.25 ACP: The Best Cartridge For Really Little Guns

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Many are quick to dismiss .25 ACP as a defensive cartridge, but sometimes concealability and reliability are more important than stopping power.

.25 ACP Quick Facts:

  • Typically a 50-grain projectile traveling at ~800 FPS.
  • Designed by John Browning to be a more reliable pocket pistol cartridge than .22LR.
  • Fell out of common use by the 1980s.
  • Modern defense loads are still produced.

The prevailing attitude within the contemporary CCW community is that one should never carry a cartridge weaker than 9mm. When even .380 ACP is disparaged for having inadequate stopping power, you may be wondering why anyone would even consider .25 ACP to be anything besides obsolete. For those who carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46, the premise of trusting ones’ life to a cartridge this small is probably laughable, but in the 116 years since its invention, .25 ACP has put more people in the ground than one might expect. Carried by both criminals and their prospective victims for decades, .25 ACP may just be the hidden wonder that our renaissance of micro-compact pistols has been needing.

It is true that modern firearms technology has enabled us to make guns nearly as small as the pocket pistols of yore but chambered for much more potent cartridges, however, there are more factors at play than size and power when it comes to self-defense. I posit that despite the recent abundance of 9mm micro compacts, most people would still find utility in having an old Saturday night special in .25 ACP.

25 acp comparison
.25 ACP, 9mm and .45 ACP.

It Needs To Go Bang

Which would you rather have on you while strolling through a dangerous neighborhood, a .44 magnum with timing issues or a .22 target pistol that’s never failed you once? Personally, I’d feel much more confident with a reliable piece than I would with a more powerful one. Ideally, of course, we want to have both, but that’s not always possible. The potential ballistic energy stored in a big cartridge is worth exactly zero if it fails to go off, while good shot placement can more than compensate for poor ballistics.

While .25 ACP isn’t exactly a showstopper in any of its other properties, nobody can deny that it's about as reliable as any other centerfire cartridge. Even the nicest, most expensive defensive .22 loadings will be inherently less reliable due to their rimfire design, which is exactly why John Browning set out to create the .25. He chose a cartridge case that was as small as possible but could still contain a primer and designed a round-nosed jacketed projectile for more reliable feeding in autoloaders. Its semi-rimmed nature allows it to be used in both revolvers and semi-autos, and the rim aids with extraction in the latter.

Both studies and common sense tell us that during most defensive encounters involving a firearm, no shots are actually fired. While we should always plan for the worst when preparing for a potential defensive scenario, we must also accept the reality that if you ever are forced to draw your gun, the odds are that its mere presence will be enough to deescalate the situation. Even most of the dumbest criminals understand that gun=danger and will be equally dissuaded by Dirty Harry’s hand cannon as they would be by grandma’s old Tanfoglio.

25 acp tanfoglio
A Tanfoglio GT27 .25 ACP pocket pistol.

Room For Improvement

Despite all of these potential benefits and justifications, most .25 ACP pistols still suck. They were limited by the technology of their day and their cheap, disposable nature created a positive feedback loop resulting in increasingly poor-quality designs to be released over the years. Unlike most other pistol designs, many of the oldest .25 pocket pistols were of higher quality than those which would come later. With all due respect, it's no surprise that Colt, FN and Beretta can make a nicer gun than Lorcin.

Enough of these pocket pistols are still in use that several ammunition manufacturers continue to produce .25 ACP, despite there not being a new .25 pistol released on the market since perhaps the Taurus 25 PLY.

TaurusPLy25-4
A .25 Auto in the chamber of the Taurus 25 PLY.

The key advantage to pistols chambered in .25 ACP is obviously their size. Only rimfire cartridges could be used to shrink down pocket pistols any smaller, but the better reliability of centerfires makes .25 the clear winner in this category of firearms.

While no new .25 ACP pocket pistols have been developed in a very long time, and it remains unlikely that that will change anytime soon, if a company were to venture a new design I believe it could have good potential. The greatest shortcomings of most .25 pocket guns are their nearly useless sights, low capacities and the incorporation of outdated design features. If a new .25 ACP pocket pistol were to come to market that featured a lightweight polymer frame, better iron sights, a double-action trigger and maybe even a double-stack magazine, this otherwise obsolescent cartridge would just maybe make a comeback. If not a comeback, it would at least give guns like the new Ruger LCP MAX a run for their money.


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12 COMMENTS

  1. Hilarious 25acp article. So while many ammo makers are still manufacturing 25acp ammo, it’s a ghost towne for 25acp pistol makers. And for good reason, 25acp just doesn’t cut it. Besides CCW carriers can easily choose among numerous .380 & 9mm pistols barely larger than any very old 25acp auto.
    Nice try on the 25acp scenario, it’s kinda like the ancient & obsolete
    30-30 cartridge that just won’t die. Like I said: Hilarious!

