The Kel-Tec PLR-16 is the pistol version of their SU-16 rifle. It utilizes a long strong gas action with a rotating AR-15 type bolt, yet has no buffer tube in the back. This makes for a unique and effective small powerhouse that fits a lot of places that rifles don’t.
The bolt handle on the PLR-16 reciprocates like an AK-47, but it does have a last round holdopen. There is however no real bolt drop button, so you still have to pull back the cocking handle when you insert a new magazine.
The PLR-16 comes with a 10 round magazine but it is compatible with all standard AR-15 magazines. The ten rounder is however not backwards compatible to the AR-15 for some reason.
The rear sight is somewhat adjustable for windage, and the front sight can be adjust for height with an AR-15 tool. The sight radius is over 12 inches, so you have a lot more ability to shoot at distance than you do with a standard pistol.
Out of the box our test gun shot about 2 inches right and perfect height at 50 yards. This just under two inch group was about standard with open sights at 50 yards.
Fiocchi range ammo measured about 2400 fps. on our chronograph. This works out to 700 foot pounds with a 55 grain bullet, about 100 more than a .357 magnum.
If you are looking for superior performance from your short barreled rifle and this PLR-16, Hornady Superformace Varmint is a secret weapon of sorts in the .223. IT produced another 200 fps. in this pistol, and the ballistic coefficient of the 53 grain bullet retains more downrange energy as well.
This is as far as the PLR-16 takes down without tools. It isn’t the easiest gun to clean, but it doesn’t get very dirty either.
Kel-Tec sells a forend kit for the PLR-16, but beware you are not allowed to put a front handle on a pistol unless it is an SBR.
It seems that the never ending demand for Kel-Tec guns isn’t ever actually going to end. The Cocoa, Florida company that was once known only for affordable, plain Jane pocket pistols has completely come of age. We were able to get our hands on one of the early Kel-Tec breakout products, the 5.56/.223 PLR-16 pistol, MSRP $665, and from a couple afternoons at the range it is clear why everyone seems to want a Kel-Tec. Never short on genius and guts the innovative line of quality Kel-Tec products are so different from everything else that they are beyond “game changers. ” They exist in their own world. At first this uniqueness was a challenge I’m sure. In the early days of the PLR-16 and it’s rifle version, the SU-16, I walked past them in gunshops and gunshows for many years with nary a second glance. They look funny, and they are, after all, plastic. But as an ever increasing army of Kel-Tec shooters will tell you, there are few flaws in any of these guns. Unfortunately, like most Kel-Tec guns right now, the PLR-16 is difficult to find for sale. But if you can find one, or if you can get yourself on the list to order, this is yet another superior product from Kel-Tec that simply has no equal.
The PLR-16 is a fairly simple gun. The bolt works like an AR-15, and there is a short gas tube running from the front of the barrel to the rotating bolt. The difference is that there is no rear buffer tube, so it is also kind of half AK-47. With all of the back and forth controversy of the “piston” AR-15 versus the traditional impingement design, you have to wonder, hey, why not just do it like Kel-Tec? We have now shot the PLR-16 with 55-79 grain 5.56 ammo from several manufacturers, and it has yet to fail. The gun weighs three and a half pounds empty, and the twist is 1 turn in 9 inches, so it can handle just about any 5.56/.223 ammo on the market. The magazine that comes with the PLR-16 is a 10 rounder, but it also is compatible with all AR-15 magazines for high capacity applications. The gun comes with serviceable rear notch and AR-15 style front open sights, and the integral molded plastic Picatinny rail along the top will hold any optic or red dot electronic sight.
Kel-Tec sells a front handguard assembly for the PLR-16, and it has a bottom rail, but keep in mind that this is a pistol, and you are not legally allowed to add a front grip to a pistol without registering it as an SBR, or Short Barreled Rifle. The point of balance is just behind the front of the magazine well on the PLR-16, so bracing it with your other hand at the front of well is comfortable and natural. Recoil is extremely light, with virtually no muzzle flip at all, but because of the short barrel, the gun is loud. The standard rifle velocity for a 5.56/.223 round is 3240 fps. with a 55 grain bullet. The PLR-16, with its 9.2 inch barrel is listed as having to settle for 2600 fps., and we measured Fiocchi range rounds on the chronograph at about 2400 fps. A lot of powder burns outside of the barrel, and that makes a big boom.
