The Kel-Tec PMR-30

posted on February 15, 2011

I was introduced to the PMR-30 at the 2010 SHOT Show. I had heard rumors that Kel-Tec had something unusual in the works. When it comes to design and innovation, Kel-Tec rarely marches to the beat of anyone else’s drum. So if this new pistol had everyone talking, I knew it must be something interesting indeed.

The PMR-30 is a full-size polymer frame semi-automatic pistol chambered in .22 Mag. If the chambering seems unusual, so does the magazine's 30-round capacity. A careful distribution of polymer and aluminum around key steel components has reduced the pistol's weight to a feathery 13.6 ounces when unloaded. A fully loaded magazine will only add 6 more ounces to the total weight.

The pistol has a narrow profile overall. The front-to-back distance in the grip is a bit longer than usual in order to accommodate .22 Mag. cartridges. The full-length grip also has a subtle pie-wedge shape, narrowing at the front under the trigger guard. The overall effect is a grip that is quite comfortable to work with, even for shooters with smaller hands. The PMR-30 has an ambidextrous safety that is easy to reach and operate. The slide arrives from the factory fitted with bright two-color, fiber-optic sites, and it's drilled and tapped to accommodate a scope base. The frame has an integrated Picatinny accessory rail to allow shooters to attach various lights and laser sights.

Kel-Tec chose to follow more of a European model for the magazine release by placing it at the heel of the grip, rather than up by the trigger guard. They also designed the magazines to stay in the grip until they are manually removed. These design choices are indicative of the pistol's intended use as a field and trail gun. Being able to quickly bump-and-dump a pistol's magazine using a thumb release is quite convenient on the range or during shooting competitions. It's not so helpful when the same bump of the thumb release dumps your magazine into the bushes during a three-day hike, never to be seen again. But even if you are not a fan of a heel release, Kel-Tec approached the design of the PMR-30 in a unique way.

Often a heel release is a metallic tab that rests under the grip against the base of the magazine. It has to be pressed back toward the shooting hand with the tip of a finger or thumb, which can be a bit awkward to do. The PMR-30 release is a rounded cut-out located in the heel of the frame. It's pressed forward, toward the pistol's muzzle, to release the magazine. It only requires a moderate amount of pressure to release the magazine with the tip of your thumb. I worked with this release to see if I could speed up the reloading process a bit, since the magazines do not fall free. I found that by pressing the heel of my non-shooting hand into the release tab, while hooking the front of the magazine base with my fingertips, it’s easy to quickly strip out a spent magazine and insert a new one.

At The Range
First and foremost I have to say that this is an exceptionally enjoyable pistol to shoot. The light weight makes it easy to hold at arm’s length for an extended period of time, and the recoil is mild. The .22 Mag. produces more noise and flash than .22 LR, but it's far from unpleasant. The grip shape, bright fiber-optic sights, light trigger pull and overall handling qualities of the pistol kept me reloading the magazines long after my required test shooting was over.

Though popular as a rifle and revolver round, few gunmakers have attempted to build a semi-auto pistol in .22 Mag. The case length, the case rim and variations in pressure levels of different brands of .22 Magnum ammunition are all features of the round that have caused reliability issues in the past. But Kel-Tec's engineers decided to put in the requisite elbow grease and solve these problems.

The pie-wedge shape of the magazine solves the problems of the cartridge rims, and allows the ammunition to be double-stacked and feed correctly. The hybrid action, blending features from blowback and locked-breach systems, successfully navigates the shifting pressure of different ammunition brands. It’s a commendable design that works well in the field.

The PMR-30 likes brass-cased, American-made, high-power .22 Mag. ammunition. The three listed by name in the owner's manual are CCI's 40-grain Maxi-Mag, Winchester’s Super-X 40 grain and Remington’s Premier 30-grain loads. All three of these brands of ammunition fired and functioned flawlessly. Firing 5-shot groups at 25 yards from a rest, I got the best accuracy with the CCI Maxi-Mag, with average groups of 4 1/2 inches. Winchester came in second with 4 3/4-inch groups, followed by Remington at 5 1/4 inches.

After using the recommended rounds, I chose to continue to test the pistol with every other variety of .22 Mag. ammunition I could find. Almost all of them ran without any problems, but some produced a few failures to feed. As I observed the behavior of the ammunition and the pistol during these malfunctions, it became clear that these rounds had an overall length that was just a little too long for the magazine.

This variation in overall cartridge length caused the magazine follower to jam, which kept the rounds from feeding properly. The malfunctions stopped when I reduced the number of rounds in the magazine to five or 10 rounds, instead of the full 30. These same rounds that occasionally failed to feed have always shot reliably in the other guns I use. My advice is this: If you choose to use unlisted ammunition in this pistol, I would recommend you test out a box or two before you buy a case.

On the Road
This is a pistol designed with foot travel in mind, and several features of the PMR-30 make it ideal for outdoor exercise. Since my wife and I enjoy hiking in the great outdoors, I took the PMR-30 for a few nature strolls. The pistol is the same shape as most duty-size pistols, so this has to be taken into consideration if the pistol is going to be used for legal concealed carry. I used both inside-the-waistband and belt holsters to carry the PMR-30, and I found that holsters designed for standard size 9 mm and .40 S&W pistols work nicely. At just under 20 ounces fully loaded, this pistol is a pleasure to carry on long walks. Most modern backpacks and utility bags have several pockets and pouches to fit a variety of gear. It was easy to find a place in my pack for the PMR-30, a spare magazine and a 50-round box of ammunition. Best of all, the change in the pack's weight went unnoticed.

The PMR-30 can also serve as an excellent self-defense option for those who are looking for a low-recoil defensive handgun. It does take practice and a bit more time to exchange the magazines, but with a 30+1 capacity, frequent reloads don't seem to be much of a concern, and the reduced recoil and less expensive ammunition encourages regular practice.

As a fan of the .22 Mag. cartridge, I am very pleased that Kel-Tec built a lightweight, high-capacity semi-auto that shows off what this neat little cartridge can do. The PMR-30’s design seems to offer a kind of universal appeal. Folks who have heard about it love the idea, and fellow shooters who took turns shooting the sample gun during my tests really enjoyed it. In fact, from the store, to the range and on my way home, I had three shooters offer to buy the PMR-30 right then and there. For hiking, camping, plinking, small game hunting and even self-defense, the PMR-30 is an excellent choice.

Manufacturer: Kel-Tec;
Calibers: .22 Mag. (.22WMR)
Action Type: semi-auto, hybrid blowback/locked-breech system
Frame: 7075 aluminum covered by glass-reinforced Nylon
Barrel length: 4.3"
Rifling: 1:16" RH twist
Magazine: 30+1 rounds
Sights: Fiber Optic
Trigger pull: 3 lbs. 6 oz.
Overall Length: 7.9"
Weight: 13.6 oz.
Width: 1.3"
Height: 5.8"
Accessories: owner's manual, hard case, trigger lock, and two magazines
Suggested Retail Price: $415


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