Have you ever, gentle readers, had a gun that just caught your fancy? You knew you didn’t really need it. You knew you didn’t have anything else in that caliber, which means stocking another caliber—sigh. But you knew, one day, you’d chance onto it in a shop and have the spare bucks, and… Such was the case with the Kel Tec CMR30.
Why did I want one? Well, it’s kind of a long barreled, semiauto version of the HK MP7 Personal Defense Weapon–PDW–which is basically a class of small, light, easily concealable, fully automatic weapons that provides greater range, penetration, and to use a grossly overused and technically incorrect term, firepower, than a pistol can provide. Such weapons commonly use proprietary—or nearly so, small caliber, centerfire cartridges—in the case of the MP7, 4.6 X 30 mm–which helps deal with any reliability issues. In military terms, they might be issued to pilots, aircrew or even armored vehicle crew.
No mere civilian without megabucks can buy one–or any automatic weapon–and mostly not even then because mere civilians who have them aren’t selling. And of course, thanks to Congressional D/S/Cs, private ownership of automatic weapons manufactured after the passage of the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act in 1986, is prohibited. So that leaves us with what is arguably the next best thing for anyone wanting a PDW-like firearm: the Kel Tec CMR30.
However, it fires the .22 WMR, commonly known as the .22 Magnum, and manufacturers have long had difficulty with that round, and the .22 LR, in terms of cycling reliability, even in pistols chambered for the calibers, which is why, I suspect, Glock took so long to market the G44, even though Walther, under its own imprint and in concert with others like Smith And Wesson, figured things out long ago. Even Ruger marketed a successful design—the SR22–apart from its Mark IV pistols. So while I looked longingly at the CMR30—which seems to me an odd name—for awhile, I was concerned about reliability. I was also concerned about Kel Tec, which has a reputation of genuine innovation, but also for not turning that innovation into reliable firearms. Their innovative features also occasionally turned out to be rather less useful then innovative, at least in the opinions of some in the gun press, a cohort in which I do not hold membership
Then Joe Biden “won” the 2020 election, and a few days later, I chanced on one sitting, apparently lonely, in a local shop, and realizing if I didn’t buy it, and stock up on .22 Magnum ASAP, I might never realize that nagging desire. The carbine comes with two 30 round—yes, 30 round capacity—flush-fitting magazines, and I was able to find three more genuine Kel Tec magazines on the aftermarket. I was also able to find about 700 rounds of various brands and bullet weights of ammo, so I loaded up and headed to the range. But first, let’s examine the specs of this unique gun.
The carbine weighs a scant 3.8 pounds, is 22.5” long with the stock collapsed, and 29.9” with the stock extended. The barrel is 16”, the legal minimum required not to run afoul of the National Firearms Act.
The weapon has a number of surprising features, among them, ambidextrous safeties, non-reciprocating cocking handles, and stock releases. Sling mounts of the hook type are also ambidextrous, and are mounted at the rear of the receiver, balancing the carbine well with a single point sling.
The bolt release resides only on the left hand side of the frame, immediately forward of the safety lever. Both fall easily to hand and are positive in activation.
Also surprising for a weapon with a MSRP of $630.00 are the Magpul MBUS folding front and rear sights,which retail for $39.95 and $57.95 respectively. I paid about $100 dollars less than MSRP for my CMR30.
Of polymer construction, these are an industry standard. They’re rugged, low profile when folded, and fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The adjustments are positive and once set, stay adjusted. They’re also designed to co-witness with AR-height optics. In other words, one can see them through the lower portion of a red dot sight, and even extended, they don’t interfere with the use of a red dot, though may be annoying to some.
The grip, which is comfortable in size in all dimensions, has the usual “square block” checkering common to Kel Tec arms. Because the recoil impulse and muzzle rise is so low, no conceivable grip texturing would likely be more effective than any other, and this pattern is unobtrusive, unremarkable and easy to keep clean.
The stock release is positioned immediately in front of the trigger guard. It’s spring loaded, and pulling it down allows the stock to be withdrawn to several settings. Its placement initially feels a little odd, but that may just be me. It took little time to adapt. Of course, I’ve always disliked the AR charging handle and its location. The CMR30’s stock release is in that category. The stock is solid and comfortable for its type.
The muzzle features standard ½-28 threading for “muzzle devices,” read: suppressors, and features a thread protector, which tends to unscrew itself when the weapon is fired. A dollop of blue Loctite dealt with that tendency.
