Call me old fashioned, but I grew up in the era that brought James Bond to the screen, and to me Sean Connery is the only one who can ever play the part. One of the points emphasized in the movies was Bond’s Walther PPK in .32 ACP. Of course, as any of us gun folks know, the PPK in .380 ACP might have been a better choice but, hey, who are we to tell Ian Fleming what to do?
Nowadays, Walther, courtesy of their importer Smith & Wesson, has a new “P” pistol in their stable chambered in .380 ACP—the PK380. Pop a new .380 pocket gun on the market and people seem to jump up and down with joy. However, Walther took a gutsy tack when developing the PK380. They opted not to go for the smallest possible .380 ACP, but one a little more hand-filling, providing softer recoil with modern, effective rounds that prove a bit more accurate because of the extended sight radius.
Not to be accused of following in a path well worn, Walther set out to produce a pistol that meets their tradition of quality and dependability with comfort and shootability thrown in. The PK380 is visually similar to Walther’s PPS (Police Pistol Slim), which is available in the .380’s bigger brother, the 9mm, and holds either 7 or 8 rounds in its single-stack magazine. Though it shares more heritage with the P22, since both utilize a DA/SA trigger system, external hammer operation, ambidextrous safety, and ambidextrous magazine release. Dimensionally they are quite similar, with the PK380 weighing in at 19.4 ounces, versus the 16.9 ounces of the P22, on similarly equipped models.
The PK380 feeds from an 8-round, single-stack magazine, which makes the PK380 nicely slim and comfortable for most hands—large or small. The pistol is a blowback design, rather than the locked breech found on pistols using higher-pressure cartridges.
The finger-grooves add comfort and improve control with a cartridge that already has mild recoil in all but the smallest packages. Perfect for colder climes, the triggerguard is large enough for gloved fingers, and the sights—three white dots—were quick to pick-up and easy to use. The magazine release lever, a single piece unobtrusively cupping the bottom front of the triggerguard, can be reached on either side. Dropping the magazine seemed easiest with the trigger finger.
A small equipment rail rides on the underside of the frame, a nice idea for the PK380, especially if one chooses it for a home-defense weapon. The compact X2L (light and laser combination) from Insight Tech-Gear locked securely in place and was easily operated using the support hand thumb, offering 40 lumens from a Xenon bulb along with a red laser.
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Beneath the rear sight there are slanted cocking serrations and the ambidextrous thumb safety, with its clearly marked “S” or “F.” Notice that I did not say “safety and decocker.” The safety does not drop the hammer, nor does it restrict trigger movement. Once the safety is applied, the burr-style hammer can be safely lowered by holding it while pulling the serrated trigger.
Making the PK380 ambidextrous was an admirable goal for Walther. In addition to the ambidextrous magazine release and thumb safety, the comfortable thumb groves on the grip area are found on both sides. Actually, I suppose releasing the slide once it locks back on an empty magazine (the only way to lock it back) is ambidextrous: with a loaded magazine or an empty magazine well, grab the slide and yank rearward.
To really secure the Walther PK380, there is a trigger lock accessible through a hole on the right side of the frame. Insert the single polymer key accompanying the pistol into the hole and twist to lock the trigger. Now the trigger will not move.
Switching to the other side of the frame, inserting and rotating the key in a hole found there is the second step in disassembling the PK380—the first is to insure the pistol is empty. Once the key is rotated counterclockwise until it stops, the disassembly latch can be pulled down and the slide removed.
In this time of .380 ammunition shortages, many will wince thinking of all the rounds I put down range wringing out Smith & Wesson’s imported Walther. But the size of the pistol and the comfortable ergonomic design of the PK380’s grip area combined with the light recoil of the .380 cartridge to make shooting pleasant.
Accuracy was on par with other pistols with this sight radius and quite good at 15 yards. I found everything I fed it to work well and hit near the point-of-aim, with groups of 2.79 to 1.73 inches. The Walther showed a preference for certain ammunition, as virtually every firearm will. Each purchaser should take the time to determine what shoots the best for their pistol during the break-in period.
The PK380’s accuracy is easily sufficient for precision shots in the ocular or cardio areas. As a matter of fact, I placed repeated, rapid shots on steel poppers in the 25- to 35-yard range.
Like all DA/SA pistols, the transition is noticeable—no better or worse than any other brand—but I can lived with it. This is especially true for those of us who grew up with revolvers and their long trigger pulls. The DA trigger pull was about 11.25 pounds, smooth in the beginning but staging noticeably into crunchiness before the hammer dropped, while the SA trigger pull lightened up to 5.25 pounds and was relatively crisp, with a fairly short reset.
As mentioned, the sights on the PK380 allow for ample enough light around the front sight to work well during rapid sight acquisition, such as responding to an attack. Drawing from the holster, it was possible to make well-placed center of mass hits quickly and repeatedly using the DA trigger. Follow-up shots were nice, as well, using the SA trigger. The excellent ergonomics of the PK380 aided in acquiring the same grip every time.
I’d like to emphasize that the grip design works as well as it looks. The finger grooves and horizontal serrations on the backstrap, both with pebbling, help control what recoil there is, bringing the pistol quickly back down on target should subsequent shots be required.
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I can see a number of places for S&W’s imported Walther PK380 in a shooter’s arsenal. First and foremost, as a concealed carry pistol for someone unable to handle substantial recoil or rack the slide of a locked breech pistol. It is also an ideal option for a person seeking a sleek, comfortable handgun with minimal recoil to make it more controllable, while still being chambered for a round made effective by modern high performance ammunition.
Those who have given up the battle of carrying and concealing a full-power pistol and chosen to use a pocket gun chambered for .380 need to examine the PK380. For just a little increase in size, they could carry a more controllable pistol capable of improved accuracy.
As a backup gun, the PK380 might not be at home in pant pockets but it can slip into a jacket pocket without undue bulk or dragging the coat down on one side. It’s snag-free exterior would make it work well there, and its also slim enough to ride in or around a ballistic vest. Lastly, if you happen to be James Bond, the PK380 is the obvious replacement for the PPK!
Specifications: Walther PK380
19.4 ounces (empty)
3-dot steel, drift adjustable rear
Black (two-tone available with nickel finish slide)
8 + 1
Performance: Walther PK380
Winchester 85 STHP
CorBon 80 DPX
Hornady 90 XTPHP
Speer 90 GDHP
CorBon 90 JHP
Federal Hi-Shok JHP
Winchester 95 SXT Personal Protection
Remington 102 GSHP
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity, ES (extreme spread) and SD (standard deviation) in feet per second (fps) by PACT Chrono, and accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups from 15 yards.
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This article was originally published in CONCEALED CARRY HANDGUNS® 2011. Print and Digital Subscriptions to CONCEALED CARRY HANDGUNS® magazine are available here.
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