Building A Back-up/Hideout Gun

Back in the late 1970’s I bought a really nice little Belgian Browning semi-auto pistol chambered for .380 ACP from a retired police officer who didn’t think he’d need a “back-up” gun as much in his new life as an insurance salesman. Having said that, one of the few times in my life I really thought I might have to use a firearm to defend my life was when I was (briefly) selling insurance! The Browning was a very good pistol, and made me feel a lot more comfortable a couple of times, at least, by having it with me. As far as actually shooting it, I used it to “finish off” quite a few small to medium sharks caught in the surf or out of my boats – along with one 120# alligator gar. About this time of my life I spent all hours not at work fishing, and a lot of it on various beaches at night. A few times I had reason to feel threatened by “suspicious” people, and a couple of times without a gun handy. It felt a lot safer to have that Browning with me.

Of course, the .380 was not considered a “proper” self defense caliber back then, but it did punch a .38 caliber hole, and was certainly “better than no gun at all”. In modern configuration, the .380 is taking on a new role in self defense, with better pistols chambered for it (not that there was anything wrong with my Browning!) and more powerful ammo available. Taurus even just announced a .380 revolver, which I assume uses moon clips to aid loading speed, and Hornady has a defense load for the .38 Special that approximates .380 power levels, because the little John Browning creation is seen now as a good choice for those who might not handle a larger caliber as well. Looking at .380 factory loads available in the Natchez Shooters Supplies catalog showed some interesting ammo – hollow points designed to create maximum tissue damage, and a .380 load that is supposed to have a muzzle velocity of over 1200 fps among them!

I should have kept that little Browning. It was my first center fire semi auto pistol, and would have certainly increased in value. Instead, I traded it in on the first .44 magnum Thompson Contender I ever saw!

Lately I have been giving some thought to maybe getting another .380, as a “backup” or “pocket” gun, but which one? Glock seems to be selling a lot of their new .380, but I don’t want a plastic, striker fired pistol with an imaginary safety. That lets out some other manufacturer’s models, also. The Colt and Kimber .380’s which are basically small 1911’s are what I really prefer, but they are a bit pricey for what I want – or need. While I was trying to make up my mind, a decision seems to have been made for me!

Several years back, my wife and I bought a big cab over type pickup camper, with thoughts of using it to do some traveling. What actually happened was a tropical storm blew it on its side, and then Hurricane Ike put it down again when it seemed I had just gotten it upright. It has sat in our driveway ever since while I tried to decide what to do with it, as it was damaged too badly to ever hit the road again. I should mention, though, that I still have fond memories of the old camper, as we basically “lived” in it for several months after a small, personal sized tornado wrecked our home. Recently I decided to start scrapping it out, removing anything of possible value that added weight, then trying to turn the shell that was left into a decent deer stand. While cutting the kitchen counter apart to remove the 4 burner propane range and oven unit, I noticed something strange barely showing on the edge of the underside of the oven. When I got the object out, it proved to be a small .380 pistol in a holster, with a full magazine of ammo!

This old AMT .380 spent at least a dozen years beneath the range/oven of an old pickup camper!

This old AMT .380 spent at least a dozen years beneath the range/oven of an old pickup camper!

My find was an AMT Backup in .380! It is a completely stainless pistol that is fired by an internal hammer and has both a manual thumb safety and a grip safety! There are six cocking serrations on the rear of the slide. It has a magazine disconnector, which will not allow the pistol to fire if a magazine is not in place. This is a good safety feature for any semi-auto pistol, as it keeps an operator from removing the magazine when a round has been chambered, forgetting about it, and accidentally firing that round. AMT named this pistol the Backup because it was actually designed to be marketed to Law Enforcement officers as a – wait for it! – “backup” pistol to be carried in addition to their main service weapon. The extra weight of the all metal construction is a help, because it is a blow-back operated gun, and if a .380 can be said to have excessive recoil, well, this one is quite “snappy”!

The AMT was also made in America!

The little AMT is an all stainless pistol, and although this one had the right-side grip missing, it held a full magazine of HP ammo.

The little AMT is an all stainless pistol, and although this one had the right-side grip missing, it held a full magazine of HP ammo.

The right side grip was missing on this pistol, and a bit of internet research revealed that the grips are important to the operation of the gun. If the left side grip does not press tightly against the safety bar, the safety will not hold in place properly. Too tight and the safety will not operate. On the right side the grip presses against the magazine disconnector in the same fashion. I elected not to try to fire the gun until it had grips on both sides, so I fashioned a temporary set from some old Dyna-wood 1911 grips I had on hand. The AMT does not have a locator pin in the grip frame to keep the grips properly oriented, instead it has the backs of the grips cut in a relief so that much of the grip fits inside the grip frame to hold them in position. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to use locator pins instead, and was happily “chasing” a lower frame pin out with a longer one when things began to fall apart. The trigger came out and landed on my desk, as did the trigger bar/disconnector and some other pieces. When I got everything back together I did not notice the trigger spring was missing.

My first “range test” was interesting. I had read reviews of the AMT Backup on the inna-net, and as expected found them to be all over the place. Most on-line reviews seem required to be cruelly negative, and this was true with the AMT. According to which review one read, they jam hopelessly, the slide “bites”, and they are generally very unreliable. My example of one loaded and fed ammo well – the only jams I experienced were on the last round in the magazine, which I attributed to a weak mag spring from being under loaded tension for well over a decade! It was even fairly accurate at the reasonable “belly gun” distance of 5 yards. My only problem was that the trigger – without a trigger spring – would not reset after a shot, requiring me to reset it with my finger. Oh, and my makeshift grip on the right split soon after shooting began, probably from being over-tightened. As another aspect to this “test” of the .380, the ammo I shot the first time out was some I had on hand, and which had been in the safe since I last owned a .380 – that Browning 20 years ago! Amazingly, I experienced zero misfires or other ammo related problems!

