by Kevin Creighton - Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Kel-Tec CNC in Cocoa Beach, FL, has been building innovative, inexpensive firearms like the small, compact P-3AT, the lightweight SUB-2000 and the bullpup KSG Shotgun for many years. The SU-16C rifle continues this tradition of innovation and lightweight guns. At only 4.7 pounds unloaded, it's one of the lightest 5.56 NATO rifles around, and takes standard AR-15 magazines. In many ways, the SU-16C is ahead of the curve on rifle design. It uses polymer extensively throughout the gun, and unlike polymer AR-15 lowers like those from GWACS Armory and New Frontier Armory, the SU-16C is also built with a polymer upper receiver, with only the barrel and other essential parts made of metal.
Unlike the direct-gas-impingement system of an AR-15, the SU-16C uses a gas piston similar to the AK-47. This piston system means the SU-16C has no buffer tube at the end of the receiver, allowing the rifle's shoulder stock to fold underneath the gun, dramatically reducing its length. The SU-16C is one of the few guns on the market that take AR-15 magazines yet have a true folding stock, and the other rifles like the SIG Sauer SIG556 are more than twice the SU-16C's price. It ships in a Spartan cardboard box along with a 10 round polymer magazine, an instruction manual and a small screwdriver to open it up if needed.
What do you give up for that lower price? For starters, the SU-16's fit and finish is a little less polished compared with similar rifles. The gun ran fine, however—I have about 500 rounds through the gun with no failures or feeding hiccups whatsoever. The trigger on the SU-16C is about 6 pounds, with a very light reset and a little grittiness that eased off the more I shot it. Another difference between the SU-16C and an AR-15 is found int the the sights. While the SU-16C has a conventional front-sight post that is adjusted with a standard AR-15 adjustment tool, the rear sight is held on to the top of the receiver with two set screws and is adjusted by loosening one side and tightening the other to move the sight left and right. The process took some getting used to, but I was able to sight the rifle in at 50 yards and begin testing it in earnest.
As far as accuracy goes, the SU-16C isn't a gun you'd want to take to an NRA Hi-Power match or shoot from a benchrest for groups. I was able to manage 1-inch groups at 50 yards using a Vortex Strikefire red-dot sight and 55-grain American Eagle ammunition as I was sighting in the rifle (which is by no means "tack driver" accuracy), but once zeroed, I was able to ring a 10-inch steel plate at 200 yards with boring regularity.
Because of its folding stock, light weight and polymer construction, the SU-16C is perfectly suitable for use as a "bug-out gun" or "truck gun" to be used in an emergency. The gun can be used and fired with a standard AR-15 magazine in place and the stock folded, making very easy to move around in tight spaces like inside a car or tuck into bags smaller than a normal rifle carry case. The light weight of the SU-16C also makes it easy to carry all day long, a useful trait in gun you might want to have with you all the time in the midst of a disaster or major societal upheaval.
Rather than just test the SU-16C in the confines of a square range, I wanted to see how the SU-16C held up in a more realistic environment, so I shot the rifle in a 3-gun match at a local gun club. I set up the rifle with the red-dot sight so I could compete in "Tactical Limited" class, which allows for a 1X red-dot sight, but no other optics on your guns.
The SU-16C handled well in the match. It felt great in my hands, and even though I shoot left-handed, the cross-bolt safety was easy to snap on and off as I went through the courses of fire. The gun also functioned perfectly, with no failures any kind. However, the SU-16C is not as accurate as the AR-15 I normally use for 3-gun competition, and that hampered my performance on some of the longer-range shots—I needed three or four tries to hit a 6-inch plate at 100 yards, something with which I don't struggle when using my AR.
As I said earlier, one-hole accuracy is not the point of the SU-16C. The rifle is about affordability, simplicity, compactness and light weight, and it scores well for each of those aspects. The Kel-Tec SU-16C isn't a gun that will replace an AR-15, but if you're looking for a gun that will shoot the ammo your AR shoots and take your AR's magazines in a more compact and lightweight package, the SU-16C will work great.
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