Keltec SU-16 review


February 25, 2005, 11:26 AM
Howdy! As some of you know, I used to be a Bushmaster armorer and I have extensive experience with the AR15/M16 family of rifles. Some of you also know that I have pronounced preferences for light, handy rifles, which the AR is really getting away from. However, I promised myself no weight-related soapbox rant this post, so I won't go there today. :cuss: I won't!

Yesterday I got to shoot my new SU-16 for the first time. It's an A-model, in the NOL-xx serial number range. I had read of some problems that people had with these new guns, so I brought some tools and stuff with me just in case. They weren't needed. All shooting was done in sub-20 degree weather, so group sizes might be on the large size. Ammo was PMC cheapo FMJ from a case I bought a few years back. Shooting was done offhand since I didn't want to lay in the snow.

First impressions- the rifle comes in a rather cheap cardboard box from the factory which is surprisingly small for a rifle. Inside, the rifle is stored in a folded condition. A sight tool is included and it comes with two factory 10 round magazines stored in the stock. My rifle has the later model front sight adjusting clear plastic hex-nut. The rifle is quite light, one of my friends said it didn't feel like a real gun. I thought that was just dandy! He's never humped a ruck any distance and prefers a Ruger#1-V, which is not particularly mobile, IMHO. :p OK, OK! The magazines are plastic, seem well made, operate smoothly and are retained by little spring detents in the hollow stock. I understand a 30 round AR mag will also fit. The magazine catch is similar to an AR but made of plastic. Operation is smooth but my magazines do not drop free when empty.

The rifle is simple to reassemble, a single large pin holds the two halves together. With the pin installed the rifle feels solid, with no play noted. The handguards are held by a spring catch. When the catch is pulled to the rear the handguards spring outward and can then be rotated down to form a light bipod. There is no provision or detent to hold the bipod in the extended position, this makes for a less-than-rock-solid shooting position. The handguards do seem to have a nice balance between being hand-filling and thin enough to carry, but I wear a size 8 glove and people with larger hands might not feel the same way. On my rifle the handguards rotate slightly, but no worse than those on many AR's.

The rifle does point well and is extremely fast to change targets with due to the light weight. The trigger is very similar to my FN-FAL, which makes sense since it looks like an almost direct copy of that system. Mine has some mush in the takeup but is very controllable with a fairly clean break and little overtravel. I don't have a trigger scale but as an AR man I'm satisfied with the factory trigger pull. The rifle shot fast or slow with no difficulties. The safety is a shotgun style crossbolt above and slightly behind the trigger. Function was positive and the safety has a cupped end and a rounded end so you can feel the difference. The instruction book says that the safety is reversible for a left handed shooter.

The sights. Well, as I'm sure you have read elsewhere, they pretty much suck. On the plus side they are quite easy to see and very light, adding almost nothing to the rifle's weight. On the minus side they are very difficult to regulate properly and very coarse, the front sight post completely covers a six-inch-wide post at fifty yards. I plan to add the B-model sights as soon as possible; I understand that these are available from kel-tec and cost less than fifty dollars. Some gunsmithing is required to mount the new front sight.

Shooting. I ran a patch down the bore and shot the rifle, figuring that if I had any problems it was best to find them early. I'm pleasantly surprised to report no function problems whatsoever. Despite the rifle being almost dry with just a little bit of light oil inside, the rifle went through 100 rounds in one session in freezing weather with zero malfunctions. Very acceptable. Accuracy was rather rough, however. All shots went inside six inches at 100 yards once the sights were set, but again, a combination of a frozen and numb trigger finger and the coarse sights definitely had an adverse effect on accuracy. I feel like the rifle will do much better and look forward to a longer session in warmer weather with better sights or a scope.

