Kel-Tec PMR-30 .22 WMR Autoloading Pistol
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Founded in Cocoa, Florida in 1991, Kel-Tec CNC Industries, Inc. (http://www.keltecweapons.com) is a privately held corporation that began manufacturing firearms in 1995. Kel-Tec has become one of the five top handgun manufacturers in the USA, specializing in economical and innovative firearms.
Innovative is certainly an accurate description of the Kel-Tec Model PMR-30 pistol that is the subject of this review. We requested a PMR-30 for review because a .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire) autoloading pistol is so unusual. In fact, as far as we know, the PMR-30 is the only .22 Magnum pistol on the market.
Our test and evaluation PMR-30 arrived packaged in a black plastic case with hard foam lining and cutouts for the pistol and a spare magazine, which is included. This is an unusually nice case with a real hinge, dual over center latches and Kel-Tec embossed on the lid.
While the .22 WMR cartridge is easily adapted to revolvers, single shot pistols and manually operated rifles (lever, bolt and pump action), it is seldom seen in autoloading firearms, especially pistols. There are valid technical reasons for this. The smaller .22 LR is suitable for simple, blow-back operation, but the .22 WMR operates at a higher pressure that makes a blow-back action generally inappropriate. On the other hand, its low recoil makes recoil operation problematical.
In addition, the .22 Mag. is a long, skinny, rimmed cartridge, the worst shape for a semi-automatic pistol cartridge. It is probably, proportionally, the longest/skinniest cartridge commonly used in handguns of any type. For this reason, it is normally chambered only in revolvers or single shot pistols, where the chamber(s) are loaded by hand.
Look at any cartridge designed for use in autoloading pistols and you will see it is a rimless, short and stubby design. From the .25 ACP to the .45 ACP, autoloading pistol cartridges share a similar configuration for good reason. First, there is no protruding rim to catch behind the rim of another cartridge in the magazine. Second, the short stubby shape is ideal for feeding in an autoloading pistol. The longer and proportionally skinnier a cartridge is, the more likely it is to tip and fail to chamber correctly when fed from a box magazine of the type used by autoloading pistols.
A tight grip on the PMR-30 (don't limp wrist it) and full power .22 Magnum loads are necessary for maximum reliability. Kel-Tec provides a list of .22 WMR ammunition recommended for the most reliable functioning. These include the Federal Game-Shok 50 grain JHP, CCI Maxi-Mag +V 30 grain JHP, CCI Maxi-Mag 40 grain, Winchester Super-X 40 grain and Remington Premier Magnum 33 grain loads.
Specifically NOT recommended for use in the PMR-30 are the Winchester Dynapoint 45 grain and Winchester Supreme 30 grain loads. In addition, all non-US made ammunition, specifically including the Armscor 40 grain and Fiocchi 40 grain loads, are not recommended.
Not only is the PMR-30's cartridge unusual for an autoloading pistol, its operation is unique, at least in our experience. This is a hammer fired pistol that looks like a striker fired pistol, as the small hammer is concealed entirely within the frame.
It is a single action pistol that Kel-Tec says uses a hybrid blowback/locked breech system. (Perhaps some sort of hesitation lock?) Unlike the fixed barrel in a standard blowback pistol or the tipping barrel in a typical short recoil operated pistol, the PMR-30's lightweight barrel moves straight rearward about 7/32" when the PMR-30 is fired. The Kel-Tec literature claims this allows the action to seamlessly adjust from locked breech to blowback operation to compensate for differences in the operating pressure of different loads.
The materials and construction of the PMR-30 are as unusual as its hybrid operation. The slide, barrel, barrel block, guide rod, hammer, ejector, disassembly pin, springs and a few small parts are steel. The frame insert (concealed within the plastic grip frame) is aluminum, as is the front sight. Practically everything else is molded from Zytel, a glass reinforced nylon plastic. This includes the entire grip frame, the unusual slide cover, trigger, ambidextrous safety levers, magazine release lever and magazine. The fixed rear sight is molded as part of the slide cover. There is probably more plastic used in the construction of the PMR-30 than any other pistol we have encountered.
The large, double stack magazine is trapezoidal in cross-section, wider at the back and narrower in front with angled sides. It fits flush with the bottom of the grip. There are six witness holes in the front right side of the magazine body, one for every five rounds. Except for its internal spring, the magazine is made entirely of Zytel. This includes the magazine body, removable floor plate and cartridge follower. The plastic magazine latch mounted in the heel of the grip frame catches a ridge molded into the back of the magazine to hold the magazine in the grip's magazine well.
