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From top: Colt Mustand Pocketlite .380, Beretta Tomcat .32, Kel-Tec P3AT .380, Sundance Arms .25, Seecamp LWS .32

By Aaron

Above you’ll see a portion of my pocket gun collection. I thought it would be interesting for others (and entertaining for me) to write up a quick comparison. Before we start, a few caveats and disclosures: first, keep in mind that when I discuss accuracy, I fire my pocket guns at targets at a distance of five yards.  Massad Ayoob would disagree with that. He’s made clear in his gun reviews that he tests handguns at 25 yards, but he’s a cop and that makes his requirements different from a citizen’s. John Q. Public would have a very hard time justifying a self defense claim shooting a handgun at someone who’s 75 feet away . . .

Second, this is a pocket gun roundup, not a debate on the best caliber for handguns. I’m not interested in comments about how the puny pistols in this post don’t live up to someone else’s opinions on the best self defense caliber. The best caliber depends on what your requirements are.

Lots of folks like to point out the 1986 Miami FBI shootout as evidence that one should carry the most powerful handgun available. And I sort of agree with them, if their recommendation is for cops who must interdict and apprehend criminals, instead of just protecting themselves and getting their family to safety. In the Miami case the FBI rammed the suspects’ car to apprehend them and ended up in a gunfight that didn’t go well.  Again, a private citizen would have a hard time making a self defense case getting into a gunfight in similar circumstances.

The best guns for police (or military) requirements are irrelevant for citizen defense. No handgun is suitable for military service except as a back-up weapon, because no handgun has the power and range of rifles and machine guns. An M4 with an M320 attached isn’t suitable for civilian concealed carry even though it is vastly superior to ANY handgun caliber.

Police requirements would (or should) be less than those of the military, but more than civilian self defense requirements. Police work involves forcible apprehensions and the possibility of shooting through cover such as windshields. So while the .380 round may be inadequate for police service, I believe it is sufficient for self defense at realistic self defense distances of five yards and closer. In fact, even a .32 might be a good choice for some because the best gun for citizen self defense is the one you’ll have with you.

Finally, your mileage may vary. I am providing data from my experience, which may not match yours, so use your own critical thinking skills as you read my post.

I started the process of acquiring pocket guns when I decided to get a concealed carry permit and wanted something more concealable for warm weather than my two smallest “real” guns at the time, a Bersa Thunder and a Ruger SP101 with a 3″ barrel. I also have the .25 pictured in the photos, but IMO it is a novelty – easy to shoot, but not reliable and too low powered for even a pocket gun, so it is not even considered as a contender.

The Bersa is an excellent gun with very nice sights (not all Bersas have nice sights, apparently) but it’s too big to conceal in a pocket. The SP101 has given me trouble since the day I bought it; sometimes it works great and other times the cylinder won’t turn properly making it extremely difficult to shoot. I took it to a gunsmith a while back but he couldn’t replicate and did not solve the problem, although he certainly did a great job of smoothing the trigger out.

So I started the search for a concealed carry pocket pistol with a Kel-Tec P3AT for two reasons: first, the trigger pull was much better than the Ruger LCP I was comparing it to at the gun store. And Kel-Tec products are inexpensive and some folks had good things to say about them. The Kel-Tec is a lightweight, polymer frame double-action-only pistol.

My experience was mixed – it’s small, thin, and light and it’s plenty accurate for its purpose. However, the trigger pull is only OK – it’s long and uneven. Worse, it just wouldn’t run reliably. It didn’t like hollow points of any brand and sometimes puked on ball ammo.

I sent it back to the factory and they worked on it for free, but even after that it still would occasionally stovepipe. Maybe it’s me “limp wristing” the gun, as some folks say the Kel-Tec is sensitive to how firmly it’s held, but I don’t think so. I’m a fairly decent shot and don’t have this problem with other guns.

pocketlite on 1911

Next I picked up a new model Colt Mustang Pocketlite. I was actually looking for a SIG P238 but retailers only had P938s at that time, although now I see P238s every time I go to the gun stores.  Anyway, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite is awesome so I am very happy with my fortuitous inability to find a P238 at that time.  Shooting the Mustang Pocketlite is just like shooting a little tiny 1911 with the recoil scaled down commensurately. It’s really easy to rapidly empty a magazine into the head of a silhouette at five yards, although obviously that’s just for fun and not good practice. It’s never jammed – in fact, it operated flawlessly with some old, oxidized Sellier and Bellot that made my Kahr P380 puke on its shoes. The Pocketlite is the best shooting pocket gun I have ever fired.

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Size matters: Full-size 1911, top; Colt officer modle, middle; Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380, bottom

However, the Pocketlite is thicker than the Kel-Tec, and in my quest for pocket gun perfection, I wanted everything: great shooting, light weight and super thinness. Plus, my wife was going to get her own concealed carry permit and she wanted a gun that was tiny, had no recoil, aimed itself and had massive knock down power. Since I couldn’t find any Star Trek phasers for sale, I picked up a couple of tiny .32s just to try, a Seecamp LWS and a Beretta Tomcat.

 

The Tomcat is relatively easy to shoot, reasonably accurate, and has the great advantage of a tip-up barrel for people who have trouble racking the slide. My wife was able to shoot the gun just fine and put all of her shots into a silhouette at five yards (she doesn’t really like to shoot for fun).

One odd thing happened the second time I shot the Tomcat – it jammed, and of course since it doesn’t have an extractor, you tip the barrel up to clear a jam. I cleared the jam and the barrel would not go back into battery.  There was something jamming the little spring that barrel closes onto. When I got it home and cleaned it again, the problem seemed to disappear, but I need to shoot it again to see if this is a recurring issue. I’m currently undecided about the Tomcat due to the jam.

The Seecamp is really tiny and very, very concealable. It’s all stainless and heavier than its small size would indicate. It appears well engineered and well machined, like a nice heavy Omega Seamaster watch. To keep the gun small, it uses a fixed barrel and blowback action. Using recommended ammo types (Federal Hydra-Shoks and Hornady XTP in my case), it has been 100% reliable so far, but readers have to understand that it only has about 50 rounds through it because shooting it is like sticking your hand in a mousetrap.

