By September 18, 2007

Kel-tec PF-9 handgun review

Firearms are a passion of mine. If you’re a regular Gibberish reader, you know this. What you may not know is that I’ve held a concealed carry permit in the Commonwealth of Virginia ever since I turned 21. Most kids buy a twelve pack or go barhopping; I bought my Glock 27 and shot five hundred rounds of ammunition instead. I took a carrying hiatus while I lived in Oregon and Maryland, but aside from that time period if you saw me in public, chances were I was armed.

I’ve learned a lot about comfortable concealed carry over the last decade-plus. There are three goals anyone with a CCH license tries to achieve: safety/protection, comfort, and concealment. The desire to safely carry a weapon for protection is obvious. If you wear a handgun (or handguns, redundancy is your friend), then comfort is a major concern. I sit for most of the day, whether it be at the office or riding in my car. The fall and winter give you some allowances on clothing and holster options, but during the summer even small-framed handguns feel like wet anvils as you sweat just standing still.

Lastly, a key part of CCH is concealment. Freaking out that table of soccer mommies at your favorite restaurant doesn’t do anyone any good. You learn very quickly to reach for things at the store with your off-hand so that your shirt doesn’t ride up and show your piece. Take your gun out before you sit down on the toilet, or risk a nice “clank” if your handgun falls onto the bathroom floor. Sure, you might be able to pack a full-framed 1911 .45 ACP if you wear a suit all day, but my standard attire has been a tshirt and shorts/jeans. Even that is easy street compared to the poor guys who have to wear business casual. Too strict to keep a shirt over a belted handgun, too lax to wear a jacket all day. All of these issues combined lead consistent-carriers like myself to smaller and smaller handguns.

So, enter the pocket guns. I have mentioned my North American Arms Guardian .32 ACP before, which has ridden in a pocket holster for a number of years. I recently wrote about some of my concerns with the handgun not discharging properly. Whether it was poor technique on behalf of other people shooting the Guardian, cheap range ammunition, or both, I wasn’t really interested in leaving a failure to chance. I also disliked the fact that my Guardian’s magazine release would disengage whenever I squatted down. I’ve been compulsively checking to see if the magazine was seated properly. I wonder how many people saw me squeeze something in my pocket and wondered what the fuck I was doing. Not very conceal-y. That might also explain why parents rush their children away from me all the time. :shrug:

I was also concerned about the caliber. .32 ACP isn’t the smallest round out there, but it’s pretty damn close. If I ever had to use the Guardian, I knew it would be a short-range, multiple-shot nightmare. I intended to use it at the same range and with the same techniques as using a knife, which basically boiled down to grabbing my assailant with one hand while pulling the trigger with the other. Given the small size of the .32 ACP bullet plus the Guardian’s tendency to misfeed (again, bad range ammo? Who knows), I started looking elsewhere.

The Kel-tec PF-9 is supposedly the thinnest 9mm automatic made. True to the hype, it’s pretty damn thin, less than one inch. It holds seven rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber. Thanks to the polymer receiver and grip, the pistol is very lightweight. I was surprised to discover that it weighs 18.2 ounces fully loaded. The Guardian weighs 15.8 ounces, and my “big” Glock 27 weighs 27.4 ounces. While the PF-9 is heavier than the Guardian, the increased size makes it feel more balanced. It feels less heavy than the Guardian.

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Personal protection pyramid: Glock 27, Kel-tec PF-9, and North American Arms Guardian from bottom to top.

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The Kel-tec (left) is thinner than the Glock 27. It may not look like it, but the difference makes a huge impact on comfortable concealed carry. There’s no way I could pocket-carry the G27.

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The Kel-tec (right) is close in thickness to the Guardian.

The Kel-tec is built for one thing only: deep concealment carry. It doesn’t have fancy gel grips, it doesn’t have a sweet take-down lever, it doesn’t have a decocker, or an external safety. There is no drop-in laser dot contraption for the Kel-tec. The PF-9 has cheap-o fixed sights with a little dab of high-visibility paint on for good measure. The slide lock lever doesn’t release like a typical auto, so you have to “rack” the slide to chamber a round. The mag release button is plastic but functional. The magazine is metal, but isn’t going to win any awards for design or ergonomics.

The PF-9 shoots like it looks. It’s all business. Lacking one of those “new-fangled” external safeties, the PF-9 has a really, really long trigger pull. I am sure it’s bad self-defense shooting form, but at the range I pre-loaded tension on the trigger before firing the gun. Tutorial: pull the trigger back about two-thirds, feel the trigger start to catch, and then slowly pull the trigger the rest of the way.

Recoil and report are both extreme. The Kel-tec is louder than my G27, which isn’t known for being a mouse. After my first round of shooting, I remarked that the PF-9 may be the only handgun that’s more uncomfortable to shoot than the Guardian. Trigger slap (rebound) is painful. My trigger finger hurt for two days after shooting the Kel-tec for the first time. I’ve named my PF-9 Ike in honor of such a vicious trigger slap. The last time I took it to the range, I got a blister on my palm from the PF-9’s jagged grip pattern. I am able to successfully double-tap my target at seven yards, but shooting my G27 is a dream in comparison.

I was originally pretty down on how rough the PF-9 shot until I remembered I didn’t buy it to replace my Glock, I bought it to replace my Guardian. The PF-9 is a lot more accurate, feels more comfortable in my front pocket, and packs a bigger punch than the Elf Gun. It’s okay if the sights are meh, that the trigger pull is long, and that shooting two hundred rounds in one session makes my hand hurt the next day. This isn’t a target pistol, it’s a people-pistol, and if I fire all eight shots in “real life,” it will have been a very very bad day.

