If you have been involved with precision rifle shooting of any sort for a while, there is no doubt that you will have heard about Kelbly custom actions, or as many incorrectly pronounce, Kelby. The Kelbly rifle actions have gained a good reputation for smooth, reliable and well-made custom precision rifle actions, and for good reason.
We recently had the priviledge to speak to Ian Kelbly himself about their actions and precision rifle equipment in general, here are his thoughts below.
We Talk With Ian
When did your company start and when did it start manufacturing custom rifle actions?
Our company was started by George Kelbly Sr. And Ralph Stolle in January of 1981. We began making custom rifle actions at inception.
Which of your rifle actions is best suited to PRS style precision rifle shooting?
Our Black Bear Tactical, Atlas Tactical, or Prometheus actions are perfectly suited for PRS style shooting. The Atlas Tactical is our entry level action with a 700 footprint. The Prometheus is an all integral 416R receiver with a 700 footprint with a 20 MOA picatinny and .250” recoil lug and will begin shipping in January of 2022. The Black Bear Tactical is our beefiest action with a unique square footprint, this is our flagship PRS style receiver. The square bottom allows for more bedding surface and resists rotational torque. We feel the square receivers are the best platform for anything custom. All of our top tier competition actions are square bottom.
What features of that action make it better suited or superior for precision rifle competitions compared to traditional or competitor rifle actions?
Our actions are all hand fitted and finished for exceptional fit and feel. This also allows us to maintain proper lug contact for accuracy.
What functions of the rifle action would you say are most important to rifle accuracy and why?
Ignition is number 1. Our receivers all use the same ignition system which is proven by over 92 verified world accuracy records. Ignition is critical to maintain consistent accuracy. Striking the primer the same way every time is the goal and that leads to consistent velocity, point of impact and really allows the hand loaders to tune their rifles properly. Lug contact is critical in this as well. You want the receiver to close onto the case the same every time and everything to be aligned properly.
Would you recommend the same action as above for benchrest / F-Class type shooting, and why?
Yes it would work well for Benchrest or F-Class, as it uses the same ignition system and bolt. The F-Class Panda or Panda actions are what we recommend for Benchrest or F-Class though as the aluminum receiver body helps dampen vibrations. The aluminum receivers have shown in shooting tunnels the best accuracy possible due to their harmonic dampening properties.
What material is your actions made from and do you prefer them coated or plain / polished?
Our steel actions are made from 416R and we prefer to BlackNitride coat them for smooth cycling and a very durable finish. Our Aluminum actions are made from 7075 T6 and we prefer sending those out in a sanded finish.
What would you say are the main causes for actions binding, and what features on your actions prevent binding?
Binding is caused by too tight of tolerances and not having the proper clearance in certain areas. Our tolerances and hand lapping ensures smooth cycling while still being able to run fine in dirty conditions.
Would you say a one-piece bolt design is better or not, and why?
Yes it is better. We use the one piece bolt to ensure that all critical dimensions are cut in the same machine and same fixture to prevent any issues with tolerance. This yields us the most consistent part to part tolerance possible. Every bolt is measured in the machine throughout the machining process to ensure proper tolerances.
Not regarding your action, but just a question to get from your experience, which caliber / cartridge would you recommend for NRL / PRS type precision rifle competitions and why?
It truly depends on the customer. If they are an east coast shooter that mainly shoots on box ranges only out to 1,000 yards we would suggest the 6BRA, Dasher, or 6×47 Lapua. If they are on the west coast and shoot in the wind at field matches we suggest the 6.5×47 Lapua, 6.5×55 GWI, or 6.5 Creedmoor.
Which is your preferred stock or chassis to place your action in for a precision rifle competition rifle?
We always suggest our KTS stock or an XLR Envy Pro chassis, as we know the quality of both will be top notch and the customer will be happy with the final product.
What is your preferred precision competition rifle trigger?
We prefer the Bix N Andy TacSport Pro or the Timney HIT trigger. All of our rifles come standard with a Bix N Andy as they have great quality and a crisp trigger feel. The new Timney HIT trigger is great though too and can be had on any of our rifles.
Most people only focus on cleaning their barrels with rods, what cleaning steps and products would you also recommend on one of your actions and the chamber in front of it?
We use Boretech rods for all barrel cleaning. We suggest the use of the PMA Tool cleaning rod guide and action cleaning kit.
Anything advice you want to give shooter who want to start precision rifle competition shooting?
Start with your glass, buy great glass first. Get a good Tikka T3x or equivalent rifle and make sure you enjoy the sport before buying a custom rifle. I would say that is the biggest mistake is spending a ton of the rifle and not enough on the optic.