Gun Review: Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm

The boss’s mouse gun malevolence notwithstanding, I’m still a fan of petite pistols and reserved revolvers. In fact, I was so impressed with Kel-Tec’s .380 P3AT that I just plunked down $239 of my own cabbage for one. Boy, has it been a dandy, reliably (and accurately) chomping its way through an inaugural 250 rounds of FMJs, JHPs, and assorted plastic-bagged reloads. All is good in my mouse gun paradise save one slightly-disturbing detail: those .380 bullets sure look small. For folks more bothered by this than me, the Kel-Tec Calvary has responded. Enter the 9mm Kel-Tec PF-9.

Introduced in 2006, the PF-9 is a semi-automatic, double-action-only, locked-breech pistol chambered in that archetype of ubiquity, the 9mm Luger (or 9mm Parabellum, or 9 X 19, etc.). Quickly and dirtily: it’s a larger and more feature-laden version of the P3AT chambered in a more powerful caliber. (“More feature-laden” here means that it has a slide stop, an accessory rail, and usable sights.) You may be familiar with Kel-Tec’s other small nine, the P11. Imagine a lighter, more up-to-date P-11 with a thinner grip due to a single-stack magazine and bingo! You’ve got the 12.7-ounce, 0.88-inch-thick Kel-Tec PF-by-God-9.

Aesthetically, you will not be awed by the PF-9. A thing of beauty may well and truly be a joy forever, but you’ll never find such a thing in Kel-Tec’s catalog. Although the PF-9 looks less like a toy than the P3AT (its blockish silhouette is thankfully less Goldilocks and more GoldiGlocks), it’s simply not pretty. Maybe “efficient-looking” is an apt description. Regardless, the dinosaur-spot texture on the grip surface doesn’t help.

Nor do these dinosaur spots help make the PF-9 comfortable to handle. The harsh checkering molded into the other Kel-Tec pistols’ DuPont ST-8018 feels more immediately natural than do these 20 big plastic squares. The rest of the gun feels ergonomically compromised, too. This depends largely on one’s perspective. In my pocket, it seemed a little too heavy for the capability it offered. But the thinner grip made possible by the single-stack, seven-round mag was a welcome print-reducer compared to most other small nines (nearly all of which are over an inch thick).

There’s one thing about the PF-9 that’s not up for debate: anybody who fires it will agree that it has a ridiculously long double-action trigger pull. (The re-set stinks, too; watch the video above and you’ll see why this kept my attempted second shot from happening.) Contrary to popular belief, the trigger doesn’t have a tremendous amount of take-up, it doesn’t stack all that much, and the break is fairly clean. However, when a trigger has to go forward and backward through multiple ZIP codes, you simply can’t compare it to the best guns in its class. Or even the decent ones.

To be such a small, light gun, the PF-9 sends rounds down range well—enough once you’ve learned to tolerate the trying trigger. Recoil and muzzle flip, while significant, are better managed than the P3AT (probably because more of your hand can grip the larger/heavier PF-9). Also, it’s amazing what having real sights can do for you in the target acquisition department. On the reliability front, the PF-9 never hiccuped, even after being limp-wristed, rapid-fired, and fed bargain-bin reloads. This example could be an anomaly, though. Re-learn the definition of “growing pains” by visiting the PF-9 section of the Kel-Tec Owners Group bulletin board.

If your troubled-triggered temptress isn’t enticing enough right out of the box, do feel free to accessorize. Crimson Trace offers a slightly larger version of its novel P3AT/P32 trigger guard-mounted laser for the PF-9, and the grip-frame-integral accessory rail will accommodate several tactical lights. Some owners have even had their slides/barrels ported. Holster options are myriad.

Coming away from my experience with the PF-9, two things stood out in my mind, First, as an individual gun—forget size for a minute—the PF-9 leaves a lot to be desired, mostly because of its trigger. Second, as a concept—-a small pocket pistol marginally upsized from .380 ACP to 9mm—it’s even worse. Numerous other tiny nines offer an overall better package, even if they are compromised in their own way.

Economically, the PF-9 does have a decided advantage over its competition, regularly selling for less than three bills brand new. But we learn in economics that everything happens at the margin. Compared to the P3AT from which it came—by being marginally bigger, heavier, more complex, and more expensive—the PF-9 just drifts too far out from the shore of real value to be saved by its brawny 9mm lifeguard.

Bottom line: Whether you like mouse guns or not, the P3AT is absolutely the real deal. Unfortunately, amongst a crowded field of pocket nines, the PF-9 is merely a pretender.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Kel-Tec PF-9
Action type: Double Action Only
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 7-round magazine
Barrel length: 3.1″
Overall length: 5.85″
Weight: 12.7 oz. unloaded; 18.2 oz. loaded
Grips: Polymer; integral with frame
Sights: Adjustable rear (for windage and elevation) and fixed front blade
Slide Finish: Blued, Parkerized, or Hard Chrome
Frame Finish: Polymer; various colors available
Current Value: $265-$320 depending on options

RATINGS

(Out of five stars)

Style  * *

More gun-looking than the P3AT but still no beauty pageant winner.

Ergonomics (carry)  * * * * *

World’s flattest 9mm. Lightest, too.

Ergonomics (firing)  * *

An unbelievably long trigger pull (and similarly-long reset) spoil all the fun. Couple this with the uncomfortable grip texture and a good time at the range is had by no one.

Reliability  * *

Read the Kel-Tec Owner’s Group online bulletin board – for several years – before purchasing.

Customize This  * * * *

Lots of stuff here; lasers, lights, porting, mag extensions, etc.

OVERALL RATING  * *

There are simply too many good (and even decent) small nines on the market to recommend this one.