Top to bottom: .380 Walther, Kel-Tek, Kahr.
Well, I finally found a few spare hours to conduct a comparison of three common .380 pistols to see how they performed. This was far from an extensive test but, I wanted to see what my overall impression was of each weapon, if they functioned reliably and what I would recommend to someone should they decide they wanted to go the .380 pocket pistol route. I gathered four types of ammo I had on hand to get a feel for what might be a good overall load and to see if these small handguns could be relied on to feed and function with differing types of bullets. Some auto pistols, even our beloved model 1911's, will get stubborn about feeding anything but a FMJ. Small frame autos don't exactly have a stellar reputation for reliability. I am happy, and somewhat surprised to report I had no failure to feed malfunctions of any testing these three pistols. The closest thing to a malfunction was when the PPK failed to fire in DA mode...twice. I checked the primer and it had a light indent. I then tried firing it again, this time in SA mode and it fired normally. I didn't shoot the PPK in DA mode much so this may have been a deep seated primer....probably should have done a bit more testing.
For the tests, I set up targets at 10 yards and had the chronograph set about 8 ft in front of the muzzles. I chose 10 yards because this is a more practical range for these small pocket pistols. If they are called to action, the distance would likely be much less, so 10 yards will give an indication of their accuracy potential....25 yards is asking for disappointment. After each type of ammo was fired, I measured the estimated centre of the group and how far it was from point of aim. The pistols were consistent in that each shot to a particular area ( high, low, left, right). I'm not going to list each point of impact for every load but, I think it's important to note what the "average" point of impact was for all loads in relation to where the sights were aimed. Firing was done from the bench off sandbags. I only fired three rounds of each type of ammo due to time and cost so this isn't a through test but gives one an idea of what to expect. Temperature was approx 80F. Each pistol was held with a "firm handshake" grip which is probably one reason all the guns functioned reliably. These small autos are more sensitive to grip pressure (in my opinion) and can be made to malfunction if "limp-wristed"...hold on to them tight for best results!
Dimensions: These are approximate, measured with my tape measure and dial calipers as close as my calibrated eyeball could detect. Weights were from my $5 scale bought from my neighbor's garage sale...best $5 I've spent at a garage sale! Weights are with an unloaded magazine. Capacities are 6+1 on the Kel-Tec and Kahr and 7+1 on the bigger PPK.
Kel-Tec P3AT Kahr P380 Walther PPK
5.125" long 4.875" long 6.313" long
3.625" high 3.875" high 4.563" high
.750" slide width .751" slide width .860" slide width
.834" max width .918" max width 1.042" max width
2.75" barrel 2.5" barrel 3.25" barrel
10 ounces 12 ounces 22 ounces
avg accuracy 3.532" 2.313" 2.375"
avg velocity 881 fps 870 fps 913 fps
avg elevation "0" 1.75" low 1.63" high
avg windage 3.13" right 1.13" right .63" left
Four types of ammo used. Fed from the magazines. The Kel-Tec and Kahr were fired DA only as they have to be and the PPK was fired single-action from sandbags using a two-handed grip.
W-W factory load 95gr FMJ averaged 2.375" groups and 831 fps from all guns. It was most accurate in the Kel-Tec shooting a 1.813" group. It's worst group was in the PPK with a 2.813" group. Avg extreme spread in velocity was 26 fps. These bullets have a small flat nose as opposed to the typical rounded nose of most FMJ's.
W-W factory load 85gr Silver-Tip hollow-pt averaged 2.292" groups and 924 fps. It was most accurate in the Kahr with a pretty nice 1.375" group. The Kel-Tec shot the worst group with a 3.5" group. I noticed a couple of the holes in this group appeared oblong, indicating that the bullets wern't fully stabilized. Not good for accuracy at any kind of distance but probably OK at bellygun distances. However, I wonder what effect that would have on potential expansion...if the bullet began tumbling, it wouldn't expand properly since it would no longer be traveling point forward. The Silver-Tip is a very lightly constructed bullet that expands easily. It is 10 grains lighter and would probably be a shallow penetrator if it expanded properly. Extreme spread in velocity was 34 fps.
W-W factory 95gr T-Series AKA "Talon" hollow-point is a new .380 offering and one I'm pleased to see. As most of you know, I fully believe this is the best designed pistol bullet on the market. It is down-right wicked when it expands with the sharp claws rippin' and tearin' as it penetrates. I've seen several recovered from actual shootings here and they work as advertized. I will tell you right now, this is my prefered bullet in any calibre for social work. This load averaged 3.68" from all three guns but again, the Kel-Tec didn't fully stabilize this bullet and yeilded the single worst group during the entire testing at 6.38". The other two pistols were in the 2" range with this load. It averaged 921 fps with an extreme spread of 24 fps. It also yeilded the highest average energy of any of the loads with an average of 178 ft lbs.
The final load tested was a handload consisting of a 95gr Rainier TMJ round-nose over 3.2grs of Bullseye and a Wolf brand primer. This load had an average group size of 2.60" with average velocity of 875 fps. It shot best in the Kel-Tec at 2.44" with the PPK turning in 2.63" and the Kahr 2.75" groups. Extreme spread was 25 fps. Cheap to shoot for practice. A pound of Bullseye will load 2,187 rounds!
OK, it's time for "MY" overall impressions of each of these pistols. Other's opinions will surely vary on a few things, and that's OK. My perceptions/opinions won't be the same as the next guy. I'll try to be as honest as I can so those who read this can evaluate the things mentioned on their own. I'll discuss each weapon individually.