You also take a big hit on muzzle energy using the 5.56/.223 round in a pistol. Velocity is squared in the formula for muzzle energy, so any loss in velocity takes a heavy toll on calculated foot pounds. For the PLR-16, it works out to 700 foot pounds of energy in our measured tests, versus 1282 foot pounds from the same round in a full length rifle. Compare that to just over 600 foot pounds for at .357 Magnum, and 970 foot pounds in a .44 Magnum. The PLR-16 falls in between them, but remember, it has no recoil, and it’ll take a 30 round AR-15 magazine. This adds up to a lot of very versatile firepower in a very small package, able to be handled by even the smallest shooter. We were able to get the 2600 fps. from Hornady Superformance, so if you want the most out of your PLR-16 (and also 16″ M4s), you should know that the powder blending technology in Superformance is specifically suited in the .223 for the most burn in short barreled tactical weapons.
The biggest shocker with the PLR-16 was the accuracy. The open sights on the gun give you a sight radius of just over twelve inches. That makes it easier than a carry pistol to shoot at distance, so we elected to conduct accuracy tests at fifty yards instead of ten like we would with a regular pistol. The PLR-16 repeatedly put five round groups into under 2 inches at this distance, and three round groups were generally in the inch range. With a fine optic the PLR-16 could very well be a close to MOA pistol, and for general personal protection and hunting situations it is well within acceptable range, and a heck of a little weapon. We didn’t think to test the accuracy with the Superformance Varmint, and hindsight being 20/20, we’ll have to get back out with it for a future installment. Generally the Hornady ammo outshoots everything else, and the Superformance Varmint even does it with more velocity on top.
That brings us to the grand question of what is this neat little gun for? For a lot of us, we don’t need a reason to buy a unique firearm that we will shoot several times a year, but the PLR-16 is a lot more than a nerd gun. At 18 inches in overall length, and under four pounds, you can fit the PLR-16 in a lot of places that you can’t fit a rifle, but yet you retain the advantages of close to rifle sized firepower, and close to rifle accuracy, even with open sights. It fits perfectly in the front flap of a large suitecase, and though you can’t fly with it like that, I’ve already used the PLR-16 as a take along “just in case” gun on a weekend jaunt into Key West. Discreet, light, firepower is a clear advantage to the PLR-16, and that is why, like many of the Kel-Tecs, it is in a class by itself. As a ranch gun, a truck gun, and just about any other type of utility role, the PLR-16 is going to give you more performance than pretty much any pistol, and many rifles, in a small and durable package.
The only downside to the PLR-16 we could find was that it doesn’t have a bolt drop button. The last round holdopen works great, but its purpose is defeated because you have to pull the bolt back when you slam a new magazine, kind of like an M1A/M14. Because the bolt handle is on the right side, it forces you to remove your trigger hand to drop the bolt. It is a shame because the holdopen is connected to a plate at the bottom of the magwell, so a lever could be integrated without a lot of work. Kel-Tec makes a replacement bolt handle for the PLR-16 to deflect the rounds more forward, but it is still on the right side. The trigger is actually pretty good on the PLR-16, breaking just under 7 pounds. It could be lighter, but there is almost no creep after the initial takeup and stop. Not much for complaints, but there is little else to complain about.
A lot of times you will see in the comments on discussion forums “I would never pay (n) dollars for a Kel-Tec.” It is a shame that on the internet you can be anything you want to be, yet so many people choose to be complete idiots. Be careful of taking advice from anonymous posters on internet forums. Many of them just lie to stir up trouble. The early Kel-Tec pistols weren’t the most reliable guns in the world, but it has been a decade since all of these problems were cured in the small pistols, and none of the larger and long guns have never had any problems. The PLR-16 and the other higher priced Kel-Tecs are completely reliable with normal use and they are a great buy for the money, if you can even find one. Will a Kel-Tec take the abuse of a good quality AR? No, probably not. They are after all mostly fiberglass filled and reinforced plastic. If you plan to put 10,000 rounds a year through your gun, you probably should not consider the PLR-16 a candidate for your main gun. But if you want a great little gun for accurate plinking and a ton of self defense firepower in a small and reliable package, the PLR-16 is a great choice. Fitted with a zeroed red dot sight, it is my new take along gun, and if you get one it will be yours as well. The PLR-16 is a unique gun with a lot of purpose.