Gun reviews often feature a pseudo-dramatic photo of someone looking very serious—actually, constipated—more or less pointing the gun at the camera, which is supposed to instill in the reader a sense…a sense…the people writing the review have read too many gun reviews. So we’ll just begin this brief review of the KelTec CP33 with a rather sedate photo of the left side of the handgun. I’m not that pretty and tend not to look constipated.
The CP33 most resembles the weapons featured in the 1976 Logan’s Run, a science fiction film set in the distant future. That’s because the folks at KelTec have not much cared to make their products resemble every similar firearm out there. There really is nothing else like the CP33. They use polymer wherever possible, but unlike Glock and other manufacturers, they employ a “clamshell’ method of fabrication and hold the two sides together with bolts and nylock nuts. It looks kind of clunky, but it works perfectly well, and no doubt helps keep costs down. It resembles, in many ways, the CMR30 I recently reviewed.
“CP” stands for “competition pistol,” and “33” refers to magazine capacity. The CP33 employs double stack—actually, sort of quad stack—magazines that hold a genuine 33 rounds of .22LR, high velocity ammunition. The “high velocity” part is important, but we’ll get to that shortly. The two magazines pictured above are holding 25 rounds each. I thought that best for the first two magazines ever fired through the pistol. KelTec supplies two magazines and a closely fitting, padded polymer case, and as usual for KelTec, a complete and well done manual. Here are the specifications from the KelTec CP33 site:
Its unloaded weight is only 1.5 pounds, and only about 1.5 ounces more fully loaded. Notice the barrel is 5.5” long, but the “iron”—actually, plastic” sight radius is nearly 9”, a happy consequence of the configuration of the upper and lower receivers, an arrangement similar to the AR-15. The pistol is about 6” tall, and about 1.75” wide at the cocking handle, and about 1.25” wide elsewhere. It’s not a small handgun. The grip is somewhat narrower in the front to accommodate the magazines, and has KelTec’s usual rectangular, block texturing, which works well on this pistol. Despite 33 round magazines, the grip will accommodate a broad range of hand sizes.
KelTec obviously put a great deal of thought into the design of this pistol. While it can certainly be used for nothing more serious than plinking, the placement of the grip not only allows a long sight radius—handy for a competition pistol—but gives the pistol essentially a neutral balance. It may initially feel a bit odd to people used to heavy barreled .22 “target” pistols, but as there is essentially no recoil impulse or muzzle flip, it quickly feels “right” and purposeful.
When I say it has “essentially no recoil impulse,” I exaggerate just a little. The first few rounds really surprised me, so mild, even by .22LR pistol standards, was the recoil and muzzle rise. I’m sure part of this pleasant surprise was also due to the fact that the CP33 uses a bolt which cycles in the upper receiver—there is no relatively heavy slide cycling on top of the lower receiver, which is very close to the shooter’s hand; it has a very low bore axis.
Also surprising was the trigger pull, rated at 4 pounds by KelTec. While I didn’t measure it, it felt at least a pound, perhaps a bit more, lighter. It’s crisp with no real creep, and resets effortlessly. This is a handgun that can be used, right out of the box, for a variety of competition types with no alteration.
KelTec supplies a fuil length Picatinny rail on top of the receiver for those that prefer optical sights, and an M-Lok slot on the bottom when can easily be fitted with a short Picatinny rail, as I did with an inexpensive and perfectly fitting MagPul MAG589:
It’s a polymer product. MagPul makes one in aluminum, but polymer works well in this application. They’re available pretty much everywhere, and direct from MagPul and KelTec.
I fitted the pistol with a Crimson Trace CMR-207G. It features a 400 lumen light and a green laser. While Crimson Trace lists it at $284.99, I found mine at Midway USA for only $119.00. Bargains are out there if one looks for them, and I’ve always found CT products to be exceptionally well designed and made. It has ambidextrous activation switches, multiple user-programmable modes, and weighs little, is rugged, and it’s easy to align the green laser sight, which provides a bit more useful range than a red laser in bright daylight.
The “iron” sights are cleverly designed. The front is a bright green dot, and the rear, bright orange. In sunlight, they appear battery powered. They align well on standard targets, and the rear sight is windage and elevation adjustable. One probable caveat: most red dot sights would likely not co-witness with the standard sights. It has a Picatinny rail, not a recessed cut out in the slide. In other words, they’re relatively low, and probably wouldn’t be visible through the lens of a red dot sight in case of battery failure. For a competition/range/plinking pistol, this is not a big deal.
The pistol has an ambidextrous safety lever that is well placed, again, AR-15-like. I had no difficulty swiping it on and off with my strong hand thumb. The magazine release is on the heel of the grip, and the magazine does not drop free as one would expect with a carry pistol. This is not a bad thing in a competition pistol of this kind.
The slide lock is on the left side on the frame/lower receiver only, and as KelTec recommends, should not be used to close the bolt. One should always use the cocking handle, which resembles nothing so much as the cocking handle of the AR-15 family. Other than the upper receiver not being attached to the lower by two pins, the take down and reassembly techniques are similar, just as the bolt rides in the upper receiver on both weapons.
In Handgun Slide Cycling: Proper Technique, in June, I demonstrated the proper method of cycling semiautomatic handguns with conventional slides. That method, depicted above, makes best use of hand strength, and helps keep the handgun ready.
