Gun Review: Kel-Tec PF-9

Kel-Tec PF-9 and magazine

At a recent gun show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I made an impulse purchase. The Kel-Tec PF9. I had been looking for a sub-compact pistol, and wanted something light, thin, and, most importantly, reliable. I had considered a Glock 26, but the shape was just too “glocky”. I had also thought about a Sig Sauer P290RS, but also didn’t want to spend quite that much.

Then, I happened upon a table that had a number of sub-compacts. I was able to do a good side-by-side comparison. Out of all of the pistols that I handled, the Kel-Tec fit my hand the best. I don’t have huge bear paws, but neither is my grip “delicate”. I did my background check, and acquired the pistol with two additional magazines.

Before leaving the show, I also found a deal on a Crimson Trace LG435 (that integrates with the trigger guard and the MIL-STD-1913 picatinny rail) which I, of course, bought and installed.

The original platform debuted in 2007. Kel-Tec describes the pistol as being a hybrid of the PF-11 and the P-3AT “combined into the flattest and lightest single stack 9mm configuration ever made”. It is certainly light at just under 13 oz dry (360 gm for my metric friends). The width is roughly 0.9 inches (22 mm). Compare that to my normal carry weapon, a Glock 17, which weighs 25 oz dry and is 1.2 inches thick. So, the PF-9 is basically half the weight and three-quarters of the width. The Kel-Tec certainly met my requirements for light and thin; I would test the reliability later.

After I bought it (remember that this purchase was more of an impulse buy), I went looking for reviews, and I found a mixed bag of positive and negative. It seems that people either love this gun, or they hate it. I didn’t really find a middle ground. I did, however, find out that a couple of buddies with the local PD carry them as backup.

Having read that one of the primary complaints was a “sticky” slide leading to failure-to-feed/failure-to-eject, I decided to pre-work the slide. I manually racked the slide two-hundred and fifty times, field stripped it, cleaned and lubed it, and repeated. I did this for six cycles (1500 repetitions), and then took it to the range. My planned course of fire was 18 “El Presidente” drills, broken down by 180 rounds of ball, and 36 rounds of “defense” ammo. After every five drills using ball, I ran one drill using defense ammo. I engaged 9 inch by 9 inch half-inch steel plates rather than shooting on standard IPSC targets (“A” zone is roughly 6 inches by 11 inches).

My Impression

First, I didn’t have a single failure. The trigger pull is quite long, and while this is a common “complaint” it is important to remember that the weapon does not have a manual safety. What did surprise me was the reset. After I fired my first round, I slowly let off on the trigger pressure until I felt the “click”, and then pressed rearward again. Nothing. I released the trigger fully and tried again. Same thing. This time I released the trigger pressure slowly all the way, and I felt a second “click”. That second click turned out to be the actual reset. I was actually “short-stroking” the trigger. Being used to the reset on a Glock is not the same as on this DA pistol; be warned. Or maybe read the manual.

Drawing from concealment was a little more challenging due to the small form factor. I did not have a traditional belt holster, and a shoulder holster (or thigh rig) would just be ridiculous. What I did have was both an ankle holster and a pocket sleeve. Generally, I’m not a fan of ankle holsters for anything other than a backup. As a primary, they are too challenging to access without some sort of subterfuge. That said, the PF-9 works wonderfully in that configuration. It rode comfortably. While I knew something was on my ankle, it was not burdensome, and it concealed very well underneath both dress pants and jeans.

The pocket sleeve was the most applicable for my intended carry. I’m sure everyone can agree that putting a naked pistol in your pocket is not the best idea, so a decent sleeve that securely covers the trigger, masks the print, and allows for a smooth draw are all important qualities. I generally wear “comfortably loose” cargo pants. I found the main front pocket to be more than adequate to hold the PF-9, allowing for positive grip on the weapon and a smooth draw without catching on anything.

Kel-Tec PF-9 in the pocket. Very little print.

Kel-Tec PF-9 in the pocket. Very little print.

 

Getting positive grip on the PF-9 in the pocket.

Getting positive grip on the PF-9 in the pocket.

 

Drawing the PF-9; laser activated.

Drawing the PF-9; laser activated.

