For undercover police work or even off-duty use, a small gun that can easily be concealed yet fires a reasonably powerful cartridge is essential. Kel-Tec has recently introduced its PF-9, which the company touts as the slimmest and lightest 9mm semi-auto handgun on the market. Weighing less than a pound loaded with eight rounds and measuring just .875 inches at its widest point, the pistol also features a double-action-only trigger.
The groundwork for the PF-9 was laid down back in 1995 when Kel-Tec introduced the P-11. At the time, it was the smallest and lightest 9mm pistol ever made. The gun was created in response to the 1994 Crime Bill that, in addition to banning several semi-automatic "assault weapons," banned manufacture of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. The P-11's magazine had a capacity of 10 rounds—the largest allowable by law. Weighing just 20 ounces loaded, the gun was an immediate hit for those looking to pack as much capacity as possible in a lightweight package.
While the P-11 doesn't feel the least bit chubby, George Kelgren, Kel-Tec's owner and chief design engineer, knew that he could make a gun with slimmer and more readily concealable dimensions.
The new PF-9 uses a single-stack magazine rather than a double-stack magazine. The result is that the grip of the PF-9 is an astonishing 36-percent slimmer than that of the original P-11 and measures just .81 inches wide. Magazine capacity of the PF-9 is seven rounds plus one in the chamber. Think about that for a second. We now have a 9mm pistol with a capacity of eight rounds, less than an inch wide that weighs less than one pound fully loaded. That's a remarkable accomplishment, and makes for an excellent tool for those who need to carry a concealed weapon.
Nuts and Bolts
Kelgren didn't need to change his successful recipe much when he designed the PF-9. Much of the construction for the new gun is the same as that of the P-11. The pistol's frame is molded from tough, impact-resistant DuPont ST-8018. This polymer is nearly indestructible and forms the frame, trigger guard, and magazine well of the pistol. The firing mechanism is housed in a block of 7075-T6 aluminum and pins pass through both the polymer and aluminum housing to unitize the parts.
Kelgren designed the PF-9 to use a special free-floating extension spring to power the pistol's hammer. The trigger pull on my sample breaks at 5.5 pounds after a long pull of three quarters of an inch. There is no manual safety on the PF-9 and the long trigger pull ensures that it is almost impossible for anyone to negligently fire the weapon. Kelgren also designed a lightweight firing pin so that the gun will not accidentally discharge if dropped on its muzzle.
While the slide may look as though it is made from stamped and welded metal, it is actually machined from a forging of 4140 steel. Both the front and rear of the slide have been rounded to aid in carry comfort. Kelgren uses a spring steel extractor that is attached externally to the slide via a hex head screw. The barrel is made from 4140 Ordnance steel and heat-treated. Lockup is achieved via the breech-block and slide's ejection port in a manner similar to Glocks and SIG pistols. The PF-9's barrel possesses an integral feedramp and has a belled muzzle to center it in the bushingless slide.
In keeping with the concealed carry theme, Kel-Tec outfits the PF-9 with low-profile sights. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and has a single hex head screw that can be loosened for adjustment. Shims need to be used with the rear sight for elevation adjustment, as the front sight is integral to the slide. I found, however, that my elevation was dead on.
Kelgren included a light/accessory rail on the new PF-9 pistol. My initial thought was that such an addition was counter-intuitive on a deep concealment pistol. But that's assuming that the gun will only be used for concealment purposes. Why couldn't the same gun be used with a light for a nightstand gun at home? The rail is actually molded into the PF-9's frame and, after carefully examining it, I've decided that its inclusion does not sacrifice the ability to conceal the gun nor does it add to the gun's bulk. Kel-Tec lightly radiuses the edges of the rails so that they will not injure the person carrying the gun or snag clothing.
If I were going to select a light for this compact pistol it would have to be the relatively new Insight X2L, the most compact light and laser combination that I'm aware of. Despite its small size, the unit boasts 40+ lumens and a focusable beam. There's a selector switch so the user can select from white light only or light and laser or laser by itself. The diminutive size of the unit doesn't overwhelm the gun when mounted and its rocker switch is easily accessible with the trigger finger or the thumb of the support hand. Even with its battery installed the X2L adds less than two ounces to the gun's weight.
