Justin Moon has a habit of being in the right place at the right time. In the 1980s he was working for a company manufacturing precision CNC machining equipment, technology that completely changed manufacturing processes (including firearms manufacturing) in the United States and abroad.
In addition to his machining and manufacturing experience, Moon was also an avid shooter. As such, he had the skills and experience to build firearms that were compact, accurate and affordable. His company—known today as Kahr Arms—incorporated new operations, advanced materials and modern machining to produce handguns that were class-leading carry guns before there was even a class to lead.
Shortly after Kahr’s doors opened in the mid-’90s, the nationwide push for concealed-carry permits began in earnest. Within a decade virtually every state in the country allowed law-abiding citizens to possess and carry concealed firearms for personal protection.
The good news for Moon—and the company he founded—was that Kahr Arms already had a formidable pistol offering to appeal to the growing number of CCW permit holders. Known as the K9, this double-action-only locked-breech design was initially produced in 1996 and within two years was approved as a backup and duty pistol by the NYPD. That pistol catapulted Kahr’s reputation, and by the time millions of shooters were scrambling to find a reliable, compact carry pistol, Kahr already had a stable of semiautos from which these shooters could choose.
Kahr enjoyed a reputation for superb build quality and excellent reliability. But there was a problem: Competition in the compact pistol market was fierce, and machining and materials costs allowed manufacturers to build functional guns at rock-bottom prices. Kahr pistols had a lot of high-end features—like a polygonal match barrel and extra machining cuts—that priced its guns above the competition. If Kahr was going to compete in the growing carry market, it needed a budget line.
Moon offered just that. His company’s guns were divided into two separate tiers: a premium line with a lot of high-end features and an equally high (but fair) price tag and a value line featuring reduced cost on cosmetics and high-end features without altering the tried-and-true Kahr operating system.
One of the standouts in that value line of handguns was the CT380, a trim and petite but reliable .380 semiauto. For 2017, Kahr added a new member to the CT380 family, the CT380 Tungsten.
Despite its name, this pistol is not made of a heavy earth mineral. The name refers to the color of the finish—Cerakote Tungsten—that covers the new CT380’s trigger, slide stop and stainless steel slide. It’s a solid finish that gives the gun a unique look and, more importantly, protects it from the abuses of daily carry.
There’s no doubt this pistol was envisioned as a deep cover or backup pistol, but even though this may seem like a less stressful occupation for a pistol than a duty firearm worn every day, concealed carry is hard on a gun. There’s constant friction to test the quality of the finish, and the acrid cocktail of salts, lactic acid and urea found in our own perspiration is like poison to cheap finishes. The ceramic Cerakote finish is ultra-tough and will withstand all that rubbing and sweating.
The other big upgrade on this gun is grip design. Kahrs have functional grips with mild texturing and a comfortable, steep grip angle. But compact .380s are, well, compact. The trade-off for having a gun you can hide under a breathable jogging shirt is usually a truncated grip that’s a bear to hold onto when firing a bunch of shots on the range.
Kahr sought to ameliorate the micro pistol shooting experience by upgrading the grip. The first improvement is increased grip surface area thanks to the addition of a Pearce finger extension on the bottom of the magazine. This gives the Kahr a slightly disproportionate look, kind of a Frankengun that snatched the grip from a larger pistol and stitched it onto a pocket .380.
The second functional upgrade to this grip is the addition of a Pachmayr Grip Glove, a soft, ventilated rubber grip cover that adds a new level of comfort when shooting.
Functionally, the gun remains the same as the previous CT380. Kahr calls the system a “trigger-cocking DAO” design, and it’s unique to the brand. The rearward motion of the slide partially cocks the striker after chambering. The rather long trigger pull operates a cam that unlocks the passive safety and finishes cocking the striker before firing. The trigger must be pulled to complete the cocking operation and override the safety, so the design offers considerable peace of mind.
Trigger reset with the system is rather long but not to the point that fast follow-up shots are difficult. The trigger pull itself is quite smooth with a break weight of 5.75 pounds on average. The surface of the trigger is wide and smooth, offering plenty of surface area and a much better feel than narrow, cheap, plastic triggers, so even though pull is long it’s easy to control.
To the uninitiated, the Kahr trigger pull is different than what you will have experienced previously with striker-fired guns, but it’s functional and predictable. There were no issues delivering accurate shots from the bench because you can develop a feel for the trigger and recognize the added tension just prior to the break. Off the bench, the smooth trigger makes it easy to deliver accurate shots while standing or moving.
Other unique features found on this family of firearms include Kahr’s self-cleaning extractor, which is mounted to the slide and cut so powder residue does not foul the extractor, a situation that can lead to failures. The beefy extractor takes a large bite on the case, and since the slide itself limits the movement of the extractor, Kahr says failures are a rarity. I certainly experienced this when shooting the pistol on the range. There were no failures to feed or extract using five different loads and firing more than 200 rounds.
Kahr utilizes an “offset barrel” design that allows the trigger mechanism to be built higher in relation to the bore axis and placing the shooter’s hand higher on the gun. A high handhold helps mitigate muzzle flip—which is especially pronounced with compact guns—and speeds follow-up shots because recoil energy pushes the gun back into the locked wrist and arm, allowing for more control.
Over the course of the last five years I’ve tested a number of compact carry semiautos, both .380s and 9mms. These guns—the .380s in particular—were built with a bias toward concealment and not shooting comfort. Kahr has tried to balance shootability and portability with the CT380 Tungsten by adding a Pearce finger extension to an already longer-than-usual grip (in a world of six-shot .380s, the Kahr offers one more round than the competition) and the Grip Glove.
The extra bit of cushion doesn’t affect concealment, but it does make a difference when shooting this gun. Combine the Kahr’s low bore axis, extended grip and the Grip Glove and suddenly you are looking at a much more refined .380 shooting experience. In fact, the Kahr handled at the range more like a midsize gun than a compact thanks to the grip geometry. Whereas other ultra-compact .380s sometimes feel like trying to wrangle an angry squirrel with each pull of the trigger, the Kahr always stays put.
The extended grip length and finger extension do mean you’ll have to be a bit more careful when you carry this gun so it doesn’t print. At the three o’clock position the finger extension tends to bulge under light clothing, and it’s difficult to carry the Kahr in an ankle holster under light jeans without looking like you have a rooster’s spur jutting out under the denim.
But with a small of back or appendix rig you can easily conceal this pistol under light clothing. I carried it at three o’clock position with enough forward cant to conceal the finger extension without the gun printing. My favorite carry position for the Kahr was at the crest of the hip with that same slight forward cant, which made the gun easy and fast to draw while staying well hidden.
The Tungsten Cerakote finish held up quite well without any scratches or flaking after several days of carry. In terms of accuracy the Kahr performed very well for this class of firearms with a wide variety of target and defensive loads. Importantly, there were no feeding issues. A carry gun lives and dies by its reliability, and the Kahr thrives in that arena.
Sometimes something as simple as a new finish or grip design makes us look back at a pistol that has been on the market for a while, and we remember just how good it truly is. The Kahr CT380, whether in its basic stainless or dressed in Cerakote, is a standout in the crowded arena of compact carry guns. It carries well and shoots accurately, making it a rock-solid option in backup guns. And with a suggested retail of $439, it’s competitively priced.