When the topic of the 25 ACP cartridge comes up, I inevitably think of one of the late Jeff Cooper’s musings on that little round. He cautioned us to “carry a 25 if it makes you feel better, but never load it. If you load it, you may shoot somebody. And if he finds out about it, he may be very angry with you.”
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While Cooper may have been selling the 25 a bit short, there is no denying that the 25 ACP is about as light of a self-defense option as you can get. Stories of moms and pops dropping hoodlums with a single shot from a 25 are easily countered with anecdotes of the round skipping off the human skull and a general inability to stop a determined attack.
I love the 25 ACP as a historical footnote in the history of the concealed carry handgun, but there is no denying that the round is diminutive, and finding a suitable load outside punching paper is frustrating. The available self-defense hollow point offerings don’t work as advertised and adequate penetration is only guaranteed with some 50-grain full-metal-jacket loadings.
Some years ago, I asked the folks at Buffalo Bore about the viability of producing a 25 ACP load. Buffalo Bore is well known for loading its cartridges as high as possible while staying within safe SAMMI pressures. To my surprise, I was not the only interested party. In 2022, Buffalo Bore announced two 25 ACP loadings including a 60-grain hard-cast flat-point loading. It was a load I could not refuse testing.
The Buffalo Bore 25 ACP Round
Buffalo Bore produces the Outdoorsman line of high-velocity, hard-cast lead flat-point bullets designed for penetration. A hard-cast bullet is a cast lead bullet mixed with trace elements of tin or antimony to make it harder and more resistant to deformation. The flat nose profile allows for better crushing of tissue and a straighter line of penetration over a round-nosed projectile. The Outdoorsman load is designed for big animals and can be had in rounds like the 38 Special, 357 Magnum, 10mm, on up.
Buffalo Bore took the same concept and miniaturized it to create a load with the best chance of penetration in the 25 ACP. The round is loaded in Starline brass and uses a 60-grain hard-cast lead bullet with a flat nose. The Buffalo Bore load is heavy-for-caliber, given that most 25 ACP loads run from 35-grain hollow-points to 50-grain ball ammunition. Despite having a heavier bullet, Buffalo Bore gets this load out at an advertised velocity of 850 feet per second—over 100 feet per second faster than the best commercial 50-grain loads. When we are talking about velocities this low, that difference is significant.
The 25 ACP pocket pistol is much maligned. Polymer 380 pistols have more or less taken over the same role in this century that the 25 had in the last. Some have even said that a pistol in 22 Long Rifle is a more powerful option. So I decided to evaluate Buffalo Bore’s 60-grain load alongside some other cartridges.
First, I shot the Buffalo Bore load alongside Aguila’s 50-grain full-metal-jacket loading over my Caldwell Chronograph from a distance of ten feet to check the velocity of both rounds. Buffalo Bore prides itself by printing advertised velocities based on shooting real guns, rather than test barrels. Through my Beretta 21A Bobcat with a 2.4-inch barrel, I shot a five-shot string with an average velocity of 858 feet per second—very close to advertised. The Aguila load clocked in at 772 feet per second.
Next, I shot through stacked pine 2x4s to test barrier penetration from the same distance. I fired a pair of rounds from both loads. I did the same using 22 LR CCI Mini Mags out of a Ruger Wrangler and 380 ACP Federal full-metal-jacket using a Ruger LCP.
Load, Muzzle Velocity, and Penetration
22 LR 40 grain CCI Mini Mag (3 3/4 inch barrel), 1087 fps., .85 inch
25 ACP 50 grain Aguila FMJ , 772 fps., .90 inch
25 ACP 60 grain Buffalo Bore, 850 fps., 1.12 inch
380 ACP 95 grain Federal FMJ, (2 3/4 inch barrel), 882 fps., 1.18 inch
*Furthest penetration depth measured from entrance to base of the projectile.
Although the 22 LR had the advantage of being fired out of a longer barrel, it was outperformed by both 25 ACP loads. Both 380 projectiles broke through the first board but were stopped by the second. One Buffalo Bore round bulged the back of the first board, but all the other rounds failed to come close to the other side.
Next, I shot four rounds of the Buffalo Bore load into a stack of Clear Ballistics 10% ordinance gelatin blocks fronted by four layers of denim. Despite the round’s flat-nosed profile, three out of four began to veer off from a straight path after the twelve-inch mark. Two came to rest at the bottom of the second block at the 17.5-inch mark. One penetrated straight to the fourteen-inch mark. All three of these rounds tumbled in gel, but the wound tracts had no cavitation. In essence, they resembled straight, icepick wounds. The last round penetrated straight and did not tumble, hitting my backup block and stopping at the 21-inch mark. In previous testing using the same setup, I could reliably get 10-12 inches of penetration using standard 50-grain ball ammo.
To say that the Buffalo Bore load overperformed is an understatement, but that performance is of limited value if the round is not reliable. Most 25 ACP pistols, whether they are new or not, are usually old designs optimized around the one load that was around for the longest time—the 50-grain ball round.
Buffalo Bore’s 60-grain flat-nose load is far enough outside the parameters of a typical round-nosed 25 ACP ball or hollow-point load that it may cause feeding issues. The manufacturer’s website cautions us to test this load to ensure proper feeding. For my own edification, I decided to shoot for accuracy to see if there would be any cycling issues. I could reliably place eight rounds into a fist-sized group at seven yards and recoil was equally as mild as the 50-grain ball load, although quite a bit more powerful. I had a single round’s nose get caught against the top of the barrel. This was only one of the twenty rounds I had available for testing, and I am confident this load will be 100% reliable with another box or two through the old Bobcat. But that flat nose can be an issue for some pistols.
It can be cliche to think that modern is always better. In the case of the 25 ACP and the 380 ACP polymer pistols that largely replaced it in the concealed carry market, that sentiment rings mostly true.
Guns like the Ruger LCP and the S&W Bodyguard are not the easiest handguns to use, but they are easy to carry and bring much more power to the fight. But there are still some compelling reasons to opt for the 25. As small as the polymer 380 is, many 25-caliber pistols are smaller still and the sedate caliber can make it easier to shoot well.
I don’t believe Buffalo Bore’s 25 ACP loads are going to bring about a quarter-bore renaissance. But their efforts to bring that little round to the next level show that there is still plenty of demand for the round with serious use in mind.