I must confess to breaking the laws of Jeff Cooper. As you know if you’re well-versed in the Colonel’s writings (and you are, aren’t you?), the standard for judging handguns is the 1911 in .45 ACP. (Look for a celebration of the same on the 29th of this month.) He consistently referred to the 9mm cartridge as a minor caliber and had no use for double-action pistols. As someone who has learned much from what Cooper taught, what am I doing with a double action nine?
Have a look at what I’m talking about:
The weapon featured is the Kel-Tec P-11. Its trigger requires a long and somewhat heavy pull for each shot (double action only), and it spits out a bullet of .36 of an inch in diameter.
Let’s deal with the 9mm bullet first. On a discussion board, I read that Cooper opposed the 9mm because he only dealt with the full metal jacket rounds that the military is required to use. (The United States isn’t a signatory to the Hague Convention, but we abide by it.) A 9mm bullet that doesn’t expand tends to zip through the target without doing much. A hollowpoint round, on the other hand, is generally much more effective. I don’t know what the Colonel knew about expanding bullets, having not seen him discuss the subject in his writings, but he did say that a .22 revolver could be a good self-defense handgun if shooters can put their rounds into the tear ducts of their attackers. The conclusion that I’ve reached about caliber effectiveness is that bullets have to be placed where they will do something useful and have to be heavy enough to get in deep enough to do good work. Expansion keeps a higher velocity or greater mass bullet from punching through. The power of the cartridge affects how well a given shooter can control the weapon. But the bullet has to go in deep enough where it needs to go, and if it does, it likely will do the job. (Remember that for self defense, we’re talking about stopping an attacker, not killing someone.)
So I’ve accepted a 9mm pistol as a carry weapon. What about its double-action trigger? The P-11 is a pocket gun with no safety. That being the case, it needs a trigger that is like a double-action revolver–long, weighty, but smooth–and that’s what the P-11 has. It won’t fire when I put it in my pocket. My complaint against Glocks is that they have a light trigger with no safety (Plaxico Burress, anyone?). The Kel-Tec doesn’t have that problem.
Despite its weight, I can control the trigger well enough to hit targets in rapid fire within self-defense distances. While dry-firing, I was concerned about the trigger reset–the trigger moves a long way back and has to go all the way forward again–but that wasn’t a problem at the range. I did have one or two cases when my finger didn’t let it reset, but most of the time, the recoil is enough to take care of that. My question with any self-defense handgun is whether I can use it to place multiple hits into a soda bottle at ten yards, and the answer for me is yes with the P-11.
So how does it shoot? I put about two hundred rounds through it–hollowpoints, hardball rounds, American-made quality, and cheap Russian steelcased cartridges–and nothing made it stop. The manufacturer recommends against using +P ammunition too often (higher pressure cartridges), so I haven’t those yet, but my P-11 wasn’t picky about regular rounds. I could hit bottles rapidly, and even scored on a clay bird that Sharie, the love of my life, tossed across my field of fire for me. (I missed two other clays, so I need to practice more.) The sights are good, especially for a pocket gun, three white dots that are easy to pick up.
The recoil was interesting, and I say that as someone who shoots a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum with one hand for fun. The P-11 kicks hard. It weighs under a pound unloaded, and even with eleven rounds on board, it’s about as light as a cellphone. After emptying a magazine, my left hand was sore for a bit. The temperature was in the thirties, but I’ve shot many times in that kind of weather without a similar feeling. The closest that any other gun has come to this is my Radom P-64, about which I’ve written in the past (see the Categories column to the right).
The P-64 is a good weapon to compare to the P-11. The Kel-Tec holds eleven rounds of 9mm Parabellum, while the Polish gun has only seven rounds of 9mm Makarov. The P-11 is much lighter, but nearly the same size–slightly shorter (front to back), slightly fatter. The American gun’s trigger weight is 8.5 pounds as opposed to the P-64’s factory twenty-seven pounds (seventeen, now that I put a new spring in it), and its better sights make aiming much easier. It’s also cheap, under $300, tax included. The one advantage that the P-64 has is a loaded chamber indicator. It’s hard to do a brass check with the P-11, and I like being able to see that there’s a round ready to fire.
The P-11 isn’t a target gun, and it’s not nearly as easy to shoot as a service-size, single-action pistol, but it’s ideal as a pocket rocket. I can conceal a full-sized .45 when I can wear a shirt outside my pants, but when wearing business casual, I needed something smaller, without giving up rounds or power. (My .38 snubby is a five-shot, after all.)
Now I have to restrain myself, or I may run out an buy a PF-9. . .