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Review: Inter Ordnance Hellcat

by James Tarr   |  June 28th, 2012 18

Hellcat_001

Way back in the dark ages (1992) when I first started working as a uniformed police officer, backup guns were separated into two general categories: “reliable” guns and everything else. The “reliable” backups were any snubnose .38 revolver, the Walther PPK/S and the Beretta .22/.25 autos. There were a lot of other types and brands of backup guns carried by officers, but reliability was hit or miss.

General concealed carry by the public wasn’t really a factor in many states back then, and I believe it is this modern CCW push, combined with modern manufacturing techniques, that has given us this explosion of small pistols. Our choices have never been greater.

Hellcat_002

The extractor has an interesting design, with a piece of spring steel on the outside providing the tension.

Inter Ordnance has been in business for more than 15 years, but for most of that time it just imported surplus firearms, mostly AK variants. In the past few years it has invested heavily in manufacturing equipment, and in addition to producing U.S. made AK-pattern rifles and pistols, it is now producing the Hellcat—a 6+1-shot .380—at its Monroe, N.C., facility.

A ton of .380s have been introduced in the past few years. What’s so different about this one? Actually, the differences are small, but they add up.

To be honest, I have yet to find a pocket pistol that I am completely happy with. They are either too small, too expensive, have triggers far too heavy, don’t have usable sights, are encumbered with stupid safeties or are just unpleasant to shoot. I like the size, trigger, sights and price of the Hellcat.

I.O. makes two versions of the Hellcat, the only difference being the blued or nickeled slide, and the company sent me one of each to test. It is a DAO semiauto with no second-strike capability, and I really liked the trigger pull. It was smooth and not too long.

The trigger pull on the nickeled pistol I was sent was slightly lighter than on the blued gun (seven pounds versus eight) but both were more than acceptable for a pocket gun. The gun will fire with the magazine removed.

I liked the looks of the blued gun better than nickel one, but if I was going to buy one (and I’m seriously thinking about it), it would be the nickeled gun. Pocket guns take a lot of abuse, and I sweat all over whatever pistol I’m carrying while jogging. Nickel holds up to sweat a lot better than bluing.

Hellcat_003

A finger extension on the base pad was a huge aid in making the gun comfortable to shoot for such a small pistol.

The slide does not lock back on an empty magazine. Actually, other than the magazine release, the exterior of the pistol is free of controls and shouldn’t snag in a pocket at all.

The Hellcat has real sights, albeit small ones. Both the notch rear and the post front are machined out of the slide. I thought they might be hard to pick up on the nickeled version of the pistol, but I didn’t have a problem. The front sight has a fluorescent green dot that was closer to forest green after I put a couple of boxes of ammo through the gun.

To be honest, if you need this gun in a hurry, you’re probably just going to be looking over the top of the slide and the sights, but I’m glad they’re there anyway. Every gun, even pocket pistols, should have sights.

The Hellcat weighs 9.4 ounces empty and comes with one stainless steel magazine with a very much needed finger extension. Yes, that extension means the pistol does not conceal as well, but it allows me to get two fingers on the gun.

Between the finger extension and the narrowness of the grip (.82 inch) I could really get a good purchase on the gun. In fact, after shooting a subcompact .40 S&W recently, the Hellcat seemed like a pussycat. The Black Hills FMJ was the hottest ammunition I put through it, and after shooting a whole 50-round box through the pistol as fast as I could load magazines and pull the trigger, my fingers were only a little bit sore, which is pretty unusual when it comes to pocket guns.

I.O. strongly cautions against the use of steel-cased ammunition in the Hellcat. It specifically recommends Magtech and Fiocchi ammunition—and of course I had neither on hand when it came time to test the pistols.

The nickeled Hellcat ran like a champ with everything I fed it, but the blued pistol would occasionally experience feeding problems with the third round in the magazine (round stopping partway up the feed ramp), even with FMJ ammo. This was obviously a problem with the magazine rather than the gun.

If I had a choice I’d take a second magazine instead of the small padded case provided with the pistol, but for a suggested retail of $240 the Hellcat is a value that’s tough to beat.

