[Guest Post] Kel-Tec P-11 Review

[ I am pleased to present this guest post was written by Bill Lester.]

I’ve been a revolver guy for most of my twenty-eight years as a shooter but have had a love/hate relationship with small frame .38, .357 and .44 wheelguns for longer than some of you may have been alive. They’re great from a concealment and reliability standpoint but are somewhat lacking in ammo capacity and shootability. In the wake of the terrible Omaha Nebraska mall shooting a couple years ago, I began to think about getting a CCW with increased capacity compared to the snubbies I usually carry. What if I needed to lay down a few rounds of suppressive fire to allow my family to escape danger? A five shooter doesn’t leave much capacity for that. But I still needed something small enough that I had no good excuse not to carry in with me at all times. The homework began and I settled on the subject of this post, Kel Tec’s P-11 in 9x19mm.

Overall dimensions of the P-11 are essentially the same as a S&W J-frame with 2-in. barrel and neoprene boot grips. Loaded weight is about 21 ounces. Depending on which magazines you have, capacity is 10 or 12 rounds plus one in the chamber. That’s quite an improvement over a small frame .38! The P-11 will also accept even higher capacity magazines intended for the service-size S&W 5900-series pistols, although concealment suffers because the mags stick out from below the grip frame. You could carry a flush fitting Kel Tec mag in the gun with reloads using larger S&W mags to maximize both concealment and firepower. The P-11 disappears in a pocket holster and cargo shorts. Carried in a belt slide, the pistol’s minor dimensions make it easy to forget you’re armed.

The P-11 is true double action only (DAO) and will give you a second strike on stubborn primers. I personally believe this is an overlooked advantage compared to many other autoloaders. Over the years I’ve experienced a few light primer hits and in every instance they ignited with a second strike of the firing pin. If it would occur again during a defensive shooting, which do you think will be faster – pulling a P-11′s trigger again or racking the slide on other designs without second strike capability? Something to think about.

How does the P-11 shoot? In my opinion, very well for such a small handgun. The target shown above consisted of the last seven rounds I had on my first range session with the pistol. Ammo was WWB 147-grain JHP. I fired using an Isosceles hold with the target 20 feet away. The flyers at one and eight o’ clock are a common phenomena with this pistol. Regardless of the specific load used, a couple of shots out of every magazine usually end up straying from the rest. Nevertheless, group size is still smaller than my hand at a distance greater than many rooms measure in length. That’s plenty accurate enough for my needs. There are 700-750 rounds through my P-11, consisting of WWB 115-gr. FMJ’s, 115- and 147-gr. JHP’s, Federal 115-gr. JHP’s, Remington-UMC 124-gr. FMJ’s and Black Hills 115-gr. +P JHP’s. Some people have complained that their Kel Tec pistols are less than fully reliable out of the box and recommend a so-called “fluff n’ buff” to improve function. I’ve experienced no malfunctions of any kind and have done nothing to my pistol except clean and lubricate it.

Felt recoil and muzzle lift are quite comparable to what you’d experience with a steel 5-shot .38 using +P loads. The P-11 isn’t the kind of handgun you’d want to shoot all day but it isn’t going to draw blood either. The only real discomfort I’ve experienced was after installing a factory magazine extension. There is a small gap between the bottom of the mag body and the extension. Under recoil, I experience an unpleasant pinch after firing 8-9 consecutive rounds. Overall control is improved somewhat using the mag extension, so there is some gain for the pain. A definite plus for guys like me with meaty hands, the P-11′s recoiling slide doesn’t bite the web between thumb and forefinger. That’s more than I can say for the majority of small autos I’ve fired.

Overall I think the Kel Tec P-11 is a real winner in the small CCW category. It’s easy to conceal, provides a substantial number of ready rounds, and has proven to be both reliable and accurate. With suggested retails starting less than $350 for a blued slide example like mine, how can you go wrong?



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Jesse

    While it’s nice to have a second strike feature as more options are always a good thing I would think that if your round doesn’t go off in a defense situation you would be better served to rack the slide and put a new round in the chamber rather than risk striking the round and not having it go off again or worse double striking believing you chambered new round when in fact the chamber is empty.

  • Over the years I’ve experienced a few light primer hits and in every instance they ignited with a second strike of the firing pin. If it would occur again during a defensive shooting, which do you think will be faster – pulling a P-11’s trigger again or racking the slide on other designs without second strike capability? Something to think about.

    I’ve always been unconvinced of the utility of “second strike” for hard primers. IMO, the response to a failure-to-fire should always be tap-rack, because you don’t know it was a hard primer and not some other kind of failure. Should the protocol be modified to, “re-pull the trigger, then tap-rack if it didn’t fire again?”

  • countertop

    I love mine, and carry it daily.

  • Erwos

    Are there any statistics about what ranges self-defense shootings take place at? I don’t want to seem like annoying picky guy, but “shoots good at 20ft with a two-handed stance” seems like a rather easy test for any gun. But, if that’s basically the maximum you’d be shooting at, the test makes more sense.

