The .22 Winchester Magnum Rifle rimfire cartridge, also known as the .22 WMR or .22 Mag, was launched in 1959. Thanks to its larger case capacity, this cartridge can launch a .224-cal. bullet from long guns at velocities nearing 2,000 f.p.s. This makes it faster, harder-hitting and flatter-shooting than the much-loved .22 LR with a negligible increase in felt recoil. As an effective rimfire round for small game hunting and pest control, it has been adopted by various gun makers for use in bolt-action, lever-action and semi-automatic rifles.
The .22 WMR has also found favor as a handgun cartridge. The velocity potential for .22 caliber rimfire rounds drops notably when fired from 6" or shorter barrels, but the .22 WMR maintains its performance advantages when compared to the .22 LR. As a result, it's not too hard to find popular brands of double-action and single-action revolvers chambered for this round. The .22 WMR has also made its way into diminutive pocket pistols like the TrailBlazer Lifecard and the North American Arms Mini revolver.
The PMR30 is one of only a handful of .22 WMR pistols to make it to the market.
But historically speaking, there hasn't been much in the way of .22 WMR semi-automatic pistols. This is due in part to the engineering challenges of developing magazines and an action which operate reliably despite this slim cartridge’s tapered case, rimmed base and varying pressure levels.
Of the handful of .22 WMR semi-automatic pistols that actually made it to the market place, one model that has withstood the test of time is the KelTec Firearms PMR30 which was designed by George Kellgren. This pistol and I both 'launched' at the 2010 SHOT Show held in Las Vegas, Nev. It was the first show I attended as a gun writer, and the evaluation of the PMR30 was one of my assignments from that event. I made arrangements to keep this gun and, nearly 15 years later, we're both still here and cycling properly.
This pistol’s slide has always been optics-ready.
But things have changed over the years. Recently we've seen two new contenders step into in the polymer .22 WMR pistol arena: the Walther Arms WMP released in the spring of 2022 and the Smith & Wesson M&P 22 Magnum which arrived mid-2023. Micro red dot optics have evolved from pistol competition options into affordable defensive pistol sighting systems. And the demand for personal protection handguns which generate low levels of felt recoil has grown enough that ammunition manufacturers are now offering .22 LR and .22 WMR cartridges with powder and bullet configurations designed specifically for handgun-length barrels. All of these factors warrant a fresh look at this rimfire pistol.
Composed primarily of polymer, the PMR-30 weighs just 15.6 ozs. unloaded. Image courtesy of Keltecweapons.com.
The KelTec PMR30 is a single-action, hammer-fired semi-automatic that employs a unique hybrid blowback/locked-breech action which is self-adjusting for changes in cartridge pressure levels. This innovative pistol design has proven to be sound, but it was not perfect when it first left the factory. The original 1:9” rifling twist-rate contributed to bullets keyholing, so it was adjusted to 1:11” to address the issue.
Other subtle tweaks and changes have been made, including a lightly textured, matte-finish frame to replace of the original shiny, slick version. For the most part, the PMR30 is the same gun it was 15 years ago. Nevertheless, for this re-evaluation, I lined up a factory-fresh pistol to evaluate. For those who go back to look at the previous review, you'll notice slight differences in weights, dimensions, trigger pull weight, etc. when compared to this current production model.
The clamshell design of the glass-filled nylon frame and aluminum receiver are secured with a total of eight frame screws.
One of the original goals of this pistol design was to reduce its weight as much as possible. Polymer components make up most of the pistol, including the slide cover, trigger, the impact resistant glass-filled nylon frame and most of the magazine parts. A milled 7075 aluminum receiver, which is the serial numbered component of this model, is sandwiched clam-shell style between the two halves of the grip frame. The slide and 4.3" barrel are made from 4140 steel, with a blued finish, along with a few other steel parts including the takedown pin and frame screws. The factory-fresh, black polymer pistol used for this evaluation tips the scales at just 15.4 ozs. with an empty magazine inserted in the grip.
The forward steel portion of the slide is slim with a square profile. The rear slide cover is textured polymer cover secured by four retention screws. The steel front sight blade is dovetailed into the slide and sports a bright green HIVIZ Shooting Systems' fiber optic. The fixed square notch rear sight, molded into the polymer plate, features two more red/orange HIVIZ light pipes to form a three-dot sight picture.
