Walther PK380 Review
The firearms industry once again realized that there are a lot of potential shooters out there who don’t fit into the molds of GI Joe or the Marlboro Man. There are quite a few people who need a smaller gun, a slide they can manipulate with ease under pressure, and maybe even guns for the folks whose hands can’t open the bottle their arthritis medication comes in.
For Walther, a longtime maker of smaller firearms chambered for smaller cartridges, their entry into this market segment is the hammer-fired PK380.
Aimed at the small or less physically-abled shooter, the PK380 is little and light, but not diminutive. At 6.5” in length, 1.2” in width and 18oz. empty, it’s actually slightly larger than the 9mm GLOCK 43 in every dimension.
That’s not a pocket gun, but it’s still quite small. Given the comparatively less potent .380ACP fired from a gun of that size, that equates to the PK380 having very little recoil.
I asked several people to shoot the PK380 gun along with me. From an Israeli Special Forces soldier, to a buddy at the range, to two smaller-framed women, both members of AARP.
Everyone to tried it found the PK380 easy to shoot, and recoil simply wasn’t a concern. It shouldn’t be. The gun is easy to draw, easy to aim, and very easy to get eight rounds out of with a quickness.
The trigger on the PK380 is, unsurprisingly, very good. This is, after all, a Walther. In double action, there’s a smooth pull, with a small amount of stacking toward the end and a solid break. The double action pull is advertised at 11lbs, and my Lyman scale measured slightly less than that.
Eleven pounds doesn’t feel like much to someone young and healthy, but even that can be a bit much for a person who has lost the strength in their hands. My Smith & Wesson Airweight’s DAO trigger pull measures at 12lbs. and it was always too much for my tiny mother to be able to use and still keep the gun in line. That’s why I switched her to the Ruger LCP some years ago.
In comparison, the Ruger LCP II’s double action trigger pull weight is almost half that of the PK380’s, at just 6lbs. That’s closer to the PK380’s single action trigger pull, which weighs in at the feathery 4lbs.
The trigger reset of the PK380 is hands down the best of any of the compact/subcompact .380ACP pistols I’ve tested on the market today. It’s super short and lightning fast. With a bit of practice learning trigger’s reset, this pistol makes the Mozambique drill fast and fun. By the end of the review, I was able to put eight rounds into an IDPA target at 15 yards in 1.7 seconds, over and over again, single-handed.
The grip is made for smaller-statured people, and it is, as advertised, indeed quite thin. It was a little too narrow for most of the men who shot it, but both women remarked with surprise at how well it fit their hands.
See that slide lock in front of the takedown tab? No? Neither did I, and I looked all over for it. That’s because there is no slide lock/slide release lever for this gun. Walther didn’t include one on the PK380.
Don’t worry though, the slide locks back on an empty magazine. You load the firearm by putting the weapon on safe, inserting a loaded magazine into the gun, then pulling back the slide and releasing it. The gun is now loaded and on safe.
If the slide is locked back on an empty magazine — which is the only way it can be locked back — simply insert a loaded mag, grab the back of the slide, pull and release. That’s how the manual instructs you to load the firearm.
It’s also completely unnecessary. You can also just slam the loaded magazine into the handle with a good amount of force and the slide will come forward all on its own.
When that’s an intermittent thing on a gun, it’s a big no-no. When it happens every single time, consistently, it’s a feature, not a bug. Performed in this manner, reloads are quite quick. But you’ll need to train specifically for that.
I found the lack of a slide lock/release absolutely infuriating, as did every experienced shooter that shot the gun. The new shooters, though, didn’t mind at all. They didn’t know there was anything missing.
Unless the slide goes forward every single time a magazine is slammed home, hitting the slide release is the fastest, and, in my experience, the least error-prone way to get a gun refueled and back in the fight. Unless you are using a stock GLOCK, the idea that the release is too difficult to get to in a real fight is a myth.
Since the PK380 does in fact go into battery every single time a magazine is forcefully inserted, the only real concern is that the firearm might be a bit more difficult to clear in the case of a double-feed malfunction, but even then, I doubt it.
Not having a slide lock still annoys the heck out of me, but I can live with it.
This T&E gun shipped with one eight-round magazine. Everything I can find on the Walther website suggest that it only ships with a single magazine. It should come with at least two in the box, but additional magazines can be purchased on Brownells for about $24.
