September 13, 2018
By David Fortier; Photography by Laura A. Fortier
One interesting new offering on the roller-locked market is PTR’s 9CT pistol. Classic-looking and true in form and function, the 9CT’s introduction immediately caught my attention. Rather than being imported from a foreign manufacturer or produced from a mix of new and surplus parts, the 9CT is produced new entirely here in the United States. I’ve long been a fan of pistol-caliber carbines for certain rolls and own two MP5K PDW clones. So I was interested to see how PTR’s American-made 9CT would perform and stack up. I wanted to find out how its build quality, accuracy and reliability were.
While there are certainly other interesting and more modern designs on the market, none have the sheer panache of the classic roller-locked MP5. Perhaps it’s the unmistakable stamped and welded sheet metal profile, German engineered roller-locked action or impressive performance in the hands of special operations units, like the British SAS, which elevates this design above its peers in the eyes of shooters and collectors. The MP5 certainly isn’t perfect, but it has aged surprisingly well. Today, it is seeing a surprising resurgence of popularity among American shooters. Despite its age compared to many of its competitors, roller-locked MP5 clones are currently being embraced by a whole new generation of shooters and collectors who love their looks, pedigree and performance.
I always find it interesting how the firearms industry runs in cycles. At any given time period, certain types of firearms are hot, and some are not. Wait a few years, and the cycle changes. Currently, Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCCs) and their pistol siblings are in vogue. To meet the demand, there’s a diverse array of models available from a wide variety of manufacturers, in many different pistol and carbine configurations. These include Ruger’s recently introduced 9mm PC take-down carbine, Keltec’s folding SUB2000 Gen 2, polymer guns like CZ-USA’s Skorpion, Pioneer Arms’ vintage 7.62x25mm PPS43C pistol, SIG Sauer’s piston-operated MPX series, and an array of blowback-operated ARs, to name a few. The question is, why are PCCs and their pistol variants currently so popular?
To be frank, there are number of reasons. One of the most basic is many shooters live in a 100-yard world. A large number of shooters and collectors only have access to an indoor or 100-yard range. So, a 9x19mm Parabellum is a logical choice. Another is simple economics. Bulk 9x19mm Parabellum ball ammunition is relatively inexpensive and readily available. It’s less costly to shoot than, say, 5.56x45mm NATO, yet packs a noticeably heavier punch than .22 LR. Plus, while the 9x19mm Parabellum dates back to 1902, there is a diverse array of modern loads available for it. It suppresses easily with subsonic ammunition, and the cartridge itself is capable of fine accuracy. Due to its power level, the Parabellum isn’t as hard on steel as the 5.56x45mm, especially at relatively close distances. USPSA creating a PCC division also caught the attention of many. Perhaps most importantly, they are fun.
So, how does PTR’s 9CT stack up? The pistol arrived at my FFL, Jack & Dick’s Pawn Shop in Junction City, Kansas, neatly packed in a nice foam-lined hard case. Included with the pistol were two 30-round magazines, a single-point bungee sling and sight adjustment tool. Removing it from its hard case revealed a good-looking piece. My initial cursory examination revealed a “Navy-type” polymer trigger-group housing, MLOK handguard, smooth operating bolt and attractive black finish. Impressed, I filled out my paperwork and carted it home.
Taking a closer look, I noted this model comes fitted with a nitride-treated 8.8-inch barrel with 1 turn in 10-inch twist six-groove rifling. The barrel features a three-lug mounting system for sound suppressors, as well as a 1/2x28 threaded muzzle. A threaded muzzle protector covers the threads and an O-ring keeps it from loosening. Behind the muzzle is a lightweight aluminum handguard with MLOK slots for mounting accessories, such as a white light.
