fps||147 ft-lbs|
|Ruger LCP II||819 fps||142 ft-lbs|
|SIG SAUER P238||853 fps||154 ft-lbs|
|Taurus Spectrum||824 fps||143 ft-lbs|
Winchester gives the velocity of these .380 rounds as 950 fps from a 3.75″ barrel. Only one of the guns I shot had that barrel length: the Rock Island Armory Baby Rock. Even so, I measured an average of only 903 fps across my ProChrono chronograph.
The other guns I shot had much shorter barrel lengths, and the velocities I measured from these guns were well short of 950 fps. The averages ranged from 819 fps for the Ruger LCP II to 853 fps from a SIG P238.
Recoil felt about the same as other FMJ loads in .380 ACP.
Winchester gives the same velocity specification on the D ammo as it does on the T: 950 fps from a 3.75″ barrel. The Baby Rock had the fastest velocity of the guns I shot: 900 fps from a 5-shot average.
The other pistols turned in similar numbers as they did with the training ammunition: 815 fps – 847 fps, depending on the gun. See the table below for the specifics.
|Kel-Tec P-3AT||839 fps||149 ft-lbs|
|Rock Island Armory Baby Rock 380||900 fps||171 ft-lbs|
|Ruger LCP||815 fps||140 ft-lbs|
|Ruger LCP II||827 fps||144 ft-lbs|
|SIG SAUER P238||847 fps||151 ft-lbs|
|Taurus Spectrum||844 fps||150 ft-lbs|
As with the training ammo, the defensive loads all fed and shot reliably. I experienced no malfunctions with any of them.
Recoil seemed to be roughly equivalent to the training loads.
I tend not to argue about which caliber is best for self-defense. However, on the low end of the power spectrum, the .380 ACP does concern me. It is on the edge of what I am comfortable carrying to protect my family.
Velocity is an important tool to ensure expansion with a hollow point bullet. Modern designs tend to not be as dependent on velocity for expansion. However, with velocities of less than 900 fps in most of the pistols, I am afraid that reliable expansion may be too much to hope for in this load.
I checked Bruce F.’s prior test of the Defend load over at his Pocket Guns & Gear site. In his testing, he used a Kahr .380 pistol with a 3″ barrel. Expansion was inconsistent and penetration was only about 9″ when the bullet did expand. Below is a video of the testing:
I have to say that I am fairly ambivalent about the Train and Defend line of ammunition. On one hand, I can appreciate Winchester making a line that will help simplify the selection process for new members to the shooting community.
On the other hand, however, I am not excited by the Defend ammunition. For self-defense ammo, the low velocities combined with the conventional hollow point design suggest a lack of reliable expansion and penetration in the target. Bruce’s testing seems to confirm that.
Of course, that is one of the fundamental problems with the .380 ACP load: it tends to be underpowered for defensive work. I’m not saying it isn’t any good – just not as good as other options. I’d gladly have a .380 pistol instead of a .22, .25, .32 or no pistol at all. But there is a wide range of 9mm subcompact pistols that offer superior performance without a massive increase in bulk that I would rather carry.
Both Train & Defend loads are reliable and I have no problems shooting either one. These are quality loads. However, for a self-defense load, I would much prefer to carry Winchester’s PDX1 load. That load tends to perform better in gel than the Defend load, plus it has been completely reliable in all of my testing.
Last update: July 12, 2021.
The ammunition used in this review was provided by Widener’s Reloading and Shooting Supply. I’ve been a long time customer of that company and have been pleased by their service. Last month, a representative of Widener’s contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing this ammunition.
I previously did an ammo review of Hornady’s Critical Defense ammunition in .357 Magnum. In that review, Widener’s provided the ammo. The company did not try to influence my review in that case, nor did they even ask for a link to the company site. Based on my positive experience as a customer, and by how things worked in the first review, I agreed to do this article on the Winchester ammo.
As with the prior ammunition review, Widener’s is not an advertiser or sponsor of this site. Nor are we in any talks for them to be so. In fact, I do not take any advertising on this site.
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Winchester’s Train & Defend line of ammunition consists of two loads in each caliber: one with a FMJ bullet for practice and one with a hollow point for defensive use. In my testing, both loads were reliable and accurate. However, the measured velocity of the rounds was less than the specifications provided by the company. While the Defend hollow point loads are better than plain ball ammo for self-defense, I would prefer to carry the company’s PDX1 line of ammunition.