By Ronald S. Markowitz

In the last several years, responding to the demand for easily concealed handguns generated by the passage of laws allowing civilian concealed carry in more and more states, handgun manufacturers have introduced a large number of weapons of this type. Examples are the .357 Magnum snubbies from Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus and Rossi; the mini-compact semi-autos from Glock; Smith and Wesson's pocketable Sigmas in .380 and 9 mm Luger; the Kahr pistols; Beretta's .32 ACP Tomcat; innumerable .380 pistols from many different manufacturers and the subject of this review, the Kel-Tec P11.

The P-11 is billed as "the smallest and lightest 9mm pistol ever made." The factory claims that it weighs 21 ounces with a loaded magazine and gives the dimensions as 5.6" long, 4.3" high and 1.0" wide. The bottom line is that this pistol easily fits into the pocket of a man's trousers if they are full cut; if the gun is in a pocket holster no one will be the wiser.

I have fired 460 rounds of ball and hollow-point factory loads through my P-11 and the following are my experiences and impressions. My Kel-Tec is the bottom-of the-line blued version with a black grip. The gun's construction is current state-of-the-art. The grip is molded plastic; the frame, pinned to the grip and providing rails for the slide, is anodized aluminum and the barrel and slide are machined steel. The action is based on Browning's tilt barrel system using a Petter style lock-up on the front of the chamber. (The same system is used on SIGs, Rugers and Glocks.) The P-11 features a double-action-only (DAO) ignition system in which squeezing the trigger causes the hammer to rotate around its axis until a point is reached where the hammer disconnects from the lever connecting it to the trigger.

The spring-loaded hammer flies forward and strikes the firing pin igniting the cartridge. The trigger pull is long and approximately 8 to 9 pounds. If you are used to a double action revolver you won't mind the trigger, but don't expect the light pull of a Glock or a single-action semi-auto. There is no external safety, as the same function is served by the long DAO trigger pull, just as in a DA revolver. There is also no firing pin block; protection from accidental discharge due to being dropped on the muzzle is provided by the light weight (and therefore low momentum energy) of the spring- loaded firing pin. Kel-Tec claims that only a direct hammer strike provides sufficient energy to set off primers. The ten round steel magazine is held in by a release button on the left side of the grip. The only other external control is the slide release, also on the left side of the gun.

The general handling of the pistol is good considering its size. The controls are well placed for right-handed shooters. The grip is comfortable, but only allows two fingers to wrap around it. This is normal for this class of pistol, I have experienced many others with this problem. There is a grip extender available from Kel-Tec that replaces the magazine floorplate. The sights are black plastic and provide an easy-to-see three-dot sighting picture. Sights of differing heights are available to allow elevation adjustment, while windage adjustment is provided by laterally moving the rear sight in its groove. The gun's fit and finish is commensurate with its price. The inside of the slide shows many machining marks, the barrel is not crowned and its interior is not polished. A company technical representative that I spoke with stated that parts were tumble-polished to keep costs down.

I stated earlier that I had fired 460 rounds through the gun to date, here are my findings: Considering its light weight recoil is not bad, but the effect of recoil is cumulative. I don't recommend shooting more than 50 rounds in one session. The trigger tends to whack the finger during recoil, this too is cumulative. You just can't get away from physics, light guns equal more recoil.

The sights are very visible (night sights are available from the factory), but mine had to be moved quite a bit to the left to center the shots at 7 yards. This causes the gun to shoot to the left at 50 feet. This makes the gun a 7 yard gun in my opinion. Accuracy is about 3" at 7 yards, shooting two-handed. This gun is meant to be used up-close and personal where most personal defense encounters are, so I don't see this as a problem.

The gun should be considered broken-in now after firing 460 rounds, but getting there I had a large number of malfunctions. Most seemed to be of the "failure-to-extract" variety. There were also some instances of the slide locking-up in the fully recoiled position, acting as if the magazine was empty even though it wasn't. Analyzing these failures I realized that they never occurred when the gun was clean and when shooting commercial hollowpoint ammo, exactly the conditions that one would carry the gun under. Except at the pistol range ,when does one shoot more than one magazine of cartridges?

My final opinion on the P-11 is this: the manufacturer has produced a moderately priced, light and easily concealable pocket pistol in a useful caliber (why bother with a .380?). The gun is sufficiently accurate for close combat and has proven to be reliable with hollowpoint ammo. Do I like it? Not particularly, but it will do the job. It will also not replace my Smith and Wesson snubbie, but only supplement it.

Kel-Tec has a web page at http://www.Kel-Tec.com. Another very useful page is the Kel-Tec owners' home page at http://www.ktog.org . This site has a lot of opinions and useful information on the Kel-Tec, including instructions for making your own holster.

I failed to mention that when I carry I use a pocket holster made by Alessi. It's very well made and being molded to the shape of the piece holds it securely, too securely in fact. I've had to develop a technique of keeping the holster in my pocket using my thumb as I draw. I should have bought Alessi's rough outside holster, it's better designed to stay in the pocket.

Timothy Bramet <wynder@earthlink.net> sent in these comments:

I just read your review of the Kel-Tec P11 and thought I'd pass on some additional information.

I purchased the stainless model with standard sights. The trigger pull was unbearable and shooting became a painful process after just 30 rounds. The result was the first few rounds were accurate and everything else suffered.

I returned the gun to the Kel-Tec service dept. and had them install a lighter weight trigger spring, the optional wider trigger cover and had them send the magazine extension. These threes items have improved the gun tremendously. In addition, Kel-Tec did not charge for labor to install the spring and trigger cover. They also polished the ramp for free. The turn around was 4 days and the service dept. was extremely helpful. I believe they were sincere in making sure I was happy with their product. It was a very pleasant experience. I also added a Hogue grip wrap which adds to the comfort factor but is not required.

I have no problem putting 100 rounds or more through the gun when I go to the range now. The accuracy is very acceptable up to 15 yards but ideal at 10 yards or less. I have found that the ejection problems I initially had are related with one of my magazines and not the ejector mechanics.

The finish on the stainless was very dull. While this did not bother me, I decided to polish the stainless and within a few minutes had a very nice shine.

I looked at many guns and found that for the size, weight, performance and money this was the ideal choice.

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