FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
Concealment is a relative term. In the northern tier of states for several months of the year, one can conceal any handgun. Come summer, most anywhere in the U.S., comfort dictates very light clothing, and concealment takes on a much different meaning.
Kel-Tec has been a leading source of highly concealable firearms for a number of years. The P-32, a .32 ACP pocket pistol, is revered as a small and light pistol. However, many of us do not consider the caliber suitable as a primary defensive round; indeed, many agencies do not recognize such light calibers among their authorized carry lists. Kel-Tec continued to introduce small, light pistols, in a variety of calibers up to the 9mm (and actually a .223 offering, but it is far from a concealment pistol). However, the introduction of the PF-9 caught the eye of the consumer looking for a reasonable trade-off on concealment and power.
The PF-9 is not Kel-Tec's first 9mm Luger pistol. Their original 9mm, the P-11, was itself a small handgun. However, it was built around a double stack magazine, designed to permit use of common S&W magazines for high capacity backup. At one inch thick, it was not fat. However, the folks at Kel-Tec recognized that, while it served an important role, especially for carriers of S&W pistols, they could make a more concealable pistol.
The PF-9 was introduced as the world's slimmest and lightest 9mm pistol. At 0.88 inches thick, and an empty weight of 12.7 ounces, it quickly promised to be a perfect concealed carry pistol. Indeed, the name, PF-9, translates to Pretty Flat, an apropos comment. At 4.3 inches in height, and an overall length of 5.85 inches, it again scores well as an easily concealed piece.
Like other Kel-Tec products, the PF-9 uses a double-action-only firing system, with a moderately heavy trigger pull. It uses the long proven locked breech operating system, ensuring reliable function from the 9mm cartridge. Kel-Tec is an advocate of advanced polymers, using a DuPont product known as ST-8018. This plastic feels harder than, say, a Glock, but appears to be just as durable as that proven system.
The PF-9 mounts a three-dot sight system. The rear sight is also adjustable by hex screw for windage, while it is stated to be adjustable for elevation by slipping shims under the rear sight. While the short barrel length (3.1 inches) and overall length (5.85 inches) certainly limits the PF-9's capabilities at distance, the sights are far superior to the inset sights often found on small pocket pistols. Then again, we must keep in mind the firearm is designed as a short range defensive piece, not a replacement for a duty handgun.
Although the front sight is a plastic insert to the barrel, and the rear sight could be removed, I know of no tritium or similar night sights being offered for the pistol. It does mount a partial Picatinny rail; it bears only a single locking notch, which limits it to short accessories. However, several manufacturers are offering lights and lasers that will mount to it.
Where the P-11 comes with a ten-round magazine, and will accept higher capacity S&W magazines, the PF-9 comes with single stack, seven-round magazines. Having carried five- and six-round revolvers for half of my career, a seven-round magazine that permits faster reloading than speed loaders is nothing to complain about especially when considering the tremendous advantage in compactness the pistol provides.
Kel-Tec has announced that the PF-9 will be available in their blued finish, a Parkerized finish, and hard chrome; frames can be had in black, gray, and olive drab. From experience, the frames colors are available, but the only color slide I have encountered has been their blue, which is almost black in color.
From previous experience with the P-32, as well as the experience of a number of friends who have carried Kel-Tecs, it is important to note that it is not a competitor to a Glock 26 or other compact models based on duty pistols. A steady use of the pistol will wear it out, probably over the course of a few thousand rounds. Kel-Tec states it will handle a limited diet of 9mm +P ammunition, but not on a regular basis, and does not even mention +P+. As light as it is, beyond the damage that would probably build up from use of +P+, it would also become uncomfortable to shoot.
But this is not to see what the pistol is not; it is to see how it handles within the parameters it is designed for. I took it to the Martin County Sheriff's Office range in Palm City, Florida, to break it in, wring it out, and eventually to qualify under HR218 with it. While on the range, D/S William "BJ" Brown, a firearms instructor and primarily a boat captain in the marine section, joined me.
BJ had not had an opportunity to work with a PF-9 previously. Feeding it a mixed diet including Speer Lawman 147 gr. TMJ ammo and Federal Hydra-Shock 147 gr. JHP ammo, we each put it through its paces. Out of over 200 rounds, there was only one malfunction, and BJ recognized it as being from the slide clipping the web of the hand and not fully functioning technique, not firearm. Otherwise, the TMJ and JHP functioned perfectly.
We shot it at seven and fifteen yards, the distances it was designed for. It proved more than adequately accurate for the job. No ragged holes, but two- to three-inch groups; considering we were firing relatively rapid fire, this was a good showing.
We also found it surprisingly comfortable to shoot. We had each expected it to bark and buck, between its very light weight and short barrel. It did not live up to these expectations. Recovery between shots was not difficult; recoil and impulse were not much more than from firing a full sized 9mm pistol. BJ, whose taste in firearms often runs towards higher end handguns, was impressed with the function of the little pistol.
As I have mentioned before, I am large; both large framed, and carrying extra weight. At any weight, I wear XL gloves. Thus, my hands are a target for slides, especially on smaller framed pistols. The PF-9 did not disappoint me. However, the "rash" to the web of my hand was much less than I expected. It was red and abraded, but not lacerated as I have come to expect from many small handguns. Whether this can be attributed to the ergonomics of the grip, the Kel-Tec's action, or some other aspect, I don't know, but I appreciated it.
Previously, I have only carried .22 and .32 caliber autos and a .45 Colt derringer in the pocket. Combining my size, firearm size, and pockets, only my 5.11s had adequate pocket size for a "real" pistol or revolver, and they are usually only worn when working. The PF-9 resides daily in the front pocket of my Wrangler jeans, comfortable riding in a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster. Surprisingly, it also rides comfortably in the front pocket of khaki dress pants, permitting me to relegate my ankle and IWB holsters to duty when I feel the need for more pistol, and slip on the Kimber.
Take down and reassembly are a little different. After removing the magazine, and ensuring the chamber is empty, draw the slide back and apply the slide lock. Take a fired empty cartridge case and use the rim to hook and pull out the take down pin. From here disassembly is similar to most pistols. However, on reassembly, it will trick you. After reassembling the slide, slide it back onto the frame. As you pull the slide to full recoil, rap the hood of the chamber to make it drop down and permit the slide to be drawn to full rear. You can now slide the takedown pin back in place. Be sure the takedown pin is fully seated into the frame; if not, it can work lose during firing and launch the slide downrange. This is my biggest problem with the pistol. The manual does not tell you the reassembly trick; it is an unusual step, and it is difficult.
Overall, I am very pleased with the PF-9. Despite daily pocket carry, the slide shows neither wear nor corrosion (perspiration and Florida humidity will quickly take a toll on ankle, pocket, and IWB carry guns). Other than the unusual takedown pin, the controls (magazine release and slide lock) are in the expected locations, and function well. For me, .38 Special or 9mm Luger are the minimum calibers for a primary carry gun. This pistol delivers the caliber, in a package that is slim and trim, whether one considers pocket carry, an ankle holster, IWB, or another concealed option.