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Kel-Tec v. Snubby

With the warmer weather, young men’s fancy turns to pocket guns.

My carry gun is generally a Glock 30. Sometimes, it’s a Sig P229. Both are fine pistols that function flawlessly. But, with the warm weather, they’re sometimes not practical. They can both be carried by me in my usual attire, which is typically shorts/pants and an untucked pull over shirt. However, the weather now dictates no jacket, so they’re hard to carry concealed when wearing what I’d consider business casual (khaki pants and a tucked button down shirt). I’m not one to wear the uber-tactical shoot me first vests so my thoughts have turned to pocket guns (AKA Mouseguns). That is to say, I want something that, when dressed for some sort of social outing that requires more than jeans and a T-Shirt, a pistol that I can stick in the pocket when I stop to get gas.

That said, I’ve narrowed my choices down to a small auto-loader or a snubby revolver. Notably, The KEL-TEC P-3AT or a S&W J-Frame. Both of these come highly recommended, it would seem. So, my quick and dirty death match of two things I do not own:

Feature Kel-Tec S&W Winner
Reliability Reliable Auto Revolver Revolvers are inherently more
reliable and less likely to fail. S&W
Capacity 6+1 5 Kel-Tec
Action Auto Revolver I just like autos due to speedy
reloads, Kel-Tec wins
Concealability This thing is tiny Small but not as small as the
Kel-Tec is less likely to print
but both would likely fit into a pocket with a pocket holster. 
Calling it for Kel-Tec though
Stopping Power 380 is 9mm light.  Sub-par
stopping power but likely adequate.
38 special has good stopping power S&W, no question
Price $240 $476 Kel-Tec as you could almost buy
two for the price of a snubby
Finish Polymer Ooh, shiny   S&W looks much
prettier but if I scratched a Kel-Tec, I doubt I’d give a damn. 
S&W wins points for finish.
Accessories None that I know of Laser grips and other playpretties S&W

By a score of 4 to 4, I call it a tie. Convince me which one I should get.

29 Responses to “Kel-Tec v. Snubby”

  1. Rustmeister Says:

    Give the S&W a +1 for “jury friendliness” in the event of a shooting, the old fashioned snubbie would be looked upon as a “nicer” weapon by non-gun folks.

    S&W has the edge on ease of operation. No safties to disengage.

    You can ramp up the stopping power of the .38 with +p ammo.

  2. Drake Says:

    Do you otherwise own a revolver? Diversity and all.

  3. rpm Says:

    J-frames are 1.5″ wide. P3AT is .77″ wide. I like P3AT’s trigger better than S&W’s double action.

  4. bjbarron Says:

    I’ve had a J frame Model 36 for 31 years now. I carried it for two years and half forgot I had the thing on. It has the advantage of decades of holster design behind it…not to mention the loads available. I have shotshell, +P, wadcutters, handloads, I’ve see flare and tracer, and on and on.

    It’s semi-retired now. I swapped the blue barrel and cylinder out for a stainless barrel and cylinder from a Model 60…for a two tone look. I engraved “DAD” on the sideplate and put fancy grips on it. I gave it to my daughter so DAD would always be with her. (Got the idea from the ‘something positive’ web cartoon).

    While I like the little Kel-Tek (what’s not to like), if I was going for something that small I’d probably go for a derringer in a larger caliber. The Kel-Tek has that cool wallet holster, but I’ve seen pretty much the same thing for the Smith…just a bit thicker.

  5. Bitter B. Says:

    I engraved “DAD” on the sideplate and put fancy grips on it. I gave it to my daughter so DAD would always be with her.

    That is so incredibly sweet! It almost gets me a little choked up.

    Okay, time to stop being girly now.

  6. Tam Says:

    You can get yourself into a new stainless Airweight J-frame for about $369.

    Plus, it’s not a Kel-Tec. I’ve probably shipped off ten Kel-Tecs or so back for warranty work in the last year, not counting all the ones we took care of in the shop. I’ve shipped off one Airweight J in the same time frame.

