Firearms

Kel-Tec Pistols That Earned a Spot in My Gun Safe

Kel-Tec PMR30 (left), chambered in .22 WMR, and P17 (right), in .22 LR.

There are many reasons to own a .22 handgun. Varmint control, teaching a young person to shoot a handgun, and available/affordable ammunition are chief among those reasons for most people. As a defensive firearms instructor, I have also found multiple advantages by having a low-recoil alternative to a larger, centerfire pistol. This is especially true in case of injury or when declining health robs a person of the ability to comfortably operate a larger gun.

A .22 provides a gentle introduction to handgun use for people who carry an excessive fear of firearms but are motivated to learn. The relatively quiet report and tame recoil of a rimfire-chambered gun allow the shooter to focus on building a foundation of safe handling and the fundamentals of marksmanship.

Kel-Tec P17 sitting atop a coyote brown tactical bag.
Kel-Tec P17. This has become one of my go-to choices to help any new handgun shooter who’s intimidated by guns in general or who suffers from hand pain. It’s easy to operate in any way, and the skills learned on it translate nicely to pretty much any centerfire, striker gun.

However, perhaps the best reason to have a .22 handgun is that they’re fun to shoot. Of the .22 caliber handguns that have come and gone from my collection over the years, I’ve settled on two that I never plan to sell. Here are my pet choices and reasoning.

Kel-Tec P17

Chambered in .22 LR, the Kel-Tec P17 is my go-to for teaching young shooters, beginners who are intimidated by gun noise or guns in general, and people who have hands that are so impaired that they cannot reasonably, safety operate a larger-caliber revolver or semi-auto. While the stereotype that smaller guns are easier to operate is usually erroneous, it applies here. It’s compact enough to not be intimidating, but large enough to be easy to grasp, both around the grip and the slide.

To put it succinctly, the P17 is the economical version of Glock’s .22 LR. The controls and features are Glock-like, so skills learned on it translate to other modern striker-fired handguns. Operating the magazine release, racking the slide, and engaging the slide lock are truly lightweight operations with this pistol.

Most importantly, the P17 is the most reliable .22 I’ve owned. That may be due in part to only using high-quality CCI brand ammunition, but even so, it’s never been fussy about high-round count practice sessions or blowing-dust days as most .22s are.

This gun really won me over after a new student came to learn about defensive handgun use for her home. Her fingers were quite deformed and painful due to rheumatoid arthritis. We tried everything: a double-single action revolver and a double-action-only revolver operated with both index fingers (a measure that’s not preferable but necessary for many people). We also experimented with several semi-autos, including one that’s advertised as being easy to operate — and is, unless one’s grip strength or hand conformation is such that the grip safety renders the gun inoperable on the regular.

hand holding the Kel_tec P17 .22 LR pistol
The Kel-Tec P17 is a compact pistol that offers great practice for operating full-size or compact striker-fired guns. It operates the same, sans recoil. And the ammunition cost is significantly less.

Although the .22 LR is famously underpowered as a defensive cartridge, this client developed a great affection for the P17 after shooting several of my “easier” guns and eventually bought one for herself.

While no one would prefer a .22 LR for self-protection, when there are more effective choices, it is true that shot placement matters more than caliber. And, I have no doubt that that woman could put shots where she intended. For her, the P17 was the perfect gun.

I’m not a big fan of thumb safeties, and the P17 has one. But I respect the peace of mind some people derive from a mechanical safety. Kel-Tec made sure the safety was handy by putting it on both sides of the gun — just like the mag release. Less experienced gun-wearers should be cautioned that ambi-safeties are often unintentionally placed in the “fire” position by outside-the-holster objects such as seatbelts.

Kel-Tec P17 handgun with the magazine being released
The P17 has an ambidextrous paddle-type magazine release. The magazines fell freely from the well.

There’s just one problem with a P17, but it just further justifies my affection for this gun. It has something of a quiet cult following and isn’t easy to find. Florida-based Kel-Tec isn’t a huge company, so there are relatively few P17s to begin with. And Kel-Tec’s quality and sound reputation mean its guns usually command more than the MSRP, even used.

Kel-Tec P17 Specifications

Caliber: .22 LR
Capacity: 16+1
Weight (unloaded): 0.7 pounds
Barrel length: 3.8 inches
Overall length: 6.7 inches
Height: 5.3 inches
Trigger pull: 3 pounds

Kel-Tec PMR30

Another pistol that’s been a keeper is my Kel-Tec PMR30. It’s chambered in .22 Winchester Magnum. Like the P17, the PMR30 is enjoyable to shoot, and has, only on occasion, offered up a malfunction when caked with carbon. But my reasons for considering it part of my ballistic family are not the same as with the P17.

Kel-Tec PMR30 resting on a tactical bag in front of a hay bale
Kel-Tec PMR30, chambered in .22 WMR. This pistol is the companion to the CMR30, the lightweight, foldable carbine of the same caliber. While the PMR30 is on the large side, it handles well and is utterly packable.

The PMR30 has the squarish profile that many surely associate the Kel-Tec brand as several of its pistols and rifles sport boxy lines. With that profile and a waffle pattern of squares (literally molded into the grip for traction), it has a delightfully industrial look. I don’t consider myself a collector at all, but I feel a certain pleasure when both the PMR30 and its .22 WMR carbine counterpart, the CMR, are on the range together.