The biggest issue I found was a slower draw (and the super long trigger pull). With my Glock in a IWB holster, I am a solid “C” class shooter on the “El Presidente” (faster than 11.25 seconds), and can generally pull off a “B” (at 7.5 seconds). With the PF-9, drawing from inside my front pocket, I was definitely much slower. I averaged 13.75 seconds, with my fastest time being just over 12 seconds (Disclosure: I did have a couple of “not completes” as a result of missing the target). Drawing the secondary magazine from my left pocket was also slower. Even with consistent practice, I would still be slower drawing from a pocket than from a more “tactical” holster.

Shooting the PF-9, side view.

Conclusion

Overall I am impressed with the platform, and it has actually become the weapon I carry most often. The ease of concealment in nearly every circumstance (excepting the occasional Speedo at the beach) makes it the weapon I am mostly likely to have on me.

While drawing the PF-9, under duress, from a pocket, is slower, it was still manageable. Since the pistol is just so easy to slip in a pocket, it is more likely to be on me (opposed to having to plan my clothing choices around my carry strategy). And my philosophy dictates that the best weapon during a gunfight is the operable one you have with you…

Pros

  • Very light and small profile
  • Long trigger pull and no manual safety

Cons (and these are really personal issues)

  • Coming from a Glock, the trigger reset operation was unexpected and required some retraining.
  • Long trigger pull (seems like forever to reach the break)

The important thing to remember when carrying any weapon is to be familiar with it’s operation as well as it’s peculiarities. The PF-9, with consistent practice, is a fine weapon and one that has earned a place in my Everyday Carry loadout.

Manufacturer Specifications

Model Number: PF-9
Action Type: Double Action Only
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 7 + 1
Length: 5.85”
Barrel Length: 3.1”
Height: 4.3”
Width: 0.88”
Weight: 12.7 oz
Trigger Pull: 5 lbs
Sights: Front post, adjustable rear (windage)
Price: MSRP-$333 (street-$250)


Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.

Tom’s Standard Boilerplate: I like to take a gun out a couple of different times for a shoot for assessment. Once to just blow through some rounds and get a feel for how it functions and operates (usually three to four magazines worth). Then I like to take it a second time on a different day to run some drills (12 “el Presidente” drills). I also like to shoot the crappiest ammo I have since I’ve never encountered a firearm that won’t run quality ammo. I have had, on the other hand, a number of weapons that do not like “cheap” ammo. I’m not an olympic competition shooter, so having a firearm in my arsenal that requires a very specific brand and/or configuration of ammo is not something I want.


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  • nester7929

    I owned a PF9 a few years ago, but the thing was unreliable and the magazines kept breaking. Hopefully they’ve ironed out the problems since then. I carry the P238 now.

    • Doc Rader

      I haven’t had any problems with mine yet. It seems like a pretty solid pistol so far. Maybe I’ll post an update in a year and see where it is at…

      • Tomaso

        Kel-tec seem to be like Mopar products…if built on a Thursday their perfect if not good luck …lol. I have a PMR with over 1200 rounds threw her with only 3 FTFIRE and all were with the same first mag I shot……didn’t read the ” how to load a magazine instructions”.

    • KM

      I owned a Second Gen p3at, Biggest POS I ever bought. If anyone is trusting these with their lives, I really hope they never have to trust these with their lives :P There is not such thing as “you just got a bad gun” when it fails on you in a time of need. KT used garbage parts. Google “hammer spring” Kel Tec

  • noguncontrol

    go with kahr for small guns and pocket pistols.

  • hacedeca

    “too glocky” – What does that mean?

    • Steve Truffer

      subcompact Glocks can be unwieldy for those with smaller hands.

    • Doc Rader

      Personally I was referring to the “squared” shape of the slide, and the challenge with not obviously printing in a pocket. Kind of a play on “blocky”.

  • sianmink

    If you want a glock-like trigger, the only choice out there is the taurus 709/740. Say what you might about Taurus but my 740 is a remarkable little gun.

    • Tomaso

      Or even better a Walther PPS…a forgotten slim pistol.

  • Pete Sheppard

    I have a PF-9 that I bought and used for pocket carry. For my average/large hands, I needed a Hogue Hand-All Jr. Until I got used to it, the pistol rubbed raw spots on the web of my shooting hand, but I still didn’t shoot more than 50rd at a time. As my carry gun, though, it was the first pistol shot at every range session. However, since I have had to severely curtail my shooting, I have gone to a J-frame, since I feel that it needs to be practiced with a lot to ensure I can use it reliably.

    That said, it’s a great value for a full-bull 9×19 micro-pistol.