Many times I read or hear “reviews” of various firearms, particularly handguns, and usually online – that are very negative. Sometimes it turns out the person giving this information has actually little or no experience with the gun in question, but just has a axe of some sort to grind and uses the anonymous nature of the internet to trash a product. Other times the reviewer is simply inexperienced and/or misinformed, or passing along something they heard from someone else who is inexperienced or misinformed. Jamming or other action problems with semi-auto pistols are quite often “operator error”. The “limp wrist” factor when firing with a very loose grip on the gun will cause almost any pistol to malfunction at times. Ammo problems can be very frustrating with auto-loaders, also. When I found out how critical the grips and their level of tightening was to the AMT Backup I began to understand why one former owner said the trigger fell out of his, and when he got it back from having the factory “fix it”, the same thing happened again. Having had the trigger fall out of mine when the right hand grip was off, and once again when it was simply too loose, I now understand why that could happen. I guess you could blame it on the pistol or its design, but if the shooter properly “learns” the gun and operates it as it is supposed to be operated, problems like this will not likely happen – or if they do, they can be understood and corrected.

Firing the AMT .380 with my cut-down 1911 grips showed what I thought was decent accuracy for a pistol with a 2" barrel and virtually no sights!

Firing the AMT .380 with my cut-down 1911 grips showed what I thought was decent accuracy for a pistol with a 2″ barrel and virtually no sights!

The grips on the AMT Backup "nest" partially inside the grip frame to hold position, rather than using locator pins as most handguns do. The tension of the grips against the frame also is important to proper operation of the safety and disconnector. This picture shows the manual safety bar under the left side grip.

The grips on the AMT Backup “nest” partially inside the grip frame to hold position, rather than using locator pins as most handguns do. The tension of the grips against the frame also is important to proper operation of the safety and disconnector. This picture shows the manual safety bar under the left side grip.

My first firing session was shooting some Remington FMJ ammo that had been in my safe since I last owned a .380 - so it is likely over 20 years old! The second session was with new ammo from HPR, and also with a set of factory wooden grips in place.

My first firing session was shooting some Remington FMJ ammo that had been in my safe since I last owned a .380 – so it is likely over 20 years old! The second session was with new ammo from HPR, and also with a set of factory wooden grips in place.

More research on the computer located a set of factory wooden grips and a couple of new – as in never used – magazines, so I waited until these arrived before trying again. Also, I looked at a schematic on a reputable gun-smithing website, and determined that a piece of spring steel wire on the disconnector bar was the “trigger spring”, and was broken off shorter than specs wanted it to be. Unfortunately, this proved to be incorrect, as that piece was the disconnector spring and the actual trigger spring is a coil spring that fits in a “hole” in the trigger. The trigger itself fits onto a protrusion off the disconnector bar and the spring pushes it away from this, forcing the trigger to return to the proper position. Correctly surmising that the spring must have fallen out when the trigger did, I searched my desk area and DID come up with a spring, but I think maybe it was one from the open sights on a Ruger Blackhawk I had been messing with – and it did not work in the AMT. Searching for parts for discontinued pistols can be frustrating, but I finally found ONE trigger spring from Bruce Schluderman of Schluder Shots in Round Rock, Texas. I also purchased a disconnector bar, pin and spring in case I should need to replace those in the future. Bruce also had a set of wooden factory AMT grips that have never been on a pistol that are now on their way to me! He has some experience with the AMT guns, and says they are fairly popular, making parts sell fast when they are available. AMT has been out of business for some years now, of course, so the pistols are no longer supported by a factory. It turns out, though, that High Standard – now based in Houston, Texas – has purchased the rights to the AMT lineup, and has announced they intend to resurrect the Backup and Auto-mag Models.

To bring the story of the Backup to its next level, my package from Schluder Shots arrived, and I anxiously fitted the trigger spring to the trigger (this is an easy operation – the whole pistol is a pretty simple design) and headed to my “range” to give it a try. I fired four magazines of 5 rounds each, mixed old Remington ammo and the new HPR FMJ ammo, and again had no feeding or jamming problems – AND this time the trigger reset properly after each shot! I again fired from 15 feet, and my accuracy was not the best, mostly because I was rapid firing to make sure the pistol operated properly. It did “jam” on the last round a couple of times, but this time it was the spent cartridge that briefly hung in the ejection port after being fired. Success!

This was 20 rounds fired rapid fire (4 magazines of 5 rounds each). There are not 20 full holes in the target, because several shots overlapped.

This was 20 rounds fired rapid fire (4 magazines of 5 rounds each). There are not 20 full holes in the target, because several shots overlapped.

The AMT Backup .380 is dwarfed by a Para 1911 .45 with 3" barrel.

The AMT Backup .380 is dwarfed by a Para 1911 .45 with 3″ barrel.

By now I may have spent more on the AMT than it would be worth on the open market (or maybe not?), but less than a (small) fraction of what a new .380 micro pistol would have set me back. In return I have what seems to be a reliable semi-auto of all stainless steel construction with manual and grip safeties and with a magazine disconnect. What is there not to like about this “find”? I also know more about this pistol’s construction and operation than possibly any other I own, by virtue of “breaking” and them repairing it myself, and I have a good schematic courtesy of Numrich Corp and a source of parts in Bruce Schluder.

A recent magazine article on “Pocket Pistols” defined the modern version as a gun of no more than 6.5″ in length, 1.25″ width, and less than 5″ tall. The old AMT Backup measures out at under 5″ in length, 1″ in width, and 3 1/2″ tall. By virtue of the all steel construction, however, it may weigh a bit more than the 9 ounces or so the smallest modern micro pistols weigh.

By the way, I am going slower in the wrecking job on the old camper, and keeping a sharp eye out for any more “surprises”!

The AMT .380 Backup wearing new checkered wood factory grips  provided by Schluder Shots in Round Rock, Texas.

The AMT .380 Backup wearing new checkered wood factory grips provided by Schluder Shots in Round Rock, Texas.

