Kelbly Koda

They already built your custom rifle!
1

Ultimate is thrown around a lot but not too many things live up to the hype. The “ultimate defensive handgun,” the “ultimate long-range rifle,” the “ultimate — insert use or firearm type here.” Opinions fly, families split, friendships splinter …

Okay, maybe it’s not so dramatic but everyone has their favorite. For me, the Kelbly Koda is my new “ultimate” go-to long-range hunting rifle and knocking it off the podium would take quite a gun. Imagine all the features of a custom rifle in an affordable ready-to-purchase package — no need to upgrade, swap out barrels or triggers, as all parts are top of the line!

The Koda gives shooters and hunters a custom-quality rifle at a much lower price than if they were to upgrade a rifle themselves. This also lowers the barrier to entry into ultra-rifles, providing shooters who don’t have the desire, resources, or knowledge to trick out their own firearm. Though designed with hunting in mind, this rifle is fully capable of hitting targets out to 1,000 yards when you want to impress your buddies or challenge yourself.

I learned about Kelbly’s through my experience as a competition shooter. This small, family-owned business in North Lawrence, Ohio made its mark manufacturing rifle actions for benchrest and other disciplines in the 1980s but has recently begun offering production rifles. Best of all, nothing I have seen can hold a candle to their work.

The Kelbly Koda: a semi-custom rifle for those who want the best
of everything — straight out of the box!

First Impressions

At first glance, it’s just another hunting rifle but hefting it unveiled a different story. Kelbly’s actions have claimed over 90 World Accuracy records — they work — and come with a lifetime warranty. Given their reputation, I expected a quality action but didn’t know what to expect of the full package.

The combination of “custom” and “hunting” tends to leave me dubious. Hunters have successfully harvested for centuries with all sorts of rifles. If you look far enough back, all rifles were custom due to the lack of interchangeable parts. In today’s world, custom often has to do more with style and aesthetics than quality, improving the perceived value of a firearm over its usability. It was clear from the outset the Koda was designed with the hunter in mind, from the strategic placement of QD sling mounts to the notch carved out of the top of the stock to allow the bolt to slide out freely without nicking the finish.

The Meopta Optika 6 3-18x50 SFP scope features a DicroTech reticle
designed for hunting. The Patent-pending coating adjusts color tone and
intensity to varying light conditions without use of a battery.

The Krieger match-grade stainless-steel barrel is threaded for a suppressor
or brake and gave better-than-advertised groups with Berger’s 135-grain
Classic Hunter and 156-grain EOL Elite Hunter ammunition.

Action And Barrel

In essence, the operation is smooth as melting butter. Built around Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical action, the rifle’s true worth lies within its action design. You can lift the bolt handle with one finger and send the bolt flying to the rear of the gun with little pressure — this can actually be done with your pinkie! A knurled oversized bolt knob makes it easy to grab and maneuver, especially with gloves on or in colder conditions. The body is made of 416R steel, the bolt out of 4140. The Koda is muzzle threaded ½-28 for a muzzle brake or suppressor.

All metal on the gun is black nitride finished for extreme durability, corrosion resistance and slick bolt cycling. This includes a Krieger match-grade hand-lapped cut-rifled stainless-steel barrel. The free-floating barrel has a recessed flat target crown and a #4 heavy sporter contour. Kelbly’s also holds +0.001″ headspace, so they don’t require the barrel or gun back to chamber a new barrel for it. The action is skim bedded, just like all of Kelbly’s custom rifles. Skim bedding adds a thin epoxy between the barrel/action and stock, filling all gaps for a secure fit. This increases accuracy as the action and stock aren’t constantly moving under recoil, ensuring shot-to-shot consistency.

Based on Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Action, the Koda bolt handle lifts with one
finger while the knurled oversized bolt knob offers positive engagement in all conditions.

The Stock

Surrounding the barrel and action is a Grayboe Composite Stock in olive green and black swirl. It’s quite a fancy name for the color scheme, but the style is certainly appealing. Imagine coating spiderwebs in black paint and delicately decorating a pristine green surface. The stock will certainly blend into most hunting environments and is not loud or overly colorful. The swirl is slightly raised, offering a grip rarely seen on smooth stocked rifles. For me, the rough raised-pattern finish stirred images of the wilderness.

Though not adjustable, the Monte Carlo style stock has a raised cheek piece and fits both my small stature and everyone else who handled the gun. It’s almost like the gun version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a book-turned-movie following a group of friends with very different body shapes who all magically fit in the same pair of thrift-store jeans. The rifle comes with a Magpul 5-round detachable box magazine that only extends half an inch below the trigger guard so it’s not cumbersome or in the way. The magazine secures with an audible click and is released by a small lever forward of the trigger guard easily reached with the rifle shouldered. The released magazine will fall with gravity’s help and was a bit stiff at first but some lubrication around the magazine well eliminated the issue.