  7. Chris Byrne Says:

    I’ve had both, and I currently carry a P3AT every day. It’s so thin that it goes in my back pocket in a wallet holster; and it’s thinner than my real wallet.

    If you are going to go with one of the micro lightweight .357’s for the extra power then fine go for the J and shoot it mostly with .38; but otherwise the KelTex is I think the better carrying pistol.

    Also, dont dicount some of the +p+ loads; they have a fair bit of power, and the little KelTec digests them jsut fine.

    If you dont mind a little extra protrusion, there is a 7 round mag extension available; and theres a laser sight that clamps to the front ot the trigger guard that turns the outline of the gun into a rounded rectangle so that if it prints, it looks like an Ipod in your pocket not a gun.

    Oh and weight. The P3AT, loaded, is less than half the weight of a J frame airweight. Add a reload (wpeedloader and magazine) and the disparity increases. Its only 2/3 the weight of the $900 scandium models.

    Price… yes it lists at $240, but I bought mine for $210 NIB; and there are plenty of folks selling it for that.

  8. Les Jones Says:

    Tam beat me to it. 642s are closer to $350. Still, budget in $65 for Bob at Coal Creek to do a trigger job. Makes a big difference.

  9. Chris Byrne Says:

    Oh and there are no safeties on a KelTec.

    As to the warranty issues; some folks have trouble with them, some don’t. It seems to be about an 80/20 positive balance.

    Most of the folks who DO have trouble, it’s the first generation models. Of that it’s almsot all trouble with the trigger being overweight and gritty. They’ve fixed that problem.

    KelTec has a 100% lifetime, no questions asked guarantee. They will also fix nasty triggers under warrantee unlike most companies. If you dont like the way the trigger feels, even if its within spec, KelTec will fix it.

    KelTec made a huge mistake with their .40 cal pistol; it was incredibly unreliable, it cracke,d and it was nearly impossible to shoot. They pulled it off the market and recalled the existing ones for refit. It was this incident which gives KelTec the only real deserved reliability hit.

  10. Chris Byrne Says:

    Oh and BTW, in general I think the J frame smith is a better weapon, but it’s not a better pocket gun, nor is it a better value.

  11. Chris Byrne Says:

    Actually, I completely forgot to mention KelTec has a new pocket gun sized 9mm as well

    This thing is only a bit bigger than the P3AT. In fact it’s still smaller than your J frame (1/2″ shorter, over an inch lower in height, and half an inch thinner), still a lot lighter as well, and is jsut fine for +p 9mm (though it would be a nasty little handful I’m sure).

    I havent seen any in stores yet, but the release date is supposed to be the end of this month.

  12. drstrangegun Says:

    there are trigger guard mounted laser units for the Kel-tecs that are fitted and basically make the gun “square”. Same with holsters and there are, or were, some out there that are shootable… they basically stay on the gun and you reach through them.

    One of these units on a keltec make it look like you’re carrying a small booklet or maybe a flask or other container in your pocket instead of a gun.

    Personally, I’m still on the kick that someone ought to be making a P32-sized profile .25acp pocket gun that’s .5″ thick 🙂

  13. Phelps Says:

    I carry a Taurus .38 Special (I think they call it the CIA model — cut down hammer = nothing to grab on your pants). It is dirt reliable, and it’s quite a bit more police friendly, even if you aren’t worried about jury friendly. Cops seem to me more content with “I have a revolver in my pocket” than “I have an automatic in my pocket.”

  14. F-Stop Says:

    My vote goes to the S&W revolver. I’d definately take reliability and stopping power over the marginal other advantages offered by the Kel-Tec.

  15. Addison Says:

    I bought a P-11, and have had lots of problems with it. I’m looking forward to shipping it back, and seeing what they do with it – so far, just haven’t gotten a round tuit, since it broke, and I got the G30.
    The revolver you don’t have to worry about the reliability, it’s likely to be far more accurate (my P-11 shoots 3 *feet* below POA, and the .32 I shot show very low, as well, but my .38 snubbie is dead on from 25 yards with no problem), and if you need it, it’ll work.
    Plus, the snubby is going to be able to chamber much more stouter rounds.

