Upping The Ante

The New .22 Nosler Boosts Performance Dramatically At The Same Overall Length Of The .223 Remington.

Shooting the Nosler Model 48 from the bench was quite relaxing and had little more
recoil than the .223 while flattening trajectories considerably.

As I bumped my way along the crowded aisles of the SHOT Show, I could detect a buzz in the air. Frequently I caught bits and pieces from conversations in the hall. It seems Nosler was introducing a new cartridge and everybody was talking about it.

After hearing so many shooters discuss this new development I thought it might be a good idea to investigate—just in case. Fortunately I was able to visit briefly with my friend and Nosler guru—Zach Waterman, who was kind enough explain the attributes of the new .22 Nosler cartridge. Now I wanted to see for myself what this cartridge is all about.

The .22 Nosler originated from the idea of creating the most powerful .22 cartridge reliably functioning in the AR platform. The brainstorming process also incorporated a painless and simple retrofitting of the standard AR-15 chambered in .223 Rem to a .22 Nosler. An easy and simple upper or barrel swap to the new .22 Nosler and then running a 6.8 Remington SPC magazine instead of 5.56 completes the gun. Done deal.

While Zach was explaining all aspects of the .22 Nosler, several questions immediately popped in my mind, such as, “What is the expected barrel life?” Zach stated depending on how the barrels are treated, you should expect 2,000 rounds in a competition format and up to 4,000 rounds for general range work.

The bolt face dimensions are identical for the .22 Nosler and .223 Rem at 0.378 inch. Maximum pressure for both the .223 Remington and .22 Nosler is 55,000 psi.

I couldn’t help but wonder on what cartridge the .22 Nosler was based. Zach informed me there is no parent cartridge as the .22 Nosler is its own beast. The closest design would be the 6.8 Rem SPC, but one lengthened, necked down to .22 caliber, given a 30-degree shoulder, and having the rim rebated to 0.378 inch. Or, another way to look at it would be a .30-30 Winchester (or the rarer .30 Remington on which the 6.8 is based) shortened, necked down to .22 caliber, given a 30-degree shoulder and 0.378-inch rebated rim, and there you have it. But it is a new cartridge. The .223 Rem has a 23-degree shoulder for comparison.

After looking closely at the new cartridge, my next question was how much did case capacity deviate from the .223 Remington? Zach informed me, “The .22 Nosler case holds 34.2 grains of water at overflow and 31.2 grains with a 55-grain Ballistic Tip seated to 2.260 inches OAL. For comparison, the .223 Remington case holds 27.4 grains of water with a 55-grain BT seated at 2.260 inches OAL. The .22 Nosler has almost 25 percent more case capacity than the .223 Remington.”

Mark enjoyed a pleasurable morning shooting these targets with the Model 48 at 100 yards.

novative cartridge. A Match Grade 77-grain Custom Competition and Trophy Grade 55-grain Ballistic Tip offering will be available. Nosler states in a 24-inch SAAMI test barrel the 77-grain load will run 3,100 fps and 2,950 fps in an 18-inch gas-operated, semi-auto. The Trophy Grade 55-grain BT is listed at 3,500 fps in the 24-inch tube and 3,350 fps in an 18 incher. Nosler will soon offer a 62-grain Varmageddon load with an advertised muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps from an 18-inch barrel. This load could wreak havoc on any overpopulated prairie dog town.

For AR platforms, you can’t simply open a .223 Remington chamber to .22 Nosler specifications. The shoulder of the .22 Nosler was set back to a slightly shorter dimension than a .223 Remington to prevent the .223 from being chambered into a .22 Nosler. Because of this, in order to convert a .223 Remington AR-15 barrel to .22 Nosler, you need to remove the barrel, set the barrel back one turn, re-chamber the barrel to .22 Nosler, and then reinstall the barrel while keeping the gas port precisely at the 12 o’clock vertical position. Seek the services of a qualified gunsmith. Honestly, upper assemblies are so ubiquitously inexpensive there is really no reason to dive into this level of effort.

When comparing velocity of the new .22 Nosler to the popular .223 Remington, Nosler lists a 300 fps increase with their 77-grain load from an 18-inch barrel. This equates to a 4-inch difference in drop at 300 yards. At 400 yards the difference is close to 9 inches. Both competitors and varmint hunters will appreciate the flat-shooting qualities.

Now I’m convinced I’ll have to try the .22 Nosler. Being a geezer, I wanted to experiment with the new cartridge from a bolt-action, and get a feel for the real potential. You know, something with a good-looking piece of wood fitted with blue steel. Well, Nosler just happens to offer their Model 48 Heritage in .22 Nosler and I couldn’t think of a better platform to see how the .22 Nosler performs at the range.

At last count, the Heritage was available for 18 different cartridges. My test rifle came with a beautiful walnut stock complimented by 20 lpi checkering and a 1-inch recoil pad. The slight palm-swell and shadow-line cheekpiece was immediately noticeable. While the wood was eye pleasing, the matte-black Cerakote all-weather finish on the 24-inch barrel blended perfectly. This finish is appreciated more when the rifle is exposed to inclement weather.

