By Tony Martins
Zombie targets provided courtesy of Firearms Guide: www.firearmsguide.com
As a writer with an opinion about almost everything outdoors, I field my fair share of questions. For the past couple of years one of the most frequently asked questions has been: “Do you know somebody who can get me one of those 30-shot .22 Magnum handguns?” Answer: “Well, sure… as long as you don’t mind waiting 8 or 9 months to get your hands on one!” No joke, for quite some time the Kel-Tec PMR-30 semi-auto pistol has been one of the most sought after guns on the planet, remarkable for a gun that has been around for four years. Two big reasons for the popularity of this gun – it’s light as a feather, and it packs some serious firepower with a 30-round magazine full of .22 WMR. The hip deduction – that’s hot… smokin’ hot!
Just in case you’re that one-in-a-million individual who doesn’t use social media, or maybe you’ve been living in a cave in Montana preparing for survival of the zombie apocalypse and thus haven’t heard of this unique and interesting weapon, a basic rundown follows. The PMR-30 is an extremely light weight (13.6 oz. empty) but full-size pistol (7.9 inch overall length, with 4.3 inch barrel). The slide and barrel are 4140 steel, and the frame is 7075 aluminum. The grip, slide cover, trigger, magazine, mag release and safety levers are glass reinforced nylon (called Zytel), like many Kel-Tec offerings. There’s so much plastic (nylon) that the gun makes hollow sounds when handled and feels like a cheap toy – but it’s actually well made with good fit and finish, particularly the metal parts like the barrel and locking block. The action is an odd hybrid blowback-locked-breech system. Kel-Tec designed it to handle a wide variety of ammunition by seamlessly adjusting between locked breech and blowback operation, depending on the pressure generated by the cartridge. The double stack, 30-round magazine fits completely within the grip, and is released with a European style push-latch at the heel. The single action trigger with over-travel stop is excellent. It’s very smooth with short travel, breaking crisply and consistently at 3.25 lbs. on our test gun. There’s also an ambidextrous thumb activated 1911-style safety lever, and the fiber optic sights (green front and red rear) are very good and easy to acquire.
The manufacturer recommends the PMR-30 for target shooting and hunting small game. Nevertheless, there is a growing legion of believers in the .22 Magnum caliber for self-defense and personal protection – particularly with high performance ammo like the Winchester PDX1 and the Speer Gold Dot loadings. I can think of about a dozen additional reasons to own a PMR-30, and right at the top of this list is the fact that it is really fun to shoot! Although I would not recommend this weapon for bedroom night stand duty due to the extreme muzzle flash, it could well be the perfect sidearm for hunters who want to pack a backup gun. Last waterfowl season I took advantage of the loud report, using it to scare ducks off a large reservoir for the pass shooting enjoyment of my hunting companions, thus saving my expensive non-toxic shotgun shells. It’s also an excellent primary weapon for outdoorsmen, alligator hunters in the bayou, and furtakers working their traplines. Survivalists and doomsday preppers love the PMR-30 for its minimal weight and significant firepower. In fact, this handgun could very well be the ultimate zombie deterrent, and did I mention that shooting this little fire-breather is a real blast…?!!
Handling the PMR-30
The first thing you will notice when handling this gun is its amazing light weight. At 13.6 oz. empty and less than 19 oz. with full mag, some toy guns weigh more! The unusual shape of the grip – wide at the back, narrower at the front, with a comparatively large span for a handgun in between – will also catch your attention. The span is necessary to accommodate the extra l_o_n_g .22 WMR cartridge, and the wedge shape is necessary to accommodate the rims of these rimfire cartridges (which are wider at the base than the business end) in the double stack magazine configuration. The size and shape of the grip could pose a problem for small hands. Despite the fact that my hands are larger than average with long fingers, it took some time and purposeful practice to get comfortable with the unusual grip shape. Finally, loading more than 20 rounds in the magazine is not easy, requiring digital dexterity as well as some strength. Kel-Tech recommends tapping the back of the magazine on a flat surface after loading every 5 rounds, then every 1-2 rounds after 15, as loading becomes more difficult. This helps to seat the rounds properly and prevent rim overlap. It’s almost impossible to keep from denting the previously loaded cartridge with the rim of the next while loading the last few rounds, as rimfire brass is quite thin. Loading tools are available to make this task easier. Turtlecreek makes one in a thumb-peg style costing less than $25.00.