The magazine isn’t flush fit, but the PK380 is big enough that it’s not necessary for me to get a full grip on the gun. Fortunately, there’s no magazine disconnect, meaning the gun will fire as long as there’s a round in the chamber.
The controls are ambidextrous, as the slide-mounted safety as well as the magazine release lever are on both sides of the pistol.
The slide-mounted safety is a concern for a lot of people, mostly from the dread they experienced from the Beretta 92 series safety. The problem with those guns was two-fold. First, many people simply could not reach the safety with their firing hand thumb. Considering the small size of the PK380, that isn’t an issue at all here.
The other problem was that, in the case of a malfunction, or just racking the slide back to chamber another round, the safety could be inadvertently switched back on. In the panic of a fight, that means you’d pull the trigger over and over again, likely wondering why your gun wasn’t firing before you figured it out.
The safety of the PK380 is more angular, less rounded, and less prone to accidental movement than the 92 series. I could still make the safety go on “by accident”, but only if I grabbed the gun overhanded and too far back, in an awkward manner. In short, I find it physically possible, but highly unlikely to ever actually happen.
Walther chose to go with factory Cerakoting for the PK380. That works well for the intended purpose, and it gives Walther several options for finishes and colors.
Beyond basic black and two-tone nickel, Walther has fully embraced color possibilities. You need a two-tone pink and black? Yup, they got that. Too scary? They’ve got a two-tone grey and pink model as well. Are you super-special? Say no more, they’ve got both a purple and black two-tone as well as the oh-so-fresh “Angel Blue” option.
Heck, I need one to match all my outfits. (That would be funnier if it wasn’t also kinda true.)
The traditional 3-dot sights are a good set-up, with the rear sight being screw-adjustable for windage. Although not true night sights, both the front sight and the rear have very bright white dots for easy visibility. Just like on the PPK, there’s a good amount of space on either side of the front sight when looking down the sights, just enough to see your target on either side of it. That’s not appropriate for a target pistol, but just right for a self defense-focused firearm.
For much of their target demographic, seeing the sights clearly might be an issue. Walther also offers a couple of different models of the PK380 that come factory-equipped with a laser aiming device, built right off the trigger guard and the front rail.
Note that the safety blocks the firearm from firing, but doesn’t de-cock the hammer. That is, with the safety on, you can pull the trigger and successfully lower the hammer. The gun will not fire as long as the safety is on, even if the hammer is lowered.
Since most folks will likely choose to carry the gun with the safety on and the hammer down. And as there’s no de-cocker, this is the process that most people will need to go through after they have loaded the pistol to carry.
It is also the sequence that you will have to follow at some point to disassemble the pistol. Even with the safety on, I imagine pulling the trigger and controlling the hammer forward is going to be a mental challenge for new shooters, and a physical challenge for those with arthritis or weak grip strength. I would have preferred a de-cocker-only model like the Berretta 92G, or something similar to FN’s FNX three-position, safe/fire/de-cock lever.
Like many European designed modern guns, the PK380 has a paddle style magazine release located at the back of the trigger guard. I’ve always found these types of magazine releases intuitive and easy to train for. I still prefer a traditional button style, but that’s largely because I have larger hands and it’s always been easy for me to reach. The paddle style release on the PK380 is easier for anyone with small hands.
If you don’t have small hands, though, it’s a bit of a problem. I found myself missing the release over and over again, throughout the review process. Instead, my finger would land behind the release in the unfortunately similarly feeling cut out behind the trigger well in the frame.
Two other grown men fired the gun, and I watched both of them have the same problem. They would hit the release, nothing would happen, and then they would stare more closely and realize they had just gone too far and hit the frame instead. The two small women I asked to shoot the pistol had no such issues. They went right to the paddle without a problem.
Like the other Walthers I’ve tested, the PK380 gets high marks for reliability. I lubed the pistol with Eezox prior to shooting and didn’t re-lube or clean the gun again for the remainder of the review. I put 500 rounds through the pistol and never had any problems of any sort. It never failed to load, fire, or eject.
The magazine always loaded easily, released quickly, and stayed put during shooting. The rounds I fired included Remington’s 102gr Golden Saber JHP, Ruger’s 56gr ARX, and Freedom Munitions‘ 100gr HP as well as Freedom Munitions’ 100gr RNFP (use coupon code “TTAG” for 5% off everything on Freedom Munitions’ website, including the 16 brands of .380 ACP they stock). No ammunition or bullet type tripped up the PK380 at all.