The new trigger spring seems to have solved my trigger resetting problem, and allows the AMT to operate as a true semi-auto pistol. When the new grips arrived, they were so tight I thought I might have to do some fitting, but they finally “popped” into place after some time and effort. To illustrate how important the grips are to the function of this pistol, when I first tried them I had them snugged down very tight, as this needed to be the case with the other grips I had used. Trigger pull was extremely heavy, although the trigger did still reset after each shot. Guessing the better fitting grips were pressing too hard on the trigger/disconnect bar, I tried backing off on the crews a bit – and this did the trick! Of course, for a small pocket pistol, a slightly heavy trigger is safer than a “hair trigger” – I just don’t want to have to ask my wife to help me pull it when I shoot! A good tip from Bruce Schluder is to find the “sweet spot” for them, then Locktite them in place so they don’t move. Again, I fired 20 rounds testing the operation with these grips, and function was perfect. In fact, the small problem I had seen before of the last round in the magazine jamming disappeared – with both magazines.

The old warrior operates like a new pistol!

With the pistol all cleaned up and wearing proper – as well as attractive – new grips and shooting every time the trigger is pulled, it seemed a good time to find an effective way to carry it.

Micro-pistols like the little AMT Backup conceal well in a pocket holster.

Micro-pistols like the little AMT Backup conceal well in a pocket holster.

There are many “pocket holsters” on the market that mostly do the same thing, so my task was finding one that “fit” a pistol out of production. Barsony Holsters and Belts made just such a holster that will handle several brands of small pistols – including the AMT. Pocket holsters are designed to hold a small pistol in a pocket, of course. As such they must break up the outline of the gun, so that it is not too obvious, and allow for an easy draw. Most have a bottom rear protrusion that “catches” in the pocket – along with a patch of some material that also clings to the pocket cloth – so that the holster stays in the pocket when the gun is drawn. The Barsony offering does just that – very well. For my uses, it will be perfect to keep the AMT in and handy, so if I need to go to the door at night to meet a marauding ‘coon, possum, or armadillo I can quickly slip the gun and holster in a front pocket, for “just in case”. It also fits in a back pocket, although it might not be comfortable to sit on the gun very long. I would not really recommend carrying this pistol in a pocket with a round in the chamber, even though it does have the dual safeties and still a fairly stiff trigger pull.

Some of the most popular defensive pistol cartridges are (L-R): .380 FMJ, .380 JHP, 9mm, .38 Special, and .45 ACP

Some of the most popular defensive pistol cartridges are (L-R): .380 FMJ, .380 JHP, 9mm, .38 Special, and .45 ACP

The above picture offers a visual comparison between several of the most popular self defense cartridges. The .380 is probably the smallest most experts would recommend as a serious carry gun, but newer offerings from several ammo companies bring the .380 to a power level at or near 9mm and .38 Special. Of course, a .380 achieving over 1200 fps, like at least one of these rounds is advertised at, might be a bit “sporty” to shoot, but it will provide a lot of defensive power for those willing to practice enough to be competent with their handgun.

For comparison, 9mm rounds average from 115gr with a muzzle velocity of around 1155 fps to 147gr at around 950fps. “+P” loads will top 1250 fps. Popular .38 Special loads with 125gr – 158gr bullets will run 700 to 900 fps, while +P loads go up to and over 1000 fps. .45ACP ammo is normally under 900 fps, but with 230gr bullet. .357 magnum bullets are similar to (or the same) as .38 loads, but with a big increase in velocity (and recoil!).

When reviewing published ballistics for the .380, it did not rate as badly as I would have thought when compared to it’s “bigger” competitors. The “slowest” velocity I found was from PMC, with a 95gr JHP at 925 fps. most HP loads ran between 950 and 1025 fps, with a few Grizzly and Buffalo Bore loads sending a 90gr JHP out at 1175 and 1200 fps! There were also a few loads listed with bullets as light as 45 gr – and velocities as high as 1400 fps! For long range varmint hunting, I guess? While there is often debate on the advisability of using hand-loads in a defensive pistol, for those who would like to “roll their own” for the .380, the Lee handbook lists loads for the 90 gr XTP hollow point using Unique and Power Pistol powders starting at velocities a little over 900 fps and going up to a maximum of 1020 fps. Doesn’t take much powder to get there, either! Even with a lighter average bullet weight, the .380 really doesn’t lag far behind other defensive rounds in “power”! It is not what I’d choose for a combination hunting/self defense round, but for personal protection it is well worth consideration!

If a reader agrees that the AMT Backup is a viable candidate for a .380 defense pistol, used ones are regularly offered for sale on the internet, OR you could send an email to High Standard, asking them if and when they might bring this gun to the marketplace once again. Be sure to let them know where you heard about the “Backup” when you do!

NOTE: Today I saw an AMT Backup .380 for sale in Dallas, listed on TexasGunTrader. This one is a newer model than mine, and is Double Action Only in operation. It does not have the grip safety, heck it doesn’t have a thumb safety, either. It relies on the strong double action trigger pull as a “safety”. Otherwise, very similar gun – except it in un-fired, and in the original box!

VERY Tempting!

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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46 Responses to Building A Back-up/Hideout Gun

  1. MikeH says:

    You are welcome. If this was of interest, I will be continuing the “saga” of the Backup Gun, probably update tomorrow. I put new factory grips on it and a new trigger spring, it now functions perfectly – fired 20 rounds of my stash of 20 year old .380 ammo today with no jams or FTF incidents. This little gun is really growing on me!

  2. Matt says:

    Interesting how you acquired this gun. I have recently reacquired one I carried some 20 years ago, and they are awesome little pistols. I wonder about what you said about that disconnector, would it be ill-advised to think about attempting to disconnect/disable it? I could see wanting to be able to leave a round in the chamber while reloading, in case someone got a bright idea to rush me while I’m changing mags.

    The thought might not have even come up, but several weeks ago I was ambushed on a bike trail by 3 assailants, with a fourth waiting in a getaway car. Really wish I had picked up my old Backup before then.

    I would like to hear more about your adventures with this piece, too.

