On Target, October/November 2008, p. 48 – 53
By Massad Ayoob
Kahr Arms has made its pistols in both plain and fancy flavors for some time now. I have a Kahr Elite from 1998-in the compact all-stainless steel MK9 series—that looks sharp, shoots tight, and never malfunctions. For 2008, the company apparently feels it has been neglecting the “fancy” side of the market, and is making up for it with their new Black Rose PM9.
The Black Rose’s slide is highly polished stainless steel. It’s beautifully executed, and is reminiscent of the Bright Stainless that Colt did on some of their Pythons years ago. There are no ripples, and it’s glass smooth … you could literally use it for a mirror, as long as you kept the muzzle in a safe direction. A long-stemmed rose is engraved on each side of the slide, set deeply and cleanly against the silvery background, and set off in black chrome with 24-karat gold inlay. The slide stands in pleasing contrast to the all-business flat black of the polymer frame.
Mechanically, the Black Rose is the familiar Kahr PM9, the firm’s smallest, lightest, 9mm pistol. At only about fifteen ounces unloaded, it comes with two single-stack magazines. One, barely more than flush with the bottom, is designed for maximum concealment, holds six 9mm Parabellum cartridges, and features a brightly polished stainless steel floorplate. The other is longer, with a built-up polymer floorplate that acts as a finger rest. This mag holds seven rounds. With either magazine inserted, the Kahr design is perfectly “drop-safe” with one more cartridge carried in the firing chamber, ready for instant response.
Grasping the little Kahr, there’s ample reach to the DAO trigger, and with the extended magazine, the little finger finds a home.
Remington’s UMC 147-grain 9mm gave the author the tightest group he has ever fired with a micro-sized Kahr 9mm. Even though it’s above point-of-aim, the “best three” in this five-shot group speak volumes about this gun’s inherent accuracy potential.
The Black Rose is a great looking rendition of the PM9, and with performance like this, it’s not just a pretty face. This is just the beginning of cool guns from Kahr’s fledgling Custom Shop.
The author’s Black Rose wore the standard white-dot/white-bar sights.
Kahr In Action
SINCE THEIR INTRODUCTION, Kahr pistols have been famous for their trigger pulls, which is unusually smooth and light for a double-action-only semi-automatic pistol. The Black Rose lives up to its family heritage in this respect: Five test pulls using Lyman’s digital trigger-pull gauge from Brownell’s averaged 96.0 oz.—six pounds, right on the nose. The pull was very smooth, as we’ve come to expect from Kahrs, and was conducive to the “surprise break” that marksmen prefer. At the same time, six pounds is amply heavy to insulate the user from “hair trigger liability” lawsuits.
The sights were Kahr’s standard fixed, combat-type, dovetailed front and rear. These use the von Stavenhagen pattern of a lower case letter “i”, in which the vertical line in the center of the rear sight is the stem of the letter, and the shooter “dots the i” with the white dot on the front sight. The front sight post is thick, and the notch at the rear is generously large, allowing the conventional post-in-notch sight picture to show up clearly in decent light for those of us who prefer to aim that way. As an extra-cost option, the Black Rose is available from the factory with night sights that consist of glowing Tritium dots—one in front and two in back.
With the short magazine in place and seven rounds ready to go, this little pistol allows even a small hand to get only two fingers wrapped around the grip frame. The pinky finger is best tucked under the butt. This technique has been proven to work well with the old single-action Colt Peacemaker, as well as with contemporary J-frame snub-nose revolvers, and seems to work on subcompact auto pistols with truncated grip frames, too.
The extended magazine that comes with the pistol allows a more comfortable hold. It’s the length of the magazine in the original-size K9 and P9 Kahr pistols, and allows all the fingers to assist in grasping the wee weapon.
I’ve been complaining for years about the sharp edge on the rear of the Kahr slide stop/slide release lever, which is located on the left side of the frame above the trigger area. It tends to want to nip the thumbs of right-handed shooters. Kahr has apparently listened with at least one ear. On the Black Rose, the rear edge of this part has clearly been shaved down at an angle in an attempt to mitigate the problem. I can still feel it, just enough to annoy, but I’d seem like the title character in The Princess and the Pea complaining about it after they’ve just tried to fix it. Since this pistol has a very short trigger reach, I shoot it the way I do all my Kahrs. If I curl my firing hand’s thumb down, it’ll be so close to the trigger finger that it can actually block the trigger stroke. Accordingly, I move my right thumb up and point it downrange toward the target to keep it away from the edge of the slide stop, placing it on the base joint of the left (supporting) hand’s thumb. Now, nothing snags anywhere and I can focus on shooting, which is something Kahrs do quite well.
The rear edge of the slide stop has been shaved down on the Black Rose-a welcome relief to many right-handed shooters.
Buying a PM9 Black Rose entitles you to purchase a second, complete “Presentation Grade” slide, personalized with your name engraved on the right-hand side.
The same gold and black inlays used to create accents on the Black Rose slide are also used on the Presentation Grade slide.