  • RocketScientist

    Wait… 6 comments already, and none of them trashing Kel-Tec? By this point there are usually at least 2-3 stating that shooting a Kel-Tec is more risky for the shooter than the target, or how Kel-Tec has never once made a gun that actually worked, or how the whole company is a sham and doesn’t actually exist because noone has ever seen a Kel-Tec product in a gun store ever. I’m sure they’ll be coming though…

    • ozzallos .

      It’s generally not their pistols that cause the angst. Those are nominally available without the necessary unicorn blood and virgin sacrifices.

    • KM

      There needs to be more “rationalized” KT bashing IMO. Otherwise it would just be a wash of “you just got a bad gun” or “Kel-Tec customer service is “awesome” or “My gun never had a jam and summons magical unicorns when i shoot it”

  • William Johnson

    I have had mine for over a year, it is my primary carry in a minotaur holster. Break-in and range time are key to effective use. I also opted for the finger extension on the magazines and hogue for better grip.

    • Doc Rader

      I have to agree with break-in and range time. Though, really, that should apply to any firearm you get…

      The finger extension on the magazine is certainly helpful.

      • William Johnson

        The Keltec owners group forum has several posts on modifications and troubleshooting any problems that arrive. One of the most common is to upgrade the trigger.

  • James

    I bought one of these at launch several years ago (2008?). After cleaning and oiling it, I let it sit in my closet for about a month without handling or shooting it. When I pulled it out, the barrel had a 1×0.5″ patch of surface rust on it’s exterior.

    Aside from the rust it was serviceable. The trigger wasn’t spectacular but the PF-9 is a get off me gun, not a target pistol. I sold it as soon as I could, no modern pistol should require continuous care and attention to keep it from rusting to pieces.

    • Check Yoself

      I like the “get off me gun” reference.

  • Useful Idiot

    I don’t mind Kel-Tec as a company, their products are usually value leaders in there categories and they are willing to try new things in terms of design. Actually finding some of their products in stock is another matter, but my only experience with a PF-9 has been a rather negative one.

    I good friend brought one to the range that he had traded into. Having never shot one, i found the shape of the gun to be comfortable, sights adequate, and i didn’t find the trigger to be all that bad.

    It did however have light strike issues and every few rounds would fail to fire the round and it had a miss feed or two. I would pop the dimpled rounds into my CW9 and they would fire just fine much to his chagrin. That brings me to my problem with Kel-Tec. In the past when there were fewer options for pocket guns they made more sense. While they are still to my knowledge the cheapest option in almost every category they compete in, they have much more competition and there are “nicer” guns available for a little bit more money.

    The difference in price of the guns in my example is about $60-$70 bucks which for some is a big difference but one i am personally willing to pay in order to get what i believe are guns with better QC and build quality. If you don’t mind the possibility of doing a little bit of troubleshooting then maybe Kel-tec’s aren’t so bad. I do think that their designs work, and there are many reliable Kel-tec’s roaming the streets, sometimes though it takes a little work to get them to that point.

    • Doc Rader

      That is definitely a good point. Like I mentioned, it was an impulse buy that day, and it just happen to be the one that fit my hand the best… Fingers crossed, but so far, no issues with mine.

    • Jeff

      One of the problems you can have with the PF9 is that the 1st gen extractor screw had the possibility of backing during recoil out since it did not come lock-tited from the factory. If this occurs and you fire the pistol, the firing pin indent (which the extractor screw goes into to keep the firing pin from flinging out the back) will grind the tip of the extractor screw inside the firing pin channel and cause flakes of metal to come off and fill up inside the channel, which is what causes the light primer strikes as the pin gets bogged down by the debri. How do I know? It happened to me. The latest gen extractor screw is now a torx head instead of an allen and it also comes with a dab of loctite on the threads to keep it from backing out. Also, as is stated in the manual, do NOT dry fire your PF9 without a snap cap inside.

  • Zius Patagus

    One correction in the article, the Kel-Tec PF9 is the single stack version of the P-11, not PF11 which doesn’t exist. The P-11 is the first compact 9mm but is a double stack. It is great little gun. The PF9 is what Ruger stole the design for their LC9 from. Side by side there is little difference except for all the safety crap, (loaded chamber indicator, thumb safety, and mag disconnect safety) that Ruger puts on all their pistols now. I happen to have a PF9, P-11 and Ruger LC9. Of the three I prefer the P-11. Also the author should try the belt clip attachment. Great way to carry them on the hip Inside the waistband. I have those clips on all three of my pocket 9s and a Kel-Tec P32 as well.

