Kel-Tec is a company that’s known for its unique firearms designs. Over the years, they have built a reputation for innovation with their Sub-2000 folding pistol-caliber carbine and KSG shotgun with 15 round capacity.
Aside from these long guns, they’ve also become very well-known for their PMR-30 pistol.
The PMR-30 is a gun that, on paper, just sounds really cool. There’s no other way to say it. It’s a full-size pistol, with a dual blow-back/locked-breech action that is, from an engineering perspective, one of the most innovative pieces of pistol design in the last several decades.
On top of that, you get a gun that weighs in at only 19.8oz fully loaded (barely more than some sub-compacts) and 30 rounds of .22WMR in the magazine. What’s not to love?
Well, I wanted to find out. I’ve long lusted after the PMR-30, so when the opportunity to try one out came up, I had to see what all the fuss was about, and whether or not it lived up to the hype.
Kel-Tec is a relatively new company (by firearms industry standards) based out of Cocoa, Florida. The company was founded in 1991 as Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc. by George Kellgren, a fairly prolific firearms designer from Sweden who is responsible for the TEC-9, among other things.
In 1995, the company began producing firearms, and they’ve been something of a niche manufacturer ever since with a strong history of bold designs. Not all their work has been a smash hit, but that comes with the territory when you’re pushing the boundaries of traditional design.
Their KSG shotgun is probably one of their most famous products, and they usually command a price well above MSRP because Kel-Tec literally can’t make them fast enough. Their Sub-2000 folding pistol-caliber carbines are also a huge seller, and one of my favorite guns.
Overall, I usually describe them as the firearms industry version of Tesla… they produce stuff that’s really cool, very advanced design-wise, but not necessarily for everyone, and often hard to get your hands on due to low production numbers.
Background on the PMR-30
The PMR-30 is another of their popular designs, and like the KSG and the Sub-2000, that popularity is in large part due to how different it is from most of what’s out there.
The PMR-30 is a full-size handgun chambered in .22 WMR with a 30 round capacity. Just take a moment to take that in.
There’s not another reliable semi-automatic handgun chambered in .22 WMR on the market unless something sneaky has come out that I don’t know about. Excel Arms makes one that sometimes goes bang, and the AMT Automag II, which was never a paragon of reliability, isn’t made anymore.
Other than that, I think Kel-Tec is the only manufacturer to successfully release a .22 WMR semi-auto this millennium.
Why .22 WMR?
Well the round has a higher velocity than .22 LR, but still very little recoil, and it’s cheap to produce. Not quite .22 LR cheap, but $42 for 200 rounds of Swamp People Special Edition ammo isn’t bad at all. Shoot ‘em, indeed.
The round has been called “the poor man’s 5.7” and I’d say that’s fairly accurate, but I wouldn’t really compare the two. I love .22 WMR, but it’s just not a great defensive round against human threats, at least not by modern standards.
Then again, with companies like Speer selling high-end .22 WMR for self-defense, you can get decent results with the gun if you use it for that purpose, but for threats larger than a coyote, I’d want something with a little more oomph.
Really, what the PMR-30 is at heart is an attempt at making the ultimate kit gun.
The Quest For The Perfect Kit Gun
What the hell is a kit gun?
For those of you who haven’t heard the term, kit guns are utility guns that you keep, as the name suggests, in your kit.
They’re the guns you slip into the tackle box or glove box to shoot varmints with, and to have a backup self-defense option should the need arise. Maybe keep one in your pack when backpacking or hunting in the backcountry in case you need to shoot a rabbit or squirrel for dinner.
Ideally, they are light, reliable, and accurate enough to take the head off a snake or other pest as needed.
They’re also generally good linkers, and usually cheap to feed, with some of the most popular being chambered in .22LR, .22 WMR, or .410 gauge.
So how does the PMR-30 live up to that goal?
PMR-30 Features and Ergonomics
Right out of the box, you’ll notice the PMR-30 is extremely light, especially for its size. It’s actually under a pound unloaded, tipping the scales at a feather-light 13.6oz. The gun loaded plus loaded spare magazine clocks in at a whopping 25.75oz, or less than a loaded Glock 19.
And remember, those magazines are loaded with 30 rounds each. This may not be a defensive handgun, but 60 rounds of .22 WMR is enough to ruin anyone’s day.
This easily checks off one of our requirements for a good kit gun, namely that it be easy to carry. I don’t know of another full-size handgun that is this light, certainly not with that kind of ammo available.
Kel-Tec accomplished this by making the frame out of glass-reinforced nylon called Zytel, which is a material that’s commonly used for knife handles. The slide is 4140 steel, and the rails are a wear-resistant hardened aluminum.
That slide is also drilled and tapped for an optic, which I think is a good addition to the gun, even if the factory fiber-optic sights are very good as is. Overall, the gun is well thought out and well made, and frankly would cost a few hundred dollars more from almost any other manufacturer.
The grip is a little weird, being very long from back to front, and slightly tapered towards the muzzle, but that’s a function of the .22 WMR rounds, and the engineering Kel-Tec had to do to get the gun to feed reliably.
Shooters with smaller hands may have to adjust a little bit, but I don’t think any adults are going to struggle to reach the trigger or anything. It’s a comfortable grip, and the angle allows for some fairly intuitive pointing. The safety is easy to reach, even with smaller hands.
In another bit of Kel-Tec’s weird design, the gun has a heel magazine release, which is down at the bottom of the gun and recessed so it doesn’t get bumped accidentally.