Sights consist of a front post centered in a round protector and a rear diopter. Unlike some manufacturers who utilize surplus G3 rear sights with a “V” notch, PTR’s 9CT features a diopter with four different-size apertures. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage when zeroing. If you’d prefer to mount some type of optic, the 9CT is ready to go out of the box. PTR welds a steel 1913 rail onto the top of the upper receiver. This measures 4.5 inches in length and facilitates easy mounting of a red dot. So, you don’t have to worry about purchasing a dedicated base or having its mounting screws loosen. I personally think a compact red-dot sight is the way to go on a piece like this.
A non-reciprocating charging handle is located on the left side directly above the handguard. The upper receiver, which is the serialized part of the firearm, is manufactured using stamped sheet metal welded together. Mated to this is a two-position Navy-type polymer trigger-group housing with S and F markings. The 9CT features a roller-tipped paddle release located behind the magazine. This is easy to manipulate and ambidextrous. A push-button magazine release is also located on the right side of the receiver. Unfortunately, this is a bit too far forward for most right-handed shooters to reach from a firing grip. No worries, the paddle release works just fine.
Keep in mind, the bolt does not lock back on the last shot. However, it can be manually locked open by rotating the charging handle into a cut-out specifically for this. The back of the pistol is capped off with a black polymer end cap. This features a swivel adapter for mounting the included single-point sling. Popping the end cap off, I found a nitride-treated and tungsten-weighted full-auto bolt-carrier assembly. If you happen to have an NFA-registered full-auto sear pack, the 9CT is sear pack ready.
Operation is the traditional roller-locked delayed blowback, firing from the closed-bolt position. It feeds from readily available HK MP5 pattern detachable box magazines. The magazine is a robust dual column with dual-feed design, which is very reliable. Original HK mags are fairly pricey, but there are other options on the market. On the plus side, they load to capacity relatively easily, no special tool required.
The 9CT weighs in at five pounds and measures 17.6 inches in length. It is a visually interesting piece with all the right curves in all the right places. Magazines insert easily, the bolt flies home with a smooth ka-chunk, and the trigger is quite acceptable, if a bit heavy. It looks as serious as a heart attack and….fun.
Before going further, let’s take a quick look at what sets MP5-type firearms apart from traditional open-bolt submachine guns: its roller-locked system. Conventional submachine guns, from the Maschinenpistole 18/I to the UZI, utilize a rather simple operating system called blowback, or to be technically correct, Advanced Primer Ignition (API) blowback. In this type of system, a heavy bolt is used in conjunction with a proper weight recoil spring. When the trigger is pulled, the bolt is released and driven forward by the recoil spring. On its travel, it strips a round from the magazine and loads it into the chamber. While it is still traveling forward, the firing pin ignites the primer, firing the cartridge. The bolt never locks. The propellant gases from the fired cartridge then arrest the bolt’s forward momentum before driving it to the rear, extracting and ejecting the fired cartridge case on its way. At the end of its rearward travel, the recoil spring overcomes the bolt’s rearward momentum and pushes it forward to either be caught by the sear or continue the cycle.
The virtues of an open-bolt API blowback system are its simplicity and its economical nature. The primary downside is the heavy bolt moving forward when the trigger is initially pressed, which can disturb the shooter’s aim. This makes firing an open-bolt gun more difficult than a closed-bolt design.
The MP5 system is a horse of a different color. Its roller-locked operating system is actually based upon that of a rifle, as pioneered by the World War II German StG 45 (M). Unlike most submachine guns, the MP5 fires from the closed bolt and features a system to delay the bolt opening. Due to this, there is no initial “slap” of the bolt running forward and chambering a round when the trigger is pressed. The design incorporates two horizontally mounted roller bearings in a two-piece bolt. The bolt consists of the bolt head and a “carrier.” When the recoil spring pushes the bolt/carrier assembly forward and it closes, the nose section of the carrier enters the rear of the bolt. This forces the two roller bearings out into cut-outs in the barrel extension.
