As soon as I started writing articles for Concealed Carry Magazine, I was hit with numerous requests to review the Kel-Tec P3AT. Okay, sure. I would beg lad to do a review. The only problem is that I didn’t have one. I looked around my local gun shops and unfortunately no one had any Kel-Tec pistols. I sent a request to Kel-Tec and they were more than happy to send me a P3AT for my review. They sent a parkerized version, but there are also examples with blued and hard chromed slides.
Some people think that gun companies send specially prepared examples to the gun writers so they will write favorable reviews. If any gun company does that, it is not Kel-Tec. The example I got looked fine on the outside, almost brand new. As soon as I got it home and had a spare moment, I took the gun apart. I was surprised to find that this gun has been well used. When I say well used, I mean filled with so much gunk that I thought I was looking inside an AR-15. Whoever the last gun writer was that reviewed this thing, neglected to clean it before sending it back and Kel-Tec didn’t bother with it either. So this gun was certainly no ringer. Someone email Snopes, because that urban legend is busted.
There are no control levers or safety levers on this thing. The only mechanism on the left side is little magazine release button.
Right off the bat, I wanted to like this little gun. It is so small, skinny, and light…it’s perfect for a back-up gun or a hideout gun or for carrying concealed when concealment is priority one. The “Pee-Three-Eighty” is only a little bit bigger than the P32, but chambered for the .380ACP cartridge, of which the pistol gets its name.
I found that I could carry this thing in my front jeans pocket without a second thought. For a pocket gun or for a pistol to ride in an ankle rig…the P3AT is ideal. The gun simply disappears when I carried it around doing everything one does all day long from seven AM until well after midnight. Several times I literally forgot I had it on me. I have been carrying it as a backup gun to my Detonics Combat Master.
The design makes the P3AT almost completely “slick sided”. There are no control levers or safety levers on this thing. The only mechanism on the left side is little magazine release button. There is nothing on the right side. There is hardly anything in the way of sights either. There is a hint of sights, made flush with the top of the slide and uses a type of “dot the i” set up. It is tiny and difficult to use well, but it is there and it works if you put forth the effort. If this sight system is too alien for you or not as precise as you would like, then there is something for you. www.psenhancements.com is where you want to go online. There you can order something called a P-Sight. It is a drop in rear sight that gives you a more traditional rear sight. For about twenty-five bucks, it is a cost effective and worthwhile addition.
In order to get the most accuracy out of your P3AT, you will have to master this trigger. It is a long and heavy double action only pull with lots of stacking, crunching and enough grit to make an angle grinder jealous. On top of that, there is some over-travel as well. That means after the sear breaks and releases the hammer, the trigger is still moving. Most triggers have over-travel to a point, but this is the first time I was actually conscious of it. This trigger can be improved. This trigger favors a consistent continual pull all the way to the rear until it fires. (Yes, most triggers do, but in this gun it is especially critical if you want to hit your target at all)
Once you master the trigger and get used to the sights, this gun is quite accurate. During testing from seven paces out to about fifteen yards, we found it to be more than accurate for the intended purposes of the weapon. I was very pleased with the accuracy. At seven paces I was able to get the P3AT to print a very nice 1.2-inch shot group. I was expecting something in the area of 3 or 4 inches, but I’ll take a 1.2 in a defensive weapon any day.
This gun will require a good deal of practice in order to develop proficiency, and that might be a problem with some people.
This gun will require a good deal of practice in order to develop proficiency, and that might be a problem with some people. Too many people neglect practice for a myriad of reasons. Time, cost, distance to a shooting range, noise and comfort are all excuses people can use. With the P3AT, you might find yourself making more excuses to not go shoot it. It is flat out not a pleasant gun to shoot. The gun is so light and so skinny that you feel every bit of recoil that the .380ACP can generate, and it can be difficult to hold on to during recoil. You are not going to want to spend a lot of time shooting this thing. I didn’t. I love shooting and will take any excuse to go shoot…but I flat out did not like shooting the P3AT. Neither did my intrepid assistant, Deveni.
Her first reaction to seeing the P3AT was “Oh…I like it! I want it for my purse!”
“Hey, you have my Makarov.”
“But this one is so cute.”
Well, that tune changed after only one magazine full of ammo. After firing the gun for only 6 shots she announced that she did not like it and that I could have it. Unfortunately, as a press sample pistol, keeping it isn’t an option. It has to go back. More on this later.
