Kel-Tec PMR-30

posted on October 20, 2011

The kit-gun concept has been around for a long time. Although the term means different things to different people, a kit gun is a relatively compact and lightweight handgun appropriate for hiking, camping or tossing in a tackle box. 

Kit guns are generally chambered in smaller calibers good for plinking and shooting small game or pests. They should be easy to carry, fun to shoot and accurate enough for a wide variety of tasks. Perhaps the most traditional kit gun in recent years is a Smith & Wesson revolver in .22 LR or .22 WMR. However, with the introduction of the PMR-30, Kel-Tec has taken the kit-gun concept to a whole new level. 

The Kel-Tec PMR-30 is a full-size pistol chambered in .22 WMR. Full-size, however, is a relative term. The PMR-30 has a very slender slide and a lightweight polymer frame that translates into an unloaded weight of only 13.6 ounces. Even when fully loaded, this pistol tips the scale at a scant 19.8 ounces.

For more detailed photos of the PMR-30, click here.

Fully loaded, of course, is also a relative term. The name PMR-30 is derived from the gun's capacity—30 rounds. The double-stack magazines accept more than half a box of .22 WMR, making this gun the highest-capacity pistol in its class. 

Reengineered Rimfire 
Kel-Tec's innovation didn't stop at magazine capacity. The PMR-30 operates via a hybrid blowback/locked-breech system. One of the potential issues with .22 WMR semi-automatic pistols is the wide range of pressures generated by factory ammunition. Kel-Tec designed a new action that automatically and seamlessly adjusts between locked-breech and blowback operation, depending upon the pressure generated by the particular cartridge that is being fired. 

In simple terms, the barrel is allowed to float forward and backward a small amount in the frame, with no mechanical locking system. The method of operation is determined when the cartridge case fire forms to the chamber during firing. If the pressure generated in the cartridge is high enough, friction will cause the case to "stick" to the chamber walls, and the barrel will recoil with the slide until pressure drops—just like a typical locked-breech firearm. If the pressure is lower, the barrel stays virtually still, and the slide recoils like a blowback firearm. This innovative system does not require chamber-friction reducing methods like fluting or porting as seen in other .22 WMR autoloaders. It allows the PMR-30 to fire a wide variety of ammunition without sacrificing reliability. 

Kel-Tec incorporated a number of other innovative features in both materials and design. The majority of the pistol is crafted from a very light and durable glass-reinforced nylon called Zytel. Its frame is aluminum, and only the slide and barrel are made from steel. The steel barrel on my test gun is fluted for weight reduction and more efficient heat dissipation. After the pistol's launch, however, Kel-Tec realized production of the fluted barrel added significant time and cost, so it decided to discontinue this feature in May. Internally the pistol's action incorporates a urethane recoil buffer and dual opposing extractors for maximum reliability. Clearly Kel-Tec's engineers were working overtime on this design. 

The PMR-30 is well equipped out of the box and features highly visible sights with fiber-optic inserts. They form two red dots that frame the rear notch and a green dot on the front post. The rear sight is molded into the slide, but the front sight is dovetailed to allow for windage adjustments or replacement. An accessory rail is molded into the dustcover for adding a light or laser, and the slide is drilled and tapped for mounting an optic. There's even an ambidextrous thumb safety to accommodate southpaws. 

In another interesting design choice, Kel-Tec eschewed the traditional frame-mounted magazine-release button in favor of a European-style, heel-type release. The heel release uses a pushbutton and is easy to actuate. Putting the button at the base of the grip reduces the likelihood of an accidental release when the gun is bumped around during carry. I actually prefer a heel release on a utility gun like this one, since magazine retention is more important than speedy reloads—especially when the mag holds 30 rounds. 

Fun to Run, and Run and Run 
Shooting the PMR-30 was lots of fun. While rimfire pistols can be notoriously finicky, the PMR was nearly flawless. I fired more than 400 rounds of various brands during testing and I experienced a handful of failures to feed in the first 100 rounds, but the problems disappeared after a few magazines. I should note, however, I avoided using any foreign ammo—something Kel-Tec specifically recommended. CCI Maxi-Mags are the preferred load according to the company, and those rounds functioned perfectly. 

The single-action trigger pull was amazingly good for a gun of this type. Kel-Tec produced a trigger with all the qualities desired on a target gun—a short, light pull (less than 4 pounds), with minimal overtravel. The PMR's trigger actually had the feel of an expensive target pistol. 

The excellent trigger undoubtedly contributed to the pistol's impressive accuracy. With CCI ammunition, the PMR was capable of 1.5 inch groups at 25 yards. I believe the pistol's mechanical accuracy may be even better than that, but my shooting was somewhat limited by the sights. They are excellent for quick target acquisition, but I had difficulty discerning the flat top edge of the front sight for precision shooting at distance. Yet, even with that minor limitation, the bright fiber-optic sights are well suited to this pistol's intended use. 

