Reviews

KelTec SU16 Semi-Auto Rifle — The Loophole to AR-15 Gun Grabbers

Man crouched shooting the KelTec SU16 .223 Rem rifle

Semi-automatic rifle and .223 Remington don’t always mean AR-15. The Ruger Ranch rifle, some AKs, and a few KelTec rifles are examples, not to mention the Steyr AUG. The modern KelTec SU16 is a good example of a reliable, sturdy piece that will take game, clear out pests, and protect the homestead.

The KelTec SU16 does so with a minimum of expense, a lot of reliability, and a featureless design. Yes, the minimalist SU16 is intentionally featureless to remain legal in many places that ban the AR-15. While I think the bans are terrible, I also like my brothers and sisters in those areas to be as well-armed as possible. The SU16 achieves that goal.

KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic rifle, right profile
The author found the KelTec SU16 brilliantly innovative.

History of the SU16

The rifle dates back to the 1990s and the so-called Crime Bill. (It’s a Crime, Bill.) In short, and don’t take this as legal advice, according to the Crime Bill, a newly-manufactured rifle should not have a detachable magazine, the rifle could not have a folding telescopic stock, pistol grip, or a bayonet lug — although most were grandfathered in. It was the manufacturers and young shooters just starting out that suffered.

Both President Bush and President Clinton were responsible for several gun control laws. After the law was allowed to sunset, several states passed their own versions. Some folks bought in panic, some price gouged in private sales, and the rest of us paid through the nose. There were monstrosities made of the AR-15 to conform to these laws and still manage to sell the rifles.

KelTec could easily have designed another AR-15, but it took the harder route of designing a rifle with good performance that wasn’t an AR. The original design folds up nicely, although there are also non-folding versions. While some rifles may be fired with the stock folded, the SU16 cannot.

KelTec SU16 Features

The SU16 stores away easily in the folded stock configuration. A neat trick is that the handguards unfold and form a bipod. This beats an add-on bipod and is remarkably stable in use. For most of my accuracy testing, I used a modern plastic rifle rest. In the field, this option would be attractive. The bipod adds nothing to the rifle’s weight or bulk.

The rear stock also holds a couple of 10-round magazines. That’s a lot for hunting applications. It helped when I was preparing different loads for testing off the bench. A single 20 or 30-round magazine may be stored. If you must repel borders or are employed in area defense, this is a great concept. Grab the rifle and you don’t need a web belt with spare magazines if the magazines are in place in the stock.

KelTec SU16 semi auto rifle with adjustable stock and quad picatinny rails
A version similar to the AR-15 in features is offered.

The rifle is really very simple. The sights are an aperture rear and a post front sight. A generous picatinny rail offers more than five inches of mounting surface. The sights are easily adjusted, or if you prefer, a red dot sight is an easy mount.

The safety is fast and intuitive to use a simple cross-bolt type. The 16-inch barrel is cut with a 1-in-7-inch twist. The rifle is light at about five pounds. The SU16 handles quickly, lively in the hand — something we seldom find in a modern rifle. The rifle comes to the shoulder quickly and is very fast in combat drills.

I tried a half-dozen AR-15 magazines — both polymer and metal — and all fit well and locked in place properly. For the most part, I used the Magpul PMAG. The bolt handle was easily racked to make the rifle ready to fire. While the SU16 is different than the AR-15, and there isn’t a lot of crossover handling, the magazine release and cocking handle are easily addressed.

KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic with stock folded
The rifle easily folds into a neat package.

While the folding stock model is a neat trick, my personal KelTec SU16 is a fixed stock model. There are more than a half-dozen variations including a telescopic stock version with a muzzle brake. Yeah, it’s not street-legal everywhere. I would not feel particularly under gunned with a 10-round magazine and fixed stock. I simply prefer to have more options.

A word to the wise… the folding option is for storage and transport. It isn’t a smooth package when folded and will snag. This isn’t the mode for quick access.  

Loading and firing the rifle is simple. Insert a loaded magazine and rack the bolt. The action, by the way, isn’t gas impingement, but a standard, gas-operated piston action. The bipod isn’t difficult to unfold. Simply release the tabs on the side of the bipod and release the two pieces to fold down. I find the rifle to be fast into action and quickly deployed. Firing the rifle is a pleasant experience.

KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic rifle, left, quartering away
A picatinny rail and aperture sights top the receiver.

I cannot say the .223 Remington is a hard kicker — not at all — but the recoil present was more noticeable than the AR-15 due to the SU16’s lighter weight.

The rifle was easily sighted for 50 yards. Using affordable 55-grain FMJ Frontier ammunition, I hammered the target at 25 and 50 yards. The rifle is accurate enough for most any threat. The trigger breaks at a clean 5.5 pounds. I liked the trigger action and feel that the clean break is one of the reasons for the rifle’s good practical accuracy.