When the weapon is fired, the rollers delay the bolt’s opening long enough to allow pressure to drop to a safe level. Then the bolt head forces the carrier to the rear. This allows the rollers to be cammed back into the bolt, which subsequently unlocks and travels to the rear. As this system makes no provision for initial extraction, the designers needed to come up with a solution to free the fired case from the chamber without ripping the case head off. To accomplish this, they machined flutes into the chamber’s length. This effectively ‘floated’ the case out of the chamber on a film of gas. While this is a much more complicated and expensive system compared to a simple open-bolt API blowback design, the end result is accurate, reliable and easy to control.
Well, enough boring stuff. As soon as I arrived home, I grabbed 100 rounds of Wolf 9x19mm steel case ammunition and did a quick test fire using the factory iron sights. PTR’s 9CT ran without issue, slapped the steel nicely, and proved enjoyable to shoot. So, I got to work, with the first step being to check the 9CT’s accuracy from a benchrest. This was done at both 50 and 100 yards with a variety of loads including copper solids, FMJ, JHP and solid copper HP loads ranging in weight from 80 to 147 grains. I included a variety of bullet shapes and weights to check the 9CT’s function and reliability. I fired four five-shot groups with each load from a rest, while recording velocity using a LabRadar Doppler chronograph.
I mounted a red-dot sight and an old fixed-position SB Tactical pistol stabilizer brace before getting to work. Mounting the brace merely required pushing one pin out, removing the end cap and replacing it with the brace. The MP5 magazines loaded easily, rounds fed smoothly, and PTR’s 9CT chugged away without issue. During my time on the bench, I noted the 9CT’s trigger was a bit on the heavy side, but easily managed. All in all, it shot well at both 50 and 100 yards. Top accuracy was achieved using HPR’s 147-grain EMCON Suppressor Specific JHP. HPR is out of business, but I still have a bit of this ammunition and like to use it, due to how well it shoots. It cycled smoothly and averaged 4.5-inch groups at 100 yards. Fort Scott Ammunition’s 80-grain Copper Solid also shot very well, averaging a respectable 4.9 inches.
Bench shooting isn’t what this piece is intended for, though. What make this design great are its other qualities. Things like its short overall length combined with its weight and balance give it excellent handling qualities, especially at close quarters. The controls are all well-placed, simple in form and function and easy to operate under stress. So it’s a very easy piece to get into action, reload and operate, even in the stress of a rapid-paced, close-range gunfight. The factory iron sights are very well-designed for gun fighting. They are not overly elaborate like those found on an M1928 Thompson, unusably fine like a PPS-43, nor barbarically crude, as found on a Sten Gun. When properly understood, the centered post in the overly large round shroud acts as a “quick kill” sight allowing the gunner to make rapid center-of-mass hits, even in lowlight conditions.
Many submachine-gun designs were cursed with poorly designed and shoddily manufactured magazines, which hurt reliability. The Sten, M3A1 and PPSh-41 are the most obvious examples of this. In stark contrast, MP5 magazines are both well-designed and nicely made. Manufactured from stamped and welded steel, they feature robust feed-lips, good quality springs and a well-designed follower. They load easily by hand and, due to their dual feed design, feed smoothly and reliably. Plus, the magazine is well-supported and locks into place securely.
Another nice feature is how easily the 9CT strips for routine maintenance. Push out one cross-pin, pull the end cap off and the recoil spring and bolt assembly can be pulled out and the trigger group housing removed. Do it once and it’s very simple. One important thing to keep in mind, though, is this isn’t a crude Soviet PPSh-41 or a utilitarian American M3A1. The bolt on the 9CT does more than simply flop back and forth. Plus, keep in mind it has a fluted chamber. What does all this mean? You actually need to maintain it properly. I highly recommend buying, and using, a proper fluted chamber bore brush. You should also check the bolt rollers regularly for wear and replace when necessary. I also recommend buying a spare extractor spring or two to have on hand.
