Combat Test: NEW KAHR P380

Combat Test

Compact lightweight pistol packs a .380 ACP punch—it’s a concealed carry special!

Combat Handguns, September 2009, p. 20 - 27
By Mike Detty

Kahr’s new P380 weighs less than 3/4 of a pound loaded and is only 0.75” thick.

Kahr’s P380 disassembles easily without any tools. Their website features a video for proper disassembly/reassembly.

After two years in development Kahr Arms has just introduced the P380, a polymer-framed, lightweight subcompact pistol chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. Featuring Kahr’s famous double-action-only (DAO) trigger and a match grade barrel the little gun, loaded with 7 rounds of ammunition, only weighs about 12 ounces. It’s a sharpshooting gun that doesn’t cut any corners on quality.

Frank Harris, Kahr Arms Vice President of Sales and Marketing, first previewed me on the gun about two years ago. It was a rough prototype but I was encouraged to see just how small the gun would be. A year went by and I asked Frank about the .380 project. His face lit up and I could tell by his smile that things were on track. “We’re testing the prototypes right now, Mike, and hope to be in production by this summer.”

A couple months later Blue August hosted a writers meeting in Memphis and Kahr Arms was one of the presenters. Frank brought along a preproduction sample of the P380 that we would all get a chance to fire. I patiently stood in line while other writers took their turns with the P380 on the indoor range. The target was set out at 15 yards and the center had been pretty much torn out by the other shooters. So I slowly and deliberately fired six shots at the head of the silhouette target and then hit the return switch to bring it back to the firing line. My six shots found their mark and produced a nice group about the size of my fist. I looked at Harris with open-mouthed astonishment. He smiled sheepishly and said, “What did you expect Mike, you know that we don’t make junk.”

Production was a little bit behind but I eventually received my test gun. After having a chance to fire a few hundred rounds through it, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this new Kahr pistol is the real thing. It is reliable, accurate and small enough that it should be able to satisfy just about anybody’s concealed carry needs.

Gun Details

The Kahr P380 is dwarfed by a Colt 1911 and Detective Special.

Kahr’s patented offset feedramp/barrel lug allows the trigger bar to ride next to the barrel instead of under it. This keeps muzzle flip to a minimum.

The P380’s capacity is 6+1 and the pistol comes with two mags.

DeSantis Holsters provided an InnerPiece inside the waistband holster for the Kahr P380.

Despite its light weight Detty found the Kahr P380 to be extremely controllable and on target.

Author used a good assortment of .380 ACP ammunition during his testing, and the little Kahr P380 functioned flawlessly with all seven loads tested.

The P380 is a very small gun but not so small that it required the shooter to make any compromises in shooting grip to fire effectively.

The proliferation of states that now offer concealed carry permits is what has been driving Kahr Arms sales. Their entire line of sleek, semi-autopistols has been geared towards the concealed carry market. As Harris said, “Once people get their permits and actually carry a Hi-Power or a 1911, they realize that they are just too big and uncomfortable for all-day carry. We had lots of requests for us to make a .380 pistol. At the same time we heard from a number of distributors that they couldn’t get enough Kel-Tec pistols to satisfy their demand and we knew that they were producing significant quantities of the .380s.”

Harris went on to say that Kahr was positioning the P380 as a premium product. “Not to knock Kel-Tec’s pistol, but we know there are plenty of people that are willing to pay more for a quality piece. That’s why we didn’t cut any corners on the P380. We use a match grade Lothar Walther barrel and include two magazines with each gun.

The P380 uses a stainless steel slide and its edges are nicely rounded for concealed use. Its dust cover has grooves that engage the frame’s steel insert, which protrudes from both sides of the plastic in the frame’s dust cover, aids in guiding the slide. A MlM (Metal Injection Molded) steel magazine release is used on the P380 to prevent wear and breakage on that part.

Kahr uses a match grade barrel blank manufactured by Lothar Walther. Kahr does the final machining, contours and chamber of the 2.5-inch barrel at their manufacturing facility. For corrosion resistance the barrel is nickel-plated. Like other Kahr pistols the new P380 fires from a locked breech. No, it is not blowback in operation. One of Kahr’s patents is on their offset locking lug/feedramp barrel design. Rather than placing the trigger bar under the barrel’s lug, the offset feedramp allows the trigger bar to ride alongside the feedramp/lug. The result is that the bore axis sits lower in the hand and this helps diminish muzzle flip. Despite the gun’s light weight, it is amazingly soft shooting and very controllable.

Because of the short length under the barrel, the little P380 needs as much spring mass as possible to cycle correctly. Kahr engineers used two springs, one inside the other, wound in opposite directions, both wrapped around a steel recoil spring guide. This solution provides the proper amount of spring resistance yet the slide can easily be cycled by hand.

What makes the P380 such a great concealed carry gun is that its width is only 0.75 of an inch. It’s a gun that will not be a chore to carry and won’t dictate what you wear in order to conceal it. Weight of the P380 loaded with 7 rounds of 70-grain Pow’RBall bullets is just a hair over 13 ounces. I recently wore the P380 in the shirt pocket of my EOTac shirt while I ran some errands and ran into an old cop friend and fellow gun enthusiast in the parking lot of a shopping center. After several minutes he asked me if I had anything interesting to write about lately. I unzipped the EOTac pocket and carefully handed him the tiny Kahr. “Holy smokes, I had no idea that was in your pocket. This would make a great hideout gun.”

He wasn’t the only one that had that same thought. A local ATF agent accompanied me on one of my range sessions. I had not yet fired my test sample and loaded the gun with 7 rounds of Winchester 95-grain FMJ bullets. I positioned myself about 10 yards away from my MGM steel targets and fired the gun as quickly as I could pull the trigger. Every shot hit the target. I turned to my friend and asked, “Wanna try it?”