    Also, maybe I missed it, but does it have night sights? Strikes me that you’d want those on a carry pistol.

  • Stuart

    You did not mention the stiff trigger pull, usually measured at 8-10 lbs. My wife cannot pull the trigger and hit the target. She cannot rack the slide either. I know there are tricks to lighten the trigger pull, but I don’t want to go to court with a modified pistol.

    I love my P-11 and the wear on the finish shows how much I carry it. I find it a bit heavy for pocket carry. I usually carry it in a Smart Carry holster with an extra mag. Very comfortable. I use the extended mag in the pistol and carry a regular mag. That little extension makes the pistol much more controllable for my hands.

    If I do not have the P-11 I pocket carry a P3-AT with and Armalaser and extended magazine.

    Nice review

  • I agree the .38/.357mag compact guns are fairly limited in terms of capacity and shootability. My buddy had one of those and I got a chance to shoot it. He didn’t like it and if I had a couple years more of wisdom I would have bought it that day for cash. I think they are fairly comparable to the Glock 9mm in size but not as accurate and shootable. They are cheaper though and that is certainly a factor.

  • Bill Lester

    Jesse,

    As I noted in the post, in my experience every stubborn primer has ignited on the second hit. I’ve yet to see compelling evidence that the next one won’t do the same. To me, racking the slide at distances found in most gunfights is a recipe for injury or death. Hence my personal requirement for second strike capability in an defensive handgun.

    Joshua,

    IMO tap-rack drills are fine if you have distance and cover on your side as well as a fairly large slide to grasp. The P-11 is a small weapon with a very stout mainspring. Neither feature is conducive to fast and sure manipulation under the stress of close personal combat. Please don’t get me wrong, if my P-11 doesn’t go BANG! with the second trigger stroke I assure you I’ll try to clear the problem and get back into the fight…if I live that long.

    countertop,

    I share your opinion of the P-11. They are a super little pistol.

    Erwos,

    What do consider adequate accuracy for a pocket-sized CCW? As shown in the photo above, five of seven rounds were essentially touching at the distance considered to cover the vast majority of documented shootings. Would you be satisfied if I told you I can keep an entire magazine in the scoring rings of a B-27 silhouette mounted at 50 yards?

    As for night sights, no it doesn’t have them. None of my current defensive handguns have them. I’ve tried night sights in the past and not been impressed for a few reasons. IMO, if your handgun of choice can accommodate a laser you’re much better equipped with one than with tritium sights.

    Stuart,

    Thanks for the compliment. You are right about the trigger pull. It is fairly heavy and long compared to many other pistols. But no more so than revolvers used by women for personal defense over the past 100+ years. The slide could well be a problem for many gals, the infirmed or elderly. It’s one of the reasons why my wife prefers a S&W Model 65 3-inch. 🙂

    If the manufacturer doesn’t develop a Kel-Tec compatible RSS-type unit soon, an original Armalaser is on the near horizon for this P-11. How do you like the one on your P3-AT?

  • jdun1911

    Bill,

    The proper way to handle a misfire is tap, rack, and bang. It is taught in every firearm training schools.

    Second strike capability is for gun range.

  • jdun1911

    Oh I forgot to post the educational links for those that don’t know the tap, rack, and bang drill. This drill for pistol will clear almost all malfunctions.

    Old Painless did a good job at explaining the drill and how to clear a double feed in pistol.

    http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/edu2.htm

    Tactical Response tap rack, and bang video.

    http://rpginn.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=753&Itemid=39

  • Bill Lester

    jdun1911,

    Thanks for reading the article.

  • Steve

    Is the trigger system on the P11 different from the P32 & PF9? I own both of the latter & neither have 2nd strike capability.

  • Bill Lester

    Steve,

    Yes, the P-11 is different from the two K-T’s you own. There has been some talk that a second generation P-11 may incorporate a PF-9-type trigger mechanism, in an effort to somewhat reduce length and pull weight. I personally hope it doesn’t happen. It’s good to have choices.

  • JGS

    I have a 9mm P-11 with the frame mounted belt clip, sometimes carry it in a ankle holster, or leave it locked in the glovebox. Its a great little gun, I have the pinky extension and even the S&W high capacity mags for it. The sights are small white dot but not night sights. You have to keep them clean as mine have gotten dirty and hard to see. Also, it works fine but the trigger is looooooong. When shooting drills you get used to pre-squeezing it take up slack, and can feel when the trigger pull gets heavier closer to firing. I am not just saying this, I have actually had bad bad dreams at night about not being able to pull the trigger all the way when the baddies are after me.

  • Bill Lester

    JGS,

    I’ve also experienced the “dirty dot syndrome.” Maybe it’s the paint K-T uses, but the dots do get funky rather quickly. Much faster than say the white outline on S&W rear sights I’ve carried over the years.