  3. MikeH says:

    Personally, I own four semi-auto pistols at the moment, and only the AMT has a magazine disconnect. I like this feature, would not consider disabling it. The only “accidental” discharges I’ve ever had with a semi-auto came because there was a round in the chamber with the magazine removed – and the pistol fired. Of course, I am very “picky” about safeties on semi-autos, will not own a Glock or similar pistol with no manual safety. That said, I have never been in a situation such as you describe, but would think you would be in for a bad time with a pistol only holding 5 rounds in such a case. With higher capacity magazines, it is often suggested to stop firing with at least one round left, so that a mag change can be made with a loaded chamber in a gun with no mag disconnect. I have 3 magazines for my AMT, but realize this still does not equal the capacity of a single Glock mag.Of course, this is why the AMT is named “Backup” – it is the gun you pull out when your primary weapon needs reloading – to save the time of changing magazines. While I realize the AMT Backup was chamber for other rounds (.45ACP, .38 Super), with the limited range and power of a .380 I would only consider it as a last resort, very close range defensive weapon – almost a “belly gun”, where the name comes because it is meant to be against the bad guy’s belly when the trigger is pulled. I have been having trouble finding out which version of the Backup High Standard is now producing again – double action only or double action/single action – but I think I would personally prefer the later, with its slide safety and grip safety as opposed to relying only on the heavy double action trigger pull when carrying it “locked and loaded”.

    Just my opinions, of course, your mileage may differ. Glad you like your Backup, as I really like mine. Recently bought another in “like new” condition for one of my younger brothers who did not have a home defense weapon. Good to see these practical and well made guns on the market again.


  4. Matt says:

    Hey, Mike,

    I wanted to follow up on the question I asked earlier. I found a .pdf of the original manual for this model, the SA .380 Backup. It explicitly warns more than once that it WILL FIRE with the magazine out of the gun:

    I haven’t had the time to take mine out to the range to check this, but I will certainly take AMT’s word for it until I can, and you might want to make a note of this in your post above as well; the thought of someone taking your word without checking and getting hurt bothers me, and I am sure would bother you as well. You might want to check this next time you are at the range as well.

    A couple other things: One, I ran across a forum post in which an SA Backup .380 owner mentioned that he was able to fit a Colt Lasermax laser sight, designed for the Colt Mustang Pocketlite, ontop the Backup .380 with only a slight, easy modification. You can find the post here:…-18182217.html

    The poster’s nick is “Marine”.

    Note that at first he misidentifies his sight as a Crimson Trace, and in a second post corrects it to the Colt Lasermax.

    I am ordering a Lasermax for mine and I will get back with you once I try it out, and let you know if it works. It is available right now at the very modest cost of $70 at:

    I think this is a pretty exciting development, if true, as the Lasermax adds very little to the profile of the gun, I am pretty confident that I would not even have to change the holster I use (an Uncle Mike’s #2 pocket holster, which I have cut the back seam down a bit so that it sits straight in, rather than at a slight angle). And to be able to put a bright red dot on a target rather than using the almost-non-existent sights seems to me to add quite a bit of range to what I consider to be a very good short-range weapon. I’ll let you know how that works out. To me, it seems like a total game-changer to be able to put a compact laser that doesn’t hurt the MAGNIFICENT concealability of the Backup at all, and (presumably) greatly enhances its accuracy at distance, especially when combined with:

    The promise of the 90 gr. Lehigh Xtreme Penetrator round, which, Lehigh claims, will feed in the Backup with no problems (has been tested, and this is claimed on their site on the page I cite just below), and is designed to do damage in the same ballpark as a full-size 9mm or even more:

    …Or, possibly, the Underwood version that uses the Lehigh bullet, but claims a 1200 fps muzzle velocity (vs the 865 fps of the Lehigh):

    Here is a Youtube comparison of the two Lehigh-bullet rounds in .380:

    BTW, I agree whole-heartedly about the need for a safety, and, after firing a Glock very recently, I am not impressed at all with anything beyond their stellat magazine capacities.

    And with regards to that, my brother discovered that, with an aftermarket magazine (no idea which brand, unfortunately), he could “reverse” the mag spring and it would load SIX rounds instead of five. Which, with one in the pipe, would give seven shots, which is pretty damned respectable, especially with a round that was designed to be pretty much 75% of a .45 ACP. Just wish I could find an extended capacity mag like they make for Glocks, for once you’ve revealed it and need to go to work.

    As far as use, my interest in it is not as a “backup” weapon, but in the secondary stated role as a highly concealable carry weapon. To me, it’s like the philosophy of the WWII Corsair fighter: cramming the largest engine you can into the smallest possible airframe. In my view, especially if these new tech developments prove themselves, this might make the AMT Backup 380 the sleeper weapon of the century.

    Oh, and I see a lot of adverse comments about the weight of the gun, and I find that to be totally irrelevant. What is an ounce or two in your pocket, when I can’t tell the difference between it and my phone with an extended-use battery? Meh.
    Oh, and the HiStandard Backup, which I think is no longer in production, was DA only. As far as I know, the only AMT SA was the .380, the others are DAO.

    Cheers, Friend, and I’ll be back with you.

  5. MikeH says:

    Thanks for the constructive comments. As to the magazine disconnect, the AMT does have one, and the purpose of a disconnect to to keep the gun from firing with the magazine removed. My AMT Backup .380 WILL NOT fire with the magazine removed. I have tried this many times, both before and after my post – and just tried it again. Mine is single-action only (SAO), although I have seen a DAO .380 Backup. That one did not have a manual or grip safety, don’t know about the disconnect, nor have I been able to examine a High Standard version as yet. I would certainly agree, however, that the owner of ANY semi-auto pistol should check this function on his pistol personally, rather than relying on information from even the manufacturer’s manual – or me!

    Agree that the laser sight option would be very helpful for this little gun, since as you pointed out it has virtually zero sights! My “drill” so far is to use the technique of using the outline profile of the slide to direct my shots, rather than the groove on top – as I often do with 1911’s when needing to get off a quick round. If the laser does fit, however, I’d be interested in one, also.

    As to extra magazine capacity, I have only used original AMT magazines (3) in my gun, also in the NIB one I found and purchased for one of my brothers. My experiences with various 1911’s have shown that magazines can be VERY critical. If I have one that feeds reliably, I am not likely to try to alter it. A larger capacity magazine would be welcome, even if only as a reload (I use 7 round Wilson Combat mags in my 1911’s, with 10 round versions for reload mags), but I probably won’t try to doctor one of my .380 mags to hold more rounds – these little guns can be finicky feeders!