He loaded the gun and then fired at the steel and also scored a hit on every shot. Later we sat on the bumper of my car to load some more magazines. He pulled up his pant leg to reveal his revolver in an ankle holster. He undid the Velcro strap and massaged his leg where the holster rubs him. “That can’t be comfortable,” I said. He nodded and then turned the P380 over in his hand saying, “I like the power of the .357 but I wouldn’t even know that I was wearing this little thing. Look how much thinner it is,” he said as he held the revolver next to it for comparison. My friend had mentioned that a fellow agent owned a Walther PPK in .380 and had let him borrow it. “This gun is lighter and I can’t believe how much softer this gun shoots,” he remarked. “That’s the big difference between a gun that has blowback operation and one that fires from a locked breech,” I said. He also mentioned that the PPK cut the web of his hand when he shot it, which is a not so uncommon PPK problem. We didn’t have that problem with the P380.

Shooting Impressions

I put over 100 rounds through the P380 before I started the accuracy portion of the evaluation. I wanted to see how it handled. Mostly I was concerned that its compact size would require me to compromise my grip in order to fire it effectively. This was decidedly not the case. In fact, I was able to fire it quickly and accurately, and I didn’t feel as though I had to sacrifice anything due to its size. I really like the double-action-only trigger on the P380. My sample’s trigger broke with about 5 pounds of pressure, which was nice and smooth without any stacking. The only thing that I would change about it would be the sights. The P380’s front sight is awful low and I had a hard time picking it up for a flash sight picture. I asked Kahr’s Frank Harris if this was by design or necessitated by the gun’s point of impact.

His reply was that the gun’s impact dictated the height of the front sight. As it was my test pistol shot about 2 to 2.5 inches low at 15 yards. A taller front sight would have me shooting even lower. It also made shooting groups a little harder, trying to focus on that stubby front sight while pulling the double-action trigger through its arc. But it wasn’t insurmountable; the P380 recorded some pretty decent 15-yard groups. However, I am certain that the gun possesses more accuracy than I was able to wring out of it.

I tried the little Kahr pistol with a good supply of ammunition. Dakota Ammunition provided me with a nice selection that included the frangible Glaser Blue Safety Slugs, CorBon 90-grain JHPs, Deep Penetrating 100% copper DPX hollowpoints and Pow’RBall loads designed to produce expansion where hollowpoints may not be legal. All of these loads fed and cycled fine and also produced respectable accuracy. I think it would be hard to go wrong with any of these loads. My best advice would be to study these different products and see which one best suits your needs. I did, however, make a note while shooting that the DPX loads produced excellent accuracy, had mild recoil and what I thought was ideal slide velocity.

Extreme Shock also sent me a couple boxes of their Enhanced Penetration Round (EPR) that, quoting their catalog, “was engineered for applications where greater penetration is a must. The EPR has greater terminal success through glass and wood. This round has the ability to penetrate heavy skin, dense bone and then fragment once inside the softer tissue of the target.” The rounds have a polymer tip and should not be classified as a hollow point should you live in a jurisdiction where they are prohibited. My EPRs fed, fired, extracted and ejected without any problems; however, they did produce the most recoil and did sting a little to shoot. The upside is that the rounds generated the highest velocity as well as the most energy. In fact, the Extreme Shock EPRs produced 22% more energy than the next closest ammunition, the Glaser Safety Slugs. Like I said earlier, evaluate your own needs and then study the rounds available and see which best suit your needs.

Harris had told me that the biggest challenge that Kahr engineers faced was getting the P380 to function reliably with all of the different ammunition on the market. I think my collection of .380 ammo covers the mild to wild spectrum and it ate them all up and spit them out with out a hiccup.

I noticed several times while shooting the P380 that the slide did not lock open on the last shot. Not a terrible problem but still a malfunction. It didn’t happen with just the high velocity rounds or with just the standard velocity stuff. It seemed pretty consistent in that regard. Then I figured out what was happening. When I shoot a 1911 pistol l shoot with my thumb riding atop the thumb safety. When firing the Kahr P380 my thumb felt most comfortable riding on top of the slide stop. I was inducing this failure by putting pressure on the slide stop. Changing my grip so that my thumb ran alongside, instead of on top of the slide stop solved the problem. That was the only problem I experienced with the new Kahr P380.

Disassembly for cleaning and routine maintenance is easy and requires no tools. Kahr has placed a video for the correct disassembly and reassembly procedure on their website. Particular attention needs to be paid to the correct assembly of the two-spring recoil system as well as the positioning of the slide stop.

CorBon 90 JHP 921 1.19
CorBon 80DPX
Hollow Point
961 1.26
CorBon Pow’RBall 70 1038 1.23
Extreme Shock 90 1051 2.19
Glaser Blue
Safety Slug 70
1056 2.46
Winchester 95 FMJ 767 1.36
Winchester 95 SXT
Hollow Point
874 1.79
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by a PACT Chronograph, and accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups from a seated rest using a Millett Benchmaster from 15 yards.

Final Notes

I’ve had the opportunity to carry the new Kahr P380 for over a month now. Sometimes I would just put it in my EOTac shirt pocket or trouser cargo pocket. The rest of the time I used a DeSantis InnerPiece inside the waistband holster. Thanks to the holster’s excellent design and the thinness of the P380 it was effortless to carry. If you’ve ever left home unarmed because your carry gun was just too big and/or heavy the Kahr P380 may be just the gun you need.

Kahr’s latest offering is small and light enough that it won’t dictate your style of dress. For those that need to carry a heavier more powerful gun as a primary weapon the P380 might make sense as a backup or hideout weapon. Kahr’s P380 is extremely small, lightweight, accurate, reliable and suited my concealed carry needs.

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