April 22, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
The engineers at KelTec have an uncanny knack of offering outside-the-box gun designs. From the PMR30 pistol to the KSG dual-tube bullpup shotgun, this is a brand that continuously provides shooters with something unique and fun to shoot. Take the company’s latest creation: the P50 pistol. It’s a blowback-operated semiauto chambered in 5.7x28 that holds an impressive 50 rounds in the magazine. The magazine design itself is not entirely new—it’s the same used in FN’s P90 submachine gun that first appeared over 30 years ago—but virtually everything else about this gun is original to KelTec.
Unlike the FN, the KelTec P50 positions the magazine under the barrel and springs and above the firing controls. To load the gun or access the magazine, press down on a release lever at the rear of the pistol. This allows the upper assembly with the barrel, bolt and springs to rotate upward. From there the magazine is inserted on top of the frame and below the barrel.
The magazine itself combines elements of double-stack and rotary mags. As cartridges are inserted through the top of the magazine, they rotate 90 degrees. Pressing a cartridge into the top portion of the magazine initiates rotation of the cartridge below it, and as additional rounds are loaded into the mag, cartridges stack inside the clear polymer magazine body.
The magazines themselves are quite durable, and since they are clear it’s easy to assess how many rounds remain even when the magazine is inserted in the pistol.
When the magazine is loaded, it rests on top of the polymer lower, and the upper assembly is locked in place. As long as the magazine is properly positioned, a lug on the bottom of the bolt presses down on the top round in the magazine.
Despite the P50’s new-age styling (a gentleman at the gun store compared it to the blasters used in Star Wars films), the P50’s operating system is mechanically straightforward. Loading the chamber requires pulling rearward on the charging handle to retract the bolt. When released, spring pressure drives the bolt forward and the top round is chambered. After firing, the spent casing is ejected through a port on the top right of the pistol while the next round in the magazine rotates into position to be chambered on the bolt’s return stroke.
The KelTec’s barrel measures 9.6 inches in length and features 1/2x28 threads, so adding a muzzle device to the gun is simple. A thread protector is included.
The bolt rides between two metal rods that are attached to a rectangular metal block near the muzzle. Two return springs are also attached to the block, so when the gun is fired the block moves rearward with the bolt until the spring tension drives the block back toward the muzzle. Rearward bolt movement is balanced, with no torquing to either side that would add undue stress to the system. This means you can expect the P50 to perform reliably for many thousands of rounds.
The barrel, bolt, rods and return springs are housed within a lightweight black anodized aluminum upper assembly. A series of circular cutouts runs along the sides and top of the upper assembly, reducing overall weight.
There’s a top Picatinny rail with integral adjustable iron sights. These consist of a black notch rear and black post front—a basic but functional setup. There’s a transverse screw in the rear sight that allows for windage adjustments, and the front sight post can be raised or lowered using a flat-head screwdriver to adjust elevation. The included rail makes attaching a red dot optic fast and easy, and I suspect that’s what most owners will elect to do with this pistol.
The P50’s aluminum upper shroud is held in place by six heavy-duty Torx screws. The lower assembly is constructed of lightweight black molded polymer. There’s a six-slot rail located at the front of the frame under the barrel that can accommodate accessories, but if you’re planning to add a vertical foregrip, you’ll need to apply for NFA approval since the P50 would no longer be deemed a handgun.
Behind the rail on the lower portion of the polymer frame is a molded, curved channel and behind that an oversize trigger guard. The P50’s pistol grip is rather straight and comes with the company’s rectangular Gator Grip texturing.
There’s an ambidextrous manual safety selector located on the frame just above the grip, and it offers wide polymer tabs that make it easy to manipulate. In the up position the selector is on Safe; the downward position is Fire. Condition is indicated by symbols: a circle for Safe and a triangle for Fire.
At the rear of the P50’s grip is the release latch that allows the top assembly to pivot upward on its front hinge pin for loading and magazine removal. When the top assembly is rotated downward, two J-shape locking latches are pressed backward by a metal pin that runs transversally through the upper assembly. Once the pin presses the latches far enough backward, the pin drops into position underneath them, and the curved portion of the latches snap into position over the top of the pin, securing the upper and lower assemblies.
Pressing down on the release lever retracts the locking latches inside the frame, freeing the pin and allowing the upper assembly to pivot. Also visible in the lower assembly is the P50’s hammer.
The P50’s charging handle is similar to those found on most ARs. On the left side of the charging handle is a latch that locks the handle in place when the bolt is forward. Depressing a tab on the left side of the charging handle moves the latch out of position and allows the charging handle to be retracted.
QD attachment points are located on the frame just below the charging handle and on the bottom of the grip, and these pistols ship with QD attachments and a black adjustable nylon sling. When the sling is in place the pistol rides beside the body, making it easy to carry without a holster.