  16. countertop Says:

    Both the father in law carries and NRA employee neighbor carry the Kel Tec day to day. Chris Byrne made the point, that I will reenforce, the thing is just incredibly light and thin.

    Very very very easy to conceal, though I am not a big fan of the trigger

  17. gunner Says:

    Fumble factor.

    It’s dark and you are not quiet sure if you have a round in the barrel, or if the safety is off and other such fumble factors. Ravolver is the simplest form of point and click interface.

  18. Mike Says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) Weight is a big factor in pocket carry.

    2) Which one fits your hand better? Here’s one way to test it:

    Hold the (unloaded) gun in a one-handed firing position, trigger finger pointed straight ahead, muzzle down. Pick out a spot on the wall. Close your eyes, point your trigger finger at the spot, and open your eyes. Where are the sights pointed? Now squeeze the gun hard. Did the sights move?

    You want the gun that points most naturally and moves around the least.

  19. wrangler5 Says:

    I’m facing the same dilemma. During the winter I usually wear a light sweater, which conceals my Makarov just fine whether it’s in an IWB or shoulder holster. But now that summer’s here, I’m back to the KT. I’ve had an all steel snubbie for decades, but even if it didn’t weigh anything I can’t see getting it into the front pocket of my pants. The KT in its DeSantis pocket holster fits in my jeans, and my dress slacks, just fine. Mine ALWAYS has one in the pipe and there is no safety, so it has the same point & click interface as a revolver.

    The KT is not a lot of fun to shoot, so I find I have to make myself take it out and shoot it occasionally. I can’t do a 200 round day like I can with the Makarov, but I can stand enough to keep somewhat proficient.

    KT stands behind their guns beyond anything imaginable. I made the mistake of letting a 380 case get through my 9mm reloading process, and inevitably it ended up in the KT. You NEVER forget an experience like that (which makes me wonder what the new mini-9 from KT will feel like to shoot.) That round cracked the plastic grip frame, a few parts disappeared and the takedown pin was hanging out the side of the frame, but the metal stuff all held together. KT was fully apprised of my stupidity, but it only cost me one way shipping to get it fully restored. Think any other maker would do that?

  20. Curly Says:

    My shooting buddy has two Kel Tecs, a .32 and a 9mm. The .32 shoots just fine. The 9mm has yet to shoot a magazine full without at least one stovepipe. I tried it, same result. So he carries his snubby and lets the Kel Tec sit home for a while, until he tries it again. I told him to send it in for a little work, but he likes the snubby so much, he won’t bother. That’s all lI know about it.

  21. beerslurpy Says:

    I vote with my pocket: P3AT. The difference between 38 spl and 380 auto isnt really so big that I would pick either one on caliber alone. The Kel-tec is so skinny that it fits in any outfit I can wear that has a pocket. There is no other gun in a self defense caliber that comes close.

  22. Les Jones Says:

    Shoot off! I’ll bring my 642 with LaserGrips and a trigger job to the blogger shoot this weekend. Someone else can bring a P3AT or you can rent the one from Coal Creek and shoot them side by side.

  23. t3rrible Says:

    Kel-Tec there. is. no. substitue.

    Did I steal that from Porche?

    I am sold lock stock and barrel on the KT

  24. EgregiousCharles Says:

    I currently own guns very similar to what you’re considering, a Kel-Tec P32 (bought before the P3AT came out) and a S&W 340PD. The P32 is a .32, and a hair smaller than the P3AT, but not by much. The 340 is a .357 Magnum, same size as the other J-frames.

    I think they’re both good choices, but I’d recommend the Kel-Tec if you’re only going to buy one. The main resason is that you can carry a Kel-Tec when you can’t carry anything else, including the J-Frame. I can get away with jeans where I work, and the oversized jeans I wear will conceal the J-Frame in Thunderwear, especially with help from the Kel-Tec in the other Thunderwear pocket. (Wearing both top-to-top minimizes printing in Thunderwear). However, with thinner, more businesslike non-denim slacks, the J-Frame prints unacceptably and only the Kel-Tec will do.