Shooting the PF-9
As well designed as the PF-9 is, George Kelgren could not reverse the laws of physics. There's just no way around it: when a gun is chambered for the 9mm cartridge and weighs less than a pound it is going to be a handful to shoot. I had to take several breaks while doing the accuracy portion of the evaluation as I started to anticipate the sharp recoil and had a hard time maintaining sight alignment while pressing the trigger through its long arc.
Keep in mind that the width of the pistol's frame at the backstrap is only .81 inches—that's 36-percent slimmer than Kel-Tec's P-11. While recoil never bothered me in the older gun with the wider frame, this was not the case with the new PF-9. You'll see from the accuracy chart, however, that the gun possesses far more accuracy than is really needed for a deep concealment pistol.
I set up a steel target at 10 yards and used a PACT timer to record my time between shots. The target approximates the head and shoulders of a man and is 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. My splits—time between shots—measured from a low of .35 to a high of .68 of a second. I ran several magazines of WW 115-grain FMJ rounds through the gun for familiarization before starting to time myself. The average of all my runs was 41/100ths of a second. For comparison, my splits with full-size guns and even compacts that weigh more are as much as 25-percent faster.
There's no such thing as a free lunch and this is an area that each of you will have to decide for yourself. Are you willing to sacrifice a certain amount of controllability for the ease of carry and concealment?
Throughout my testing the gun possessed 100-percent reliability. I fired more than 400 rounds during my evaluation and used a number of bullet types and configurations. The PF-9's manual says that it can be used with +P loads, though it does not recommend a steady diet of them. Believe me, after you shoot this ultra lightweight gun you're not going to want to put the hottest loads in it anyway.
The PF-9 is an amazingly easy gun to disassemble. You'll note from the pictures that there is a rectangular-shaped piece of metal just in front of the slide release. That is actually the takedown pin.
Start by removing the magazine and then extracting the shell in the chamber. Once you have ensured that the pistol is unloaded, lock the slide back using the slide release. Use the rim of a 9mm cartridge or a stout fingernail to pull out the takedown pin. Hold the slide while you depress the slide release and ease it forward off the frame. The recoil spring guide and the two recoil springs can now be separated from the barrel, and the barrel itself can be lifted out of the slide.
That's as far as the PF-9 should ever be disassembled for routine maintenance and cleaning. Reassembly is in the reverse order. Like I said, it's pretty easy.
If you're going to carry the PF-9 I'd recommend getting two different accessories for it. The first is a finger groove floorplate for the pistol's magazine. While it doesn't increase the capacity of the magazine, it does give the little finger a place to ride while shooting rather than curling it under the magazine. I found this small accessory to make shooting the PF-9 much more comfortable. I'll use it, even though it does sacrifice a small amount of concealability.
Because of the gun's small size and extreme light weight I know a lot of folks will just want to shove it in their waistband for carry. That's an invitation to disaster. A much more prudent solution would be to order the spring steel belt clip that Kel-Tec offers. The clip comes with new pins that replace the gun's pins which retain the aluminum firing mechanism housing in the polymer frame. Once properly installed, the belt clip retains the gun securely in the waistband without the need for a holster. It does so without adding any meaningful bulk to the gun. As an added bonus, the belt clip doesn't interfere with a right- or left-handed shooting grip.
As I mentioned earlier, the PF-9 is clearly a compromise weapon. Those who carry it have to understand that they give up a certain degree of controllability because of its extreme light weight. But to its credit the Kel-Tec PF-9 is slimmer, lighter, and has more capacity than most .380 or .32 semi-auto pistols. As far as I'm concerned, I'll spend the extra range time and ammunition necessary to learn to shoot it effectively. The PF-9 is innovative, well engineered, priced reasonably at just $333, and also boasts a lifetime warranty.