This magazine release lever operates opposite from normal heel clip mag releases. Press the release forward (inward), rather than pushing it rearward, to drop the magazine. The magazine falls freely from the grip frame, kicked free by the magazine spring by means of a small plastic tab integral with the magazine follower. This tab protrudes from a slot in the top left of the mag body.
Unlike most polymer framed pistols, the molded halves of the PMR-30 are screwed together. There are eight screws holding the grip frame together, not counting the two screws attaching the safety levers. Four more screws hold the Zytel slide cover to the slide. This part allows one to grip the slide to rack the action.
The appearance of the PMR-30 is as unusual as its construction and operation. Its plastic trigger, plastic slide cover, squared trigger guard and screwed together construction make it look rather like a toy gun. A Picatinny accessory rail is molded into the underside of the forward part of the grip frame. The PMR-30 appears to be a space age service pistol, although Kel-Tec states that it is designed for (informal) target shooting and small game hunting.
The Zytel grip is a sort of rounded trapezoidal shape, generally following the shape of the magazine. It has a smooth, convex back-strap that is reminiscent of a 1911A1 pistol. Lacking parallel sides, the grip has a rather peculiar feel. There are no removable grip panels and the gripping surface is neither smooth nor checkered. Rather, there are large, shallow rectangles measuring roughly 1/4" by 3/8" molded into both sides of the plastic grip surface. These contribute to the rather bizarre appearance of the pistol.
The trigger, safety levers, slide stop and mag release are black plastic. The grip frame and slide cover are available in black, OD green or coyote tan color. We requested the tan pistol, being weary of all black guns. Overall, the PMR-30 is probably designed for more economical production than any pistol we have previously reviewed and it looks it.
Operating the PMR-30 is significantly different from other autoloading pistols. We strongly recommend that even experienced semi-auto users read the supplied Instruction Manual. This Manual is, in general, clearly written and well illustrated with color photographs. It includes an exploded diagram (also in color) and a parts list.
We draw particular attention to the sections on Ammunition, Magazine Loading, Unloading, Disassembly, Assembly and Maintenance. These procedures are different from most autoloading pistols.
The magazine capacity is 30 rounds. That is a record, in our experience, for a service size pistol you can carry in a normal belt or shoulder holster. Load the magazine by pressing fresh cartridges down and sliding them slightly rearward into the magazine from the top. The Instruction Manual states that:
"Loading the PMR-30's double stack magazine is very different from loading most other magazines. Failure to load the magazine properly can result in rim-lock, which will lead to a FTFD malfunction. To load, fill the magazine by pressing a cartridge downward in the center of the magazine with the rim situated within the rim window. Then, slide the round back all the way before pushing another round down on top of it. After loading about 5 rounds, lightly tap the back of the magazine against a flat surface, like a table, to help seat the rounds and keep the rims arranged correctly. Once 15 to 20 rounds have been loaded, the magazine will start to get more difficult to load and tapping the back should be done every 1 or 2 rounds. The last round should be on the left side of the magazine when 30 rounds are loaded."
In order to verify this our esteemed Owner/Managing Editor, Chuck Hawks, laboriously started cramming cartridges into the magazine. As advertised, the process became more difficult (and hard on the thumb) after about 15 rounds. At round 20, Chuck noticed a new cartridge required so much force to shove into the magazine that its rim was beginning to dent the body of the preceding cartridge. This case denting grew progressively worse until round 27, when Chuck terminated the experiment to save the limited number of .22 WMR cartridges in our possession from undue damage, much to the delight of his thumb. He thinks he could have gotten the last three rounds into the magazine, but suggests that 20 rounds should be considered the normal maximum magazine load.
Shove the loaded magazine straight into the grip until it clicks into place. Firmly slap the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is correctly seated.
Grip the slide cover (there are heavy, molded-in ridges on both sides for this purpose) and rack the slide to chamber a cartridge. Let the slide slam forward under its spring tension; do not follow the slide forward with your hand, as this will slow the slide and it may not fully chamber the first round.
Conversely, do not allow the slide to slam forward on an empty chamber, as this puts extra stress on the slide and barrel where they contact. Slowly follow the slide forward onto an empty chamber.
The slide stays open after the last shot with an empty magazine in place. The manual slide catch can also be used to hold the slide open whenever desired. Fully retract the slide and shove the slide catch up until it engages a notch in the plastic slide cover. Do not attempt to release the slide by pressing down the slide stop button; pull the slide slightly back to free the manual slide catch.