Specifications

  • Caliber: 5.56mm/.223 Rem.
  • Weight unloaded: 4.7 pounds
  • Magazine capacity: 5, 10, 20, 30 rounds
  • Overall length: 35.5 inches
    • Stock folded: 25.5 inches with folding stock
    • Folded in half: 23.5 inches
  • Barrel Length: 16 inches
  • Twist Rate: 1:7 inches
  • Trigger Pull: 5.6 pounds

Range Test

Firing from a solid, benchrest firing position, I fired for accuracy with a half-dozen loads. Firing three-shot groups and taking my time the rifle turned in three-shot groups of 1.5 to 2.2 inches. With a good set of aperture-style sights, I considered these results more than acceptable. I doubt I will add an optic.

The KelTec SU16 is a rough and ready rifle that was built for hard use, recreational outings, and a genuine best buy.

The KelTec SU16 stands on its own as a viable semi-automatic rifle for home defense, hunting, or on the range. It also serves as a worthy modern sporting rifle substitute against draconian lawmakers trying to ban the AR-15s. How would you use the SU16? Share your answer in the comment section.

  • Hornady TAP 5.56 NATO 55-Grain ammunition box
  • KelTec SU16 with fixed stock and sling, right profile
  • KelTec SU16 semi auto rifle with adjustable stock and quad picatinny rails
  • crossbolt safety on a KelTec rifle
  • Picatinny rail with aperture rear sight
  • Hornady Frontier MATCH 5.56 NATO 55-grain hollow point ammunition box
  • KelTec SU16 .grooved trigger
  • KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic rifle, left, quartering away
  • KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic with stock folded
  • Illustration of .223 Remington cartridge
  • KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic rifle, right profile
  • KelTec SU16 .223 semi-automatic rifle, quartering to,right profile
  • Man crouched shooting the KelTec SU16 .223 Rem rifle
  • upper and lower receiver of the KelTec SU16 semi auto rifle
  • forestock opened to form a bipod

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (33)

  1. I found a new su16 C on funbroker this past January as a gift to myself for $799. Since then I fired about 300 rounds of both .223 and 5.56 from 55gr to 77gr brass only flawlessly. It looks and feels a bit cheap but it hasn’t failed me yet.

  2. Another positive SU16C comment!
    I bought mine in ’08, just ahead of the presidential election, and after a few thousand rounds, the only issue I’ve had was chamber fouling from steel-case ammo which was corrected with a good chamber scrub, and has run with all the various magazine types I own, though the C-model underfolding stock was designed for metal magazines and will not fit around polymer mags.

  3. I have 2 and love them both! First one had feeding issues. I was told to run 100 rounds through it and it should break in. It did. Runs flawlessly and consistent 2 inch groups at 100 yards. The second is a PLR-16, the pistol version. I added the SU-16 folding stock, made it an SBR (it’s papered and stamped) and makes a great PDW. Reliable and accurate with it’s 9 inch barrel.

  4. The C or Charlie model can be fired folded. Other models no due to the hinge point which places the trigger in the magwell. You can buy the Charlie stock as an accessory from Kel-Tec to fit the other SU16 models.

  5. I have the SU16. It has fallen out of my Mule several times, and comes up firing all the time. My favorite feature is that folded it fits into a Wilson tennis racket case. This makes it quite anonymous riding around in my pickup.

  6. I had one behind the seat in my truck. It got damp and rusted up solid. Sent to Keltec for repair. My fault,completely. They replaced key parts making it as good as new. Minimal charge. Very pleased with their service. I own the pistol version and numerous other handguns of theirs. They are the most progressive gun design company ,reminds me of the original Armalitecompany. Five stars from me.

  7. I owned one and really enjoyed it. I built rounds for it so I never had any feeding issues or accuracy problems for that matter. If I remember correctly, I favored a 62 and a 68 gr XXXXXXX projectile, starline brass, cci small rifle primer and XX grains of XXXXXXX powder. I got consistently sub-MoA groups at 50 and 100 yards, and highly respectable groups out to 250 yards. I made a present of the rifle to my son. The only issue I had with it were those handguards dropping down into a bipod; clever idea but they were a BEAST to deploy them! I put screwdrivers to those tabs more often than not just to get them to kick loose!

  8. My SU-16 is my grab and go rifle for repelling invaders around the house, I.e., rock chucks eating my wife’s flowers or similar situations. It was a retirement gift from my co-workers and I have really enjoyed shooting it. It’s easy to handle, quick to aim and accurate. I put a Red Dot on it that works better for me as I age.

  9. I bought the SU16C. It never fed right, always jambing after 10 to 20 rounds. It didn’t matter what type of ammo I used, it always stopped firing. The mags are cheap and allow rounds to fall out of them when stored in the stock. KelTec would not take it back for repairs without the receipt after I read that the chamber might have been misbored. The gun dealer I bought it from went out of business and aglfter several moves, I couldn’t find the receipt. It sits in closet, folded neatly, remind8ng me of why I left CA for a red state.

  10. Hood article, Bob, about one of my all time favorite rifles. I have some very expensive custom rifles and high end battle rifles but my SU-16 goes with me everywhere!

