I've had the opportunity to talk to lots of folks who are eager to assemble their first concealed-carry rig. They've taken the plunge, obtained a concealed-carry permit and now they're ready to buy their first compact pistol. Then the sticker shock hits. While their enthusiasm may not be quenched, it can certainly be curbed as the price of a new gun, holsters, magazines, ammunition and range time all start to add up.
The good news is the Argentinian company Bersa has been quietly offering one of the best defensive pistol bargains on the market for several years now. Imported to the U.S. by Eagle Imports of New Jersey, the Bersa Thunder 380 chambered in .380 ACP offers a top-notch set of features for real world prices under $300. In fact, everything you need for a comfortable, convenient quality carry rig can be found in the Bersa section of the Eagle Imports website. So I used the site as a one-stop-shopping option to assemble the accessory set tested with this pistol.
The Bersa Thunder 380 is a blowback-operated, double-action/single-action semi-automatic which takes its design cues from the Walther PPK, famously carried by the fictional secret agent James Bond. This pistol is offered with several different finish and grip options including the rubber gripped duo-tone matte black steel slide with silver nickeled aluminum frame model used in this review.
The slide features a rounded muzzle for easy holstering, a 3-dot sight system and rear cocking serrations. Both the trigger and the slide cycled smoothly right out of the box. The external controls consist of a slide catch, round magazine release button and combination thumb safety/decocker are placed on the left side of the frame with the takedown lever located on the right side. An integral lock, which disables the trigger, is found on the left side of the frame just in front of the magazine release button for which a single key is provided with the pistol.
The safety lever automatically decocks the exposed hammer when it is pressed down into the "Safe" position, resulting in a double-action trigger pull for the first shot. Some pistols have fairly heavy double-action triggers in the 12- to 15-lb. range. The Thunder 380’s trigger has a much lighter pull of 8 lbs. 10 oz. that feels smooth and consistent throughout the arc of travel. After the first shot is fired, the hammer is cocked and ready to operate in single-action mode. This shortens the arc of travel and drops the trigger pull to 3 lbs. 12 oz.
I was impressed by the number of added touches and upgrades this pistol has to offer, especially since they are usually reserved for more pricey models. The metallic front sight is dovetailed into the slide. The adjustable rear sight has a small screw for windage adjustments instead of being drift adjustable or fixed in place. The top of the slide is checkered to reduce glare.
The front and back of the grip frame are grooved for improved purchase as is the face of the trigger. An extended beavertail protects the shooter's hand from hammer bite. The front edge of the roomy trigger guard is curved and textured to act as a finger rest. The magazine release button is deeply checkered for positive operation. Some little 380s hold just six or seven rounds in the magazine. The Bersa Thunder takes an eight-round magazine that ships with an extended finger rest to ensure a firm three-finger grip. The features, fit and function all add up to a gun that give you plenty of bang for the buck.
Dismantling this pistol for routine cleaning and lubrication is quite simple. Start by locking the slide open, removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded. Swing and hold the takedown lever down in the 6 o'clock position while pulling back and up on the slide. The rear of the slide lifts off of the frame and then the slide can be pressed forward off of the barrel. A single, round wire recoil spring is coiled around the fixed barrel so there is no recoil rod to remove. Remove the spring from the barrel and the pistol is ready to clean.
While the standard textured polymer factory grip panels give the pistol a slim profile and feel good to hold there are other options available. I prefer to use rubber grips when possible and the Bersa rubber upgrade did not disappoint. It increased purchase without adding too much thickness. For those who want a thicker grip to fit their larger hands, and a splash of color to boot, Bersa's checkered laminated wood grip panels are a solid choice.
For those who are looking to add a laser sight, the Crimson Trace LG-442R laser grip is the way to go. The grip consists of stiff polymer inserts over molded with soft rubber for comfort and added purchase. The side mounted 5mW red laser is activated by a front-mounted grip switch and adjustable for height and windage. Two #2032 button cell batteries provide up to four hours of run time. And, best of all, you can still use standard holsters with this laser sight installed.
