Kel-Tec PLR-16 5.56mm Semi-Auto Pistol


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

April 13, 2006



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Kel-Tec CNC in Cocoa, Florida has for the past few years introduced some unique and very useful firearms, such as their .32 and .380 ACP pocket pistols, and their 9mm and 5.56mm lightweight semi-automatic rifles. At the 2006 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, I was shown their new semi-automatic pistol that is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge. There are a couple of other pistols so chambered on the market that are basically shortened AR-15 rifles, but the Kel-Tec uses a different spring system than the AR-15, resulting in a more compact weapon. AR-15 based pistols use a spring tube attached to the rear of the receiver, as does the AR-15 rifle. Kel-Tec eliminated that spring tube by placing the bolt carrier return spring around the gas tube, effectively shortening the pistol by several inches.

The PLR-16 comes supplied with one ten-round magazine, but will accept any AR-15/M-16 magazine. The charging handle on the PLR-16 also differs from the AR-15 design. It is attached to the right side of the bolt carrier, much like the AR-180. It travels rearward upon firing with the bolt carrier, and this design also doubles as a forward assist, if needed. I find this type of charging handle much easier to use than that on the AR-15 type pistols. The PLR-16 uses an AR-15 type rotating bolt, and the muzzle is threaded to accept any AR-15/M-16 muzzle brake or flash suppressor. While the weapon is pretty compact at just eighteen and one-half inches, it does fold to make it even a bit more compact for transport or storage. The manual safety on the PLR-16 is a crossbolt design that blocks the trigger and sear from movement. Both the upper and lower receiver sections are made from a reinforced plastic material, which results in a weight of only three and one-quarter pounds, empty.

I recently received a PLR-16 production pistol for review, and have put several boxes of various types of 5.56mm and .223 Remington ammunition through the weapon, along with a quantity of military surplus ammo from Malaysia, Israel, and the United States.  Throughout all of the shooting, there was only one failure, and it was because of a bad round, and was no fault of the weapon. The cartridge that failed to fire was a twenty year old Malaysian military surplus round that had a bad primer. Other than that, the Kel-Tec fed, fired, and ejected perfectly throughout the tests, using a variety of M-16 twenty and thirty round magazines, along with the supplied factory magazine. No effort was made to clean or lubricate the PLR-16, and even while dirty, the weapon functioned flawlessly.  The trigger pull measured six and one-half pounds, which is heavier than I like, but it was smooth throughout its short travel.

I fitted the PLR-16 with the optional front hand guard, which I think is necessary to protect the hand from the heat of the barrel and gas tube, using the preferred hold. I like to grip the hand guard for a better hold, instead of holding the weapon by only the pistol grip, or the magazine. It provides much better control, and I recommend the hand guard to anyone who purchases the PLR-16. I also attached the optional sling to the rear of the pistol. This is not a have-to-have accessory, but it does make it handy to carry the weapon slung from the shoulder, and offers a bit more support in firing the weapon.

The PLR-16 comes with a windage-adjustable square notch rear and elevation adjustable front sight system. The front sight can be adjusted with the point of a bullet, just like on the M-16, or it can be adjusted with the optional sight tool from Kel-Tec. The receiver top also has an integral standard Picatinny rail to mount optical sights, and the bottom of the optional hand guard also incorporates a Picatinny rail to attach flashlights or laser sighing devices, if the shooter so desires.

The action of the PLR-16 remains open after the last shot in the magazine is fired, and the bolt is released to travel forward after inserting a loaded magazine by slightly retracting the charging handle, and releasing it to travel forward under spring pressure. The magazine release is of the AR-15 design.  The barrel measures just under nine and one-quarter inches on the PLR-16. All metal surfaces are finished in a matte blued finish, and the synthetic parts match very closely. Another optional accessory tried was a case-deflecting charging handle, but I had no trouble with either design.

The PLR-16 is very simple to strip for cleaning. Pushing out one cross pin allows the pistol grip section to fold, permitting the removal of the bolt carrier and gas tube, and allowing access to the breech for proper cleaning of the barrel.

I tried the PLR-16 with a variety of ammunition, as mentioned above. While the short barrel does sacrifice some velocity, it does not lose as much as I expected. For example, ball ammo that clocked 3088 feet-per-second (fps) from a sixteen inch barreled AR-15, still achieved a respectable 2670 fps from the short-barreled Kel-Tec. With or without a flash suppressor, muzzle flash was not bothersome at all. As can be seen in the video, the weapon is very controllable in rapid fire. It also proved to be concealable from under a long duster, slung from my left shoulder by the optional sling.

At first, I thought of the PLR-16 as a really fun plinker; something that could be taken out for blasting away some cheap surplus ammo. The weapon fills this role very well, and I almost did not even attempt to test the gun for accuracy. However, I did attach a Trijicon Reflex dot sight atop the Kel-Tec. I prefer the Trijicon above all other dot sights, as it never needs batteries, and is always "on", being powered by tritium. After seeing how accurate the PLR-16 appeared to be, I sat down at the bench and fired a few groups with the Trijicon attached. I was impressed, so I then mounted a scope and tested the weapon for accuracy at one hundred yards, with very pleasing results. This gun is much more than just a fun plinker. It has the accuracy potential for long range hunting, much like a semi-auto Thompson Contender. It should prove a lot of fun on vermin, and would do very well for turkey hunting, where legal to use a pistol.  Groups hovered around one inch with good ammo at one hundred yards, with some surplus stuff grouping about twice that big.

Also, where a close-quarters weapon is required, the PLR-16 should serve quite well. It conceals reasonably well under a coat, and fits perfectly and discreetly into a gym bag or other similarly sized case. It offers a lot of firepower in a reasonably compact package. Recoil is light, and one can fire through a thirty round magazine in just a few seconds, if needed. The PLR-16 exhibited accuracy much better than I had anticipated.  What I had assumed was just a fun plinker, turned out to be capable of filling other, more serious, roles as well.

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Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Kel-Tec PLR-16 5.56mm Semi-Auto Pistol.



Barrel is threaded to accept standard M-16/AR-15 muzzle brakes and flash suppressors.



A highly-recommended option is the optional front handguard. It is a snap to install, greatly improves the handling qualities of the pistol, and features an accessory rail.



Other handy options include sight adjustment tool (top), case-deflecting charging handle (center), and scope rings (bottom).





Standard charging handle is knurled and easy to operate.



The PLR-16 functions perfectly with widely-available AR magazines.





Bolt, carrier and gas system.



Standard sights are windage-adjustable rear (top) and elevation-adjustable front post (bottom).



Receiver also features an integral Picatinny rail for mounting an optical sight.



Informal 25-yard group using Trijicon Reflex Sight indicated that the PLR-16 is more accurate than expected... Jeff followed-up with some 100-yard group shooting using a target scope. The PLR-16 proved to be surprisingly accurate.