Tackdriving Performance — Proprietary Powerhouse Cartridge!
By Roy Huntington
Nosler’s M48 Long Range Rifle in the field, where it belongs. Shooting bench is MTM’s
“High-Low Shooting Table,” great for zeroing in camp.
I’m a handgun guy, I admit it. But “rifle” still flows in my blood. Thing is, I’m talking good here. The $400 box store models are all fine and affordable these days — accurate, reliable and easy to use. But not exactly soul-stirring. I look at them as I look at a disposable socket set. What I’m talking about here is altogether different — “One thing is not like the other” as it were.
Saying you “appreciate” a good rifle means different things to different shooters. To me it’s the whole package. Many guns check a box or two on your wish list — they’re accurate, or rugged, or powerful or beautifully made. But they just check a couple of the boxes — a swing and a miss if you will. Almost — but not quite.
Yet, if the rifle is accurate, rugged, powerful enough to get the job done effortlessly, handsomely made and comes together in your hands to make you smile when you pick it up — now you’ve got my attention.
And Nosler got it with the M48 Long Range.
The two-position safety allows unloading while engaged. The knurling on the bolt knob isn’t really needed since the
knob should move smoothly in the fingers as the bolt is worked. The grip area might be a tad thick for smaller hands.
The floorplate is aluminum and allows easy unloading of the 3-round magazine. Stock is 100 percent
carbon fiber for light weight and rugged construction.
The 30 Nosler cartridge rides easily in the standard length action of the M48.
Cut-out on comb allows bolt to open fully, yet you can keep a high enough cheek weld for a bigger scope.
Button on action side is the bolt release.
A Family Affair
I’ve known many of the Nosler team for years and frankly, if you look up the term “gentlemen” in any dictionary, you’ll likely see a group photo of them. From Bob to his son, John (newly minted president of Nosler after working his way to the top the hard way), to guys like Pat Mundy, Zach Waterman, Mason Payer and others, they are all skilled, thoughtful, courteous, talented — and passionate about their craft. And having a team like that behind a rifle simply makes the total package much more enjoyable.
But why this gun? I could write a “test” on this rifle like this: “Buy it. Sight it in. Learn to shoot it. Go hunting. If you see an elk in the scope and you do your part, you’ll be eating well.” End of review. It’s honestly that simple. But then again, any of hundreds of rifle designs could do that. So what made this rifle/caliber/maker triumvirate stand out?
Company history is the touchstone. In 1946 founder John Nosler, used his .300 H&H on a moose and had a catastrophic bullet failure (not his bullets). They expanded too fast and under-penetrated. He eventually got the moose but was unhappy enough about the bullet performance to do something about it.
By the early 1950s, the now famous Nosler Partition bullet was on the market — and a success. John had taught himself metallurgy, machining and a host of other skills in the process. The same can-do spirit is alive at Nosler today. I’ve been fortunate enough to have hunted with John’s son, Bob Nosler, some years ago, and I found him to be a true outdoorsman, gentleman and seasoned businessman. There are reasons Nosler is still successful and continual innovation is one of them.
Nosler’s M48 Long Range Rifle proved reliable and accurate, showcasing the sort of craftsmanship and attention to
detail Nosler is famous for. Test rifle had a Leupold VX-6HD CDS-ZL2 mounted, and it was a perfect match.
Let’s Talk Rifles
According to Zach Waterman, “The folks at Nosler have been building rifles to test the bullets we make since the company started 70 years ago in 1948. In 2005 the Nosler family decided to diversify the Nosler brand to include the commercial sale of NoslerCustom Ammunition, NoslerCustom Brass and NoslerCustom Rifles for a more well-rounded shooting sports company.”
Much to my surprise, every Nosler rifle — other than the Varmageddon built by Noveske — is manufactured right in the Nosler plant in Bend, Oregon. Each action is machined and essentially blueprinted before the rifle is built. A “custom” rifle built by a lone riflesmith gets the same treatment. The stock is supplied by Manners and Shilen supplies their justly famous barrels. In-house Nosler craftsmen ensure everything goes together perfectly.
