It's been a while since I talked ammunition for defense and some new stuff has come out since then so...
Buffalo Bore has some interesting stuff out. Those who have switched from a short .38 to a .380 Auto will be pleased to know that they have a few loads that will bring that round from "better than no gun at all" to something on which one could bet one's life.
The first of these is a 100 grain hard cast lead alloy flatnose at around 1150 feet per second. The lead ally has less friction in the bore than jacketed bullets so we get a little more weight at the highest velocities at peak pressures. This round would give the most dependable penetration of any .380 ACP and if a bullet doesn't reach the vitals it's a wasted shot. If I were a serving peace officer carrying a .380 as a backup and off duty gun I would think long and hard about this round.
Buffalo Bore also makes two jacketed hollow points a 90 and a 95 grain bullet for those that would sacrifice some penetration for a larger diameter hole. From the pictures it looks as if one of these is a Hornady XTP JHP and the other a Speer Gold Dot hollow point. Don't bet the farm on my guess as to the bullets, I'm going by the pictures. The Buffalo Bore people suggest loading a hollow point in the chamber and the magazine filled with the lead alloy flat nose. The idea is that the first shot the attacker is most likely facing you, after that there will be arms in the way, the offender may be standing sideways, ducking, etc, all offering a more difficult path tho the ticklish spots.
They also have a 95 grain FMJ flatpoint for those who cannot shoot lead and an 80 grain Barnes all copper hollow point, I have no idea what that one is for. It may just be prejudice on my part but I like some mass in my bullets, there are all kinds of ways to slow a bullet down but with enough mass it will always penetrate. I don't care what anyone says, I wouldn't bet my life on an expanding bullet that light. Again, though, that may simply be prejudice on my part. Since I don't carry a .380 I have no way to actually test this ammo.
At any rate, these loads are among the best of the self defense ammo out there for this cartridge. The only equal is the stuff from Cor Bon and they don't seem to have the lead alloy flatpoint.
Buffalo Bore also has some .38 and .357 ammo for those small framed wheelguns that are still so popular. The one that really caught my eye is their near copy of the handload I developed for my Ruger SP 101. My handload is a Speer or Hornady lead semi-wadcutter hollow point in front of enough Bullseye, Unique or TiteGroup to make 1000 fps out of my three inch barrel. Well, Buffalo Bore does this with a lead semiwadcutter hollow point with a gas check on the base to reduce leading. They also have that same bullet at 850 fps for those shooting those ultralight revolvers that are easy to carry but kick like an angry mule.
When I started carrying my little SP101 I did a lot of testing with the Speer and Hornady bullets at velocities from 800 fps on up to over 1100 fps. I found that once I passed 1000 fps recoil got obnoxious and slowed me way down for repeat shots. Oh, and leading became awful. At 1000 fps leading was there but if I cleaned the gun after a couple of cylinder fulls, I could live with it. And the home cast alloy bullets I used for practice worked fine.
At any rate, anything above 800 fps gave me plenty of penetration in my test media. The higher velocities gave me about the same penetration, just a bigger diameter hole.
If I carried any of these short .38s or .357s I'd look very hard at the 1000 fps load. The 850 fps load is about the same as the Winchester or Remington FBI load, the only difference is the gas check. I'm not sure that the convenience of the gas check is wrth the added cost, but then my little revolver shoots lead just fine. If I had an old, pitted bore that leaded badly, well I might feel different.
I usually don't much like jacketed hollow points in the short barreled revolvers. Most loads won't reliably expand with the lower velocities until we reduce the bullet weight so much that penetration gets iffy. Expansion in jacketed hollowpoints has got more reliable since about the late '70s but there aren't many I would trust out of a short barreled .38. One of these is the Hornady XTP. If your load hits 850 fps you will get reliable expansion from those. Another is the Speer Gold Dot. They have a little 135 grain Gold Dot with a humongus hollow nose, the copper jacket is electroplated on. Those bullets will not come apart. Funny story, though. The gunwriter Ross Seyfried told of loading these bullets in a short barreled revolver and tying to use them for the coup de grace on a downed elk. The bullet hit the thick part of the skull, flattened out and really, really made that elk angry. He claimed it got downright exciting as no one had their rifle at the ready. Note to self: do not hunt elk with a short barreled .38. There is a world of difference between human bones and the thick part of an elk's skull though. If one wishes to carry jacketed hollow point in a short .38 it's really hard to beat the Speer 135 grain short barrel load.My Linda Lou prefers this load over the old FBI lead hollow point because it kicks less and there is sightly less report.
Anyhow. Buffalo Bore has a lot of interesting loads. If, for some strange reason, I decided to carry one or two of my Colt Single Action Army clones for defense I would look long and hard at their full wadcutter anti-personnel round. Actually, there would be good reason to carry one of those revolvers if I were, say, out in the country, carrying openly. Anyhow a 225 grain full wadcutter at around 1000-1100 fps from a five and a half inch barrel down to around 850 from one of those two inch Taurus Titanium revolvers is nothing I'd volunteer to stand in front of. Come to think about it, I'm not sure about volunteering to shoot a .22 ounce .45 but then I'm not a tough guy like one sees at the gun shops. Heck, I don't even wear camouflage when in town.
One thing I have noticed is how expensive this factory ammo is. Some "experts" say not to trust ammo and gun combinations until you've fired at least four hundred rounds with nary a bobble. That costs more than my first few cars. Put together. Today most defense ammo is sold in 20 round boxes. I contend that if your gun gets through at least two of those little boxes, starting from a clean gun and goes through both boxes with at least one full of each of your carry magazines, you should be good to go. You can go with the rest of your practice with plain vanilla or handloaded ammo. Of course if you have twelve carry magazines of 17 rounds each, that's a lot of ammo to prove your loads. Sorry.
Some of the best news in ammunition is the low flash powders that have been developed. It wasn't long ago that shooting, say, a four inch .357 was like setting off a flash-bang grenade. The Buffalo Bore guys have a complete line of anti-personnel ammo with low flash powder. And much of it is low recoil-low report ammo, too. Of course, there's only so far one can go to reduce recoil.
These days most of the research into handgun defensive ammunition is geared toward the autoloaders, the .380, the Nine MM Para, the .40 S&W, and even the good old .45 ACP. Still, some of this research has bled over to the wheelgun rounds.
Anyhow, if you need to have factory ammo in your defense guns. Buffalo Bore is a good place to start.