    I also don’t find the weight to be a problem, and it certainly helps with the recoil in a straight blow- back action like the AMT Backup!

  6. Matt says:

    I can’t get to the range at the moment, but I pulled the mag out of mine and, with no round in the pipe, mine will *dry-fire*. I am not sure how a disconnector works and whether it “senses” if there is a round in the chamber, can you enlighten me on this? Does yours do the same?

    I’m pulling the trigger on that laser sight in the next day or two, will let you know how it goes, and send pix as well if you want to send me your email addyThe Hi Standard is DAO, you can find it listed on their website.

    Mags, you know, I can’t recall ever having a failure back when I had this gun before, using FMJ, but when I got it back from my brother we took it to the range, and he had had HPs in it, and it was just awful with the rounds he had in it. He told me he had never had any problems with it, but I couldn’t get through two mags without a stovepipe with those HPs. I think he had done the widening-feed-lips thing, not sure how that might affect ball ammo. Will ask about that. Going to have to get to the range with a ridiculous amount of ammo to really put this thing through its paces and make sure it’s ultra-reliable.

    As far as extended capacity for a reload mag, I just had visions of the 30-rounders you can get for Glocks, etc., but I have no idea how or if that would work, with the mag release on the bottom of the grip. More of a “what-if” than anything else.

  7. Matt says:

    Hey, also, do you use the mags with the cast finger extension, or the sheet-metal one, or none? Back when I had it before, I had one of the cast and one without extension, and I noticed no difference at all in felt recoil or controllability, which I assume that was meant to address…? I have very large hands, and really, without the extension I only have one finger and a half on the grip. For me, the extension seemed seems unnecessary at best and something to catch on your clothes when you’re trying to draw at worst.

  8. Matt says:

    Oh, you may find this of interest, a Youtube video from with their take on the AMT SA Backup.

    There are errors, though, one being that the barrel on the SA Backup is welded on and cannot be removed, and another that it is marked “Backup II”, which is the DAO version and not the SA. You may find more, since you’re far more familiar with the assembly and operation of this gun, and apparently many others. The video seems to skip the disconnector, and it goes way too fast for my liking, though it’s really more or less an advertisement for the Gun Disasssembly program. Dunno if you are familiar with that program, I think it’s pretty neat, though now having seen how it treats a gun I’ve got my hands on, I wonder about its level of accuracy for any other weapon it features. But, for me, being fascinated by machinery and how things work, it’s, like I say, pretty neat.

  9. MikeH says:

    I have both types of finger extensions and one without, and I really like the one without an extension the best, as the extension doesn’t really do much for me – and my hands aren’t really all that big.

  10. MikeH says:

    When I first got mine I read a lot about them jamming excessively, but have not found that to be the case with mine. At first it would sometimes FTF with the last round in the mag – but this was with the magazine that sat loaded in the camper under the stove for about 15 years! Mostly, my magazines have feed well, although I tried one box of Hornady ammo loaded with XTP hollow points that does not do very well. Otherwise, It hasn’t really seemed to matter whether I use FMJ or HP ammo. I’m a little down on Hornady loaded ammo and brass right now, but their XTP bullets are about the best HP’s for semi-autos I’ve tried.

    I suspect the disconnect is operated by the pressure and position of the magazine. Mine will NOT fire without a magazine, loaded or not, which is how I think it should work.

    I watched a video on the gun when I first got it, also, but it was done by an individual. I think he said the barrel was permanently attached to the frame, not sure if he said “welded” – but in none of the disassembly was the barrel removed. Since it is a straight blow-back action without a barrel link, this may be the case.I have not tried to take the slide off mine, as it worked fine without being completely disassembled and checked/cleaned.

    I have often read that if you “limp wrist” a semi-auto when firing, it will be more likely to jam. I assume this means not holding it firmly enough, so maybe it moves around more than it should under recoil?

  11. MikeH says:

    I’ll try to watch it when I get a chance.

  12. Matt says:


    OK, if I understand you correctly, you said that yours will NOT FIRE without a magazine in place, “loaded or not”, which, please correct me if I am wrong, seems to mean “either with a round in the pipe, or not”, without a magazine in place?

    I ask, because mine WILL dry-fire with the magazine out, and I’m not in a position at the moment to run down to the range and see if mine will fire with a round in the pipe, but the mag out.

  13. MikeH says:

    OK (also), I have NOT tried firing mine with a round chambered and no magazine in place as I can remember for sure.This would be because I do not know how having a round in the chamber would have any bearing on this situation. If the pistol is cocked, I do not see how it would “know” if there is a round chambered or not? The purpose of a disconnect is not to prevent harm to the pistol from dry firing, but to prevent accidental discharges – which can only happen with a round in the chamber – therefore, it should prevent the firing pin from “falling” regardless of whether a round is in the chamber – or in the magazine which has been removed. I do know that it will “dry fire” with an empty magazine in place and no round chambered. Next time I go to my woods place, probably tomorrow, certainly Friday, I will try to chamber a round and remove the magazine and see if it fires. Pretty sure I did try this, and it will not, but let’s put this question to rest, huh?

  14. Matt says:

    Yeah, the barrel is definitely welded on. I’ve seen that limp-wristing it can cause a jam, and apparently that can happen with a lot of other auto pistols. And “limp-wristing” is indeed not holding the gun firmly/steady enough.

    Wolff sells recoil and firing pins as a set, as well as mag springs. Ive seen others mention that a new recoil spring solved jamming problems in this model. I bought one of each and installed them, will see if this helps. Definitely stronger than the original recoil spring.

  15. MikeH says:

    Had a computer hiccup, don’t know if I lost the message I was sending or not. Good, fresh springs are always a positive, and although I don’t seem to need them on mine right now, I’m sure I’ll change them in the future. I put a “strong er” spring in my Glock 10mm before I sold it, and it made a world of difference. The recoil spring in my .460 Rowland 1911 was so strong it was hard to manually work the slide, but it sure helped when shooting it!