    Bob, I believe you made an error when you said the the folding stock SU-16C cannot be fired with the stock folded. It certainly can! And this makes it all the more useful.

    Also, I find that my folded SU-16C makes a VERY slick folded away package as my truck gun. Minor disagreement.

    Since one never knows what kind of threat or critter or scenario one may encounter, my 30 round magazines for this have alternating 62gr green tip and 60gr Nosler red tip projectiles. Double tap (or more) everything and one of the bullets is going to do what you need it to do!

    The magazines thusly have a holidays/ Christmas look with red and green tips alternating all down the magazines, and the overall idea reminds me of the old Sunday School song “Deep and Wide…..” 😆

  11. I picked up this rifle at a bargain. Annoying that it only likes brass. Very rough material. Not my first choice. It’s a cheap rifle. You get what you pay for.

  12. Had one, brand new, bad barrel. Slugged out at .229 keyholed at every shot. KelTec expected me to pay for return shipping on a warranty. I sold it on at a gunshow instead, told the guy I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it. I don’t think he believed me. KelTec works hard for their poor reputation.

  13. I thoroughly enjoy my SU-16c. For those having problems with the 10 rd magazines falling out, a 30 rd fits perfectly in mine sideways and is a bit snugger.

  14. I’ve had a couple of SU-16s, an A model and a C model. Both are lightweight and quick handling weighing in at about 4.5 lbs. Reliability has not been an issue for me at all. No, these guns are not going to please most AR snobs but are unique in their own right. Clearly the folks at Kel-Tec march to the beat of their own drum. Thanks, George.

  15. My question of the century is when will KEL-TEC offer the SUB-2K in 45ACP? Many moons ago when I was young and stupid I owned Marlin camp rifle in 45ACP but sold it. Very dumb of me. So when Kel -tec? I await your reply with bated breath?

  16. I have owned my SU-16C for over 10 years now and have added a Bushnell Holosight (discontinued) and a Levang Linear Compensator along with a Mcarbo trigger assembly. I love that carbine! Lightweight and very reliable. It’s my SHTF weapon.

    They are extremely popular (especially the C model) and are always hard to find.

  17. Have has my 16 for years, neat and dependable, the 10rd mags do dislodge sometimes. great home defense and accurate at 100yds.

  18. I’ve had the SU-16C for years. Folded, it fits into a typical tennis racquet case. As such, it sits in my car unnoticed.

  19. I picked up the CA model 15 years ago prior to the AR boom. In California at that time and now it complied with all of the laws. Over the years I have ditched the bipod for a slotted aluminum handguard and run it with a Romeo 2 red dot and angled fore grip. It is extremely light weight. The piston design is a serious advantage and runs like clockwork. Cleaning the reciever is an administrative task as only the barrel gets dirty.

    There are 2 cons. Both no big deal. 1, the ejector cannot handle steel cases, brass only. 2, the peep sight is functional, but not amazing. It is too low profile to co-witness. A hollow riser will allow for it’s use, but makes for an akward setup.

    This is an engineers rifle. It checks almost all of the boxes. Functional over form. Not made to go to war, but made to work. There are fewer parts to break and nothing to tune. It will fire 5.56 just fine. Accuracy out to 100 yards is limited to the shooters skill. Beyond that it starts to get loose goosey.

    It’s fun to shoot, but will not give you the tactical satisfaction of an AR in the standard setup. It’s a 90’s Tacoma to the Mini 14’s 90’s F-150.

    It may well be the only CA legal semi auto after the Sacramento apparatchik’s get thier way.

  20. Neat little rifle. I noticed you favor the fixed stock version. It’s funny but when I looked at it from several angles and at the sights, I was reminded of the M1 carbine, another light, easy to operate and carry rifle with decent power. I think I will look at the KelTec.

  21. I wish I could agree, but I’ve owned two SU-16s, neither of which I’ve found particularly affordable or reliable when compared to a budget AR. Detailed stripping involves removing a lot screws. If you have issue with the firearm, Kel-Tec won’t send you a prepaid shipping label. If they determine the firearm is fine, you have to pay them to return it to you. As a result, I’ve stopped purchasing Kel-Tec products.

  22. We bought an SU16 as a ranch rifle for my wife. It’s lightweight and easy to operate for her. It’s plenty accurate for her needs. It’s our go to rifle for quick response to 4 legged intruders. As a “fun gun” it will put 20 rounds into an old 3 gallon propane tank at 100′ yds in less than 10 seconds! It has a very fast semi-auto action.

  23. I own a SU16. Beautiful little rifle. Has a 3-9 scope on it. I can hit a playing card at 100 yds all day long. It’s not a folder. The only problem I have is the 10 round magazines fall out when shooting. Love the on board bi-pobs.

  24. Good article with 2 flaws, price and no 100 yard accuracy with a scope as not legal for deer in most states but great for varmints.

  25. Problem with Kel tec is they concentrate on making handguns but run limited production batches on long guns. Availability of their long guns are hit and miss.

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