Kahles K16i 1-6×24, 2014 King of the Multi-Gun Optic world
Three years ago, I started shooting 3 gun seriously. One of the best decisions I made was to purchase a Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24 BRT. I wrote a review of that optic and crowned it the 2011 King of the Multi-Gun Optic world. Even with every other optic company in the world playing catch up, the Z6i is still a top optic. The only optic to top the Swarovski Z6i is made by a sister company of Swarovski. The Kahles 1-6×24 K16i SM1 is, in my opinion, the new king of the Multi-Gun Optic world.
Kahles Optics is the oldest scope making company still doing business in the world today (they started in 1898). Kahles is owned by the Swarovski Group and is a sister company to Swarovski Optik. Kahles, pronounced “call us” or “call les”, manufactures their products in their own multi-million dollar state of the art facility in Austria.
As a sister company to Swarovski Optik, Kahles and Swarovski share technology and some trade secrets but reside in different factories, in different geographic locations, and have different management. In the United States, Swarovski Optic focuses on being the premier hunting optic manufacture and they do it well. Kahles focuses on the military and tactical optics market and thus offers optics that are more rugged, heavier duty, and with more tactical and military type options available.
In the United States, HPS is the importer, distributor and face of Kahles. Amazingly, the owner of HPS is Jeff Huber, one of the original founders, patent holders, and recent past Vice-President of Nightforce Optics (he was the original employee at Nightforce and led Nightforce Optics for 22 years). He’s the one who made Nightforce the company you’ve all heard of. You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer guy with as much hands on experience in the optics field. When Jeff tells you that there are no tougher scopes on the market than the new lines at Kahles, it means something. Jeff is also involved in the design of the Kahles optics being imported into the U.S. and makes frequent trips to the factory in Austria.
The glass in the Kahles K16i is premium European glass and is equal to the glass in the Swarovski Z6i, which is the best in the world (I can’t see a difference). I’ve compared both optics down to the lowest light and both are stunning. I have excellent uncorrected vision but can see even better when looking through these optics. In 2014, I had a top 3 finish at the MGM Ironman 3 Gun Championship in the scoped tactical division and used the Kahles K16i. If you’ve ever shot Ironman you’ll understand how important good glass is because the targets are small, hidden by sagebrush and grass, a long way out, and abundant. One of the keys to success at Ironman is seeing all the targets. Good glass is a definite advantage and the Kahles excels at helping to resolve small grey targets in poor light conditions. It is difficult to shoot what you can’t see, especially when you are trying to do it fast.
I also recently had a top five finish at the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational (M3GI) against some of the top pro shooters in the world. If you want to know how important glass is, shoot your 3 gun rifle in the dark. The scope excelled and I was able to see perfectly on dark stages, stages with weapon light illumination, and stages with ambient light. The glass is clean of chromatic aberrations and is usable to the edges of the field of view.
Field of View (FOV)
In my opinion, field of view is largely overlooked by consumers when shopping for optics; a huge mistake. Consider what you can see with both eyes open, compared to looking through a toilet paper tube. With both eyes open, you see more and you can see it faster. Through a toilet paper tube your vision is limited and you have to “hunt” for targets. While this example might sound extreme, it is actually right on target. Many of the lower end scopes with a field of view not exceeding 80 feet at 100 yards actually feel like looking through a toilet paper tube. Field of view might be the most important factor in fast rifle transitions. Field of view affects the speed of initial target acquisition, target transitions, and re-acquisition. Field of view literally translates into how much you can see through the scope. Hunting for targets slows you down. When you have a large field of view, you can often see the next targets in the scope without breaking cheek weld. Field of view might be even more important as the trend in 3 gun is moving towards 3 Gun Nation style rifle stages with close fast paper and lots of barricades. Field of view also dictates how much magnification you can use on farther targets. If you don’t have a large field of view you can’t use the magnification you’ve paid for because you won’t be able to find your targets. The Kahles K16i is industry leading with a field of view of 127.5 feet at 100 yards. It should be noted that the field of view is usable to the edges of the glass and that there is no distortion or fishbowl effect as you move the scope. The eye box is very forgiving and allows you to see through the scope with an imperfect mount or when shooting from strange positions.
Kahles K16i is illuminated and has some of the best illumination available in the industry. It is daylight visible and on the SM1 Reticle, illuminates a large portion of the reticle rather than just a dot in the middle. The illumination brightness adjustments are made by a rheostat on the left side of the scope directly opposite from the windage adjustment. The fine adjustments for brightness are nice because you can dial in exactly what you need based on what the lighting conditions dictate. This reticle is bright enough to run the scope like a red dot in daylight or turn it down and use it at night. At the 2014 Crimson Trace M3GI (shot completely in the dark from 9pm to 4am) the adjustable rheostat was invaluable as I used the very lowest settings for stages without much light and higher settings to keep my reticle from washing out under the high intensity 600 lumen weapon lights. The illumination uses one CR2032 battery. The scope automatically turns the illumination off if left on for more than 4 hours without an adjustment made.
