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If only someone would make a light and easy to conceal pistol in a reasonably lethal caliber, and make it affordable.
Many tried, but the problem is that what constitutes light and easy, and what constitutes a lethal caliber, are often a matter of opinion. Affordable, is also a relative term. In my opinion, Taurus has come pretty close to hitting the mark with this one. It is also following a trend set by several other companies in designing a very small hideout gun, firing the .380 cartridge.
The trend was, of course, started by the increasing number of civilians with carry permits. Forty years ago there were hardly any CCW holders, and no large market for such a gun. The military and police were perfectly happy with their full sized service pistols, as were hunters and sportsmen. For criminals and civilians who broke the law to carry, low powered tiny pistols with an emphasis on small size were the rule. Today there is a whole different market.
For what it is, the PT738 is a remarkably small and light 380 caliber pistol. It is about the same size as a traditional .25 caliber, or one of the many compact 22 pistols, and will fit in the palm of your hand. It is designed for regular carry and deep cover requirements of today's licensed civilian.
Being about the size of a classic "pocket pistol" it begs to be simply dropped into a pocket, though doing so will generally cause the pistol to roll over on its back, where retrieval becomes difficult. Size isn't everything, of course, but it becomes a significant factor in a piece of gear that you have to carry around all day. The police and military have large, wide duty belts or gear systems which distribute the weight of carry. Civilian concealed carry has no such options, though holster makers do try.
The gun feels great in the hand, though there is no place to rest the little finger. The long trigger pull calls for an outsized trigger guard, a bit out of proportion to the rest of the gun. The guard is angled, and does not encourage being used as a rest for the off-hand index finger.
The PT738 has the polymer frame construction of most of today’s newer firearm designs. This is part of the reason that it became possible to design this gun so small. Polymer is lighter and can be made thinner than metal, and is absolutely impervious to rust. These are all desirable features in a handgun that is to be worn regularly.
The barrel and slide are of metal construction. All barrels are stainless steel. Slides are offered in stainless steel, or regular steel coated with a nitrating process similar to the Tennifer coating used on Glocks. Tennifer is said to exceed stainless steel in rust resistance. I have the dark steel slide, on mine, as I prefer dark guns to bright shiny guns.
Unlike many modern pistols, particularly smaller framed models, the PT738 is not striker fired. It uses a conventional hammer, though the hammer is concealed and cannot be cocked manually. So this is basically a double action only firearm with a concealed hammer. Unlike most double action autos, the PT738 has no double tap capability. This makes for a consistent, if somewhat long and heavy, trigger pull. Even so, the trigger pull is not bad. Measuring it on my trigger scale, I got a maximum pull weight of 4.8 pounds.
A unique thing about this gun, though something that is becoming more common on smaller pistols, is the decision to go with a locked breech action for a less than full powered cartridge. With the slide of the gun held back, you can note that the barrel seems to angle up. This is because the barrel is a separate piece, which moves back in the frame and is locked to the slide for its travel to lock the breech and slow its opening. This is a more or less standard feature of full sized, full power handguns, but is unusual in a medium frame gun firing lower powered cartridge.
The advantages of the locked breech are discussed a bit below. In general it is a more expensive and difficult way to make a firearm, but it permits a more powerful cartridge to be used in a smaller, lighter firearm. This system is presently coming into vogue due to consumer demand for easier to carry firearms which can handle more powerful cartridges. The gun has no manual safety, but does feature an enlarged extractor that acts as a loaded chamber indicator. This is a nice feature which can be seen, and also felt, to show that the little gun is ready to fire.
The photo to the left shows the PT738, next to the Beretta 22 model 21. They are similar in size, but the Beretta uses the straight blowback, while the Taurus uses a locked breech. The .22 cartridge of the Beretta generates about 115 fp, while the .380 of the Taurus puts out about 190 fp. Yet they are about the same size.
The .380 cartridge is a marginal but sufficient man-stopper. It fires a 95 grain bullet at velocities of less than 1000fps. Its cross section is able to inflict enough damage, but the velocity/energy of the little rounds is not considered high enough for reliable first shot stops. Many companies are starting to make hollow points in this caliber, but there is some controversy about whether they can reliably expand at .380 velocities. Looking at other rounds with the same diameter is telling. The average 9mm has a 115 grain bullet, with 124 grains also being common. The old 38 special had a standard 158 grain bullet, with 180 grains available.