So, with no small amount of fanfare, the M48 line was launched in 2006. In the years since, the line has grown significantly and today I think there’s at least five model variations with a growing host of proprietary calibers like the 26 Nosler, 28 Nosler, 30 Nosler (our test rifle) and the 33 Nosler. It can also be had in the .300 WM and the 6.5 Creedmoor if you want to be more conventional.
(L-R) The 30 Nosler, .300 Win. Mag. (note belt), classic .30-06 and a .338 Lapua. First three use standard action size.
The Nosler is a bit shorter than the .300, but punches out about 250 fps more velocity.
Roy’s wife, Suzi, used the test rifle on an elk hunt, deciding on Nosler’s 180-gr. E-Tip copper bullet rather than the 210-gr.
AccuBond. It worked great!
Action And Ammo
The M48 Long Range uses a standard action, and is a dual lug, push-feed, dead-nuts reliable design. This action would be at home with the .30-06, .300 Win. Mag range of cartridges. The 30 Nosler uses the .404 Jeffry as the parent case, as does the 26 and 28. Interestingly, this case has virtually the same case head diameter as the .300 Win. Mag and the case walls are the same diameter as the outside diameter of the belt on the .300 WM.
The 30 Nosler pretty much eclipses the .300 WM in every category. Its shorter, wider case allows more capacity, delivering an average of about 250 fps higher velocities and headspacing on the shoulder for better accuracy. The shorter case of the Nosler cartridge also offers a longer neck, allowing bullets to be seated deeper than the .300 WM. Suddenly, the long-ogive bullets like the Nosler AccuBond Long Range can find a safe and secure home to help long-range accuracy significantly.
The 180-gr. AccuBond zeroed at 200 yards — according to Nosler’s data on their website — should drop just 5.6” at 300 yards, 16.2″ at 400 and 124.4″ at 800. In the case of the .300 WM — with the same bullet — drop at 800 yards is 151.2″ — a significant difference. The design of the .30 Nosler also reduces recoil a tad. In shooting similar rifles — my old .300 Win. Mag and the M48 — the Nosler seemed a bit easier on my shoulder.
With this sort of performance, I don’t think of this rifle/cartridge combo as a local deer-hunting package. Grab your old .243 or .308 and go to work there. But for longer ranges and bigger game like elk, moose, big bears, big African plains game and the like, the 30 Nosler and M48 are tools you could use.
Nosler loads the ammo too and I’d consider it virtually custom, using excellent Nosler brass. Our test samples — we fired about 60 rounds — showed a high level of attention to detail — frankly, the cartridges looked like jewelry. But it’s the sort of hand-built quality I’d expect from Nosler. Loaded ammo is available directly from Nosler and from retailers. Nosler added Silver State Armory (SSA) — a brass manufacturer — to their growing family of companies not long ago, so they also offer in-house manufactured brass in a wide range of calibers, many no longer available from the original makers.
Old friend Mike “Doc” Barranti supplied Suzi with his Peabody sling and Safari Slide cartridge holder for her hunt.
The Safari Slide is his first made for the 30 Nosler!
A Platform Perfected
Our test rifle has the Manners MCS-T Elite Tac stock specifically made for the M48 action. It’s got a slot in the comb (on the top-forward portion) allowing clearance for the bolt. This gets your head high enough on the cheekpiece, yet still allows the bolt to open sort of “into” the comb. The stock has glass and aluminum pillar bedding, and is comfy, with a palm swell and molded-in texturing. The length of pull is what I’d call standard at 13.5″. While admittedly a bit short for a rifle you’d usually shoot from prone, it also allows you to wear a heavy coat, so I like the shorter stock. My wife, Suzi — who took our test rifle elk hunting — has long arms and found the rifle easy to manage.
The 26″ stainless barrel is free-floating. I checked the interior using my Hawkeye Bore Scope and confess to being amazed at the high quality of the bore and chamber. Unlike many factory rifles, the rifling was almost shiny and essentially free of any significant tool marks. I can see why the rifle shoots well.
The aluminum floorplate allows you to drop your three loaded cartridges easily if you need to. The receiver is contoured to accept any standard 2-piece scope base which would otherwise fit a Remington 700 action. Handy? Yes. And a smart move from Nosler as well.