 

Hellcat_004

While the Hellcat features a simple notch rear and post front with green dot, the author found the slide’s flat top helped rapid aiming almost as much as the sights.

 

FAST SPECS
TYPE: DAO semiautomatic
CALIBER: .380 ACP
CAPACITY: 6+1
BARREL: 2.75 in.
OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 5.16/3.9/.82 in.
WEIGHT: 9.4 oz.
CONSTRUCTION: blue or nickel steel slide, black polymer frame
SIGHTS: notch rear, green-dot front
TRIGGER: DAO, no double-strike capability, 7-8 lb. pull (as tested)
PRICE: $240
MANUFACTURED BY: Inter Ordnance, 704-225-8843

 

ACCURACY RESULTS
90 gr. Hornady XTP JHP:  MV: 879  SD: 18  Avg. Group (in): 3.22
80 gr. CorBon DPX JHP:    MV: 929  SD: 21  Avg. Group (in): 3.15
95 gr. Black Hills FMJ:         MV: 15,   SD: 15  Avg. Group (in): 2.73

  • Wolvie

    James, you said that the blued gun was experiencing malfunctions on the 3rd round that you believe is magazine related.

    Were you able to confirm this by swapping the magazines between the guns and seeing if the nickel gun jammed as well with the suspicious magazine? Did the nickel gun's magazine work flawlessly in the blued gun?

    Finally, how does it field strip for maintenance?

    • Harry

      My earlier posts detail the problems I had with my first Hellcat and how I.O. stepped up and sent me a new gun. It worked fine when I test fired it. I have been carrying it as my “house mouse” back pocket gun. I haven’t shot it for almost a year. Well, I took it to the range the other day. It did function w/o a problem. When I got it home and went to clean it, I noticed the left side of the polymer frame was bulging out around the assembly pin. I contacted I.O. and a nice fellow emailed me the next day and said the assembly pin spring had probably popped out. I took the gun apart and this was the problem. The spring sits in a little recess in the frame. I put it back together and I note the polymer frame now has a permanent bow in it. There’s no reason that spring won’t jump out of its recess again. I give up. I can’t trust this gun. I won’t sell it or use it as trading fodder because I wouldn’t want someone else betting their life on it. It will just sit in my gun safe – forever.
      I would not buy another I.O. gun.

  • MiltonY

    I find it amazing that Kel-tec clones are appearing left and right (a la Ruger LCP) without any legal action for patent infringement of the P3AT and P32. Right down to the Kel-tec second generation Frankenbolt extractor and cartridge rim pin removal for take down.

    • Alan_T

      I know what you mean Milton , I've wondered about that too . There's about a half a dozen Kel Tec clones out now , that if the light was dim , I wouldn't be able to tell from my P 3AT ….. I don't know how they get away with it ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/travis.kropf.31 Travis Kropf

    I bought one of the early Hellcat .380s, and it was the biggest pile of junk I've ever owned. It failed to feed every type of ammo I tried, with both mags. I got no response from I.O.'s Customer Service Dept either. I sold that piece of junk for parts and bought a Ruger LCP .380, which I've never had a problem with. By the way, I.O. has made some slight changes to the Hellcat and the older mags do not work with the newer guns. BUYER BEWARE!

  • Hardtarget

    I was impressed with my Kel Tec from day 1, Bob Cogan from APW Cogan carries 2 Kel Tec's and he builds custom Guns
    Just saying, save yourself heartaches and get a Kel Tec

  • Alan_T

    I'd be willing to look at the Hellcat , but unless my Kel Tec P 3AT elopes and runs off with some racy European Lil' Pistol that will leave him the first time some Berreta winks at her …. I'll stick with my Kel Tec .

  • Dave

    I would be concerned that they issue a warning about using only certain ammo. Steel casing ammo should not affect a good quality gun. I shot about a thousand rounds of steel cased ammo through my LCP with no issues. I think paying a little more for a Ruger would be worth the money.

  • Michael Motyl

    I have a Hellcat which I purchased last spring.First time I fired it the feeding was a problem, but was an easy fix by applying some CLP lubricant with a q-tip to the slide rails. Since then it has functioned flawlessly. I am more than satisfied with it.

