Looking at this gun may make you recall a song on Metallica's seminal "Master of Puppets" album. Though James Hetfield sang about a mythic beast from Lovecraft novels, "The Thing That Should Not Be" could be misconstrued by the ignorant to refer to the Kel-Tec PLR-16 Pistol. It doesn't look like anything we've seen before. It's a handgun, but it has a 9.2-inch barrel. It uses a gas piston system, but the same breech-locking mechanism found on ARs. It's not an AR, but it can take AR magazines. What is this...this thing?
It's one heck of a fun handgun. Despite its unconventional appearance, the PLR-16 is a straight-shooting, low-recoiling semi-auto pistol for plinking, target shooting or even varmint hunting. Thanks to extensive use of polymers, the PLR-16 weighs only 3 pounds, 3 ounces, despite looking like it should weigh a good deal more. The receiver and grip are made from glass-reinforced Zytel, which is an extremely durable brand of nylon patented by DuPont. The receiver has a molded-in aluminum insert to accept the steel barrel as well as a polymer Picatinny rail on top.
At the muzzle end of the PLR-16's barrel, Kel-Tec employed a bit of marketing-engineering synergy. A threaded muzzle covered by a knurled thread protector allows shooters to fire the gun immediately, but the threads beneath invite further purchases. The company offers a muzzle brake specifically designed for the PLR-16 for $26.50; a fair price indeed for an accessory that can easily run four times as much.
Aft of the muzzle lies the pistol's gas block, topped by an AR-style post sight. The piston recoil-spring tube is visible on the base-model gun, but can be hidden by a user-installed, railed fore-end. Either way, shooters will find the piston system reliable and easy to take apart and reassemble.
The gun ships with a Kel-Tec 10-round, polymer magazine, but accepts STANAG 5.56 magazines, so if you own an AR, you're ready to feed the PLR-16. Also similar to the AR-15, the pistol's magazine release is located just in front of the trigger-guard assembly.
Unlike an AR, the PLR-16 makes use of a bolt carrier-mounted operating handle on the gun's right side. This knurled protrusion may not be pretty, but it makes operation very simple, whether chambering a round or clearing a malfunction. The bolt locks back after the last round is fired, but can only be sent forward again with the magazine removed or reloaded, as there is no exterior bolt-catch to manipulate.
Though there's nothing inherently bad about the PLR-16's iron sights, I found them to be less than ideal. As mentioned, the front sight is nearly identical to that found on a standard AR. The rear sight, however, is a notched blade, which makes looking down the sights a bit more difficult than with an aperture. Thankfully, the rail section atop the receiver allows users to easily mount optics on the pistol.
The pistol grip is very comfortable, with a similar angle to an AR grip and large rhomboid checkering for proper purchase. Shooting offhand while gripping the PLR-16 like a normal-sized handgun was not a problem, as the pistol is well balanced and the grip more than adequate to handle the .223 Rem. recoil. Despite its unusual size, I was able to shoot with a fair amount of accuracy with no rest, both holding the gun like a pistol and gripping the railed fore-end.
Kel-Tec must have been in a quandary over the appropriate trigger pull for the PLR-16. Generally, one would prefer a light trigger for a .223 Rem. firearm designed for accuracy. Conversely, most like a heavier trigger pull on a handgun for safety's sake. Even though this pistol is probably never going to be a carry gun, it is still a handgun and therefore trigger pull should not be as light as a rifle. While the trigger is heavy for a precision platform at 9 pounds, it's about average for a handgun and crisp despite that weight.
Accuracy from the bench at 50 yards was quite good. Keep in mind Shooting Illustrated normally tests handguns at 25 yards, but given the PLR-16's chambering, barrel length and likely uses, I figured it would be better to test it at a longer range. All three tested loads averaged 3-inch groups or smaller.
It may look peculiar, but the PLR-16 is a reliable and accurate platform. Handgun hunters will appreciate its light weight compared to the various single-shot, rifle-caliber pistols to which they are accustomed. Fans of tactical guns will enjoy shooting a low-recoiling pistol compatible with their AR magazines. What's more, the PLR-16 is sure to get the antis in a tizzy over its unconventional styling. If the Brady Campaign thinks it is a Thing That Should Not Be, then it's probably a Thing That Most Definitely Should Be. The PLR-16 is fun, accurate and affordable at a time when gun prices are through the roof. So don't judge this gun by its appearance; it's well worth your time and money.