Tested: Kel-Tec's CP33 Pistol and KS7 Shotgun

posted on August 7, 2019

Often, around the time that the shooting industry settles down into a comfortable routine regarding one product niche or another, Kel-Tec will come along and give it a good swift kick in its complacency. For decades, many .22 LR pistols designed for competition or casual plinking have been sporting 10-round, single-stack magazines. The new CP33 takes the magazine from single-stack to a 33-round quad-stack while challenging rimfire pistol design on other levels as well. 

When it comes to shotguns, Kel-Tec's dual magazine tube, pump-action bullpup KSG took the market by storm in 2011. Its compact 26.1" overall length and 15-round ammunition capacity have kept it selling steadily since its release. Having already explored longer and shorter versions of the KSG configuration, the company has opted to slim down the platform to a single magazine version called the KS7. The result is a handy, lightweight defensive shotgun that costs half as much as the original KSG.

The Kel-Tec CP33 .22 LR Pistol
In 2010, I had my first opportunity to handle Kel-Tec's initial foray into the world of rimfire handguns at the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas. It was the PMR-30 semi-automatic pistol chambered in .22 WMR. This pistol stands out from the crowd because of its unloaded weight of 13.6 oz., light single-action trigger and its unconventional pie-wedge magazine that holds up to 30 rounds of ammunition. Fans were quick to request a .22 LR version of the platform which would be significantly less expensive to feed.

PMR-30 chambered in .22 WMR (Left) next to the new CP33 .22 LR (Right).

But not too long after the PMR-30 started shipping, the U.S. experienced a serious ammunition shortage—one that many enthusiasts (and industry experts) didn't see coming. In particular, there was a dearth of .22 LR ammunition as concerned consumers and speculators cleaned out the shelves of sporting goods and big-box stores across the nation. Some folks were so discouraged by the ammunition shortage that they traded in their rimfire guns for center-fire models. But by 2018 it was clear that the rimfire ammunition shortages were well and truly over, making 2019 a good year to bring the .22 LR CP-33 semi-automatic pistol with its 33-round magazine to market. 

Although the CP33 sports a set of controls, grip frame, and a pie-wedge type magazine lifted from the PMR-30, the upper half of the pistol is noticeably different in several ways. The lower pressure levels produced by .22 LR ammunition allow the CP33 to employ a simple blowback-operated action instead of the hybrid blowback/locked-breech system required for firing .22 WMR. The PMR-30 has a slim 0.95" profile, a reciprocating slide assembly and just enough of a grip extension to protect the shooting hand from slide bite.

The CP33's aluminum upper is 1.16" wide, fixed in place and it extends 2.5" beyond the back strap of the grip.  It's interesting to note that the softer shooting .22 LR pistol weighs just about 10 oz. more than the .22 WMR version. But these differences make sense because the PMR-30 was designed as a lightweight trail gun while the CP33 is built for competitive target shooting and casual plinking at the range.

A vented full-length aluminum housing supports the sight system and provides an integral 7.5" Picatinny optics rail. This housing is fixed in place to stabilize red dot and magnified optic. It adds some weight but works to stabilize the pistol during recoil. The front sight is a squared-off metallic housing with a bright green fiber optic. The fully adjustable square-notch rear target sight is outfitted with red fiber optic dots. The muzzle of the barrel is threaded at ½-28 TPI for muzzle accessories, and the pistol ships with a thread protector installed. A vented, 2.75" long aluminum housing is mounted below the barrel and provides a single MLOK accessory slot for light or laser modules. 

The polymer charging handle is located behind the rear sight. It’s supported by two sheet metal action bars which cycle the bolt assembly. The handle's sheet metal supports seem a bit flimsy for a competition gun but they held up just fine over the course of this review without any issues. Just below the charging handle you'll find left and right lanyard loops, not unlike those found on point-and-shoot cameras. Whether they'll be put to work as wrist lanyard supports or single-pointsling attachment loops has yet to be seen. 

The external controls are the same as the PMR-30 with a slide catch on the left side of the frame, an ambidextrous safety lever and a magazine release located in the heel of the grip instead of behind the trigger housing. The polymer single-action trigger is housed in an undercut trigger guard with a flat face that can serve as a finger rest. The pistol tested for this review exhibited a 3-lb. trigger pull that felt clean and smooth.

The wedge-shaped magazine is made of clear polymer with openings on both sides that are nearly an inch long. It's been called a quad-stack magazine because a central steel post divides the ammunition into two double-stack columns. The heel-mounted magazine release may seem a bit odd for what is being marketed as a competition pistol, but it does have its advantages. The chances of unintentionally bump-releasing the magazine are close to nil and it's easy to operate left or right handed.  Although the release may be slower to operate, especially with magazines that do not drop free of the grip, the gun holds three times as much ammunition as typical 10 or 12-round single-stack target pistols. There is no magazine safety, so the pistol will fire when the magazine is removed from the grip.