The frame mounted, comfortably shaped, plastic safety lever is clicked up for SAFE and down for FIRE in the American pattern. The safety is positive in operation (at least for the duration of our testing with a new gun) and will not move up into the SAFE position unless the pistol is cocked.
The pivoted trigger is obviously plastic, with an integral over-travel stop tab. It is medium width with a smooth face and a comfortable curve. The mold line down the middle of the trigger blade is barely noticeable. There is about 1/16 inch of initial take up followed by about 3/32 inch of smooth creep leading to a 3-1/2 pound release (+/- 1/8 pound), as measured by our RCBS pull gauge. It is an easy trigger pull to manage if you shoot using a surprise break.
The fiber optic sights are of the Patridge type, a square front blade and matching square rear notch (as seen from behind). The plastic rear sight is molded integrally with the top of the slide cover. The aluminum front sight is dovetailed into the top/front of the slide.
No elevation adjustment is provided, but windage corrections can be made by sliding the front sight in the opposite direction from the way you want to move the point of impact. For example, to move the point of impact right, slide the front sight to the left in its dovetail.
Both the front and rear sights feature fiber optic rod inserts that appear as dots when the sights are aligned. The two rear sight dots are flame red, while the front sight dot is green. The sight picture is excellent and easily aligned.
Incidentally, the Instruction Manual recommends against what it calls excessive dry firing. ("Excessive" is not explained or quantified.) However, it also states that it is okay to occasionally dry fire the PMR-30 without worrying about damaging the pistol. Make of that what you will. We suspect it means you should not practice dry firing at home, but it is okay to drop the hammer after removing the magazine and verifying that the chamber is empty.
Field stripping the PMR-30 is quite different from other autoloading pistols, rimfire or centerfire. None of the gun's screws need to be removed for normal maintenance.
The process starts with removing the magazine and ensuring that the chamber is empty. Manually cycle the slide to cock the action and set the safety.
The first step is to remove the assembly pin. The Instruction Manual states that this can be started with the point of a cartridge or something similar and the pin removed with the fingers. We found it necessary to use a brass punch tapped lightly with a hammer to get the pin moving. The enlarged head of the assembly pin is on the LEFT side of the frame, so the pin must be pushed out from right to left. Note that the photos in our Instruction Manual were evidently printed reversed, as they clearly (and incorrectly) show the pin being removed from the right side of the frame. Once the assembly pin has been removed, the slide assembly can be slid forward off the grip frame.
The next step is to remove the guide rod/recoil springs assembly. Turn the slide assembly upside down. The Instruction Manual says to grip the springs (there are two coaxial springs around the guide rod) near the barrel block and compress the springs until the guide rod is free of the barrel block. This sounds easier than it proved to be. Because there are two springs, a smaller one inside a larger one, we could not retract both simultaneously with our fingers. Ultimately, we used a staple remover to snag both springs at once and compress them enough to remove the guide rod assembly.
With the guide rod assembly clear, remove the Urethane recoil buffer from the front of the slide. Slide the barrel block fully forward and lift it out of the slide. Tip the slide over and the barrel should simply fall out of the slide. The pistol is now field stripped for cleaning and no further disassembly is required.
NOTE: Do not drop the hammer with the slide assembly removed. This can damage the aluminum receiver.
Typically, re-assembly after field stripping would be handled by saying, "Assemble in reverse order." Once again, the PMR-30 is not a typical pistol.
First, insert the barrel into the slide, ensuring the large end of the barrel tabs are oriented out of the slide, or the barrel will not sit level. Next, slide the barrel all the way forward, so the muzzle sticks out the front of the slide. Place the barrel block into the slide rails through the cut-outs at the front of the slide. The recoil spring slot must be oriented forward; it will not go in backwards.
Now, push the barrel block all the way back toward the dual extractors. Insert the recoil buffer into the two slots cut for it at the front of the slide. The buffer should be oriented so the rounded edges are at the front of the slide. It will not fit correctly if put in backwards. (NEVER fire the pistol without the recoil buffer installed.)
Slide the square end of the recoil spring assembly through the slot in the buffer and into the hole in the slide. Compress the springs and snap the recoil spring assembly into the slot in the barrel block.
Finally, slide the upper slide assembly onto the grip frame assembly and pull it back to line up the assembly pin holes. Push the assembly pin all the way into its hole from the left side of the frame. Cycle the slide by hand to ensure that it moves smoothly and assembly is complete.
