A police officer carries many tools of the trade on his ever-burgeoning pistol belt. Any weight savings is not only appreciated by the end user, but has become a health issue for many as well. Externally acquired weight is also a comfort issue, and sometimes a police officer will delete items from his survival ensemble to get through his shift with less hassle.
Along with folding-blade knives, secondary or back-up guns (BUGs) have become essential work components for armed professionals. The use of polymer in firearms has brought us many choices when it comes to the selection of highly concealable and lightweight guns in effective calibers. With new systems and improvements in metallurgy, small handguns can handle more powerful calibers that were previously relegated to larger sized pieces.
This has also resulted in the downsizing and further weight reductions of an increasingly popular class of pistols in .380 ACP (9x17mm) calibers. While on the perceived borderline of defensive handgun effectiveness, improvements in ammunition have increased the performance of John Browning’s 1908 creation. To be honest, I have avoided firearms in this caliber and considered them too anemic to handle potentially deadly encounters. Although many individuals carry them as solo or primary pieces, I still believe they should serve as BUGs or secondary survival weapons. Nevertheless, these featherweights are so small that they can be habitually carried no matter how minimal one’s dress might be.
And in today’s society, it’s important to be armed almost always.
The 738 Taurus Compact Pistol (TCP) has a polymer frame and is available in five different versions. It can be obtained in all black with matte blue steel slide, black stainless steel slide, bi-tone stainless steel slide, and two ladies’ models with pink frames and black and bi-tone stainless steel slides. Although touted in the Taurus catalog, the Titanium model was never developed because of the cost of raw materials. The optional eightround magazine is also unavailable.
Besides a more futuristic and attractive profile, slide lock back on the final shot makes this mini gun unique among the plethora of .380 ACP pistol offerings. For some feminine or metrosexual reason, “Think Pink” is an important fashion statement, and Taurus has capitalized on this trend with pink polymer receivers that will complement attire in that color. Brashly colored guns certainly command attention whether displayed in anger or just for show. Personally I think pink makes the piece look more like a toy and therefore may not function as a deterrent in that very important role.
The 738 TCP is packaged in a black nylon ambidextrous belt carry case. The case has finger holes to push the pistol up for either strong side or cross-draws, and will accommodate a second sixround magazine and Crimson Trace’s trigger guard mounted laser. The laser adds only 1.9 ounces to the pistol with magazine. In addition to a spare magazine, a manual and security system keys accompany the 738. The well-made single- stack steel magazines with witness holes have substantial base pads that aid in seating the magazine and form part of the gun’s grip, permitting a twofingered hold.
Manufactured in the USA, this double- action-only (DAO) pistol is hammer— not striker—fired. The hammer is shrouded by the frame to protect it from interference, and it cannot be thumb cocked. The pistol has no restrike capability and must be cycled to re-engage the action. Therefore, any misfires will have to be resolved with a tap, rack, bang.
Fortunately, it does not have a magazine safety, and the piece can be fired without an ammo source on board. This is an obvious tactical advantage should these tubes be fumbled and lost midcrisis and additional boxed or loose rounds are available.
With great ergonomics, Taurus has mitigated some of the risks of pocket carry. The magazine release is flush with the frame to reduce inadvertent activation, but is still accessible and launches spent magazines from its frame with alacrity.
CARRY IT HOT
Because of a lack of redundant safeties, some owners may be reluctant to carry the 738 with one in the pipe and plan on racking a round into the chamber when needed.
Frankly, this practice can be foolhardy. It requires two hands and under stress it’s quite easy to short stroke the slide and create a stoppage. The other hand should be free for a myriad of other defensive tasks, and blood- or sweat-covered fingers might make it difficult to retract the slide.
The half-cocked hammer cannot advance unless the pivoting trigger’s long 4.5- to 5-pound stroke is completed. Furthermore, because of the angle and height of the firing pin cutout, the face of the hammer cannot contact the firing pin unless the slide is fully in battery. It has an active rather than an inertial firing pin, and the hammer slaps directly into the primer but employs a strong firing pin spring to reduce the chance of inertial firing when dropped.
All Taurus handguns are further secured by the company’s key-activated security system, which renders the pistol inoperable for storage or when unloaded and unattended.
Unlike some of its larger siblings, the TCP does not share the dorsally located loaded-chamber indicator and framemounted thumb or manual safeties. Instead, its external extractor also functions as a visual and tactile chamber condition safety. The only external control is its port-side slide release/lock.
If you decide to rely on this pistol for last-ditch defense, carry it hot with the muzzle oriented away from the body.
Aside from the never-ending stopping power debate, the 738 has two limitations. One you can’t do much about, and the other you need to be aware of and train accordingly.
While some pistols of this genre are rated for +P ammunition, the 738 is not. This is unfortunate, because the development of these loads has significantly upgraded this caliber’s performance. While you might get away with firing occasional +P fodder, it is certainly not recommended for sustained use. Firing reloads will void the warranty.