It's important to remember that .22 rimfire pistols tend to be ammunition sensitive at least some of the time. I have yet to find a single make or model that runs reliably with every load the market has to offer. While conducting a bench check of the 33-round magazine, I tried to load it with some Winchester bulk-box rounds that I'm currently using up for informal testing. Each round was obstinate about going into the magazine and when it was about half way full, the follower would go no farther. It was frustrating, to say the least.

After picking those rounds out of the magazine, I tried filling it again with different loads manufactured by Aguila, Browning, CCI, Federal, Remington and even a different load from Winchester. With the exception of that one Winchester load, the magazines loaded smoothly and easily. I took a few rounds of the stiff-loading ammunition to the range where it failed to feed properly with every shot fired.

However, all of the test ammunition that fed easily into the magazine also ran reliably in the pistol. With the exception of a couple of dud primers found among bulk-box loads, the pistol hummed right along nicely for hundreds of rounds. The lessons learned are first, make sure to test new .22 pistols with a variety of ammunition before buying a case of a given load. Secondly, pay attention when loading the CP33 magazines. If a particular load feels rough or sticky when loaded, most likely it’s not going to perform well in the pistol.

Formal benchrested accuracy testing was conducted at 25 yards using the factory installed fiber-optic sights to fire five 5-shot groups with three different loads. A Lab Radar chronograph was used to measure the muzzle velocity of 10 consecutive shots for each load. Aguila Inceptor 40-gr. copper-plated flat point produced an average muzzle velocity of 1186 f.p.s. with a five-group average of 3.00". Federal's BYOB Champion  36-gr. copper-plated hollow points launched at 1074 f.p.s. with a group average of  3.26". Remington Golden Bullet 36-gr. plated hollow points generated a muzzle velocity of 1066 f.p.s. with a group average of 3.12".

The CP33 proved to be a pleasure to work with at the range. It exemplifies the enjoyable, affordable, soft-shooting fun rimfire pistols can provide. It feels light and well-balanced thanks to the grip's more central location. Felt recoil is nearly non-existent, making it a good fit for almost all skill and experience levels. The sights are easy to see and the trigger feels like it should cost more than it does. And who can complain about cutting magazine swaps by a third? Some rimfire enthusiasts will not embrace the black-polymer sci-fi-blaster appearance of the CP33, but I for one appreciate the cool factor it brings to the table. With its modular polymer and aluminum construction, the future possibilities for colorful finish options and useful accessories are bright indeed.  

The KS7 12-ga. Shotgun 
Although Kel-Tec did not invent the bullpup shotgun, the KSG certainly drove the concept into the mainstream American shooting market. The original bottom-ejecting, dual magazine tube model holds 14+1 2¾" shells while avoiding any NFA tax stamps or paperwork by meeting the over 26" length requirements for sporting and defensive shotguns. It's been well-received by law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities and Special Forces. But it's been the KSG's popularity with Joe Public that's kept it selling well for nearly a decade. Several other companies have developed their own double-tubed (and in some cases, double barreled) scatter guns, but they have not been nearly as successful.

However, the KSG is not the best fit for some applications. It has an unloaded weight of 6.9 lbs., which goes up by more than a pound with 15 rounds of buckshot on board. The operational process of working with two magazine tubes is not everyone's cup of tea, while the suggested retail pricing starts at $990 and goes up from there. Some enthusiasts would prefer to trim down the weight, work with the simplicity of just one magazine and pay less for the platform.  Kel-Tec has answered these customer requests with the release of the slim KS7 12-ga. shotgun with a suggested retail price of $495.

The KS7 pump-action clearly exhibits Kel-Tec's signature design features. It's called a bullpup because the action and ejection port are located behind the trigger group. The gun's layout is ambidextrous with just one downward facing port for both loading and ejecting spent shell casings. The liberal use of durable, high-impact polymer, precision machined aluminum and strategically placed steel components reduces the gun's weight to 5.9 lbs., unloaded. It can hold 6+1 3" shells or 7+1 2¾", which adds about half a pound to the weight. Along with being slimmer, this model sports some improvements not found on older models and it's easier to operate.

Among the most noticeable changes is the sight system. The KSG's Picatinny style rail, with no iron sights, has been replaced with a 2" tall polymer sight channel. The front end is fitted with a bright green triangular fiber optic with three MLOK accessory slots to either side. The rear of the channel is configured to serve as a carry handle, much like the handle found on early M16 service rifle. This sight and handle combo is removable if you prefer installing an optics rail.

A machined aluminum bracket, which also supports the magazine tube and sight channel, is secured to the muzzle of the barrel via two large nuts. The smoothbore 18.5" barrel has a fixed Cylinder size choke, which is to say, no choke for maximum shot spread at close-quarters distances. The magazine tube has a knurled cap which can be twisted off manually in order to remove the magazine spring and white polymer follower for cleaning. One feature of the KS7 that other defensive shotguns would benefit from is a series of view ports. These left and right side slots allow the operator to visually verify the load status of the magazine, much like the witness holes often found in semi-auto pistol magazines.