With stock collapsed, the CMR-30 is substantially shorter, and much lighter, than ubiquitous AR variants.
It is also shorter with the stock extended, though the difference is not quite so great. Of course, the weapons fire substantially different cartridges. A common AR-15, famous for low recoil, will normally weigh about twice a CMR30, yet the CMR30 recoil impulse is lower yet. While the .22 Magnum might be considered to be at least minimally effective out to 200 yards, it’s probably best considered a 100 yard weapon.
The CMR30 is equipped with substantial Picatinny rails top and bottom, but not on the sides. This is, for a 16” barreled carbine, a short framed weapon, and there just isn’t useful space on the sides for many common accessories. The cocking handles get in the way. This may also be true to a degree, and for some users, for the other rails, particularly the lower. It’s certainly possible to add lasers and flashlight mounts, but particularly on the lower rail, that might cramp the off hand, and many common mounts would interfere with the cocking handles. Some will want to add foregrips, but that too limits rail space for any other accessories. I’m considering a small laser, like the Crimson Trace CMR-201 Railmaster. It’s very small, and would fit at the forward end of the bottom rail and still leave adequate room for the off hand. Why a laser? With high sightline weapons, at about 15 yards and closer, bullets impact about 3” to 4” lower than the sights set for 50 or 100 yards indicate. Using a laser set for 15-20 yards essentially eliminates that issue.
I chose a Vortex Crossfire red dot sight. It’s small, simple to operate, and in keeping with the low weight of the system. It’s high quality, the windage and elevation adjustments are positive and remain set once set, and I have some experience with this, and other Vortex sights and scopes. Its MSRP is $219, but it’s easy to find one for much less
The CMR30 is fed with 30 round magazines more or less the size of Glock 17 magazines—most contemporary .22LR pistols manage only 10–that insert in the grip, which makes the weapon more or less centrally balanced. It is very fast in operation, and rises from ready on target as though by thought alone. The magazines are themselves low weight polymer, and even fully loaded, feel quite light. As I earlier mentioned, two are provided with each carbine, and are available in the area of $30.00 each in the aftermarket or direct from Kel Tec.
Loading them is not difficult, but requires attention to detail to keep the rims of cartridges from riding behind the rims of previously loaded cartridges, a condition known as rim lock. If this occurs, the top cartridge absolutely will not feed, causing a malfunction. It’s not hard to avoid this, and the manual, which is well composed and contains all the necessary illustrations, recommends stopping, while loading, to rap the back of the magazine on a hard surface approximately every five rounds. After about 20 rounds, considerable force is required to add the remaining 10 cartridges, but Kel Tec offers a loading tool for $34.99 that helps considerably. It can be done without the loading tool, but it’s work, and after the second magazine, can be daunting.
NOTE: A malfunction can be cleared in the field within a few seconds without tools. A jam normally cannot be quickly cleared, and usually requires tools, if not a visit to a gunsmith, to remedy
Shooting the little carbine is a pleasure. Its central balance and slight weight make moving the muzzle effortless and natural. Even with the limitations imposed by a short, collapsing stock, it is easy to keep on target and transition to other targets. The trigger pull is only about 5 pounds, crisp, and feels even lighter, so much so it’s mandatory to keep only the tip of the trigger finger on the trigger to avoid inadvertent second shots. Recoil is minimal, and feels very much like the slight recoil impulse of most .22LR semiautomatic rifles. This would be an excellent training tool for first time shooters, particularly women and children, who will find the short stock and low weight congenial.
Accuracy is outstanding. Firing from a bench, supported only by hand, 2” groups at 50 yards are easily accomplished. At 100 yards, the same technique produced groups of as little as 3.5”, and keep in mind I was not doing anything to ensure maximum possible accuracy at either distance.
I was not trying hard because my first experience on the range was frustrating due to feeding problems with all five magazines. I marked the mags and kept careful records, finding at least two failures to feed with three, regardless of the manufacturer of the cartridges or bullet weight. Two magazines were particularly bad, experiencing as many as ten failures to feed per 30 rounds. Most of these failures occurred with the top round in the magazine, and smartly cycling the charging lever always chambered a round, but this performance was less then encouraging. I did notice one trend, however: the magazines and gun seemed to feed best with 40-45 grain cartridges, such as the Hornady Critical Defense round.
I sent the two most troublesome mags off to Kel Tec with a complete explanation, and within a week, they were returned, including three additional new magazine springs for my remaining magazines—no charge. My next trip to the range was quite different. Using Speer Gold Dot 40 grain hollow points, which miraculously appeared on a local dealer’s shelves at the right time, every magazine functioned flawlessly, as did the CMR30.