    • Doc Rader

      Zius, you are entirely correct, and good catch! I was apparently in the mindset of typing PX-## when I went through that paragraph.

      I’ll have to give the belt clip a try–it would certainly give some more options for place of concealment. I also saw a mention of replacing the trigger on the Kel-Tec Owners Group forum, which is something I may consider in the future. Have you done any mods like that?

  • ruinator

    Liked your review Doc. Dig the pics showing lack of print while carrying. A big problem with my Glock 27. I think I will take a look at one
    “Or maybe read the manual”, Sorry Man Law does not allow it.

    • DV

      You were never in the military. Knowing your firearm’s manual is never a bad thing.

      • ruinator

        Said tongue in cheek

    • Doc Rader

      Thanks!

  • wvcycling

    As a graduate student, I have owned my PF9 for nearly five years. It was my first hand gun, and while I’m not ashamed of owning it, it has not been completely reliable on the range.

    I’ve had one fail to feed, and two fail to fire in the first 500 rounds. While that does not seem like much, it is still that tiny itch in the back of your brain that may lead to doubt.

    The gun works 99% of the time or more, but the doubt it has created with me has led to carry different, albeit more expensive firearms.

    Would I suggest this as a first gun? No. I’d suggest a training 22 (MkIII / 22/45 or a bersa/taurus of some sort.)

    • Check Yoself

      Starting your sentence with “As a grad student” only makes you sound like a douche. I assume you do that because you’re insecure about your intelligence.

  • KM

    “not a single failure” CandR reviews would disagree if this statement is being used as a generality for the Pf9

  • Tomaso

    In my humble opinion pocket carry is a horrible idea….. Way to many variables to contend with. Considering the size of the kel-tec appendix carry would be my suggestion way over pocket carry. Untuck the shirt and it’s perfect.

  • gym

    Biggest piece of junk I ever owned, am carrying for 44 years. I spent time and money trying to get it to fire all ammo types, it would not fire more than one at a time with 147 grain FMJ’s, I know guns, and carry every day, this is the worse one out of the hundreds I have fired.
    It has an entire forum based on how to fix it. Once in a while a good one slips through, but over 50% just don’t work, and recommending it is criminal.

  • gym

    If you want a small gun that actually fires, get a PF9 or CM9, from Kahr, they work , have great triggers, and shoot straight.

  • smartacus

    they should make a 6+1 version of the PF-9
    (they should not make a 6+1 version of the P-11)

  • Brad Ferguson

    I’m sorry……Any company that has a pathetic customer delivery history as Kel-Tech DOES. Should not be given free write ups by the press. I quit waiting on my 400.00$ PMR 30 after a nearly 3 year wait. You can get one for 900.00 or so, that goes out the back door of Kel-Tech. Then is sold via a internet site, sorry sorry way to do business

  • Iblis

    I have had a PF9 for a couple of years now. When I first got it, it had a failure to extract in almost every magazine. Just one. I polished the chamber, feed ramp, slightly bent and tightened the extractor spring. It has been reliable ever since. It almost has the same dimensions as the Springfield XDs. To me, the extended mag bases are a must. It changes the whole feel of the gun when shooting. So much better and it doesn’t really take away from the ability to conceal it. It is very accurate. I would love it if they made a .22mag conversion for it. 12 rounds of .22 mag in a package that small would be great.

  • Conrad Gabbard

    I’ve been a Kel-Tec fan ever since the top-loading Grendl .380 and find them utterly reliable – after about a 50 to 200 round break-in. I’ve heard a few people cursing theirs at the range, but invariably the problem has been operator error: you don’t limp-wrist or short-stroke a Kel-Tec pistol, except the PMR-30 (appropriated by my wife as her bedside and carry gun), which doesn’t seem to mind a weak wrist. Kel-Tec is the most innovative firearms manufacturer on the planet – and their guns work. Some Kel-Tecs are rare because the market for those models exceeds Kel-Tec’s output.
    My first concealed-carry gun was an Arma Galesi .25ACP, necessitated after being chased home by a gaggle of other 6th graders (hardly a “gang”). That was 62 years ago and I’ve since carried concealed on three continents and several island nations – not always legal, because of an aversion of being “carried by six.” I trust Kel-Tec.

  • Sulaco

    Recovered a P-11 that had been stolen and dumped in a lake. Over year after it was dumped, washed out the mud and it fired a full mag. Had to prove in court is was a “weapon”. I have a P-11 and the rare conversion kit to make it a .40. Ouch is the best description.