If you are going to count on a relatively low power round for self-defense, you had better be able to put it right where you want it. In terms of accuracy, the PK380 performed admirably. The best average of four five round groups at 25 yards was the Remington Golden Saber round at 2 1/4″. Right behind that was the Freedom Munitions 100gr HP and the 100gr RNFP, both of which scored consistent 2 1/2″ groups. I only had 8 rounds left of the Ruger 55gr ARX, so I didn’t include them in the accuracy testing. It has been my experience, however, that these rounds perform particularly well in short-barreled pistols.
I’ve always found Walther’s customer service to be outstanding. They answer the phone and they get back to you very quickly. Their website boasts a “Legendary-Lifetime-Warranty,” stating “Our warranty provides unwavering support for your new firearm and continues for the life cycle of the product as long as the company manufactures and supports it.”
The manual, however, says “LIMITED ONE YEAR WARRANTY. This firearm is warranted to the original owner for one (1) year from date of purchase against defects in material and workmanship and is not transferable.”
Not only does the non-transferabily of the warranty contradict the “life cycle of the product” claim on the website, but it also doesn’t give me much of a warm and fuzzy. One year isn’t very long for a concealed carry firearm that’s likely to be shot rarely, and they will apparently only support repairing defects as long as they are still manufacturing the product. I’ve always found Walther to be a reputable company, so this is more a complaint in their documentation than any real concern that they won’t honor their obligations.
Disassembly of the PK380 is a little different from most other modern firearms on the market. As always, first make sure the gun is empty and make sure the hammer is down, or as the manual says “in the de-cocked position”. Then insert the small supplied plastic takedown key into the takedown release hole. Then rotate that key 135 degrees to the up position and….wait…what? Supplied plastic takedown key?
It’s 2018, and Walther is selling a firearm aimed at new shooters or shooters with limited dexterity…and the PK380 requires a small, proprietary plastic takedown key. One of them. I’d recommend buying a few of those as replacements in case you lose the original. Of course, I’m not sure where you’d buy them as I can’t find them on the Walther website. Then again, the key does look a whole lot like a tire valve removal tool, so I’d take one to an auto parts store to see if you can find one that matches up.
This is something that will confuse new shooters, anger experienced shooters, and people who have arthritis will simply find difficult to do. This is not how the PPQ or the PPQ Sub Compact I reviewed disassemble, and it’s mistake for this gun.
I’m a big Walther fan. I own a couple of their pistols. Heck, I even have this fancy patch for my hat. But the PK380 didn’t do it for me. The lack of a slide lock/release and the required tool for takedown are non-starters. The paddle release, given the size of the gun, would take a lot of training for me to master, though smaller handed should be fine.
Of course, as an experienced shooter, over six feet tall and still fairly able-bodied, this gun isn’t marketed at me. If you’re a new shooter who has small hands, or maybe diminished hand strength or arthritis, the PK380 would be worth a look, but consider the other options out there as well.
Specifications: Walther PK380
Caliber: .380 ACP
Trigger Pull: DA: 11/SA: 4lbs.
Trigger Travel:.4″ DA
Overall Length: 6.5″
Safety: Manual +1 Auto
Weight Empty: 18oz.
MSRP: $399 (about $369 on Brownells)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * *
The Cerakote finish is even and well done throughout. The overall appearance is the typical modern plastic industrial, where it seems like there’s a race to see who can get all the geometric shapes on one pistol.
Customization * * *
You can hang a light or laser off the front, and the factory provides built-in laser and multiple color options. You could even decide to wield both of the two different factory pink finishes and just be the worst person on Earth.
Reliability * * * * *
Rock solid with any round.
Accuracy * * * *
Two-and-a half-inch groups at 25 yards is better than average for a pistol this size. The .380ACP isn’t a powerhouse round, but put in the right place, it’s plenty of bullet at the ranges a defensive gun use is likely to occur. The PK380 has the precision needed to do just that.
Overall * * *
It’s accurate and reliable, so it has the basics down. The requirement of a proprietary takedown tool, and the lack of a slide lock/release are concerns. It fits well for shooters with small hands, but those same ergonomics cause some issues with anyone with more meaty paws. The eleven pound double action trigger is a problem for the target market of the pistol, and the PK380 should have included a decock-enabled safety.