The rifle comes with a Magpul 5-round detachable box magazine. With a slight amount
of lubrication around the magazine well, the mag dropped out easily — no tugging required.

Trigger

Finishing out the package is a 2.5-lb., non-adjustable single-stage Bix’N Andy trigger complete with a top safety. The trigger pull is crisp and smooth, but must be deliberate. There is zero creep, the trigger doesn’t move until you apply the proper amount of pressure. Two-and-a-half pounds makes for a safe but not overly heavy trigger pull. The break is crisp and satisfying. Curious about the reset but conscious of firearm safety, I ensured the rifle was empty before running the bolt with my finger on the trigger. I could just barely feel the reset with full concentration. Some may argue for an adjustable trigger, but 2.5 lbs. prevent negligent discharges and is a relatively common weight for a hunting trigger.

The Koda is currently available in 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC, but only in a right-handed configuration. I opted for the 6.5 Creedmoor. Though Ohio hunting laws only allow straight-wall hunting cartridges, I still looked at this rifle as if I were to hunt with it, especially out West.

The stock accommodates multiple styles of sling carry, with two quick-detach (QD) sling mounts on the side of the rifle and one at the rear near the buttstock. Two traditional sling swivel mounts dot the underside of the fore end — one for a sling, another for a bipod. Aftermarket QD attachments allow you to switch to a traditional sling swivel on the buttstock rear as well. This ability to customize frees you from traditional fixed restraints and allows for adjustments mid trek if need be. The rifle itself weighs 7 lbs., 13 oz. and adding a scope and rings brought the total weight to 10 lbs. — still very manageable.

Serena taking the Kelbly Koda out for a spin off the bench at 200 yards.
Using Berger ammo, the gun shot even better than promised — less than
¾-MOA! Photo: Serena Juchnowski

Range Time

For this experiment, I mounted a Meopta Optics Optika 6 3-18×50 SFP scope on the pinned 20MOA Picatinny rail. I’d never used a Meopta scope before and was fascinated with their DicroTech reticles. Designed for hunting, their patent-pending coating adjusts color tone and intensity to varying light conditions without use of a battery. To my surprise, the colors did change. Scanning the range and woods, the colors shifted slightly with shadows and changes in the environment. I tried the BDC Dichro reticle and would still personally prefer a larger dot for hunting as the BDC version tended to disappear at further ranges.

Kelbly guarantees sub-MOA accuracy with match-grade ammunition and this gun met expectations. I shot groups from a 200-yard bench with Berger 135-grain Classic Hunter and 156-grain EOL Elite Hunter ammunition. Both shot well, but the rifle liked the 135-grain ammo better. Using the ShotMarker e-target system, I was able to determine average velocity at the target and group size. A 5-shot group with the Berger 135-grain ammunition measured 1.52″ (0.72 MOA) in width and 1.17″ (0.56 MOA) in height at 200 yards. Velocity at the target averaged 2,467 feet per second (fps) with a spread of 9.2 fps. A 5-shot group with the 156-grain ammo measured 2.05″ (0.98 MOA) in width and 1.54″ (0.73 MOA) in height. Velocity at the target averaged 2,358 fps with a variation of 6.4 fps.

Accuracy remained at further distances. I repeatedly hit a 12×12″ steel plate at 1,000 yards with no issues. Recoil was relatively mild, kicking my elbows about on the bench, but my shoulder saw no ill effects.

I’m not sending this rifle back. At $2,449, it’s pricier than the average hunting rifle at your sporting goods store but well worth it for the lifetime warranty and top-of-the-line components. Yes, I checked. You can run over your rifle and Kelbly’s will still cover the damage, though they’d be unhappy. If you’re looking for a custom-quality, extremely accurate hunting and all-around long-range rifle with a family of support behind it, look no further than the Kelbly Koda.

Editor’s Note — Kelbly sponsors Serena during Palma competition but was not consulted for this article.

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine April 2022 Issue Now!

RELATED ARTICLES

New Products...

Guns and the gear to carry and outfit them. Check out 2022's latest.
Read Full Article
Trigger Control

Acquiring “good enough” skill with a rifle, at least adequate for big-game hunting at moderate ranges, is actually not terribly hard.
Read Full Article
Royal Tiger...

Ethiopian Emperor Melenik II is credited with fighting back European colonial incursions at the turn of the 19th century and preserving Ethiopian independence.
Read Full Article