Having been satisfied with my Kel Tec sub-2000 purchase a little while ago, I decided to head to the range and check out another of their interesting offerings. Despite looking like a stock-less rifle, the PLR-16 is, in fact, a gas operated, semi-automatic pistol. Kel Tec which has a flair for designing unusual weapons that no one else seems to be producing created this with long-range target shooting and hunting in mind. You can pick it up in either the .223 Rem or 5.56mm NATO. The one I picked-up and test fired at the range was chambered in .223 which does not accept the 5.56, though the 5.56 version does accept the .223. This is our Kel-Tec PLR-16 Pistol Review.

The Kel-Tec PLR-16 Pistol Basics

Kel-Tec PLR-16 pistol
Kel-Tec PLR-16 Pistol

Following Kel Tec’s “no-frills” mantra, the PLR-16 has a conventional gas piston operation and utilizes the proven M-16 breech locking system. The aluminum rear sight is adjustable for windage. The front sight is a simple AR type. An integrated Picatinny rail atop the receiver frame will accept standard accessories. The muzzle end of the barrel is threaded 1/2- 28 to accept standard attachments such as a muzzle brake. The short stroke trigger, with an ok 7-pound pull, is made out of polymer and I found it to be too soft. A nearly identical PLR-16 I tried with an aluminum trigger was better. The PLR-16 pistol comes blued, with one 10-round magazine (fully AR15/M16 magazine compatible), and includes a gun lock. Except for the barrel, bolt, sights, and mechanism, the PLR-16 pistol is made entirely of high-impact glass fiber reinforced polymer Zytel.

It is really a fairly simple gun. The bolt works like an AR-15/M-16 rifle, 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 also resembles an AK-47. 

The 10-round magazine which fits in nearly flush to the magazine receiver does not slide in or out as smoothly as I would like, but the larger magazines were fine. The bolt handle is located on the right side of the receiver. In my opinion, it would have been handier to have it on the other side so that shooters could charge the chamber without releasing their firing grips with their right hand. Here the shooter must reach over with his or her left hand and pull the bolt handle to the rear and release it. It is certainly doable but it is more awkward. 

The bolt locks back on the last shot, but unlike an AR-15 or M-16, there is no bolt release which is a bit annoying. To reload you insert a fresh magazine and you have to pull the bolt to the rear about an inch to get it to spring forward and chamber the round.

The fenced magazine release is a button located on the right side in front of the trigger guard. The simple manual safety is a cross-bolt button that blocks the trigger and sear from moving when engaged. I was not crazy about having to give up my firing grip to take the gun off safe. I needed to move my hand off the grip about a half inch to push the safety from right to left to make it ready to fire. At least it is easy to use your thumb to put the pistol back on safe. 

Although it is listed as optional, I highly recommend that shooters invest in adding the polymer fore-end rail-guards to protect their hands from the heat of the barrel, unless you plan on only firing this gun one-handed. Besides for protecting your hand, adding stability to handling and improving accuracy, this fore-end also provides a second Picatinny rail below the barrel for attaching lights, lasers, rail-mounted bipods and other such accessories.

Recoil and Report

Without a stock to absorb the recoil into your shoulder, you will certainly feel this in your wrist, though it is not as bad as you might think. The recoil though is nothing compared to how loud this pistol is. You better hope you didn’t forget your earplugs. This goes off with a bang and a massive flash, so it is not for the faint of heart! While accessories can help stabilize the weapon and reduce the recoil and muzzle flash somewhat, for a pistol, especially one that is not shooting a heavy caliber round, this is far from ideal or pleasant.

Parts and Accessories

Like the Kel Tec sub-2000 and Kel Tec KSG, there are lots of after-market parts and upgrades that you can add to upgrade the pistol and increase its effectiveness, such as better sights/optics and a fore-grip to help with handling and accuracy. Other options include a dynamic deflecting operating handle, single point sling, and a muzzle brake specifically designed for the 9.2″ barrel of the PLR-16. You can trick it out to your heart’s content, however doing so you can easily double your original purchase price. However, if I had to recommend one aftermarket option, it would be the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro Reflex Sight. This revolutionary sights may be costly, but they’re arguably the best on the market. In addition to their incredible durability and motion sensor technology, these reflex sights offer users insane versatility. 

Storage and Carry

PLR-16 storage and carry
Storage and Carry

With its size, weight, and shape, you can store it more easily than a rifle but with more difficulty than a pistol. This is also not a pistol you can just carry around in a normal holster. It needs its own carry bag, or you have it on a sling under your jacket or vest, bodyguard style, which is not very convenient in warmer weather.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Disassembly is pretty easy once you read the detailed instructions manual; you can open the PLR-16 by pushing the takedown pin at the rear of the receiver and folding the pistol grip down, you can open the pistol up allowing removal of the bolt carrier and gas tube, and giving access to the breech for proper cleaning of the barrel.

