Unblinking Eye


The Kel-Tec PF-9 Pistol

by Ed Buffaloe

Kel-Tec PF-9I originally had a love/hate relationship with my PF-9, but I’ve since gotten over it.  I managed, through sheer luck, to get one of the first 100 produced.  I appreciated how small and light it was to shoot the powerful 9mm parabellum round.  The PF-9 has a double-action-only trigger with a fairly stiff trigger pull.  The trigger pull is better than on the Kel-Tec P- 11, the other 9mm pistol manufactured by Kel-Tec.  The P- 11 has a double-stack magazine, making the gun thicker than the PF-9, and in my opinion the trigger is terrible.  Otherwise, the two guns are very similar.

I’ve come to believe that for personal defense a double -action-only trigger is better for me than a single-action.  I have a tendency to occasionally fire a round accidentally with light single-action triggers.  Perhaps this could be trained out of me, but in an emergency situation the last thing I want to do would be to shoot someone accidentally--and I don’t really train as much as I should either.

The PF-9 feels good in my hand, whereas the P-11 does not.  That is the bottom line.  It took me a while to get where I could hit reliably with the gun.  You have to exercise a certain amount of trigger control to be accurate with it--pull the trigger back and hesitate slightly, steady your aim, then fire.  But I recently took the gun out after a long interval of shooting other guns, and was fairly amazed that at 8 yards I was able to produce a group smaller than my fist.

Kel-Tec PF-9 in handOn the Kel-Tec Owner’s Group website you will find a long list of problems that have been found with the PF-9.  There is no doubt that the gun was released before it had been thoroughly tested.  I won’t go into all the problems that arose and were eventually addressed by Kel-Tec, but suffice it to say that I had to send mine back to the factory three times.  On the other hand, Kel-Tec offers a lifetime warranty on all their guns, and I’ve generally found them to be prompt and reliable in their repair service.  Plus, if you are looking to buy a brand-new PF-9, all the bugs have been worked out now and the gun is an outstanding bargain.  At this writing, the suggested retail price is $333, and you can find them cheaper at discount gun dealers.  There are a number of lightweight 9mm pistols on the market today, but to the best of my knowledge none are as light and slim as the PF-9, and all of them are more expensive.


The PF-9 has a frame made of light-weight polycarbonate, an inner receiver and rails made of aluminum, and a barrel and slide made of steel.  The gun has a locked-breech action, similar to those on SIG-Sauer, Glock, and many other modern pistols.  A single connecting rod links the trigger to the sear on the right side of the gun.  The hammer must be reset by the action of the slide moving to the rear, putting it in a half-cock position, from which it is then possible to fire the gun by pulling the trigger.  Should a round fail to fire, the slide would have to be worked before the trigger could be pulled to make the hammer fall again (just like a Glock).  The gun comes with a finger extension baseplate for the magazine that allows you to get all three fingers around the grip, should you prefer it (I don’t).

To fully realize the advantages of the PF-9, you should examine the table below, which lists some concealed carry guns in my collection and allows you to compare their size, weight, and power.  You will note that with the exception of the Kel- Tec P-32 and the North American Arms derringer, the PF-9 is the lightest pistol I own.  All of  the guns that are close to the weight of the Kel-Tec are either less powerful or carry fewer rounds or both.  The Colt Mustang and Charter Arms Undercoverette are both close in weight, but the Colt shoots the .380 and only carries 6 rounds, and the Charter only carries 5 rounds, though it does shoot the reasonably powerful .32 H&R magnum.  The Kel-Tec is also slimmer than both other pistols and shorter than the Charter.  Bottom line, it is a much easier gun to carry than all but (what I consider) back -up guns, and is more powerful and carries more ammo than guns with similar carryability.  It is a lot of gun in a very small package.



