by B. Gil Horman - Thursday, March 1, 2012
Kel-Tec CNC in Cocoa, Fla., is a gun company that likes to keep its customers guessing as to what will come next. Recent examples of its innovative gun designs include the PMR-30 .22 Mag. semi-automatic pistol and the 12-gauge KSG 15+1-round dual magazine pump-action shotgun. Back in 2006, Kel-Tec was mixing things up by releasing an unusual pistol called the PLR-16. Although rifle-action pistols are not a new idea, this one has a variety of features to make it stand out from the crowd.
The PLR-16 is a conventional, long stroke gas-piston operated semi-automatic chambered to fire the 5.56 mm NATO and .223 Remington cartridges. Based on Kel-Tec's SU-16 rifle design, this pistol employs a piston and recoil assembly located over the barrel, instead of behind the grip like some AR-based pistols, along with a Johnson/Stoner breech locking system. This pistol is configured with an AR-15 type rotating bolt, but a right-side charging handle mounted to the bolt carrier is used in place of a top-mounted AR-style charging handle.
The blued 9.2-inch barrel has 1:9-inch right-hand twist rifling and a muzzle cut with 1/2-28 threads to accept standard barrel attachments like flash hiders and muzzle breaks. The rear iron sight is adjustable for windage and the AR-style front sight can be adjusted for elevation. The receiver features an integrated MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail to accept a variety of optics. The trigger gauges at 7 pounds, which seems heavy for a single action pistol, yet the trigger is smooth in its short travel stroke.
The magazine release is a square button located on the right side in front of the trigger guard. The manual safety is a cross-bolt button that blocks the trigger and sear from moving when engaged. The PLR-16 pistol arrives with a polymer 10-round magazine. The receiver also accepts most AR-15/M16-type magazines. While the firing mechanism, bolt, sights and barrel are made from steel, the upper and lower receivers are constructed of a rugged high-impact polymer. This keeps the unloaded weight of the PLR-16 down to just 3.42 pounds.
The accessories for the PLR-16 provided by Kel-Tec include scope rings, a dynamic shell deflecting operating handle, soft carry case and a muzzle brake specifically designed for the 9.2-inch barrel. Although it is listed as optional, shooters should invest in the polymer fore-end cover to protect their hands from the heat of the barrel. This fore-end also provides a second Picatinny rail below the barrel for attaching lights, lasers, rail-mounted bipods and similar accessories.
One accessory that should not be attached to the lower rail is a vertical foregrip. Although these grips are useful for AR-style carbines and tactical rifles, attaching a vertical foregrip to any handgun changes its legal status to that of an Any Other Weapon (AOW). This means the pistol would need to be registered with the BATFE before the grip is attached.
At the Range
The length and shape of the PLR-16 give it the appearance of a handgun that’s awkward to hold and shoot. Contrary to this first impression, the pistol is well-balanced and comfortable to fire off-hand. Although it’s not necessary for accurate shot placement, attaching a single-point sling to the sling mount located above the grip works very well in providing additional stability. Pushing the pistol out away from the body to create tension in the sling steadies the pistol much the same way as pulling a rifle stock tightly against your shoulder will steady a long gun. With a little practice, using the sling with the pistol becomes second nature.
The PLR-16 proved to be completely reliable during function testing when using the factory 10-round magazine and after-market 30-round AR magazines. A variety of loads were fired, including the relatively dirty steel-cased imported rounds. No malfunctions occurred, even when the gun was hot and fouled from hundreds of rounds. The felt recoil produced by the PLR-16 is in the mild to moderate range, making it comfortable to fire for extended periods of time.
Depending on the load fired, the muzzle flash can be bright. It doesn’t reach a level that’s hard on the eyes, but the guy standing next to you on the range is going to be impressed. If the pistol is going to be used for home-defense, or you’re not interested in pyrotechnics, then a flash hider is a must. Of the flash hiders tested, the four-slot Phantom model, available from J&T Distributing, proved to be the most effective at quelling the fireball this pistol can produce.
The PLR-16 is intended for extended range shooting. Why else would you want an 18.5-inch long handgun chambered for a rifle cartridge? But to remain consistent with other formal accuracy testing used for this site, the gun was fired at a distance of 25 yards. The PLR-16 can be fitted with optics and accessories for hunting and competition. However, it seemed unsporting to add a bunch of extras to generate five-shot groups at a relatively short distance for what is advertized as a target competition gun. Therefore, the formal accuracy testing was conducted using the iron sights and a sandbag on the bench rest for support.
The two best single five-shot groups of 1.25 inches were produced by Hornady .223 Superformance 55-grain GMX and HPR .223 Hyperclean 60-grain V-max loads. The best five-group average of 1.6 inches was produced by Hornady, followed by the 1.75-inch average of the HPR round. Winchester 55-grain .223 Ballistic Silvertips produced a best single group of 1.5 inches with a group average of 1.9 inches. I'm convinced that with the addition of a quality scope and a more stable bench rest platform, like a lower rail mounted collapsible bipod, shooters should easily be able to stretch the range and improve the accuracy of this pistol.
Although a variety of rifle-action pistols can be found on the market, not every attempt to convert shoulder-mounted firearms to hand-held ones is successful. Kel-Tec's PLR-16, on the other hand, is a real success story. Simply stated, putting the PLR-16 through its paces is some of the best fun I've had while conducting a gun test. You can enjoy all of the head-turning flash and hoorah of a magnum revolver, but with modest recoil similar to that of a 9mm pistol. Its light weight, modest recoil and top-notch accuracy make it a pleasure to work with. This pistol's 5.56/.223 chambering, and AR-style magazine compatibility, make it an ideal handgun for AR enthusiasts. For plinking, handgun hunting, bench-rest target shooting, and even home defense, the PLR-16 can do it all.
Manufacturer: Kel-Tec; Kel-TecWeapons.com
Action: Gas Operated Semi-Automatic
Caliber: 5.56 mm NATO/.223 Remington
Grips: Black Polymer
Barrel Length: 9.2”
Overall Length: 18.5”
Weight: 3.42 lbs.
Capacity: 10 Round Magazine, or M-16 Compatible
Twist: 1:9" RH
Rifle Grooves: 6
Suggested Retail Price: $ 665
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