Much to my surprise, as well as the surprise of others, I actually placed fourth in the 2015 Kilted To Kick Cancer drive. This left me with a lovely prize package which included a brand new Kel Tec P-3AT. Ironically, I’ve been wanting a micro pistol for several years now, but had not gotten around to picking one out and buying it. Jennifer and I were still debating the pros and cons between micro 9mm versus .380 ACP. The .380s are typically a little smaller, but we’re never in a great hurry to add a new caliber to the household. As we didn’t already have any .380s in the stable, I was leaning more in the pocket 9mm direction. However, KTKC made the decision for me.
Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked about the little pistol. I’ve been told that Kel Tec’s quality is spotty at best, and I’ve handled a few of their guns that in my eyes, had some glaring failures. I had largely written them off as a “not for me, but maybe for you” type of company. That was before I received the P-3AT. Upon receiving it, I was immediately impressed with the overall quality of the gun. Although diminutive, it felt solid. Within its limitations, which I’ll point out below, this gun does not feel like a hunk of junk, but a very well-built tiny pistol.
To build a pistol as small as possible, it is necessary to simplify, and this pistol is no exception. It honestly has fewer parts than anything else I shoot. It is true that it has no safety, save an internal hammer block. The slide does not lock back, either on an empty magazine or by manipulation. The sights are rudimentary and machined directly in the slide. The trigger pull is long, and the reset is nearly to the point of full trigger release. Those that want a .380 with a good trigger should look to Smith & Wesson’s BG380 or Glock’s Model 42. That being said, the Kel Tec’s trigger is smooth and even, if a little heavy and a lot long.
Whenever I pick up a new defensive firearm, I like to shoot it a lot for several reasons. 1) Many gun models have a “break in” period in which they just need to be run so everything settles in for future reliability. 2) It’s essential to establish a gun’s reliability before you put it into defensive service. There’s nothing louder than the “click” when you expect a “bang.” 3) I like to familiarize myself with the machine. The Kel Tec’s sights and trigger have proved to be perfectly usable, but no gun is going to do you any good if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at.
So on Friday, prior to even cleaning and lubing the gun, Jennifer, Isaac and I went to the range and put some lead down range. Included in the KTKC prize package were 250-rounds of ball ammo donated by Richardson Reloading. So we shot 150-rounds plus a 25-round box of Hornady Critical Defense. The Richardson ammunition seemed to cycle the action a little more slowly, and I did get a few failures to feed which were easily corrected with a good rack of the slide. By contrast, the Hornady made authoritative balls of fire, and cycled the action robustly. Subsequent conversations with Cody Richardson revealed that he loads his ammo toward the lower end of SAAMI numbers, and that some manufacturers use 9mm recoil springs in their .380s. Without confirming that this is the case, I’m assuming that it is so, and that even though the Richardson ammo is great stuff, the Kel Tec likes to run cartridges that are a little hotter. I’m looking forward to running the additional 100-rounds once I’m confident the gun is really broken in.
At the range, every round went bang. As I stated above, a few rounds didn’t want to strip from the magazine, as though the slide had short-cycled. At five yards, it was clear that Jennifer and I have not been practicing often enough, but we did manage to make fuzzy holes in our paper targets. The gun is far more accurate than I expected it to be, and the minimal sights are very usable, even if they take a little more work than some others, or a laser, for that matter. I was shocked at how very shootable this gun is. Even with the Hornady’s sound and fury, I found it to be very comfortable to shoot. Isaac complained that he wasn’t confident of his grip due to the diminutive size of the frame, but it was comfortable for both Jennifer and me. Being able to put all of ones fingers on the grip frame is something that affects every individual different, so your mileage may vary.
The Torture Test
There are bloggers around the internet who have been performing a 2,000-round, no cleaning, no lube test on several pistol models. It has come up in conversation with friends that it would be interesting to perform such a test on a mouse gun such as Kel Tec’s P-3AT. Just how durable are these things anyway? Search engines failed to provide a documented test like this for this model. Kel Tec has a lifetime warranty on their guns, so they presumable believe them to be durable enough for it.
Several years ago, Jennifer and I got a last-minute invite to a defensive pistol class for which we would need about 1,000-rounds of .45 ACP. We wound up ordering from Ammunition to Go, who were able to get us our ammo cheap and fast. So, when we started talking about this torture test, I reached out to a few online ammunition retailers, including Ammunition to Go. They were fascinated with my proposal and seemed eager to facilitate the test. It looks like they’ll have 2,000-rounds of Magtech .380ACP delivered to me by the end of the week.
As the gun has already had 175-rounds put through it, I plan to give it a thorough cleaning with Hoppes #9 and whatever canned spray stuff I can get my hands on, and light lubrication, probably with Breakfree CLP. I will continue to carry the gun as my EDC as long as I’m still confident in its dependability. The moment it begins to act funny, or when we witness that something is broken or worn, I intend to pause the experiment and contact the manufacturer. I’m going to try to get in a few hundred rounds per session, and strip the gun for inspection, without cleaning or lubricating it, until the 2,000-round mark or catastrophic failure, whichever comes first.
These tiny pistols, in 9mm and smaller calibers are widely regarded as “disposable” pistols. They are generally seen as the gun that you carry when you can’t carry a gun, but if you shoot them too much they’ll fall apart on you. I’m really looking forward to challenging that stigma, as I don’t feel like they’ve been given a fair chance. In my short time with it, this little pistol has exceeded all of my expectations. Prior to this, I would have assumed out of hand that such a torture test would be insane. At this point, though, I’m not so sure. I will proceed, and proceed with appropriate caution. So, stay tuned and let’s take this journey together.