Sunday, February 6, 2011

REVIEW: Taurus 738 TCP (with Crimson Trace Laser Guard)

NOTE: Multiple updates are posted at the end of the Taurus 738 TCP review.

Kel-tec started it. Ruger aggravated it. Now Taurus joined it.

Public demand for pocket-sized, polymer .380 semi-automatic pistols is insatiable. They are selling as fast as manufacturers can make them and just about every mainstream gun maker builds one. So, if a category is so hot, get on the band wagon right? That's exactly what Taurus did with the 738 TCP (Taurus Compact Pistol). This review will focus on options, actual shooting and size (the only reason a person buys a tiny .380).

If you're going to succeed in a category, even one as hot as the compact .380, you need to stand out and have a few points of differentiation, so Taurus built it's .380 with some neat bells and whistles, and options, that it's best-selling competitors don't have.

First, the Taurus 738 is built with something that the Kel-tec P-3AT and the Ruger LCP lack, a slide lock. Ruger has a manual slide lock but it won't lock the pistol open after the last shot, like all full-sized semi-autos. Taurus decided that this would be a great feature that would help them sell against competitors to they built it into the TCP. If you search the web, you'll find several articles that mention a malfunction of this feature–where the slide lock won't lock open after the last round leaves the barrel. In shooting 200 rounds through this pistol, we didn't experience a single failure to lock. We did have another problem, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Second, the Taurus 738 TCP is a really nice looking piece of hardware. I know function trumps looks but I still want my guns to look nice when they're sitting in my safe or in a holster. On looks alone, it's a winner, but there's more to the review...lots more.

Third, as of this writing, Taurus offers the TCP in six configurations–Blued, Stainless Steal Blued, Stainless Silver, Titanium, Pink Polymer SS Blued and Pink Polymer SS Silver. That's a lot of options.  You might not think guns should be made in pink, but someone else might disagree. Either way, if pink didn't sell, they wouldn't waste time and money manufacturing it right?

Lastly, just like every other Taurus, the TCP comes with the Taurus Security System that allows you to render the pistol unusable with a quick twist of a special Taurus key so it can be safely stored.

If any of these option are enticing to you, then Taurus has done it's job in giving you a reason to select the TCP over one of it's competitors. But there's another important factor in choosing a pistol, how it shoots.

Fortunately, I've pulled the trigger of several great .380s, Ruger, Kel-tec and Walther to name a few. And like most comparisons, there are definite differences in how the pistols feel and shoot. The first thing I noticed when I pulled the trigger on the Taurus TCP was how comfortable it felt in my hand. Comfort is a subjective thing, but most people will agree that the word "comfortable" isn't an accurate descriptor when shooting the Kel-tec and the Ruger. As a matter of fact, the first time a shot a small, polymer .380 I was surprised how much my palm hurt after only two magazines! I was expecting the experience to be more like shooting the Walther PPK or PK380, but the extremely small, rock hard, knurled grips squirmed around in my hand and punched into my palm like a hammer. There was nothing fun about shooting these little guns. Now, in the heat of battle, I don't think I would notice the discomfort, but at the range, I noticed it every time I pulled the trigger. Shooting the Taurus, on the other hand, was slightly easier and more 'comfortable' then shooting either the Kel-Tec or the Ruger. The shape and size of the grip gave my small hands a better purchase. In contrast, my friend David, the owner of the gun, has big hands and even he could shoot the pistol without the squirm we felt when shooting the Ruger and Kel-tec (see video).



As for accuracy, this is where the Taurus was a little bit of a let down. Remember, accuracy isn't the point when shooting, at more than 15 feet, with any little .380, but we really struggled with the TCP. Standing free-hand, it was hard to hit a 5.5" Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C. Three of us tried and three of us failed to "dial the gun in" at 15 feet, so we moved the target in to 10 feet. Again, we struggled for consistency even when taking our time between shots. In the real world, if the pistol were to be used in self-defense, I can believe that an 18 x 12 inch torso could be hit multiple times at 10-12 feet. And since that's the designed purpose of the TCP, a person should be able to adequately defend themselves against a lethal aggressor, but I was hoping for more from the TCP. As you saw in the video, my wife comments on her inability to hit the target and she's a pretty good markswoman.

Average Target Results from 15-feet
So you know, our best experience was with the Walther PK380 (but it's bigger in every way than the other .380s and that made it easier to shoot but harder to conceal), next was the the Kel-tec (I have to believe that it's white sites had something to do with that). After than was the Ruger LCP and last was the Taurus 738.

Another disappointing, and recurring, issue was a nagging failure to feed problem. We experienced at least 10 feeding "jams" in 200 rounds (maybe more but no one was counting). Way too many for a defense pistol in my opinion. In all fairness, the owner had not cleaned the TCP prior to taking it to the range. We found out, after a thorough cleaning, that was the primary root of the problem but even then an occasional cock-eyed round snuck up on us. It was another disappointment, and personally, I think he should send the gun back to Taurus for a factory examination. 