Kel-Tec P3AT --- An inexpensive pistol that became pretty popular pretty quick. It's main attraction is it's tiny size. It's on a par with most .25ACP pistols yet it chambers the .380ACP. A lot of power (relative) in a tiny pistol. I'm fond of saying "you don't get something for nothing" and this pistol is a perfect example. It has a short grip that only allows room for two fingers. The design of the long (very long) trigger pull will cause the shooter to either develop a modified grip or give up "skin touching" on the checkered grip in order to complete the lengthy pull. The 10 ounce weight is nice to carry but it leads to brisk recoil, especially if the shooter doesn't stay familiar with how to hold the little beast. Mine has been 100% reliable and has been shot quite a bit....still amazes me how well it functions. With the exception of the above HP loads, it is a very accurate (relative for the calibre) pistol. It has always printed to the right of my point of aim but not excessive for it's intended purpose. I wasnt aware of it not stabilizing certain bullets until this test...that worries me a bit but in fairness, I dont carry it unless a bigger pistol just wont work in the circumstance for me. I would not be confident in it if I had to go offensive with it. It truely is a last ditch type of pistol in my opinion. It has poor sights...barely visable molded into the slide. It does not have restrike capability, should it fail to fire you will have to do an immediate action drill of tap/rack/ready. I'm not ready to sell mine and will continue to carry it on a limited basis.
Kahr P380 --- Bought this for my wife. She likes it....a bunch! I like it too as it feels really good in my hand. I can still only get two fingers on the grip but it has a much superior trigger design compared to the Kel-Tec. The trigger is DAO but very nice. It is smooth as butter and just the right amount of pull weight. Stroke is short enough that you dont have to shift your grip like you do on the Kel-Tec before the stricker drops. Like the Kel-Tec, it doesn't have restrike capability either. Reliabilty has been very good. Early on, during break-in, I had some stubborn ammo that didnt feed from the magazine when reloading from a full mag. Recently though, it has been very reliable. This is a high quality pistol. Of course it cost twice what the Kel-Tec did. I've got mostly good things to say about it as it is accurate, has usable sights, is easy to shoot (compared to other small pistols), recoil isn't bad at all and it is actually shorter and almost as thin as the P3AT. During my "plinking" session that I conducted with each pistol, this one performed for me the best. I was able to rapidly aquire and fire on the targets with good results, mostly due to the decent sights, low recoil and manageable trigger. It is also handsome! Still wouldn't feel completely comfortable if I had to go offensive but it is way, way ahead of the Kel-Tec.
Walther PPK (made by Smith & Wesson) --- Loaned to me by a friend for evaluation, thanx Jim! This is the classic James Bond pistola which has been around many years. It was the recommended "back-up" pistol when I joined the Police Dept many years ago. It still has a lot going for it. If you are recoil sensitive and want to go with a .380, this is the pistol for you! Very mild to shoot. Of course, as you can see by the dimensions, it is a much larger pistol than the other two. With the extended magazine floorplate, you can get all of you fingers on the grip. It weighs a solid 22 ounces....as much as the other two pistols put together. It is a quality made pistol and pretty accurate. Unlike the other two pistols, it gives a choice of DA or SA trigger pull. There-in I experienced an issue during a plinking session with this pistol worth mentioning. While shooting falling plates, I was concerned about the intial heavy DA pull on the first shot. After knocking the plate down on my first DA shot, I inadvertantly fired the second shot prematurely as I transitioned from the DA pull to the much lighter/shorter SA pull. This would take some "muscle memory" training to overcome...had the same issue years ago with my Sig P220 duty weapon. Something to think about because in a defensive shooting situation you are responsible for each and every round you fire. Can you "transition" from DA to SA mode in a stressfull scenario? Anyhow, for a carry pistol, the PPK is too heavy for what it is unless you use a good holster secured along the waistline. This brings up a point about how I usually carry a .380....not necessarily recommending this but I usually just stick one in my hip pocket, or sometimes in my strong-side front pocket....especially if I'm wearing my daily BDU type pants. The PPK is heavy enough to drag your pants down. The PPK has high profile sights but I had a bit of difficulty seeing the stainless steel front blade in bright sunlight...no biggie. Enjoyed shooting the PPK but it wouldnt be "my" first choice of a .380 handgun.
Final thoughts: --- If the situation just doesnt allow you to carry a bigger/more powerful handgun then the .380 might be the only choice. The cartridge isn't very potent or accurate at any distance. It WILL KILL ... worked on several homicides where a .380 did the trick. My idea of using a .380 would be as a pure self-defense, get the bad guy off of me, last ditch weapon. If there's the chance I may have to go offensive such as intervening on a robbery, assault, etc, then I'm going to choose something I can shoot more effectively and have a bit more punch...I'm just not confident in any .380 in that type of scenario. Of the above pistols, I would definitely choose the Kahr P380 because it does what, in MY mind, a .380 should do the best. Be small, be light weight, and be shootable. The PPK is a great gun but my Kahr CM9 is smaller, lighter, more accurate and fires the much more potent 9X19mm so I would carry it over the PPK for those reasons. Over the years I've owned a couple of other .380 autos and they were OK for what they were. The AMT Backup was small, accurate & reliable but very heavy for it's size and a bit difficult to shoot. The Colt Govt Model .380 felt really good, was reliable but was a tad too big and not very accurate. A .380 is ....a ".380" ....nothing to write home about in any category but they do serve a purpose. Just don't expect too much!
Hope this was informative and served to entertain. I had a lot of fun testing and writing about it. As always, I welcome your comments, good or bad.