Shooting the PMR-30
When shooting this gun you are certain to notice two things immediately – a deafening report and a spectacular fireball at the muzzle. The latter is caused by the powder commonly used in .22 WMR loadings, which fails to burn completely before exiting the short 4.3 inch barrel of the PMR-30. This cartridge was designed for use with 16 inch or longer barrels to achieve optimum performance and thus, velocity is lost as some of the propellant ignites outside the confines of the chamber and barrel. With the recent surge in popularity of .22 Mag revolvers for personal protection, some of the newer high performance self-defense .22 Mag loadings have been designed for short barrel applications. Unfortunately, we unable to locate any of this comparatively new ammo at the time of this testing. Manufacturer Kel-Tec offers a threaded replacement barrel for the PMR-30 with built-in flash reducer (MSRP $118.00). They also warn that use of a suppressor is NOT recommended – here’s why: “Due to the unique locking action of the PMR-30 pistol and the lightweight slide and barrel, the use of a suppressor is not recommended as it will cause an increase in gas volume and pressure and the slide will likely unlock early. This will cause an increase in gases and residue that is ejected back towards the shooters face and could also cause a case rupture to occur.” Regarding the first point noted above, here’s another warning (from me): DO NOT fire this gun without adequate ear protection if you value your hearing, as the report is surprisingly and dangerously loud, and comparable to a .357 magnum revolver.
Gunsmith Shane Clark from Show Low AZ shooting the PMR-30.
The next things you will notice after gleefully blazing through a couple of 30-round magazines are the excellent fiber optic sights, and the mild muzzle lift – which seems out of place considering the ferocity of the report and light weight of the gun. These two factors combine to facilitate quick target acquisition and accurate downrange performance, particularly during draw and rapid fire exercises. With little practice I was able to hold 6 shots in 2-3 inch groupings at 50 feet consistently, and place 5 of 6 shots in a 1-foot square target at 50 yards from a rest with a little more practice. But rapid fire is where this little number shines and honestly, maintaining enough self-control to resist the urge to empty the 30-round magazine in every firing session is exceptionally difficult! Of course, I’m a firm believer in “practice makes perfect” when the practice is so much fun, so it wasn’t long before I was placing 90% of my shots in an 8-inch target from 15 feet in under 15 seconds during minimally controlled rapid fire sessions. Did I mention the PMR-30 is really fun to shoot…?!!
A final note on shooting the PMR-30: Eye protection is absolutely necessary! Each and every time I fired the last shot in a mag (so the slide locks open) from our test gun, I was hit in the face with debris. All .22 rimfire ammunition is “dirty” i.e., it’s made as cheaply as possible. Thus, blow-back is a common problem, and this can be dangerous with a powerful round like the .22 WMR.
Maintaining the PMR-30
Another nice feature of the PMR-30 is how easy it is to field-strip, with no tools required. First, remove the magazine and cycle the slide manually to insure the chamber is empty and then engage the safety. The assembly pin is positioned mid-frame above the trigger – push it out with the tip of a cartridge or other small pointed object to remove. The slide assembly is removed by pushing it forward, off of the lower grip assembly. The captive recoil springs are accessed under the slide assembly – turn this upside down, grab the springs near the barrel block and compress until the guide rod comes free from the barrel block. Lift the spring assembly up slowly to release tension, and set the assembly aside. Remove the buffer from the front of the slide, and set aside. Slide the barrel block fully forward then lift it out of the slide. Now flip the slide over and the barrel should fall free. The firearm is now fully field-stripped and ready for cleaning with your favorite polymer safe cleaner.
