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Kel-Tec PF-9 Review

I guess the main thing I should show right up front is the size of the PF-9. So the next few pictures should help you get an idea.

PF-9 vs Pro-Carry 
PF-9 vs Full-size 1911

(Tap the photos for larger version)

I know somebody out there is going to believe that target photo even though Abraham Lincoln warned us not to believe everything we read on the Internet.

Why not a 380?

In my mind, (and that may sum it up completely), "concealed carry" is a tradeoff between attire, convenience and situational reality. If my everyday attire was a full-length leather duster,  and the Police had lost control, then I'd be carrying a carbine everywhere. But I don't live in that sort of dystopia - thats not reality.

Reality is that armed encounters are very rare. Reality is that I have to go about my daily life in a manner that does not upset the people around me.  So reality dictates my attire, and my choice of weapon.

So at this point you're probably wondering what this has to do with cartridge choice. I'll explain : I want to survive, I'm perfectly willing to kill the bad guy, and I want to stack the odds in my favor because "Fairness" is for dead people.

If they made a device where I could push a button and the bad guy would stop and take a nap - I'd carry it. But they don't so I can't. 

Society dictates that I weigh the situational appropriateness of my weapon choice - so it is a no-no to lob grenades in a convenience store. So I'm pretty much left with handguns or edged weapons - and this isn't Game Of Thrones.

If I'm going to carry a handgun, I  want it to chamber the most lethal round available. But cartridge determines bulk, and bulk impacts convenience. There is a sweet spot for me at which convenience and lethality intersect (perfection), and the 9mm PF9 is pretty darn close. 

A 380, like the P3AT, would be much more concealable at the expense of reduced lethality. I only need enough "concealable" to raise the convenience to the point where I always have the gun with me. I don't win points in a gunfight for having the most concealable weapon. 

I cover my concept of "convenience " further on - hopefully it makes sense.

Why dont I have a section on shooting accuracy with various type of ammo?

I read lots of reviews before spending my money. One of the things that I found strange was the time and money devoted to group size. Maybe I'm just not following the right people because I just don't understand. There are primary, secondary,  tertiary,  etc. ordered variables in every endeavor - group size doesn't even make the list.

The PF-9 is in the class of weapon best deployed at distances measured in units of feet, at most combining both of your hands (and maybe  both of you feet). I.e, ~20 feet. If you're thinking "what about the Tueller drill?", then I think you should consider a different pistol. If you believe a 1"  versus 2" group is meaningful at 20' then you might want to consider a different pistol.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has watched YouTube videos of armed citizens defending themselves in gunfights. If you watch enough of them, it becomes obvious that the type of handgun isn't important. It is also pretty obvious that very few "hits" happen beyond 20-30 feet. The saying "only hits count" is only partially true, as engaging and returning fire does a lot to break off the attack. 

Pretty high on the list of rules of a gun fight is to bring a gun, and the PF-9 allows you to check that box. 

I'm already devoting more time to this than it deserves, suffice to say that I will never intentionally measure group size with this pistol. Why? Because I think it completely irrelevant. 

Addendum: despite all the preceeding verbiage, I did sneek in a 10yd group. I shot a nice tight group low and left - classic for a right hander. Shrink the distance to 10 foot, and I would've put my shots into the left-lower thread holes of the bad guy's middle chest shirt button. 

One more thing about accuracy

That's an 8" plate. At 20', I draw from my pocket and ring it 8 times. At 60' the plate rings twice. I don't do it at 10' because of spall. First shot is almost always money, subsequent shots depend on distance.

 With my full-size 1911 I can get the 1st shot off a little faster from low ready, but subsequent shots are always money. With the PF-9 from low ready, the first shot is fast but subsequent shots are much slower.

Update: I've gotten so comfortable with the PF-9 that I grab it and blast the plate 8 times rapid fire without a thought - almost automatic. 

So what does this all mean?: It's hard to shoot a friggin little pistol, so don't kid yourself. It will take some practice. 

So Why Did I Buy This Thing?

After all, I already own a high-testosterone Series 1 Pro-Carry, (none of that sissy firing pin safety stuff), 45acp that looks tough riding in a holster with that hammer at full cock. And I can shoot that 45 too - it's a sweet pistol and a sweet cartridge. I'm somewhere over 30,000 rounds of 45acp in my lifetime from a couple of 1911-pattern pistols, 7,000 rounds of 9mm through a Glock, 4000 rounds of full-house 44mag from a M329pd, 2000 round of 357mag from a M27 and countless 22lr from a K22 and M622 so I'm not a noob.


I got honest one day and realized that I don't carry my Pro-Carry very much. Why? Because it isn't convenient. Note that I didn't say "comfortable", but rather "convenient".

