Kel-Tec Sub-9 carbine
SHOTGUNS clearly have a place in law enforcement, but that place is being scrutinized all over the country.
Concerns over the venerable “street howitzer” include inadequate training, because of time constraints; liability, because buckshot is not as target-selective as a single projectile; and confidence, because shotguns kick hard, and intimidated officers have been known to leave them behind.
There’s interest in the use of pistol-caliber carbines to take over some of the moretraditional shotgun duties, and Cocoa, Florida, manufacturer Kel-Tec has thrown its hat into the ring with its new SUB-9.
The SUB-9 has all of the appeal of other guns of its kind including low recoil for easier training and a single projectile for target-specific shooting. Police officers are also more inclined to practice on the range with a pistol-caliber carbine instead of a shotgun because shooting one is fun sport, which is one of the more tangible reasons besides personal or home defense that a citizen would want to own one.
The two most salient features unique to the SUB-9 rifle are its obvious ability to be folded in half for compact storage, and the interchangeable grip assemblies that allow the gun to accept different double-column high-capacity pistol magazines from many of the major manufacturers. This is a new twist on the all-American rifle/ handgun combination in that not only can you have two guns that use the same ammunition, but by choosing the appropriate SUB-9 grip assembly, both guns can use the same magazines.
The two-piece receiver is CNC-machined aircraft-grade aluminum and is held together with four hex-head screws, two of which also secure the grip assembly to the bottom of the receiver. The top screw secures the hinge block into which the barrel is screwed and locked in place by a hex nut. This arrangement allows the barrel to be screwed in to the proper headspace and locked in place with the hex nut, much like Savage’s center-fire rifles. A tall rear aperture sight is also contained within the hinge block and folds down into recessed cuts in the polymer fore-end and receiver when the SUB-9 is in the folded position.
Lock-up is by a lobe on the trigger guard that engages a round notch in the hinge block. The degree of lock-up can be adjusted for wear or personal preference by a knurled block nut that is visible through the top rear of the fore-end. By tightening or loosening the block nut while the SUB-9 is in the folded position, the barrel block is moved up or down the barrel, and in turn, regulates how much or how little the barrel block bears against the front of the receiver.
The operating handle hangs below the tubular steel stock in which the two-piece bolt and recoil spring are contained. As the SUB-9 is a blowback-operated semi-automatic, the bolt and recoil spring are necessarily heavy.
At the rear of the tubular stock is the polymer buttstock that is held in place with epoxy and a stock pin that also holds the recoil buffer in the end of the butt. A small spring-loaded pin is at the top of the buttplate and engages a corresponding recess in the front sight to lock the gun in the folded position.
Our sample SUB-9 rifle came equipped with the optional flashlight mounted to the fore-end. We considered this mount one of the more sturdy ones we have seen from any manufacturer. Attachment is by the front stock screw that passes through a hole in a lug at the top of the light. This top lug has side lugs that lock into the hollows of the fore-end. Wires from the light pass down within the fore-end to an internal cell block containing four AA-size batteries.
A steel post front sight is contained within the aluminum front sight housing and is fully adjustable for windage and elevation using the supplied adjustment tool. When adjusting a front sight, remember that the adjustments are the opposite of the morefamiliar rear sight, and we have found it convenient to remember to “chase your shots” to make the proper adjustments.
The SUB-9 is a conventional single-action semiautomatic rifle with a positive disconnector and a leveroperated safety that blocks the sear and the hammer, and disengages the trigger bar.
A slew of options and accessories are available for the Kel-Tec SUB-9 rifle. Different grip assemblies can be had to accept highcapacity double-stack pistol magazines from major manufacturers like Glock, S&W, Beretta and SIG, and there is also a cut-away grip assembly available to accept the 10-round Mec-Gar magazines from Kel-Tec’s P-II pistol (July 1995, p. 36). A sling may be had, as well as a nylon case or open rear sight, and for larger shooters there is a clip-on butt pad extension to provide 1 ” more length of pull.