Some PMR-30 shooters have experienced keyholing—where the bullet tumbles due to improper stabilization—with some loads. I did not run into this issue, but Kel-Tec is looking into changing the rifling from a 1:16-inch twist to a more stable 1:11-inch rate of twist. 

Being a full-size pistol, the gun handles well. Even with large hands, I had plenty of room for a full shooting grip. The grip frame is quite long from front to back, but not too wide. It is somewhat wedge-shaped and tapers toward the front edge. Shooters with small hands may feel uncomfortable at first, but should be able to adjust. 

The recoil of the PMR-30 is minimal. You can shoot this gun all day long without discomfort. Don't forget your hearing protection, though, because it's quite loud. The first shots you fire may be a bit disconcerting because the loud report of .22 WMR seems out of place when compared to its minimal felt recoil. Ultimately, this is part of the fun of shooting the PMR-30, because you feel like you are handling something much more substantial. 

Fit for Your Kit? 
Kit guns, by definition, need to be easy to carry, and this pistol is exceptionally easy to carry—especially for a full-size gun with a 4-inch barrel and 30-round capacity. At less than 20 ounces fully loaded, it is effortlessly carried in a belt holster, even during long days in the woods. 

While the Kel-Tec will make an excellent kit, trail or fun gun—many people will wonder about its usefulness for personal defense. Certainly, having 30 rounds on tap seems like a real advantage—no one ever complains about having too much ammunition in a gunfight. 

Although the PMR-30 could be used for self-defense, that does not appear to be the pistol's intended purpose. There are certainly better chamberings available for a defensive gun. Though I am certain no one wants to be shot with a .22 WMR, its stopping power leaves a lot to be desired when compared to a true defensive cartridge like 9 mm or .38 Spl. The ability to fire a lot more rounds without reloading doesn't necessarily make up for the difference in caliber, either. In a typical defensive engagement, you may not have time to fire five or 10 rounds, as opposed to one or two. Plus, firing lots of rounds increases the chance of missing. 

While the PMR-30 is easy to handle as a target pistol, it is not conducive to a defensive manual of arms. Clearing a malfunction is difficult because of the small gripping areas on the slide. Reloading is relatively slow because of the heel-type magazine release and the lack of drop-free magazines. Perhaps my biggest concern, though, might be the target trigger, which seems too light for a defensive gun. The PMR-30 will certainly work for self-defense if pressed into that role, but this pistol is simply not designed for personal protection—except perhaps in a last-ditch scenario. 

Affordable Solution 

Kel-Tec is known for its innovation in firearms design, and the PMR-30 does not disappoint. Semi-automatics chambered in .22 WMR have a reputation for being problematic due to certain inherent characteristics of rimfire ammunition. The engineering wizards at Kel-Tec solved that problem admirably with the PMR-30 and continue to refine the design by listening intently to feedback from consumers. 

The PMR-30 has garnered a lot of attention because of its 30-round capacity—and rightfully so. This pistol is a game-change, but the PMR-30 would be a great gun even if it held only 10 rounds. It is easy and fun to shoot and includes an innovative system of operation. 

On top of that, the PMR-30 is a great value. The pistol ships in a hard plastic case with two magazines for a suggested retail price of $415. That means street prices for this Kel-Tec will probably wind up being less than $400 once the initial demand is satisfied, which represents a great value for a quality pistol with a lifetime warranty. 

Once again, Kel-Tec has raised the bar by redefining the kit-gun concept. If you are in the market for a kit gun, a trail gun, a plinking gun or you just want to be able to shoot 30 rounds from a pistol without reloading, the PMR-30 is a great choice. 

Manufacturer: Kel-Tec CNC Industries; (321) 631-0068 

Action Type: Single-action, blowback/locked-breech operated, semi-automatic
Caliber: .22 WMR
Capacity: 30+1
Frame: Black polymer (Zytel)
Slide: 4140 alloy steel
Grips: Black polymer (Zytel)
Barrel Length: 4.3 inches
Rifling: 6 grooves; 1:16-inch RH twist
Sights: Fixed, ramp and notch, with fiber-optic inserts: red (rear) and green (front)
Trigger Pull Weight: 3.5 pounds
Length: 7.9 inches
Width: 1.1 inches
Height: 5.5 inches
Weight: 13.7 ounces
Accessories: Lockable hard case, two magazines, trigger lock
MSRP: $415


5.7mm ammo
5.7mm ammo

First Look: New 5.7x28mm Ammo From FN America

New ammo options for 5.7mm gun owners.

Finding The Right Pistol For Your Hand Size

There's a lot more to choosing the right pistol than picking the one that's on sale.

First Look: Armasight Sidekick 320 Thermal Optic

Lightweight and small, with one-touch video recording.

Review: Taurus TH45 Pistol

Taurus offers a carry-friendly handgun in a caliber with the number four.

First Look: SIG Sauer X-Ten Comp Pistol

A full-size carry gun with a 10mm kick.

Browning Hi Power Custom Build Part 1

While many firearm enthusiasts consider the Hi Power to be one of John Browning’s finest achievements, there are some Hi Power owners who feel the urge to make a great handgun even better.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.