For comparison, it’s more comfortable to shoot full-power .357s through my 3″ SP101 than to shoot .32s through my Seecamp. It’s also very hard to shoot with any accuracy because it has no sights, a minuscule sight radius, a long (but smooth and even) trigger pull and a kick totally out of proportion to the size of the bullet it fires. That brings the “sight picture” off the target for follow-up rounds. On top of that, the trigger kicks the trigger finger when firing. The shooter sights the gun down the barrel, which isn’t easy to do under low light.

The first time I fired the Seecamp I actually put fewer holes in the silhouette than the number of bullets I had just fired –  a major shooting faux pax. After a few practice magazines I can get all the bullets into the silhouette at five yards with no problems, but shooting the gun hasn’t become any more comfortable.

I respect Larry Seecamp for his innovative design and quality manufacturing, but I disagree with him about the sights. I think the Seecamp would be much better with a trench sight cut into the slide, sort of like what Colt does with the new agent. It’s just too hard to quickly line up the barrel because it’s so short. That won’t make the Seecamp into a target gun, but it will let you know if you’re dropping the muzzle down while lining up a shot. Certainly one could learn to group the Seecamp much better than I have, if one was willing to shoot it enough. I’ll keep it handy, though, because it’s tiny and it works.

Finally, I acquired a Kahr P380.The Kahr is a polymer frame pistol similar in size and weight to the Kel-Tec P3AT, but higher in quality. The double-action trigger pull is excellent, second only to the single-action Colt Mustang Pocketlite. There’s no safety that a shooter must remember to turn off – just point and shoot like a revolver.

thickness comparo
Colt Pocketlite, left; Kahr P380, right

 

My Kahr came with a 7-round extended magazine and a 6-round flush mag. I picked it up at the store and immediately went to their range to shoot it.  The 7-round mag didn’t feed correctly; the slide did not strip rounds off of the magazine – a bad omen. I started to wonder if I could still get a refund, but I didn’t want the 7-round mag anyway because it stuck out from the bottom of the gun and would make it harder to conceal.

The 6-round magazine worked fine. I expected a few hiccups because Kahrs have a recommended break in period of at least 200 rounds. I shot the Kahr alongside the Pockelite and was pleasantly surprised by how nice the gun was to shoot – almost as good as the Pocketlite. Therefore, I decided to withhold judgement until cleaning it and feeding it more ammo.

I bought another 6-round mag and went back to the range to again shoot the Kahr side-by-side with the Pocketlite. The Kahr choked on some oxidized Sellier and Bellot, which the Pocketlite ate with no issues.  However, during the break-in period it functioned perfectly for the next 90 rounds: a 50-round white box of range ammo, a 20-round box of Hornady Critical Defense, and a 20-round box of Magtech First Defense. It appears very reliable now.

So, how do these guns stack up? Her’es how I rate them:

Shootability

1. Mustang Pocketlite and Kahr – tie
2. Kel-Tec
3. Tomcat
4. Seecamp

Accuracy – reasonable groups at five yards, rapid fire (~2 rounds per second)

1. Mustang Pocketlite
2. Kahr
3. Tomcat
4. Kel-Tec – accurate at slow fire, but the long jerky trigger pull make fast follow-up shots difficult
5. Seecamp – almost impossible for me to shoot accurately at ~2 rounds per second

Concealabilty

1. Seecamp
2. Kahr and Kel-Tec – it’s a tie here
3. Mustang Pocketlite
4. Tomcat – it’s small enough, but too thick. It would make a great purse gun, however.

Reliability

1. Mustang Pocketlite
2. Kahr – after break-in period
3. Seecamp – zero malfunctions but small sample size
4. Tomcat and Kel-Tec – it was a tie

Cost (price paid, from cheapest to most expensive)

1. Kel-Tec P3AT
2. Beretta .32 Tomcat
3. Seecamp LWS .32 (note, the LWS 380 was selling for almost 3 times the price of the LWS .32, so if this was an LWS 380 it would have scored the worst)
4. Kahr P380
5. Colt Mustang Pocketlite

The overall winner for concealed carry: the Kahr. While it wasn’t the best in any one category, it’s very good and has the best combination of attributes. Primarily, it’s almost as good as the Pocketlite and is smaller and thinner.

Overall winner for pure shooting: the Mustang Pocketlite. It’s just plain fun.

size comparo with 50
Colt Pocketline, top; Kahr P380, middle; Seecamp .32, bottom

[ED: TTAG’s securing some GLOCK 42s for testing and evaluation. We shall send Aron a 42 to go head-to-head with his top two pocket guns ASAP. Watch this space.]

173 Responses to [Pre-GLOCK 42] Pocket Pistol Roundup

    • Yep. I think this (excellent) article shows why there is a market for the G42. It addresses nearly all of the complaints about the various guns reviewed here: unreliability, bad triggers, poor sights, painful recoil. The price is competitive, or will be once the initial price-gouging dies down. The downside is that it is pretty big for a pocket gun while still only packing 6+1 in 380.

  1. Actually, the 1986 Miami FBI shootout showed us that in a shoot out, you want a rifle. The guy with the Ruger Mini14 did most of the damage to the FBI.

    • The officers were shooting Winchester Silvertip hollowpoints. Several ballistic tests with gel have shown terrible performance. It’s only a matter of time until we have some 25 acp rounds that penetrate 13-18 inches with a 1.5-2x expansion diameter.

      • I’m not sure about what makes you say that. Physics is physics, and there has to be enough energy with the SAAMI pressure specs to drive an expanded projectile that deep.

        They STILL have that issue with the .380.

      • One 9mm FBI Silvertip fired early in the battle did inflict a lethal wound on Michael Platt. It went through his right bicep, into the right chest and severed a pulmonary artery. He had a liter of blood in his chest cavity at autopsy. That wound would be questionable in terms of survivability if it happened in a trauma center with a surgery team ready to go.

        The 9mm did fine. It just wasn’t an immediate fight-stopper against a fully-adrenalized man who was simply not going to give up. He was shot several more times in the next couple of minutes, what finally ended the gunfight was a cylinder full of .38 Specials at point-blank range into Platt & Mattix.

        Platt was a dead man walking, or rather, a dead man running and shooting, and the 9mm Silvertip inflicted a fatal wound. The problem is that he was armed with a much more effective weapon than the people he was in a gun fight with. ALL handgun wounds short of a CNS hit (brain/spine) that are lethal are lethal because a vital vessel was hit and sufficient bleeding occurred to cause shock and death. There is NO handgun that is a “fight stopper” if the victim has a mind to continue, and a brain or spinal hit has not occurred.

