I first came across Nosler rifles by mistake. Browsing through a gun trading website for a new rifle, my search for a 7-08 Rem gave up half a dozen results. Of these only two tickled my fancy, and a Nosler Custom 48 was one of them.
It seemed to tick all the boxes, apart from the ‘price’ box, but still I liked what I read. It seemed functionally spot-on, with a simple, robust action that had a satisfying familiarity. I was soon politely asking the distributor if I could have one on test.
If I think of Nosler, I think of bullets. Indeed, I reload their 55-grain ballistic tips in my .22-250. It may seem an odd move for a bullet manufacturer to turn its hand to rifles, but if any company knows about the importance of precision engineering, it’s a high-grade bullet maker. Still, it is a completely different set of skills and I was eager to understand the process Nosler had gone through to make its rifles.
Unlike the established gunmakers we are all familiar with, Nosler doesn’t make any part of the rifle itself. Instead it outsources all the components, identifying and commissioning where necessary, so each part of the rifle adheres to its exacting specifications. These are then assembled in the Nosler factory. This is even more effective than producing everything in house, as the best companies can be called upon to work in their specialised fields. What Nosler essentially does is create a custom rifle with the best components available and offer it to its customers as a completed package.
As we all know, a good barrel is an essential part of an accurate rifle, and Nosler has been careful with its selection process. Button rifled, hand lapped and relieved, Pac-Nor has a good reputation and helps Nosler provide a ¾in-at-100-yards group guarantee using its own branded ammo. Screw-cut as an option, it is fitted with a standard sporter profile. Like the rest of the metal work it has been finished with Cerekote, with the internal moving parts coated with a Micro Slick dry lubricant.
Cerekote is an excellent weather-resistant, hardwearing ceramic-based finish. This provides the action witha self-lubricating property, as the tiny ceramic particles polish against one another. Riflecraft is currently the official UK dealer for Cerekote, offering it as an extra on Kimber rifles as well as for anyone looking to customise their own rifle. Barrelled actions can be coated in a choice of colours for £160, with whole rifles coming in about £270. Having seen the process myself, I immediately got two of my rifles done, and the rest will soon be following. A similar effect to the Micro Slick lubrication can be achieved with Tuf-Glide from Sentry Solutions. Available from www.forestandhill.co.uk, this specialised oil dries to leave a dry lubrication and is excellent on working parts such as bolts and triggers.
The Model 48 Custom is fitted with a commissioned synthetic stock from Bell and Carlson. Manufactured with hand-laid Kevlar and carbon fibre, this provides strength and durability in a lightweight platform. The whole series is finished in the same mottled grey colour and what Nosler brands as its ‘C2 treatment’. This basically renders the stock chemical and weather-resistant, while providing a textured, grippable surface.
As you would expect, the barrel is free-floating, with the action glass bedded on stainless steel pillars. The bottom metal is also bedded. Although better than most of the factory bedding jobs I’ve seen, for a rifle that is almost in a semi-custom league I expected a bit more refinement and attention to detail when it came to finishing the internals of the stock. The rifle is also fitted with a recoil reducer inside the butt. I can’t say I really noticed any tangible difference, although in .308 Win and unmoderated I was happy enough to shoot it all day.
Now we turn to the heart of the rifle, which is of course the action. The Model 48 action is a solidly constructed and well thought-out design that has stood the test of time. It shares certain characteristics with the old Sako Forrester, and more recently the Howa 1500 action. In fact, apart from some alterations to the aesthetic machining on top of the action, there is little difference at all. The bolt also remains largely the same, with twin locking lugs, a long sprung claw extractor and a plunger ejector. The bolt shroud has been re-designed, and instead of the simple spaced circular ports on the Howa’s shaft, the Nosler has flutes and oval gas vents. The bolt knob has also been altered, with a knurling band aiding grip, while the underneath of the receiver is practically identical.
There is of course nothing wrong with taking the Howa action as the blueprint. It is based on a strong Sako design and is currently one of the best designs on the market, especially if we look at value for money. The idea of taking a proven design to use as a basis for building a rifle is also nothing new. Many of the semi-custom rifles around the world are based on Remington 700 actions, with refined and precision after-market copies of these actions being used for fully customised rifles. On a recent trip to Africa I was surprised to find that many of my hunting colleagues had opted to use Howa 1500 actions for their custom commissions, as opposed to the default Remy choice seen in the UK.
Lastly we get to the trigger and bottom metal. Again Nosler has outsourced here, obtaining its specification trigger from Rifle Basix, a respected aftermarket trigger manufacturer based in the States. Breaking at a crisp 2lb, you’re unlikely to have any complaints in this department. Fitted in the same place as a Howa, the three-position safety is also identical. The floor plate is fitted nicely, coated with the same weather-resistant finish as the rest of the rifle, and is bedded into the stock. Some hunters may prefer a magazine, and this is available as an extra.
This particular model comes with a ¾MOA guarantee, which is one of the tightest-grouping factory rifle guarantees on the market. Of course, the caveat to this is that Nosler expects hunters to use its own ‘prescribed’ ammunition to achieve it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my hands on any loaded Nosler ammo, and had to make do with what I had in the cupboard. Shooting a variety of Federal, Winchester, Hornady and Geco, I achieved consistent results from 150 grains up to 168 grains, but nothing that showed the rifle performing to its advertised potential. The very limited time I spent working up handloads did show a marked improvement, though, and I have no doubt that Nosler’s promise will hold true.
Nosler certainly undertook an ambitious project when it ventured into the world of rifle production. The concept is a solid one: pulling together the best producers of each component to assemble the ‘perfect’ Nosler rifle. On paper it seems to have all the answers, although at £2,400 the price might put wallet-conscious hunters off. That said, I hear that Nosler has also released a few models with more affordable price tags. They might be just right for UK rifle shooters. BP
Model tested: Model 48 Custom in .308
Price range: £2,400
Contact: Highland Outdoors
0845 099 0252