December 16, 2019
Gun companies don’t often stray too far from the norm when designing new firearms. Then there’s Kel Tec. I get the impression the company’s founder, George Kellgren, was sitting in the back of the classroom with his feet on the desk when conventional gun design was being discussed in school, doodling all sorts of out-of-the-box firearms on the pages of a notebook. This is, after all, the company that gave the world the KSG25 25-round pump shotgun and the PLR22 utility pistol, a gun that’ll put a smile on the face of the even the stodgiest shooter.
The Cocoa, Florida, firearms maker is at it again with the launch of the new CP33 pistol, a gun that set out to redefine one of the nichiest of niche guns: the target rimfire semiauto pistol.
Like most other successful semiautomatic rimfire pistols, the CP33 utilizes a straight blowback action where the energy generated by the fired cartridge pushes rearward on the unlocked bolt to cycle the firearm. Blowback actions are relatively simple compared with other gas-operating systems, but it’s a design that has been refined over decades, and it’s proven to be a reliable and robust system.
As with guns like the Ruger Mk 4 and the Browning Buckmark, the CP33’s bolt body moves rearward during cycling instead of a slide as with most centerfire handguns. That’s about where the similarities between the CP33 and anything else on the market end.
At the rear of the gun is a non-reciprocating charging handle that allows the shooter to manipulate the bolt. The rigid aluminum upper assembly houses a fixed 5.5-inch barrel with a 1/2x28 threaded muzzle with a cap.
The long Picatinny rail on top the CP33 bears some resemblance to modern target .22 pistols, and fiber-optic sights (orange rear, green front) are positioned at the ends of the top rail, offering a sight radius of nine inches. Of course, the rail allows you to mount just about any optic you’d like. Additionally, there’s an M-Lok slot incorporated into the CP33’s dust cover for adding accessories or a rail section.
The CP33’s single-action internal hammer firing mechanism provides a light, crisp trigger pull. The polymer frame features a rather large handle with signature Kel Tec square texturing, and the handle is situated farther forward than on some other pistols in order to maintain a comfortable balance.
The rear of the upper assembly extends well beyond the shooter’s hand—no beavertail required here—and gives the pistol a unique profile with lots of rear overhang. The oversize grip is necessary to house the 33-round clear polymer magazine. It’s a double stack or, more accurately, a double-double stack, which is why Kel Tec calls it the Quad Stack. Two of these are provided.
The CP33’s magazine deserves a closer look because it’s an impressive feat of rimfire tech. To stuff all 33 of those rounds in the mag, the engineers at Kel Tec had to come up with a pretty clever system.
Cartridges feed into the top of the magazine via a rim window and are then corralled to either the left or the right side. The two halves of the magazine are divided by a stainless steel rod that works to keep the ammo columns neatly separated. Within each of the two vertical columns, the cartridges stagger to the left and the right, essentially acting as two double-stack magazines functioning side by side.
The system works quite well, and it means plenty of room for lots of rimfire ammo. Unloaded, this gun weighs right around 26 ounces with an empty magazine in place. Loaded to full 33+1 capacity, the figure jumps to 30 ounces. That’s a lot of .22 ammo, but if 33 rounds just isn’t enough for you, there’s also a magazine extension that allows this pistol to hold 50 rounds. That’s right: You can load an entire small box of .22 LR ammo into a single magazine if you have the patience and motivation to do it.
The control layout on the CP33 will seem familiar to anyone who has fired other Kel Tec pistols like the PMR-30. There’s a paddle-style ambidextrous safety that is pushed down to Fire, and a red oval indicates status.
Ahead of that, there’s a bolt-release button, and the magazine release is a knob located on the heel of the pistol grip, so this gun functions well for both left- and right-handed shooters. The bolt release functions when pressure is removed from the bolt return spring by drawing the charging handle rearward.
Basic takedown is relatively simple. With the gun completely unloaded, press the assembly pin through and then pull the lower assembly back and down to remove it. Then flip the barrel assembly over and retract the charging handle to remove the bolt body and the charging handle for cleaning.
With its 5.5-inch barrel the CP33 has an overall length of 10.6 inches and a maximum width of 1.6 inches at the widest point, which is the charging handle.
The width measurement is misleading, though. The slide itself measures just around 1.3 inches, so the gun is actually trimmer than the specs would indicate since the maximum width is measured where the charging handle flares. Overall height is six inches.
