The Nosler Custom Model 48 promises custom quality in a lightweight rifle. Tim Pilbeam finds out whether this American rifle’s performance lives up to the billing
When anyone mentions the name Nosler, the first thing that springs to mind for most sporting rifle owners is bullet heads, such as the Partition and Ballistic tip, which other ammunition manufacturers also use. These high-performance bullets need a rifle of similar quality, so Nosler decided to make just such a rifle, with a guaranteed accuracy of 1MOA or less when using its ammunition. The Nosler Custom Model 48 rifle comes in three models: the cheaper Trophy Grade, the Varmint and the model on review, the more expensive Custom Sporter in .308.
When I first handled the Nosler Custom Sporter, my initial reaction was to question its RRP of £2,400 as it does not immediately have the look or feel of what many people would call a top-end rifle. Nosler says: “The Model 48 breaks the myth that accurate rifles must be heavy. They all weigh just under eight pounds and deliver guaranteed sub-MOA groups.” Most rifles take little time for me to appreciate what they are all about, but this one, I have to be honest, took some time and many shots.
The stock, designed by Nosler, is fully synthetic, using layers of Kevlar and carbon, resulting in a rigid and light (1½lb) chassis. The black, speckled grey-coloured finish is textured for superior grip obviously designed for tough, arduous conditions.
The rear of the butt is high, reasonably straight combed (the drop is ¾in), and sports a cheekpiece and a superb recoil pad, offering increased levels of comfort for the heavier calibres. Once removed, the action is only bedded to the front, and has quite a small recoil lug, which I found surprising. However, Nosler tells me this is its preferred technique, allowing the rest of the action to be fully independent of the stock.
The external metalwork is protected using Cerakote, which is a ceramic film, guarding the rifle from the harshest of hunting conditions. Most of the internal surfaces have a coat of Micro Slick, which helps reduce friction and wear, including the internal parts of the bolt. The top of the rounded receiver is pre-tapped, ready for a wide variety of Weaver-style blocks.
The bolt has six shallow flutes with two locking lugs, and it cycles smoothly throughout its travel. There is a series of vent holes in its body, useful in the event of primer failure, making much of the firing spring mechanism visible. Rounds are ejected using a large claw extractor and plunger ejector system with a one-piece steel handle – easy to grip on cycling. I have been told that the M48 Nosler has a greater percentage of its weight in the action, resulting in a well balanced rifle.
The 24in barrel is built and designed by Pac-Nor, a world renowned manufacturer of high-quality tubes. It is fully free-floating, hand lapped, lightweight and made of stainless steel to the highest standards. With a twist rate of 1 in 12in, it will be suitable for anything from the lighter 140-grain to heavier 175-grain bullets.
Nosler uses its own ‘Rifle Basix’ fully adjustable trigger assembly set to 2.5lb. The one-piece trigger guard and floor plate are made of a high-quality alloy, emblazoned with the Nosler logo and finished to a high standard. It is a top loader, so to drop a maximum of three rounds from the magazine, just press the easy-to-use release lever located to the front of the trigger guard. For safety, a three-position catch is located to the right of the action – rear position locks the bolt and trigger, middle position locks the trigger but leaves the bolt free to cycle, and forward is fire.
The more I handled the Nosler Sporter, the more I could see and feel the superior quality of its build and design. Would it perform in testing conditions at both short and long range?
For this test, I decided to set the zero at 100 yards. For the sound moderator, Jackson Rifles kindly sent an over-barrelled modular A-TEC Maxim 4, which extended the length by 4½in, weighing a miserly 370 grams.
One must make allowances when first shooting new rifles. They rarely shoot to their full potential for the first 25-50 rounds. I found zero quickly thanks to the easily adjustable Super Slam, and achieved a grouping around 1¼in without too much difficulty. Nosler guarantees ¾MOA accuracy using its own ammunition, which made me sure I could extract an improved performance after further practice. After several shots, the Hornady achieved a group of under 1in and the Geco 1.2in.
As for the Rifle Basix trigger, at 2.5lb it is crisp and feels just right. Despite testing in freezing conditions with a temperature of -2 degrees, I found the bolt very smooth, feeding the Hornady rounds through to the breech with little or no resistance at all. I had problems with the nose of the blunter, soft-pointed Geco 170-grain ammunition being pushed into the front of the inner magazine box. This is annoying and I hope it is a one-off, but if you shoot heavier bullets, try before you buy.
The texture of the stock and narrow pistol grip gave me a firm hold on the rifle, especially with gloves. One colleague, who is blessed with hands like shovels, found the trigger too close to the pistol grip, resulting in him either slipping the palm away from the grip or pulling the trigger with the base of the finger. After further investigation, I realised I had a similar problem despite my smaller hands, but found it was fine when using gloves. A raised cheekpiece would be useful, especially when using the larger optics that sit higher than most general purpose riflescopes.
I deviated from the Hornady factory ammunition for a while to see if the accuracy varied a little and found the 165-grain home loaded Hornady SSTs (2,650fps) gave me a tighter sub-¾in group. Now that was more like it!
Now that I was happy with the first test, I packed the rifle up and called upon experienced stalkers Matt and Chris. WMS in Wales was our next port of call, courtesy of Andrew Venables. As this rifle purports to be a custom-built rifle, I was expecting it to perform well out to distances well beyond those of most responsible hunters. To do this, I decided to upgrade the optics to a NXS Nightforce 8-32×56.
After playing at ranges between 200 and 500 yards with accuracies of about 1MOA in winds of 5-10mph, we picked a 10in disc at 800 yards to really test this custom build. Matt was using high quality 168-grain match-grade ammunition (MV 2,750fps) resulting in consistent hits, showing no less accuracy than the two high-quality military sniper rifles that were also on test. Impressive for a lightweight hunting rifle, and OTT for its designed purpose, but it demonstrates the quality of engineering.
So what is my final conclusion? To be honest, I am undecided. It is a well designed, purpose-built hunting rifle, and I have no doubt it will put up with the most arduous of conditions – but is it value for money? At £2,400, it is in the high-quality Sauer market and the lower end of the well known European brands such as Mauser and Blaser. The Nosler Custom is able to maintain and guarantee accuracy despite its light weight, but that is not unique in today’s market.
Imagine the question being asked when you turn up for a highland stalk or a plains game hunt. ‘Good morning Sir, what are shooting with today?’ asks the stalker or PH. ‘Well actually, I have the Nosler.’ Does that work for you? If you want something quirky and different, this could be for you. The more I shot the Nosler, the more I took a shine to it, and I can accept it has something extra to maybe justify the price – but as a local gun shop said to me: “Will customers pay £2,400 for an American rifle, compared to a German equivalent? Some will; many won’t.”
For more information, contact importer Edgar Brothers on 01625 613177 or www.edgarbrothers.com.