Little Kel-Tec P-11 Pistol Features New, Practical Design

by Phil W. Johnston
Handgun Editor

One of the notable displays we noticed while drifting through the 2001 SHOT Show in New Orleans was the Kel-Tec booth. On exhibit were a host of small, affordable semi-automatic handguns chambered for everything from the .32 ACP up through a new .40 S&W named, quite appropriately, the P-40.

They also had a slick looking, 4-pound semi-auto rifle on hand, chambered for either the venerable 9mm Luger round or .40 S&W. Aimed at law enforcement, the little rifle, constructed largely of composites, looked interesting, to say the least. So, too, did Kel-Tec's P-11 9mm and the even smaller P-32.

Kel-Tec CNC Industries was incorporated in 1991 and set up shop in Cocoa, FL. Initially the new firm provided CNC machine services to other industries in the general locale. While Kel-Tec provided precision machined parts in Florida, the firm's president, George Kellgren, began working on an idea that would result, first, in the production of an affordable, small, light 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The Kel-Tec P-11 was introduced in 1995. The smaller P-32 and larger P-40 followed later.

Small & Light
The Kel-Tec P-11 is notable for several reasons. Up front, the basic package sells for but a few bucks over $300, and it is made entirely in the United States. If that isn't enough to grab you, think about a 10+1 9mm that weighs 4 ounces over a pound-loaded, measures less than 6 inches in length, measures but 4.3 inches high, and goes just .05-inch over an inch in width. Kel-Tec says in the excellent Owner's Manual that "The Kel-Tec Pistol is the smallest and lightest service caliber pistol ever made." Featuring a 3.1-inch barrel, we figured that if the P-11 worked as advertised, we'd be hooked.

Kel-Tec managed to shed much of the weight in the P-11 by building the entire receiver from an attractive black polymer that looks great, possesses great strength and has the ability to shrug off all things we normally use to clean our arms. Unlike several manufacturers that rely on steel, stainless steel or aluminum inserts that are molded into the polymer receiver, Kel-Tec relies on an aluminum insert that is pinned into the polymer grip frame. Kel-Tec calls the insert "the frame" and it is only to be fitted at the Kel-Tec factory while most other parts are available over the counter.

The inner workings of the arm, few in number, we'll add, are constructed of spring steel where applicable or from ordnance steel elsewhere. With but a couple of exceptions, the inner workings are pinned into the aluminum sub frame, as we'll call it.

Kel-Tec's P-11 barrel is constructed of 4140 ordnance steel: heat-treated to 50 HRC. The slide is also constructed of 4140 and can be had in blue, Parkerized, or hard chrome finish.

The P-11 is a double-action-only (D/A/O) pistol and it may safely be carried with a round up the pipe, thus the 10 + 1 capacity. The pistol features few operational controls, but Kel-Tec wisely put 'em where they "ought to be." The magazine release is in the "Colt 1911" position, behind and below the trigger on the left side of the grip frame. It is depressed to eject the magazine, and empty magazines fall easily out of the magazine well. The slide release is also located on the left side of the receiver, again in the "Colt" location.

The pistol features no safety nor does it feature a magazine disconnector, fortunately. While the Kel-Tec P-11 does sport a visible hammer, it is recessed deeply into the slide and remains totally inaccessible throughout the operation cycle.

Field stripping the P-11 takes seconds and no tools are necessary, but the rim of an empty case makes pulling the takedown pin much easier. Takedown of an empty P-11 consists of dropping the magazine, verifying that the chamber is empty, and then locking the slide back using the slide release/catch. Then the takedown pin is pulled through a recess in the slide and the slide/barrel/recoil spring can be pulled off toward the muzzle.

Kel-Tec offers a complete line of accessories for the P-11. They include an optional gray composite grip frame, grip extension magazine, a steel recoil spring guide rod to replace the polymer rod on the out-of-the-box gun, tritium night sights, a sight kit that includes front sight inserts to change the bullet impact (the rear sight is driftable for windage).

Kel-Tec also offers a trigger shoe kit, flashlight mount, and a belt clip that is attached directly to the grip frame. The only option we tried was the neat belt clip and we've got to say that packing this baby was as easy and comfortable as it gets. Kel-Tec also offers a kit to convert the 9mm into a .40 S&W P-40 for $175, $185, or $195, depending on the chosen finish.

Range Test
We modified our range procedure for this test, keeping things more in line with a little D/A/O package designed to save the day most likely at the proverbial 7-10 yards. A pistol with a 12-pound D/A trigger and fixed sights isn't a target arm to be sure. In that light, we moved the target roller up to 10 yards and rested the P-11 on the big Dog-Gone-Good™ sandbag for the duration.

We were pleasantly surprised to find out that, regardless of the chosen ammunition, the inexpensive Kel-Tec would put a JHP smack dab in the middle of a 3-inch Birchwood Casey Shoot'N'C target at 10 yards, every time. Provided that we watched the front sight and squeezed the trigger, of course. While the trigger is understandably heavy, it is easy to work with and not bad at all. Still, our trigger finger began to protest as we ran out of ammo.

Over the course of several days, we ran nearly 200 rounds through the P-11 with not even a hint of a balk. This baby fed and fired everything we threw at it, ranging from sedate Hornady 90-grain XTP HPs to hot Cor-Bon +P 115-grain JHPs that left the stubby barrel doing 1,222 feet-per-second (fps), producing instrumental energy approaching 400 foot-pounds, 15 feet from the muzzle.

Although we did list a smallest, largest, and average group in the accompanying chart, it suffices to say that out of the box, this $314 semi-auto will nicely shoot into less than 3 inches all day long. If the magazine +1 is drained, this little package will put over 4,000 foot-pounds of energy (fpe) into the target, to boot. That ought to stop about any fight in the business. If this little P-11 was stoked with one of the hot frangible loads from MagSafe, Cor-Bon, or Glaser, it could be depended on to stop hostilities with but one shot, quickly, in most instances, as well.

We must admit that we didn't expect this much bang for the buck, if you get our drift. This is one dependable, good looking, easy-to-carry package that could save the day, nicely should the need arise. In fact, if Kel-Tec forgets where they sent this little 9mm, we're going to carry it-often. We'd stake our life on this one. Heck, with the belt clip installed, you don't even need a holster.

@ 15 Feet
@ 15 Feet
@ 10 Yards
@ 10 Yards
@ 10 Yards
Black Hills Ammunition
115-grain FMJ Ball
1,002/50/13 fps 256.3 fpe .86" 3.59" 2.86"
115-grain +P JHP
1,222/37/10 fps 381.2 fpe 2.70" 3.26" 2.87"
90-grain XTP JHP
1,174/51/12 fps 275.4 fpe 3.48" 6.31" 4.80"
124-grain XTP JHP
1,004/36/9 fps 277.5 fpe 1.54" 3.61" 2.36"
Winchester Supreme
147-grain SXT® JHP
880/56/12 fps 252.7 fpe 1.07" 3.62" 2.48"
All groups consisted of 5 shots each.

Kel-Tec P-11 9mm
Maker: Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc.
Box 236009, 1485 Cox Rd.
Dept. GWK
Cocoa, FL 32926
Action: Double-Action-only semi-auto pistol
Caliber: 9mm Luger, 9x19
Capacity: 10 + 1
Barrel Length: 3.1 inches
Overall Length: 5.85 inches
Weight: 14.4 ounces, empty; 20 ounces loaded
Sights: Fixed three-dot; rear driftable for windage
Finish: Blue; Parkerized; Hard chrome/polymer
Grips: Black polymer
Price: $314 blue; $355 Parkerized; $368 Hard Chrome

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