Cleaning. The rifle is very simple and need no tools to take down and clean. The bolt and carrier stayed pretty clean during firing and needed just a wipedown to clean up. I checked under the extractor and found some gunk, but it also wiped right away. Very clean shooting compared to an AR. The barrel does have to be cleaned from the muzzle, though, and that surprised me in a takedown rifle. There are other semiautos that have to be cleaned this way, like the Remington 740 series, the Browning BAR, and the Winchester 100's, but I was expecting to be able to get at the chamber end. The barrel took some scrubbing to come clean , but I didn't follow any barrel break-in procedure, I just shot it. :what: Yeah, I know, I know!

Overall impressions: I like this little rig! I really like the light weight and easy handling, and appreciate the clean gas system. I also like the folding feature as the gun as the rifle would fit easly in a backpack or rucksack for hiking or travel. I like that the rifle can be stored with loaded magazines that are not in the action but are instantly ready for use. I like that the bipod, while not rock steady, is attached, unobtrusive, and light. I like the integrated top rail, the fact that the rifle takes readily available mags and ammo, and is reliable and easy to clean.

I do wish that this rifle had a chrome lined barrel and was phosphated instead of the factory bluing job, to make it more weather resistant. I may send this one out to get it Duracoated or Teflon coated by a gunsmith. Chrome plating would be another option, but not for me, I like a low profile! Different sights are a must for me, but these sights would definitely protect house and home at short distances, say inside 100 yards.

All in all, I think she's a keeper! :D :D

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February 25, 2005, 04:09 PM
Good review. I've look at these at gunshows but didn't buy. How much did you pay?

February 25, 2005, 04:14 PM
Good review! Thanks.

Let us know how the accuracy improves with better sights / scope and warmer weather.

February 25, 2005, 04:27 PM
I noticed on mine that recoil, while light-ish, was nowhere near in leauge with an AR (in an AR you can hardly feel recoil!) I suspect this is due to all the mass of the piston, rod, huge bolt carrier, and bolt slamming to a stop instead of being absorbed by a spring in an AR. Furthur, an AR has only half the moving parts.

Still a great gun, especially where ARs can't be had like here in CA. Mine's had 2k rounds through it with only one FTE in my hands.

February 25, 2005, 05:21 PM
Well written review, thanks, I'm considering one of these in the next year.

February 25, 2005, 10:45 PM
I bought one a few weeks ago, but have not had the chance yet to shoot it. I have outfitted it with a red dot scope, and since mine is the "B" model, it already had the good sights on it.

I do know I love the little gun to death though. It does feel like a toy.

The weight and feel is very similar to a pellet rifle for anyone that is curious.

February 25, 2005, 10:57 PM
I paid $450 out the door for mine. Actually, the SU-16 has only one more moving part than an AR, or one less if you count the gas piston and rod as part of the bolt carrier since they are attached to it.

I can only speak for my particular rifle, but I didn't notice the recoil being any more than my pet AR. My AR, however, is built very light at less than six pounds. YMMV, especially compared to a heavy barreled AR.

February 26, 2005, 12:05 AM
ARtech, I suppose the AR I've most recently shot is rather heavy barreled, and scoped w/ bipod, so it's hardly fair :) Does seem to be more 'knock around' from the SU-16 though. And I belive it does slam hard against the back, not get absorbed slower by springs/buffer.

Anyway, it'd be technically intresting to compare the recripicating masses of both designs!

February 26, 2005, 01:01 AM
Glad you like it. The only experience I have with one involved the sights falling off onto the ground.

February 26, 2005, 02:51 AM
I got rid of the Alpha sights and went to the bravo sights... MUCH MUCH better.

The only thing I haven't liked about the gun so far is the Kel-Tec mags. They will spit a round out of the top at random. They really need metal mags. But I'll just buy some, they are cheap. :D

February 26, 2005, 02:49 PM
I guess I'd be rather upset with the SU-16 if the sights fell off, but mine show no signs of doing so. I did move the rear sight to the forward end of the rail in order to make the rear aperture appear as small as possible.

If you add the weight of the AR buffer to the bolt carrier assembly and count it all as reciprocating mass, then I think the SU-16 has less actual mass moving. I think the percieved recoil difference probably comes from the lack of any type of buffer in the Kel-Tec design. I see no signs of wear or impact yet, but of course, it'll take more than 100 rounds to show up.

