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Light and Modern Defined

GUNS MAGAZINE, May 2008, p. 38 – 41
By Massad Ayoob

New shooter Toni Greenberg gets the feel of the Kahr .45’s trigger during dry fire practice as instructor Herman Gunter, III looks on. The TP45 was accuracy tested with high-quality ammo in the three most common .45 ACP bullet weights.

Ayoob test fires the Kahr TP45 with Black Hills 200-grain lead SWC. Smoky, but consistent and accurate.

Gunter proves the Kahr .45’s shootability on an 8″ plate at 15 yards, all hits. The Kahr is quickly back online as it finishes cycling.

With a trigger pull like a fine double-action revolver, this flat 8-shot .45 auto may just out-Commander the legendary Colt. Going on 60-years ago, Colt introduced the first significant size and weight change in their legendary Government Model .45 auto. They shortened its barrel from 54″ to 4-1/4″, stubbed off the slide proportionally, and made the frame out of high-grade aluminum alloy.

Called the Commander, it weighed 26.5 ounces instead of its predecessor’s 39.5, but held the same payload of seven .45 ACP rounds in the magazine and an eighth in the firing chamber. Later renamed the Lightweight (LW, for short) Commander to distinguish it from subsequent all steel models in the 4.25″ barrel configuration, this gun would become de rigueur for concealed carry by serious firearms professionals.

It was reasonably light. It was combat accurate. It was flat and easy to conceal, especially inside the waistband. It held a third more ammo than a sixgun, and powerful ammo at that, and the spare magazines were fast to reload and also flat and convenient to carry. Colt Commanders were cool. They still are.

But, over the years, the paradigm changed. The KISS principle — Keep It Simple, Stupid! — migrated from military training to police training and then to the armed citizen side of the house. It was suddenly presumed the cocked and locked .45 that had served competent handgunners since 1911 was too complicated for people of today. The demand arose for a “slick-slide” .45 auto as slim and light as an LW Commander, but needing no manual safety, relying instead upon the double action “point gun, pull trigger” principle for every shot, proven so relatively safe with revolvers since the 19th Century.

Enter the Kahr Arms TP45. Roughly the size of a Commander, its distinctly lighter thanks to its polymer frame. It’s slick, revolver-like double-action-only trigger pull has won a lot of friends over the years in Kahr’s smaller caliber models. It’s a mild-kicking compact .45 both reasonably accurate and fun to shoot.

This pistol proved very consistent on the 25-yard line. I tried it with three name-brand loads in the three most popular .45 ACP bullet weights. The gun was supported on an MTM gun rest on the bench, in a two-hand hold. Each group of five shots was measured overall to determine practical accuracy in steady hands with no stress, and again for the best five shots. A good shortcut with an experienced shooter who has “called no flyers,” this will roughly approximate a 5-shot group with the same gun and load from a machine rest, because it greatly factors out unnoticed human error. Each measurement was taken center-to-center, farthest shot to farthest, and measured to the nearest .05″.

The lightest bullet weight tested was 185 grains, using Federal’s famously accurate 45C load, a conventional jacketed hollowpoint from their Classic line. All five shots ran 3.45″, and the best three were in a more promising 2.05″ cluster. This round has light recoil, and was one of the best standard-pressure JHP manstoppers in its weight range back when 185-grain loads were popular in police .45s.

The middleweight was the 200-grain semiwadcutter, all lead, in the Hensley & Gibbs No. 68 so popular among handloaders. This batch was factory loaded by Black Hills. A smoky round, but certainly an accurate one, it delivered five shots into 2.75″ with the three tightest measuring 1.40″.

The heavyweight was the perennially super-popular 230-grain, and since the Kahr TP45’s barrel measures exactly 4″ from the back edge of the chamber hood to the muzzle, I close the new Short Barrel .45 ACP Gold Dot load ramrodded by Speer’s gifted engineer, Ernest Durham. It drilled a quintet of bullet holes 2.95″ apart, four of them in a 1.45″ cluster and the best three only 1.20″ apart. This load shows great potential in the little Kahr.