I am very impressed with the form factor of the PF-9, and unlike the Guardian have yet to have a misfeed. Every time I pulled the trigger the pistol went “bang.” I’ve carried it for almost two weeks now and feel like I made the right choice. I put it in my pocket and no one is the wiser. I have two holsters for it (reviews forthcoming), and thanks to them the PF-9 is a great little backup/deep concealment carry package.

It’s hard to find the PF-9 right now, but I found it at a very small-time local gun shop for $4 under the MSRP, at $329.99. The spare mag cost me an arm and a leg ($28), but they are going for $40 and more on Gunbroker.com right now. Ike is loaded with Federal 124 grain Hydro-shok rounds, which he cycles with aplomb. If you’re looking for a good pocket gun or perhaps even a daily carry piece, take a look at the PF-9.

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161 Comments on "Kel-tec PF-9 handgun review"

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  1. Hamerweizen says:

    My PF9 frequently light-strikes the primer, failing to ignite, and it also FTF with some frequency. I have only about 100 rounds through it, all factory, and so far I am not impressed. If it doesn’t start ironing out these problems in the next hundred rounds or so, it is going back to Kel-Tec. I just bought a different mag (gee, it only came with one) so maybe that will make a difference. A BUG has work every time. So far, we’re not there.

  2. Terry Schneider says:

    I had the same pain the first time I shot my PF9 and was sorry I bought it…then I put a Hogue Handall Jr grip on it and voila, it now is easy on the hand, except for trigger pull. I keep reminding myself it was bought to save my life, not for target practice and hunting. Toward that end, I’m deciding between a Glock 17/19 and FNH X-9 and P-9 for field and range.

  3. Carl says:

    Bought a new PF-9 at gun show Saturday but haven’t fired it yet but I’m anxious to. Waiting on Uplula mag loader due to neurological
    condition making my hands and fingers weak. It will be my carry gun. Have a .38 spl 101 for home and console in car. Enjoyed your review. Trying to learn as much as I can about before firing it first time. Your review was helpful.

  4. Carl says:

    Forgot to mention, I traded in a Ruger LCP .380 and paid $40 difference. Good deal?

    • DrFaulken says:

      Hi Carl, thanks for reading, and for your comments.

      I prefer the PF-9 to the LCP since we all carry 9mm in the house. It’s nice having the same caliber on hand for our CCW pistols.

      As you may have read from the comments, make sure that your pistol functions well before you decide to carry it full-time. I’d recommend at least 200 rounds of ball / FMJ ammunition before making a decision.

      I’ve put well over 2000 rounds in my first PF-9 without any problems, and liked it so much I bought a second one. What finish do you have on your slide? When I bought my first one it was only available in blued, the second one has a matte finish that’s pretty nice but I scratched it already :\

  5. Kris Bennett says:

    Hi All! I recently got a PF-9 for a self defense firearm. I am pursuing my CHL in Texas and have been to the range twice. After reading all the reviews here I feel much better about my experience. I’m fairly new to shooting and am looking for any thing to make shooting my pistol a better experience. I’m a small lady so the small size is a huge plus for me, but each time I’ve gone to the range, after 50 rounds, I’ve got a blisters on my firing hand – one on the top of my thumb and a few on the palm of my hand. Any suggestions to make this pistol more “me” friendly?

  6. DrFaulken says:

    Hi Kris!

    There are two things about the PF-9 and similarly-sized guns.

    One is that they aren’t very much fun to shoot 🙁 There will always be some level of discomfort compared to larger-sized pistols. See my review on the Polish Radom P-64 pistol. Holy crap!

    The good news is that your particular situation may be due to your grip. You may not have the pistol positioned 100% correctly, and you may be gripping it too tightly. I don’t want to say you’re “doing it wrong,” but I have the same issue with my Glock 26 and Glock 19, and my girlfriend has the same issue you described with her PF-9.

    I am going to guess that the ones on the palm of your hand are near the heel?

    How is your shot placement? If you are right handed, are they low and to the left, or are they on target?

    You can send me email at drfaulken@gmail.com with pictures of your targets, your hand, and your grip and maybe I can point you in the right direction.

    Thanks for the comment, and enjoy your PF-9!

  7. Mike W. says:

    I also have 2 PF9’s…… l love um…..have hidden inside a book in the computer room….! one has a laser (I carry that one…!

  8. Bob Montgomey says:

    Fell in love with the PF9 at first sight…now if I could only get it to work. Struggled through 100 rounds with typical malfunctions including misfires with the firing pin striking the primer 1/16″ from the outer edge with no discharge. I found it comfortable to shoot & everything I ever wanted in a pocket gun. Hopefully the factory will get it fixed for me.

  9. steve noe says:

    have PF-9 and P-11, love both, also have .22 conversion kits for both from twisted industrys that allows me to shoot.22 LR rounds for cheaper target shooting, takes about 1 minute to convert them back and forth

  10. Bob Montgomery says:

    Happy to report my PF9 was returned from the manufacturer refurbished free of charge in only about 2 weeks & has functioned flawlessly ever since. They didn’t say what was wrong, but replaced the slide & polished the loading ramp. I have fired more than a dozen different loads & have settled on the 147GR Federal JHP advertised as used by the Navy Seals. Sportsmens Guide has factory magazines for less than $20.

    I am a big guy, but I only have an average size hand…I don’t find this little gun objectionable to shoot. It is not as comfortable as my Browning HP, but that doesn’t fit in my pocket.