August 25, 2020
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Sometimes the so-called “new” guns don’t seem new at all. Many are a rehashed version of the latest firearms trends with a few new features that dodge someone else’s patents, and finished with a new logo. If you’re tired of the last-night’s-leftovers approach to gun making, let me remind you of KelTec.
Based in Cocoa, Florida, this year marks 25 years of manufacturing for KelTec, and from the start they’ve done things differently. You could also argue that KelTec were the ones who started the single-stack 9mm trend in ’95 with its P-11 — 20 years before the Glock 43 debuted. And who could forget the SUB-2000 9mm folding carbine, the radical KSG series of shotguns, and the compact RFB and RDB bullpup rifles? Today, this innovative company is introducing its latest super affordable, semiautomatic plinker, the P17.
Let’s address the P17’s price to start. It’s advertised at $199 (which sounds better than $200), but in reality, gun store prices will offer it for a little less. That would make this gun a steal if it proves to be reliable, accurate and fun to shoot. The P17 is also easy to carry and conceal — not that Guns & Ammo would endorse carrying any pistol in .22LR as a primary self-defense tool, but you could — and some people do.
The P17 does have some competition. The excellent Taurus TX22 was G&A’s “2019 Handgun of the Year.” However, the P17 has its price and size in its favor. The TX22 is $150 more expensive and slightly larger in scale. But to each their credit, both offer a 16-round-capacity magazine.
Of course, there are other compact semiautos that shoot .22, but they are usually offered with 10-round-capacity magazines and are generally larger and heavier. Worthy examples are the new Glock 44 ($430); the Ruger SR22 ($439); Smith & Wesson’s M&P22 Compact ($389); and the Walther P22 ($300). Another comparable pistol that emulates the more powerful LCP II centerfire models is the Ruger LCP II Lite Rack ($349) in .22LR, which offers a capacity of 10 rounds.
The P17’s operating system is one feature on this gun that is conventional. It is a straight blowback design that uses energy from the fired cartridge to move the slide rearward, and then uses the compressed spring’s pressure to slow the slide and return it to battery. This same system has worked on guns ranging from the venerable Colt Woodsman to the Ruger Mark series, among others.
Storied .22 pistols have paved the way for contemporary rimfires. Like many other .22s of its type, the P17 has a unique feature: Only a portion of the slide moves rearward during cycling. Yep, look closely and you’ll see that the barrel on the P17 is fixed in position — it doesn’t move! As we’ve seen on other pistols, this fixed-barrel design tends to improve accuracy potential.
However, unlike most blowback .22s that feature fixed sights over a fixed barrel (to ensure consistent sight-over-bore alignment), the P17’s front and rear sight move with the slide’s action during cycling. When fired, the entire top portion of the P17 moves rearward, including the sights. This is not a problem provided that the sights return to the exact same position relative to the barrel after each shot. It made me wonder if this system might limit the accuracy potential of this gun.
Another KelTec P17 feature is the set of notch-and-post sights fastened to its reciprocating slide. The front sight wears a green fiber-optic insert and the rear adjusts using an Allen wrench, which KelTec kindly provides. Turning the front screw counterclockwise elevates the rear of the sight and raises point-of-impact downrange. At a certain point, the front of the sight blocks the post, but lowering the sight to that level will drop the point of impact to the ground (or nearly) at 25 yards. I didn’t find this to be a real problem for practical shooting applications.
To adjust windage, I used the same provided Allen wrench to turn the screw on the rear sight. A clockwise rotation moves the point of impact to the right, while counterclockwise moves groups to the left.
The P17 is screwed together with an assortment of Allen screws — no less than 11 that are visible on the left side of the gun. (This does not include the screws on the rear sight. There are two additional screws on the front sight.) These screws secure the sight’s polymer shroud in place on the slide and hold the two halves of the gun’s polymer outer frame together. For the range, you’ll also want to have a 2mm wrench for sight adjustments (also provided) and a 2.5mm wrench for those other screws.
If you enjoy working on your own guns, you’ll love how easy the P17 is to break down, clean and maintain. It’s disassembly procedure is fantastically simple. To fieldstrip the unloaded gun, remove the magazine by retracting the back the slide and pressing down on the two tabs that extend from the left and right of the frame below the barrel. (The tabs protruding from the lockbar are wide and easy enough to use.) Next, slowly lift and move the top of the slide forward to expose the 3.8-inch barrel. Once the slide is removed, you can easily swab the fixed barrel clean.
If you want to access the internals of the P17 trigger, you’ll have to separate the two polymer halves of the gun. This disassembly requires — you guessed it — an Allen wrench. Removing the top polymer shroud (again, secured by two Allen screws) offers access to the bolt assembly, which can then be separated from the metal slide by pulling them apart. Inside the bolt you’ll find a dagger-shaped firing pin with a spring on top and an easy-to-remove extractor.