The main handicap of the .380 is that it is a very low pressure round, designed for a maximum pressure of 22800. By comparison, the 9mm is designed for a pressure of 37400. With these lower operating pressures, smaller case capacities, and lighter bullets mandated by the shorter overall length, the little .380 is just a bit constrained. It is also ironic that the lighter operating pressures make the guns themselves heavier - at least until now. Here is why. A comparison photo of the 22 and 380 cartridges is shown in the photo to the left, along with a full sized 9mm.
This gun has gotten a terrible reputation for failing to feed among some shooters, with a perfect reputation among others. For this reason, it is considered a poor choice for concealed carry and self defense. The last thing you want in a defense gun is a click when you are expecting a bang. This is a pity, because the combination of size, weight, and caliber make it really ideal for casual carry. It is also a matter of curiosity, because of the marked difference in user opinion. Why do some owners love these little guns, while others hate them? You can spend all day reading about this, and trying to figure out what is going on and who is right. Instead, I went down to the range to find out.
Down at my local range, I brought the little Taurus, as well as a pair of Brownings I was also testing. I brought 150 rounds of 380, including hard ball, hollow point, and some reloads. Before going, I disassembled the gun, cleaned it properly, lubed it up, and reassembled it. I was leaving nothing to chance. I then went shooting, trying all three different ammunition types. The results?
The Taurus PT738 is reliable, had no failures or stoppages, and is a fairly accurate gun, considering its size.
So why all the complaints? Though I can't say for sure, a couple of things struck me. I own a number of Glock pistols, and for a while, Glock was getting a terrible reputation for failing to fully eject. Yet, this was not universal. It seemed to affect some shooters constantly, but others not at all. This raised the possibility that these failures might have something to do with shooting style, so a closer look was taken. It turns out that a condition known as, Glock wrist afflicts some shooters. This happens when the wrist is not held stiffly enough to hold the gun steady under recoil. When this occurs, the slide will not have a steady enough platform to work against, and will not completely cycle.
When you really look at the derogatory reports, it becomes obvious that the vast majority are hearsay, being second hand or third hand rehashing of what others have written, about what they have read. I have looked at some of the tests, ignoring anything that is not first hand. The few really bad ones that I see are of early models, and tend to be of brand new guns not yet broken in. They also make use of poor quality surplus ammunition, often steel cased. Sometimes things develop an inertia of their own. I have had no problems with this gun.
This is, to my mind, a great gun for regular casual carry. It is small and light, has a polymer frame to fight the tendency of close carry firearms to fall victim to corrosion, and has a reasonably lethal caliber. Its disadvantages are the small six round magazine, the tiny sights, and a long trigger pull. Yet these are all matched to the size of the pistol, and to the power of the caliber. For the little 380, range is limited and great sights are not really needed. A precision trigger is also not needed. What is needed is simplicity, which is amply provided. Law enforcement studies indicate that the average gun fight takes place at between 3 and 5 yards, lasts about 3 seconds, and consists of three or four rounds fired. Within these parameters, the little Taurus is at no disadvantage.
The ideal way to carry a pistol like this, is in an inside the pocket holster. A good pocket holster does three things. It breaks up the outline of the gun, making it more difficult to detect. It keeps the gun in the proper position to be withdrawn, preventing it from rolling over on it's back. It also separates the gun from the other contents of the pocket. A good pocket holster also has a rough brushed or suede exterior finish, and a smooth interior finish. This makes the holster cling to the inside of the pocket, but permits the gun to be easily withdrawn. you would not want to pull your gun, and have the holster still attached.
B.T.W., This is something I rarely say, but feel obliged to pass on. If you want to retain your sanity, ignore the disassembly instructions. They are wrong, and will guarantee that you gouge up your gun. You can more easily remove the take down tab by pulling the slide back just enough for the slide stop notch to line up with the take down tab. I should also mention that there is a pin which makes it difficult to replace the take down tab. The best bet on this is to work the tab in, up and down, to maneuver the pin out of the way. As I said, the instructions are terrible, and caused me to scratch my gun.
Taurus holds an interesting and recent place in American firearms. It is a Brazilian company that was once owned by the same company that owned Smith and Wesson, and a lot of technical expertise was shared between the two companies. So it once made Smith and Wesson revolver knock offs. It once made licensed Beretta handguns for the Brazilian military, in a factory built in Brazil by Beretta. So it once made Beretta knock offs.
These days, Taurus is self owned, still makes some knock offs, but has also evolved a line of its own. It has subsequently created a subsidiary, Taurus USA, for its largest market. The Taurus USA products are manufactured in Miami, FL. I have never considered Miami to be a factory town, but that's where the Taurus USA factory is located. A couple years ago, a journalist did a story on the place.