Stopping a Platoon of Ninjas and Reality

I'll be honest, I've had a CHL for 20 years and there has always been the temptation to believe that (a) a handgun was an amazing death ray, (b) carrying a handgun empowered me to rid the world of bad guys and (c) possessing a handgun elevated my status amongst my fellow citizens. Like I said, it was a temptation to think that way. I've spoken to people who have fallen to that temptation and that was enough to keep me sane.

Reality is that handguns are pathetic - especially standard "human-stopper" cartridges. If I needed to get in a fight, the last thing I would grab is a handgun - if I had choice. I realized that Col Cooper was right, a handgun's main benefit is convenience as it is likely to be with you when you need it.

And the Kel-Tec PF-9 offers greater convenience than my previous carry rig.

No, I'm not going to stop a suicide squad of Jihadists, nor  am I going to pull off 25yd head-shots to save a hostage. But the PF-9 will work for up-close and ugly confrontations and it might give me enough edge to get out of a lethal situation. It is better than a sharp stick, to misquote Col Cooper again. And it is definitely better than the nice 1911 I left in the safe.

Honestly, if I allow myself to get into a situation where the single magazine and measly 8 rounds is an issue - I deserve what I get.

Yes It Goes BANG Just Fine

I grabbed some super high-end $9.99/50 fodder (sarcasm) and shot the gun. I didn't clean it, oil it or do anything other than rack the slide a few times and dry fire it. I loaded that dinky magazine up with 7 cartridges, inserted it, racked the slide and proceeded to have fun. The gun never missed a beat. Of course I wasn't using Zombie-stopping "defense" ammo - just cheesy ball. It shot where I pointed it. It shot as fast as I could pull the trigger. It just shot.

I'll reload some zippier fodder and run the gun some more. I'm not sure it is worth it to run this with aggressive hollow-points since the muzzle velocity is barely 1000fps. But I'll try some Hornady 124gr XTP running warmish - my assumption is that with these little guns it is better to use ammo that you absolutely know is going to cycle that slide. Not trying to get 50,000 round lifetime out of it - more like 500 dead reliable rounds.

Is It Hard to Shoot?

No. Not for me anyway. I put on the mag baseplate with the lip - gave me a more secure feeling that I wouldn't drop it. I shot it two-handed, one-handed, and with my weak hand - no big deal. I have fat fingers and I didn't have a problem with the trigger reset. I didn't get pinched or bruised. In fact, the recoil wasn't really all that noticeable. Yes it jumps around more than a heavier pistol and I don't think it is a great "first gun". But unless you're really metro and worried about your manicure, you won't have an issue shooting it.

My 20-something daughter held it and dry fired it. She's a pistol novice and didn't like the reach to the trigger when holding it one-handed. But once I got her grip corrected, she thought it fit her pretty well. But again I must emphasize that I don't think it is the best first gun as the small size and lightweight exacerbates problems with shooter form.

The trigger is smooth and long. If you've mastered shooting a double-action revolver then you won't have an issue with the PF-9. I hit everything I shot at - no surprises. It was actually fun because of how dinky the pistol is.

Cheap and Cheesy?

Yep. No frills. Reminds me of the Soviet-era pistols I've played with as far as fit and finish. No fancy corrosion resistance. No pretty bluing. Standard sloppy slide to frame fit that Glock taught us to love.

My Pro-Carry weighs 32oz loaded. The PF-9 is 18.6oz with 8 rounds of 124gr fodder and a belt clip. That light weight won't pull your pants down.

The 1911 is a very slim design, but the PF-9 is even slimmer.

The Kel-Tec PF-9 is the cheapest of the super-compact 9mm pistols. Ruger and SW both sell similar pistols with better fit and finish (although heavier and fatter). If pride of ownership is your thing, then the PF-9 will let you down. But this is a sub-$300 last-ditch weapon - not a range gun that will garner admiring looks. Glock makes the 43, which is grossly over-priced, heavier and fatter - a great example of a wrong product IMO.

Impression After 700 rounds

Yep, its a keeper. I can't conceal it in a speedo while at the beach, but it disappears into the front pocket of my jeans. It slips into the back pocket too.

I finally cleaned and lubed it. It has digested 125 gr LCN, 115gr ball, 124 gr Hornady XTP, 115gr XTP, and 124gr Gold Dot. The only time it missed a beat was when I  loaded the Gold Dots a little long - otherwise it always goes BANG.

I've got a slide clip coming and a pocket holster - more goodies to try out.

I'll update this blog as I put some more rounds through it and carry it around.

Belt Clip & Pocket Holsters Seem Like Good Ideas

Easy enough to install if you pound out the old pins by installing the new. I happen to like the clip right now as pistol hangs on my belt nicely. I think it gives more carry options. If I change my mind, I'll update why.