Was this due merely to weak magazine springs, or, as is true with many weapons, several hundred rounds were necessary for the gun to “wear in” and become completely reliable? Considering the type of malfunctions and the obvious resolution, I suspect it was primarily the former rather than the latter, but I am now quite comfortable with the reliability of the CMR30, and have every reason to believe Kel Tec’s excellent customer service isn’t limited merely to me.
Takedown for cleaning is, for a non-military specified weapon, easy and fast. Pushing out a single retaining pin—directly above the trigger—allowed the grip group to be eased backward off the frame. Unlike AR-15 type rifles, the pin is not retained in the frame. An appropriately sized brass punch will be helpful here—the pin is a snug fit, which is a good thing–but other tools may suffice. The magazine must first be removed, of course, and standard safety procedures, such as repeatedly cycling the bolt and manually and visually inspecting the chamber, apply with this and all firearms. The stock can then be removed, taking with it the bolt and bolt carrier assembly, which is integral with the carrier.
Internal to the receiver is a white polymer buffer at the rear. No doubt this is partially responsible for the very mild recoil impulse, but I’m certain it contributes to longevity as well. In my experience, this does not become dirty with firing. I’m sure this is in part due to the tight overall tolerances of the CMR30. Fit and finish are first rate, the design, clever.
Cleaning procedures from that point onward will seem familiar to anyone that has cleaned an AR, though the Bolt group is reminiscent of AK type rifles. I’m not a fanatic about cleaning, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, so a good supply of Q-tips will help. I’ve also found a compressor helpful in blowing out debris around the area of the breech. A light oiling of moving parts will ensure good function. Due to the nature of the threads and thread protector, a bit of attention to detail to the muzzle is necessary to ensure it’s clean. That’s all that’s necessary for routine cleaning. After 2000 or more rounds, I’ll likely break down the trigger group and bolt for more detailed cleaning, but even that may not be strictly necessary.
Reassembly is likewise easy, and the manual provides clear instructions. One does have to push the grip group forward under a bit of pressure to reinsert the takedown pin. Aligning the stock precisely to the channels on which it slides in the frame also takes a bit of careful fidgeting. These are small matters, and unlike many firearm designs, the CMR30 does not, at this level of cleaning, have small springs, screws or nuts that rocket off and disappear into the small gun parts black hole that inevitably appears at such times. This too is smart design work.
For those that like to have a pistol and carbine in the same caliber, Kel Tec does not disappoint. They offer the PMR30 pistol, which uses the same magazines of the same capacity. The grip and area around it appear to be virtually identical to the CMR 30, which makes sense, though they are clearly not interchangeable parts. Like the CMR30, it uses a heel magazine release, which initially feels a little odd to those used to more conventionally located magazine releases, but like the collapsing stock release, one quickly gets used to it. It actually helps avoid dropping/losing a released magazine. I’ve never handled or fired a PMR30, but it obviously has several unique and useful features.
This should not be confused with the CP33 pistol, which holds 33(!) rounds of .22LR in its flush fitting grip. It is far more a “competition” or plinking pistol, and has a unique, 4 column magazine, and like Ruger’s Mark IV pistols, a bolt that cycles within the frame of the pistol and a rear-mounted cocking handle, rather than a slide that cycles atop the frame. It too, by all accounts, is a clever, innovative and accurate design.
Under normal circumstances, .22 WMR ammunition is substantially less expensive than centerfire ammunition, but sadly, these are not normal circumstances, and likely will not be for a long time. All ammunition is difficult to find, and more expensive than usual. Even so, .22WMR, when one can find it, remains less expensive than centerfire ammunition. Some will argue rimfire ammunition is less reliable in ignition than centerfire ammunition, but in firing thousands upon thousands of rounds of .22LR and .22WMR in recent years, I’ve yet to have a failure to fire.
Is the CMR30 appropriate for home defense or similar duties? Is the .22WMR adequate in that role? The cartridge is surely more powerful than the .22LR, and the compactness of the carbine, combined with its ease of repeat shots, magazine capacity and handling features would suggest it can easily handle that duty. As always, accuracy—shot placement—tells the tale.
The CMR30 is accurate, has a great trigger, is very compact, is easy to shoot well and draws a happy and inquisitive crowd at the range. Its innovative features do not compromise any function, and it works. Most of all, it’s great fun to shoot. What better reason does one need to buy a gun?