Out of the box, the 9CT is an interesting, albeit heavy pistol, which is a bit awkward to shoot. Yes, you can employ it using a properly tensioned single-point sling, but it’s not ideal. In its factory configuration, it makes a fun plinker, interesting conversation piece, and worthy Friday night movie gun. To bring its true capabilities out though, I highly recommend SB Tactical’s new SBT5A side-folding pistol stabilizing brace. I used an older, and I believe discontinued, model from SB Tactical during testing, which is shown in the photography. It worked, but I really didn’t like it. The SBT5A changes the 9CT’s entire personality. Nicely made and easy to attach, the SBT5A mimics the profile of a B&T side-folding stock. When not needed, it folds neatly out of the way. While it’s not cheap at $249.99, my recommendation is to just buy it.
Running the 9CT with the SB Tactical pistol-stabilizer brace revealed just what its capable of. Fast handling and quick on target, the 9CT made short work of multiple B-27 targets placed from five to 15 yards. At 10 yards and closer, the 9CT would chew one hole in the paper. It performed very well, especially shooting on the move and snap shooting. Its light recoil made placing rapid multiple shots into the kill zone easy. The charging handle is positioned within easy reach, and both magazine releases worked cleanly. Reloads are a snap, only hindered by the lack of a bolt hold-open, which does slow things down a bit.
The 9CT made short work of my plate rack and had zero trouble scoring rapid multiple hits on steel silhouettes at 50, 75 and 100 yards. Getting a little brazen, I moved out to 200 yards. Once you get past 100 yards, bullet drop really needs to be accounted for. You also have to work a bit harder to manage the trigger properly. Even so, the 9CT consistently put rounds on steel from the prone position. This is stretching the cartridge though, and the 9CT is really at its best inside 50 yards.
If you are middle-aged and your vision is going, you might notice the front sight isn’t as crisp as it once was, due to how close it is to your eye. Sight radius is also fairly short at about 13 inches. If you’re getting old like me, just pop a red-dot sight on it, and enjoy. Even if you are young and spry with perfect vision, I highly recommend topping it with a good red-dot sight.
So, what role does PTR’s 9CT fill? Well, to start, it’s a nice alternative for anyone interested in owning an MP5-type pistol. It is also a very fun plinker and recreational shooter. Fitted with an SB Tactical side-folding brace, it is a very viable tool for self-protection. It can be carried discreetly or easily stored in a motor vehicle. As it’s a pistol, it’s covered by your CCW permit. I highly recommend adding a good red-dot sight, white light and sling if you plan on using it for self-protection.
What about drawbacks? The biggest weakness of the 9CT for personal protection is simply the cartridge it fires. Despite its size and looks, it’s still a 9x19mm Parabellum at heart. Due to this, it lacks the range, penetration, terminal performance and precision of a rifle. I also don’t recommend trying to hot rod it using +P or +P+ ammunition. A steady diet of these can be hard on the rollers. Instead, I recommend sticking with a good standard-pressure JHP load. The other drawback is price. With an MSRP of $1,899.00, the 9CT is pretty darn expensive, although it does compare well to its competition.
All in all, I like PTR’s 9CT. Build quality, comparing it side by side with an MKE and Atlantic Firearms built gun, is very good. Plus it’s 100% American-made from new parts. Personally, I’d rather buy a 9CT built here in America. If you’ve got the MP5 itch, you’ll want to consider PTR’s new 9CT pistol.
PTR 9CT SPECIFICATIONS
Operation: Roller-locked delayed blowback from closed bolt
Barrel: 8.8 inches, nitride treated with 1:10-inch twist
Overall Length: 17.6 inches
Feed: MP5 pattern detachable box
Weight: Five pounds, without magazine
Sights: Protected front post, fully adjustable rear diopter
Finish: Black paint
Black Hills Ammunition
605-348-5150 / www.black-hills.com
800-379-1732 / www.federalpremium.com
877-782-3131 / www.fortscottmunitions.com
800-243-9700 / www.remington.com
Wolf Performance Ammunition
888-757-9653 / www.wolfammo.com