Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kel Tec

I'm a fan of Kel Tec.

Hear me out.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990's, when we were first beginning to see the first wave of states (including Texas) making concealed carry by its citizens an option, the choice in affordable, concealable, lightweight carry pistols in a decent caliber was pretty thin. If you wanted a gun that weighed about a pound or less, you pretty much had J-frame Airweight S&W revolvers firing 5 shots of .38 Spl. If you were willing to accept another several ounces to the package, you could get a Colt Officer's ACP, but you would blow your budget.

Then came Kel-Tec.

For under $200 in many shops, a citizen could buy a small 9mm pistol that weighed well under a pound, which would carry 11 shots. Double action only, the P11 was safe to carry, and it could be had with a nifty belt clip on it. It was at its time something of an innovation. The "frame," as I thought of it, was a plastic body that saved a lot of weight. The actual serial-numbered receiver was an aluminum insert that set in the plastic body. It was a marvel, in that it was at the time the lightest 9mm that I knew of.

I bought mine used for $125. (Which was actually a very good deal at the time.) It became my off-duty gun, and backup gun, worn clipped to the inside of my ballistic vest. I qualified with it every PD qualification for years. The only time that I ever had it malfunction was when I found some S&B ammo with particularly hard primers that it didn't care for. Easy fix: don't shoot that ammunition through that gun. It loved my department's duty hollowpoints. (Gold Dot).

When Kel-Tec offered their new P32, I was amazed again. How could a workable semi-auto be made that was under 3/4 of an inch thick, which weighed just 9 ounces? My father, who like me was a member of the KTOG site, vied to get one, and got a very early serial number. (Below 00150, if memory serves.) I shot it, and was only middlin' pleased. Later copies proved to be very reliable. Several of my friends and family got these tiny little guns that were actually smaller and lighter than previous .25 acp carry guns, and were happy.

About the time that I would have gotten one, though, Kel-Tec came out with their P3AT (pronounced "Pee Three Eighty"), which was almost precisely the same size and weight as its predecessor, the P32. (I believe that the P3AT is 1/32 of an inch wider.) I was so impressed with the lightweight, shockingly thin little .380, that I went out and bought one from Cheaper Than Dirt as soon as I got the scratch together, in the summer of 2004. I was glad that they had two in stock that night-- they were actually selling them as soon as they got them in, and with no haggling. For $260, I had my tiny gun. I got the little clip for it, and proceeded to carry it as my backup gun, wondering how I had ever put up with that thick brick of a P11 inside my vest. I had to be careful when I went to the jail, as I could actually forget that I had it on, when going in. (Jails are no-gun zones, even for cops.)

My P3AT ran fine on everything, except Winchester ammunition. Something about their rim thickness made it not run right in my gun. No problem-- there's a whole world of other ammo out there, and the rest of it ran fine in my pistol. I only had to deal with the fact that it came with terrible sights, and poor inherent accuracy. Head shots on silhouette targets were very chancy beyond 15 yards. Okay, okay: beyond 10 yards, it's hit or miss, and concentration is required to hit the head beyond 5 yards. I've been planning for the past few years to get a Crimson Trace laser for them, but Lord knows I don't ever leap into something too fast with guns.

The prices on these little plastic guns made them attractive to people on a budget, but they had something else going for them: real innovative concepts that allowed them to be lighter, thinner, more carriable than anything else in the market.

The problem was in the execution.

As I say, the accuracy of the first three Kel-Tec guns was marginal, at best. But at least mine were reliable. Well, mine were. But some people got some bad apples. The quality control was apparently not super-high. The good news was that Kel-Tec's customer service was pretty good. I had an ejector break on my P-11. I called up Kel-Tec customer service, and was sent a new one immediately, with no questions asked, and never even paid so much as postage.

My partner, who I had been hounding to carry some kind of gun off-duty, finally said that he would buy one of those cute little P3ATs, if I would find him one. I found a buddy who was selling his along with some accessories and ammo, and brokered the deal for him. His gun didn't work so well. We struggled with ammo combinations, and this last qualification, noted that it didn't eject well, and then didn't fire. I looked at it, and found that the extractor spring retention screw had backed out, which accounted for the problems with extraction. It also served as the firing pin retention screw, which accounted for the fact that the firing pin and its spring were gone. Not Present. Well, this was fixable. A call to Kel-Tec, and they again sent the parts free of charge. The lady with tech support cautioned us wisely: "Whenever you turn that retention screw, be sure to put some LocTite red on it before putting it back together!" Excellent advice. We found that the new package not only included a new firing pin and spring, but also a new screw, extractor, and extractor spring. I replaced them all on my partner's pistol, and qualified him on it at my range. The gun finally ran flawlessly.

While I would love for my partner to carry a more substantial gun off-duty, it took a gun this small, in a pocket holster, to get him to finally carry at all. As he's quite adept at irritating bad guys by putting them in prison, I am pleased to see him armed. So, interestingly enough, is his wife. As he is the sole income provider for their family of 5, and she is a full-time student, their budget is fixed. My partner can't afford fancy high-dollar alternatives. This is a good match for him.

