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SEECAMP .380.

The world's most sought-after pocket pistol just got better without getting bigger.

The late Louis Seecamp manufactured precisely two products in 1984: a double-action conversion for the 1911 Government Model and a tiny little stainless steel .25 ACP pistol known as the LWS .25. While there has been smaller .25 ACP pistols, the Seecamp broke new ground with the combination of a DAO trigger and small size.

Then in June 1985 the LWS .32 came into being, exactly the same size as the .25 but chambered in .32 ACP. The little pistol has achieved cult status among serious gun carriers. Mine has been an almost constant companion for over 10 years.

The LWS .32 was so successful that it actually changed the industry. If history is any judge, Seecamp's newest handgun, a .380 ACP version the same size as the .32, will cause repercussions throughout the concealable handgun world.

The only thing that limited the success of the LWS .32 was the company's inability to produce enough guns to satisfy demand. This situation will continue and probably grow with the .380. Production of the two guns will continue, but those who are already on the waiting list for a .32 will be given the option of changing their order. Larry Seecamp, son of the late founder, reports that the addition of a new heat-treatment furnace will remove one major production bottleneck and he hopes to be able to increase production by 50 percent. Even so, Seecamp is, and wants to remain, a small company. Production will be a few hundred guns per month rather than per day.

The .32 was specifically designed to work with one type of ammunition: the Winchester Silvertip. There is a spacer in the magazine which prevents longer cartridges from being loaded. If you want to shoot a Seecamp, you shoot Silvertips, period.

Now there's nothing wrong with this. Gelatin testing that I've done over the years showed the Silvertip to be a good round. Eventually the rest of the ammo companies decided that the .32 ACP might be worth investigating and the next thing you know we had Federal HydraShok, Speer Gold Dot and Hornady XTP all loaded between 0.900" and 0.910" to fit Seecamp's magazine.

On a parallel track, several gun makers were gearing up to offer the .32 ACP in a small, pocket pistol thanks to the increased number of states with "liberal" CCW laws. Within a very short period of time we had compact .32s from Beretta, Kel-Tec, North American Arms and Autauga Arms. All are similar in size and operation to the Seecamp and helped fill the demand created by the scarcity of Seecamps.

Oh yes, Seecamps have always been scarce. Asking prices from those who horde them for resale are often double the suggested retail of $425. And they sell. If there is a surprise in this story, it is that the industry waited so long before it stepped up to the .32 plate.

A Bigger Hole

The LWS .380 is the same size as the .32 version. Yes, there are some tiny dimensional differences, but the first practical test took no measuring at all. My .32 has lived in a Kramer pocket holster for years. The two are fitted together as only constant wear can do. The .380 slipped right into my .32 holster. The gun is the same size!

If there is a smaller .380 pistol than the Seecamp on the market, it will be news to me.

Seecamp's biggest challenge in upsizing the .32 is to manage the considerable recoil of the .380 ACP without being forced to increase the weight of the slide. Seecamp's approach is low-tech and almost as old as the autoloader, but it works quite well. A groove, in this case a pretty substantial trench, is cut in the chamber wall. When the gun is fired, the brass expands into the groove and holds the case in the chamber until the pressure drops as the bullet leaves the barrel. The case then shrinks a little and is pulled from the chamber by the extractor.

In the case of the .380, the groove covers the bottom third of the chamber. Measurement of some fired cases show that the body expands by about 0.010". The case has a pretty rough trip from chamber to ground and shows distinct marks from the extractor and ejector. You can see some pretty serious scratches on the case caused by being pulled out of the chamber.

In addition, many cases show significant dents at the mouth. The case expansion is not a cause for concern in terms of function or safety, but it will be a concern for reloaders. My advice is to not attempt to reload for this gun. It isn't a plinker anyhow.

As with the .32 version, Seecamp recommends the use of Winchester Silvertip ammo exclusively. For a manufacturer to limit his gun to one brand and style of ammo is so rare that it required investigation, but let me say from the outset Seecamp is right.

Cutting straight to the bottom line, this is an issue of reliability. My testing included all of the popular .380 defense loads. The Silvertip is different in one very important respect-- it has the lightest bullet. Most .380s use 90 or 95 gr. weights, but the Silvertip weighs 85 grs. You wouldn't think 5 grs. would make a difference, but it does.

We are talking about managing some pretty prodigious recoil forces here and one of the key elements of any autopistol design is timing. The magazine must push the new round up in time for the slide to strip it as it closes. If the magazine spring is too slow, a feed failure will occur as the slide will ride over the top of the new round.

