Kahr P380 Pistol
By Gordon Landers and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Over the years, we’ve been favorably impressed with the quality and function of Kahr semi-auto pistols, which are made in the USA. The design of these handguns is what engineers would call ‘elegant’. Elegant meaning getting the job done with the least fuss and the fewest parts.
This report is about an offering from Kahr in the form of a pocket pistol chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. Following in the tradition of Kahr's 9mm and .40 pistols, the P380 is very small for its caliber. It is a short recoil operated, locked breech pistol, unusual for a .380. In fact, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite and SIG P238 are the only other locked breech .380's on the market that come to mind.
This little Kahr is a striker fired pistol with a polymer frame and stainless steel slide. All safeties are automatic and internal, similar in concept and operation to a Glock, although entirely different in design. The trigger pull is a consistent, smooth and controllable 5.5 pounds. Kahr claims a "premium, Lothar Walther match barrel." However, since the specified barrel length is 2.5", including the chamber, and the effective barrel length is only about 1.5", the benefit of a "match barrel" is questionable.
Since the grip only has room for the middle and ring fingers of the shooting hand, the included seven round magazine has a polymer finger rest for the little finger. In addition, the P380 comes with a shorter six round magazine without the finger extension to minimize the pistol's height when appropriate. A practical and useful carrying case is also included.
The ergonomics are decent for such a small pistol. The grip is thin, designed for a single stack magazine and maximum concealability. Both sides of the grip are stippled and the front and rear areas are molded with flat-top, coarse checkering to improve the gripping surface. The pivoted trigger is gently curved and smooth faced. Several of our staff members tried dry firing the little Kahr before we took it to the range and pronounced its grip satisfactory.
The Patridge type combat sights are low, but easily visible, unlike some pocket pistols. Tritium night sights are optional and our test gun came with them. Both the front and rear sights are mounted in dovetails atop the slide. They are tight and you will probably need a sight pusher to adjust the sights for windage, as we did. The front of the trigger guard is properly rounded, rather than squared-off. There is a slide stop / takedown lever above the trigger and a magazine release button directly behind the trigger guard. The stainless steel magazines drop free of the pistol when the release is depressed. Aside from the trigger, the slide stop and magazine release are the only manual controls on the pistol.
The Kahr P380 is the smallest and lightest .380 pistol we have reviewed, noticeably smaller than the little SIG P238 we reviewed last year. Significantly, both of these pistols are recoil, not blow-back, operated. This is a good thing, as otherwise it would be difficult to rack their little slides, particularly in the case of the diminutive Kahr. Because of the lighter slide return spring required in a short recoil design, the Kahr's slide is easier to rack than a Walther PPK or a SIG P232. This is a significant operational advantage, particularly for those with smaller or weaker hands.
Specifications for Kahr P380
· Product number: KP3833 (KP3833N w/night sights)
· Caliber: .380 ACP (9x17mm)
· Magazines: 2ea, stainless steel
· Magazine capacity: one 6 round and one 7 round supplied with pistol
· Operation: DAO; locked breech, Browning type recoil lug, passive striker block
· Barrel length: 2.5"
· Length overall: 4.9"
· Height: 3.9"
· Slide width: 0.75"
· Weight: 9.97 oz. without magazine
· Finish: Black polymer frame, matte stainless steel slide
· Grips: Textured polymer
· Sights: Drift adjustable, Patridge type with white bar/dot; tritium night sights optional
· 2012 MSRP: $649 ($758 w/night sights)
The Owner’s Manual for the Kahr P380 states that the new owner should shoot at least 200 rounds of ammo through the gun as a break-in protocol. This is due to the close tolerances that Kahr uses in the manufacture of their pistols. We did a break-in of the subject pistol in a one day session, during which we fired 225 rounds. This shooting was not for accuracy, but to assess the need for break-in.
During our break-in shooting, we early on had some stoppages that we attributed to the close tolerances pointed out by the manufacturer. Somewhere around 110 rounds the accumulation of powder combustion products began to add to the tally of stoppages. Bullet noses sometimes failed to slide up the feed ramp to the chamber. Cartridge case heads also had trouble sliding up the breach face. After another 115 rounds the increasing number of stoppages that we attributed to soot and powder residue caused us to stop and give the little gun a thorough cleaning. A small, concealable pistol is not likely to be used for a great deal of target shooting, so keeping it clean when carrying it a lot and shooting it a little should not be a problem.
In the course of our break-in shooting, we found that the little Kahr generated less felt (subjective) recoil than does our Walther PPK. Since the recommended number of break-in shots had been fired, it was time to do some shooting for record.
Our usual shooting venue is the Izaak Walton rifle and pistol range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. We typically record groups from a bench rest using scoped rifles at 100 yards, iron sighted rifles at 50 yards and handguns at 25 yards. In the case of the Kahr P380, we initially set Hoppe's Sighting-In targets at 25 yards. On hand were .380 factory loads including Remington Premier 102 grain Golden Saber JHP's, Remington/UMC 95 grain FMJ, Black Hills 90 grain JHP and Hornady 90 grain FTX. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers and Jim Fleck were available to do the shooting chores.
Unfortunately, the results were more like shotgun buckshot patterns than groups. The .380 ACP has never been considered a particularly accurate cartridge, but we found it difficult to keep 5-shot strings from the little Kahr on the target at 25 yards with any brand of ammunition. This was disappointing, but not unique with .380 pocket pistols. We got similar results when we tested a Colt Mustang Pocketlite pistol some years ago and again in 2010 when we reviewed a SIG P238. In these cases, groups with most factory loads sprayed into 5.5"-6.5" groups at 25 yards, results similar to what we got from the Kahr P380. The barrel movement inherent in the Browning tilt barrel design and the very short sight radius of these miniature .380's undoubtedly contribute to their inaccuracy, but we don't think this is the whole story.
Chuck, who previously owned a Colt Mustang Pocketlite and now owns a SIG P238, suspects that these very short barreled .380's do not adequately stabilize most bullet designs for shooting at 25 yards. He had found that his Colt and SIG pocket .380's shoot groups comparable to other concealed carry pistols at 10 yards, but that the group size rapidly increases as the range increases. Interestingly, fixed barrel .380 service pistols with longer (3.5"-4.0") barrels, such as the Baikal IJ-70A (Makarov), Walther PP and SIG P232, shoot 25 yard groups comparable to 9mm, .40 and .45 caliber service pistols. We feel that the inaccuracy of these .380 pocket pistols cannot be blamed entirely on the .380 ACP cartridge, as some writers have suggested.
In any event, we shortened the test range to 10 yards with the following results.
Based on our shooting results, we suggest that the Kahr P380 is most useful for short range defense at 10 yards or less, where it performs well. In reality, that is the purpose for which .380 pocket pistols are intended.
After our initial 225 round break-in period and the subsequent thorough cleaning of the pistol, we experienced two failures to feed during our 10 yard accuracy testing. We believe that with additional use the P380's reliability will continue to improve.
We chronographed the Black Hills 90 grain JHP factory load in the P380's short barrel and found the velocity to average about 850 fps 10 feet from the muzzle. The advertised MV of that load is 1000 fps from a 4" barrel.
The Kahr P380 is a high quality, cleverly designed and well made American product. It is a safe pistol to carry and quick to get into action. Being exceptionally flat and light in weight, it is comfortable for all day carry. The first requirement of any concealed carry pistol is that it actually be carried and the Kahr P380 is at the top of its class in this regard. The first rule of gun fighting is to bring a gun. The Kahr P380 makes doing so exceptionally easy and painless.
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