        Almost a decade later an Air Force SP used a 9mm Beretta with ball ammo to stop a shooter outside the base hospital at Fairchild AFB. He fired four times, hit the gunman twice and stopped the AK-armed gunman with a shot to the head. From 70 yards.

        The 9mm is just fine, and a CNS hit with any handgun is probably enough to stop a fight. The .32 ACP is no titan of power, but if you can shoot them in the right spot it will work. Or you can shoot them enough times and wait for them to bleed out.

        • my opinion is that if an average citizen had shot Platt with any caliber, and wasn’t blocking Platt’s avenue of escape, Platt most likely would have fled. Platt was an enraged Army Ranger Vietnam vet who’s avenue of escape was blocked by FBI agents. Not a situation likely to occur in civil self defense.

    • Had half the agents not lost their sidearms in the crash (because they were unsecured) and had to go to backup pocket guns they would have had a better time of it.

  2. I carried an AMT Backup in .45 ACP for a few years. Never had a problem with functioning or concealing it. The two drawbacks to it were accuracy and actually firing it. Both were a consequence of the very heavy DAO trigger pull. I couldn’t hit anything beyond 10 feet with it and all attempts to become more proficient were stymied by the trigger resetting and slapping the pad on my trigger finger as it did so. After one magazine of 6 rounds, the fleshy pad had a noticeable redness to it. After 2 magazines, it was painful enough that I had to stop shooting for the day. I ended up selling it to a friend of mine and now it’s a safe queen.

    • in the 90’s I had an AMT .380 backup. It didn’t kick too painfully, what was painful was that it jammed all the time!

  3. I heard a perhaps apocryphal story about the late Louis Seecamp, Larry’s father, who developed the original .25 ACP Seecamp pistol. A customer complained that it had no sights. Seecamp snapped back, “Fachrisake, ya stick it up their nose and pull the trigger!”

      • Yes! my only gripe about my P3AT is the Stavenhagen (German for useless) sights. I wish the all- knowing manufacturers would cut out the “we designed this for elevator distances” crap, put a set of notch-and -blade sights on these small guns, and let ME decide whether the Bad Guy is too far away or not. What if the bad guy is not obliging enough to come within 7 yards?
        Fine article Aaron. Thanks!

        • I’m of the opinion that you would have a hard time justifying self defense at long ranges, but I agree about sights. However, an even more critical gripe with my P3AT is that it jams. A lot.

        • Damn, man. You have a Ruger SP101, one of the most reliable machines on the planet, but yours is a lemon AND your P3AT- pretty much the only consistently reliable gun Kel-Tec has ever made- is crap too?

          You, my friend, have bad gun karma.

        • follow-up to Swarf, who doesn’t have a reply button: had the SP101 deep cleaned by the gunsmith at my LGS, and now it works just fine.

          The problem was that I (stupidly) cleaned it with WD40 about 20 years ago, which resulted in strange gunk formations deep in the guts which got soft and gummy when the gun got hot.

          Apparently the works needed a soak in solvent for a couple days.

          Props to the guys at my LGS.

    • ^^This. A .25 ACP round is all but useless at less than contact distances.

      A friend managing a movie theater in Dayton, OH carried a Seecamp .25. He confronted two burglars late one night, had his pistol taken away and was shot three times pointblank. He survived and went on to a long career with the Cincinnati PD.

      Also in Dayton a LEO friend told me of a call he responded to where a heavy-set man answered the door and his girlfriend’s ex unloaded 7 rounds of .25 ACP into him point blank. He was fine until the 7th round entered his mouth and broke his jaw, which knocked him out. He made a full recovery.

      If your target don’t scare easily, .25 isn’t going to be a reliable choice. Aim for the eyes.

      • all of that sounds plausible, but it is also true that one of the biggest causes of handgun deaths, especially in the economically challenged sections of any big city, is the .25. It has zero stopping power, but lots of thugs have bled out because another thug busted a .25 cap in their azz.

  4. Interesting comments from the author about the unpleasant experience he had using the Seecamp. I had the same experience with another .380, the Mauser HSc, a classic design. The pistol is all steel, relatively pocketable, snag-free, and a beast to shoot.

    I’m not recoil sensitive in the slightest, but there’s something about the design that sends a sharp recoil impulse directly into the bone at the base of my thumb. Two or three magazines downrange and not only am I done, but I’ll have what feels like a bone bruise for days after. I can shoot .40s, .45s and .357s all the live-long day, but an hour with the Mauser is no fun at all.

    I agree with the author on the Colt Mustang; mine’s not a Pocketlight, but the all stainless steel version. Great to shoot — just not a fan of cocked-and-locked in pocket carry.

    • thanks. cocked and locked doesn’t bother me when the Pocketlite is in a pocket holster, because the trigger is protect. For me, the issue is that the Pocketlite is a little too thick for actual pocket carry in shorts or jeans.

      • Wish I could help…my main carry gun is a P3AT. Because I can’t carry at work, I have never gotten the chcane to get used to carrying anything bigger, so it’s always just a P3AT in the back pocket of my jeans. Every time I try carrying anything bigger, I feel very conspicuous…it’s easy to place a money clip with drivers license, carry permit, and money in a pocket, than the kel-tec in my wallet pocket, without feeling self-conscious. But, because I can’t carry all the time due to working at a government installation, if I try carrying anything bigger, I am constantly playing with it and adjusting it.

    • Totally agree. I have had a Colt Mustang +II , in stainless, for some time now. I use an IWB holster in the small of my back, and have had no problems. I also like the two extra rounds.

    • I have a Colt Mustang. Love shooting the gun. However I am a lefty so it is not a good carry gun. I went with a Kahr for my carry gun. I tried a LCP before that but the Kahr for me shoots so much better. It is not as good as the Colt but I don’t have to worry about a safety on the wrong side.

      • There is a new version of the Mustang with a polymer frame and ambidextrous safety, just in case you were still interested in carrying a Mustang. I have no personal experience with it, but it got a good review in Guns and Ammo.

        • No, they don’t want to stop getting free guns! However, the reviewer compared the polymer Mustang side-by-side with a Mustang Pocketlite, so it sounds about right.

