Friday, April 17, 2009

A Pit Bull In My Pocket

No, not the big ass dog currently attempting to lick my face off (he's a bit affectionate); the brand new carry gun sitting there.

As I mentioned in my BAG day post, my wife has snaffled my Kel-Tec P3AT for her daily carry gun; because it's the only gun we own... one of the very few available actually... that she can carry on body without a cover garment.

So, that found me looking for a new pocket carry gun.

S'okay with me, I've been planning on buying one of these since they came out:

That would be a Smith and Wesson, hammerless, 5 shot, J frame, scandium airweight, black non-reflective finish, in .357 magnum; a.k.a. the 340pd.

I've been a j-frame owner before, shot the scandiums (many of them, from .22 up to .44 magnum) many times; and owned a scandium L frame (a 386). I have not however been a scandium J frame owner as of yet.

...Well, until now.

That little cell phone holster there isn't actually a cell phone holder. It holds three 5 shot speedloaders quite nicely; while still allowing easy access, and of course while being very discrete. I actually prefer the Safariland speedloaders for this thing, but I happened to already have four of the HKS units around.

From the factory the gun comes with the UncleMikes/S&W licensed soft kraton version of Craig Spegels boot grips...

... which is great, if you have small hands. I uh... don't.

As you can see, I can barely get a three finger grip on there, never mind a four finger grip. Also, with the bare backstrap, the gun just isn't pleasant to shoot with anything approaching full house loads. .38+p+ is the maximum here.

The factory sights are... rudimentary would probably be a good way of putting it. Trying to site down that little black trough, in the dark, without my glasses on...

Yeah, no.

So, to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to put on a set of Crimson Trace lg-305 overmolded lasergrips. This version of the laser grip lets me establish a full (and comfortable) four finger grip on the gun, as well as giving me the laser.

I'm also considering swapping out the front sight for an XS BigDot, for lowlight redundancy.

The much larger grip lets me fire full house .357 magnum without discomfort (to my hand anyway. my eyes and ears are another question entirely), even though it's so light weight (just 15.5oz loaded).

Initially I had a concern that the size difference in the grip would hurt concealability; but I'll say, I have no problem with it.

Yeah, it's bigger, by quite a bit. Here's the two of them to compare:

It's about a half inch wider, and about a half inch taller, but not as wide through the palm swell. Also, it's sticky (with the soft and grippy Hogue overmolded rubber compound), but not as sticky as the stock grips.

I'll be honest with you, I think it's easier to carry with the laser grips on. It's CERTAINLY a hell of a lot easier to draw and establish a good grip; and with the smooth organic shape, it's very comfortable to carry in my front right jeans pocket, even sitting in the car.

So, how does the 340 compare to my previous carry gun, the P3AT?

It's bigger. Much bigger:

The numbers tell the story, at least somewhat.
Smith and Wesson 340 Personal Defense (PD):

Chambering: .357 magnum (120-158gr loads only. Short barrel loadings better)
Barrel Length: 1.875
Capacity: 5
Thickness: 1.3"
Height: with factory grips 4.3", with CT laser grips (305) 4.8"
Length: with factory grips: 6.375", with CT laser grips (305): 6.775"
Weight: 12.0 oz unloaded, 14.9oz loaded, with CT laser grips (305) 15.5oz loaded

Kel-Tec P3AT:

Chambering: .380 (browning lock type gun, +p are OK unlike blowback guns)
Barrel Length: 2.75"
Capacity: 6+1
Thickness: .8"
Height: 3.6"
Length: 5.2"
Weight: 7.2 oz unloaded (no mag), 10.2oz loaded

The reason I say the numbers reflect the tale somewhat, is that strictly by dimensions the 340 seems to come off quite badly; but the shape of the thing is very good, so the dimensions don't seem to matter as much.

Although the maximum thickness of the 340 is 1.3"; that is of course at the widest part, the round cylinder, which is actually a quite small portion of the gun; and the measurement makes the gun seem far chunkier than it really is.

Most of the 340 is only about a half inch thick, and is organically shaped; as opposed to the Kel-Tec, which is a nearly flat .77" thick, and is very linear. This makes the 340 actually FEEL thinner than the Kel-Tec, and in my experience it is more comfortable to carry in the pocket, and it prints less in most clothing.

Here's a pic showing both of them in their respective pocket holsters (a slightly modified Desantis nemesis for the 340, that is completely and exactly covered by the GuruDave holster for the P3AT):

The holsters are lined up foot and spine above; and the P3AT holster is almost exactly the same size as the 340s holster. The difference is the fair bit of the grip left out on the 340.

Again though, the shape of the thing is what really matters; because in your pocket, it doesn't look like a gun at all. My thigh is rounded, the P3AT is not, so the P3AT shows angles where angles shouldn't be, even with the holster; whereas inside the the holster, the 340 is all smooth curves.

That isn't to say the P3AT is hard to conceal (I've never had someone spot it yet, even trained and aware individuals); but the 340 just looks smoother in the pocket.

And, as I said above, it's a HELL of a lot easier to draw. Even in the holster, the P3AT has a tendency to want to rotate; at least in my pockets (which admittedly, are quite large).

The chambering is of course a major factor here. The 340 is a .357, even though it's only a 1.85" barrel. That means you're only going to get about 1100fps from 124gr at best; along with a HUGE fireball and muzzle blast.

Still, .357 is .357.

Take a look up at the factory grip above again, and you'll notice there is a deep undercut behind the trigger guard, a bare backstrap, and a very sudden and narrow transition into the web of the thumb.