IT’S CUSTOMARY in gun magazines to test short-barrel pistols such as this at fifteen, ten, or even only seven yards, on the theory that no one expects to shoot any farther with them, and they can’t be expected to achieve service-pistol accuracy (generally accepted as five shots in four inches at 25 yards). Ya know, I’ve never bought into that. As a full-time trainer and a part-time cop, I have access to fairly good intelligence about the “other side,” and I’ve never seen anything to indicate that bad guys have rules of engagement that will keep them from shooting at you from across the street. Most cops still have at least some qualification shooting at 25 yards with their sidearms, and they’re training to face the same bad guys that armed citizens may have to shoot it out with. So, the little PM9 Black Rose went to my 25-yard bench just like every other handgun that is sent here for testing.
Over the years, most of the Kahr 9mm pistols I’ve shot have done their best with either the generically accurate 147-grain subsonic rounds, or with the Federal 9BP load, that company’s Classic-line 115-grain jacketed hollow point. In this case, the Black Rose didn’t share the Federal gene with some of its predecessors: it grouped its best with 147-grain.
Testing hand-held from an MTM rest, I always measure each 5-shot group twice. The first measurement is the whole group, to show what an experienced shooter can get out of it bracing the gun under ideal conditions. The second is the “best three” shots, which the years have taught me factors out enough human error to give a very good prediction of what the same gun/ammo combination should do for all five rounds from a Ransom or Caldwell machine rest. In other words, the 5-shot group shows me what I can do with it, and the 3-shot group gives me a better idea of what the hardware itself is intrinsically capable of doing.
The Federal 115-grain did 4.80″ for five shots, all measurements being to the nearest 0.05″. This is only 8/10ths of an inch outside the traditional standard for “service pistol accuracy,” and remember, the pistol in question is a subcompact whose barrel measures a hair under three inches in length from rear of chamber hood to outermost edge of muzzle. The best three of those shots, however, were a startlingly tight 1.10″ apart, center to center.
Black Hills’ standard-pressure 124-grain jacketed hollow point did even better. This 5-shot group measured 3.75″ wide by 1.40″ in height, and even the widest part was still well within that “acceptable service pistol accuracy” standard. Even better, the best three shots were a mere 1.40 inches apart.
The best 5-shot group came from the least expensive ammo, Remington-UMC generic 147- grain subsonic, a training round with a jacketed truncated cone (JTC) projectile. This was, to the best of my recollection, the tightest 25-yard group I’ve ever done with a subcompact Kahr: 1.60″ for five shots. The best three of those were in a tight cluster, two shots overlapping and a third tearing the cardboard into that hole, and the measurement was 0.40″! In other words, if I could have centered all three of those shots onto a single .40 caliber bullet pointing uprange, all three shots would have hit it. By way of comparison, the best I’ve ever shot with a standard-size Kahr (the all-steel K9) was an inch and three- eighths, with Federal 115-grain JHP.
The pistol shot distinctly high with all three bullet weights. If I were to keep the gun, I’d simply send it back to the factory and ask them to install a higher front sight.
WHEN FLORIDA/GEORGIA Regional Female IDPA Champion Gail Pepin took the Black Rose out of its box, she said, “Oooh … a chick gun!” She then went to rack it open, and it took her a moment: this pistol came with a very stiff recoil spring. She grumbled, “Chick gun, huh?” Another lady, of medium height and willowy build, also had to struggle to retract the slide. Now, these were not “newbies” to Kahr pistols. That second lady carries a Kahr P9 pistol daily, and has even shot matches with it: it’s one step up in size from the Black Rose’s PM9 format, but she has no problem manipulating the P9 through its whole manual of arms. Ms. Pepin, who stands five-feet-nuthin’, has in her personal carry battery a Kahr MK9, the same size gun but in all steel, and has no problems with it whatsoever. On Target’s specimen of the Black Rose clearly had a heavier spring than my own PM9 pistol.
This may have had something to do with the fact that, while the Black Rose PM9 perked with 100% reliability with every 115- and 124-grain 9mm round we put through it, it choked repeatedly on that accurate 147-grain subsonic Rem-UMC. There was one 6 o’clock misfeed with a nosedived cartridge, one misfire with an off-center firing-pin hit that indicated it was too far out of battery to fire, and three or four failures of the round to go into battery at all. Now, those folks who consider the 147-grain subsonic so superior a round that it has become something of a belief system with them, will show you all sorts of mathematical formulae that indicate it has more slide-cycling force than the higher-energy, lighter-bullet rounds which go faster, but the fact is … they don’t. In my bigger 9mms, I can sometimes see and feel a more sluggish slide operation with subsonics, and some departments have found that they don’t cycle their service pistols as reliably. That may have been the problem here. All I can say is, the Black Rose I tested worked 100% with 115- through 124-grain ammo, and jammed repeatedly on the 147-grain UMC.
This gun also had some palpable drag when working the slide on a loaded magazine: you could feel the bottom of the slide scraping the top of the topmost round as the slide came back, with either magazine. This led us to load initially by locking the slide open when the pistol was empty, then inserting the loaded magazine and dropping the slide. The combination of heavy recoil spring and slide friction may have been more than the lower-energy subsonic cartridge could work against. I tried it later with some l47-grain Winchester JHP and it worked fine.
TRY DRY FIRING the Black Rose in the gun shop to make sure you and/or the person you’re buying it for can manipulate the slide. Then follow the manufacturer’s advice and run 200 break-in rounds through it before using it for anything serious. At $949 suggested retail, the Black Rose PM9 is not cheap, but Kahr 9mms have a great history over more than a decade. This one is a striking symphony of polished metal and inlaid gold. The Black Rose PM9 is one good-lookin’ handgun.