    • I’ve shot an HSc in .380 and an M&P Shield in .40, and I’ll take recoil of the far lighter but more powerful Shield any day.

  5. Bravo.

    Nice to see some comparisons for real guns for real people. Nothing wrong with high speed, low drag guns for police and/or military use. But in real life incidents, the average Joe will likely never have to even draw, much less shoot someone.

    Lets take it even further. Say a bad guy does eat a weak, useless wussified .380 to the chest. Will they walk through 6 more rounds of pistol fire to steal your car or your wallet? Doubt it. More like they’ll beat it to the nearest hospital, which naturally leaves you and yours in peace.

    Lets now go to the place the kydex and thigh holster crowd NEVER talk about-court. Cops generally don’t go there unless something really crazy happens, and same for soldiers. You, however, are an ordinary Joe. No internal review board for you, mon ami. Proceed to Grand Jury , do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    “A good shoot is a good shoot, right?”….

    Unless youre in front of a jury of 12 granola eaters. I’d rather be the wussy guy who walks out of court a free man packing a girly man .380 who shot an attacker that lived , then the tactically prepared super-citizen whos being indicted because he carried a scary looking red-dot equipped 10mm .

    I fully expect a series of negative comments on this topic, and thats OK. But I commend the author for not bending to the will of the Caliber Snobs.

    • Bad news, man: if you use any kind of firearm to defend yourself, the granola eaters will want to throw the book at you anyway. The way they see it, if you weren’t part of the uncaring, corporate, bourgeoisie, military-industrial complexin’, rape-culturin’, smallpox-blanket-givin’, white privileged penistocracy, then that poor, innocent victim of society wouldn’t have had get tight on the rock, and then try smashing your window and beating in your face with a brick so he can steal your car.

      And whether you’re using a .380, a .45 or anything else, deliberately going for a non-lethal shot is an awesome way to make sure you don’t live to see an indictment, because shooting to wound is just as likely to make an attacker double down on you as it is to make him flee. If you’re just looking to inconvenience a mugger or burglar, then use pepper spray and hope whatever he’s high on still lets him feel it. You shoot to kill or you don’t shoot at all.

      • most bad guys flee when a gun is presented or they get shot at. And if I have to shoot somebody, I’m doing it to provide cover to get my family to safety. Not discounting your opinion, but I think a .32 or .380 is a good option for a citizen’s self defense outside of the home. In my home, an intruder is going to eat .45 cal lead.

        • I wasn’t even discussing the effectiveness of any calibers; I have a .380 LCP I use as backup to my .45 XDs, so clearly I trust my life to the .380 to some extent. I was talking about using lethal force, and if you’re carrying a gun for protection you should’ve already committed to using it, so hoping you can just scare them off with a shot or two with it is a big and potentially deadly gamble you’re choosing to take.

          Yes, he might run away after one shot, but holy shit what if he doesn’t? What if he’s stoned to the point that all the pain-processing parts of his brain are numbed so that all he can feel is violent rage at the punkass who just shot him? Not discounting your opinion either, but I’d rather tilt as many variables in my favor as possible. If someone attacks me or my family, I don’t want to give that bastard anything close to a fair fight.

        • Lucas, well if a “bath salt cannibal” keeps coming, then put one in either of his tear ducts!

          Seriously, I kind of agree with you, I just find it easier to carry a small, thin gun. My .45s are obviously better calibers, but I’m not going to go through the nut roll of trying to carry one.

        • My XDs is .45 ACP and practically the same size as a Glock 42, and I can easily find 9mm and .40 pistols even smaller than that. If a .32 or whatever is what you want to carry, good on you, but don’t pretend that you have no other options, and for God’s sakes please don’t try to be cute when someone’s discussing lethal force.

        • I’ve never seen a Glock 42, but I have fired an XDS, and it is significantly larger than any gun in the round-up.

        • So were talking keychain-sized only and no subcompacts? Okay then, for the largest overlap between extremely small size, effectiveness, and a non-insane price point I guess the LCP or a TCP would be best but… why aren’t they on this roundup?

        • Lucas, this is about POCKET GUNS. And the reason that not every pocket gun in the world is in this round up is because I bought all of the guns out of my pocket; these are MY personal guns and I can’t just buy every gun in the market (well, I could, but I have a pesky mortgage, wife, 3-year old, you know, expenses). If someone had sent me guns to include, I would have included them. I’m just a dude who sent an article to Dan Zimmerman to post, I am not a journalist.

      • It’s not a matter of the perp doubling down but him being close enough that he doesn’t feel the 380 through the adrenalin rush before he reaches you. He can do a lot of damage to you in the few seconds takes for him to feel the effects. Unless he is really stoned he will feel the impact of a 230 grain JHP pretty much when it hits him. At that point he most likely “reassess” the situation and opts for medical care instead of your wallet.

    • The psychological stop will work for a large proportion of cases, but you’re getting to the point where you’re treating the gun like a magic wand. Wave it and the bad guy goes away. At worst, activate its magical powers and he’ll disappear.

      A lot of people will run and a lot would break off if they’re hit, but you could also be up against someone who’s high or drunk, or just ludicrously determined for some unknown reason. If the psychological stop doesn’t work, the rounds have to do enough damage to cause a physiological stop. That’s central nervous system damage or more likely blood loss. That can definitely happen with the smaller caliber pocket guns, but you have a smaller margin of error.

        • I would as well, but since I am comfortable carrying a larger gun, I do, because I’d rather have 13 rounds of 9mm in addition to my fists and elbows, rather than six rounds of .380. In most cases, the scenario would play out exactly the same with either gun. The guy would see it, realize the risks inherent in this enterprise were too high and run. In a few other scenarios, a shot gets fired, and the guy runs. But in those cases where the sight of the gun doesn’t do it, and the shock of getting hit doesn’t do it, then I want the ability make his body stop doing what it needs to do to keep coming at me.

          Edited to add: I understand this is a comparo of pocket guns, and this has gotten a little off topic. However, pocket guns are a bit of a compromise, and there’s no getting around that.

    • Well, on that note, you should eat granola, too.
      You’ll probably be increasing your lifespan. Plus, you’ll feel better, overall, than with whatever else you might be eating instead.
      Granted, glistening pig fat and donut glaze sure is awesome in the mouth, but when it accumulates in your arteries and around your belly that’s a different story – and you can’t just swab it out with Hoppes No. 9.