The other idiosyncrasy that could cause problems in a gunfight is a functional one: the 738 has a false trigger reset. If you ride the trigger return after firing a shot, you will feel a click. However, if you pull the trigger at that point, you will not be able to cock and release its hammer. You must permit the trigger to fully return to its most forward position to re-engage the sear. The best thing to do is come off the trigger completely so this will become a consistent action.
POINT AND SHOOT
With care and trigger staging, the 738 is capable of combat accuracy out to 25 yards, though this pint-sized pistol will likely be employed mostly at conversational distances. Therefore, its miniscule short-radius fixed sights that are machined into the slide are not that critical in achieving hits. With its excellent ergonomics, this is a very good pointand- shoot pistol.
Crimson Trace offers its superb subcompact Laser Guard trigger-guard mounted lasers, which extend the target acquisition capabilities of the 738.
To aid the 738 in the bullet projection department, its stainless steel barrel employs the Browning linkless design, where barrel lockup interfaces between the barrel hood and the slide’s ejection port.
The TCP’s muzzle is belled, or enlarged to facilitate tighter and more consistent mating at the muzzle end. The slide achieves exceptional fore and aft stability by riding on the longest mini-gun slide rails in the industry.
For large hands, there is not much to hold onto, but the 738 is quite pleasant to shoot with standard pressure loads. Higher performing +P ammunition produces sufficient recoil and gun gymnastics to transmit a noticeable amount of sting to the hands and controlling fingers. Although you will probably not acknowledge this distraction during a gun battle, it can make practice painful.
To mitigate sight-disturbing gun torque, I affixed a set of textured rubber Traction Grips, which helped tame the little beast. But once installed, their abrasiveness will not let the TCP slip into a shoot-through wallet holster or belt carry case.
I obtained 16 different types of ammunition ranging from 68 to 100 grains in weight, and tested them for average velocities and groups. In addition, a 16- inch block of Perma-Gel (PG) ballistic test media was acquired to determine the performance of the cartridges after passing through a light jacket and t-shirt.
Tim Sundles of Buffalo Bore Ammunition is of the opinion that underpowered lightweight and expanding bullets fired from small short-barreled pistols may not have enough velocity to disrupt nor sufficient mass to penetrate deeply enough to cause tissue and organ damage that will stop a determined adversary. Sundles provided samples of his preferred 100-grain hard-cast lead flat-nose fodder for the evaluation.
And penetrate it did. After plowing through layered light clothing draped over 16 inches of PG, the undeformed bullet also pierced a few layers of LIIA body armor that was acting as a backstop.
ACCURACY, VELOCITY, PENETRATION, EXPANSION
To realize the full accuracy potential of the 738, I employed the Crimson Trace laser and fired five-round groups at 15 yards off a HySkore pistol rest. This is stretching the accuracy envelope of .380s, but the 738’s overall performance went well beyond expectations.
Accuracy honors of 1.34 inches went to the 90-grain Wilson XTP. Highest individual velocity was turned in by Lehigh’s 68-grain Maximum Expansion pill at 1,360 fps, which blossomed like a drag chute to .780 inches, but only penetrated seven inches in PG. My evaluation of tested loads through PG was not scientific and therefore not definitive. It was conducted to get a very general idea of what these bullets will do when fired from the 738 into clothed tissue simulant.
The importance of researching the terminal ballistics of loads selected for defense was amply illustrated by the poor performances of some JHP bullets. (See 738 TCP Performance chart.)
CONCEALED CARRY SYSTEMS
Slightly larger than a Beretta .25 ACP and only .2 ounces heavier, the 738 is a concealed carry gem, but careful selection of a concealment system is nevertheless important.
The device should eliminate gun print, secure the pistol in one consistent location, and be readily accessible for a reasonably quick presentation. There are a plethora of rigs and holsters available for the tiny TCP. Among the best are pocket and ankle holsters from Desantis, Stellar Rigs neck sheaths, wallet and shoot-through wallet holsters from Stickopauli Leathers, and the Kangaroo Carry Micro undergarment rig.
From the bench, I had a few failures to extract. In contrast, my female Navy vet friend has had zero problems with hers, and she has lived with the 738 for months. Free of a rest, the 738 cycled flawlessly. However, with its long trigger, I could not pass my four rounds at five yards in one second “A” zone saturation shooting test without sacrificing accuracy.
In a BUG situation, convulsive closein firing at warp speed may be in order when trying to disable the threat quickly. Trigger control deteriorates, resulting in dispersed hits well below initial muzzle index. Within a seven-yard envelope, combat accuracy is good, providing you exercise a modicum of trigger discipline.
While not perfect, the TCP 738 will, with the proper ammunition combination, fulfill its intended role as an up-close and personal defense weapon. Don’t expect miracles from the .380 even in +P configuration, but do your research and stick to the standard pressure loadings with the 738. Several are available that penetrate sufficiently and expand adequately to get the job done without beating you and your pistol up.
Compared to other brands on the market, the little Taurus that roars is a best buy and can be acquired for considerably less than its suggested retail price.