Shooting the PMR-30
Having familiarized ourselves with this unusual pistol, it was time to head to the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon to see how it shoots. The late summer weather was overcast with a high temperature of 75-degrees F. There was about a 9 MPH breeze across the range. As usual when evaluating a pistol, we fired five shot groups at Hoppe's slow fire pistol targets at 25 yards from a shooting bench using a Pistol Perch rest.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck handled the shooting chores, assisted by Bob Fleck. We had a limited amount of .22 Magnum ammo on hand, with only the CCI Maxi-Mag 40 grain JHP load available in sufficient quantity for our purposes. Here are the shooting results.
These dismal results were based on groups that included three or four bullet holes in the 10.5 inch by 12 inch target paper. (Some groups resulted in only two holes in the paper and these were excluded from the results above.) None of the targets we scored actually had five bullet holes in them, so the true group sizes were considerably larger than reported here. Who knows where the other bullets went? Certainly our shooters don't. None of our rather experienced shooters called any flyers so radical they should have missed the paper.
From the shooter's perspective, calling the shots, we expected the majority of five shot groups to be two inches or less. Silly us. No one can shoot well with a pistol that groups like a shotgun pattern at 25 yards.
We expected the PMR-30 to shoot accurately, as have the .22 Magnum revolvers we have owned, but we had doubts about its reliability handling the long .22 WRM cartridge. In fact, the pistol worked perfectly, without any sort of malfunction, but exhibited terrible accuracy. Go figure.
Just to make sure his disappointing groups were not his fault, Chuck pulled his Ruger LC9s sub-compact 9x19mm concealed carry pistol and fired a few groups. The results were as expected, with five shots at 25 yards averaging about four inches and centered on the bull's eye, typical performance for this pistol.
The smooth, non-adjustable trigger, despite its take-up and creep, received praise from all shooters. Also praiseworthy was the PMR-30's fast cycling and positive extraction/ejection. This pistol can be fired very quickly and empty cases are thrown a long way from the shooter.
Chuck felt the grip, which tapers toward the front strap, didn't fit his hand as well as a grip with parallel sides and made it more difficult to index the pistol horizontally. Jim thought the curved back strap should have been straight, which would benefit shooters with smaller hands.
Chuck and Jim found the sights highly visible and easy to align, with a nearly ideal gap between the front sight and the sides of the rear notch. Rocky, on the other hand, found the fiber optic colors distracting. He thought he could have shot better with them taped over.
Rocky suggested that one could paint the PMR-30's plastic parts orange and everyone would think it a toy pistol. This would be a unique way to "conceal" a carry pistol.
We feel that a .22 Magnum handgun intended for target shooting and hunting should have at least a six inch barrel to take advantage of the ballistics of the cartridge. The evidence of this was obvious, as a substantial and very visible muzzle flash from the PMR-30's four inch barrel was clearly evident, even in daytime. At night it would really be something to see.
Any magnum caliber handgun, including a .22 WMR, should have at least a six inch barrel and longer is better. None of them realize their true ballistic potential in shorter barrels.
Everyone thought the $415 2014 MSRP much too high for a pistol built like a toy gun. We agreed that it should list for well under $300, assuming it was capable of shooting two inch groups at 25 yards. Whether the PMR-30 could be modified/improved to meet that accuracy standard is doubtful, although Rocky, our Gunsmithing Editor, thought he might be able to do so.
The PMR-30 is advertised as being intended for informal target shooting and small game hunting, pursuits for which it is utterly useless. So what role might a PMR-30 fulfill?
Oddly, we think it would serve satisfactorily as a close range home defense pistol, especially for a rather timid and recoil shy shooter. For instance, women who are not recreational shooters, but feel the need for protection at home and are willing to master the PMR-30's manual of arms. Due to its integral Picatinny rail, it could easily be fitted with a laser sight, which makes aiming quick and easy even for relatively inexperienced shooters.
The .22 WMR cartridge is not as quiet as the .22 LR, but it is quieter than a .38 or .380. It also hits much harder than a .22 LR and, with 40 grain JHP bullets, causes truly nasty wounds. Put a few of these quickly into a perp's chest and aggressive behavior is very likely to permanently stop.
The pistol is very lightweight and easy for even a small woman to control. It is sufficiently accurate to hit an adult human target center of mass at typical indoor, across the room, distances. The up to 30 round magazine gives it a lot of firepower, a true spray and pray pistol. Thus, while the Kel-Tec PMR-30 is unsuitable for its stated target shooting and hunting roles, it might, for the right person, be a reasonable choice for indoor home defense.
Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews page.
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