Kel Tec P3AT 380 – The Best Concealed Carry Gun?

Kel Tec P3AT 380 – The Best Concealed Carry Gun?
4.3 (85.95%) 74 votes

Kel Tec Review (c)The Kel Tec P3AT is for personal protection outside of your home. A growing trend in today’s American society is the nagging feeling that one must protect oneself.

From millennials literally “killing for attention” to house break-ins to homegrown or foreign lone-wolf terrorist attacks, the American people understand the police cannot protect them from violence.

At best the police can chalk a nice white outline around your motionless form and maybe shoot down or capture the bad guys after the fact. Doesn’t really help you or your family much.

Twenty-first Century America can be a dangerous and violent place. People are feeling they should carry a little danger themselves. Hence, the advent and widespread phenomena of concealed carry.

People just feel better, more secure, when packing a little heat of their own. Not that they are looking for trouble, but when trouble finds them they want the option to return fire.

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So You Want To Carry…S&W ITW Holster

Maybe you’ve done your research, carefully selected your weapon and holster/rig. Maby you bought a compact .40 caliber Smith and Wesson with the ITW (In The Waistband) holster system.

For a while you carried, but let’s face it, it’s a pain in the ass or at least a pain in the side or hip area.

The ITW option is great if you are going to be walking or standing, but seated, especially in the car, it becomes a problem. If you wear it at the small of the back, forget sitting in a car.

There are workarounds, of course.

Highway Holster MountYou pull the pistol when you get in the car and store it close at hand using this Highway Holster Mount. You make the transfer each time you enter and exit the car, all the while your wife looks at you with concern because you’re waving a loaded gun around in the close confines of the car.

Whereas there may be nothing like the security you feel with that cool gun metal pressed snugly against your hip. After a while, that feeling wanes as the firearm metal digs into your lower back or jams up against your mid-section.

After a while that .40 cal wonder winds up staying behind in your gun safe for your little trip to the grocery store, evening walks, or coffee runs.

Your concealed carry permit is right there in your wallet, behind your driver’s license, and it’s certain the police will find it when they go through your personal effects later.

  • pocket holster

    Ambidextrous Pocket Holster

    What if the gun was smaller?

  • How about a .380 subcompact versus the 9mm or .40 caliber?
  • What if the handgun fits in your right front pocket?
  • Would you reconsider with a pocket holster? One that presented the rectangular outline of a cell phone or wallet?

I know what you’ll say, the .380 doesn’t have the stopping power of the .40 caliber.

That’s true.

The smaller frame and sight radius makes the pistol less accurate at a distance, no arguments here.

Now answer me this, which gun has more knock down power or accuracy during a confrontation, the one in your right front jeans pocket or the one in your gun safe back home?

What good is a carry gun you don’t carry?

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If you say, well I do take it about half the time. Okay, I ask you this:

  • Are blessed with a magical power the rest of us don’t have?
  • Do you know, in advance, exactly when you will need your gun?
  • Can you predict the bad guy’s actions?

If you have mastered this art,you’re probably a Jedi, and these aren’t the droids you are looking for. So if you don’t know when the villain will strike, you must be a gambler.

It’s a lot like playing casino craps, the odds might be close to 50/50 (if played right). However, in the long run, you’re going to lose (and we aren’t talking money here).

Since you don’t know when trouble will come knocking maybe you should be ready 100% of the time?

This brings me to my everyday carry concealed carry pistol:

The KelTec P3AT, Made In Beautiful Cocoa, FL.

I’ve been carrying this little jewel for a couple years now. It holds six .380 ACP rounds in the magazine and one in the pipe, if you want one there. I don’t.

The pistol is double action only (DAO), like many subcompacts in this category. This means the Kel Tec P3AT does not have an exposed hammer.

It has an exposed internal hammer, linked to the trigger by a transfer bar. I say exposed because the pistol is notched at the rear so you can see the hammer move during the trigger pull.

This helps with accuracy by allowing you to “stage” the hammer during slow, careful, deliberate aiming. As you pull the trigger, the hammer moves back until it reaches full travel then the sear releases, and it springs forward to strike a firing pin which in turn strikes the primer on the cartridge.

Like many pistols in this category, there is no external safety. The safety exists in that there is no cocked hammer ready to release on a hair trigger. The trigger must be deliberately pulled its full travel to fire a round.

The other “safety” exists in the fact that after firing a hammer block will hold the hammer away from the firing pin. That said, you can carry one in the pipe. I leave the chamber empty and carry six in the magazine, my personal choice.

The draw I practice has me pulling the pistol and racking the slide in one fluid motion. This gives up a round of capacity, but I’m of the opinion that if six isn’t enough, one more won’t seal the deal. That’s my gamble.

You can get an extended magazine and add a finger extender to get that round back, but that defeats the most novel attributes of the Kel Tec 380its size and weight.

The Kel Tec PT3A Is Small

It weighs 8.3 oz empty and 2.8 oz more loaded, that’s 11.1 oz ready to rock and roll.

At the time of this writing, they are advertising the Kel Tec 380 as the lightest of all the subcompact .380 pistols, and I believe it.

The dimensions are equally diminutive at 5.2” overall length, 3.5” height and .77” wide.

I can slip this pistol in my pocket, and all I feel is the sweet comfort of 2nd Amendment security, insulated by a layer of denim.

The Kel Tec PT3A Is Not A Comfortable Gun

The Kel Tec PT3A is not the most comfortable gun to shoot.

Your pinky finger won’t rest on the grip and some people may not like that but you can solve that quite easily with these extensions.

While not in the .357 Magnum range of recoil, the little .380 does pack a bit of a punch for such a light firearm. The Kel Tec 380 combo delivers 250 lb-feet of energy at the muzzle, from an 11 oz pistol.