Another excuse to go shooting! :D :D

Where did you find the B-model sights? I can't find them on the Kel-Tec website? Any tricks to installing them?

Duke of Lawnchair
February 26, 2005, 03:26 PM
Quick and dirty question for you SU-16 owners, at what distance do you zero your carbines at?

Since the question is quick and dirty, you can answer me as quick and dirty as possible. :p


February 26, 2005, 03:58 PM
I'm not an SU-16 owner, but this mini-14 owner likes a 200-yard zero for most .223's (given that my rifle groups 5.5" at 100 yards, the fact that its an inch or two high at 100 isn't relevant).

Duke of Lawnchair
February 26, 2005, 05:13 PM

I hear ya'.

When shooting m193 or m855 I use a 50/200yd zero for my 5.56 guns. However, I'm just curious to know as to know how the SU-boys/gals do it.

The Bravo sights look as if they're elevation adjustable (front) but how about the Alpha's?


February 26, 2005, 07:14 PM
I got my Bravo sights from Kel Tec. Just call them. That's the only way I knew how to get um.

I actually haven't sighted mine in yet. yet.

Duke of Lawnchair
February 26, 2005, 07:17 PM
Why don't you bring it out sometime and I'll see for myself? :p

February 26, 2005, 07:26 PM
I was there last week and it didn't stop raining. :mad:

I think I need a boresight or something like that. I can't seem to get the front sight perfectly straight up.

I've just passed my state boards and I'm looking for a good job. So after that I should have some real money for ammo and stuff like that. Then we'll have to meet up and shoot.

Duke of Lawnchair
February 26, 2005, 07:29 PM
Awwwww crap (about you being out here last week).

Good luck and and congrats on passing the State Boards.

Any idea where you want to practice?

Shoot me an email or PM next time you're out here and we'll get your SU zeroed.


February 27, 2005, 11:43 PM
Justang -- how much is kel-tec charging for the new sights?

February 27, 2005, 11:45 PM

February 28, 2005, 12:03 AM
You can get them from this guy (;action=display;num=1109528856) for $38 on I got the sights and sling from him at the same time. :D

February 28, 2005, 10:07 AM
I considered the Kel Tec SU-16. I have several KT pistols. But I decided to go instead with a Ruger Mini 14 Ranch rifle and install a Butler Creek folding stock. This metal stock looks good and is very strong. The total money for rifle and stock isn't much more than for the SU-16 if you shop around. I think the Ruger is a much more solid and durable rifle; there is more steel and less plastic. Yet it weighs only 6.75 pounds. It does have accuracy problem when the barrel is hot but there is an easy do-it-yourself barrel stabilizer you can install for about $50 in parts. There are also several other ways to make the Mini much more accurate. The stituation for Mini magazines is now excellent. Factory 20 rounders are sometimes available at $40 or less, but there is now a plethora of cheap, workaable after market 20's, 30's, and 40's. These can be had for $10 to $20. So consider the Mini 14 if you want something a bit more sturdy.


February 28, 2005, 11:20 AM
The mag is a 40 rounder made by PMI. The sling is from a piece of luggage and both ends are attached to swivel above pistol grip. I like to carry the Mini with the sling over my left shoulder and rifle hanging down on my right side, muzzle pointing down. This allows very quick raising of the rifle to firing position. One end of the strap can be attached to the front swivel for conventional carry. The thing under the barrel is a homemade rigidity strut after the design by kkina, PerfectUnion forum. It consists of two TacStar Universal barrel mounts and a six inch steel tube. Its purpose is to make the barrel more rigid and reduce barrel whipping.


February 28, 2005, 12:42 PM
Another try to post photo. I hope it is right side up!


March 3, 2005, 01:16 AM
But the Mini is less of a gun than the SU16. IMO. The SU16 a better design and doesn't need to be modified to be made accurate. The SU is similar to the AR in that they are both basically gas operated bolt action rifle. The firing pin assembly and bolt are very similar. The Mini has a Garand style action that is cool, but not right with the Mini 14's weak barrel. They don't like the large gas block slamming back and forth on each shot... compared to no block on the AR... and a light hollow rod on the SU. And as stated above, the SU doesn't crap where it eats... so it's a clean gun to shoot.