Last on the review list is the size comparison. I've taken a couple of pictures of the TCP next to a Taurus 709 Slim and a Ruger LCR. There wasn't any reason to compare it to the Ruger LCP since they are very similar in size, but I was surprised as so how close in size it was to the Ruger LCR. 


As you can see in the picture, when you set the Taurus 738 on top of a Ruger LCR, the profiles are surprising close in size for a revolver and semi-auto. The real size advantage is in the Taurus's thinness. It's really thin. 

Even as thin as it is, I found that it printed pretty badly when dropped into the front pocket of my cargo pants. 

The pistol is light too. The stainless models weigh only 10.2 ounces empty and the titanium weighs 9 ounces empty. That 1.2 oz might not seem like a lot, but think of it as more than a 10% reduction in weight. 

To sum it up, I liked a lot of what the Taurus 738 offers. I like the finish options, I like size and weight, I like how it felt in my hand, I really like the looks. I was a little frustrated with it's accuracy and the failure-to-feeds issues. The problems are more than likely unique to that one pistol and not indicative of the model itself, but since color, comfort and looks aren't important when defending yourself, I'd run a lot of rounds through one before you trusted you life to it.

UPDATE #1:
On 2/19/11, I bought my own Taurus 738 TCP. Academy Sports had a stainless version on sale for $259, a price too good to pass up. I thoroughly cleaned the pistol and ran 100 rounds of cheap Winchester, flat nose .380 though it without a single failure to feed or extraction issue. Not one.

Not only did it feed well, it shot well. I didn't have the problem keeping shots centered like I did with David's TCP. The photo to the left shows the result of two magazines, standing free hand at 21" on an 8" target. In my opinion, not too bad for a tiny .380 that I had just started shooting. I wish the three strays hadn't happened but they are still in a lethal zone and in my level of experience, strays happen. And how about this, Doug and I were 'dinging' torso-sized steels at 75 yards with the TCP standing free-hand. I was consistently ringing the steel 4-5 times out of six shots at 225 feet!

The gun still needs another hundred rounds through it to keep breaking it in, but I feel confident enough to carry it as a personal defense piece. I put five rounds of Hornady Critical Defense through it and they fed perfectly too, so as summer approaches and shorts and T-shirts become the dress code, it'll be nice to have a "pocket protecter" with me at the lake,  and I don't mean the nerd kind.

UPDATE #2:

I added a Crimson Trace Laserguard to the TCP. I found this one on Amazon.com for $179. As you can see it doesn't alter the profile of the pistol very much and weight and balance changes weren't noticeable at all.

Installation was extremely easy and took about five minutes, including sighting it in. The device is two half pieces that attache to the trigger guard with two tiny allen head screws. Using the same allen wrench, you adjust for windage and elevation. I adjusted the dot on my pistol so it sits on the front sight when "painted" on a target 12-feet away from the muzzle.

Activation is "no-brainer" automatic. The activation button is right under the trigger guard and is activated by your middle finger. If you grip the pistol normally, your finger will activate the laser without the need for any additional thought. Grip the gun, laser turns on. Relax your grip, laser turns off.

On my Kimber Ultra Carry II, the laser is at the back of the gun attached to the grip. The benefit of this position is that gun smoke does not coat the lens during use. In a defensive scenario, this isn't an issue in any way, but on the TCP, the laser lens is right under the crown so residue does accumulate as you shoot. Again, it's not a big issue, you just need to carefully clean the lens after you shoot. Speaking of cleaning, care needs to be taken not to get any solvents on the lens. I personally believe that keeping solvents off of the entire mechanism is a good idea. The activation button is rubber and strong cleaners will break down the rubber over time and will do who knows what to the inside of the unit.

If you've read my reviews, you know my stance of laser sights. I think all concealed carry pistols should have them. In a panic situation, even with tons of practice, will you look at the front sight (especially the dinky TCP sights) as a 200+ pound bad guy charges at you? What about in low light? Do you really want to focus on a gun sight and not the attacker or attackers? Can you accurately shoot from the hip in tight quarters? As laser isn't magic, but it does allow better situational awareness, better aim in awkward positions and it gives you a trigger pull practice tool (some say it can decrease an attackers aggression, who knows).

Once you put a laser on your pistol, make sure to practice using it. Shoot hundreds of rounds from a variety of positions several times a year. Find a pistol defense instructor and get proper training with it. Remember, a laser doesn't magically guide a bullet to the red dot. It just shows where the gun is pointed as you begin to pull the trigger. Good techniques are still needed to keep the dot on target as you pull the trigger.

Enough preaching about lasers and back to the TCP. The Taurus 738 is a fantastic, inexpensive, easy to conceal defense gun. I know, some of you think .380s are barely powerful enough to penetrate bare skin. I agree that they are on the bottom of the caliber food chain, but I don't think of them as pee-shooters.

While at the range, I spoke to an active police officer that helped clear up my thought on the matter. As I handed him the TCP, I shrugged and said, "I know, not a bear killer." He held up the little pistol and looked down the tiny sight line, "Maybe not a bear killer, but I've seen way too many dead people that were shot with cheap .380s and .25s. I wouldn't want to be shot by one."