On my hand at least, that means the trigger guard raps my knuckles, the frame hump tries to embed itself into the web of my thumb; and the narrow grip and bare backstrap puts the cylinder latch right against the meaty bit of the side of my thumb just waiting to tear a bit of flesh out if I'm not very careful to keep a thumbs down grip.

All of that says "DON'T SHOOT .357 THROUGH ME" very loudly.

Look again at the LG-305 though. Full 4 finger grip, broader and more hand filling through the palm, nice big rubber bit in the web of the thumb...

Really, with the big grip on it, .357 is not bad at all. I'm not saying it's like shooting a stainless L frame; but it can be accomplished without major drama in the hand... again though, and it may seem like I'm getting repetitious here, but it really must be emphasized; the muzzle flash and muzzle blast are staggering.

The cor-bon super hot .380 that I carry in the P3AT is supposed to be 1100fps, but that's from a 2.5" test barrel. Also that's effectively +p+ and only suitable for locked breech guns.

A P3AT is NOT a 2.5" test barrel, and what you've got is 90gr at around 1000fps from it's dinky barrel (and with a pretty large standard deviation by the way. It's hard to get a consistent burn in such a small barrel).

Buffalo bore has a 90gr load that claims 1100fps and Doubletap a 95gr load that claims 1000, but instead of a test barrel, both say that's their velocity from the P3AT. Both are above Saami +p like the cor-bon; and I'd expect the same kind of results, at 50fps lower than claimed, with a large deviation.
A note about barrel length: The stated length of the P3AT barrel is 2.75" vs. the 340s 1.88", but remember revolver barrels are measured from the forcing cone and don't include the chamber. Automatic barrels are measured from the breech face, so about an inch (.95" actually) of that length is the chamber, and the effective length of the barrel is in fact slightly shorter than the 340.
That's a worthwhile difference in mass, momentum, and energy (about 200ftlbs, vs about 400ftlbs). That means, even with full expansion, generally speaking the .357 is going to give you at least 2" more penetration; which is a big deal.

Now, as I have said repeatedly, any full .357 magnum load is going to give you a MASSIVE fireball and muzzle blast from that short barrel; and it's going to be unpleasant to shoot. For most people, most of the time, I recommend a .38spl +p (or +p+).

If you can get it (it's rarer than a liberal with a clue these days), I cannot recommend Speers gold dot short barrel personal defense ammunition strongly enough.

In either .357 magnum or .38+p it uses the same specially designed 135gr. bullet; made to penetrate, and give good, controlled expansion at the lower velocities of the sub 2" barrel. The loads also use a flash suppressed powder; and a powder charge whose burn rate, and volume is optimized to produce as little fireball, muzzle blast, and extra recoil as possible.

It IS a lower velocity round, at just about 1000fps from the 340, and 340ftlbs of energy; but it is specifically designed to BE a lower velocity round, so you still get good penetration and full expansion. Importantly, you get that nearly non existent muzzle flash, and greatly reduced muzzle blast (still substantial, but greatly reduced).

I plan on carrying the Speer, Doubletap, or Buffalo Bore .357 short barrel loads, if I can ever get 5 boxes together to qualify the gun with it. I'm on waiting lists at Midway, Midsouth, Cheaper than Dirt, and my local stores, and direct from BB and DT.

As it is, the ONLY defensive .357 I've been able to get my hands on is Federal premium self defense 158gr hydrashoks; which is excellent ammo, but not particularly well suited to such a lightweight gun (never go under 120gr or over 158gr on these guns. You'll get pull or setback, which can jam up, or blow up a gaun; and with loads above 158gr, you can possibly get forcing cone cracking and frame stretching).

So, all that said, I'm not particularly recoil sensitive; and with the laser grip, I get a full four finger grip that fills the hand nicely, and helps me control recoil well. That is clearly not the case with the P3AT:

By the by, that's not even an attempt at a shooting grip; it's just that when I have the P3AT in a proper shooting grip the only part of the gun you can see is the slide. I wanted you to see how much of my hand is hanging off in the breeze when I shoot that little gun.

Now honestly, most of the time it doesn't bother me. I can shoot the sucker very well, emptying a mag as fast as I can shoot into a 4" circle at 7 yards; which as far as I'm concerned is EXCELLENT pocket gun accuracy. I've put at least 15,000 rounds through the thing, including about 5000 super hot +p and better loads; and I find it reasonably easy to control and comfortable to shoot.

Well... 'Cept for one thing: with the hot loads, the front of the trigger guard beats the hell out of my trigger finger, and the bottom of it beats up my middle finger (the humped bit recoils right into my knuckle). I can get the best grip in the world on it, after 50 rounds I've still got two hurting fingers. It doesn't stop me from shooting the gun well, but it IS a pain.

Thankfully, Mels fingers are small enough that she doesn't have that problem; though she prefers milder loads to the ones I choose to carry; because she gets a lot more muzzle flip, and with he much smaller and not as strong hands, it's harder for her to control it.

So, which one would I rather shoot with full house loads?

The 340 with the laser grips; no question. Wih the factory grip it would be entirely the other way; but with the laser grip, the gun is quite comfortable and controllable.

... and of course I like having that .357 capability there in case I need it.

All in all, I'm very happy with my new carry gun.

I mean, wouldn't this view just ruin your whole day?:

(don't start snarking in comments about the four rules. The only thing at risk there was a remotely operated camera).