    If you get to try that laser sight, my email address is

  16. Matt says:

    Oh, hey, there is another video I know of that has some really good information, from an experienced gunner who uses the SA AMT Backup .380 as his carry weapon. Shows how to disassemble, clean, and lube it right. from YouTube-er “mixup98”:

  17. MikeH says:

    Think I may have seen that one.

  18. Matt says:

    Okie Dokie, I’m here to report to you and to the world that this COLT LASERMAX CF-MUSTANG-B-C, Model: COLTW2970LM, Manufacturer Part: W2970LM, UPC Code: 798816542509, avaiable on the datey of this writing from Native Outdoors ( for $69.99 plus shipping (turns out to be just under $80 total for Priority Mail shipping):

    ***ABSOLUTELY FITS*** on my Covina-manufactured AMT .380 Backup, single-action pistol, Serial number D114xx,


    Installation is DEAD EASY. Again, with NO modifications.


    Because of the slightly different designs between (at least in the case of mine) the AMT .380 SA Backup and the Colt Mustang Pocketlite that the sight was designed for; my sight, as installed, attaches and orients pointing a little low, rather than perfectly parallel to the “keel line”, if you will, of the gun. In other words, when installed on a Mustang Pocketlite, the line of the bottom edge of the sight housing lies parallel to the line that is formed where the slide meets the frame. With my Backup, the two lines slightly but noticeably diverge outward from back to front, making the laser sight initially point low. A slight turn on the elevation alignment screw (the instructions warn to NOT go more than a 1/2 turn away from the factory setting, or you risk voiding the warranty (which is probably moot, since we are installing it on a gun it was not designed to be installed on)), and (in my case, with just a little tweak to the left) you are right on the money.

    If you want, you can send me your email address, and I’ll send you pix of the gun with this laser sight installed, the installation instructions, and I think I can probably line up a reasonable photo of the sight picture I get, showing the laser dot riding just above the sight picture you would see when the sights are aligned, as recomended in the instructions.

    In my eyes, this seems to be precisely the GAME CHANGER I speculated that it might be, and I can’t wait to get ahold of, and test, some of the newer ammunition types that claim to elevate the .380 round into the same ballpark as 9mm and .38SPL (specifically, the Lehigh and Underwood rounds featuring the Lehigh Xretme Penetrator), and see if they can feed cleanly in the AMT Backup, as they claim to (at least in Lehigh’s case).

    I really think we are onto something here.

  19. MikeH says:

    Matt, this is very good news, and I will probably give this laser a look myself. Yes, send me those photos, if you don’t mind. Email for me through my website is : mike I am currently exploring options for articles about the AMT Backup for a couple of magazines, and all favorable information on the use of these pistols will be helpful.

    Also, I will “double check” whether the disconnector allow it to fire with a round in the chamber and the magazine withdrawn – which I don’t think it will – this afternoon, when I visit my woods place.

  20. MikeH says:

    Update: my AMT Backup .380 WILL NOT FIRE with the magazine removed, whether or not there is a round in the chamber. This is what a disconnect is for, to keep someone from forgetting they had chambered a round and thinking the gun was “safe” because the magazine was out, then shooting themselves or someone else.

  21. Matt says:

    OK, I’ve been away a bit, but here, I’m back.

    With my question about firing with the mag out, my question had to do with concerns about the difficulty of replacing the mag in a hurry; as you know, the AMTB has a euro-style mag release, and it’s a little more complicated and slower than on, say, a 1911, on which you can just hit the mag release button on the grip, the mag pops out of its own accord, and you can “slam” another mag in, in a second or less. The AMTB is a lot more fiddly, and can cost several seconds if the mag exchange doesn’t go well, and if those seconds are in a crucial situation, an assailant gets an opportunity to ruch you while you are in an essentially “disarmed” state.

    And my thinking with respect to that scenario would be that it would be nice to be able to fire while the mag is out, so at least you get one shot before he’s on you. And of course, this line of enquiry stems from my having been in a situation with multiple assailants, and my (as you can imagine, since I was badly hurt in the ambush) extensive analysis and mental re-enactments and re-hashings of the ambush. Lots of “what-if’s”.

    I’m having a strange problem at the moment with the laser, it has started to come up bright and then dim out. I replaced the 1/3N battery with two 357’s, because I couldn’t find a 1/3N locally and the pamphlet suggests the 357s as an alternative, but I seem to still be having the same problem and I’m going to contact them, hopefully tomorrow, about it. Could be any kind of problem, and I am comfident that they will sort it out. What’s important for me is that it does fit the gun and zeroes in just fine.

    One thing I noticed, though, and I’m hoping this isn’t the problem with mine, is that when you look at the instructions, there is a little blurb *after* the instructions about adjusting the aim point (WHY AFTER????), telling you to NOT go more than a half-turn away in either axis from the factory setting. Now, because it’s factory set for a different gun, you DO have to adjust the aim point for the AMTB, but I am pretty sure that I didn’t go over a half turn (it started out a bit low), but I can’t be certain, because I didn’t notice that admonishment before I adjusted the aim point. It says that going beyond the 1/2 turn can damage the sight, and I am hoping that the problem I am experiencing isn’t due to that, but still I really don’t think I had to adjust it that far. I’ll update you when I hear back from them/settle this out.

    Bottom line, don’t go more than a 1/2 turn from the original factory setting. Not sure how one can really ultimately keep track of that over time, what with incremental creep due to firing, everyday movement/stresses in a carry environment, etc.

    BUt I’m still happy with it, anyway. Bottom line, I don’t foresee critically needing a laser so much in the daytime for the business this gun is designed for, and it still lights up hot and stays bright enough in the night/dark setting I’m looking at, and I am thinking that if I am going more than a few seconds in a gunfight at night, and if the assailant(s) is/are committed enough to pursue the fight after taking rounds, I’m not going to want to have a hot laser giving away my position, and I’m likely going to be turning it off, and back on when I’m in a better position and I’ve gotten a visual on a target.

    But for all these musings, I’m no expert, no gunfighter, and just an ordinary citizen, albeit an old military brat who has availed himself to a fair amount of literature and thought on the subject.