This takes some getting used to, but for a gun like this where magazine retention is probably more important than a rapid reload, its an acceptable design decision, if a bit odd for a non-European gun.
Make no mistake…this doesn’t feel like the high-quality handguns you’re used to. It’s very different from most common guns on the market, and the gun feels cheaply made, even though it isn’t.
Like, off-brand Nerf Gun levels cheap. Supermarket-grade squirt gun, cheap.
Don’t let that fool you though, it’s a solid piece of engineering, and the fit and finish are great as well. No machining issues and the gun is as reliable as the ammo you feed it.
The CCI Maxi Mags Kel-Tec suggests were 100% reliable over the course of 400 rounds I shot, and I only had one failure to extract due to a dented case with some super-cheap, bargain-basement Remington stuff that my dad had in the back of his gun safe from around the time of the Reagan administration.
The gun works and is made well…it just feels like a BB gun. The clamshell design of the frame and all the bolts running through it doesn’t make it seem any less like a foam dart blaster, but I can live with that as long as the pistol shoots well, and does so reliably.
And how did it fare in that department? Well…
Shooting the PMR-30
I’m a bit of a trigger snob, it comes with the territory of shooting a lot of custom and high-end competition guns. So when I say that the PMR-30 trigger is shockingly great, I mean it.
I have an analog trigger scale, and the PMR-30 measured at a fairly light 3lbs, which is great, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
The trigger is super smooth and even across a very short pull, with a crisp break that is frankly better than it has any right to be, with little pre-travel whatsoever. The fact that this trigger is in a sub-$350 gun absolutely baffles me.
I’m a machinist. I’ve taken this gun apart. I still can’t tell you how they managed to make this trigger this good. But they did, and I love it. Other manufacturers, take note.
My only issue with the trigger is the reset, which is basically non-existent. The trigger goes back, and then it goes forward again and I can’t really tell when anything inside the gun is resetting.
That’s not as big of a deal as it sounds though because the overall travel of the trigger is short, and the even pull makes rapid-fire strings easy and accurate.
Something else I love is the freaking huge fireball you get from .22 WMR out of such a short barrel. The 4.3” barrel on the Kel-Tec is a far cry from the 16” and longer barrels .22 WMR was designed for, so you get a very satisfying fireball and a sound that’s closer to a magnum revolver or AR-15 with an aggressive muzzle brake.
This photo from The Firearms Blog is way better than any pictures I got at the range.
That fireball is going to absolutely ruin your night vision, tell everyone within half a mile exactly where you are, and may even obscure your target in broad daylight.
But again, I wouldn’t recommend this for a defensive handgun, just like I wouldn’t recommend a Glock 19 for a Precision Rifle Series gun, so these things don’t really matter all that much. Not every gun has to be able to stop a mugger effectively (though I’d argue that this gun could certainly do that with proper shot placement).
Speaking of shot placement, the great trigger, coupled with the better-than-average factory sights made it easy to put a full magazine in one ragged hole at 7 yards, and groups only started really opening up around 15 yards, which is to be expected.
The most accurate ammo I found was the Speer Gold Dots, which printed a 3.5” group at 20 yards off a sandbag, which isn’t bad at all for rimfire ammo. I feel like the gun is probably capable of better, but is held back by the ammo.
It’s still more than accurate enough for its intended use, and I suppose the trigger coupled with the relative lack of recoil means you could use it to defend yourself against two-legged threats if pressed since you have thirty rounds on tap, and can get through them relatively quickly without losing much accuracy. I’d really recommend all but the most recoil-sensitive of shooters look at something else though, but that’s a problem with .22 WMR, not the gun.
Velocity was solid, with most loads averaging over 1000fps, which is pretty good for any handgun
My biggest issue with the gun itself was actually with the magazines. They function very well, but they’re an absolute pain in the posterior to load. After about the 20 round mark, my fingers started wishing they belonged to someone with a different job.
I persevered though, using Kel-Tec’s highly-advanced “smack the back of the magazine on something every few rounds” techniques, and eventually, the mags broke in and became easier to load to capacity. I’d definitely recommend leaving them loaded for a while so the springs can compress a bit.
Just for reference, I shot a rental gun at a local range, and those mags were much easier to load. It was also just as reliable as the new-in-the-box one that I tested, even though the guy behind the counter said it was nearing 5,000 rounds down the barrel.
Passing Judgement and Parting Shots
For its intended use, the PMR-30 really is a great gun. I fully expected to tell you all to save your money when I first picked it up. I honestly felt disappointed immediately, sure that his cheap-feeling toy was going to let me down.
Over almost 700 rounds, it didn’t. I had an absolute blast shooting it (literally) and the gun performed better than pistols that cost twice as much. It went bang every time, save some issues with two dud rounds, and was easy to shoot.
I really can’t stress enough how much I was ready to hate this gun when took it out of the box at my local gun store. I’d wanted one for a long time, and when Gunbacker asked me to do a review, I jumped at the chance to finally own one and to subsidize the cost by writing this review.
And then I held it, and I was pissed I spent my own money on it.
And then I shot it, and now I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it. As I type this, it’s sitting in a holster in my Hill People Gear Kit Bag waiting for a trip I have planned for next weekend in the National Forests of North Georgia.
All-in-all, the gun impressed me, and I think if you’re looking for a gun to keep in your pack, glove box, tackle box, or on your hip when casually walking the woods, you may have found it.