I discovered that the belt clip screw furthest from the muzzle will back itself out after 50 rounds. Locktite blue slows it way down. I dont have any red on hand, but I imagine it will hold it. I dont mind tightening the screws, but I thought I  should mention it.

The pocket holster does break up the profile and it is more comfortable in my front pocket. So far, so good.

Clip is gone

Yep, decided to remove the belt clip after carrying for a couple months and realizing that I never used the clip. The clip seems like a good idea, but I find myself always stuffing the pistol, inside it's sleave, into my pocket. Thats just the way I carry it. Convenience. 

A Word About Rust

As best I can tell, my PF-9 has standard blueing. I'm not a fan of blueing anymore, having been converted to the Glock standard of ugly 25 years ago. But you can keep the blued version of the PF-9 from rusting - and here's how I do it.

First recognize that only a few parts can rust. Second, clean the barrel and slide with something that will remove oil (I use brake cleaner ). Third, coat the barrel and slide liberally with Weapon Shield  FP-10* and allow to dry a half-hour. Wipe off excess and reassemble. Put a drop or two on the end of the hammer spring as well.

*Eezox is an even better product if you can find it. Ballistol is fantastic too if you can get it. But I have to mail order both of them. I use Weapon Shield now because "new" FP-10 sucks, and I ran out of the "old". Weapon Shield is just a better gun oil IMO - worth mail ordering. Lowly Shooters Choice FP-10 is on the shelf everywhere. 

Now if possible, carry your pistol in a sleave like the AMS product  shown earlier.  The AMS sleave material is non-hygroscopic,  and my pistol never gets sweaty after a day in my pocket, in the summer heat. All bets are off if you leave it in a leather holster.

I wipe the slide down with FP-10 Weapon Shield  when I think of it, which isn't very often.

The belt clip would rust before I FP-10'd it.

Remember,  this is a pistol for self-defense,  not a safe queen or heirloom.  Rust isn't going to stop it from doing it's job. The gun is cheap enough that you can buff it with a wire wheel, (or better yet, bead blast it) and then you can Krylon it (rattle can paint job that works for duck hunters).

Reloading for the Kel Tec PF-9

I'm not sure whether to load 9mm hot for this little pistol, as there is a point of diminishing gains with this exercise. An extra 100 fps may make this little gun uncontrollable.  We'll see.  Right now I'm gonna try some kinda boring reloads of 5.5gr of Longshot pushing a 124gr XTP. I'll run them over the Chrony when I get a chance. 

Well I got a chance. The 5.5gr of Longshot pushed the 124 grain XTP out of the 3.1" barrel @1020fps average. The 125gr MBC popped out the tube @1015fps average. Definitely more recoil than that $9.99 wonder FMJ. Never a hiccup with the PF-9 - the little bugger just works. I did take the pinky extension off the magazine as I'm not going to carry the gun that way.

Sooooo the $100,000 question is "fast enough to expand?" - and I have no idea. I am kind of thinking that 115gr might be better - might be able to pick up another 100fps (Nope, only got an extra 40fps).

Since I'm not in the Cop business,  and I don't have to shoot through cars or leap tall buildings in a single bound, I only need a bullet that will scramble a brain at 10ft. I don't want FMJ because it just takes too long for the lights to turn out.

 I'm probably over-thinking this, but thats what I do.

I just loaded up some Speer 124gr Gold Dot - 5.7gr of Longshot, CCI500 primer, and a little on the long side at 1.11" (the XTPs were loaded to 1.07").  I wanted to go faster but keep the pressure down. They passed the plunk test, but if they won't feed then I'll feed them to a Glock.

Well that was a mistake. The PF-9 doesn't like ammo loaded long. The Gold Dots loaded out to 1.11" don't feed well. Shorten them up to 1.07" and all is well. My 124gr XTPs were 1.07" and the PF-9 loves them. 

I'm not sure I could screw up 125gr LCNs if I tried. Funny, but given the low velocity from a 3" tube,  a dead soft Lead Conical Nose bullet might the best self-defense bullet.

Where Does This Fit?

A super-lightweight 44mag for woods carry. A dinky 9mm for urban carry. A lightweight 22LR for low cost plinking and training grandkids.

I've gone through phases of gun ownership. Right now I'm more utilitarian in my views and less of a collector. So I'm not very interested in "pretty" handguns. Suum cuique.

Is it a good first gun?

I've had a chance to to think about this for awhile, so here are my ramblings. Remember, I'm not some self-proclaimed self-defense expert in real life, nor do I play one on YouTube.

I think the PF-9 is going to be hard for a new shooter to master. My guess is that a new shooter is going to need to burn through a couple hundred rounds - maybe less if they get some instruction. And "master" means they can put it into action with minute-of-bad-guy-at-10-foot-accuracy within a reasonable time limit. This is of course just my opinion, and I will update this after I have a few of my friends and family members give it a try.