The gun shot very consistently. All precision aiming was done with a conventional post-in-notch sight picture, and every load shot just a little bit low and left. The three dots of the test TP45’s Trijicon night sights sit just below the top edges of the sights, closer to the bore. This meant sighting with the three dots, while faster but coarser, would raise the point of impact to spot-on elevation.

In most 9mm and .40 Kahrs of my acquaintance, there has been a strong “4+1 syndrome.” That is, the first hand-chambered round will send its bullet to a point of impact slightly away from where the automatically-cycled follow-up shots will cluster. This did not occur with any of the loads run through the TP45 for this test. In every group, the most outlying shot came somewhere in the middle of the string of fire. (And, bear in mind, each of those distant shots might have been unnoticed human error. That’s why the “best three” measurement is taken along with the total group measurement.)

Scene opens in the coolness of early evening on my range, still enough light to see by, but the most comfortable part of a hot July day. My friend Herman Gunter III, a consummate firearms instructor, is completing his initial lesson with a lovely schoolteacher named Toni Greenberg, who is firing a handgun tonight for the first time. She is amazed at how well he has taught her to hit with a handy 9mm Glock. I offer them the Kahr TP45. Herman explains this is a .45, and it will kick a little bit more than what she’s just been shooting.

The camera runs as she discovers that. She has been grasping only lightly, and the recoil snaps her firing hand right out of her support hand. Recoil momentum that should have been running the slide dissipates through the frame as her relaxed wrist allows the muzzle to snap skyward, and the slide runs out of momentum before it can fully chamber a round.

Herman shows Toni how to deliver a quick palm-heel slap to the back of the slide to finish chambering the next cartridge, and gently reinforces the importance of a firm grasp with both hands, and a locked wrist with the firing arm. Toni finished the magazine, leaning into the gun and following instructions, and experiences the joy of instant positive feedback: the pistol runs perfectly, and when the slide locks back empty, she is rewarded with seven out of seven shots in the center zone of the cardboard silhouette, zero points down.

She has learned a lesson she’ll hopefully retain forever, and has experienced the only malfunction of the test with the Kahr TP45. Herman explains how any auto pistol can fail to complete its autoloading cycle if it is “limp-wristed.” Tony describes the greater recoil of the 21-ounce Kahr .45 as more exhilarating than threatening. Another confident handgun shooter is born. Toni is on her way.

The first Kahr .45 auto I tested was last year, the subcompact model that preceded the TP. Kahr has long recommended a 200-round break-in before trusting their gun. We in the firearms training business have for far longer suggested at least that many rounds with zero malfunctions before trusting any gun for life-saving purposes, but Kahr is one of the few manufactures honest enough to come out of the closet and say the same thing, and they deserve credit for that. Just as a new car needs those ubiquitously recommended 500 easy miles to “seat the parts,” a new pistol needs those 200 break-in rounds for exactly the same purpose.

Anyway, when testing the smaller Kahr .45, it was a jam-a-matic until somewhere around the 160th round went through it and the final stoppage occurred. From then on, it was flawless, and has since sailed through well over a 1,000 rounds of many kinds in many hands. Truth in advertising. Kudos to Kahr.


The new Short Barrel 230-grain Gold Dot from Speer, engineered to deliver full ballistics from the shorter barreled guns like the 4″ Kahr, showed excellent 25-yard accuracy potential.

Big, clean-cut holes and a promising “best 3 shots” cluster signified Black Hills practice/competition 200-grain SWC load in the TP45.

Sitting in an open, average-size adult male hand, the TP45 shows off its ergonomics. Plenty of hand can be wrapped around the slim grip, and the index finger reaches best leverage point on trigger easily.

People like Kahrs because they’re small. Their short, easy trigger reach makes them great for those with short finger. However, those of us who don’t have short fingers often find that reach too short. For me, the distance between backstrap and trigger contact surface is so short with 9mm and .40 Kahrs that when I finish the double action pull, the locked down thumb position I generally prefer puts the thumb so much in the way of my index finger it can block the trigger stroke. This usually forces me to raise the thumb, which is OK, but then the right thumb is smack in line with the nasty sharp edge Kahr insists on putting on its slide stop/slide release lever. That can get awfully uncomfortable.