Nosler makes their action based on the attributes of other bolt-action designs. Their actions are made right here in the US, and well known for strength and function. The overall fit and finish on this Model 48 is superb, precisely what you would expect from Nosler. The action is designed to accept any standard 2-piece scope base fitting a Remington 700 rifle. I fitted Leupold’s dual-dovetail base and rings on my test gun. All actions are blueprinted and trued after heat-treating.

The Model 48 Heritage features a hand-lapped, match-grade barrel with an 11-degree target crown. The twist rate on the .22 Nosler barrel is 1:8 inches. The barrel on my rifle measured 0.550 inch at the muzzle. (Magnum weight barrels are up to .0650 inch at the muzzle.) The action is glass bedded and the barrel free-floated to aid accuracy. Nosler guarantees MOA accuracy when used with recommended ammunition.

Other notable features include a lightweight aluminum floorplate. The Model 48 chambered in .22 Nosler held four rounds plus one in the tube. Hand-lapped locking lugs enhanced a slick and precise lock-up. The bolt worked smoothly without hassle. The recessed bolt-face fits into a counter-bored barrel. The Model 48 featured a nice trigger pull breaking crisp, right at 3 pounds without creep or grit.

The metal surfaces on the Model 48 are coated with a Cerakote finish. As a varmint hunter, I liked the non-reflective, matte finish on all external parts to keep glare at a minimum. The 2-position safety is located directly behind the bolt handle. Sling swivel studs are installed and ready for sling or bipod.

Mark topped the new Nosler Model 48 rifle with a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm scope
featuring his preferred Bonn & Crockett reticle.

The Model 48 features a nicely checkered bolt knob, and an action delightfully smoothed.
Note the 2-position safety just left of the bolt root.

The left side of the nicely figured walnut stock features a raised cheekpiece with a shadow line.

A Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm scope was fitted to assist the testing. This Leupold came with the Boone & Crockett reticle system with hashmarks for holdover. I hunt with many different Leupold scopes and have come to prefer the B&C reticles. The Leupold scope matched the rifle perfectly.

My shooting buddy, John Wayne, (yes, it really is his name) and I set the Oehler 35P up and went to work with both 55- and 77-grain factory offerings. It wasn’t shocking to find the Model 48 shot well—and a real pleasure. As you can imagine, recoil was minimal. Manipulating the bolt was silky smooth and the checkered bolt knob provided a positive surface for bolt lift. We started shooting early in the morning while temperatures were in the 40’s. The Oehler 35P chronograph confirmed the advertised velocities Nosler claimed even with the cooler temps. Accuracy was better than expected with both of us shooting sub-MOA groups with both factory loads. Several 3-shot groups were fired to validate our opinions. It sure was nice seeing consistently small groups with two different bullet weights from different shooters. The .22 Nosler in the Model 48 will positively be a winner for varmint hunters. John and I both warmed up to the attractive wood stock. As you may detect, we both receive those frequent AARP invitation letters.

Currently, ammunition, rifles and components are available from Nosler. Reloading data is also available on Nosler’s website. Redding has jumped on the wagon offering their Premium Die Set, which includes a carbide expander button and micrometer adjusting seating stem. Their 3-die, Premium Deluxe Set adds a neck-sizing die. While the .22 Nosler was designed purely from the idea of maximizing the potential performance of the AR-15 platform with minimal alterations, it will certainly work well in bolt-actions for varmint hunting and such. Of course, anyone with an AR looking to boost power and get flatter trajectory will benefit from the .22 Nosler cartridge. This includes 3-gun competitors, Precision Rifle Shooters, law enforcement, and varmint hunters. With today’s heavier and longer bullets common with long-range shooters and predator hunters, the .223 Remington is disadvantaged due to limited case capacity. With approximately 25 percent more case capacity than the .223, the .22 Nosler bridges the gap. You probably will not see me running any 3-gun course—I’ll be on the farm whacking coyotes with the Model 48 chambered in .22 Nosler.

An improvement over the limited capacity of the .223 Rem (left), the .22 Nosler (middle) adds 300 fps
more velocity and is on the heels of the venerable .22-250 (right), while offering better barrel life.

Model 48

Maker: Nosler,
115 SW Columbia St.,
Bend, OR 97702,
(800) 285-3701,

Action type: Bolt action
Caliber: .22 Nosler (tested)
Capacity: 4+1
Barrel length: 24 inches
Overall length: 44 inches
Weight: 7.5 pounds
Finish: Cerakote All-Weather finish
Sights: None, drilled and tapped for scope mounts
Stock: Walnut
Price: $1,895

VX-3i 4.5-14X
Maker: Leupold & Stevens
14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway
Beaverton, OR 97006
(800) 538-7653

Magnification: 4.5X-14X
Objective Diameter: 50mm
Eye Relief: 4.40 (4.5X), 3.70 (14X)
Internal Adj. Range: 64 inches elevation & windage at 100 yards
Click Value: 1/4 inch
Tube Diameter: 1 inch, Weight: 13 ounces
Overall Length: 12.60 inches
Reticle: Boone & Crockett (tested)
Price: $844

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