The K16i is a true 1x on the bottom end, which allows for a very natural feel when shooting with both eyes open, and is 6x on the top end, which is more than enough magnification for the toughest shots in 3 gun shooting. I’ve had no problems shooting out to 800 yards with the 6x magnification. While there are now scopes available that exceed a 1-6 magnification, you are sacrificing field of view and glass for magnification that isn’t needed. Currently I think that 1-6 power zoom range is a good balance. The zoom ring is smooth and has a throw lever built into the ring. When I first got the scope I was disappointed that it had a built-in throw lever as I’ve always preferred to add my own. However, after having used the scope for over six months as my primary optic, I like the built-in throw lever as it never comes loose, is unobtrusive, and saves you the purchase price of an aftermarket throw lever.
The Kahles K16i I purchased has the SM1 reticle. The reticle is in the second focal plane and features mil and half mil hash marks. This is currently my favorite reticle available in any 3 gun style scope. The reticle features an illuminated horseshoe/circle that perfectly brackets the A zone on close fast paper and 3 Gun Nation style paper targets and makes for extremely fast close range transitions (think red dot).
The K16i uses a premium graded reticle which is superior to standard reticles commonly being used in other scopes. Graded reticles cost three times as much to produce as a standard reticle.
I zero my scope at 150 yards and based on my loads, the mil hash marks then line up perfectly for my elevation holds to 500 yards. The half mil marks correlate closely to holds at 350 and 450. See example below. Additionally, I can use the scope on three power and all of the marks in the reticle are then mils instead of half-mils. I’ve used this feature when there are long range targets that are really big but that need to be shot fast, and where the larger field of view on 3x is an advantage. Additionally, this reticle is an improvement over the Swarovski BRT reticle because the holdover mil hash marks are smaller and don’t cover up the target like the footballs in the BRT reticle do on small long-range targets. It should be noted that Kahles also has other reticles available.
The Kahles K16i 1-6×24 SM1 turrets adjust in 1cm or .1mil/100 meters or .36 inch/ 100 yards per click with a total of 75 MOA of elevation adjustment. Although the turrets on this scope are capped, something I prefer, they are target style turrets that can be reset to zero and that I would feel comfortable dialing. I did a box test and this scope tracks perfectly. It is my understanding that it has the same turret system as Kahles’s long-range tactical scopes that are being used with success in the Precision Rifle Series matches and in long-range tournaments. The turrets have positive adjustments and you can clearly feel/count adjustment clicks. I moved the scope once to a different rifle during the season but otherwise haven’t needed to adjust the scope as it has held zero perfectly. One other feature that I love is the extra battery in the windage turret. It is so handy to have a spare battery right on the scope should it be needed.
Durability is where the Kahles K16i excels over the competition. It is engineered to take the abuse of a battlefield. It is more rugged and heavier duty. From the state of the art anodization (tougher than anything you’ve ever seen) to the over engineered objective eyepiece, this scope will just keep on going (see video coming soon!) . Kahles machines the entire scope from solid bar-stock (not even a hole through the middle when they start) and stress relieves the body and tube three times during the process. The optical centering in each scope is literally perfect. They have extreme thermal stability due to the tolerances and stress relieving that happen during the manufacturing process (that means that as temperatures change, your scope won’t shift zero). It’s my understanding that out of all of the Kahles K16i’s being used in 3 gun that not a single one was returned for service last year. After spending a lot of money in entry fees, hotels, food, ammunition, airplane tickets, gas, rental cars, and equipment to shoot, nothing ruins a match faster, wasting that money, than a having a scope quit you in the middle of a match. In my opinion, good equipment is an investment that, in the long run, will pay off. I have complete confidence in the Kahles K16i.
Should you manage to break your scope, Kahles USA has a limited lifetime warranty that covers all manufacturing defects in the optic. Earlier this year I was able to witness Kahles’ customer service without them knowing. While anonymously browsing the Kahles Optics booth this last year at the SHOT Show, I overheard an interesting conversation. A man came by the booth and talked to a Kahles representative about an issue he was having with a Kahles scope that was manufactured in the 1960’s. He had inherited the scope from a relative. The scope owner loved the scope and was very concerned about the problem. I listened (eavesdropped) intently while trying to appear to be inspecting an optic so that I could see how a warranty issue of a 50-ish year old scope would be handled. It was determined that the scope would need to be sent to Austria for repairs, but the shipping and the warranty repairs handling costs would be handled by Kahles USA (HPS) with no cost to the owner. I was impressed as I’ve never heard of such customer service or seen a claim handled so professionally. As an interesting side note, most of the nearly two million optics Kahles has manufactured since 1898 are still in use today. Kahles Vienna can repair almost any of their scopes manufactured since 1907. I have since gotten to know some of the folks at HPS and can say that I’m consistently impressed with the quality of their customer service.
The Kahles K16i isn’t just a re-branded Swarovski Z6i. In my opinion it is a leader in optics in terms of reliability and ruggedness. It has a better reticle, more reticle choices, better illumination housing design, tougher exterior coatings, a more rugged turret system, a built in zoom throw lever, better price point, industry leading thermal stability, and a fantastic warranty. The glass, field of view, illumination, and reliability are the best in the world and set the standard that all other optics are judged by. The Kahles K16i is currently the best optic in it’s class.
***In the spirit of full disclosure, readers should understand that I am a sponsored 3 gun competitor. However, I’m not sponsored by any optics companies, leaving me free to give you my unbiased opinion. I paid for the Kahles K16i reviewed above and for the Swarovski Z6i mentioned in the article and am not being paid for the reviews I’ve written.
Street price for Kahles K16i 1-6×24 SM1 is approximately $2250.00