The trigger bites into your finger a bit and I’ve read of people rounding off the edges of the trigger to cut down on the discomfort. Of course, this is a discomfort you’ll feel after fifty rounds at a practice range.

However, in a real-world confrontation, you won’t even notice it. The action is a short recoil, locked breech design.

The Kel Tec P3TA Is Not A Competition Pistol

You will not win any accuracy contests with its 2.7” barrel and short 3.8” sight radius. This shortcoming can be partially overcome by adding a grip activated red laser sight to your gun.

That being said, I was able to achieve lethal hits on a man size target four out six times while kneeling, bracing against a picnic table and firing from over sixty feet away, not bad. To be honest, this was better than I expected from such a little gun with the double action trigger.

The trigger itself is a little stiff for my taste (5 lbs of pull), as most DAO systems are, but not that bad. I’m sure accuracy does suffer from the DAO.

While I love a pistol with a hammer I can cock and shoot single action at a distance, that’s not a gun I can carry in my front pocket. My Smith & Wesson Model 15-3 is an awesome, spooky accurate weapon but not one I can carry in my front pocket and, oh yeah, it has only six rounds as well.

The Kel Tec P3AT grip/frame is a polymer construction with a 4140 steel slide and barrel. The frame of the action riding inside the grip is in 7075-T6 aluminum.

What If You Don’t Like The Grip/Frame Color?

Traction Grip Overlays for Kel-Tec P3AT

Traction Grip Overlays for Kel-Tec P3AT

You can actually swap the entire Kel Tec P3AT grips out for around $30. Or you can get a traction grip overlay for only $10.

They come in one piece in a multitude of colors. The grip/frame, by the way, is the whole lower two-thirds of the pistol, encompassing the trigger guard (See photo).

Kel tec p3at 380 in hand

Kel Tec P3AT = My (EDC) Everday Carry Gun

I’ve only had one jam on this weapon in the two years I’ve owned it.

It was a stovepipe, a cartridge that didn’t quite fully eject and caught on the action. I knocked it off and continued to fire.

To be fair, the pistol was rather dirty with powder residue at this point. I skipped a cleaning and paid the price. That in itself was a valuable lesson.

Now I clean my carry pistol after every time I fire it. No shortcuts with that particular firearm.

Well, what about a snub nose, alloy frame .38 Special revolver? Isn’t that more reliable and still light weight?

The answer is, of course, yes to both questions. Still, many in this category are DAO with no exposed hammer and short sight radiuses so accuracy may still suffer.

Although I like the idea of a small, exposed hammer, alloy revolver that can be shot single action. However, they’re still not small enough. In order to get smaller, they dropped to a five-shot cylinder, giving up another round of capacity.

The Keltec P3AT Does Have Some Keen Competitors

The Ruger LCP, Smith & Wesson Compact, Beretta Nano, Kahr P380 and Taurus 738 TCP are a few more popular models that come to mind.

While they all are built with different degrees of workmanship, fit, and finish, they also come in a variety of prices.

The Kel Tec P3AT 380 price (retail) is about $338, but I got mine here for $229. My father’s Ruger LCP ran him about $330.

All of these pistols fill the same role: a reliable, easy to carry weapon you’ll take with you every single time.

So if you are going to carry; carry.

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Remember: Prepare, Adapt and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack


Top Photo Credit


    • Just In Case Jack says

      I wrote and published this post in June 2015. I wrote this after soon after I purchased my Kel-Tec so I haven’t been on the lookout for any recent updates. I did a quick online search but found no major changes or updates to the gun. Hope this helps.

  1. John says

    I carry a 357 Sig P229 everyday and love it. I am currently in the market for a pocket gun for myself (back up concealed weapon ;-)) and my wife. After reading this review, we went out and shot one to test it out. Thanks to you, I have bought two. Thanks for the advice

  2. Juan says

    I got an offer to buy one for 200.$ is that a good deal , I have shot guns before but not one like this one and I’m kind of interested .

    • Just In Case Jack says

      $200 for a used one is probably about fair price. If it’s in great shape then go for it but make sure you get a chance to try it out first. Or you might get swindled.

  3. William moore says

    I have a keltec 3apt when I shoot it the clip falls out what should I do? I have had it for some time now and had no problems till lately.

    • Just In Case Jack says

      Never had that happen to me. I hate to suggest something a simple as – is he accidentally squeezing the area of the grip which has the mag release when firing? The mag release sits right under the inside of my thumb when I’m gripping the pistol to shoot. This gun does have a jerky little recoil – being so light weight. If the shooter is anticipating the recoil he may grip a little tighter right at the critical moment – jerking it a little on his own at the same time the gun jerks due to recoil. Even if the shooter is being careful here, if his thumb is touching that mag release at the time of the recoil – it could be actuating the mag release – especially if there is something physically wrong with the pistol, meaning if the mag release is too sensitive.

      Try firing it with the thumb well clear of the mag release a few times to see if you can get it to repeat the problem. Could be the mag release mechanism itself is just internally worn or was never quite right to begin with. Also, check the magazine itself. The edge of the magazine has a cut-out in the steel—like a notch. If that is worn or bent–it might not latch properly. The magazine is spring loaded to be ejected from the pistol so if the latch fails for some reason it wants to leave the pistol – rapidly.
      If it continues I’d send it back to Kel-Tec for repair or warranty work.

      By the way – while I was looking at my own Keltec I accidentally dropped it on the carpet. Guess what? The magazine ejected!


      • tomtom says

        Dido here. Sanded the release button on mine down to where it’s just a shade above flush shortly after purchasing it. That was several years ago and it has performed flawlessly since.

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