The CP33, however, is best charged with an AR-15 like grip, grabbing the ears of the cocking handle with thumb and a curled first finger of the off hand. Or, do it AR-style with the first two fingers. Extend the shooting arm with a straight wrist and pull straight back, as the cocking handle can slightly bind in the frame if it’s torqued to the sides. This doesn’t interfere with cocking, but takes a bit more effort. It’s also important—always—to have the trigger finger in register; straight and in contact with the fram—just as the model is illustrating. The trigger pull on this pistol is so light if the finger should stray into the trigger guard while cocking, it’s highly likely to discharge when the bolt goes into battery.
This is a finely balanced pistol, so when KelTec strongly recommends only
“high velocity” ammunition, they’re not kidding. I found that kind of ammunition functions flawlessly, but anything lesser will cause failure to feed and failure to eject malfunctions. Also, one must charge the pistol—cycle the bolt—vigorously. Pull the charging handle fully back and release it smartly. Don’t rely on releasing the slide lock to chamber a round. You can’t hurt the pistol that way, but it’s certainly possible to fail to fully chamber a round if the gun is handled weakly.
NOTE: a “malfunction” may be cleared in the field, without tools, within seconds. A “jam” usually takes a firearm out of action and requires tools, time and parts to repair.
Another issue that requires fine balance and attention to detail is loading the magazines. All rimfire pistols are prone to “rim lock,” or allowing the rim of a top cartridge to override the rim of the cartridge below it. When this happens: malfunction. Some designs avoid this problem with sharply angled magazines, but they usually feature no more than 10 round, single stack capacity.
The manual KelTec supplies explains how to do it right. It’s not hard, though it is more time consuming than loading ten round magazines, as one might expect. Finished, you do get 33 rounds for your trouble. I did not find it hard to fully load the magazines by hand, but I have a great deal of experience loading all manner of magazines. The magazines are no doubt transparent to help ensure there is no rim lock, and the rounds in both sides of the magazine are evenly arranged, right/left, right/left, etc. If one is out of place, it’s easy to correct that without unloading the magazine.
I’ll not go into great detail on shooting the pistol. Because the barrel, upper receiver and sights are a single, solid unit—the barrel is fixed in the receiver; it does not move–its inherent accuracy is outstanding. Its light and excellent trigger pull contributes to accuracy, as does its low bore axis, long sight radius and neutral balance. Obviously, a laser sight, or optical sight—red dot or other—will also aid accuracy, particularly long-range accuracy. Not only is this a very accurate handgun on the range, with the right optic, it would be outstanding in the hunt.
KelTec has even provided, on the right rear of the lower receiver, a sling attachment, though I doubt most owners will ever have need of it.
Disassembly is easy and will feel very familiar to AR owners. One merely drifts out the single pin—just above the trigger in photos—pulls the lower receiver back and down, and uses the charging handle to remove the bolt from the upper receiver. It’s a clever design.
Access to every group/part necessary for normal cleaning is easy, and there are no tiny screws, pins or springs to fly off at the worst possible moment into the gun cleaning black hole, never to be found again. Plenty of Q-tips are always handy when cleaning any gun. This is a hammer-fired design, and the use of –plastic, aluminum and steel parts is well thought out and executed. Reassembly is nearly as easy, but I recommend use of the manual for at least the first time to reduce possible frustration. I know we’re all experts at this type of thing, but if all else fails, READ THE MANUAL! Everything fits together smoothly, if one does it right, and no forcing or “tricks” are necessary, though one will have to push the muzzle against the benchtop a little to fully push the lower receiver into place to start the takedown pin back into place
As with most KelTec firearms, the pistol is fitted with a threaded barrel, giving it the ability to attach muzzle accessories such as suppressors, flash suppressors or muzzle brakes. For serious competition shooters, a muzzle brake can reduce the already tiny muzzle flip to virtually nothing. Keep in mind this gun needs high velocity ammunition to reliably function, so a suppressor will not produce as much decibel reduction as a pistol using subsonic ammunition, which this pistol surely wouldn’t reliably cycle anyway. The muzzle screw protector provided does tend to come loose when the weapon is fired, but the application of blue LocTite will take care of that
KelTec provides a variety of useful accessories for all their weapons, and the CP33 is no exception. Spare magazines, by the way, are $49.95 each from KelTec, and there are even magazine extensions that will allow the loading of 50 rounds. I wouldn’t recommend that, as it will surely adversely affect the balance of the gun, and may also affect reliability.
Guns in .22LR are generally considered marginable for self-defense, but with a 33 round magazine, little recoil or muzzle flip, and excellent accuracy, the CP33 might work reasonably well. Holsters might be a bit hard to find due to the unusual configuration of the gun, but Alien Gear offers several good choices.
KelTec lists a MSRP of $550, but one can certainly do a bit better than that with a little careful shopping. The CP33 has been around since 2019 and is generally not nearly as hard to find as ammunition. It does everything one would want in a highly accurate .22 pistol, is great fun to shoot—it’s amazingly easy to empty a 33 round magazine at warp speed—and is one of those “what’s that?!” guns on the range. Since it has been scientifically proved there is no such thing as too many guns or too much ammunition, what more excuse does one need?