  6. Have both the Kel Tec and the Colt Pocketlite in .380. Some Flitz and a “fluff & buff” on the KT, have solved any reliability issues with any good ammo. Yes one has to go to Arkansas and back with the trigger pull but it’s my shorts and T shirt goto. Love the Colt, replaced the dual springs with a single, very accurate. Thanks for the review of the Kahr been eyeing one for a while.

  7. I had a similar journey but I was unable to find a Colt Mustang Pocketlite and ended up with a Sig P238 which I love. Zero feeding problems.

    • I too carry this one most frequently. 1 Stove pipe on the first shot and never a hiccup since.
      I have other options of higher caliber, but this fits for about anything.

    • isn’t that just the way fate works! I would probably be happy with a P238, too, but now that I have a Mustang Pocketlite I’m keeping it forever!

  8. we were going through my late grandfather’s effects over the weekend and amongst his various WWII army ribbons and medals, there were two small cartridges marked “S&B” and “7.65”. Doing a little research, it seems he had some sort of “Saturday Night Special” in 32acp. My dad said it was a Lugar but that didn’t make much sense.

    I’ve been firm on 9mm only but just bought a Beretta Model 70S in 380acp and have been looking at a Sig P230 or 232 as well as another Beretta in 32acp.

    • My dad said it was a Lugar but that didn’t make much sense.

      Luger’s were made in 7.65. Sometimes they’re called .30 caliber Lugers. They can be very collectible, depending on manufacturing date and condition.

    • WW2 and if it was .32 acp your grandfather may have had a walther pp, common as lice in the german military and civil government, a beretta, a sauer or any number of quality European guns. Saturday Night Special isn’t a sure thing because of the caliber.

  9. I have the sp101 in 22 for target shooting and it had serious problems with locking up after a shot for the first 500 rounds or so, to the point where I had to fiddle with the hammer to get it to unjam. After that (and with maybe 1000 dry fires), it seems to have loosened up. I think it just has a serious breaking in problem.

    Last time I took it to the range I got 300 or so rounds through it without a problem.

  10. I stopped carrying my Mustang “Pocketlite” and switched to a P-3AT. It’s just so much easier to pocket carry than the Mustang. God knows the Mustang trigger is lightyears ahead of the DAO Kel-tec though.

    • I could carry my P3AT if it was reliable – but lack of trust in a gun is a deal breaker. Let’s see what happens when I get it back from the factory (for the 2nd time).

  11. Folks may be interested to know that after I sent that write-up to Dan, I bought a Kel-Tec P32, just because I wanted one. As some other reviewers have noted, it is everything the P3AT should have been. I fired 100 rounds right out of the box with no jams. Also, I have sent the P3AT and the Tomcat back to the manufacturers to see if they can get them to be reliable.

    • Thanks, Aaron. I’ve had a Tomcat for a lot of years as my pocket gun, and it’s been pretty solid. No jams that I can recall in my practice time, and I shoot it a lot straighter than I do my XD, for whatever reason. .32 isn’t a big round, but it was big enough for Franz Ferdinand, I guess, and a lot better than nothing.

  12. I love my Kahr p380. I agree with everything the author said, I wouldn’t carry another .380. As for the Glock 42, I don’t see it fitting into this lineup. I understand that it can fit into a pocket, but from the dimensions I’ve seen listed for it I don’t see it being nearly as concealable as the pistols listed here. The Glock seems to be more of a competitor with the Bersa .380 and pistols like it.

      • I think I dry fired a BG380, and didn’t like the trigger.

        Besides, I’m not on an unlimited budget, and my budget is going to go to zero when my wife discovers this article!

        • Do what I did with my wife; don’task, don’t tell. I don’t ask about her clothes/shoes, she doesn’t ask about the guns.

        • I’m a tinkerer as opposed to a gunsmith, but a Galco Precision trigger bar and trigger made this very reliable pistol one of my favorites! Add XS Big Dots to the equation and it is the PERFECT pocket pistol!

          Very accurate and uber reliable.

      • My wife has very ambivalent feelings when it comes to guns, but surprisingly she accompanied me to the gun shop the day I bought my BG-380. That was 2 years ago. It’s my EDC gun and has proven 100% reliable.

  13. You shoot to stop, because your life is in danger. A “normal” chrystal meth criminal may not even realize he’s even been shot.
    Friends don’t let friends shoot mouse guns. If it’s twenty-five yards and your life is in danger, you shoot. Don’t shoot to wound, don’t shoot to kill, shoot to stop!!

    • Dude. FLAME DELETED Read the article for what it is…a comparison of tiny pocket pistols. He specifically said he didn’t give a rat’s ass if any of us (but especially you) approved of such a pistol format.

  14. I’m going to have to ask the obvious question – why no Ruger LCP?

    I just picked one up, a new production model with the improved sights and trigger pull. That trigger pull is still not the lightest in the world (I’d estimate it at 7# or so) but it’s all right otherwise. No creep, grit, stacking, etc. Just a fairly long but smooth course of travel. It’s as good as my friend’s Taurus 738, which is also notably missing from this particular roundup.

    Thus far, my only beef is that the slide stop is very difficult to engage manually, and does not engage when the magazine runs dry. Too, there’s no second strike capability – you have to pull the slide to reset the trigger should a round not fire.

    What I’m wondering is whether or not Sig or Colt, which appear to have the best triggers by virtue of their single action design, will see fit to slim down their pistols or not. Or is thin overrated?

    Tom

    • I dry fired a LCP and didn’t like the trigger. Everyone needs to realize that I purchased every gun in the round up; these are my guns. No one provided guns to me to evaluate. I’m not even a journalist.

      • Yeah, if you’re buying the guns you’re writing about, you can be forgiven for skipping a few. Good write-up. I learned stuff. That said, I also have the LCP and, after marveling over the long trigger, I’ve grown to love it. No safety and with a decent holster, there’s no worry carrying one in the chamber. It would take some kind of physical miracle to accidentally pull that trigger. I also don’t subscribe to the “you can put a .380 bullet into a meth addict’s heart and one in each eye and he’ll just keep coming” way of thinking.

