American Handgunner, September/October 2009, p. 63 – 68
By PAT CASCIO
The Kahr P380 fits neatly in Pat’s hand and this is one itty-bitty .380 carry gun for back-up to your main gun.
Top, Ruger LCP, bottom Kahr for comparison. You can’t go wrong with either.
Right up front, I’ll tell you I’m not a big fan of small calibers for self-defense. Given my druthers, I’d druther have a bigger caliber than .380 when my butt is in danger. I don’t have any problem carrying something smaller than a 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 as a back-up piece, though. And maybe that’s why this was enlightening to me—and I surprised myself with what I eventually bought. No fooling.
After rounding some examples up, I looked at them all with that doubting-Thomas eye and found while a .380 might not be my first choice, the variety and surprises kept my mind open.
These hummers are still in short supply more than a year after they were introduced. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you, this LCP is a dandy back-up carry piece and it lives in my BLACKHAWK! ankle holster whenever I leave the house these days. I also mounted the new Crimson Trace laser to it and it works out neatly. lf you’ve never tried an ankle holster, now is the time. Most folks don’t like ankle holsters, but if you can wear ’em for a couple of weeks, your ankle gets used to ’em.
At only 9.4 oz. unloaded, the LCP is one of the lightest in the bunch. With it’s 2.75” barrel, you hardly know you’re carrying the darn thing. With a 6+1 capacity, it affords you enough back-up “fire power” for most situations, I’d imagine. Like many of the itty-bitty .380s on the market these days, the LCP has a polymer frame, which means you’d better hold onto it. If you don’t, you’ll end-up limp-wristing it, causing failures to feed. No problems were encountered during the T&E, and my wife bought my sample for me for our 29th wedding anniversary. In return, I had to buy her one—it’s her back-up to her main carry piece. Quid-pro-quo?
The Kel-Tec P3AT (neat take on the caliber for the name of the gun, get it?). It’s only 8.3 oz. with its polymer frame and has a 2.76” barrel and 6+1 capacity. My sample came with a second magazine with the extended floor plate. I liked the way it felt with that “pinky-catcher” on it, even though it only caught my ring finger. As with the LCP, there were zero malfunctions with the P3AT. The trigger pull was DAO—same on the LCP—and really smooth. Again, I liked this gun, and it’s a great one for ankle or pocket carry.
Okay, save all your e-mails, snail-mails and other hate mail, but I had to include the Hi-Point .380 pistol in this mix. His Editorship told me to, so I had to. He said, “I want to know, honestly—and I know that will be a break for the norm for you—if it’s a piece of crap or does it actually work.” From the editor’s mouth, as it were, and thanks for the vote of confidence boss.
First of all, I’ve heard most of the jokes, “It’s a boat anchor,” “It’s ugly” etc. Say what you will about Hi-Point handguns, but the darn things always go “bang” when you pull the trigger, and they are plenty accurate for any self-defense needs. The Hi-Point .380 was the heaviest of the lot, coming in at 29 oz. with its polymer frame. Yeah, it’s a big gun, and you can’t wear it on your ankle. It comes with an 8-shot magazine, and with a l0-shot mag as an option. Also included are contrasting 3-dot sights, with an optional ghost ring rear sight included if you’re of that ilk.
You’re gonna’ hate this part. Out of all the guns tested, the Hi-Point was the easiest to shoot—remember, it weighed the most. It was also the second most accurate of all the guns tested. What’s not to like? I’m a sucker for such things, and ordered a second sample for my meager firearms collection—that sez it all. Hate me if you will, but value-for-bucks-spent doesn’t play favors.
I’ve long had an older model Bersa 383 .380 in my meager collection of handguns. It has had well over 2,000 rounds through it, with one malfunction—it failed to fully eject an aluminum-cased CCI round. Hard not to like a gun that’s reliable and accurate. My wife carried it for a lot of years as her main self-defense piece.
Coming in at 20 oz. with the aluminum frame, it has a 3.5” barrel and holds 7+1 rounds. The sights are a bit smallish, but functional. It also comes with a decocker on the slide since this is a DA/SA pistol. A bit too big for ankle carry, it’s a dandy tucked inside your waistband with in inside carry holster.
The long-awaited poly frame Kahr Arms P380 pistol was well worth the wait. Kahr Arms is producing what many consider to be the Rolls Royce of smallish concealed carry handguns. I’m not gonna pick a fight with anyone who thinks these might just be the best CCW around, we’re all entitled to our opinions. Coming in a not quite ten ounces with the 2.5” barrel and its 6+1 mag capacity, this is one dandy hide out gun if you ask me. This sample also came with a spare mag—neat! Elegant and of obvious quality, this is a definite go-to gun if you ask me.
