Sunday, March 04, 2012

Guns: Kel-Tec PF9 review - Fool me twice...

If you've been a longtime Shangrila Towers reader, you might remember my first experience with a Kel-Tec firearm did not...ahem...go smoothly. Notwithstanding my issues with the Cocoa, Florida-based manufacturer, Kel-Tec's products sell well, with some models being phenomenally popular in my neck of the woods.

One of these is the PF9, a subcompact single-stack 9mm pistol. It's one of the lightest production 9mm handguns in the world, weighing in at an astonishing 12.7 ounces. The gun's also gotten good reviews from other gunbloggers.

With all this in mind, I decided to grab a PF9 out of curiosity: Has Kel-Tec cleaned up their act in the past few years?


The PF9, like most Kel-Tec pistols, is a short recoil, locked breech design with a polymer frame and a double-action only trigger. The magazine holds 7 rounds of 9mm, which is above-average for single-stack concealed carry 9mms (the Kahr PM/CM series, Kimber Solo, SIG P290, and the Beretta Nano hold 6, while the Ruger LC9 holds 7). The gun has a tiny rail for mounting accessories and has a full suite of autopistol features - last shot hold open, slide stop, and a magazine release.

Ergonomically, the Kel-Tec feels okay in hand. It comes equipped with good three-dot sights and an extra extended floorplate for the single included magazine. The trigger isn't very good - while not heavy, per se, it's long, creepy, and imprecise (the resistance varies throughout the pull).

I'll skip field stripping and such because that information is readily available in other reviews.

You (don't) Spin Me Right Round

My first shots with the PF9 were perplexing. It's a hard gun to shoot, first of all: the mediocre trigger and 12.7 ounce weight make every shot an adventure, with pronounced muzzle flip. More troubling were the holes in my target at 7 yards, which were shaped suspiciously like 115 grain 9mm bullets viewed from the side, rather than little circles.

The gun was keyholing. And it was doing it with several types of 9mm. Not acceptable in any pistol, much less one designed to save your life. I'm not planning on sailing rounds all over the place in a defensive shoot, when innocent bystanders might be around.

A Second Chance...

I returned the gun to the factory, and received a brand new PF9 (parkerized, this time) thanks to Davidson's GuaranteeD Replacement policy (if you don't buy guns from Davidson's, you should, especially given the iffy QC of almost every firearms manufacturer nowadays).

The new gun shot a heckuva lot better. The trigger and small size made practical accuracy a challenge, but here are are representative groups:

Eight shots, Remington UMC 115 grain range ammo.

Several magazines worth of Winchester White Box at 10 yards. As you can see, the gun shoots a little to the right.

Reliability was good for the first couple of hundred rounds with both of the PF9s, no break-in period needed. After the guns got dirty, though, I got plenty of malfunctions, including numerous failures-to-extract. Back to the drawing board, Kel-Tec.

Vs. the Kahr CM9

I've been shooting and carrying the Kahr CM9 for awhile now, and it's probably the best single-stack subcompact on the market right now. Is the Kel-Tec PF9 a viable opponent?

First off, the PF9 is a little longer overall than the CM9, but slimmer. Kahr's published dimensions don't take into account that their magazines protrude from the bottom of the grip; once this is factored in, the CM9 is about the same height as the PF9. In practical terms, the guns are the same size, and both fit readily into the same DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster.

That's where the comparisons end. Though the PF9 is about $150 cheaper, three ounces lighter, and holds one more round, the Kahr is a much better buy. It has a good trigger (leading to much better accuracy and faster follow-up shots), it's more comfortable to shoot, and, most critically, it doesn't suffer from the extraction failures of the Kel-Tecs. If you put 300 rounds in both guns, the Kahr will run for the next 300 and the Kel-Tec probably won't, at least without a cleaning.


If you can't run a case of ammo through a gun without it becoming a jammomatic, it's just too finicky to use for defense. While my sample size is small (two PF9s), I experienced failure-to-extracts in both, and I won't recommend something to my readers that I don't believe in personally. So here's a piece of advice you won't see in a mainstream gun rag - don't buy the Kel-Tec PF9. There are better choices that won't require the troubleshooting, fluff and buffing, or tomfoolery of the Kel-Tecs.


At 12:44 AM, Blogger anon575 said...

Where did you find a kahr pm9 for $150 more than a kel tec pf9? From what I have seen, pm9 is about twice the cost of pf9. If I could get the pm9 at that price I would get it over the kel-tec.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

I was talking about a Kahr CM9, which retails for around $450. It's the budget version of the PM9.

At 1:45 AM, Blogger anon575 said...

okay my bad, good review thanks for warning me off. im welling to pay little extra to avoid a headache

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous roger said...

I own Kahr,Berretta,Sig,Glock , and PF9. Carry PF9 because it's lite and compact. As soon as I got it,I stripped it,cleaned and polished it. appox 600 rds. later, no missteps at all. I shoot 6in groups at 40 ft. using one hand. I'm very pleased.

At 1:11 AM, Blogger dank said...

Ive put @ 500 rounds thru my PF9 since new. No misfires or any issues with reliability at all. I can't hit much at 15 yards with it but it's not the guns fault. Good carry gun for back up or anything close though.


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