These guns form a wonderful, practical, matched set that has given me much enjoyment. If the set of Mad Max had guns created just for it, the PMR30 and CMR would’ve been ideal. Not just because of their reliable functionality, but their futuristic and industrial-esque profiles.

Of course, .22 WMR offers a boost in firepower compared to .22 LR, making the PMR30 a confidence-building choice for dispatching game or varmints if necessary. And while its CMR stablemate is a better choice for hunting, the PMR30 is perfectly accurate and capable at closer ranges. Together, they make a bugout setup complete.

The CMR can be a suppressor and bipod host, making it highly capable for taking game as large as a deer—with competent and careful shot placement, of course. The PMR30 can slip into a sizable shoulder holster for wintertime concealed carry or carrying aboard a cycle or horse.

The PMR30 is a joy to shoot in part because it has a 30-round, flush-fit magazine. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more before reloading. I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest mag to load. After it’s more than half-full, there’s a certain amount of applying the right amount of thumb pressure and holding your mouth just right to get all those rounds in there. And I’m not crazy about the magazine release, which is at the bottom of the mag well.

Hand holding the Keltec PMR30
It would be hard to find a more practical gun the the PMR30 as a backcountry packer or hunter’s backup. It’s super-light and carries 30+1.

Like the P17, the PMR30 has ambi thumb safety levers and Hi-Viz sights. I could sure live without the former, while acknowledging that it has a place in certain contexts of use.

The Hi-Viz sights make the PMR30 easier to aim on targets of any sort. It has a generous Picatinny rail to attach a light. This lightweight pistol makes an excellent backpacking partner that’s easy to carry, yet capable of taking game and serving a self-protection role. Unfortunately, more expensive, and scarcer .22 WMR ammo makes the PMR30 a little less inviting for extended practice than the P17.

Kel-Tec PMR30 Specifications

Caliber: .22 WMR
Capacity: 30+1 (10-round mag also available)
Weight (unloaded): 14 ounces
Barrel length: 4.4 inches
Overall length: 7.9 inches
Height: 5.8 inches
Width: 1.3 inches
Trigger pull: 5 pounds

The .22 LR/.22 WMR category of pistols is one that’s largely overshadowed by centerfire guns. However, for all the reasons named here, and perhaps others that are unique to your situation, it’s worth adding one to your collection. Owning one of these outstanding Kel-Tec guns will deliver years of enjoyment and survival-ready capability, along with the pride inherent in owning an American-made product.

Kel-Tec has a strong, practically rabid, following. That takes a lot more than hype. It takes an innovative product, at a fair price, that works. So, it is not a surprise the author has become such a fan through teaching sessions. Have you shot a Kel-Tec PMR30 or P17? Share your review in the comment section.

  • Comparison of PMR30 (left) and P17 magazines.
  • Kel-Tec PMR30 grip and magazine release
  • hand holding the Kel_tec P17 .22 LR pistol
  • Kel-Tec PMR30 (left), chambered in .22 WMR, and P17 (right), in .22 LR.
  • Kel-Tec PMR30 handgun left and Kel-Tec P17 pistol right
  • Kel-Tec PMR30 resting on a tactical bag in front of a hay bale
  • Hand holding the Keltec PMR30
  • Kel-Tec P17 handgun with the magazine being released
  • Kel-Tec P17 sitting atop a coyote brown tactical bag.
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Comments (3)

  1. When my parents were in their mid 80s and hand strength had become an issue, my dad told me was starting to having trouble cycling the slide on his 9mm. When we check on my mom’s ability, we found she could no longer cycle her S&W Escort at all.
    So I brought them the PMR30 that was sitting in my vault. Both could work the controls and cycle the weapon, though for my mom the firing pin had to already be preloaded.
    While my dad wasn’t crazy about giving up his 9mm stopping power, he felt the 30 rounds of .22mag “evened things out”.
    I added a laser to the bottom rail because it gave them confidence as their failing eyesight had made sight acquisition more difficult.
    The larger grip helped both hold a better shot grouping as well as reducing felt recoil. My dad could hit soda cans no problem and mom still outshot him.
    There’s no doubt that the PMR30 helped their quality of life by allowing them to still feel secure in their own home.

  2. Once owned a P11, but trigger pull was too stiff. Had a chance to purchase other KEL TEC firearms several times, but foolishly didn’t. If I could purchase any KEL TEC firearm now, thinking is that the 9mm SUB 2000 would be the one. (I reload, and have several thousand 9mm brass cases ready to load.) But points could be made for the CMR 30. A .22LR or .22WMR pistol is a great “kit”/”backpackers” gun, and a .22LR is the best cartridge for beginner hand gunners, but too bad KEL TEC doesn’t use that same line of thinking they used to create the P50 to create an “older shooter” version pistol in either .380ACP or 9mm. When .22WMR cost per round becomes more reasonable, and not almost the same cost as a 9mm round, then I would be happy to change my mind about the PMR 30. Anybody going to the Houston/NRA meeting and would talk to KEL TEC???

  3. If I want the noise/recoil/expense I’ll go with a 9mm pistol.At least 9mm is reloadable [carefully]
    Have a 10 round double action 22LR revolver,so not in market for 22LR auto.A folding stock auto carbine in 45ACP,460 Rowland,,10mm,357Mag could be of interest.
    Gotta get out of marxist NYState and avoid any other blue state

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