A long time ago in a galaxy far away... well, actually not THAT long ago and not far away at all, I purchased a Beretta Model 85 "Cheetah" in .380ACP for off-duty carry. While I wasn't then, and am not still, a huge fan of the .380ACP cartridge for self-defense use, I am reminded by my good friend Chuck Buis: the best caliber handgun for self-defense is the one you have with you when you need it. The .380ACP cartridge represented a compromise for me between small enough to carry and big enough to stop the bad guy. Let me share my decade long testing of this weapon / cartridge with you.
I should note up front that Beretta manufactures two .380ACP pistols of similar model. The Cheetah, or Model 85FS that is featured in this article, and the Model 84FS not covered here. The difference is that the Cheetah Model 85 is a single stack model with a magazine capacity of 8 (+1 in the chamber) while the Cheetah Model 84 is a double stack with a magazine capacity of 13 rounds (+1 in the chamber). MSRP for both is in the $800 price range, but if you look around you can certainly find them new and used for better prices than that.
Now let's get the static basic data out of the way:
- Caliber: .380ACP
- Double and single action
- Barrel Length: 3.81"
- Overall Length: 6.8"
- Overall Height: 4.8"
- Overall Width: 1.4"
- Sight Radius: 4.9"
- Unloaded weight: 23.3 ounces
The "basic" Model 85 comes with the black finish and plastic grips. Since the front strap is grooved (not checkered), as is the back strap of the frame, the plastic grips are okay. Depending on your hand size, unless there are slick conditions (and I mean slick, not just wet) present, it's pretry easy to get a comfortable and secure grip on this pistol. Wood grips are available, as are some after-market grips, but you can't order them on the weapon. You have to purchase them separately.
You can also get the weapon with a satin steel finish which comes standard with the wood grips and is more aesthetically pleasing. That said, pretty is as pretty does so as long as it shoots accurately, who really cares if it's black or satin? Speaking of shooting accurately...
Across the years I've qualified with this weapon annually. With a barrel length just under four inches and a sight radius just under five, it's not a hard gun to shoot. As with any weapon intended for basic self-defense purposes, it need only be able to empty its magazine into the center of a torso within normal "combat" distances (7 yards or less for our purposes here). I've had no trouble keeping all of the rounds fired within four inches at shooting distances out to fifteen yards, and easily within six - during qualification courses - at up to twenty-five yards. In fact, there are really only two challenges I've experienced with this weapon, and they may be particular to my pistol although I've heard other Model 85 owners make similar comments:
- It takes a fair amount of hand strength to pull the slide back, cycling the weapon to chamber the first round or to eject a chambered round. As an example, my wife is far from being a weak woman and she has trouble doing this. The side height of the slide where the serrations are simply isn't that tall and it's sometimes hard to get a proper grip given the space available. It's a small gun. What do we expect?
- To put the safety on, decocking the weapon as you do, the safety has to be pushed UP. The strength of my right thumb - thanks to biomechanics - is much greater at pulling safeties DOWN rather than pushing them up. It isn't easy to push that safety up unless I completely change my grip and push it up with the tip of my thumb instead of the side of my thumb knuckle. OR, I also have used my weakhand thumb to safe and decock the weapon.
- Triple check that the weapon is unloaded. Eject the magazine. Cycle the slide. Lock it back, look and feel to insure an empty chamber.
- Lock the slide into the open position.
- Push the takedown button in on the left, holding it there while you rotate the takedown lever (on the right side) 90 degrees down (counter clockwise)
- Hold the slide and release the slide stop. The slide assembly should come off in your hand.
- Carefully remove the recoil spring and guide (it will shoot across the room - not a captured spring)
- Remove the barrel from the slide.
Reassemble in reverse.
Like many of the Beretta designs, the Model 85 has an open slide. Once you've got it field stripped, take a look at the slide and realize that, caside from the mechanisms housed in the back end, it's one big ejection port. The one malfunction I've never seen with a properly maintained and lubricated Beretta pistol in the 84, 85, 92 or 96 families is a stove pipe.
I've found that my Beretta 85 will fit in many leather holsters meant for Government Model style pistols. Obviously, if the holsters have thumb straps they will be too loose to be of use, but if it's an open-top "slide" design holster, it'll probably work. For off-duty carry this is quite a comfortable little gun. With nine in the weapon and a spare magazine of eight more (17 rounds total) you can feel relatively well stocked for typical off-duty requirements. (How many of you still carry a five-shot revolver and no reloads?) On the other hand, if you aren't confident that the .380ACP rounds will reliably stop bad guys then a different caliber weapon may be for you. I qualify with this gun each year simply so that I can carry it should the need and/or desire occur. I've found it to be reliable, reasonably accurate and - with the exceptions noted above - easy to handle / shoot.