      • I borrowed a friends LC9 to shoot to see if I wanted it; I HATED that gun. Loved the size and looks but that trigger…dear god.

        • yeah, the LCP I dry fired had a trigger even worse than the Kel-Tec P3AT. I dry fired them back-to-back and that day bought the Kel-Tec mentioned in the write-up.

      • You’re a journalist according to Feinstein, and your free speech should be immediately eliminated unless you have a permit to do so.

        Sigh. I wish that was sarcasm.

    • Yeah, it’s not really mine, it was a Christmas present to my 3-year old! I’m lucky to have a $10 in my wallet.

  15. Nice job, Aaron! And never, ever apologize for not being a “journalist.” A journalist is nothing but a pretentious b@stard who lies through his teeth.

  16. Only true pocket pistol I’ve ever owned (and that a lot of people overlook) was the SIG P290. To be quite honest, it was really nice for day-to-day work.

    *Never felt bad to shoot
    *Never had a hiccup in 500 rounds even during break-in (I bought it new)
    *Carried in the pocket quite nicely (I admit I’m a fairly large dude with cargo pants to match)
    *Had a “relevant” caliber (good ol’ 9mm Parabellum)

    Damn near perfect, I thought. Only thing I didn’t like was that it wasn’t a true DAO system. You had to rack the slide to prime the hammer—couldn’t just pull the trigger. They even fixed that with the Gen 2 version.

    Ended up trading it because I figured out I’m an utterly terrible shot with any semi that has a 3″ or less barrel. Still though, for $500 you could do way, way worse if you’re trying to find a good pocket carry option.

    • I looked at a Sig P290 – for your information, it is larger than any gun in the Pocket Pistol Roundup. It’s not large, but it isn’t what I consider a “pocket gun”. The Pocketlite and P238 are at the limits of what I consider a “pocket gun”. Of course, everyone is welcome to have a different opinion.

    • I usually carry a Shield, but ive been seeing the P290RS with laser (which has been selling
      $80ish on ebay) for $400, so $320 for one is getting hard to say no to

  17. (This was supposed to be a direct reply to Aaron)

    You said it best in the article—your mileage (and I would add pocket size) may vary.

  18. This is the first time I have ever heard of a Ruger revolver not working right. Ever. Send it back. Ruger would be appalled to hear of one of their guns not working. They will fix it. Their customer service is superb.

    As for myself, I have had a P3AT since they were introduced. It goes bang. It fits in any pocket. It cost very little. I can’t ask for more. l would like a Colt, or SIG. Or even the Kahr(although I had some problems with an earlier Kahr). I just can’t afford one.

    I think if the gun works, and you can get good hits with it, carry it.

    • +1 Ruger has a fantastic reputation for customer service, and it’s one they care about continuing. I’d give them a call.

    • I’ve had the SP101 for 15 or more years, so it’s certainly out of warranty. You are correct, I need to get around to shipping it back to Ruger.

  19. I wanted to like the Tomcat. But it’s a small brick with the worst double action trigger of any reasonable quality pistol I’ve shot.

    • I think it’s great for folks with small hands who have trouble racking slides, or old folks with arthritis, because of the tip-up barrel. But ONLY if it is reliable. My grandparents had a .22 version (Bobcat, I think it was called), and it was reliable.

      • Actually it is called a Bearcat, M21A. Carry one in my right front pocket every day, run CCI Quick-Shock ammo through it.

        • Yep, the .25 is Bobcat, .22lr is Bearcat. My grandmother had a Bobcat she carried in her purse for many years, still have 1/2 a box of Sellier&Bellot .25 I found after she passed away. Her daughter, my father’s sister, gun hater, sold that early production Beretta, along with my father’s S&W .38 Service and Llama .45 because she didn’t think either me or my brother would want those “awful” things. She also sold her father’s Winchester 1897 pump 12 gauge since only “awful” people would possess such an “awful” thing. Yea. We don’t talk much, and when we do it devolves into her telling me how “awful” I am for having guns.

          m

        • Wow, just checked their webpage and they do list it as one name. Weird. Dug out the owner manual and it has Bearcat on it. Must have changed it to simplify advertizing or some such.

          Looking at the pic you post there are differences in the shape of the slide, the safety lever, the sights. The factory grips in the first group pic are different from mine, but I like those other grips in the pic of it alone. Are they kydex? How old is yours? I bought mine new in 1998.

        • all of the photos with dark brown wood background are photos of my actual guns, taken with my iPad air in my home office. Pictures 2,5,6 and 8 are stock photos inserted by Dan Zimmerman. So you can see my Tomcat in photo #1. I bought it at a gun show about 6 months ago.

        • Ahhh, the dreaded stock photo lists! 🙂 I thought perhaps you had switched grips on it between times of pics, I been considering changing mine out for something a little thinner, but you know how that whole inertia thing is.

  20. Back in the day I carried a Beretta 21a (.25) as a backup. It was loaded with ball ammunition and rode in my left front pocket. My captain back then carried a Colt Junior in the same way. He called those little .25 autos “ear guns”. His theory – thankfully never tested -was that if a bad guy tried to get your service pistol, you pulled the backup, stuck it in the bad guy’s ear and opened fire. If the bad guy was still standing when your pistol was empty you gave him your car keys and five bucks for gas (that shows how long ago I learned this!) and sent him on his way.

    Another backup piece that you saw quite often in the old days was the High Standard .22 magnum over and under derringer. Compared to the .25 auto, the .22 mag round was actually a pretty good choice but you were limited to two rounds.

    These days I carry a Ruger LCP .380 in the same pocket. Yeah the trigger is heavy but it goes bang every time and doesn’t jam. Its accurate enough at conversational distances so it works for me. I do a lot of left hand practice with the Ruger because that’s the way I’ll probably have to shoot if I ever need it.

  21. Excellent article. You really understand that citizen armed self defense is not infantry combat or police action. I wonder where you would place the Beretta Nano or the new Pico in the hierarchy.

    My personal preference is for full sized pistols and a compact at a minimum; but we do own a Nano for those occasion’s the preclude carrying a larger gun. I do disagree that caliber is less important in short range self defense scenarios. You have less time to inflict enough damage to stop the attack. You may only have one shot before your attacker is on you. You also have to consider the psychological effect of an attacker staring down the barrel of a full sized combat pistol. Our objective is stop the bad guy before you are forced to pull the trigger. It takes a brave man to look down the barrel of full sized 1911 and stand his ground. Street thugs aren’t all that brave.