To unfold the unloaded SUB-9 for firing, simply grasp the butt and the barrel near the front sight and pull. To refold, pull the trigger guard down, and tip the barrel back over the top of the receiver.
To disassemble, first make sure the SUB-9 is unloaded and all ammunition is removed from the area. Next, remove the magazine and retract and return the cocking handle so the gun is cocked and the bolt forward. Place the safety on.
Using an appropriately-sized non-marring punch, push the stock pin most of the way out. The pin is captive, so do not try to completely remove it. With the pin partially removed, pull out the recoil buffer then pull the bolt back by the operating handle and lift the recoil spring from the rear of the stock. The operating handle can now be pulled free. Tip the muzzle up, and the bolt will fall from the rear of the stock. No further disassembly is required for routine maintenance, and the manual cautions not to release the hammer by pulling the trigger with the bolt removed or the SUB-9 will be rendered totally inoperable. Reassembly is in the reverse order.
We gave the Kel-Tec SUB-9 a good workout in the course of testing. Sixty consecutive rounds were fired to become familiar with the gun, followed by the normal accuracy testing with the results shown in the first accuracy table. Following this initial accuracy test, the SUB-9 was fired 1,000 times without cleaning with AIM, American, Black Hills, CCI, China North Industries, Federal, Geco, Hansen. Hirtenberger, Hornady, IMI, PMC, Remington, Samson, 3D and Winchester ammunition ranging from 90-gr. standard velocity to 147-gr. subsonic. There was a single feed failure on round number 243 when a 115-gr. PMC hollow-point jammed against the feed ramp, pushing the bullet back into the case. In fairness to Kel-Tec and PMC. the rest of this ammunition fed without a problem.
While the SUB-9 manual does not specifically state it, the president of Kel-Tec, George Kellgren, advised that the gun could handle +P but not +P+ ammunition, so we shot another 250 rounds, still without having cleaned the gun, of Cor-Bon, IMI and Triton 9 mm +P ammunition. Again there was the same failure with a single 90-gr. hollow-point from Cor-Bon and a single 125-gr. hollowpoint from Triton, though the rest of this ammunition fed and fired without incident.
After this brutal series of function firing, the Kel-Tec SUB-9 was thoroughly cleaned and fired again for accuracy with the +P ammunition with the results shown in the second accuracy table.
After a total of 1,460 consecutive rounds, only some minor battering was evident on the barrel hinge where the bolt face slams against it. There was no adjustment to the barrel hinge necessary as the gun still locked up tight. Unfortunately, the heat generated from so many shots melted the solder that held the flashlight wires to the the battery cell, and fused one of the wires to the barrel.
Kel-Tec advises never to load cartridges directly into the chamber, never to fold or unfold the barrel if the gun is loaded and never to insert a cartridge into the chamber of a folded barrel or operate the bolt in this condition. We completely agree with these cautions and would add that by using dummy ammo we learned that a cartridge could be secured to the bolt face of a folded gun by hooking the extractor over the rim of the case. So secured, a pull of the trigger could cause the firing pin to strike the cartridge’s primer.
The accuracy and reliability of the KelTec SUB-9 rifle, combined with the interchangeable grip assemblies proved its worth to us considering its hefty price tag. While the folding feature is reliable, and would perhaps be of great benefit to boat owners, backpackers or those with limited secure storage space, we thought of it more as a novelty and one more feature that sets this gun apart from the rest. While the sights were adequate for accurate shooting, they sit quite high and seem vulnerable to snagging or breakage. We would like to have seen the front and rear sights about half an inch lower. Hopefully a .40 S&W version is on the way, as well as one that dispenses with the folding feature in favor of an integral Weaver-type scope base on the fore-end for mounting a pistol scope in Scout-type configuration instead.
Copyright National Rifle Association of America Oct 1997
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