The .380 ACP cartridge, designed by John Moses Browning, is as American as it gets, but it was never as popular in its birthplace as it was in Europe. That is until the advent of shall-issue concealed carry permits and the accompanying demand for diminutive self-defense pistols.
The Hellcat pistol from Inter Ordnance (I.O., Inc.) is one of the latest examples of the type; a compact, polymer-frame, .380 ACP semi-automatic handgun with six-round capacity. Like some others in its class, it dispenses with the traditional blowback-operated system in favor of a more compact recoil-operated design.
Made entirely in the United States, the Hellcat pistol features a double-action-only trigger with single-strike-only capability. The action must cycle in order to pre-load the hammer, and the hammer must be in the semi-cocked position to fire. The recoil operation functions with a linkless design of the barrel to lock and unlock the action. The Hellcat also uses a dual-spring recoil system around a steel guide rod to achieve reliable operation while maintaining minimal dimensions.
The carbon steel barrel is in the white and resides inside a machined and heat-treated steel slide with a black Parkerized finish and slide serrations at the rear. Machined into the slide are the integral, non-adjustable sights that, while small, are plainly visible and provide an adequate sight picture. The front sight also features a bright green dot for improved acquisition, and a groove machined into the top of the slide in front of the rear sight helps provide clearance for sight alignment while maintaining the sights’ low profile.
On the right side of the slide an external flat steel spring secures the nickel-plated extractor, which provides secure removal of cartridges from the chamber. A small window just above the front of the extractor provides visual confirmation of a round in the chamber. There is no other loaded-chamber indicator. The aluminum sub frame is machined from solid aircraft-grade billet and then anodized with a black finish. It resides inside and is mated to a glass-fiber-reinforced, molded nylon housing with an integral trigger guard.
Other glass-fiber-reinforced molded nylon parts include the trigger and magazine release, as well as the magazine base and follower. The left side-mounted magazine release allows the stainless-steel six-round-capacity magazine to drop freely. The frame also features rear and side serrations on the grip to help secure a firm hold when firing.
The Hellcat pistol does not have a manual safety, magazine disconnect or passive firing pin safety. As is typical with many small recoil-operated pistols like the Hellcat, there is also no hold-open device for the slide, and it will not lock open on an empty magazine. A final manufacturer’s caveat is that “+P” ammunition should not be used in the pistol.
Loading the Hellcat is a simple matter of inserting a full magazine into the pistol's magazine well, pulling the slide back to its rearmost position and releasing it to chamber a round. Disassembly is also a straightforward matter accomplished by simply removing the magazine, ensuring the gun is unloaded and removing the frame pin using a spent cartridge case or other tool. The slide and barrel assembly then simply slide forward off the frame. The guide rod and recoil spring are not captive, so care should be taken in removing them for disassembly.
The original test sample pistol provided exhibited several malfunctions including failure to feed and failure to extract during range testing due to a magazine defect; however, a replacement pistol functioned flawlessly using both full-metal-jacket and jacketed hollow-point ammunition. The trigger pull was very smooth, and it felt lighter than its measured 8 pounds, 8 ounces with no stacking or overtravel but the gun’s trigger must be allowed to go fully forward after each shot in order to reset.
Recoil with all loads tested was extremely manageable, and the pistol felt comfortable in the hand, in large part thanks to the finger extension on the magazine base. Fired from a bench rest at 7 yards, the pistol proved to be more than accurate enough for close-range self-defense use.
The economical Hellcat pistol comes equipped with one magazine and a padded soft-sided case with the I.O., Inc. logo. It is available in various finishes and frame colors as well to suit user preference. The pistol’s light weight and small dimensions make the Hellcat suited for concealed carry or as a back-up gun.