A .45 ACP cartridge is longer front to back than the 9mm Luger and .40 S&W cartridges around which all Kahr pistols were built until last year. The coming of the .45 ACP chambering to their product forced Kahr to slightly lengthen the reach from the center of the backstrap of the grip frame to the trigger and this does two good things for those of us with average length adult male fingers, and longer.

First, it allows your hand (well, my hand, anywhere — your mileage may vary) a well nigh perfect reach to the trigger. With the line of the Kahr .45’s barrel centered with the long bones of my forearm, the distal joint of my index finger comes very comfortably to the center of the trigger. This distal joint placement, known to old time double action revolver master as the “power crease” of the finger, gives optimal leverage for a long, relatively heavy trigger stroke. Second, there’s now enough room that if my thumb is curled down, my index finger will touch the thumb at the end of the pull, but that won’t stop or impede the trigger finger and the shot will go off exactly as intended.

Moreover, the frame of the .45 Kahr is just enough larger I can use a straight thumb position and not tear up my thumb on that sharp slide stop lever, since the thumb rides below it. The straight thumb position has some pure marksmanship advantages and is preferred by many competitors, from bull’s-eye to IPSC to IDPA. It will work well with the TP45.

Lightweight, Lotta Punch

This gun weighs barely under 21 ounces unloaded. That’s roughly six ounces less than the LW Commander, which was originally designed to carry the same on-board payload of 7+1 rounds of .45 ACP. Yet recoil feels quite soft for a .45 auto. As the hand wraps around the gun, the rather aggressive checkering bites strongly into the fingers on the frontstrap and the palm on the backstrap, yet it does not abrade when you keep shooting. There is just a sensation of the gun being absolutely locked into the primary hand’s grasp, and not shifting inside that grasp as it fires. (As noted earlier, this pistol wants a firm hold, as do most powerful, lightweight semiautomatic pistols.) There is no bite to the web of the hand, the ergonomically correct shape of the back-strap prevents that.

The slide of this striker-fired pistol is not particularly difficult to draw to the rear, a complaint leveled against 9mm Kahr pistols in the early days. While the gun might benefit from the slide’s grasping grooves going higher toward the top of the slide, they are coarse enough to give the hand a firm purchase, and the slide does not seem to slip. Instead, the slide is rounded toward its top edge. The designers appear to have valued rounded edges for concealment and comfort over providing more surface on the grasping grooves, and the way they’ve cut the grooves, their concept works.

The grip-frame is fairly long to allow for those seven rounds of fat .45 ACP ammo in the magazine. This will slightly compromise concealability. You can either tilt the gun more aggressively forward to keep the butt from “printing” under the concealing garment, or you can go with the smaller version of the pistol, which holds one less round but also has a shorter and more concealable butt. It’s y’all’s call. Fortunately, Kahr Arms gives us the option.

What hits folks when they shoot a Kahr is if they’re habituated to short single action trigger pulls, the Kahr’s feels lo-o-ong. The pull is easily 1/2″, not the 1/10″ tick we so easily get used to on a target pistol. The finger has to come forward and reset, as with a revolver. However, the pull is lighter than most revolvers, and very consistent and smooth. I can forgive lo-o-ong in a trigger pull if it’s smoo-oo-ooth, and the buttery trigger stroke of the Kahr pistols has been their hallmark for more than a decade.

Trigger shape is a factor, too. This one gets a bit too pointy at its toe, or bottom tip. It didn’t bother my particular hand, but I can see someone with fleshier fingers getting nipped. If it’s going to be a problem for you, it’ll show up during dry fire in the gun shop. Still, I’d like to see this spot rounded more. The edges of the trigger, more important for most folks, have their edges adequately broken.

Bottom line? I’ve liked Kahr pistols from the beginning, and have wanted a .45 from the beginning and, not surprisingly, I really like this one. If 7+1 rounds of .45 ACP in a package roughly Commander size though a tad longer in the butt — and much lighter — will do the trick for your personal defense needs, the Kahr TP45 definitely bears a close look at your favorite gun shop.