There’s ample room in the trigger guard for even the largest gloved fingers, and the trigger has a wide, flat face with serrations. KelTec promises a five-pound trigger pull, but I found that the test gun’s trigger broke closer to four pounds. The trigger itself has a relatively long uptake, but as you’ll read shortly, that didn’t adversely affect accuracy.
Overall length of the P50 is right at 15 inches, and the unloaded weight with an empty magazine in place was three pounds, eight ounces on my digital scale. Width is right at two inches across the top assembly, and the KelTec measures 6.7 inches high.
Suggested retail price for the P50 is set at $995, clearly more than most competing pistols. Then again, this is far from your average pistol. The gun ships in a plastic hard case with an owner’s manual, lock, two magazines and a sling. Regarding the owner’s manual, it’s worth noting that it’s thorough and clearly written.
You won’t need an icebreaker to start conversations at the range when you’re shooting the P50. This gun draws attention, and everyone who sees it will want to know more about it—and probably will want to shoot it a few times. There’s no doubt the P50 is the ultimate range toy, and if you have a supply of 5.7x28 ammo on hand, you can entertain yourself for hours with this gun.
It’s worth adding a brief tutorial on loading, and I’ll share what I learned about the process during my time with the P50. To load a round into the magazine you’ll need to apply sufficient force to the round beneath it to initiate rotation.
The easiest way I found to do this was to press down on the shoulder area of the top round with the one I’m currently loading. If all goes well, the lower round will begin to turn and the top cartridge will click neatly into place.
That failing, you’ll have to apply some downward pressure with your finger to prompt the lower round to rotate so you can load the next one. It takes a bit of time, but once you understand the press-rotate-load process, it’ll become much simpler. Loading all 50 rounds takes some time.
Once you’ve loaded a magazine, be sure everything is properly aligned before rotating the top assembly downward. The top round of the magazine should rest right below the metal lip on the bottom of the bolt. When the magazine is in the right position that lip will press down on the top round, so use this as a refence point.
I found the easiest way to insert the magazine was to press the bottom of the magazine into position under the barrel and then rotate the mag upward so the rotary portion rested on the bottom of the bolt and the aforementioned lip pressed down on the top round. Once the mag is in position against the top assembly, rotate the bottom assembly into place until you hear it latch. Under no circumstances should you slam the upper and lower assemblies together. Doing so could damage the gun.
The P50 is flat-out fun to shoot. Finding the proper grip and stance is partly a matter of personal taste, but once you start firing shot after shot (after shot after shot after shot) with this pistol, you won’t want to stop. Recoil is minimal with the P50, so it’s suitable for just about any shooter, though muzzle blast from the 5.7x28 round is pretty potent. There were a few hiccups with the gun, mostly failures to eject, but for the most part it ran quite well with the three loads tested.
It takes a bit of time to decide which stance and grip to adopt with the P50. For me, the most effective way to shoot this pistol free-hand was to adopt a Weaver-style stance with my weak-side foot forward and to keep the elbow of my non-shooting hand pointed toward the ground to help stabilize the gun. Offhand from this position, the P50 shoots more accurately at self-defense distances than the average short-barreled defense pistol. The iron sights are austere, but they work, and since they’re tucked down inside the top rail, odds are you’ll never damage them.
The P50 is a range toy par excellence that will make all of your shooting buddies envious, but there’s also a practical side to this gun. With an Aimpoint Micro H-2 two-m.o.a. red dot in place, the P50 was churning out five-shot groups of less than an inch at 25 yards, and at 50 yards it was shooting under two inches from a fixed rest. That means the P50 would make a suitable small game and varmint pistol, and since it’s driving 40 grains north of 2,000 fps, the 5.7x28 can reliably take game as large as coyotes as long as the range is limited to about 100 yards or less.
The P50 also makes a fine self-defense weapon. For personal protection in the home where the size of the firearm isn’t an issue, the P50 makes great sense. You could hang a light on the lower rail for day or night defensive applications and you’ll have plenty of firepower on tap.
I also think the P50 would make a great backpack gun. I always carry a backpack when I’m hiking anyway, and it’s often easier to carry a firearm in a backpack than in a belt holster. No matter which dirt path you choose to follow, having the P50 in your pack offers peace of mind.
Ultimately, though, this is a fun gun. It’s a pistol you won’t want to put down, a gun that’s at once practical and fun. Despite its movie-gun looks, the P50 is, in truth, quite a versatile and functional pistol that does a lot of things other pistols can’t—namely, hold 50 rounds of ammunition. Leave it to KelTec to build the next gun we didn’t know we even wanted.
KelTec P50 Specifications
- Type: Blowback semiauto centerfire
- Caliber: 5.7x28
- Capacity: 50
- Barrel: 9.6 in.
- Overall Length: 15 in.
- Weight: 3 lb., 8 oz.
- Grips: Polymer
- Finish: Blued barrel, black anodized aluminum shroud
- Sights: Drift-adjustable notch rear, adjustable post front, Picatinny rail
- Trigger: 4.4 lb. pull (measured)
- Price: $995
- Manufacturer: KelTec, KelTecWeapons.com