Kel-Tec makes guns that gun snobs often sniff at. Their guns are plastic. They have a spotty record for running. They are inexpensive. But their customer service is superb. This is a large plus in my book. If you get one and it doesn't work, and they can't talk you through its fix, then send it Boca Raton, and see if they can fix it. You're not out too much money.

My online pal Oleg Volk does photography for Kel-Tec, and often has interesting stuff from them. At the last Blogorado, I shot his specimen of the then-BRAND-new PMR-30. It was a fascinating pistol: a lightweight semi-auto pistol in .22 WMRF that held thirty rounds. It seemed the ultimate backpack gun. Problem was, as we all passed it around and got it dirty shooting it, its functioning got to be unreliable. Maybe we shot it more than I thought, and the gun was just filthy. But it didn't seem to be. Maybe it was just too early of a copy. Maybe the bugs are worked out of the new ones. But I wouldn't just take that gun with me on a backpacking trip, and that's a shame; it was a really light, really accurate little flat-shooting pistol.

Oleg also brought an SU-16 rifle. It was light. It took AR-15/M16 magazines. It had an acceptable trigger. It was REALLY light. Good stuff, right? But it took me what felt like 30 seconds of "looking" with my index finger, to find the cross-bolt safety on the thing, as I looked through the sights on it. The ergonomics on the thing are just stupid. WHY would you put the cross bolt safety above and behind the trigger? I literally had to change my grip position to use it. Yes, I understand that it's nice to be different from the plethora of AR-15s on the market, but this is just dumb. I hope that Kel-Tec fixes it.

Now come the reports of Kel-Tec's first attempt at a shotgun: a dual-magazine tubed bullpup pump. The innovation, again, is there. It's got interesting features: Switch from one magazine to the other for different loads. Ambidextrous. Magazine cutoff. Sight mounting rail. Good stuff, right? Except for the flaws. It won't reset the trigger if you rack it while the trigger is still depressed. When Caleb asked Kel-Tec about this, they responded that this is just the civilian version, and that the military and police model will actually slam-fire when operated with the trigger depressed.

Um, what? As a firearms instructor for my department, I will NOT authorize a shotgun that goes "bang" without specially aiming and pulling the trigger. This isn't a good idea for police. Maybe military.

I don't know that George Kelgreen intended it to work this way, or if the marketing guys are just trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that their gun shows. ("It's not a flaw; it's a feature!") But I'm inclined to agree with my friend Tamara's assessment, that if Kel-Tec would just spend $25 more per gun, they'd really have something there.

Certainly, that's exactly what Ruger did, when they made an almost exact copy of the P3AT, and called it the LCP.

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10 Comments:

At Sunday, January 23, 2011 9:33:00 PM, Anonymous Brick O'Lore said...

I've got a PF-9. I like it for many of the reasons you list, but it is too much gun in too small of a package for my limited experience. I'm looking at some 380 options or maybe even a larger 9mm that would be easier to shoot.

I also had a good customer service experience with them for an extractor issue - actually lost the firing pin. Given this is such a common problem, you would think Kel-Tec could Loctite the guns before they left the factory.

 
At Sunday, January 23, 2011 9:34:00 PM, Blogger mupedalpusher said...

Nice ending!

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 4:49:00 AM, Blogger Carteach0 said...

Aye, and that bit of extra quality control is why I bought the LCP, over the P3AT. The cost difference was less than $40 that day, but the quality difference made the sale.

I agree.... the 'concept' is a valuable one. The 'execution' is where the gremlins creep in.

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 8:25:00 AM, Blogger Buffboy said...

To be honest, I'm not all that familiar with Kel-Tec, but like my former snobbishness of Bersa, your review raises my previous estimation. Heck, going by the internet I must have had the only Jennings 22 that was reliable and accurate. As per my comment a Tam's place, I'm not surprised by the ending.

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 9:10:00 AM, Anonymous aczarnowski said...

Your thoughts mirror mine.

I'm glad KelTec is out there doing cool things. Their guns do fill a niche. But, yes, I would pay a few bucks more for a bit more execution.

@Brick O'Lore, you have a full sized 9mm pistol yes? Starting with the small guns is like skipping right into the 400 level classes.

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Matt, while I understand your points, I personally have never been a fan of any Keltec products. Accuracy and reliability (or lack of) have never made me comfortable about carrying one or owning one. Re the 'slam fire', trust me the military doesn't allow that either!

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 11:38:00 AM, Blogger LawDog said...

Were you there when we were shooting Oleg's RFB? Bad primer wipe, and in the process of adjusting the gas-regulator to eliminate the wipe, we wound up blowing the regulator knob off into the desert somewhere.

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 12:15:00 PM, Anonymous Stingray said...

Hmm, suspiciously absent comment on the RFB from same Blogorado...

wv: dinges. Dinges ait his comments, mate!

 
At Monday, January 24, 2011 5:11:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Stingray, I didn't shoot the RFB, so I won't comment on it.

Keep in mind, friends: I don't kid myself that my personal anecdotal experiences count for much, statistically.

 
At Tuesday, January 25, 2011 3:50:00 PM, Blogger Brick said...

@aczarnowski I started with a Walther P22 and them moved to a CZ75 SP-01. I really enjoy shooting the CZ, but its size and weight don't make for a good carry gun.

 

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