    • I agree.

      The question becomes when is the size of the carry gun such that its no longer realistically concealable which of course depends on the persons body and clothing.

      A .380 thats small enough is better than a .40 compact that just doesnt go in a pocket, so that you have to leave it at home.

      To me, the reliability issue is #1, and manipulation similar to primary handgun (simplifies training and muscle memory) is a close second, which means the G42 has a big lead.

      This is a great review, with visual comparisons, as was Hickock45s.

      Looking forward to TTAGs review on the G42,
      and hoping you can show size and shooting comparison to the Nano.

      • I hear that a lot about size but there are few instances where I can’t properly conceal a full sized or compact gun. I never had to take a CCW course because I had other quals but when I was getting my permit I was advised to dress neatly and professionally whenever possible. I generally dress in what I call LL Bean Tactical. This kind of clothing allows you look neat even with your shirt untucked where it can cover your gun in warm summer weather. I can see having a problem if you are running around in tee shirt and cargo shorts. I have seen lots of OFWGs who do that. I figure nobody wants to see a 64 year old walking around like that even if I am an old fit white guy. .

        Most people assume that length is the important dimension in concealment but width really determines how much your gun will print. I find that a blocky Glock or Springfield will print more than 1911, M-9, Px4 or Hi Power because those guns all have rounded edges that allow the fabric to fit to the form better. The sharp edges of most polymers hang up on the fabric which it makes it obvious that something is there.

        The bottom line for me has always been carrying a gun is an adult activity. Dress like one. .

        • a lot of it depends on where you live. in some places, “LL Bean tactical” is a dead giveaway that you are carrying. And how old you are… all the guys wearing “LL Bean tactical” seem to be a bit, well, more “seasoned”.

        • I don’t know where you are from but where I come from if you are wearing LL Bean clothing you are most likely a gun grabber. It’s the perfect camouflage.

    • I haven’t had the pleasure of shooting a Pico or Nano, but the Pico looks like it is truly pocketable! I would like to hear from folks who have shot these guns.

      • I had the displeasure of shooting a Nano. On paper, it was my dream carry gun … and then I shot it. Ridiculously high bore axis, and I struggled to keep it on paper at 7 yards. I asked the range officer how others fared with it. He claimed that most everyone reported trouble shooting it accurately, including him, but a handful of guys seem to shoot it well.

        • I don’t know. I tend to shoot it to the left like I do all polymers but I am hitting the target square in the silhouette out to ten yards.

  22. Dave Lewis mentioned the 22 Magnum. I carry a North American.5 shot 22 Magnum revolver 24/7. It’s not much of a defensive weapon, but at a close, in your face range, it can do considerable damage. Plus, it is highly concealable. If I think I may need more stopping power, I carry a Titanium framed 38 Special that weighs 14 oz.

  23. Many may scoff at it, but I have really come to like my NAA Mini Pug. It’s as small as you can get and for my low-threat-level suburban white collar life; it reliably provides me a caliber of ample penetration in a soft recoiling platform. My P38T had to be sent back THREE times before it ran properly. At this point I just can’t trust it anymore. Anyway, great post on an interesting firearms topic, Aaron.

    • And remember, revolvers do not have to put up with failure to eject, and other problems with auto loaders. If you have a failure to fire, you can easily go to the next round.

      • my revolver, a Ruger SP101, is not reliable, especially when hot. If I shoot a lot of rounds through it, especially .357s, the cylinder freezes up. I can’t figure out what is causing it.

        • Had the same problem with one of my NAA’s. Look for build up of residue in the cylinder counter-bored recesses for the rim, One chamber may not be counter-bored deep enough.

  24. I had a P3AT but got fed up after they changed the bullet on the ONE load mine would run reliably. I picked up a TCP and have had no problems with it whatsoever. I wish I had known about the TCP when I went shopping for a pocket gun the first time. It’s a better gun than either the P3AT or the LCP and cheaper too.

    • The TCP is one of the better micro 380s, and just about the cheapest minus the garbage bin guns.
      $199 for a reliable well built pocket pistol with decent trigger? Yes please!

  25. I personally am not interested in carrying any one of those pistols, but this is one of the best reviews I’ve read on TTAG. Both for its theoretical and practical aspects. Well done.

  26. Excellent Review and spot on. I own a P238 and it is flawless, and extremely accurate for such a short barrel.

    One thing I do is I meticulously clean it after every practice, for the obvious reason. That includes the magazine and the firing pin and extractor channels. Leave nothing to chance. I also replace the firing pin spring and recoil spring every 500 rounds or every year, whichever comes first, magazine springs I have not found but need to replace those too. Pistols are all about springs and timing,

    • Thanks. Someday I might pick up a 938, but since I already have a Mustang Pocketlite, no sense in now getting a 238 (they’re just about the same gun).

  27. Others here clearly have more .380 experience than I do, though mine is not insignificant in its own right. So really the only thing I would add here is that with the pocket guns, in particular, proper lubing is essential

    I know, that applies to every firearm, but there are margins and ranges with most brands, calibers, ammunition types, etc. that afford you some flexibility with regard to quality and quantity of the lube you use. In my experience, this is not the case with any of the .380’s I’ve owned and carried daily; including my current EDC backup piece, the Taurus TCP.

    .380’s as a rule tend to require more lube, better quality lube, and more frequent lubing, than any other firearm I’ve ever owned. My hypothesis is that larger firearms in larger calibers have more heft all around to muscle their way through would-be malfunctions stemming from inadequate lubrication. Lighter, slighter .380’s, on the other hand, seem to require being cleaner and slicker to avoid malfunctions; especially if employed as true pocket pistols in lint-ridden pockets.

    Just my experience and my observations. Let the opposing views challenging my sanity, competence, experience, intelligence and parentage commence!

    • good advice, I’m going to lube the heck out of my P3AT and Tomcat when they get back. On the other hand, the Mustang Pocketlite, Kahr (post-break-in), Seecamp, and Kel-Tec P32 (that I bought after I sent the article to Dan for posting at TTAG) have run great with light lube.