Reassembly is also quick and easy. Insert the barrel into the slide and push it forward until it sits level with the muzzle sticking out of the slide. Drop the barrel block into the slide rails through cutouts at the front, with recoil spring slot pointing forward. Jiggle the barrel if necessary to settle the block in place. Push the barrel block back toward the extractors and insert the buffer, with its rounded edges pointing forward, into the slots at the front of the slide. Don’t forget to install this tiny buffer, as the PMR-30 should never be fired without a buffer installed! Next, slide the squared off 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 assembly into the barrel block slot. Now slide the upper slide assembly onto the lower grip assembly and pull it back to align the pin holes in the grip and barrel block. Insert the assembly pin fully and manually cycle the slide, which should move smoothly.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Despite all the positive attributes of the PMR-30 – like the pure shooting fun – there are some negatives. Our early model test gun performed flawlessly, both pre-recall and after it was returned from Kel-Tec with a new barrel replacing the recalled one. Some keyholing (bullet tumble) was reported with the original barrels. There were also failure-to-feed issues, although these were probably the result of under-powered ammo and/or light-weight bullets, and possibly poor shooting technique as well. Kel-Tec recommends “high power” ammo and bullet weights of 40 grains or more. They also recommend NOT using “low power” ammo and light-weight bullets like Winchester Supreme 30 grain, as well as non-U.S. made ammo, including Armscor 40 grain and Fiocchi 40 grain. We experienced none of these problems with our test gun using the limited selection of ammo on hand, which included 40 grain CCI Maxi-Mag in both hollow-point (HP) and total metal jacket (TMJ), and 30 grain Hornady V-Max ballistic-tipped rounds. More recently manufactured PMR-30’s are reportedly problem-free, but Kel-Tec maintains the ammunition warnings in the owner’s manual.
Here’s where the good turns bad: .22 Mag ammo has become almost as difficult to find as regular .22 rimfire ammo. Furthermore – and for whatever reason – manufacturer Kel-Tec just doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with demand for these guns. Thus, despite the $415.00 MSRP, the actual “street price” for a new PMR-30 is typically $650.00 and up – certainly a hefty price to pay for some genuine shooting fun. And, here’s another certainty: If you acquire a PMR-30 and can locate a regular supply source for .22 WMR ammunition, your monthly ammo budget is guaranteed to burst at the seams, because this little pyro-blaster is really fun to shoot!
The PMR-30 is a light weight semi-auto pistol chambered in .22 WMR, with a 30-round magazine. It’s well made, smooth shooting and accurate, with minimal recoil and muzzle lift, an excellent trigger and excellent fiber optic sights. The ammo is comparatively inexpensive, and it’s a whole lot of fun to shoot (!). Available in basic matte black as well as stylish
colors including, burnt bronze, green, desert tan and tungsten (gray), as well as a “Titanium” (name only) model exclusive to firearms wholesaler Davidson’s, that sports a proprietary titanium cerakote slide.
Desert Tan color option for the PMR-30.
This gun feels like a plastic toy, with a wide span wedge-shaped grip that may be uncomfortable, particularly in small hands. The potentially ear-damaging report is very loud, it’s accompanied by a large fiery muzzle flash, and there is significant blow-back when the last round in a magazine is fired. The 30-round mags are difficult to load to full capacity, and .22 WMR ammo has become hard to find. Most retailers have a long waiting list for the PMR-30, and they are typically sold at MSRP-plus prices when available.
If you like the PMR-30 handgun, be sure to check out the new CMR-30 carbine from Kel-Tec. Weighing in at 3.8 pounds (empty) and measuring only 22.7 inches long (collapsed), it’s basically a PMR-30 with extended forend supporting a 16-inch barrel, and a tubular 4-position telescoping stock. With a PMR-30 for close work, a CMR-30 for longer range action, and a backpack full of the 30-round mags that are common to both guns, any zombies you encounter will be in for a real tough time…