The lightly textured polymer fore-end slides right up to the muzzle, so it has a flared ridge around the front end to help keep the support hand from slipping into harm’s way. Behind the fore-end gripping surface are additional MLOK accessory slots and a pair of action bars to cycle the bolt assembly.

The textured pistol grip and trigger guard, along with the remaining external controls, are integral to the polymer lower which extends back and around the ejection port. The lower is secured to the steel upper that houses the bolt assembly via two steel pins. When removed from the receiver, these pins can be placed in the storage ports located in the pistol grip just behind the trigger. 

The ambidextrous bolt release is mounted to the front of the trigger guard. The polymer bow trigger had a clean, smooth pull that weighed in at 6 lbs. 4 oz. according to a digital Lyman's trigger gauge. The square push-button safety, located just above the pistol grip, is pressed to the right side of the receiver for SAFE and to the left for FIRE. The non-adjustable shoulder stock provides a length of pull (LOP) of 13", a shoulder sling slot and a 1/2" thick hard rubber butt pad that’s textured for improved purchase.

One key difference of the KS7 when compared to the KSG is that ammunition cannot be loaded directly into the chamber. Instead, every round must be loaded into the magazine tube first. Shells are pressed in from the bottom facing port with a channel to help align each round. The textured shell retainer also works as a loading guide. Fresh shells are lifted up into the chamber with spent cartridge casings ejecting straight down onto the ground.

At the range, the KS7 was test fired with sporting and defense grade 12-ga. shells manufactured by Remington, Winchester and Hornady. Although Kel-Tec's tendency to leave visible mold marks on its gun stocks can be distracting at times, the company carefully smoothed out the action, trigger and controls for clean, easy operation. There were no malfunctions in the course of testing and the gun reliably fed, fired and ejected the shells tested.

This gun's recoil comes straight back into the shoulder in order to minimize muzzle rise. It was manageable with all loads fired, but the felt recoil with full power loads was not for the faint of heart. If you're already comfortable with 12-ga. shotguns then the KS7 will be a good fit. The shotgun was patterned at 25 yards using Hornady’s 2-3/4” Critical Defense 00 buckshot load which launches eight lead pellets at a listed velocity of 1600-fps. At this distance, the pellet groups averaged 12” in size.   

At the time of this writing, the market place is replete with non-NFA 12-ga firearms including the Mossberg 590 Shockwave and the Remington Tac-14. These pistol-grip scatter guns are popular because of their Hollywood cosmetics and compact just-over-26" size. The KS7 is just as compact and cool to look at but it's much easier to work with. The pistol grip bullpup configuration allows for an 18.5" barrel, 7+1 ammunition capacity and it can be shouldered for more precise aimed shots.

The KS7 may not have quite as much Zombie apocalypse movie appeal as the 14+1 dual magazine tubes of the KSG (or the nearly ridiculous 24+1 capacity of the KSG-25). That being said, this is a more practical configuration if you're looking for a trunk gun, a backpacking shotgun for protection against dangerous game or a handy home defense option. For more information, visit keltecweapons.com.  

Manufacturer: Kel-Tec
Model: CP-33 Pistol
Action: Blow-Back Operated Semi-Auto
Caliber: .22 LR
Upper Receiver: Black Hard Anodized Aluminum
Barrel Length: 5.5"
Muzzle Threading: 1/2-28 TPI
Front Sight: Green Fiber Optic
Rear Sight: Adjustable Target with Red Fiber Optics
Optics Rail: 7.5" Integral Aluminum Picatinny
Lower Receiver: Black Polymer
Grip: Molded-In Square Block Texturing
Trigger: Single Action
Trigger Pull: 3 lbs.  (as tested)
Magazine Release: Heel Mounted
Magazine: Clear Polymer Quad-Stack
Capacity: 33+1 Rounds
Overall Length: 10.6"
Height: 5.85"
Upper Receiver Width: 1.16"
Grip Width: 1"
Weight: 24 oz.
Twist: 1:14" RH
Rifle Grooves: 6
Accessories: Hard Case, Two Magazines, Lock, Owner's Manual
MSRP: $475

Model: KS7 Bull-Pup Shotgun
Action: Pump Action
Bore: 12-ga. 2¾” or 3" Shells
Receiver: Matte Black Steel
Barrel: 18.5" Smooth Bore, Polymer Carry Handle
Choke: Cylinder Bore, Fixed
Sight: Green Triangular Fiber Optic
Magazine: 6-Round Tubular (2¾” Shells) with View Ports
Fore-end: Textured Black Polymer with Finger Guard
Stock: Bull-Pup with Rubber Recoil Pad and Sling Slot
Pistol Grip: Textured Black Polymer with Integral Trigger Guard
Length of Pull: 13"
Trigger Pull: 6 lbs. 4 oz. (as tested)
Overall Length: 26.1"
Weight: 5 lbs. 14 oz. (unloaded)
Capacity: 6+1 (3" Shells), 7+1 (2¾” Shells)
Accessories: Owner's Manual

MSRP: $495




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