  28. I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot most of these guns and enjoyed the review. I did shoot the Sig P238 and he S/W Bodyguard a few months back. The S/W was on my short list and I didn’t like it that much. Loved the Sig till I priced them. I ended up buying the new generation Ruger LCP and like it a lot. Have not compared it to the older version but from what I have read it is a completely different trigger pull. At less than 1/2 the price of the Sig I can afford to put some extra ammo through it. So far it shoots just about anything I have tried and I’m up to 8 different FMJ and 2 defensive loads. Only two semi failures were a fail to feed on a couple of rounds with the steel Russian TulAmmo, needed to give the back of the slide a tap to finish the chambering and 1 round of Remington UMC same problem.

    A good follow up to this review is the defensive ammo test
    http://shootingthebull.net/blog/final-results-of-the-380-acp-ammo-quest/

    • Great link! After reading it, maybe I will ditch the Hornady Critical Defense for Hydrashoks ( I always liked the name, Hydrashok).

  29. I had a Kel Tek P3AT, but got rid of it. Maybe my trigger finger is just too fat, but on several occasions I didn’t get my finger far enough forward of the trigger, after firing, which kept the gun from cycling the next round.
    I’m not much for the double action only guns anyway. If you want a slow deliberate shot at a small target, you have to contend with a long heavier trigger pull. However, it looks like I’m in the minority on this aspect. To each his own!

  30. Thanks for the useful comparison, Aaron. I can’t wait to read your next one that includes the Glock 42.

    So far, the Kahr P380 also tops my list of ultra-concealable autos. I anticipate the 42 taking over that spot one day. 😉

  31. Thanks for the review of the Mustang. I’ve been eying it for a while, and I even fondled one in the LGS. I’m happy to hear that it’s actually shootable. I think it might be my next gun…

  32. Thanks for the article, Aaron. Very timely for me as I’m looking for a pocket gun. Have you ever tried the Beretta Nano or Pico?

  33. Great review, simple and straight forward. While I still prefer a heavier caliber a lot has to do with the fact I have large hands and long fingers. The old Star PD remains one of my favorite pistols. I have a Walter PP in .32 which shoots well and is very functional with fully loaded ball ammo. My PD, the COP or a Taurus Stainless 5 shot in .38 remain my choices for backup. One question? I ride motorcycles (a lot) and subscribe too the ATGATT credo. My leather gear is extremely heavy 2-3 times that of a heavy fake motorcycle jacket it has plastic armor in select places. The light gear is usually nylon/Kevlar weave with armor in select places usually worn over a heavy leather vest or a “joe rocket” under-armour item. I’m not saying I am bullet proof but has anyone ever done some testing on how well this stuff would stand up against various bullets? I’d like to see some tests, given the low velocity and light weight on most .25 and .32 autos I have often suspected they would fail in critical situation. I am not questioning the adage that any firearm is better than none just wondering about the impact clothing would have on the outcome… i.e. overweight and winter clothing have a history of changing the outcome.

  34. Final comment, I have shot all of the pistols in this review, the mustang was a great little pistol and was fun (within limits) to shoot. The Bersa should have rated better I like their pistols and the quality versus the cost seem better than average. The Tomcat usually a nice shooter and Beretta has a long history with the design. Find ammo that works and stick with that. Kel-tec seems all over the map on quality, get a good one and you’ll love it get a POS one and it will be on the table at the next gun show. I sold many as a former dealer and found them a hit or miss item. Customer support is good but just get it right the first time. The Seacamp: cute, beautifully manufactured and costs way too much. Sundance arms… another name for Lorcin, and about 13 other names for the same design and pot metal manufacture, would NEVER trust my life to one of these. Because of my large hands and long fingers the Bersa remains the only one I enjoyed shooting long term. As a dealer I used to obtain a Seecamp about once every 2-4 months wanted to keep one just because they were so well made but someone always offered me more money that I thought it worth so off it went. I still have an AMT backup in .45 if I could just get the little POS to work on a regular basis….

    • ggrimes2, I agree the Bersa is a great gun, but it is too big to be a pocket gun by my subjective and unscientific standards.

      As for my Beretta, I sent it to the factory and they are apparently going to replace it gratis. Will update when that happens.

      • Aaron, let me know what the response/results from Beretta are as a former dealer I had very good service from them and hope it continues.
        I recently took my mom shooting and somehow have “loaned” the Taurus 85 revolver for her use. So much for a revolver as my choice…. I am well over 6′ tall and 215lbs and wearing motorcycle armor a lot of stuff could be considered as concealed carry. I have big hands and long fingers so many of your choices feel like I’m gonna break them! I have a COP and a little Walther PPK/s in .32 thinking I may start carrying the Walter again. I also have an older custom shop stainless 9mm S&W or Kimber CDP both of which are a lot bigger than your choices. I might just go back and buy another High Standard Derringer, they are very effective and easy in carry.
        No way you can make the Bersa work? I really like that pistol for concealed carry? The other choice for me will probably be the COP in the custom shoulder holster. Cheers

        • Beretta changed their mind about replacing the Tomcat, because I bought it used. I wasn’t expecting that.

          I don’t need to make the Bersa work for CC, because I have easier options in the same caliber. But yes, if I had to, I could.

  35. I know I’m late but I had to chime in. Kahr now makes the CW380, with a street price in the lower 300s. It’s a great value. It’s a lower priced version of the p380 but the same size and function. I don’t own one (yet) but I am very happy with my Kahr CM9 and CW9. Also I was recently able to fondle a Glock 42 and found it to be small enough to ride in all but the smallest of my pockets.

    • I have CM9 (recently purchased), and it is larger than the p380 but STILL smaller than the G42. I sent Dan a pic of my P380 on top of a G42 for comparison, but he hasn’t posted the update I sent.

  36. As was stated earlier, many CCW holders do not want to kill, they just want to bite him hard enough so that he will go away. While a .25 at 10 yards might not hurt him that much, if is usually enough to get him to go somewhere else.
    A .32 would for sure. The only thing you have to be worried about is a crazy doped up stalker who just doesn’t care about his own life, he will keep coming. If you know that you are being targeted, or are a LEO, you may feel this is needed.
    The average CCWer does not need a .10 or a .40 to feel safe. These guns are not confortable to carry or to shoot. Even after monthly training with the little lady, she may not want to fire it either.
    I like a .380 or a Mak for me and for her

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