  • Rick

    I have the earlier version gun and was disappointed by specially FTE issues and the low quality machining and blueing. It had many FTE issues with different types of ammo and the Fiocchi HPs would not even feed. I was very frustrated until I took a Drexel and polished the inside of the barrel where the bullet sits right before being fired. It significantly reduced the failures and now I can carry it everyday. Like others have commented, I.O. Inc is a joke of a company. They are the ones that lied about the so called new Polish AKs that embarrassed Classic Arms. JBOC. Just a bunch of crooks.

  • Jim

    When you receive guns from the manufacturer for review you don't get an accuret cross section of how that gun will perform. The manufacturer is going to send the best representation that they can. All guns for review should be purchased from a gun store. That way you receive one that's more in line with what we would get if we bought it for our own use, not one that's been set up especially for the review. So IMHO this review is worthless and the author is a no so on this forum.
    Keltec perfected this design with their P11 nine mil and later the P-3AT. They also stand behind their products.

  • Harry

    I bought one of the Hellcats a few weeks ago and it didn't make it through the 1'st box of ammo. The extractor failed to pull the spent casing out at about round #40 (FMJ). I realize the extractor is supposed to have a little "bow" in it (it's spring steel), but close examination revealed that after the failure to extract, it had a MAJOR bend in it and wouldn't extract at all after the 1'st failure. I contacted IO and the shipped a new extractor post haste. Very friendly and helpful folks. I have not had a chance to try it since the installation of the new extractor. I will report on how it does.

    • Harry

      I was not entirely correct in my previous post. It is the external EXTRACTOR SPRING that appeared bent. Actually, it wasn't. The new spring has the same countour. The extractor itself is a separate steel piece that is held in place by that extractor spring.

      In any event, IO did send me a new spring AND extractor, which I installed. I took the pistol to the range today and had the same failure to extract on the SECOND round and every round thereafter. Again, I was using brass cased, FMJ (different brand this time).

      This could be one of three issues:

      1. The extractor is not being held down tightly enough by the spring when it's on the rim of the casing.
      2. The extractor was not designed or milled correctly and it does not hold the casing rim properly
      3. The chamber is too tight and the expanded, spent casing is jammed in the chamber.

      This is a case of "You get what you pay for." At $240.00, Caveat Emptor.

      I will contact IO and they'll probably want me to ship them the weapon.

      Stay tuned.

      • Harry

        I called IO. To their credit, the rep said " We'll send you a paid, overnight shipping label. Pack the gun up and we'll get it running right." They sent the label. I sent the Hellcat out on 8/2/12 and it arrived at their facility on 8/6/12 (so much for overnight shipping). Today is 8/11/12 and I haven't heard anything. I don't know if they'll call, email or just send it back. We shall see.

  • Harry

    Yesterday I received a package from I.O. It contained a brand new Hellcat. It was a complete new outfit. New box, zippered pouch, magazine and instruction booklet. The weapon itself was the newer style with the finger rest mag and slightly longer stock that accomodates the finger rest mag.

    I took it out today and put a hundred rounds through it without a glitch.

    Could not ask for more than that.

  • steve

    Nice little pistol, however at round number 33 the extractor lip that hooks the edge of the casing broke rendering the firearm unusable. It will hang up every time it is cleared. We purchased it at carters country here in Houston and they agreed to swap out the extrator on one they have in stock at another store. Well we will see if this solves the hang ups.

  • Caligula

    Why buy a copy when you can buy the original for a similar price? If I was going to buy a cheap .380 it would be a Kel-Tec 3AT or the Ruger LCP, which is nothing more than. Kel-Tec clone.

  • SFerrell

    Take the slide off of a P3AT. The steel is loaded with machining marks and rough edges. The Hellcat has a better build quality. Even the polymer appears more consistant. Yes, the early Hellcats were riddled with quality issues, but so were the Kel Tecs. In my opinion the Hellcat has more to offer such as, better sights, a better trigger, and a smaller price.

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