Thursday, October 9, 2008


Several years ago my friend Doug showed me a new gun he bought. I picked it up, looked it over but since we were in his living room I didn’t have an opportunity to shoot it. It felt like a toy and I wasn’t very knowledgeable about Kel-Tec so I kind of blew off the gun as a novelty. Although my buddy that owns the gun might be sad to hear that, if he reads on he’ll see my attitude changed…greatly.

For the vast majority of people out there, the issue of carrying a concealed firearm is more of a logistical issue rather than a moral one. Anyone can carry covertly when wearing a parka or a baggy sweatshirt but what about shorts and a tank-top? What about while out jogging? Or what about small framed men and women that find even sub-compact 9mm/.40/.45s a challenge to carry?

That’s where a pistol like the Kel-Tec P-3AT comes in. The cleverly named mini gun (P-3AT, say it out loud, 3AT = 380) is chambered for 9mm’s baby brother, the .380. I’m not going to even talk about the 9mm vs. .380 issue here since it can be found all over the internet and the variety of opinions all have merit. I will say that when you need to go slim, the .380 is better than a whole host of other popular sub-compact options (.25, .22 LR, .32) that people carry every day. It’s funny because James Bond carries a Walther PPK and it comes in all four of the mentioned rounds. Enough said about that.

This gun is SMALL. I have a Beretta Bobcat .22 and the Kel-Tec is smaller in almost every way, especially in width. It’s silly how wide the Bobcat seems next to the P-3AT. My buddy keeps this pistol in his pocket almost all the time and I haven’t ever noticed it printing or giving away its presence. Ergonomically, the gun feels really good in your hand. It’s actually comfortable to hold. I said comfortable to hold…

Fast forward to now. I’ve had several opportunities to shoot the Kel-Tec P-3AT and love the little fella’. At distances 25 feet and under I can easily hit a torso target seven out of seven times in a an acceptably lethal group. The double-action only trigger isn’t too hard to pull but the gun is so small it makes the trigger feel heavier than it really is. Even though the pull is very smooth, the effort causes you to fight to keep your hand firmly clasped on the small grip.

Kel-Tec did its research well and really aggressively checkered the polymer grip to help you keep a hold of this little gun. The first thing you notice when you fire the pistol is that it kicks harder and is louder than you’d think (on looks alone). As the muzzle flipped up my trigger finger got pinched between the bottom of the trigger and the trigger guard - every freakin’ time. Look at some of the Kahr Arms trigger guards. I’ve noticed that they have a bend in the guard and have wondered if that’s to eliminate the “pinch” (see photo to the left).

The gun does its job well. With brass ammo Doug rarely experiences any misfires of failure-to-feeds. BUT the gun will not feed aluminum ammo like Wolfe or Blazer. I’m not talking about an occasional jam; I’m talking about every shot! Maybe this is unique to his gun but he only feeds his Kel-Tec brass, stainless or nickel cased ammo and it eats it up with aplomb.

Like most little guns, this one has little sights. The good news is that Kel-Tec put a bright white square centered on the rear sight and a white triangle on the front to make lining things up quick and easy. Just set the triangle on the box and pull the trigger. To Kel-Tec’s credit, they’re much better than the Ruger LCP’s plain black sights. While I haven’t shot the LCP (yet), the ones I handled at a gun show and gun store lacked in this area.

Speaking of the Ruger, the Kel-Tec has been so successful and so popular that Ruger has started manufacturing a close copy of the P-3AT. Side-by-side they look almost identical. If Ruger’s copying you, (of which they do a lot) you have something really special.

Back to the Kel-Tec. Here are my impressions after shooting several magazines through the gun on several different occasions. The gun isn’t fun to shoot. No fun at all. After just 14 total rounds, I was ready to stop but for the sake of this review, I shot a few more mags. The hard polymer grip is so small and so aggressively checkered that it’s like shooting a tiny .45 with sandpaper grips. The trigger pinched my finger over and over (though it doesn’t pinch the gun owner’s finger) and .380 ammo is almost as expensive as .45 ACP!

Fun or not, this gun could save your life. In the stress-filled seconds you’re fighting for survival, you won’t notice any of the unpleasant side-effects I just mentioned - none of them. All you’ll notice is how grateful you feel having some form of defense in your pocket.

If you own a Kel-Tec P-3AT, you WILL carry it. You won’t have a single excuse for leaving the house unarmed. This gun is perfect for a slim neoprene ankle holster, a belly band or dropped in your pocket. There’s even an ink-pen like clip option that allows you to clip it directly to the inside of your waistband without a holster. Shorts, swimsuits or even wearing those silly cycling shorts (I cycle so…) you can go armed.
Since my first exposure to the Kel-Tec P-3AT, I’ve learn a lot more about the company and the other options they offer. The popular company has a solid commitment to manufacturing small, easily concealed pistols.

So, how much has my opinion changed? I want one. Actually, I want the Ruger LCP but I see the benefit in owning a small, sub-compact pistol for those occasions when it’s not practical to carry a my Kimber Ultra Carry.

Did you like this article? Check out the PAST REVIEWS at the top of the page for several more. 


  1. Nice review. I expect to jump on the Ruger LCP band wagon when I can walk into a local store and buy one for what I think will eventually be the "normal" price: <=$300. I'm not going for the current Supply/Demand $350-430 junk right now.

    Also, I would be nice to see a pic comparison of the Kel-Tec and your smaller guns that you mention in the post.

  2. Some 100 grit sandpaper works wonders on the sharp checkering and other "flashing" left over on the plastic from the manufacturing process. This makes the gun much smoother and comfortable.

  3. sometimes my kel-tec.380 jams when i put the slide back why?