The Kel Tec’s space-age styling may or may not appeal to you, but everyone is likely to enjoy shooting this gun. The trigger on the test gun was surprisingly good for a pistol in this price range. Pull was just 3.2 pounds with minimal creep and a nice, clean break—an indication that Kel Tec is serious when it says it built this gun for target shooters.
Balance is pretty good and improves with a fully loaded magazine in place, and it’s impressive just how quickly the Kel Tec runs through 33 rounds of ammo. The only downside to all of this fun is that you may question the return on investment for loading the mag. All that work disappears down the barrel in a matter of seconds—but it’s worth it.
To chamber a round in the CP33, insert the magazine into the grip and give it a solid whack to ensure it’s completely seated. Pull the charging handle completely rearward and release to drop the bolt. Like many other semiautos, the CP33 doesn’t like to be babied. Gently lowering the bolt can cause a malfunction, so just let it drop unimpeded.
Kel Tec’s straight blowback action design is well executed and functioned perfectly with every load. The company warns that using low-power loads can create malfunctions. Perhaps that’s so with really light target loads, but none of the five loads I tested had any issues.
For proper function, however, it’s important to learn to properly load the magazine to avoid rim lock, a condition that occurs when the rim of one .22 cartridge is seated behind the rim of the cartridge below it and causes the top cartridge to hang up when it should feed into the chamber. To avoid this, load each round so the rim of the cartridge fits directly into the rim window and then push the cartridge all the way back so it is seated fully in the magazine.
The clear polymer design allows careful inspection of the cartridges so you can visually identify the problem if you know what you’re looking for. Sometimes a firm slap on the base of the magazine is needed to help settle the cartridges.
It isn’t difficult to load the Kel Tec’s magazine once you learn the basics, but doing it incorrectly can cause misfeeds. If you do encounter function issues, it’s worth taking a look at the cartridges inside the magazine to ensure they are properly loaded.
The fiber-optic sights are easy to see, and the rear sight is screw-adjustable for windage and elevation. Accuracy with the iron sights was pretty good, grouping between two and three inches on average at 25 yards from a fixed rest. This gun begs to have a red dot sight or even a lightweight magnified optic added. Doing so would undoubtedly drop average group size.
There’s a molded undercut behind the trigger guard and more than enough room on the grip to accommodate even the largest hands. Without a suppressor in place, the pistol’s balance is farther rearward than some competing models, but with a can installed the balance point shifts forward to a more neutral position. Two metal tabs that jut from the rear of the frame indicate that Kel Tec may have visions of offering a pistol brace for the CP33.
My gripes with this gun are few. I am a fan of the futuristic look and feel, but I’m sure the aesthetics won’t appeal to some purists. The grip isn’t uncomfortable, but it’s rather plain, and the wings of the charging handle can be distracting when you’re shooting. Aside from those minor details, this gun is excellent, and it will appeal to a wide range of shooters. In the most important categories—accuracy, reliability, ease of use and affordability—the CP33 shines.
Will this gun appeal to hardcore target shooters? That’s hard to say, but there’s certainly a market for the CP33. It would make an ideal trail or camp gun because it’s light and durable with plenty of ammo on tap for a survival situation or simply passing time shooting fallen pine cones around camp. It’s also a good option for shooting clubs and 4-H shooting sports programs since it is accurate, affordable and reliable.
With a red dot sight in place, it would serve admirably as a pistol for small game hunting and pest control, too. However, I suspect this gun’s greatest appeal is serving as a fun gun owners will use to punch holes in paper or tin cans, and if I owned this gun it would accompany me to every range session.
Following the 25-yard accuracy evaluation, I set up a gallery of Champion spinning targets in my backyard and burned through more than 120 rounds. Now that .22 LR ammo is once again available and sanely priced, the CP33 will provide hours of low-cost fun, and with a suggested retail of just $475, this pistol is a real bargain.
Radical? Maybe, but despite its rather odd proportions and space-age styling, the CP33 is a really fun gun to shoot. Leave it to the team at Kel Tec to give us something unexpected—and potentially game-changing.
KEL TEC CP33
- TYPE: straight blowback semiauto rimfire
- CALIBER: .22 Long Rifle
- CAPACITY: 33 (as tested)
- BARREL: 5.5 in.
- OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 10.6/6.0/1.6 in.
- WEIGHT: 26 oz.
- CONSTRUCTION: anodized black aluminum slide, matte black polymer frame
- SIGHTS: adjustable fiber-optic front and rear; Picatinny rail top
- SAFETY: ambidextrous thumb
- PRICE: $475
- MANUFACTURER: Kel-Tec CNC Industries, KelTecWeapons.com
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