Weight Fully Loaded








Springfield Micro Compact

38.45 oz

1090 g

17 cm

13 cm

3.2 cm

8 cm


.45 cal


Glock 36

27.85 oz

790 g

17.8 cm

12 cm

2.9 cm

9.3 cm


.45 cal


Glock 27

27.7 oz

786 g

16.5 cm

12 cm

3.2 cm

8.3 cm


.40 cal


Kel-Tec PF-9

18.1 oz

513 g

14.9 cm

11.2 cm

2.5 cm

7.8 cm


9 mm


S&W Model 27

35.15 oz

997 g

20.3 cm

14.8 cm

3.7 cm

6.2 cm


.357 mag


Colt Detective Special

27.6 oz

782 g

17.9 cm

11.8 cm

3.6 cm

5.2 cm


.38 cal


S&W Model 36

25.9 oz

733 g

20.3 cm

12 cm

3.4 cm

7.5 cm


.38 cal


Remington Model 51

24.05 oz

683 g

16.8 cm

11.2 cm

2.4 cm

8.7 cm


.380 cal


Colt Mustang

20.45 oz

580 g

14.3 cm

10 cm

3.6 cm

6.8 cm


.380 cal


Charter Arms Undercoverette

20.7 oz

587 g

17 cm

11.3 cm

3.3 cm

5 cm


.32 mag


Kel-Tec P-32

9.85 oz

279 g

12.9 cm

9.1 cm

2 cm

6.3 cm


.32 cal


North American Arms

5.25 oz

149 g

10 cm

5.6 cm

2.3 cm

2.6 cm


.22 cal


The sizes listed above are with the grips I have chosen for the guns--some are factory and some are not.

Sure, if I think the terrorists are going to attack on Monday, you can bet I’ll be carrying my Glock 27 and a few other choice weapons, but for everyday carry, I’m going to go with what is comfortable, reliable, and reasonably accurate.

Generally speaking, the more powerful a gun is, the bigger it is and the more it weighs.  There are definitely trade-offs to having a light, powerful gun.  Weight helps to absorb recoil, so a light, powerful gun will generally have considerable felt recoil.  This is definitely true of the Kel-Tec PF-9.  It kicks.  But not uncontrollably.  I would not recommend it for most women.

When I took my sister out shooting, she couldn’t pull the trigger on my Kel-Tec at all, nor could she work the slide.  The gun she liked best was the Colt Mustang because it has virtually no recoil and she could work the slide.  She could barely pull the double-action trigger on the Smith & Wesson Model 36.  The Colt Detective Special was better, but she still preferred the Mustang. 

Ron Graham HolsterIn regard to recoil, I find that the recoil on the Kel-Tec PF-9 is enough that when it leaps up during recoil it bites my trigger finger a little.  If I’m going to shoot more than a few rounds, I generally wear a glove.  I bought a smooth trigger shoe for the gun, which helps a lot with trigger control, but I had to glue it to the trigger, because otherwise the recoil will eventually make it fall off the gun.  Glueing the trigger shoe on meant I had to modify the frame so the trigger assembly could still be removed with a permanently attached shoe.  Information on how to do this is available in the Tec Werks section of the Kel-Tec Owner’s Group website.  When I sent the gun back to the factory the final time, they replaced virtually the entire gun.  They also did a factory install of the trigger shoe, and I haven’t had any problems with it.

In regard to ammo, I mostly shoot standard velocity hard ball ammunition at the range, but I carry the 115 grain Winchester Silvertip ammo.  I recently tested various brands of hollow point ammunition in the gun and found that the longest bullets do not feed reliably--which is to say most hollow points-- the 147 grain Winchester


Silvertips, the 135 grain Federal Hydra-Shok, the 124 grain Speer Gold Dot, and the 124 grain Remington Golden Saber were all too long.  I feel that hardball ammo penetrates too much and doesn’t expand enough for self defense carry, so I wanted to find at least one hollow point round that would feed reliably, and the 115 grain Silvertip is what worked.

Some big guys carry their PF-9s in their pockets, but that isn’t feasible for me.  I bought a Ron Graham belt holster and a spare magazine carrier, which have both worked well for me.  Later, I made an inside-the-waistband holster that has become my preferred way to carry the gun.  There are plenty of other options for a gun this small.  I’ve carried a number of different guns over the past few years, and it seems to me that the most comfortable carry guns are both slim and have small grips.  If the grip is too large, it tends to dig into my side when carried in an IWB holster.  The Kel-Tec PF-9 fits both these criteria.  It is close to being the perfect compromise between size and power.  It’s biggest downside is its less -than-stellar trigger.  If you plan to enter competition, or really get critically accurate with your shooting, you will want a different gun.  But the PF-9 is still a good concealed carry option.

Update:  In recent years I have taken to carrying a .357 revolver instead of an auto pistol.  I have a friend who owns two Kel-Tec PF-9’s, but he has stopped carrying them.  He notes that when he began to put thousands of rounds through the guns he started having repeated component failures.

Copyright 2007-2014 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
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