As you would expect, the .380's tiny slide is really hustling on its trip to the rear and back again. It is something of a chore for the magazine to get a round up in the proper time. As we tested the .380, every hollowpoint load that we tried except the Silvertip experienced failures of the last round to feed properly from the magazine. Not all the time, but often enough to disqualify them for combat use where only 100 percent reliability will do.

The Silvertip was the only load that was 100 percent reliable and that is reason enough for me to second Seecamp's recommendation.

With small guns, recoil springs lead a rough life. Seecamp enclosed a couple of extra springs and after about 200 rounds I cleaned the gun and inspected the recoil spring. It was 0.500" shorter than a new one. Then I read the directions and discovered that they recommend replacement every 200 rounds. So it seemed reasonable to do what the factory suggests. It's a small price to pay for better reliability in a pistol that is designed and intended to be carried a lot and shot a little.

The Power Question

No matter how much I would like to, there is no way to avoid the issue of power. Everyone wants to know how much energy any given load may have, but to me it is an exercise in futility. The primary thing in any defensive handgun is to make a hole in the target. Then, and only then, is energy even remotely significant. Neither the .32 nor the .380 has enough energy to worry about. Losses from the really short (2.1") barrels of these tiny guns cut velocity to around 800 fps for either cartridge.

We also tested bullet expansion for several .380 hollowpoints by the simple method of shooting into water. If a bullet does not expand when fired into water, there isn't a snowball's chance that it will expand in flesh or gelatin. None of these did, but most penetrated ver 12" of water and punched a hole in the plastic bucket.

This is good news for it certainly suggests that tissue penetration will be adequate. Bullet expansion is a fringe benefit that is nice when it happens, but the first concern is simply to make holes in targets. Bigger holes are better than little holes.

Perhaps the most enlightening comparison is the recoil of the two Seecamps when fired with their recommended Silvertip ammo. Surprisingly, velocity was about the same at 800 fps and the gun weighs virtually the same. According to my scales, the .380 weighs 11.5 ozs. and the .32 shows 11.4 ozs. No one can detect such a small difference.

When the numbers are crunched, the primary difference is in bullet weight. The .32 shows a free recoil energy of 1.5 ft./lbs.; the .380 is nearly double at 2.6 ft./lbs. At first glance these numbers just don't seem right.

There is only about 0.750" clearance between the trigger and the front of the trigger guard. It is, therefore, inevitable that your trigger finger is gonna get smacked by the trigger guard when the gun recoils. The .32 does it too, but the .380 does it better.

One of the surprises that came when we shot the various other loads was how much more recoil they had compared to the Silvertip. Even though velocities were very similar, recoil was noticeably more because of the greater bullet weight. During that part of the testing, I wore a glove.

Accuracy? One of the criticisms leveled at both the .25 and .32 was that they didn't have sights. Obviously some folks just didn't get it. I can't remember the exact quote, but Seecamp said something to the effect that if you needed sights, the target was much too far away for this gun. The .380 doesn't have them either. Wise words, Mr. Seecamp.

But just because it doesn't have sights doesn't mean that you can't hit something with it. At 7 yards it was easy to hit a soda can and even smaller objects. I don't know how anyone else does it, but my eye focused on the target, and as soon as the top of the pistol came into the line of sight, I mashed the trigger. Actually, because of the long DAO stroke, I quickly learned to begin the trigger stroke as the pistol rose from the ready position. With just a little practice the shot broke at the same time that the "slide picture" looked right.

The trigger action on all the little Seecamps is a product of sound engineering. Getting a double-action drawbar and conventional hammer into little guns isn't the easiest thing to do, but the Seecamp's trigger is smooth and even throughout the stroke. At 10 1/4 lbs., it isn't too heavy and suffers from none of the "stacking" often found on double-action pistols. (Stacking refers to the trigger becoming heavier or harder to pull near the end of its movement.)

So what's the bottom line here? Even though it has 30 percent more muzzle energy than the .32, the .380 isn't a magnum. The best news is that it makes a bigger hole. I am sure that we can expect to see some refinements in ammo and it shouldn't be hard to get some expansion from the bullet if the factory designs it so, but I'm not sure I'd trade expansion for penetration.

As with most stories, there is some bad news to this one. Seecamp is a very small company and they don't make a lot of guns. Customers already on the waiting list for a .32 will be given the option of switching their order to the new .380. This is one of those cases where patience really will be both a virtue and a necessity. But it will be well worth the wait.
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Author:Petty, Charles E.
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:1964
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