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I have sort of an affinity for small lightweight pistol caliber carbines, so I jumped at the chance to review the Kel-Tec SUB-2000 Gen II. Carbines like these offer the ability to get some trigger time in circumstances under which a rifle caliber might not be feasible, due to restrictions at an indoor range or simply the cost of ammunition.
Kel-Tec has been manufacturing guns since 1995. Their current lineup includes seven handguns, one shotgun and 10 rifle models. This list doesn’t even take into account variations on the same platform such as caliber and magazine configurations.
- Chambering: 9mm
- Barrel: 16.25 inches
- OA Length: 30.5 inches; 16.5 inches (folded)
- Weight: 4 pounds, 4 ounces
- Stock: Adjustable
- Sights: Windage and elevation adjustable post front; aperture rear
- Action: Blowback-operated, semi-automatic
- Finish: Matte-black
- Capacity: 17+1 (Glock magazine, as tested)
- MSRP: $500
I was looking through the latest gun manufacturer data available from the ATF and was surprised to learn that Kel-Tec is one of the top five pistol makers in the United States. They have achieved phenomenal success with a relatively simple formula. Kel-Tec manufactures uniquely designed guns that are reliable and carry a lifetime warranty. However simple this formula is, it is not easy to execute on by any stretch of the imagination.
This formula has, at times, caused demand to outstrip manufacturing capacity. Kel-Tec has responded to these growing pains by adding on to their facilities in Cocoa, Florida at an unprecedented rate.
I got my first brief look at the new SUB-2000 when I was at Shot Show this year. I was really intrigued by what the reps told me about the gun. They would be offering the rifle chambered in 9mm or .40 S&W, and they would be making several variations to accept magazines from Glock, Smith & Wesson and Sig Sauer. The idea was that you could buy a pistol-caliber carbine that took the same ammunition and magazine as your handgun. This serves not only to provide a commonality of reloads if necessary, but to further reduce the overall cost of owning and operating the platform.
The innovation certainly does not end there. By simply pulling on the trigger guard, one can pivot the barrel upwards 180 degrees, fold the firearm in half and reduce the overall length to 16.25 inches for storage and transport. The majority of the rifle is made from an impact modified glass reinforced Zytel. The single biggest request from customers was answered by the second generation (Gen II) version of this firearm, with the addition of two integrated Picatinny rails as standard fare. The fore-end has five additional mounting slots per side that accept M-LOK accessories, which is really going above and beyond.
The stock can be adjusted by removing a pin and moving the stock to one of the three positions available, then reinserting the pin. This provides 1.25 inches of adjustment to the shooter. The stock also has a single-point loop attachment built in and a standard 1.25-inch-wide slot that will accept a standard nylon sling. There is also a small Picatinny rail on the bottom of the stock. I will confess, I’m a little baffled as to what I would want to add to the bottom of the stock. However, I’m willing to go shopping immediately to find this new accessory.
The simplicity that I spoke of earlier in the platform becomes evident when you look at the operation of the gun. The stock is mounted to a tube in which the bolt reciprocates. It is a straight-blowback design, which furthers the theme of simplicity. The operating handle protrudes through the bottom of the tube, and features a slot that allows you to lock the bolt in the open position. Dropping the bolt requires a quick slap of the hand, sending it forward and chambering a round. I found this to be reminiscent of the mechanism on the forearm of an MP5. The safety is a simple push-bolt button located behind and above the trigger on the grip assembly. I had no issues operating the safety, but I would have preferred it to be accessible both to engage and release while maintaining my grip in a firing position. I found that releasing the safety was no issue when shooting right-handed, but to engage the safety required coming off the grip almost completely.
The rear sight is a circular aperture that folds down when the gun is in the storage position, which I consider a quite ingenious design. My only issue is that the sight is made out of the same polymer material as the gun. Even with a moderate amount of hand pressure on the sight it appeared that it was bending, which over time could decrease the accuracy. The front sight is both windage and elevation adjustable. It’s an all-metal assembly and actually quite robust. If you’re familiar with an AR-style front sight, you will be right at home with the one provided.
At the end of the barrel is a removable thread protector that covers the 1/2″-28 threads (9mm model) or 9/16″-24 threads (.40 cal S&W).