The last sample is the classic Walther PPK/s and it came in .380. I’ve liked the feel of the PPK/s, regardless of what I said at the start. S&W is producing the Walther PPK/s in the United States these days, and it’s a fairly faithful reproduction of the original, with the exception of the extended grip tang. I could do without it, personally. Made of all stainless steel, the PPK/s is very attractive, and ready for the harshest elements. Coming in at 22.4 oz., with the 3.3” barrel and 7+1 mag (it also comes with a spare) it’s a damn good piece, carries easily, fits a hand good, but it a bit heavy compared to the polymer guns.
I mentioned the Hi-Point .380 was the second most accurate gun of the bunch? Well, the most accurate one surprised the daylight out of me, it was the Kahr P380 with it’s white dot front sight and white bar rear sight. I fired all the test guns at 15-yds, which I think is more than fair, and given the role of these guns, I think that’s the maximum distance you might be using these guns anyway, give or take. But if longer shots are called for, they are capable along those lines as well. The Kahr easily would keep all my shots inside the head area of a target, no problem at all.
I won’t say there was a least-accurate gun in the bunch, they were all pretty close to being equally accurate. I did have problems with the Ruger LCP and the Kel-Tec P3AT because the sights are extremely small, and my aged eyes simply cou1dn’t see the sights. In my case, these are a point shooting guns, so you sort of point them looking through the side/sight area, and I got good results. The Walther PPK/s had usable sights for my old eyes, but they could have been a bit bigger if I had my way. Best sights were on the Hi-Point, they were easy for me to see. The Bersas were “okay” at best.
The decocker on the Walther PPK/s and the Bersa 383 were hard to manipulate, stiff and tough to move, Also, and this has been a major complaint of mine for a lot of years, the PPK/s has a DA trigger pull way too heavy. My sample came in around 16-lbs by my calculations. I don’t know why Walther feels the trigger has to be this heavy—it can be lighter and there are pistolsmiths out there who can do it.
The LCP, P3AT and P380 are all DAO triggers, and it would be a toss-up as to which of the three of these little guns had the best trigger pull as they were all very, very good. The Hi-Point has a single-action trigger, not extremely smooth or light, but functional. The LCP actually has a hammer and it’s concealed in the frame/slide, but it’s there. The P3AT and the P380 are striker-fired. I had zero malfunctions when it came to firing the guns and every single gun went “bang” when I pulled the trigger.
The only gun I had any problems with was the Kahr P380 sample. The first three full magazines through the gun had one failure to feed after another. After the first three magazines, there were no further problems of any kind. To be fair, Kahr says to test their guns with at least 200-rds of ammo before trusting it for self-defense. I recommend this with most guns out-of-the-box anyway. Make sure you fire enough rounds through it to have confidence in the gun. As a rule, I usually run at least 200-rds through any gun I’m gonna carry. This show’s to give any new gun a chance to get settled in before you go back to the dealer in a huff.
My ol’ buddy, Jeff Hoffman, at Black Hills Ammunition supplied me with a goodly amount of FMJ and JHP fodder for testing, as did Winchester. In all, I fired close to 1,500 rounds through all the guns tested. There were zero failures to fire and zero failures to eject empty brass. The most accurate out of the ammo tested was the Winchester Ranger 95-gr. JHP SXT. All the test samples loved this ammo without fail. Second most accurate was the BHA 95-gr. FMJ stuff. always a good load for target practice and functioning tests. BHA also makes a dandy JHP load for self-defense, too.
I like to save the best for last, and that’s the street price on guns. I can only give you prices in my neck of the woods (Western Oregon). The Ruger LCP is still in short supply so everyone is selling them at full-retail, is around $330. The Kel-Tec P3AT goes for about $300. The Hi-Point .380 goes for $149 (what a deal!). The Walther is the most expensive of the bunch, but then again, you are buying a “Classic” and it sells for around $450. The Bersa 383 goes for around $229 and the Kahr (like the Ruger LCP) is selling a bit high ’cause it’s in extremely short supply comes in at around $550.
Did I have a favorite in the bunch? Probably—but I’m not telling. I will say this, I bought all the samples sent to me (okay, I’m still paying on them). My wife liked my LCP so much, I had to get her one of her own. I also thought the Hi-Point was the best deal of the bunch and bought a second one—just to have!
As I said at the start, given my druthers, I’d druther not carry any .380 pistol as my main gun these days. However, as a back-up caliber to my main gun, any of the guns mentioned would be one helluva Beer Budget Back-up Blaster in my book.