Let me clarify something here…Kel-Tec does not make pistols for spending hours of leisure time plinking. If you want that, get a Browning Buckmark. Kel-Tec guns are intended for a much less jovial purpose…they are self defense weapons designed to disappear when not needed but to be at hand when your chips are down. As big African game hunters say, when you need the weapon you won’t feel the recoil. That is the truth. If you are looking for a defensive weapon, don’t be worried about recoil so much if you are able to handle it. I think most able-bodied adults will have no problems.
One of the things that impressed me about the P3AT is that it uses a modified Browning action as used in most every full caliber automatic handgun. That means when the gun fires, the barrel is locked to the slide and moves back until the barrel tilts to disengage it from the slide. Theoretically, the tilting barrel also makes it easier for the gun to chamber another round as the breach is lowered. It is also in a better line to receive the next round held in the magazine when the slide moves forward again.
According to online polls, about fifty percent of P3AT owners have said that they have had some problems.
I say, theoretically, because this P3AT example was not reliable. I experienced repeated jams. I had a couple failures to feed, but more problematic was the failures to extract. A failure to extract is when the fired cartridge is not pulled clear of the chamber. This is perhaps the worst failure you can have in a defensive weapon. Especially in the Kel-Tecs. The Kel-Tec guns do not have a slide lock mechanism to hold the slide back. This makes it difficult to clear a failure to extract. In one photo I have you can see the fired cartridge is jammed up against the next cartridge. To clear this jam, you have to pull and hold the slide back while ejecting the magazine.
Once the mag is removed, you then have to cycle the slide again and hope the extractor will catch the case rim and yank it out of the chamber. Then you can reload the weapon and carry on. It is difficult and slow to clear and almost needs three hands to perform. The gun can be a little slick in the hand if you are sweaty, and since the gun is so small, it can be a challenge to hold the slide back. In a defensive situation, this would be a complete disaster. I had this jam with almost every magazine full of ammo, regardless of the type of ammo I used. Winchester, Federal, Blazer, Cor Bon… didn’t matter. Before I fired this gun, I cleaned it using Hoppes #9 and Microlon Gun Juice.
According to online polls, about fifty percent of P3AT owners have said that they have had some problems. The other half said that they have had none. Because of my experience and those expressed by other owners, I cannot give the P3AT my recommendation. However, I can give it a conditional recommendation. If you are dedicated and serious about carrying a P3AT, these guns CAN be made reliable. It takes effort on the part of the shooter and some faith in the Kel-Tec company. Another resource for Kel-Tec guns is the Kel-Tec Owners Group that can be found online at www.ktog.org.
The gun is so light, small, thin, and just plain brilliantly designed; these little guns warrant the effort to make them reliable. If done so and the gun is proven reliable with all loads to be carried—then this gun gets two big and enthusiastic thumbs up. They have amazing potential for a CCW gun. In short, I like the P3AT. I’m going to keep my eyes open for a good hard chromed example.
The P3AT came back. I had returned it because I was finished with it for the purposes of the review. Evidently, they thought I returned it for service and worked some serious magic on it. The paper in the box said, “REPAIR WORK ORDER – Malfunction type: Jams. Repair: Replaced slide and barrel assembly, test fired.”
I can tell you one thing for sure – they did more than just replace the slide. The trigger is now about (I don’t have a trigger scale here to measure) 6 pounds and breaks crisp and clean. All the problems with the trigger I mentioned before…gone. If this trigger was on an S&W revolver, you would be well pleased and the corners of your mouth would curl up into a smirk. But this isn’t. This is on a tiny little pocket auto. So instead of a smirk you would be wearing a big Cheshire class grin.
This is not the same gun I sent back…can’t be. I had to double check the serial number to be sure it was the same gun. Yup, it is. If I was a Kel-Tec owner and this was my gun…I’d be doing a Snoopy Style Happy Dance. The gun was delivered to them, according to Fed-Ex tracking, exactly 2 weeks from yesterday. They blessed this little gun and sent it back over night in only 2 weeks. That flat out impresses the heck out of me. Last gun I sent back to the maker for service, Springfield, took a month and 4 days. This kind of service, if this is what Kel-Tec customers get on a regular basis…raises the bar. Two thumbs up.
[ George Hill is an NRA Certified Pistol and Personal Protection instructor and the writer and publisher of MadOgre.com. Visit his web site for more information on Mad Ogre. (http://www.madogre.com) ]
Photography by Deveni,