  2. After carrying a NAR 22LR single action revolver with a 1″ barrel after 9/11, three months later I ran up on a deal on a Baby Browning, with a home made leather holster in a front pocket of a pair of jeans it looked like a Motorola flip phone.
    I worked at a university at the time, and we had a huge foreign student population, many from the middle east, carrying a firearm was not an option. Even with the tiny sights, and small frame it out shot the tiny NFA revolver, had a simple thumb safety and was 100% reliable unlike the Titan 25’s my mom and grandmother had after Dr King was killed in the 60’s.
    It was replaced by a Keltek 32, then a Keltek 380, I sold the 32, the 380 gets carried rarely, but the little Baby Browning is tucked away in the safe incase it might be needed as last ditch weapon again.

  3. I learn a long time ago, no matter the gun or caliber, a gun any caliber, when needed is better than nothing.. Besides, I don’t want to be shot me with anything, that can put a hole in me and possibly kill me..

  4. Interesting article. With an EMS background, I’ve saw far more .22 shootings than .25 ACP. In fact, I can only recall one shooting involving a .25 ACP in a 40 year career. The victim, actually the Perp, survived, though he did lose a section of bowel.
    My only experience with a .25, was a Raven in the 80’s. It wasn’t accurate past 20 feet, and it wasn’t reliable either. It failed to feed quite regularly. I’m sure an old Browning, Colt or Walther would have been a better gun, but even in the 80’s they were few and far between, and a tad pricey for me. Now, they’re even more so.
    While J. M. Browning was a Firearm genius when it came to design, his cartridge development was very conservative leaning. Most of his cartridges (not all mind you) were underpowered and underperforming even at that time. A few do stand the test of time, but personally, I don’t find the .25 to be on my list of successful cartridges. It still exists due more to nostalgia than effectiveness.
    I shouldn’t like to be shot by any cartridge, or projectile for that matter, as in the right spot, any can kill you.
    Now, I’ve not handled any of the later attempts but the Zemak Cast Saturday Night “Ring of Fire” Specials like the Raven, so I’ve no comment on Taurus’ last offering. Raven, I think is now owned by Jiminez Arms. All started by Bruce Jennings after the GCA of 68′. I believe they made .32 and .380 ACP versions as well as a .22 LR version.

    Any articles about the .25 NAA or .32 NAA proprietary rounds developed by Corbon for the North American Arms “Guardian” line of pistols. If I was going to rely upon a Mouse gun, that would be my choice.

  5. Any consideration of .25ACP pistols for self-defense, other than for their conceal ability, is ridiculous. Besides their lack of serious power, none of the pistols themselves have any “intimidation value”, in my view, a necessary feature in a self-defense arm.

  6. I had a Colt in .25 back in the 60s that I quickly traded off. Firing into a seasoned oak back stop, I had a round bounce straight back and hit me in the leg. Hurt and made me mad but didn’t even break the skin. It’s not a fair judgement, but I had no respect for the round after that.

  7. ‘.25 ACP has put more people in the ground than one might expect.’ It was the .25, (or 6.35mm), that the Soviets used to execute nearly 22,000 Polish officers and dignitaries in Katyn Forest. This probably makes it the most deadly pistol cartridge at close range, from behind.

    • According to my extensive study of the Katyn murders of the Polish officers and elite, the NKVD murderers used German 9MM pistols, in order to throw off investigators who might exhume the bodies, as to the true perpetrators.

    • According to my extensive study of the Katyn murders of Polish military officers and Polish national elite, the NKVD murderers, at the direct orders of Stalin, used German 9MM pistols, do as to throw off investigators, should it occur, as it did, that the corpses would be exhumed.

  8. the baretta tomcat 32 frame with a 25 upper might hold a double stace 25 mag . that would be a worthwile pocket gun. I ave a baretta 25 and can hit a piece of paper every time offhand at 25 yds . at real use distances . its lights out accurate. jam of misfire? never . 8+1 quickly and very accurately .

    • I bought a Beretta flip up barrel in 22 short high velocity about 55 years ago. Still have it. Very head shot accurate from 15 yards on in. Like it so well that I bought a 32 Tom Cat about 8 years ago. Like it so well that my wife has now taken it as her personal carry gun. Hardly any recoil & very accurate at normal ranges of 20 on in.

  9. The one thing I’d like to see is a light, handy small game rifle in .25 ACP. Why? I live in California. There are only two lead free .22 LR offerings on the market, one of which is infamous for poor accuracy. That doesn’t matter because I’ve never laid eyes on a box of either. The .25, on the other hand, can be hand loaded as long as one has cases, even if no factory ammo can be found.

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