  22. Matt says:

    Hey, how did that laser work out for you?

  23. MikeH says:

    Fits perfect, seems to work great. Very little adjustment required. Haven’t shot the gun with it mounted yet – been sighting in my hog hunting handguns – hope to do that this week.

    Thanks for the tip, this is a great accessory for the little AMT .380 – or any other small pocket pistol.

  24. Matt says:

    Yeah, I’m sure it will sight in nicely. For all the shortcomings of the sights, they are indeed accurate, in my experience, if you take the time to aim correctly, at the across-the-room distances this gun is designed for. I’ve set my dot to rest like a rising sun on the proper sight picture for these sights at 30 or so feet. We’ll see, and I’ll report back, how that works out when I get this particular rig to the range, but I’m pretty confident that this will prove effective, given my experience with the sights on this particular gun.

    I really, really like having a laser sight on this thing. I have been on board with their concept of getting the biggest round they can into the smallest, most concealable, unobtrusive frame they can, from the first time I laid eyes on it. For me, though, the sights were always the weakest link, and having a red dot at aim point really changes everything, in my view.

    Ordered a box of the Underwood XTreme Pens. They are supposed to feed just fine in the AMT, we’ll see.

    Seems like a pretty good round if it does.

    Cheers, let me know how it goes.

  25. MikeH says:

    I also set the laser to show in the groove on top of the slide, like a front sight would, if it actually had one other than the tiny protrusion it does have. Should work just fine, as the shooting I’ve done with mine has given very acceptable accuracy for such a small, “sightless” pistol.

    I’ll be interested in how the Underwood ammo performs. They have a very good reputation in larger caliber’s, was not aware they were loading .380 ACP?

  26. Matt says:

    This video compares the Lehigh round with the Underwood (which uses the same Lehigh bullet):

    ALSO, I figured out that the problem I mentioned above turned out to be that I had exhausted the 1/3N battery, and I went to Radio Shack and bought a pair of 357 batteries (which the sight manual suggests as an alternative) because RS was out of the 1/3Ns, and the 357s turned out to be duds.

    Bought another set of 357s and it works great.

    I’ve also ordered a pair of 1/3Ns from Lasermax.

  27. Matt says:

    For anyone who might run across this discussion while searching for information about the AMT .380 Single-Action Backup pistol, PLEASE NOTE that while Mike’s pistol, essentially identical to mine, will NOT fire or dry-fire when the magazine is removed, whether there is a round in the chamber or not, MINE WILL, and the AMT Backup owner’s manual also warns that it WILL fire with the magazine removed, DESPITE the fact that this pistol is equipped with a disconnector. HOWEVER, since this weapon is equipped with a disconnector, it may be the case that the disconnector on mine is defective.

    SAFETY FIRST, Friends.

    ALSO: I have seen posts about this model that mention FTF (failure to fire) conditions due to lint fouling the firing pin from pocket carry.

    There is ALSO a video on Youtube, currently as of this writing, at this URL: , demonstrating an AMT Backup going FULL AUTO, which may very well be also attributable to a firing pin being fouled by pocket lint. Of course there are other conditions that might cause this to happen, including a broken or bent firing pin. In any case, my point is to emphasize the importance of familiarizing ourselves with any weapon we own, and maintaining it in proper working condition.

    /end rant LOL

  28. MikeH says:

    Matt, you bring up some good points. It is important with any firearm to be sure you know what it will do and won’t do, safety-wise. Semi-autos are especially critical, and used guns might have worn parts or have been modified in the past. Check all semi-autos to see if they will fire with the magazine removed (do this at the range or with an empty pistol, of course!), if the slide can be racked while the safety is on – an especially be sure you instinctively know which direction to operate the manual safety in, if it isn’t readily apparent.

    Pocket pistols are especially prone to pick up debris from the pocket – another reason to use a good pocket holster, but all defense firearms should be examined often to insure they are in good, proper working order.

    As to a video online of a Backup firing full auto (all five rounds!), I haven’t watched it yet, but agree with the wise words of President Abraham Lincoln, who is created with saying, “You can’t believe everything you see on the internet!”.

  29. MikeH says:

    Matt, I have not yet tried the Underwood ammo, but have been very pleased with ammo fro HPR (Hyper clean) and a few others loaded with Hornady XTP hollow points. XTP’s of any caliber and size have been good bullets, in my experience – probably why so many others ammo manufacturers load them – although Hornady loaded ammo caused more jams than any other I’ve tried in my .380 Backup.

    Incidentally, the little Backup pistols were originally chambered in many rounds, including .38 Super and .45ACP (which must have been “sporty” to shoot!), and I recently saw one offered for sale chambered in .40 S&W. That one was a DAO model, which does not have a grip or manual safety, instead evidently depending on a very stiff trigger pull for loaded “safety”. That model may well not have a magazine disconnect, either.

  30. Matt says:

    Yeah, and they had a whole lot more, as well, including one that shot .30 carbines IIRC. The .45 seems to be about the same design as the DAO Backup, I kinda wish they would have designed it like the SA .380 we’ve got. I don’t like DA. I have never been able to get the hang of that long, heavy trigger pull without losing my aim. Love the trigger on mine, especially now that it’s got the laser. Can’t wait to get to the range and see how much more effective accurate range that gives me over the channel sight.

  31. Matt says:

    Before I got the AMT I had gotten a little Raven .25 at a gun show. Took it to the range all excited to try it out, it was actually the first pistol I had ever bought. First time I pulled the trigger, and — Nothing. Broken firing pin. The folks at the gun shop-and-range that I was at fixed it for me, but that experience had a profound impact on me and taught me to never make assumptions about any gun and to familiarize myself with, and learn as much as I can about any gun I put my hands on.

    What if I had just bought the little Raven, loaded it up, put it in my pocket, and trusted that it would keep me alive in a bad situation? Well, that’s nothing *I* ever would have done, but a lot of people do, I think.

  32. MikeH says:

    Firearms and firearm ownership are serious responsibilities. I have found that a lot of the negative information on the internet about various guns seems due to the actions – or lack of action – of the owner.