The grip features KelTec’s signature checker board texturing.
Whether by design or happenstance, the polymer slide cover's quartet of retention screws made the PMR30 optics ready years before micro red-dots became the standard feature they are today. I took advantage of this feature to fit the pistol with a polymer Tandemkross [TK] Freedom Picatinny rail mount (TK08N0029BLK1, $24) using the hardware provided with the rail.
I would have used one of KelTec's recommended Burris Optics red-dot models, but I couldn't get the timing to work out. Instead, an aftermarket aluminum rail clamp was paired with a lightweight, polymer housing Crimson Trace model CTS-1550 with a 3-m.o.a. red dot (#01-01960, $180). The PMR30 is a lightweight gun, so it only seems logical to make the same effort with the optic which, with the clamp, adds just 1.4 ozs. to the gun. Although this optic's configuration certainly worked well, KelTec could afford to take a look at updating the slide cover for optics. How about a molded-in Picatinny rail, or, an optics cutout which would allow Shield RMS foot print optics to be mounted directly to the pistol so as to rest low enough for a partial or complete co-witness with the fiber optics? As they said in the The Six Million Dollar Man (1974) TV series, "We have the technology!"
This pistol is shipped with fiber optic sights and a generous 3” long accessory rail molded into the dustcover.
Disassembling the PMR30 is a simple process which does not require the trigger to be cycled. Start by removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded and then close the slide. Press the frame-mounted takedown pin out of the pistol using a pin punch or similar tool. The slide can then be pressed forward off of the frame.
Inside is a slender recoil assembly consisting of a steel guide rod supporting one captured round-wire recoil spring. Lifting out the recoil assembly allows the white polymer buffer, located at the muzzle end of the slide, to be removed. Pressing the barrel block all the way forward allows it to be lifted out of the slide and then the barrel can be removed. It's a different internal configuration than I've seen in any other pistol I've worked with.
The PMR30 is easily separated into these eight components for routine cleaning.
The polymer frame's dust cover features a relatively long 3", six-slot Picatinny accessory rail suitable for a wide variety of laser and light modules. The front of the trigger guard is flattened to serve as a finger rest. The single-action polymer trigger is a treat to work with. This gun exhibited a smooth trigger pull with just a bit of take up before breaking with 3 lbs., 2 ozs. of pressure. The remaining external controls include a left-side slide-stop lever, an ambidextrous thumb safety and a heel-mounted magazine release located along the back edge of the magazine well.
For some readers, the heel-mounted magazine release will seem utterly foreign, especially in a time when most polymer guns' releases are buttons situated behind the trigger guard. However, they were a common feature of 20th century-era European combat pistol designs. Magazines were a precious commodity in those days that quickly disappeared if dropped in often-muddy battlefield conditions.
This pistol’s wedge-shaped magazines hold up to 30 rounds of .22 WMR ammunition.
A heel release then, as now, has the benefits of being a simple, rugged mechanism which is unlikely to result in a bump release. It's accessible to right- or left-handed shooters and it positions the support hand to catch and retain the empty magazine. Since the PMR30 was originally conceived to be a field gun, it made sense to use this kind of release. For folks who want more to grab on to when swapping magazines, Tandemkross offers the looped and extended Maverick magazine bumper (TK08N0112BLK1, $30).
But unlike the older European pistols, which force manual magazine extraction by ejecting them only part way, the KelTec magazines are of the drop-free variety. Those who are looking for a speedier reload can just let them fall to make room for a fresh magazine. As for the release's positioning on the gun, it's a love it or leave it feature. But I've found that it's easy to use with a bit of practice.
More recent aftermarket accessories include the Maglula magazine loader (l.) and the looped Tandemkross Maverick (r.) bumper plate.
The checkerboard-textured grip has an unusual, but not uncomfortable, pie-wedge shape. It is contoured this way in order to accommodate this pistol's innovative, and relatively triangular, magazines. By making the magazine wider at the back, there is room for the rimmed portion of the cartridges to kick out a bit to the left and right sides for an impressive double-stacked capacity of 30 rounds of .22 WMR ammunition.
