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DPMS’s “Kitty Kat” Panther

By Chad Haire

Over the years, there have been many attempts to reduce the size of the AR-15 rifle design. The most common is the “CAR” type with its 16-inch barrel, and collapsible stock. Then we saw the military XM-177 with its shorter 10 and 11 inch barrels. Several years ago, DPMS introduced their “Kitty Kat” model. With a 7-inch barrel, overall length of 22 inches collapsed, and weight of about 5.5 pounds, this is about as small as a carbine gets.

As a rule, I only use Colt made AR-15 and M-16 rifles, but as their products have become a bit scarce lately, I have been shopping around for other manufacturers. I had no experience with DPMS merchandise before, but noted they have increased their warranty from one year to three, which seemed like a good sign. This in mind, the first thing I did when the mini-Panther came was to inspect it for quality control. It was excellent, with no machine marks, burrs, or other visual problems. The fit and finish was very nice. Now if it could only shoot as good as it looks!

FIRING TEST

A full length AR-15 with 20-inch barrel spits out a 55-grain .223 (5.56x45mm NATO) projectile at about 3,250 fps with milspec ammunition. The .223 round has very little in the caliber, mass, or energy department, and thus depends strictly on high velocity to get things done. Below 2,500 fps performance begins to drop, which makes the .223 round a 300-yard cartridge at best. The heavier 62-grain SS-109 isn’t much better although it can hit paper at longer distances. As barrel length gets shorter, range drops even more, especially when using less powerful commercial ammo, which I have clocked as little as 2735 fps using a 16-inch tube.

With the above facts in mind, the first thing I wanted to do was to chronograph some loads out of the 7-inch barrel to get some numbers. Here is what I got:

55 gr. G.I. ball = 2,180 fps
55 gr. Winchester S.P. = 2,249 fps
62 gr. SS-109 green tip = 2,295 fps
55 gr. Russian JSC H.P. = 2,275 fps
55 gr. PMC ball = 2,213 fps
64 gr. JSC ball = 2,043 fps
55 gr. Russian TCW ball = 2,267 fps

I found it interesting that PMC ball, which has always shown the highest numbers out of a 20-inch barrel (3,200-3,250 fps.) showed some of the lowest readings out of the 7-inch tube. Also, the heavy 62-grain SS-109 bullet should have been the slowest, but gave some of the fastest numbers. Don’t ask me why.

For accuracy testing, we got a 5 MOA using JSC Russian 62-grain ball, 4 MOA with JSC 55-grain Hollow Points, and 8 MOA with 55-grain G.I. ball. DPMS claims a 200-yard range for this little Panther, and it can do this punching paper. But for defensive uses, the short barrel is producing pistol, not rifle, velocities. This means a realistic range of about 50 to 100 yards at best, and only if you boost things up with a good expanding hollow-point missile.

With all this in mind, I found the 800-meter sight on the upper receiver a bit pointless, but understood this rifle is made from off the shelf parts, so this is what we get. To sight the Panther in, simply adjust the point of impact to 25 yards. This should keep all bullets on a man-sized target out to 150 yards, which is beyond its true range.

While you are sighting in the rifle, this will be a good time to select some worthy eye and ear protection. As you might expect, firing a .223 cartridge out of a short pistol barrel produces a loud report. The muzzle flash isn’t too bad in bright daylight, but in dimmer light, the ball of flame will get your attention! Recoil during semiautomatic firing wasn’t too bad, as the bullet leaves its barrel before huge pressures can develop. Hanging on during full-auto spraying seemed a bit more difficult which was probably due to a super high cyclic rate, which seemed more like that of a M.A.C.-10.

RELIABILITY

One of the biggest problems with short-barreled AR-15 carbines is their reliability, or should I say, the lack of it. The XM-177 with its 10- and 11-inch barrels looks cute, but I have seen very few that worked. The military wised up long ago, and now sticks with a 14.5-inch tube (known as the M-4), which works just fine. When I talked to DPMS, they assured me this setup would function just fine in semiautomatic, but warned it was not really designed to be reliable in full-auto.

I am happy to report that when using either military or commercial ammunition, this little tiger worked just fine, whether firing in semiautomatic or full-auto. The only exception was a certain brand of Russian ammo, due to its steel cases sticking in the chamber. I must mention the Kitty-Kat has a free-floating handguard made of aluminum. After about 120 rounds of firing, this thing gets too hot to hold. Even after the internal bolt carrier cools off, the hand tube is still scorching. If you are buying one of these to impress your buddies with volumes of full-auto firing, and the muzzle blast that goes with it, I suggest a good pair of gloves!

The Kitty-Kat Panther sells for about $700 to police agencies and Class 3 dealers. If you already have an M-16 select-fire or short-barreled rifle, you can simply purchase the upper conversion kit for about $450. While it’s not very practical, it’s certainly lots of fun.


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