Happy Fun Gun Time: The Kel-Tec PMR-30
I used to work in a gun store that catered to an older clientele. Retirees were our #1 source of customers, and they would often come in looking for a self-defense pistol. We’d start off with something like a Glock 19 or something similar, but operating the slide would prove to be too much for most elderly hands. We’d then move to revolvers, but the 10+ pound trigger pulls on those guns were just too much. That’s when I would walk them over to take a look at the Kel-Tec PMR-30.
Don’t get me wrong, the PMR-30 is a great little gun for almost everyone. It’s lightweight (extremely lightweight), has a great trigger, is fun to shoot, doesn’t really recoil, and packs a walloping 30 rounds in each magazine. What’s not to love about a gun like that? All those features make the Kel-Tec PMR-30 a great defensive pistol for people who cannot safely operate more conventional pistols. More than that, though, out of all the guns I’ve ever shot, it’s probably my favorite gun to take to the range. Let me explain why.
Kel-Tec PMR-30: First Impressions
The PMR-30 is a great example of Kel-Tec’s innovative approach to firearms. The pistol is extremely light. Unloaded, it weighs less than a pound, just 14 ounces. In fact, a fully loaded PMR-30 with an additional loaded 30 round magazine weighs about the same as an unloaded Glock 19. One of the reasons for this light weight is that the gun makes extensive use of polymers, including portions of the slide. The trigger is also light, breaking at only 3.5 pounds in our tests.
Getting a rimmed cartridge like .22 Magnum to work in a magazine-fed semi automatic pistol can be a challenge. The rimmed edge of each cartridge can get stacked up against each other, and that leads to a failure to feed malfunction. The PMR30 gets around this issue by building a feed guide into the magazine that allows the rounds to stack properly inside. Speaking of those magazines, while it’s true they can hold 30 rounds, getting that many loaded is a challenge. The spring that feeds each round up to the firing chamber inside the PMR30 is very strong. Getting new rounds into the magazine gets progressively more difficult, putting an effective cap of 20 or so rounds in a magazine until those springs loosen up over time.
The innovation inside the Kel-Tec PMR-30 doesn’t stop with its magazine and what it’s made from. The muzzle energy of .22 Magnum ammunition can vary widely, which means the action of the PMR30 needs to be able to work reliably with everything from low-power plinking rounds to high-strength hunting and personal defense ammo. The PMR30 uses a unique hybrid action system that allows it to run smoothly with all sorts of .22 Magnum ammo. With higher-pressure loads, the barrel of the pistol moves slightly rearward with the slide like a traditional locked-breech action. When firing lower-pressure loads, the PMR-30 acts similar to blowback firearms, and the barrel does not move while the slide cycles the action.
The PMR30’s controls are well-laid out and placed where you expect them to be, with one exception. The extended length of the .22 Magnum cartridge compared to, say, 9mm means that the magazine needs to be longer back-to-front than the magazine for most pistols. This, in turn, means that the grip needs to be longer back to front than most handguns. That’s where things get weird.
The grip on the KelTec PMR30 is unlike the grip on any pistol you’ve ever shot. Because of the length of a .22 Magnum round, it’s very long back to front. This length makes it almost impossible to wrap your fingers around the grip like you would a more conventional pistol. Surprisingly, the large grip on this gun doesn’t really affect your accuracy, due to the fact that .22 Magnum has very little recoil.
And let’s face it, while .22 Magnum is an unusual choice for a semi-automatic pistol, it actually makes a lot of sense. The ammunition is easy to find, inexpensive to shoot, and is available in a wide variety of different bullet types. It is also a surprisingly effective self-defense caliber. There are several different JHP rounds available in .22 magnum, with muzzle energies that place them right in-between .22LR and 9mm. The bottom line is, I wouldn’t feel out-gunned if I carried a PMR-30 with me on a walk through the woods, or if I used it in my home as a self-defense gun.
To test the accuracy of the Kel-Tec PMR-30, we fired four five-shot groups of two different kinds of .22 Magnum ammunition at a target 15 yards away. We also recorded the average muzzle velocity for each shot using a Pro Chrony chronograph stationed five feet away from the muzzle.
CCI MAXI-X 40 GRAIN FMJ
Average Group Size: 1.58 inches
Minimum Group Size: 1.13 inches
Maximum Group Size: 1.88 inches
Average Velocity: 1257 fps
Average Group Size: 1.77 inches
Minimum Group Size: 1.30 inches
Maximum Group Size: 2.36 inches
Average Velocity: 1540 fps
By way of comparison, a recent test of the Glock 48, a popular compact 9mm defensive pistol, turned in an average group size of 2.83 inches. The Kel-Tec PMR-30 can shoot, and shoot well.
Now we come to the Achilles Heel of this gun. For a variety of reasons, rimfire ammunition is not as reliable in a semiautomatic pistol as centerfire ammunition. Rimfire ammunition has a rim around the edge of the cartridge that holds the primer compound. The rims of each cartridge can stack on top of each other inside of a magazine. This in turn can cause failures to feed when shooting your gun. Also, in my experience, the priming compound along the edge of a round of rimfire ammunition is much less reliable than the primer in the middle of a round of centerfire ammo.
This one-two punch means that the Kel-Tec PMR-30 is just not as reliable as a semi-automatic pistol that uses a centerfire round like 9mm. I shot 250 rounds of ammunition through this gun and had 6 failures to feed. This means that I had a reliability issue with the PMR-30 around every 50 rounds or so. This may seem bad (and if I’m honest, it is), but it is mitigated by two things.
- The gun is so much fun to shoot. I am willing to put up with an occasional hiccup if the gun is putting an ear-to-ear grin on my face.
- One failure every 50 rounds (-ish) translates into almost two full magazines of ammunition headed downrange without a hitch. Let’s do a little math here: 50 rounds of 30 grain JHP rounds equal about 3.42 ounces of lead. At an average speed of 1540 feet per second, that is 7,900 foot pounds worth of ouch headed towards the target.
Would I recommend the Kel-Tec PMR-330? Yes, I would. It’s a great gun for three specific kinds of gun owners.
The first is people who are looking for a lightweight gun to carry while hiking or backpacking. The PMR-30 is a bit too big for everyday concealed carry, but for states where open carry is allowed in the great outdoors, it would make a great kit gun.
The second group is people who don’t have the physical strength to manipulate a more-normal pistol or revolver. The trigger on the PMR-30 is feather-light and the slide is also very easy to operate. These two features, plus the easy recoil of the .22 Magnum round, means it’s a great gun for people who might have less strength than the average gun owner.
Finally, the Kel-Tec PMR-30 is a great range gun. With its loud bark, flat recoil, and large capacity magazine, you’ll want to shoot it for hours and hours on end. As it makes about the same amount of noise as a centerfire pistol, it can also serve as an intermediate step for newer shooters. A PMR-30 lets them shoot something that is between the low recoil and low noise of .22LR pistol, and the heavier recoil and louder sound of, say, a Glock 19.
The Kel-Tec PMR-30 is an overlooked gem of a gun. It may be a niche gun, but shooting it will bring a smile to your face. Yes, there is a time to get serious about training and shoulder the burden of mastering pistol marksmanship, but there is also a time for shooting for the love of shooting. That is the time for a Kel-Tec PMR-30.