Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guns: Kahr CM9 review - Plebian Pocket Pistol

Introduction - The Pocket Nine Battlefield, Circa 2011

Kahr's slim PM9 pistol used to be the only choice if you wanted to pocket carry a 9mm. Times have changed, though, and the Kel-Tec PF9 and the Ruger LC9 have carved huge chunks out of Kahr's market share (both guns retail for hundreds less than the relatively pricey PM9).

Kahr's solution: Nix a lot of the bells and whistles on the PM9 in order to get a cheaper gun out the door. The end result is the CM9, a pistol that supposedly retains all of the PM9's functionality at a much lower asking price (about $200 lower, actually). Kahr makes no secret of which corners it has cut on the CM9:

First Impressions

Kahr's CM9 is very similar to the ubiquitous S&W J-Frame revolvers in both size and weight; the revolvers are about an ounce lighter, thicker than the Kahr around the cylinder and grip areas, and thinner than the Kahr everywhere else. Like my trusty S&W 642, the CM9 is fairly easy to carry in a medium-size front or side pocket (dress slacks, khakis, most shorts) but probably won't work in anything smaller (rear pockets, most denim jean pockets):

The only practical difference between the CM9 and the PM9 is that the CM9 comes with one magzine instead of two (Kahr's offering a limited time extra mag promo, so if you grab a CM9 soon, even that difference is erased). The guns are the same weight, the same size, and are about equal in terms of accuracy and reliability.

Quirks and Quibbles

Since the CM9 is so similar to the rest of the Kahr line, it shares some of the same problems. For starters, in my gun, the 6-round mags do not fall free when empty; you need to physically pull the mag out of the gun to reload. I imagine it'd be pretty hard to do under stress.

The long Kahr trigger also takes some getting used to. In many ways, it resembles a revolver's trigger, but it lacks the strong return of a true double action. Resetting the CM9 trigger fully takes more concentration than it does in a J-Frame snubnose, which threw off my shooting at first.

Shooting Performance, Round 1

The CM9 turned in a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance at the range. It malfunctioned repeatedly in the first box of ammo (PMC Bronze 115 gr FMJ), and experienced a wide variety of failures - sometimes the slide didn't pick up a round off the mag, sometimes the incoming round would nosedive on the feed ramp, sometimes the mag failed to lock back when empty, etc.

As Kahr states in the manual, the CM9 requires a break-in period, so I pressed on. Sure enough, the gun's recoil spring assembly loosened up after the first fifty shots, and five hundred more rounds' worth of miscellaneous 9mm ammo (the usual suspects - Winchester White Box, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, etc.) produced only one stoppage near round # 350 - a cartridge that hung up on the inside of the magazine. For a gun this size, that's pretty decent reliability.

Though I wasn't really shooting for groups, I noted that the CM9's practical accuracy was okay, but not excellent. The first couple of mags produced an embarrassing 2" cluster of shots at 7 yards offhand. As I got used to the trigger, I managed to get around 2"-3" 12 shot groups offhand at 10 yards with a variety of range ammunition.

Some Kahr Trouble

After the range testing, I noticed a pair of issues with the gun. First, the rear of the magazine had started to split:

I know magazines are wear items. After only half a case's worth of ammo through a new gun, though, I didn't expect a defect like this to appear. On the bright side, the split magazine didn't seem to have any effect on the gun's functioning, aside from being a little harder to insert; I shot another 20 rounds before calling it quits, and they all fed and ejected fine.

After the magazine split, I took the gun home for its first cleaning. That's when I noticed the rear right edge of the barrel hood looked like it was being peened from impact with the slide:

A Little Kahr Maintenance

After the peening continued to progress, I sent the gun back to Kahr via my friendly local gunshop and got it back exactly two weeks later. Kahr replaced the magazine, but not the barrel; instead, they cut into the back of the barrel hood and polished it, presumably to give the hood more clearance during cycling. I was a little suspicious of this "fix," but decided to give Kahr the benefit of the doubt...

Shooting Performance, Round 2

I tested the repaired Kahr, sending another 400 rounds downrange in the course of a few afternoons (ammo used was mostly cheapo Federal 115 grainers, but I also ran a box of Hornady's swanky "Critical Defense" rounds). There were no stoppages with the new mag, and, after close examination, the back of the barrel hood seemed fine.


Like all pocket autos, I think the CM9 loses out to the snubnose revolver in terms of reliability and durability. I also find that drawing a Smith J-Frame just feels better than a pocket pistol - your hand position is more natural, and the overall draw is smoother.

That said, Kahr's CM9 has a better trigger and better sights than a .38 snub. It also shoots a cheaper, more powerful round, and carries two more of them. Despite my undying love for the pocket snubbie, I do admit that I find myself carrying the Kahr CM9 more and more often - that's about the highest recommendation you can give any handgun, I think.


At 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review. I have a s&w sigma .40 cal, I carry this one cause it's my only gun at this moment, but I'm looking to buy a good EDC gun. I'm between the s&w 638 (or 642,442), or a small semi. what would recommend?

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

If you asked me this question a year ago, I would've said to carry a Smith J-Frame: ultra-reliable, accurate, chambered in a decent caliber, lifetime service plan. I still have two; they're the last guns I'd ever sell.

Nowadays, I'd also take a hard look at the Kahrs - specifically the PM40 (pricey, but you can standardize on .40 S&W) and the CM9. I've run about a case of 9mm through the CM9 since this review was posted, and it's only had one stoppage. Not as good as a GLOCK, but fine for a pocket pistol, I think.

I'm currently testing a Kel-Tec PF9 - jury's still out on that one. The Ruger LCP has proven to be reliable for me, as well (only ~600 rounds through, though).

Bottom line, if you shoot a lot and can verify a gun is reliable, a small auto is a great option. On the other hand, if you can't get to the range at least once a month, a small revolver is good because you know it will go bang (and you can easily dry-fire every day to keep used to the trigger).


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