Kel Tec P3AT 380 – Best Concealed Carry Firearm?

By J.R. | Last Updated: June 2, 2015

Keltec 380 in handThe 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 feel they should carry a little danger themselves. Hence, the advent and widespread phenomena of concealed carry.

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

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So You Want To Carry…

Maybe you’ve researched and carefully selected your weapon and holster/rig.

Maybe 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.
You 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 gunmetal 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 midsection.

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 the police will certainly find it when they go through your personal effects later.

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 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 make the pistol less accurate at a distance, no arguments here.

Now answer me this, which gun has more knockdown 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?

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

  • Are you 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; 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’ll 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:

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The KelTec P3AT, Made In Beautiful Cocoa, FL.

I’ve been carrying this little jewel for a couple of 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 to its full travel to fire a round.

The other “safety” exists in the fact that a hammer block will hold the hammer away from the firing pin after firing. 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.

Pearce Grips Extension

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 380size 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 into my pocket and feel 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; 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

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

That being said, I achieved lethal hits on a man-size target four out of six times while kneeling, bracing against a picnic table, and firing from over sixty feet away, not bad.

This was better than I expected from such a little gun with a 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 7075-T6 aluminum.

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

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).

Keltec 380 in hand

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 gun 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 lightweight?

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. They dropped to a five-shot cylinder to get smaller, 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 are all built with different degrees of workmanship, fit, and finish, they come at various 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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Post Update: 

Over two years ago, I wrote this review of the Kel-tec PTA3T. I still use the little Kel-Tec as my concealed carry when I have to use an ankle holster.

That being said, I did have a problem with using the Kel-Tec for daily carry; accuracy.

If I have to draw the weapon and fire it at a perp, I want the confidence that I could him.

But the sights on the Kel-tec have been referred to more as “suggestions” than sights. They are small and difficult for my older eyes to align.

That, plus the very short sight radius, the distance between the front and rear sights, and the double-action-only trigger, doesn’t do much for accuracy.

Plus, the very short sight radius (the distance between the front and rear sights) and the double-action-only trigger don’t do much for accuracy.

It’s true in my testing that I could hit a man-sized target 4 out of six times from 60 feet, but my concern is for the two bullets that went wide.

I don’t want to accidentally kill somebody unlucky enough to be next to the bad guy.

I never felt my Kel-Tec was accurate enough in my hands to avoid that…until now.

I recently bought a laser sight system from Armalaser for my Kel-Tec. It was a bargain – worth every penny.

It snaps into place around the trigger guard and is tightened down by set screws.

Takes about five minutes to install.

The red dot is very bright and can be seen at 45 feet in broad daylight (though it’s a bit faint in bright sunlight).

This laser sight has increased my confidence in the little Kel-tec to hit the intended target, even across a crowded room. 

I could put six rounds into a 12-inch circle at forty-five feet, firing off-hand if I managed the trigger pull correctly.

Just having the laser doesn’t help if you jerk the dot off target with a crappy trigger pull.

The other good news is that I could barely feel it when I placed this little laser-enhanced weapon in my ankle holster, essentially strapped to the back of my left calf.

Several times that first day I reached down to tap the pistol to ensure it was still there. It’s so much lighter than my Walther or P64.

Even with the laser added, it’s still crazy small.

It can still fit comfortably in my front pocket, as well. In fact, with the laser tucked in under the frame, it squares up nicely and prints like a cell phone.

So I still love it.

Now the bad news. This is a good news / bad news update. So in the interest of full disclosure, here is the bad news…

I had my first Kel-tec malfunction. I was shooting the other day when it jammed. The spent cartridge did not eject.

Upon further inspection, I saw why.

The extractor claw sheared off. This is disheartening.

I’ve probably only shot 500 rounds or so through this weapon, and the extractor breaks.

I ordered a new extractor assembly for $6, but the malfunction still casts doubt over the weapon’s reliability.

I will replace the extractor and continue testing the weapon, reporting my findings to you.

Hmmm…no extractor on a Smith and Wesson Airweight Revolver

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

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