Every type of leather and synthetic pistol holster that can be made has been made for the Thunder 380 with several versions available on the Eagle Imports website. For this review, I opted to work with two lightweight polymer options from Fobus Holsters. Rugged and reliable, the paddles of the Bersa logoed holster and dual magazine pouch are lined with a soft red rubber that works to keep the paddles in place while making them comfortable to wear. Together both of these Fobus products cost less than just a quality holster on its own.
At the range the Bersa Thunder 380 proved to be as fun to shoot as it was reliable. It sits straight down in the shooting hand without the sense of muzzle weight that some pistols exhibit. As a result it feels lighter than its already low 20-oz. unloaded weight. Some blowback operated .380 ACP pistols can be uncomfortable to practice with after just a magazine or two. But the combination of this pistol's smooth, clean trigger, comfortable grip and moderate levels of felt recoil left me wanting more time at the range instead of less.
The Thunder 380 was utterly reliable. All of the controls worked properly and there were no stoppages or malfunctions of any kind in the course of testing. The slide was easy to cycle manually and the slide catch needed just a light touch to release the slide when it locked open. The pistol arrives with just one magazine so I ordered three more to work with. They all ran reliably and dropped free from the grip when the magazine release was depressed. They were a little greasy which gave them a mottled appearance when photographed in bright sunshine but the matte black finish was properly applied. A magazine disconnect safety kicks in to prevent the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed from the grip.
Formal benchrested accuracy testing was conducted at 7 yards using the factory iron sights with the trigger in single-action mode. Browning's BPT 95-gr. full metal jacket practice load yielded a best single group of 1.25" with a five-group average of 1.31". Gorilla Ammunition Silverback Self Defense 95-gr. segmented all-copper hollow points produced the lowest level of felt recoil with a best group of 0.95" and an average of 1.22". SIG Sauer Elite Performance 90-gr. V-Crown jacketed hollow points produced the tightest groups of the test with a best group of 0.91" and an average of 1.03".
All too often, easy-to-carry defensive pistols represent an exercise in compromise that makes them a tool that has to be endured more than enjoyed at the shooting range. The grip is a little too short for comfort, the recoil is a bit too excessive, the sights are hard to see and so on.
What I like best about the Bersa Thunder 380 is how likeable it is compared to some subcompacts I've worked with. I actually enjoy shooting and carrying it. It's slim, light and comfortable on the hip. As I've been writing this review I've found the pistol is hard to put down. It feels so well balanced and the grip fits my hands so comfortably. It's an ideal option for self-defense practitioners who are new to shooting or those who have been pulling triggers for years.
With its moderate recoil, reliable feeding and solid defensive accuracy, it's an ideal all-day-every-day concealed-carry piece. It's hard to believe that it's a budget-friendly gun that can be picked up for real-world prices just at or below $300. Will all of the affordably priced accessories available for this pistol, it's a worthy candidate for daily carry.
Specifications: Importer: Eagle Imports Manufacturer: Bersa Model: Thunder 380, Duo-Tone (Matte/Nickel) Finish Action: Blowback-Operated Semi-Automatic Caliber: .380 ACP Slide: Matte Black Steel Frame: Matte Nickle Finished Aluminum Alloy Grips: Textured Polymer Sights: 3-Dot with Windage Adjustable Rear Sight Barrel Length: 3.50" Overall Length: 6.60" Height: 4.90" Slide Width: 0.90" Grip Width: 1.30" Weight: 20 oz. with Empty 8-Round Magazine Capacity: 8+1 Rounds Twist: 1:10” RH Rifle Grooves: 6 Accessories: Key for Integral Lock, Hard Case, Owner's Manual MSRP: $332 with Rubber Grip, $324 with Polymer Grips
Accessories Available from Eagle Imports: Bersa 8-Round Magazine with Finger Rest (THUN380BLMAGFR) $35 Fobus Paddle Holster (BS2BERSA) $28 Fobus Double Magazine Pouch (6922PBERSA) $25 Rubber Wrap Around Grip (TP22T4/1) $30 Blue Laminated Wood Grips, Blue or Red (T380BG) $35 Crimson Trace Laser Grip (LG-442R) $229