    It’s funny you have that dream about facing banditos. I had the exact same dream back in the Dark Ages when I carried Charter Arms Bulldogs on a regular basis. As much as I liked the idea of an ~ 20 oz., highly concealable .44 Special, the three I owned just never instilled confidence largely due to their awful trigger pulls. Thankfully those Bulldogs are long gone and so are the nightmares. I’ve only had good dreams about my P-11. 🙂

  • Erwos

    Bill,

    I would have liked to have seen some tests at 10-20 yards. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that you would need to engage at this range if you’re outdoors. I’m not expecting absolute super-accuracy out of this thing, mind you, I just think it would have been nice for the review.

    I’m noticing that this gun doesn’t have a light rail, though, and thus wouldn’t seem to be a candidate for a laser, either.

    I do agree that second-strike is an important capability for a DAO pistol – tap-rack-bang works great at longer ranges, but if someone’s rushing you at 7 yards, a quick second trigger pull is better than getting knifed trying to tap-rack-bang.

    -Erwos

  • Bill Lester

    Erwos,

    As I noted in my response, I can put all my shots into a “full size” B-27 silhouette at 50 yards. I say full size in quotes because I don’t know many adult males who aren’t bigger than a B-27. Nevertheless, if I can get to my local indoor range in the near future I’ll update this post with results shot at the maximum 10 yard distance.

    Google “ArmaLaser.” They make a unit specifically for K-T’s that aren’t equipped with rails. It’s not an issue.

    I’m glad you appreciate the value of second strike capability. Tapping the magazine does nothing for you if there’s a light primer hit. Racking the slide takes even more time and may well be more difficult to accomplish than many people realize when you’re under immediate threat, adrenaline is squirting out of your ears, your heart is pounding and manual dexterity has gone out the window. Add the possibility you could already be injured or wounded and the situation rapidly gets complicated. Far easier and faster to pull the trigger a second time if you experience a light primer strike. If the round doesn’t fire with that followup, then perform tap-rack and hope for the best. There really isn’t much alternative.

  • Carl

    So you should try setting off the same round two times? Why not three, four, five or more?

    How do we know that two attempted strikes is the optimal number?

    Personally I think I’d rather move on to a fresh round immediately rather than keep trying with one that has proven defective.

  • Carl

    How about high-level competitive shooters? Does anyone use the “second strike” tactic in IPSC?

  • Bill Lester

    Carl,

    As stated a couple of times before, 1) Every single light primer strike I’ve personally experienced has ignited with a second hit. Unless you use poor quality reloads or fail to properly maintain your weapon, yours probably will too; 2) Tap-rack drills are fine if you have distance and cover on your side. Often if not most times one doesn’t have either advantage to count upon; 3) Tap-rack drills are easy with service-size pistols on a benign range. They’re not nearly as simple when you’re using a pistol that can fit in an outstretched palm. Then add in the likelihood you’re fighting for your life at arms length, you may be injured or wounded, and may be knocked to the ground or otherwise disoriented from the norm.

    Sorry to see you equate shooting games with close range, lethal combat. You have my sincere hope that you’re never faced with the latter situation.

  • Carl

    Bill, please don’t make things up. I never “equated” shooting sports with combat.

    I suggested that competitive shooters experience FTF’s just like anyone else who uses firearms. So it would be interesting to know what they consider the fastest way to get past the malfunction and continue shooting.

    Because that is after all what someone in a defensive combat situation will be trying to do as well, right (getting past the malfunction and continue shooting)?

    No other comparisons.

    Also it would be interesting to know why your bad primers always fire on the second try. I’m no gunsmith but it seems like that could be your pistol not striking them with enough force. So maybe you could use a stiffer hammer spring or something…

  • Bill Lester

    Carl,

    IPSC is a game and the fact that participants use tap-rack drills is irrelevant to the topic of defensive shooting in general and second strike capable pistols like the P-11 in particular. Nevertheless, the fact that the vast majority of pistols used in gun games have no SS capability might have something to do with why competitors don’t try it. 😉

    As for my experience with light primer hits, the time frame spans over two decades of shooting. This was noted in my original article. There was only one firearm that had an ongoing light hit problem and was quickly discarded. Excluding that particular gun, the issues were always with the ammunition.

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  • It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place.

  • Jean

    I agree completely with the article but I’m biased. I have a Kel Tec 9mm and it is my carry concealed carry gun. I do the certification class in my state and that is what I carry for my everyday carry (where I’m allowed of course which is not much!) I think a primary gun needs to be something like this- a 380/9mm/.38 that is concealable and that you can carry with you at all times because the #1 rule about guns is to have one when you need one and the Kel Tec is small enough, reliable enough, and affordable enough to have when you need it. Good job on the review!

  • Evan Cargill

    Do not waste your money on kel tec products. I work at a gun store and I see alot of guns come through our store. The cheapest pos is the kel tec. If I never want return business from a customer, the quickest way is to sell them a kel tec. The pistols exibit multiple problems. Your conceal carry gun is like a life insurance policy. Don’t put your life in the hands of the people at kel tec. If you want a gun that works, buy a Colt, Sig, or a Glock.

    Evan