  4. Please provide me with a bit more information. When you say the Kel-Tec jams when you pull the slide back, do you mean that the slide sticks and stays locked open or do you mean as the slide closes and pushes the bullet into the chamber the bullet gets jammed as it's moving from the magazine into the chamber?

  5. i cleaned the gun really good and lubed it up correctly and havn't had a problem since. the guy before me must have not cleaned it ever. thanks for responding thank you

  6. Has anyone seen the custom kel-tec forends on ebay? Does anyone own one? they are for the pu-22 and the sub2000.

  7. My friend Liz purchased one of these as her first pistol. A few weeks later I purchased a Springfield XDm .40 cal... and we went to the range.

    Unfortunately, she learned the hard way that you get what you pay for... she really has a dislike for this "mini-gun" now. At least she didn't waste too much money learning this hard lesson.

    Such a small frame makes for some fairly serious recoil... enough to make her close her eyes while squeezing the trigger.

    Honestly... this thing kicks as much as my .40 ... and doesn't feel very secure as my bottom two fingers nearly hang off the grip.

    If my life ever depended upon it... I'd rather have this than a knife... but it isn't really much fun to shoot... and I doubt I'd use this to practice with much.

    In my opinion... This uncomfortable little dog has a lot of bark without very much bite... think twice... spend once.

  8. I just recently bought a P-11 and i loaded it with hallow points and regular and both would jam as when i pulled the slide back to load it. I cleaned it and tried taking it to the range and i can only get 1 round through, if it will even load the first. Any comments or suggestions?

  9. Brand new P3AT - I am FFL. Recd in the mail at noon today (Saturday) just as we were heading to the range. Took it out of the factory box and wiped off the extra packing oil once at the range and test fired it. It worked without a hitch, 70+ rounds of .380 ball shot by me and two other fellows and my wife.

    Sure it kicks. But it was reliable. And small. I believe it is a great "option" for concealed carry or back up gun. I am impressed.

  10. The Ruger LCP is a nicer gun. Dealer cost on the LCP is $220 however, in my area I've not seen the Ruger for less than $330.

    Oh, yes, the Ruger bites my shooting finger just like the Kel-Tec.

  11. I,ve owned a P-3AT for about a month now. I love it (for its intended purpose). Fun or not only practice will make you proficient with it (small grip, long trigger). And Glaser makes a brass cased "power'r ball" defense round in .380. Mean little round. Buy one box for carry, practice with something cheaper, like hand loads. have fun, stay safe!

  12. I'm a retired cop, carried cw since 1963,issue wheel guns u/c weapons, a variety of autos and a variety of back ups. I recently bought a Kel Tec P3AT. I wish the gun had been available 35 years ago. It's the single best ccw weapon I've ever seen. Admitted that .380 is a little light but the gun can put lethality on target quickly and confortably. No jams problem since first 40 or so rounds....I've been to a lot of autopsies wherein the .380 did the deed. The P3 is so light that you're more likely to carry it.. It ain't pretty, but it damn sure does what it's suppposed to do.

  13. Thats right to the Retired Police Officer. This gun is intended for when the shit hits the fan, when someone is on top of you, right in your face or 5 feet away. If you are shooting at someone 25 yards away you are prob going to jail anyways since you prob could have avoided the situation. Withn 10 feet this lil gun is a banger. Someone come up and tries to grab you, mug you, rape you etc this will do the job to back up and sit down anyone. People who buy this gun and expect to group 1 inch shots at 50 yards need to look elsewhere. This is a Oh Shit gun that you can pull, point, shoot and eliminate the threat.

  14. My husband recently purchased this gun, and we both fired it at the range. I agree that it is not a fun gun to shoot. I experienced the pinched finger and unpleasant recoil that others mentioned, and my husband experienced the limp wrist/feeding jam issue. However, this will be great gun for him to wear this in the summer when he can't wear his Glock 26 (which by the way, I very much enjoy shooting). BTW, the Crimson Trace laser sight proved extremely accurate. The external clip is also a very nice touch.

  15. I carry the little P-3AT in a wallet in my back pocket with a round chambered, I have for over 3 years. I would not carry the pistol loosely in my pocket with a round chambered. I shoot it at least once a month and clean it after shooting. I have never had problem and the trigger gets better with time. I love the pistol and feel confident that I hit what I want to. It is a great little weapon.

  16. I've been carying My p3at for about 2 years first in a pocket slipper then in a IWB /attatched to my cell phone and now IWB with a belt clip from KT and it's perfection. Concealed with my shirt tucked or not

    Did have some fte's prior to the fluff and buff. Now It goes bangs and ejects even with TulAmmo steel jacketed

  17. not a gun for week hands,or first time shooters. love mine 275rnds 1jam in first clip o after.dont feed flatnose or alm.cases and keep a hold on it and enjoy that comfort of a friend that is ALWAYS THERE. and shoot it,it gets smoother.keep your finger on the trig. and it dont pinch. re.p3at

  18. Yes the kelTec is small & light. Maybe alittle too small. Personally the keltec & ruger lcp did not feel right for my hand. The tarus tcp felt better and was same price range. I would recomend good ammo, even for practice. Tulammo is one of the worst for misfires in these small guns

  19. I bought 15-16 boxes Fiocchi 380 90 grain JHP just as the LCP came out. I bot LCP and Fiocchi at the same time not knowing the Fiocchi ammo is 1 mm longer than most other ammo and therefore it jams in the magazine of the LCP. Either I sell the ammo or buy a gun that will shoot it. Any recommendations on a small 380 that will shoot the Fiocchi ammo - without hangups? Will it shoot well in Kel Tec P-3AT?