I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Maglula brand magazine loaders which have been sparing shooting sports enthusiasts of post-range thumb pain for many years. Not too long ago, the company started offering a Lula loader for the PMR30 with a top-lever that presses rounds down into the magazine and a front lever which presses backwards to seat them into place. Once I got the hang of the two-lever rhythm, this Lula loader proved to be quick, comfortable and easy to use.
American ammunition manufactures, including Federal, Hornady, Speer and Winchester, now offer handgun-specific .22 WMR loads.
In regards to ammunition selection for the PMR30, there is room for experimentation to find out which loads work best in your pistol. But as a rule of thumb, I've found that jacketed bullets weighing 40 grains or 45 grains are the best place to start. As it turns out, these are also the two bullet weights most common used in .22 WMR loads configured specifically for handguns.
For this shooting range test, I settled into a bench rest with the Crimson Trace optic in place to shoot at a distance of 25 yards. This pistol operated reliably using a total of five in-house magazines, two of which were the old original models and three recently manufactured. The pistol experienced two failures to feed in the first 25 rounds fired. One was a bullet jammed up against the feed ramp and the other a spent cartridge case which did not clear the ejection port. After that, it was smooth sailing with all ammunition tested.
The PMR30 is soft shooting with a smooth, light trigger pull. Formal testing was conducted from a bench rest with handgun and rifle loads.
Formal accuracy testing included the Federal Premium Punch and Hornady Critical Defense personal protection loads with listed handgun velocities of 1,000-fps. The test set was rounded out with Remington’s Magnum Rimfire rifle cartridge which is proving to be a solid performer in semi-automatic handguns. It's listed with a long-gun velocity of 1,910 f.p.s.
When fired from the PMR30, the two handgun loads picked up some speed while the rifle round slowed down a good bit. However, the Federal and Remington loads generated comparable bullet velocities. In most cases, I’m looking for handguns to knock out 3” to 3.5” groups at this distance when using iron sights. When using a red-dot optic I can shrink the groups by up to half an inch. The largest group of the test was 2.87”, which indicates the rig was out shooting the enthusiast running it. Here are range results:
Like some of George Kellgren's other polymer-frame pistol designs, including the P3AT (the inspiration for the Ruger LCP series) and the P11 (the first true 'Micro Nine' pistol), the PMR30 was ahead of its time. Now other gun makers are catching up to this polymer-framed rimfire. As of this writing, I've conducted evaluations of the three current production guns in this class, including the Walther, Smith & Wesson and KelTec offerings. Based on these tests, I feel comfortable saying that the KelTec can comfortably go toe-to-toe with these more recent models.
Hornady’s Critical Defense punched out the tightest five-shot group of 2.11”.
The PMR30's 15-year-old feature-set is right at home with what folks are looking for in cutting-edge, semi-automatic pistols these days. This includes the fiber-optic sights, optic-ready slide, the dustcover accessory rail and the still impressive 30+1 ammunition capacity. This pistol's smooth trigger pull and reliable operation sweeten the deal. At 15.6 ozs., it's lighter than the Smith & Wesson (22 ozs.) and the Walther (28 ozs.). And with a suggested retail price of $495, which translates to real-world prices closer to $400, the PMR30 pistol costs less as well. For more information, visit keltecweapons.com.
KelTec PMR30 Specifications
Manufacturer: KelTec Firearms
Action Type: hybrid blowback/locked-breech, hammer-fired, single-action, semi-automatic rimfire pistol
Chambering: .22 WMR
Receiver: 7075 aluminum
Frame: glass-reinforced nylon frame
Slide: 4140 steel, blued finish with polymer cover
Barrel: 4.3" 4140 steel, blued finish
Rifling: six-groove, 1:11" RH-twist
Magazine: 30-round detachable box
Sights: fixed; Hi-Viz, fiber-optic
Trigger: 3-lb., 2-oz. pull (as tested)
Width: 1.6" (grip)
Weight: 15.4 ozs. (unloaded)
Accessories: owner's manual, two magazines, foam-lined case, trigger lock