The trigger is a polymer, and it’s located with a fairly short distance from the rear of the grip, allowing even small hands to reach it. The pull is a fairly significant 9 lbs., 5 oz. You will not accidentally pull this trigger. The magazine release is located on the top front of the grip and is easily accessible with your thumb while maintaining a secure grip.
On the Range
I received a Glock magazine variant for testing. I grabbed a variety of ammunition and my box of Glock 17 magazines before heading out to the range with it. One of the really nice things about this gun is the fact that I was already equipped with multiple magazines and ammunition.
I decided that on a relatively inexpensive gun like this I would have a couple of particular testing objectives while at the range. The first would be accuracy at an acceptable distance, and the second would be functioning with multiple types of ammunition. Since I had already grabbed a virtual cornucopia of ammunition, I decided to equip the rifle with an Aimpoint H1 optic to ensure that I was able to get a true picture of the capabilities of this gun.
After arriving, I began loading magazines with different kinds of ammunition. I mostly used 115 grain but I did venture all the way up to 147 grain. I used both round nose and hollow point ammunition. I even had some reloads that I used to shoot competition with that didn’t quite case gauge the way I wanted them to, but would fire reliably in a Glock 17. I fully expected this little rifle to choke at some point, but it didn’t even so much as cough. I even picked up a few volunteer testers at the range to do some mag dumps; both left-handed and right-handed shooters enjoyed the gun. The lefties did complain that they experienced some blowback from the gases and unburnt powder, but nothing that was unbearable.
After that, I wanted to go after the accuracy question. I put the Sub-2000 in my trusty lead sled and moved a fresh Shoot-N-C Target out to 50 yards. Then I loaded the Sig Elite Performance 115 grain round-nose ammunition. I’ve had particularly good results in terms of accuracy from that round, and it exactly matches their carry ammunition, which has delivered phenomenal results in ballistic gel. I like the idea of being able to practice with something that exactly mimics my carry ammunition.
As noted earlier, the trigger on this gun is a quite stiff 9 lbs., 5 ozs. I actually believe that the polymer trigger was bending as I depressed the trigger. The combination of a heavy trigger and the polymer construction made this a particularly difficult gun to shoot accurately. The results that I achieved from a five-shot group left me scratching my head. I had two groups of two rounds, each practically touching, and the fifth round was off on its own. I’m usually quick to attribute the anomalies to myself, but in this case the results seem to be replicated no matter how I changed the variables or even the shooters. I have a suspicion that the quick-detach mount that I used on the Aimpoint was being allowed to flex on the polymer upper rail. The gun, although not hot, had been shot a few hundred rounds prior to the accuracy test. I want to be clear here: There were no shots that were off the target the size of a pie plate at 50 yards. In fact, the group was probably closer to 6 inches. I was able to place all the hits on an IDPA-sized target at 25 yards while firing as fast as the trigger could be operated. I also suspect that this is the actual distance and cadence this rifle will probably be shot by most who purchase this gun.
The one quirk that I found is that mounting any optic on the top rail without utilizing an offset prevents the rifle from being fully folded and stored. I quickly research this online and found multiple companies that offer an offset for mounting the optic of your choice. Although I didn’t get a chance to try these out, I have used an offset optic on rifles in the past for competition and found them to be quite functional.
The Bottom Line
This is a rifle with an MSRP of $500. With this street price, once availability is not an issue, it will probably be closer to $400 than $500. This represents half or even a third of the price of many comparable pistol caliber carbines being manufactured. The SUB-2000 offers a lot of gun for your money, and the ability to put it in a compact package, all while using your existing magazines.
There is definitely room for improvement, specifically with the trigger and the rear sight. The good news is that there are already people making aftermarket parts at reasonable prices that can cure these annoying little issues. I use the word annoying because these are certainly not deal breakers. The accuracy of this gun is not what I would prefer, but I believe it to be acceptable to get the job done.
This gun definitely has some cool factors: The Picatinny rails, the adjustable stock, the threaded barrel and the fact that it is super lightweight. All of these things add up to a rifle that you’re likely to keep with you rather than in your gun safe.
The bottom line for me is this: I plan on buying this gun and ordering a few upgrades. If you have realistic expectations, this gun will meet them.