September 23, 2010
Hunters need another bolt-action rifle like motorists need another lane closure. On the other hand, really good bolt rifles always find a market. I suspect the Nosler 48 will sell well.
At first glance, it's handsome but unremarkable, save for its unique lines. You can't say this is a re-worked Sako, Model 70 or 700 clone. "We designed this rifle in-house," confirms Bob Nosler, the firm's CEO. "The action is built stateside to our specs. And we're proud of it."
The 48 is indeed easy to like. At 6.25 pounds with a 24-inch barrel, it's lighter than it looks. The Kevlar stock is slender but not skinny. Its grip is long enough for big hands and contoured for easy reach to the three-position thumb safety (a pivoting button, not a wing).
Still, my long fingers don't cramp on the trigger, and the heel of my hand doesn't pressure the comb nose. The comb puts my eye dead-center behind a scope. The gracefully swept cheek rest complements the stock's classic profile. A soft one-inch black pad mitigates recoil.
Squarish but not angular in cross-section, the fore-end is just the right length and not too deep. I like the flecked granite color of the 48's stock. Its tough exterior finish has a mid-luster sheen.
Closely mated to the receiver, the stock is beautifully fitted to the barrel. The gap is hardly visible; a business card slides full-length with an even friction. The alloy bottom metal that keeps weight down is nicely shaped. The floorplate wears a Nosler logo and is secured by a guard-bow latch. Torx-head action screws hold it to a flat-bottomed receiver with integral recoil lug.
The short action begins as an investment casting; Nosler does some final machining at its Bend, Oregon, plant. The round top is drilled and tapped for two-piece M700 bases with 6-48 screws.
The Nosler rifle's bolt is of conventional push-feed design: two locking lugs, a recessed bolt face with plunger ejector. The long Sako-style extractor bites at 11 o'clock, above the right-hand lug, which has a groove that mates with the rail to ensure smooth travel. Shallow, narrow flutes and lightening cuts in the bolt body, and MicroSlick finish on internal parts, further enhance cycling.
The crisply sculpted bolt shank angles slightly rearward at mid-point, and terminates in a knurled knob, properly convenient and at just the right tilt from the stock. The bolt shank fits snugly and evenly in its groove.
Nosler installed an adjustable Timney trigger that snaps uniformly at three pounds with no discernible creep and minimal over-travel.
The internal magazine box is of substantial stainless sheet steel; straight-up feed limits capacity to two or three rounds, depending on case dimensions. Top-loading is practical but not as easy as with Mauser and M70 actions.
The Nosler 48 features a hand-laid Kevlar synthetic stock in a granite-gray flecked finish. It's slender but not skinny.
Nosler uses a lightweight alloy for the bottom metal. The straight-stack hinged floorplate magazine holds two to three rounds.
The 24-inch PacNor barrels on Nosler 48 rifles are nicely contoured, button rifled and hand-lapped for accuracy. An accuracy guarantee of 3/4 inch with Nosler Custom ammunition accompanies each rifle. Chamberings now number 10, including standard short-action and WSM options.
I was delighted to get a rifle in .338 Federal, a superb cartridge that deserves more time on my range. Equipped with a Leupold VX III 2.5-8x36 in medium rings, this Nosler 48 points as naturally as my finger. It is comfortable in recoil, fast and sure to the shoulder. Some shooters would want checkering or a rougher stock surface for wet weather. I don't think that necessary; the surface is not slick, just smooth enough to slide softly against my cheek and shift easily in my grip when I want it to.
I might have rounded the fore-end just a bit more, and I'd have left the sharp knurling off the bolt knob. It tears scabbards and gun cases and your skin and doesn't speed bolt manipulation. Also, if a knurled bolt bumps a rifle or falls against a car hood, somebody will have to live with scratches.
The rifle features a compact bolt release. The round-top receiver is drilled for Model 700 scope bases.
I like the dark gray CeraKote metal finish: tough, smooth but not glossy. I like the rifle's profile, its balance, its understated controls--from the crisp but quiet safety to the small but smooth-functioning bolt release.
This rifle feels gunny. It has a nose for the target offhand, and it seems to hold itself from sling-assisted prone, sitting and kneeling. The magazine feeds cartridges eagerly; they chamber silkily.
My shooting tests didn't yield 3/4-minute groups, but the average for three factory loads was just a shade over an inch, and I have yet to check Nosler Custom ammo. No doubt that with a little shooting and the right load, I'll trim groups. But, honestly, a minute of angle is a high standard for most hunting rifles. This one will drill baseball-size groups as far as I'm likely to shoot at big game of any kind.