Perhaps my favorite design element on this gun is the ambidextrous paddle-style magazine release located at the rear of the triggerguard. I’m one who likes that the paddle magazine releases on some of the HK and Walther pistols, and while I might be in the minority, I find the paddle design easy to reach with either hand when shooting. Once you’re accustomed to it, this system is quite intuitive.
The P17’s frame houses the internal hammer. You’ll also see that there’s a square window at the rear of the slide that could acts as a cocking indicator. It also features an ambidextrous safety lever and a small, extended slide-release tab located in front of and above the safety. Like the slide stop, the safety has a relatively wide tab that’s easy to access from either side.
Does the P17’s grip make you feel like you’re picking up and holding something other than a KelTec? Nope. The same can be said of the angled slide cuts on the polymer shroud. The grip on the P17 features KelTec’s signature rectangular box texturing, and there’s a slight arc to the rear of the grip that allows it to sit comfortably in the hand, while also promoting a high hold. The left and right portions of the grip are flat, and the front strap is angled for complete comfortability.
Up front, KelTec designed an accessory rail under the barrel’s dustcover that will accommodate the attachment of most aftermarket lights and lasers. And to the point of attaching accessories, the P17’s extended ½x28 barrel is threaded to accept either a muzzle device or suppressor. Out of the box, the barrel is given a thread protector and wrench.
At The Range
As you might expect from a handgun with this much polymer, the P17 is light. Guns & Ammo’s test gun weighed 15 ounces loaded and 11 ounces empty. Suffice to say, the P17 has minimal mass. Magazine capacity is 16 rounds, which is impressive considering its price tag. We also send our compliments to KelTec for including three polymer magazines.
The trigger on the P17 is actually quite light, also. I measured an average right around 3 pounds on a Wheeler gauge. It had a lot of take up and tightened just a bit before firing a shot, but it is target-gun light despite not being target-gun clean. Once you shoot the P17 a few times, you’ll get a feel for the trigger and will be able to better predict when it’s going to fire.
The best five-shot group of the day was obtained using Winchester’s Wildcat 40-grain copper-plated load. From 25 yards, it measured 1.85 inches. It was a strange group with two shots touching inside the center square and the other three shots touching almost 2 inches higher. I had to pull the target off the backing to be sure that there were indeed five holes. Winchester’s Wildcat ammunition later produced the second-best group of the day, and it seemed to be the ammo that the P17 preferred. CCI’s Mini Mag hollowpoints proved to be the second most accurate. Despite the sights moving with the slide, this didn’t seem to detract from overall accuracy.
Twenty-two long-rifle ammunition isn’t the easiest cartridge to make reliable in semiauto pistols. As a point of record, Editor Eric Poole tested two prototypes of the P17 in 2019 and experienced reliability problems. He ended up returning both of G&A’s preproduction pistols to KelTec with advice that they be further developed.
Since January 2020, production P17s have had a few reported problems. However, the one I evaluated produced only a few malfunctions. The majority of the issues involved spent casings getting stuck inside the gun’s action, which jammed the pistol when the return spring slammed the bolt home.
There were also several failures to ignite the primer, and the firing pin struck high on the rim. Four times the extractor failed to draw the spent case from the chamber, but three of those occurred when shooting Aguila ammunition. Two of these failure-to-extract times happened in a row, so I swabbed out the P17’s chamber to be sure that the extractor and spring worked properly. Unfortunately, the problem occurred again. The feeding, extraction and ejection issues were most common in the first 100 rounds, but I later tried a CCI Mini-Mag High Velocity load and completed the remainder of my endurance testing without issue.
Though the P17 is not perfect, it does offer great value potential. And while its plastic styling and plethora of Allen screws could be a hang-up for some, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably not one of them.
The P17 is intended to be a fun gun, and for under $200 it delivers when fed a load of ammo that it likes. Which ammo is best? I suggest that you shoot a box from several different types and enjoy the process of figuring that out for yourself. Each of G&A’s samples preferred something different.
KelTec isn’t tied to the traditional formula of gun making, and the buckets-of-fun P17 is an example of why their guns remain so appealing.
- Type: Blowback operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .22 LR
- Capacity: 16+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.8 in.
- Overall Length: 6.7 in.
- Width: 1.2 in.
- Height: 5.3 in.
- Weight: 11 oz. (tested, empty)
- Finish: Black
- Sights: Fiber optic (front); adj. notch (rear)
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 2 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $200
- Manufacturer: Kel-Tec CNC Industries, 321-631-0068, keltecweapons.com
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