 Range and Accuracy

kel tec plr 16 .223
The Weapon Has Great Range

With its long sight radius and long barrel, this is obviously a more accurate pistol than most other handguns, but its true potential can only be discovered when you upgrade from the basic configuration. The ergonomics are tricky with the basic model. With a sling or rail-guard added you can control it easier and get improved accuracy.  Though relatively well-balanced, given the fact that the action, magazine, barrel, and pretty much everything else is located far forward of the pistol grip, it is a little front heavy. While it can be fired with one hand, or with two hands on the textured pistol grip, holding a front-heavy handgun in that manner eventually gets uncomfortable, and the forward rail-guard fixes this problem. 

For slow, controlled firing, you can shoot the pistol one-handed and manage. But for rapid-fire, you’ll really need a forward guard-rail to properly control the PLR-16. With the sling, pushing the PLR-16 out away from the body to create tension in the sling steadies the pistol essentially the same way pulling a rifle stock tightly against your shoulder will steady a long gun. With only a little practice, using the sling with the pistol became second nature for me.

I kept using up the factory supplied 10-round magazine so rapidly that I switched to the AR-15 magazines and burnt through another couple of hundred rounds. At 25 yards I had no trouble putting five rounds inside the two-inch bullseye, but the further out I got, it was much more difficult. The PLR-16 I was using was the basic configuration. I switched to an accessorized one that had red-dot optics and forward rail-guards that I could grip. This allowed me to hit decent groupings at 50, 75 and even 100 yards.

BSA red dot sight
Upgraded Sights

The red-dot that was mounted on was BSA’s cheap bottom of the line sight. This is no Aimpoint red dot sight but adequate and functional for my purposes here. It has a 5 MOA (Minute of Angle) dot, meaning that the illuminated area of the dot will cover a circle five inches in diameter when pointed at a target 100 yards away. This means that the red-dot was covering a two and a half inch diameter circle on my target sitting down at the 50-yard line. This optic does not magnify the view at all, but I didn’t want any magnification. Non-magnifying sights allow the shooter to see more of the scene before them, allowing them to rapidly acquire and deliver fire on closer targets. You might want a magnifying optic if you really intend to use this gun mainly for 50+ yard targets.

I had zero malfunctions, even when the gun was hot and fouled from use, so I think Kel Tec did a good job of putting together a relatively inexpensive rifle-action pistol.

PLR-16 Pros and Cons


  • Uses readily available magazines.
  • Durable (for its type of construction) and light-weight.
  • Longer range than a pistol and lighter than a rifle.
  • When tricked out, can be very accurate for a pistol.
  • Amazing amount of accessories to play around with.
  • Ambidextrous Safety push-bolt


  • Recoil, loud report and muzzle flash, and lack of stock and integrated rail-guard reduce accuracy and make the basic model very uncomfortable to use for any length of time.
  • In order to make this pistol somewhat effective, you’re essentially forced to buy additional accessories.
  • Harder to carry, as there is no holster for it.
  • Does not really fit properly into any category of use beyond just for fun and possibly hunting if you use a pistol for that purpose.
  • Awkward right-sided charging handle.

PLR-16 – Bottom Line

Certainly, in its basic configuration, this is an unwieldy weapon to fire. With accessories, you can correct some of the issues, but the gun seems to always fall into the “neither here nor there” category. It is not ideal for home or personal defense, but shooting it at the range is fun.

I would not use it for competition shooting or hunting either, though I never pistol hunt.

For the life of me, I could not figure out why someone would buy this gun other than in its airsoft version. On the upside, it looks kind of cool I suppose in its uniqueness and you feel like you’re in a video game when shooting it (which I know speaks to many video game enthusiasts, but come on, really?). It is not practical at all, but I can see why many people enjoy shooting it, truth is that I did as well. If you have extra cash just lying around and you don’t mind just getting a gun to play with, enjoy!

I will not be buying this gun, that is for sure, though if one of my buddies has it out while I’m on the range, I wouldn’t mind popping off some rounds now and then while imagining zombie hordes attacking. In all categories for me personally, I have better choices to use, but I will say that I’m not as unhappy with Kel Tec as I used to be. Who knows what they will produce next?

Here’s a video of the PLR-16 in action!

Nate M.

1 Comment

  1. Great for states like NC that just allow concealed handgun carry in car (not concealed rifle)

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