    Were the chips to come down I’d prefer the .357 Mag, but not by all that much, and sometimes I can’t carry that. Sometimes the choice comes to having the KT .32 I have or the KT .380 I’d buy now with me, or having the .357 Mag at home because it was printing. .32 (or .380) with you has far better stopping power than .357 Mag (or.38 +P) at home.

    On fumble factor, the KT wins easily. A revolver is just as likely to be unloaded as an autoloader. And the S&W has a huge minus in my book, the internal keylock. The KT is blessedly free of manual safeties.

  25. Tam Says:

    Chris Byrne said: “Most of the folks who DO have trouble, it’s the first generation models. Of that it’s almsot all trouble with the trigger being overweight and gritty. They’ve fixed that problem.”

    Not really. Most of the problems are failures to extract, leading to a complete redesign of the lide and extractor assembly, which mitigated (but did not entirely cure) the problem. Other frequent maladies include rough chambers (which compound the extractor problems) and problems with the linkages in the quasi-DA trigger mechanism. I’d say the rate of guns that need some minor attention is probably down to one in eight or one in ten among the new guns, and we tolerate it, because there’s not another gun on the market that does that particular job, but think about it: If one in ten J-frames or G26’s was a lemon, would we be singing their praises?

  26. geekWithA.45 Says:

    I have both*, and I agree with Egregious Charles. If you’re only going to get one, get the Kel-Tec, due to flatness and concealability.

    The only thing I’d really reconsider about the snubbies with the 2″ barrel is that the extractor isn’t full length, whereas IIRC, the 3″ barrel is. It makes an operational difference. Slapping a full length extractor dumps ALL the spent cases, whereas the short extractor usually leaves a few that need some help. That, plus Safariland style speed loaders, plus the right technique gets you reload speeds that are +/- to autoloader reload speeds.

    As for the keylock, it stopped bothering me after I threw the key away. 😉

    *The K-T is the wife’s carry gun…so I hardly ever carry it.

  27. Jay G Says:

    How in the name of all that’s good and holy did I miss this post?

    I’ve gotta chime in on the side of the S&W j-frame, Unc, but I’m not the best person to ask for two reasons:

    1. Kel-Tec is not on the MA “Approved Firearms Roster” {spit} so I don’t own one, nor have I ever shot one. I suspect that I’d own a P3AT in about half a heartbeat were they for sale here in MA.

    2. I own a S&W model 360PD (scandium frame, titanium cylinder, 12 ounce .357 Magnum). I love it to pieces. I’ve also got a S&W model 38 Bodyguard frame and have carried my dad’s model 36 Chief’s Special. I’ve got a special spot in my, err, armory for snubbies.

    If you’re just looking for something cheap to have as a back-up summer weapon, get the Kel-Tec. If you don’t want to spend much money and don’t plan on shooting it all that much, that’s the way to go. If you want a good quality handgun that will last you and Junior all your lives, get the Smith. A model 637 (Chief’s special) or 642 (Centennial) will only set you back ~ $350 new (I’ve seen them on sale for $299 – and immediately kicked myself for not picking one up).

    The Kel-Tec might be cheaper, but it’s got no soul.

  28. SayUncle » Says:

    […] […]

  29. Standard Mischief Says:

    1. Kel-Tec is not on the MA “Approved Firearms Roster” {spit} so I don’t own one, nor have I ever shot one. I suspect that I’d own a P3AT in about half a heartbeat were they for sale here in MA.

    I didn’t know there was another wacky land with an “Approved Firearms Roster” . We have the same type of BS law here in the “Free State” (Maryland).

    Here however, we have been blessed by our overlords with the ability to buy the Kel-Tec, once you pass the “7 day, or however long it takes until we approve you” so called “cooling off period”.

    The worst part is when you get to pay upfront for the privilege of having state troopers investigate you. This is always fun to mention to them when they come around looking for donations. I tell ’em “I gave already at the gun store”.

Remember, I do this to entertain me, not you.

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