  33. MikeH says:

    I saw a DAO Backup for sale last week in .40 S&W, as well as two .380’s and a couple of AMT’s 1911 “Hard-baller” model. The 1911’s look good, might give one a try sometime.

    At what I consider “reasonable” ranges for such a small caliber pistol, the laser makes mine a whole lot more accurate. Thanks for the tip, really happy with it.

  34. Matt says:

    Yeah, I saw someone bitching about the Backup and said he had had an accidental dicharge with his.

    Tossed it on his his bed and it went off, he said.

    Tossed it.

    Tossed it.

    So, as you say.

  35. Matt says:

    OK, so certain magazines will load and feed _six_ rounds rather than five.

    I currently have to that will do this, and, now that I’ve hoarded five to compare each other to, it looks like I may have figured out how that works.

    First of all, there are several different follower designs. I have two that are plastic and colored orange. both of those are basically “hollow”, meaning that if you look on the inside, it’s sort of like looking into a plastic cup. There is a bottom and there is the “body”, if you will, and it’s hollow throughout. In other words, the “bottom”, looking at it as it sits upside-sown, is the same thickness as the “sides”. I have one black plastic follower that has this same design. But another black plastic one, if you compare it to a plastic cup, has a MUCH “thicker base”, like a plastic cup that has a base that extends up to half the height of the cup itself, if that makes sense.

    The other factor that seems to affect the 5/6 round equation is the mag spring. If you lay the springs for a mag that will take 6 rounds end-to-end with one that will not, the one that will take 6 rounds is just a bit narrower than the one that will not. To be clear, if the magazine is installed in the gun and we compare the gun to a boat or ship, and the overall length of the spring corresponding to the height of a mast on a sailing vessel, the dimension I am referring to would be “fore-and-aft”, not “port-to-starboard” or “mast height”. I am hypothesizing at this point that the “wider” spring eventually “scrunches down” against the fore-and-aft walls of the mag and prevents the addition of a sixth round. I’ve taken some comparative pix, and will share them with you if you are interested in pursuing this line of inquiry. My interest lies in maximizing the “bang for the buck” in this design, because, well, who can argue against six (actually, 6+1) being better than five in a bad situation…

  36. Matt says:

    Yeah, that is really what I mean when I say it’s a “game-changer”. Now, as I see it, once you sight the laser in, the limitations are the error inherent in that short a barrel, and the steadiness of the user’s hand/grip. But, basically, it seems that once the red dot is set to zero at 10-yards-or-so, you are going to have real stopping power out to maybe 20, 30, even 50 yards, just by putting the dot in the right spot, a litle high or low, depending on how well you know the ballistic drop of your chosen round.

  37. MikeH says:

    I like the laser, and it definitely adds to the accuracy of a little pistol with no real sights. Of course, while the .380 is loaded to a lot more power than it used to be, I would not consider it lethal at 50 yards, personally. The little AMT is great as a backup or “belly gun”. For for defe naive firepower and range, I will pick up one of my 1911 .45ACP’s.

  38. MikeH says:

    I have the original magazine that was in my gun when I found it, and two new ones I bought later. As far as I know, all are 5 shot magazines. Fine with me, actually, as my Charter Arms .357 revolver is a five shot, I just carry several speed loaders for it. Again, if I thought I’d be in a situation (and I know we can’t usually foresee that!), I’d pick up a 1911 with a 7 shot mag in the well and a 10 shot in my back pocket. This said, yes, given a choice, I’d take the 6 shot mag over a 5 shot.

  39. Matt says:

    Yeah, it looks like a little 19121 to me, too. I think it’s lovely. Dunno where I read this now, but the .380 ACP was designed by John Colt to be a 3/4 version of the .45 ACP, and it’s pretty much all of that, as far as I can tell. 3/4 size 1911, more or less, in about a 1/2-size frame. I love it.

  40. Matt says:

    Long time no see.

    Actually, there is a seller on Ebay that goes by the user name of “Hardballer11” who is selling mags from a company called “D&E” that hold six rounds right out of the box. Gonna stock up on those. Not a bad price, either, 4 for $99.

  41. Matt says:

    Coming back to this post, I wanted to add that while I was at my brother’s I shot his Glock, which is of course a DA pistol like the newer model Backups. Hated it completely. Don’t like the long trigger pull. Didn’t like it with revolver I had back when, either, just didn’t have the time or money to spend on practicing to keep a steady enough trigger pull to be consistently accurate like I can easily get with a semi like a 1911 or the Backup. My brother also has a Backup .45, which I didn’t shoot but did dry-fire. Not only is the trigger pull long on that like hte Glock, but it’s also RIDICULOUSLY heavy. No thanks, I’ll take my nice, short, hair-trigger pull on my SA backup.

  42. Matt says:

    OK, another update. I said already that mine would dry-fire with the mag out, which of course yours wouldn’t. I wound up having an AD with mine with the mag out. Mine WILL FIRE with the mag out. VERY glad I had it pointed in a safe direction.

  43. MikeH says:

    Matt, sorry about that. As I said before, I am pretty certain the pistol was designed with a magazine disconnect – mine certainly has one – so perhaps yours has been altered somehow? I suspect now you understand the importance of this feature?

  44. MikeH says:

    I am not a fan of Glocks, for many reasons, and the normal Glock trigger is one of them. Mostly I take issue with their “make believe safety system”. My Backup has a very strong trigger pull – especially so for a SA gun – so I can’t rate it above the Glock in this respect. All 1911’s are not light of trigger, either. My Taurus PT 1911 had a terrible trigger, but my Para Expert has one of the best triggers I have tried. On the other hand, I am not a fan of “hair” triggers. On my Ruger single actions I have been taking one end of the tirgger spring loose, to lower the trigger from 5 pounds or heavier to a more comfortable 3.5 pounds. My Herter’s .401 Powermag has a trigger that breaks at less than 2 pounds, and this is a bit lighter than I prefer.

  45. MikeH says:

    That does sound good. I have four mags for my backup right now, though, and I think this is enough for me.

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