To paraphrase an overused marketing catchphrase, “9 is the new .380.” And it’s not really a fanciful overstatement. Why? A couple of years ago, microsize .380s were all the rage, but today’s crop of ultracompact 9mms are nearly as tiny and considerably more potent.
If there’s one cartridge that’s had its potential boosted by new-component technology in the last decade or so, it’s the 9mm Parabellum. Although it was once derided by legions of .45 ACP fans, it’s safe to say that the high-performance 9mm loads of today are different enough from what was available in the 1960s and 1970s as to almost make them seem like an entirely different species.
Kel-Tec’s PF-9 is a pretty good example of new-breed, chopped-down 9mm “pocket pistols.” It’s a polymer-frame, hammer-fired DAO auto with an unloaded weight of about 12½ ounces, an overall length of just over 5½ inches and a width of just under an inch (thanks, in part, to its single-stack [7+1] magazine). Bear in mind that the company’s original groundbreaking .380, the P3AT, weighs 8.3 ounces and has a 5.2-inch OAL. That’s not a big-enough difference, dimensionally, to work up a lather about. And if it does concern you, the power differential should more than compensate for your misgivings.
It was exactly that, the “power differential,” that made me a bit apprehensive just prior to shooting the PF-9. Even the stoutest 9mm loads are relative pussycats in a full-size gun—say, a Glock 17 or a Browning Hi-Power. But from the minimally sized Kel-Tec, I figured the 9mm would be a completely different breed of cat. The three loads I had on hand at the range were Hornady 115-grain Critical Defense FTX, Hornady 135-grain Critical Duty and Remington 124-grain FMJ. Recoil-wise, I confess to being a bit curious over the Critical Duty stuff. Anything designed to prevail over the barriers mandated in the FBI protocols would be, I figured, fairly energetic when fired from a 12½-ounce gun.
At first I grouped the pistol at 25 yards with all three loads. Admittedly, this is more yardage than fits the gun’s intended purpose, but nontheless I was fairly impressed. The Critical Defense 115s averaged 3½ inches, which is pretty good considering the abbreviated sight radius and long (nearly 1¼ inches of travel), creepy five-pound trigger—not that you’d want a crisp, lightweight break on a hideout, carry-type pistol with no manual safety anyway. Velocities from that 3.1-inch barrel were, naturally, a bit lower than what you’d get from a longer tube; they ranged from 980 to just over 1,000 fps. The three-dot sights were a lot easier to acquire than you’d expect from a “point and pull” item like this (the pistol comes with a small Allen wrench for rear sight adjustment).
During several seven-yard rapid-fire drills, this became even more apparent. As far as recoil and controllability went, the little polymer-frame gun was a lot more tractable than you’d expect for a 9mm, even with the 135-grain Critical Duty stuff. The PF-9 comes with an extended magazine that might have made things easier still, but I elected to shoot it with the flush mag, wanting to use the gun in its most compact configuration as, I suppose, most end-users will.
The only malfunctions I experienced in the course of 120 rounds or so were three failures to extract with the 135-grain Critical Duty ammo. This happened early on, and toward the end of the session things were running smoothly. It appears that the gun—or the one I had, at any rate—responds to an out-of-the-box “shoot in” period.
The slide-release catch is—as you might expect—pretty tiny and was rather difficult to operate. This really isn’t a deal breaker; on a gun this size (or, to be honest, on an auto of any size) you’re better off racking the slide to load the chamber anyway.
I’m no engineer. It may indeed be possible to build a slimmer, lighter, smaller 9mm than the PF-9. But I honestly can’t see how. Particularly at this pistol’s modest price level.
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