To paraphrase Dick Metcalf: A full-sized 1911 in .45 ACP is my first choice, but sometimes it's not practical to carry one, especially when running to the corner store for a gallon of milk. Or in my case, in the summer when wearing shorts and a T-shirt. In those instances, I think my little Taurus TCP will do just fine.

UPDATE #3:

I bought a Crossbreed MiniTuck for the TCP.  It's fantastic. I've owned a SuperTuck for my Taurus 709 Slim for some time now and it's a great way to carry concealed. I added a Laserguard to the Slim and needed a new Crossbreed so I thought I'd grab one for the TCP at the same time. In the accompanying photo you can see my 709 Slim below the TCP and how much smaller the MiniTuck if than the SuperTuck. The success of Crossbreed has brought copycats to market. Big names like Galco have ripped off the design but I'm staying true to the little guys at Crossbreed. They make a quality product and I'm happy to see them succeed.

Also, I can proudly say that the TCP now has over 500 rounds through it and it's performed flawlessly. My buddy's Kel-Tec has an occasional failure but my little TCP just plugs along without fail. I don't shoot the little gun as much as I shoot some of my full-sized pistols, but I keep a little ammo going though it just to keep her limber. I've always felt that little guns aren't built for weekly 200-round range trips. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't over-shoot the .380. All-in-all, so far so good. I can highly recommend the Taurus 738 Slim.

UPDATE #4:
I put a Hogue Handall Grip Sleeve on my Ruger SR9 and dang! I wanted to put a Handall Jr. on my TCP! The problem was that I couldn't find a way to make it work with the Crimson Trace Laserguard. I bought one and considered cutting it up but it was just too much trimming that left too little material in the fron. So, I went with another option, grip tape.

I found Donald Meyers' company Tractiongrips (Tractiongrips.com). They had a custom cut grip for the Taurus 738 TCP that perfectly fits without any trimming, unless you have a Crimson Trace Laserguard. In my case, I needed to trim the portion of the main grip that covered the front strap. If you enlarge the picture you can see what I did. Also, I trimmed about 2mm from the bottom of the main grip, just my preference as it fit perfectly out of the box. So, don't let the small gap in the photo make you think that the grips came that way. The set also included a back strap piece.

I took the front strap portion that I cut off and used it on the front of the magazine bottom plate. Perfect! After installing the Tractiongrips, I picked up the unloaded pistol, held it firmly and pointed it at the wall. It felt like a new gun! My grip was very secure. Shooting little .380s is really hard on your hands and the little pistols tend to squirm around requiring frequent finger readjustments. Well, after a trip to the range I can tell you that the grips do little to alleviate the discomfort of shooting a tiny .380 but they do amazing work of keeping the pistol securely in your hand.

Before the Tractiongrips, it was hard for me to make it though a 6-round magazine without wiggling my fingers to re-secure my grip. Now, I can run though 7 shots (6+1), change mags and run 6 more with out any gun squirm. I love these things!

As for concealed carry? I've only had them a couple of days but in that time, I haven't noticed any clothing snag or other issues. So far so good. I just hope they stay adhered for at least six-months. Any longer than that and I'd consider it a bonus. But for $7.44 if I have to replace them once a year, I'd be fine with that.

UPDATE #5:
Pearce has finally come out with pinkie extension grips for the TCP! I was alerted by a reader and I immediately ordered one. At $10, plus $6 shipping, for one magazine extension, I think they are a bit expensive. But when you're the only grip extension game in town for some makes and models, you can price the way you want, and like me, people buy.

The reader mentioned that the grips extensions for his TCP prevented the magazine from being fully inserted. It appears that he has a Taurus 738 TCP with a serial number that ends in "C".

Pearce has the following on their website.

NOTE: Due to a change in the factory magazines, a slight modification to the interface may be required on guns with serial numbers ending in "C". This will require light sanding on the interface side to allow the magazine to lock into place.


My TCP serial number ends in "B" so I didn't have any fit issues. The pinkie extension slipped right on and the magazine clicks into place perfectly, without any filing. 

The stock magazine butt plate adds about a half of an inch to the grip as is so the Pearce isn't a dramatic addition but it does give my pinkie a place to rest when firing the little gun. It's enough that I'm glad I bought it but not so much that the gun becomes harder to conceal, as is the case with the Pearce extension on my Taurus 709 Slim. With my 709 Slim, I have one magazine with the extension for carrying and my backup mag extended. 

At the range, the extension makes the pistol much easier to handle and shoot. It's such a perfect addition that I'm surprised Taurus doesn't make it a stock feature. I'm sure Pearce hopes they don't. After shooting with it, I feel that I need to add a small piece of grip tape to the front of it for added grip, like I did to my 709 Slim. This is the only improvement that Pearce could make to the grips. I wish they'd just go ahead and mold some knurls into the front of all their pinkie extensions.

Now that I know how the extension works on my TCP, I'm going to get second one for a total of $32 (for the two), and you know what? It will be money well spent.  www.pearcegrip.com