[ 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?