Update: My middle daughter pictured above, is a very good shot with a 1911, but no experience with revolvers or micro-pistols. She had the Kel-Tec PF-9 figured out after one magazine and was ringing the steel with confidence. She ran against a shot timer and was doing 1.2 second first shots from low-ready accurately. She said the gun hurt her hand, but she understood the gun's purpose, and she has no problem carrying it.

Update: An experienced Glock shooter, (but wheelgun noob), thought the trigger was horrible and struggled to hit anything. He only shot about two magazines before saying "yeuck".

Another update: My revolver shooting son-in-law worked through 5 or 6 magazines of fodder until he was ringing the steel consistently. He's a noob to micro-pistols, but that didn't deter him from mastering the PF-9. My youngest daughter, OTH, gave up after 1 mag complaining of a pinched hand and a trigger that "went on forever ".

My point with these updates is to show that the Kel-Tec  is easily mastered by those with a mind to do so. And it isn't everyone's cup of tea.

The PF-9 is essentially an 8 shot skinny revolverA lot of people buy snubbys as their only gun, and they almost never learn to shoot them well. A revolver is a good choice for a weapon that will work the first time after sitting in a drawer for 20 years. A semi-auto is a good choice for a weapon that gets used once in a while and carried in a purse/pocket all the time. My time with my PF-9 has convinced me that it is not high-maintenance, it is kinda-sorta Glock-like.

What's the difference between the PF-9 and a revolver anyways? You insert a loaded magazine and rack the slide once on the PF-9.  You swing out the cylinder, drop in 5 cartridges, and swing the cylinder shut on revolver. Neither have safeties,  both have long trigger pulls. Hard to fire either "accidentally". And kids seem to figure both out (unfortunately ).

So if somebody wants a cheap gun to go plinking with, that they're not going to win matches with, that doesn't require a high degree of proficiency to run - buy a Ruger Security 9. Don't screw around with micro-pistols.  

But if someone is serious about concealed carry, the PF-9 is a top choice. Whether a revolver or pistol, you should spend some range time to make sure they run, and to feel comfortable operating them. But people own guns they don't shoot. After all, a gun is a lot simpler to operate safely than a car.

Pro's and Con's 

+, optimized for concealed carry - not a slightly shrunken version of something larger. It doesn't try to be a "do everything ".
+, lightest, thinnest, highest capacity of the current crop of conceal carry 9mms.
+, cost optimized. No fancy finish, no brand markup - i.e cheap.
+, serviceable. Rear sight and extractor fastened with ugly hardware. No finish on barrel. Slide release is more of a decoration than functional.
-, trigger is a very long pull and requires a lot of practice.
-, 9mm recoil is snappy, making follow-up shots slow.
-, Rust. The blued version has zero rust resistance. The gun should only be sold painted.

The pistol has been on the market for a long time. Early production had spotty reliability, current production reliability is excellent. Have to be carefull when buying used.

Why not the M&P Shield?

I put a few magazines through a Shield. No I didn't throw my PF-9 away and buy the M&P afterwards.

The Shield is thicker and 30% heavier,  making pocket carry literally a stretch. Yes, it will fit in my front pocket but it is tight. And if I loosen my belt I am sagging - the weight difference is significant. 

I would say that shooting the Shield is more comfortable simply because it is larger. The trigger should be easier for a noob to master if they put in the rounds. Because the pistol is larger and heavier, recoil is markedly less.

Handling and shooting the Shield didn't change my mind about the PF-9 - the Kel Tec is the better "convenient" concealable pistol.

I know the M&P Shield sells really well.  But I  also see people carrying it like I would carry a Glock M23 - which has a heck of a lot more firepower.  Folks are choosing  a small pistol that is short on convenience and way short on firepower IMHO. But this is America and we don't all have to think alike.

Parts Breakage

Assembly pin broke. The gun worked fine, but by chance I happened to notice that most of the head of the pin was gone. The pin was still held in place by the spring. Keltec sent me a new one. I'm not keeping track of the round count, but I know I'm close to 1k.


I was taught that you always need a summary section in a write-up. So here is my summary of the Kel-Tec PF-9.

The Kel-Tec PF-9 is a sub $300 9mm pistol that is highly optimized for concealed carry. I believe that Kel-Tec made the right tradeoffs and S&W, Glock, and Springfield screwed up with competing products having greater weight, girth and cost.

I've not used Kel Tec's warranty repair service, so I can't comment on how well Kel Tec stands behind their product. But the pistol has a lifetime warranty.

So do your homework,  check the "feel" and fit (if there is such a thing with these micro-pistols), and make your decision. I made mine and I'm not regretting it a bit.