Some firearm manufacturers stick doggedly to their tried-and-true catalogues of products, offering a new grip color here or a change in sight options there. But Taurus is boldly trying out new shooting options that some might not have even considered. Taurus is especially attentive to rethinking and reworking the short-barreled defensive revolver. Snubby wheelguns maintain a quiet but loyal following. Men and women looking for a simple and reliable defensive option often choose small revolvers because they are easy to carry and conceal. And as one of the smallest options yet introduced, Taurus now offers the M380 IB Mini chambered in .380 ACP.
The M380 is not chambered for .38 Spl. like most of the defensive wheelguns in this category and it’s not a “J-Frame” either. Instead, it fires .380 ACP cartridges using Taurus Star Clips—more commonly known as moon clips—to hold fresh cartridges and to eject the spent cases. This revolver dodges the label "J-Frame" because of its reduced dimensions. That's where the "Mini" in the name comes from. The barrel, frame and cylinder have all been trimmed down to take advantage of the smaller .380 cartridge, while the grip, trigger guard and trigger are all still the same size as a typical .38 Spl. The result is a lighter, more compact revolver that still feels good to hold and to operate.
Revolver Features The blued M380 arrives from the factory with a five-shot cylinder, compact rubber grip and 1.75-inch barrel. The hammer spur has been removed to give the revolver a no-snag profile, which makes it a double-action only handgun. Although the trigger is longer and heavier in double-action mode, it proved to be smooth with a slightly shorter travel distance than might be expected. The overall fit and finish of this revolver is good, with the cylinder and yoke demonstrating a tight lock up.
A nice touch that's rarely found on this type of gun is the low-profile, adjustable rear sight. Usually shooters are stuck with learning how to use whatever sight picture arrives on a snubby revolver, but a minor adjustment to the rear sight of this gun moved shots to the center of the target right away. The M380 also has the Taurus Security System installed, a life-time repair policy and five .380 ACP Taurus Star Clips in the case.
With all of the positive features of this handgun in mind, a burning question remains: Why shrink a snubby revolver to chamber the .380 ACP? After working with this little gun, some good reasons for this choice come to mind. First and foremost is the opportunity to effectively reduce the size of the revolver without reducing its shootability. Unlike some of the now popular tiny pocket rocket semi-autos on the market, this gun has plenty of grip and trigger to work with for regular, comfortable practice on the range.
Next is the reduced level of felt recoil this cartridge and gun combination has to offer. It presents a useful middle ground between the ultra-mild, but less effective, .22 Mag. and the thump produced by standard or +P loads available in .38 Spl. With the .380 ACP currently enjoying a revival due to the aforementioned pocket autos, a wide variety of soft shooting quality defensive hollow points are readily available. And if the logic holds that the .380 is an adequate stopper from a tiny automatic, then it's a bit hypocritical to dismiss it for use in a compact revolver.
One more reason for chambering .380 in a revolver is also one of the oldest reasons: ammunition compatibility. During the first and second World Wars, revolvers were chambered for .45 ACP to allow the soldiers who received them to share ammunition with those personnel who were armed with semi-automatics. The same principle holds true today. If you already own and shoot a .380 auto, or you want an ammunition-compatible revolver for a loved one to carry, then you can add the M380 to your defensive catalog without having to shoulder the expense of adding yet another caliber.
At the Range The M380 proved to be a positive handgun to shoot within the parameters of its intended role as a personal protection firearm. If you are looking for a target shooting pistol, the M380's 1.75-inch barrel and double-action-only trigger will leave you disappointed. But if you are looking for a compact and reliable close-range defensive revolver, and you are willing to put in the practice all snub guns require to master, then you've come to the right product.
Formal accuracy testing was conducted from the bench using five consecutive, five-shot groups fired into targets set at a distance of 7 yards. Accuracy proved to be consistent at this range, with no single shot group exceeding 2.25 inches. The two best single five-shot groups of 1.50 inches were produced by DoubleTap's 80-grain Barnes X jacketed hollow points and Hornady's Critical Defense 90-grain FTX. The best five-group average of 1.70 inches was produced by the Hornady load. Second place went to Winchester's 95-grain PDX1 jacketed hollow points with an average of 1.85 inches, followed by the DoubleTap load with an average of 1.95 inches. All of the test ammunition fired and functioned flawlessly, and the level of felt recoil it produced with a variety practice and defense-grade .380 ACP loads was always in the comfortably mild to moderate range.
Working with the Star Clips provided by Taurus was an interesting change of pace. The Star Clip is a thin stamped, spring steel device. As the name implies, it clips five rounds of ammunition together in a circular pattern that lines up with the cylinder chambers. All five rounds, along with the clip, are pressed into the cylinder at once to load the gun. As handy as the Star Clips are for loading, their primary function is to give the ejector something to press against so the rimless .380 cartridges can be ejected.
The .380 ACP cartridges are head spaced off of the cartridge case mouth. This means that cartridges can be loaded and fired without a Star Clip. Shooting without the clip just means spent cases will have to be poked out of the cylinder one at a time using a tool or a cleaning rod. I did have three cartridges that would not lock into place in one clip or another. They would simply fall out. This rare event was solved by swapping out the cartridge or the clip being used.
I mention this to let folks know that part of preparing their revolver for self-defense will be to make sure their spare rounds fit tightly into the extra Star Clips they choose to carry.
Final Thoughts The Taurus M380 IB Mini .380 is a light, compact, reliable defensive revolver. Its reduced dimensions make it comfortable to carry in a purse, pocket or anywhere else a small snub nosed revolver would fit. The adjustable sights, comfortably sized grip and modest recoil make it a pleasure to practice with. A snub-nosed revolver in .380 may not be a defensive option you would have thought of, but Taurus did.