Those of you who haven’t had the chance to put some rounds through a Kel-Tec SU16 are in for an experience. This lightweight polymer based rifle is one in a growing new class of .223s. Make no mistake about it–the SU16 isn’t Kel-Tec’s take on the venerable AR-15 design, as I’ve heard some suggest. Despite a passing resemblance, and a common chambering, the SU16 is intended for an entirely different purpose.
Specs on the SU16CA
|Magazine Capacity:||10 rounds, or M-16 compatible|
|Trigger Pull:||5lbs to 7lbs||22.2N to 31.1N|
What makes it a SU16CA? Kel-Tec makes several versions of the SU16. The CA has Parkerized steel parts. The front sight is moved back to the gas block, and the barrel is threaded. It won’t fire when the stock is folded, which makes the gun more likely to pass muster in states with serious restrictions on liberty. More on that later. It is essentially an SU16C with storage in a stock that won’t scare California Democratic lawmakers quite so badly.
This isn’t a gun for those of you with polymer prejudices. I originally had a hard time deciding if the Kel-Tec Su16CA was a tool, or a range-time treat for the guy who has everything else. The gun just didn’t look rugged enough. The amount of polymer left me questioning if this gun would function at all. Even now, after I’ve put 1,000 rounds through this one, I’m left scratching my head. It works, and works exceptionally well.
Let’s start with the obvious highlights. One of the first things that makes the gun attractive is its 4.7 pound weight. The SU16 achieves this by limiting the amount of steel in the build. The barrel and action are steel. Most everything else is polymer, and it can be unnerving. When you first pick up the SU16, you will feel what I mean. It is designed to be easy to carry in a pack. It is a survival rifle. And it is certainly does that job well.
But the SU16 does more than your typical survival rifle. Most survival guns sacrifice features and performance for a reduction in weight. The SU16 has some nice attributes that set it apart. The forend splits open into a bipod. And the long-stroke gas-piston makes the rifle reliable and very easy to maintain. When you add in the folding stock and threaded barrel, the SU16CA begins to look much more versatile than the typical pack gun.
The gun is designed to work with all AR-15 compatible magazines, and ships with two 10 round polymer magazines. The magazine is released with an ar15 style button. Sadly the magazines I had during the testing of the rifle did not drop free, however I’m sure some out there do.While I’m not one to use 10 round mags, I appreciate the way they fit into the stock. It is useful for organizing ammo selection for specific purposes. And if you keep them loaded, the mags make this a grab-and-go type of gun.
The rifle features a removable (and adjustable) rear sight that mounts directly onto a polymer 1913 rail (which can also be used for the mounting of optics). The charging handle reciprocates, and the safety operates on a cross bolt design. The trigger breaks at a clean 6 pounds. The gun also folds at the grip, but this does render the rifle unusable. Lastly the chrome lined barrel is threaded to 1/2×28. So if you wanted to add something to the end of the barrel, you could. Just saying.
Shooting the Su16
So how does a gun that’s made with so much polymer shoot? Surprisingly well. Maybe I’m exposing my own polymer prejudice, but I didn’t expect the SU16 to work flawlessly, but it did. I began at 100 yards with the factory presets. Brass and steel cased ammo both worked fine and I put round after round onto a steel silhouette. The SU16 is very easy to shoot form the shoulder as it’s substantially lighter than your typical decked-out AR. The rifle balances well and isn’t fatiguing, at all.
The bipod is easy to use, too. Pull the slider back and the arms pop down. The bipod supplies enough support and steadies the gun well enough that I was able to engage the steel silhouette’s head. While it isn’t an MOA gun, it works well enough that I could consistently flip the center flipper plate on the torso. Groups came in at roughly six inches–nothing to write home about, but perfectly in line with the intended use of the rifle.
I added a 3×9 briefly, but it didn’t feel right on the SU16. I was able to get the group sizes down to 3 inches, but I didn’t get the consistency I’d hoped for. The rail on the top is polymer, and that in itself poses some challenges for securely mounting optics. In the end, I decided I wouldn’t put anything on the rail (apart from the rear sight). The extra weight didn’t seem worth it. This is a featherweight. Leave it alone.
Why isn’t it an MOA rifle? There are a number of factors. The first is the mix of polymer and steel. These materials heat up and respond to heat quite differently. And the barrel isn’t free-floated. The front sight is built onto the gas block, which limits the sight radius. On the back end, the rear sight sits on a polymer rail. The whole system is rigid enough for its intended purposes, and not rigid enough for exceptional repeat accuracy.
And I’m perfectly fine with that. The more I worked with the SU16, the more I thought of this as a survival rifle. And I’d never trust a survival gun that was reliant on a scope or on optic. The SU16 gets a pass as far as I’m concerned.
As far as I’m concerned, the rifle has no limitations. If you insist on comparing it to an AR-15, sure, there are going to be obvious places where the gun comes up short. The SU16 isn’t as customizable as an AR, and it doesn’t offer as much recoil control or ergonomic sophistication. But this isn’t an AR. Even though it shoots the .223, it has to be seen in a different light.
The SU16 is only meant to stand in for an AR in places where the AR-15 is legally challenged. Another big feature of the SU16 is that the gun meets compliance standards in many states. If you had to live in California, for example, an SU16CA would be a decent replacement for the AR-15. And it is also a packable firearm designed for the hiker, the predator hunter, or for the bug out bag. It follows the old world protocol of the pack weapon; light, small, and deadly. As far as compromises go, the SU16CA isn’t bad.
We put the SU16CA through the California criteria and it seems to pass. The forums, though, are full of stories of questionable rifles being confiscated by LEOs. The moral of the story is this. Check. Double check. Print out documentation. Tuck it in the gun case. Cover your ass. Check out the flowchart Calguns has put together. The absurdity will melt your brain.
For the rest of us, the SU16CA, or any of the SU16s, would be a compliment to our other guns. The MSRP on the SU16CA is $770. In this market, where you can buy an AR-15 for less than a night out at the movies, that price may seem steep. But again, I’m comparing it to the AR, which isn’t fair. The market isn’t swimming in SU16s, so you’ll end up paying close to that price.
Beauty isn’t a word I generally use when talking about Tupperware guns, but this gun is a work of art. It is not beautiful in the classical sense, but it is in the world of function. Every part of this gun has a well thought out purpose. The integral handguard/bipod, the gas block front sight, the folding butt stock that holds two ten round magazines–it all fits. And the SU16 has been built into a gun that can take whatever abuse you could possibly throw at it.