A Timney trigger allows certain adjustments, but ours was at 2.9 lbs. according to my gauge and I wouldn’t change it (factory specs say 3 lbs., so close enough). There’s a 2-position, easy-to-find rocker-type safety and a removable muzzlebrake (with thread protector). But frankly, I hate brakes so we did the majority of our shooting without it. The sheer blast with the brake on rattled my brain while shooting under my rear deck, and the rifle is heavy enough (with the lower recoil of the 30 Nosler tossed in) that — with a PAST recoil pad — shooting was easy. The brake didn’t seem to affect the point of impact or group size though, just in case you’re a glutton for punishment!
The stock fit allows smooth and easy bolt manipulation. The trigger was crisp, the scope eye relief was easy to adjust. My own backyard range test with the rig was a delightful experience. The recoil pad helped keep the thump at bay. Suzi told me the 7.8-lb. weight (a bit more with scope) wasn’t a burden to tote at 11,000 feet in Utah, and the hard-hitting 30 Nosler dropped her elk easily. It was her first elk and the surefire performance of the M48 really helped to give her confidence. “Was my heart racing? Absolutely,” she told me. “Did I feel the recoil? What recoil?!”
Breaking tradition a bit, Roy shot three shots at this 100-yard target, allowing the barrel to cool completely between shots.
The resulting group is about 0.75″. He feels that’s more realistic for a hunting rifle than standard 5-shot groups, and shows
cold-barrel performance from the M48 as well.
Tight Groups, Fast Bullets
Nosler guarantees MOA groups with Nosler ammo and that’s what we got during our initial zeroing. The challenge was trying to keep the barrel cool. Fire a 5-shot group and the barrel almost sizzles. I decided three shots was enough, and frankly, the older I get, I’m leaning more and more toward a sort of “one-shot” group concept. After zeroing, load the rifle, aim, shoot, see where the bullet hits. If it’s where you wanted it to go, bingo! Repeat as needed.
You’re never going to shoot a 5- or even a 3-shot group on game, so that first shot is the golden one. In our case, the rifle never failed to deliver 10-ring hits on the first shot out to 300 yards — the farthest I can shoot on my land without putting a target in my neighbor’s pasture.
We didn’t shoot the recommended Trophy Grade Long Range load — a 210-gr. AccuBond at 3,000 fps — since Suzi wanted the 180-gr. bullet for hunting and to lower recoil some. Nosler sent us the 180-gr. E-Tip copper load delivering 3,100 fps according to factory stats. We averaged 3,065 fps over our chrono for it. I’m not sure how the change in ammo affects long-range performance, but at our distances the rifle shot just fine. The 210-gr. costs $83.45 for 20 while the 180 goes for $61.45. It’s premium ammo so you get what you pay for.
The target pic shows three shots at 100 yards. We’d shoot once, let the barrel cool completely, then shoot again, then once more — as if we were taking a cold-barrel shot at game. That’s about a 0.75″ “group” give or take. Looks like a dead elk to me. At 300, I did the same thing, and came up with a 3.25″ group which is just a teeny-tiny bit over M.O.A. — but I won’t be a primadonna and whine. You kidding? Three inches at 300 yards from a hunting rifle? Besides, it was likely the jerk behind the trigger — me.
There’s a sort of AR-style extractor built into the bolt, with a spring-loaded plunger type ejector.
The 30 Nosler case head is virtually the same as the .300 Win. Mag.
One Last Box To Check
I’m going to bet you have a few centerfire rifles in the safe. I’m also going to bet it’s likely none of them are exactly what you want. Maybe after living with them for a while you realize all the boxes didn’t get checked. They may have been cheaper than the Nosler, but did you get the value you were expecting? At $2,595 the Nosler M48 Long Range costs about as much as a good 1911, not even a custom one, just a high-end factory gun. Two SIG P226 autos would set you back that much, give or take, and you couldn’t afford a used Colt Python (just to keep things in perspective).
I’ve often sold “almost good” guns to get one “really good” gun. Something to think about there, eh? Our hats are off to the Nosler team for this elegant, accurate and thoroughly satisfying rifle.
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