Review: Kel-Tec PMR-30 Pistol

posted on May 12, 2017

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. While .22-caliber revolvers are generally used, the Kel-Tec PMR-30 pistol has taken the kit-gun concept to a whole new level. 

Even though it’s a full-size pistol, the PMR-30 weighs less than 20 ounces when fully loaded, thanks to its aluminum and Zytel components.

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 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.

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 PMR-30 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. 

The Kel-Tec PMR-30’s rear sight is a square notch molded into the polymer slide housing, and it contains two fiber-optic inserts for enhanced visibility. Just forward of the rear sight, the slide assembly is drilled and tapped for mounting a small red-dot optic.

Kel-Tec incorporated a number of other innovative features in both materials and design. The majority of the PMR-30 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 Kel-Tec 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. 

Kel-Tec PMR-30: Fun to Run and Run and Run 

Shooting the Kel-Tec 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. 

With a pull weight of less than 4 pounds, the PMR-30’s trigger is well suited for target work and plinking. However, the author views it—along with .22 WMR chambering—as being a bit light for self-defense purposes.

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-30'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 Kel-Tec PMR-30 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 Kel-Tec PMR-30 shooters have experienced keyholing—where the bullet tumbles due to improper stabilization—with some loads. I did not run into this issue with the early models, but Kel-Tec did change 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 Kel-Tec 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. 

Is the Kel-Tec PMR-30 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 PMR-30 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. 

As if its 30-round capacity isn’t impressive enough, the PMR-30 ships with two magazines. Carrying one in the gun and one in reserve puts more than a box of .22 WMR at your disposal.

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 Kel-Tec 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. 

The Kel-Tec PMR-30: An Affordable Solution 

Although the innovative design adjusts seamlessly between locked-breech and blowback operation—depending on pressure generated by the load—takedown of the PMR-30 is simple, making post-range cleanup easy.

Kel-Tec is known for its innovation in firearms design, and the Kel-Tec 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 $454.55. Street prices are much lower, 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 Kel-Tec 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; 1:11-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: $454.55


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