I really don't see the difference between the SU16 being "plastic" and the AR15 being "plastic." The AR/M16's are very durable. To further my point look at all the "plastic" handguns... HK's, Glocks, ect...

I really think the SU is an excellent rifle for what it is. But there are people out there that pass judgement on them when they have never handled one, shot one, or even laid eyes on one other than in an internet picture. I'm not accusing you of this, but it's just my findings. For some reason the SU16 gets a bum rap from the "others." But once you shoot it, it's a very nice gun.

Sure you'll never buttstrike anybody with it, but I'd never buttstrike any of my plinking buddies anyway. :uhh: :p

The Mini does have a nice stock on it. My dad has a Mini and we shot them side by side. My SU is much lighter and much more accurate. His is heavier, less accurate, but feels like the traditional hunting rifle.

March 3, 2005, 10:58 AM
Reports indicate that the SU-16 is a good design and accurate, like many of the Kel Tec products. I have looked at and handled an SU but haven't shot it. I usually have to buy based on reports and reviews rather than actual experience. The SU-16's plastic forestock/bipod has been called flimsy. The sights on the original version are plastic, I believe; the scope rail is plastic and installing or removing rings can shave the plastic, I have read. All of this is in the interest of lightness, I know. Nothing against the SU, but some may want something stronger and tougher than the KT. I am very happy with the Mini 14. This is a rifle that has sold in large numbers for about 30 years and is still going strong. It has been used by a number of LEO's. So I think it can be considered an alternative to the SU. I wish the Mini barrel were thicker but Ruger sells it as a light-weight hunting and law enforcement rifle made to shoot a few rounds at a time. When this is done, accuracy is OK. The problems come when 20 or 30 rounds are rapidly fired and the barrel heats up. But there are a number of very good, easy fixes for this that cost less than $50 (flash hider, muzzle break, rigidity strut, bedding, etc.)


March 3, 2005, 12:47 PM
If Ruger would do something about the accuracy, it would be a better gun for sure.

I wouldn't call the stock on the SU flimsy, it's actually very sturdy. I think the stock could handle just as much abuse as the Mini's. The bipod isn't perfect, but it's still very stable. I could see how some would call it flimsy. Yes, the alpha model sights aren't the greatest. They do alright for what they are, but most prefer something a little better. And, honestly, I really liked the look of the Bravo sights over the Alpha sights.

The other reason I like the SU is it's folding ability. I can fold it and throw it in a backpack or duffle bag and be on my way. It's very handy!

March 3, 2005, 12:50 PM
here's a couple pics of my SU before I did the Bravo sight swap...

March 3, 2005, 01:26 PM
Nice, Justang.

Where did you buy it?



March 3, 2005, 01:28 PM
Ridgecrest, CA. Jons Gunworks. It was $438.

I believe he has a website.

March 3, 2005, 01:31 PM
Thanks Justang.


April 26, 2010, 08:13 PM
Is that Christopher Walken shooting that mini?

April 27, 2010, 07:24 AM
Revived a 5 year old post for that?:scrutiny:

September 15, 2010, 03:10 PM
I know this is an old thread but I am wondering how people feel about their Su16s. I have had several ARs and currently have a newer mini14 that I love but they are 2 totally different beasts. I currently have a sub2k that is one of my favorites and several Keltec pistols so I am very curious about the Su rifles and was thinking about buying another AR but of all of them I have had I just am not super impressed. So after them being out for several years what's the deal on the Su series?

September 15, 2010, 04:54 PM
Revived a 5 year old post for that?

Haha, I know, right?

The SU-16 definitely is lighter and less expensive than an AR, but man is it ugly.

January 4, 2011, 01:13 AM
4000+ rounds w/o one single F2F....

January 4, 2011, 08:34 AM
Oh, ow. 5 years old? Still a good review thread.

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